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Recent reviews by ZeSmith

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Showing 1-10 of 53 entries
No one has rated this review as helpful yet
5.0 hrs on record
If I had to summarise this game, it would be "cyberpunk Disco Elysium with a smaller budget". Unlike Elysium's fully realised open world, this time the space you navigate (no pun intended) is pretty much just a map screen. But really, that doesn't matter, because you're still going to be reading a lot of text, and when you're not doing that, you're rolling dice.

Waking up on a space station on the run from the megacorp who wants back the artificial body they loaned to you, you're going to have to avoid starving, patch up your constantly decaying body, and ultimately choose a future for yourself.

I mentioned dice rolling, but it's a bit different here than what you might expect in an RPG like this. You preroll a certain number of dice at the start of each day (called "cycle" here, because we're in space, get it), and then whenever there's a check, you assign the value of the die of your choosing plus any bonus given by the skill used for the check, and that determines your odds of getting a bad, neutral, or good outcome. Hacking instead requires specific results to succeed, and this is a good way to use your low rolls, keeping your good rolls for the more difficult checks. The system is very elegant and it makes going through checks a breeze, which is good, because you'll be doing a lot of them as you go through your daily routine. A lot of events are linked to timers, so you'll often have to juggle things around in your calendar to sync up various tasks.

Ultimately, the point of the game is meeting and helping people. A lot of people. Citizen Sleeper has a lot of characters, with complicated backstories, motivations and value systems. You assist them in whatever endeavour they're on, and in return you get things that help you live another day. Those characters are all interesting and I had a blast spending time with them, figuring out what they want, and trying to help them achieve their goals. It's overall a very humanist story, which plenty of touching moments.

It's somewhat short, for an RPG, but I think it's a good thing. Any longer and it would probably have felt a bit bloated. And anyway, considering how hard it was for me to put it down, it wouldn't have been healthy. We all need to sleep, sometimes. Yes, even game developers.
Posted May 24.
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11 people found this review helpful
14.2 hrs on record
Okay, so Eastward is generally very good. It does take a lot of inspiration from EarthBound, but mostly just its tone. Mother 3's slogan "strange, funny, heartrending" would probably apply here, somewhat. Mechanically, it's an action game that plays a bit like A Link to the Past. It has Breath of the Wild's cooking minigame, and also an entire game-within-a-game called Earth Born (get it?) that actually plays and looks very much like Dragon Quest.

But enough about what it derives from, let's talk about what Eastward does by itself. Eastward follows the story of a man, John, and his adopted daughter, Sam, who get kicked out of their underground home and have to venture across the ruined surface world. Along the way they stumble on some ancient conspiracy that Sam has some unclear at first link to. The art is gorgeous and the music really slaps. Actually I can't overstate how good the game looks. Finally, an EarthBound inspired game that doesn't look like a Mother 3 romhack, but has its own style. Every nook and cranny is incredibly well detailed, cities are full of life, dungeons are mysterious and foreboding.

Gameplay involves controlling either John or Sam or both to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. John is your standard action protagonist, and Sam has supportive abilities, and you can switch between the two, and keep them together or even split them up to solve problems like it's Banjo-Tooie. I didn't end up using Sam's abilities too often, it was just more expedient to shotgun my way through most enemy encounters with John. That said, there's cool bosses and plenty of hidden secrets to find if you like exploration.

So, let's talk about the thing most people might find problematic here: this game moves slowly, very slowly. At the time of writing, the any% speedrun world record is slightly over 7 hours long, which is half the time I actually spent finishing the game as a casual player. Granted, I barely touched Earth Born, but still. Most of your time will be spent watching cutscenes, and in a 2D top down game that means reading dialogue. A lot of the plot gets padded by what you could consider filler, which isn't helped by the fact that the "mysterious conspiracy you discover by accident" trope means you only discover the overarching goal when you're almost done with the story, so at many points in the game the narrative feels like it meanders around with no clear objective.

Just like Mother 3, the story is chapter based, and most chapters involve moving to a new location, which has the side effect of making side quests impossible, since you might not be around later to turn them in (which is probably why they made Earth Born, which serves as basically the one side quest for the whole game).

But of course this all has a point: to make you spend time with the world and its characters. And I felt like that was a worthwhile trade. The game is full of interesting people that you want to learn more about, and it is cool to learn about the communities you visit. But, of course, you might feel different. If you're not a fan of somewhat contemplative character studies, you might come out of this thinking that a quarter of the story could be excised without losing any actual plot thread.

One thing the game does not do very well is foreshadowing. By that I mean that the game will pretty much tell you in advance about things that will happen, and is not subtle about it. Whenever some catastrophe happened, I saw it coming. Either my brain is bigger than I thought, or Eastward is a bit too obvious about things. Or maybe that was the whole point. What this mean is that the bits that probably were meant to tug at my heartstrings just fell flat. Hence why I'm not sure "strange, funny, heartrending" fully applies here: it's strange, for sure, and really funny at times, but you can't really render a heart without the element of surprise.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. No matter how fast I would mash through some of the dialogue, I still wanted to power through to see what would happen next to those characters I learned to care about. If that sounds like something you'd like, then give it a shot.
Posted April 20. Last edited May 21.
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2 people found this review helpful
14.4 hrs on record
After playing that game to its end and getting both endings, I have to recommend this, but with a caveat.

Don't be fooled by the protagonist's garb, this isn't Zelda. Instead, think of it as top down Dark Souls with a hook shot. Everything Dark Souls does, this game does as well, although it's not as punishing or complicated. Death is essentially a slap on the wrist, and your offensive capabilities, besides four magic items, are limited to a three hit combo and one special attack. Like in Dark Souls, you tend to get locked into animations while attacking, which is a style of combat I'm not sure I like. I'm more of the Platinum school, where anything can be cancelled with a dash, iframes are plentiful, and attacking is never a bad idea. Trying to go for an unrelenting offence here is a sure-fire way to get you killed, because you always have less range than you think you do, your roll only gives you invulnerability for half the roll, and getting caught with your pants down is very dangerous, especially since you take increased damage if you're out of stamina, and stamina is used both for rolling out of danger and for blocking attacks with your shield.

Tunic is a game that drops you in the middle of a story with no explanation and expects you to figure out on your own why you're here and what you're trying to do. Most text is written in incomprehensible runes, and the only exposition you get is found in an instruction manual that had its pages scattered across the world.

That's right, an instruction manual. This manual is also mostly written in an imaginary language, but it is possible to decipher it from context and images and the few words that are in your language of choice. If you're stuck, read it. Everything, from maps, to hints, to literal puzzle solutions is in this.

The world is nice enough to traverse and rewards exploration with plenty of secrets and treasures. Some of those secrets will require some outside the box thinking to access.

Ultimately I don't think the blend of Dark Souls action and environmental puzzle solving is elegantly executed. It feels more like there are two games in the same box, or, rather, two different game modes that use the same save data. I found the Souls portion somewhat frustrating but really enjoyed the puzzle part. I just wish they were better integrated with each other instead of feeling like I was playing a completely different game looking for secrets in the endgame.

So here we are: Tunic is an action adventure game that encourages you to do the adventuring after you're done with the action, or, said differently, eventually runs out of action for you to do. It's a game that is impossible to finish without a strategy guide and so has decided to bundle one with your purchase (but you'll have to hunt down the pages yourself).

If you were expecting more generous signposting and less violent combat, well, as I said before, it's not Zelda. I think I liked my experience overall, even if I was cussing a lot of the way through, but since my most recent memories of the game were about feeling very smart while figuring out those puzzles, well, take that with a grain of salt.

If you were looking for indie Zelda, try Death's Door instead. If you wanted a more straightforward Souls-like, well, there's like a million imitators now on Steam, you don't need me to point them out to you.
Posted March 24. Last edited March 24.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
3.5 hrs on record
Short, straightforward, well polished. it's a competent action platformer that does few things, but it does them very well. There isn't a lot of variation, but then again it also doesn't overstay its welcome. The level design is very effective at leading you to where the game wants you to go without making it too obvious, and the secrets are intelligently hidden. The combat can get repetitive after a little while, but the game isn't very long, so it's not so bad.
Posted January 28.
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34 people found this review helpful
0.7 hrs on record
I went in wanting to give it a chance. After all, there's cute dogs!

I do appreciate how the game doesn't expect me to be an actual photographer. You just point and click and stuff appears on your screen. The environments are also bright and colourful.

The game feels... unfinished? Or at least unpolished. There aren't a lot of surprises to be found in this. Just the same dogs bouncing around in the same empty spaces, while the same short music loop plays over and over again in your ears. For a world full of dogs, it does feel barren at times, like a theme park with no visitors. The missions are uninteresting, and a lot of them will be completed completely by accident.

At the end of the day, it's a meme game: it's one joke (cute puppers in dumb situations!) packaged into a product, like if We Rate Dogs (tm) was turned into a video game. And reading the positive reviews, I guess that meme will resonate with a lot of people. If you're one of those, then go ahead. There's are lot of worse things you can do with your time than repeating the same menial task of photographing interchangeable canine shaped eldritch horrors in increasingly absurd positions.

It is junk food for the soul. Maybe it's what you really wanted right now. Maybe it even fills the void in you. And that's okay! But I wanted something a bit more substantial. Actual puzzles to solve, secrets to find, things to remember, dogs that do more than wiggle their butts around while sporting dopey eyes.

Or maybe I'm just a cat person.

If you want a good photo puzzle game, try the superb Umurangi Generation. If you want to take pictures of cute critters, may I recommend Penko Park instead?

But yeah, it's not for me. Maybe it'll be for you.
Posted January 24. Last edited April 22.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
20.1 hrs on record
So, NieR Automata is one of my favourite games of all time. NieR Replicant, on the other hand, retroactively feels like a prototype for Automata.

Everything Replicant does well, is done better by its successor. The great ideas are straight up transferred to the next game, so if you want to understand what's so great about Replicant, you can just play Automata and get it.

Yoko Taro clearly wanted to make his own Ocarina of Time here, but didn't have the resources to do it, so everything is padded. Quests will make you go back and forth between the same locations over and over again. Getting anywhere meaningful involves at least two loading screens and a lot of running in empty space. I've heard they improved the combat in this version, and I guess that's a good thing, because without it I don't really know why anyone would want to subject to so much of this boring blandness.

Even the whole "play the game multiple times" gimmick isn't as well executed as in Automata. You have to essentially complete the same game three times to get all the endings (four if you don't think about making a backup save at a critical point in the third playthrough), but each additional playthrough barely adds anything (and anyway, after Automata I don't think anyone can be surprised by the twist of "these monsters you've been killing all this time actually have feelings").

Even the B route of Automata felt like a new game with the amount of things it added. But in Replicant it's just a few cutscenes here and there (some of which don't even add that much because of how stuff is foreshadowed in the A route).

So what do we have left? Well, huh, the writing is still good, and the characters are interesting (even if I ended up hating Nier at the end, which I guess is the point). The music is again incredible, but then again it's available on most streaming services. It looks good, but graphics are overrated.

That said, it's still an interesting historical artifact. It's fascinating to see all the stuff in Automata that was actually first implemented here. Yoko once said all his best ideas were stolen from Ocarina of Time, but that's not true: there's some genuine bits of brillance in there, even if he ended up just recycling them in the sequel. The moment to moment gameplay when you're not replaying the same thing you just did is pretty fun.

So, I will tentatively recommend this game, but only to hardcore fans of Yoko's work. If you didn't play Automata and think about maybe playing this game first because it's the first in the series, maybe just skip it and stick to the sequel instead? It's just straight up better in every area. Ultimately, it's not bad, just heavily overshadowed by its successor.

On its own merits, it's just above average, but in a post-Automata world, it's not good enough.
Posted January 10.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
7.6 hrs on record
I'm not much of an artist. At the end of the game, they show you the world map with all the pain you put in it and for me it was mostly blank with some splotches of stuff where I needed to paint things to get around. Also the control scheme probably works much better with a keyboard and mouse (or even with a tablet), but I played this while lounging on a sofa, so controller it is.

The plot is your standard issue indie stuff about how self care is important (clearly motivated by the unfortunate fact that in America it's probably cheaper to make a video game than to go to therapy). The writing is clever if a bit predictable, and the whole presentation is pretty cute.

But really, playing this weird "A Link to the Past without combat" scratched that itch I didn't know I had. It's 100% pure unadulterated navigation puzzles, backed by a simple set of abilities that get used in a variety of different ways. It was a lot of fun just exploring the world with no clear goal, figuring out simple but effective puzzles. The paint is a bit janky at times but nothing too frustrating. Oh, except pushing those explosive balloons around. That sucked.

The boss fights are kinda boring the music is great, so there's that.

Really, you can do a lot worse than spend a few hours on A Link to the Past: Splatoon Edition. Give it a shot, it's great.
Posted January 7.
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6 people found this review helpful
7.8 hrs on record
Don't be fooled by the relatively simple gameplay. This game exists to tell an incredibly gripping and emotional story, and that's all that matters.
Posted December 28, 2021.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
12.6 hrs on record (9.6 hrs at review time)
This game is pretty good when it tries to be A Hat in Time, and not so good when it tries to be Hollow Knight.

It's alright, to be be honest, but I can't help but wonder if the combat is really necessary when the platforming is good enough on its own.
Posted November 26, 2021.
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No one has rated this review as helpful yet
2.9 hrs on record
The best example of the power of environmental storytelling I've seen in years.
Posted November 14, 2021.
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Showing 1-10 of 53 entries