Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments Critical Analysis

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Something made me take a sixty dollar chance on a random Sherlock Holmes game that I’d heard extremely little about prior to release. Well, actually… Boredom. It was probably just boredom. But it wasn’t long after booting the game up and methodically picking my way through the first case that I realized it was an extremely solid adventure game with a great deal of charm and not the ill-fated, franchise abusing drivel that I’d assumed. Chalk that one up to complete ignorance.

It was then that I’d done a bit of research and found that this turned out to not be much of a chance at all, as Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is actually the seventh primary game in a long running series about the titular detective on Baker Street, which has been the flagship franchise for primarily Ukranian developer Frogwares since the series’ inception in 2002. Then my brain decided to dredge up this old youtube video that I’d seen ages ago which poked fun at the fact that Watson, in the 2007 release Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis, has no walking animation but instead appears to just creepily teleport alongside you, eternally transfixed on you with his steely gaze.

So, I actually had been familiar with the series in passing. And during this research I read that these games had pretty much always been quite enjoyable little adventure titles. I dunno, man. I guess I’ve just never been the guy eagerly eyeballing the list of upcoming releases under the “niche adventure games” category.

The presentational quality is decent enough but, judging by the earlier games in the franchise, has seen a pretty drastic increase in some of the latest titles. That said, there are certainly still some quirks. Tonally, Crimes and Punishments is all over the place. The menu screen features Holmes in the foreground of a moody backdrop of rain or a fireplace while seemingly appropriate orchestral music booms in the background and the game sometimes embraces the tone set by this initial impression, but it is interspersed with a feeling of silliness that often comes from the sheer idiocy of those around Sherlock.

Inspector Lestrade is portrayed here as not even a basically competent officer of the law and, at worst, a lazy and bumbling moron whose position of authority raises many questions about those in charge of promotions at Scotland Yard. Even Watson is not saved from the apparent brain damage that has taken hold of the cast of Crimes and Punishments, as he is often merely along for the ride and very rarely says or does anything even remotely useful. I suppose I’m a little too used to the 21st century BBC representation of Sherlock Holmes where they make the detective seem smart by showing how decently intelligent everyone around him is, and then showing the fact the he’s so far beyond even that. This game attempts to accomplish the same by simply making everyone stupid which doesn’t really feel right.

Shadow of Mordor Critical Analysis

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an interesting beast indeed. When broken down into its simplest ideas, the game really is nothing more than a collection of tried and true mechanics from various other franchises. You’re bound to see numerous familiar elements if you’ve played Arkham, Assassin’s Creed, Infamous, Far Cry, or really any other open world game in the past few years. That said, these mechanics often manage to feel as though they were implemented better here than even in the games that inspired them. Thankfully, a consistently high level of polish, as well as the inclusion of the much touted Nemesis System and some absurdly satisfying gore, ensures that Shadow of Mordor transcends its seemingly average trappings, making it some of the most fun I’ve had in a game all year. This is an honest example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Knowing as little as I do about the Lord of the Rings as a franchise, I am completely unqualified to judge the game’s narrative as a part of the greater context, so I’ll leave that to the experts. As a standalone story to drive the game forward, it feels both uninspired and uninteresting. It starts out strongly enough; humanizing both Talion and the people important to him in an interesting tutorial sequence before The Black Hand of Sauron mercilessly rolls up and cuts everyone’s throats, including Talion’s. Death claims his wife and son but fate apparently has other plans for Talion and he is resurrected to become the human vessel for a wraith named Celebrimbor, who, funnily enough, also has the objective of fucking Sauron’s shit up. Together you go and do this and…. Gollum is there for some reason before he just decides to peace out randomly. Objectives that distract needlessly from the overall goal and abhorrent pacing throughout really sink the plot before it even gets off the ground.

You find out about Celebrimbor’s forgotten past by way of lost artifacts and these flashback segments prove to be the most interesting bits in the entire story, which is especially sad considering that they are really just backstory and not immediately relevant. The story missions are a glaring weak point that weave you through an absolutely fascinating tale of Talion fucking around in Mordor with characters so absurdly uninteresting that I legitimately cannot remember any of their names. Many of these missions aren’t exactly enjoyable to play either, as they shine a particularly bright light on any one of the aforementioned borrowed aspects present in this game for a span of time long enough to incur boredom. It’s also quite unfortunate that the story wraps up in such a poor manner, as it really just leaves a bad taste in your mouth by ending suddenly and without closure, only serving to continue the story’s trend of abject pointlessness.

If you can forgive Shadow of Mordor’s grave narrative missteps then you’ll find a game fun and compelling enough to not even really need a story. In fact, much of the purpose of the Nemesis System is to ensure that each player crafts a tale unique to them through emergent gameplay born from randomly generated, high ranking members of the Orc army that populate the world in a seemingly natural manner. Spoken plainly, your objective is to hunt these Orcs down, however, it becomes much more complex in practice. Each Orc officer is given a unique name, personality, appearance, and a set of strengths and weaknesses that are pulled from a rather large pool of possibilities. These Orcs react to you in a relevant manner to your actions in the game as a whole and, most interestingly, to the Orcs themselves. For instance, if you fled the scene of a battle that a particular Orc Captain was present at, he will make a point of commenting on the fact that you ran away from that fight like a big, smarmy jerk.

Rapid Fire Reviews: 9-28-14

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

A semi-regular segment in which I am too lazy to write full reviews of various games I’m playing so I instead write a couple of shorter ones.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die

I like Swery. Based entirely on his work, he seems like an intriguing fellow and no doubt would be a cool guy to grab a drink and chat with. I think he’s extremely talented when it comes to intentionally non-nuanced humor about genre cliches and conventions. That said, his games are not fun to play. So, I really didn’t care much for Deadly Premonition. I got exactly what the team was trying to accomplish with it and I really enjoyed the absurdly over the top story aspects. It just sucked that those things were trapped behind an impenetrable wall of disastrous game design decisions. But yeah, I suppose that’s the point.

Let’s talk about PT baby, let’s talk about you and me…. And Lisa

Opinion, Video Games

By Destin Thomas

PT – AKA: The scariest and most brilliant marketing ploy ever in the history of gaming. I don’t give a fuck who you are, this game will scare you. And frankly, I’m not even sure why that is. The premise is simple: you wake up in this dark ass room and must endlessly traverse a repeating hallway, all the while attempting to solve these elaborate ass puzzles that involve endless trials and error. Scary, right? In principle: not really. However, the demo is masterfully effective at creating a sense of overall dread and paranoia, thereby making even the most mundane task of circling through a familiar hallway fucking eviscerating.

Be it the severed head poet in your mother’s brown lunch bag spewing out all this cryptic shit on the table in the first room, the stalking shadows of Lisa treading behind you, a fucking alien fetus in the bathroom sink, or the worst, Lisa literally snapping your neck out of nowhere, you cannot escape the panic of playing this demo. There are also baby laughs, ghost moaning, a radio detailing the grisly murder of some very unfortunate women, and a creepy ass lantern that swings back and forth making the most unsettling squeaking noise since Spongebob’s boots.

Not to mention, you’re entirely defenseless – think Outlast but ten times worse – so good luck trying to man-handle this shit. All of this combined equals the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in a game; literally making me want to shit myself. Repeatedly. And still keep on playing. It’s comparable to waking up in a room with 4 oiled men and having no recollection of why your butthole hurts so much – and likewise, this game is also a dream come true for me.

Once you’ve solved the Schrodinger’s Cat equivalent puzzle at the end of the demo, you’ll be rewarded with the ultimately anticlimactic trailer for Silent Hills. But I didn’t even give a shit because of how fantastic the demo was. It was finally a return to actual horror in video games. I cannot fucking wait for Silent Hills. Until then, I’ll keep playing PT and crying and shitting myself to sleep. Happily.

Dance of the Demos

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

I really enjoy game demos because they bring me back to a time in my life when I played video games all day because I had precious little else that needed doing, whereas I now have to knowingly neglect real world things in order to get in a decent amount of game time. They remind me of a time when my primary concern was how I could manage to stay up later than my mother wished and still be able to wake up in time for the super early episodes of Dragon Ball before school.

Before I was allowed to play M rated games, I would always try to get my hands on the demo discs that came with magazines. One I remember in particular was the Metal Gear Solid demo for the PlayStation. I must’ve played through that damned intro sequence fifteen fucking times, merely imagining what could possibly come next and unknowingly committing those first couple in game hours to memory where they will undoubtedly remain.

Demos have fallen out of favor since the latter half of the last console generation, particularly pre release ones. Perhaps they are too much work in a world where the rising costs of game development have caused even some of the most storied game development companies to collapse under the financial burden. That said, I’ve noticed a few pre release demons popping up here and there recently and I’ve decided to talk about them here.

Let’s start out with the big one.

Rapid Fire Reviews: 9-20-14

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

A semi-regular segment in which I am too lazy to write full reviews of various games I’m playing so I instead write a couple of shorter ones.

Pay no mind to the fact that both of these ended up being pretty long this time. But, fuck it man. I dunno.

Destiny Critical Analysis

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

I don’t know what the hell happened, man. Is this Destiny the one Bungie seemed super excited to make or did that game get lost somewhere in development? After all, Bungie have always been known for injecting some great personality into their games, if nothing else. Cortana’s likeability as a character, silly dialogue from the Grunts, and a sometimes playful tone really afforded Bungie’s Halo an identity unique to itself, as well as a style that we haven’t really experienced in anything since. It was something that was sorely missed in Halo 4, in my opinion, and is really what makes Destiny feel like such a letdown.

For all intents and purposes, Destiny is a fine game. It plays perfectly well (even to the point of feeling a bit like Halo in some regards), it looks gorgeous, and there are no major bugs or stability problems to speak of. But the game starts to crack apart and show its hollow shell not long into its ~18 hour ‘campaign’.

Most of these issues reside in the story, or lack thereof. The game takes place in a post apocalyptic future where a force of pure evil, simply known as the darkness, has been quite busy in its quest to devour all life in the universe. The player, as a warrior of light, must ensure that the darkness does not continue to do that by killing quite literally every living thing you see. Apparently it’s chill if you do it but fucked up if those other guys do it. And that’s really all you do. You never actually do anything else. Fuck, you don’t even push a button or touch anything other than a weapon with your hands. Need to use a computer? Your robot companion does it for you. Need to contact another human for a side mission? Your robot takes care of all that. Seriously, Guardians must be some legitimately fucked up people if they never actually do anything but shoot other creatures in the face and make quips with a robot. The player’s role as a Guardian is never really fleshed out either, considering that the game never even bothers to show you what’s at stake, nor does the final city on Earth that you are in charge of protecting ever fall into immediate danger. Honestly, you seem less like a Guardian and more like a glorified assassin by the end.

Counterspy Critical Analysis

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Counterspy – Purchased on PSN and played on Vita and PS4

I’ve been constantly on the go as of late and this has led to me paying much more attention to my poor, often neglected handheld homies. A couple weeks ago I picked up Counterspy as a cross-buy title on the PlayStation Store and I instantly found it to be pretty damned charming thanks to the cool 60s spy era aesthetic and accompanying music reminiscent of some less bombastic Team Fortress 2 tracks. I played a couple of levels on the PS4 and thought it was a pretty fun side scrolling shooter that, regardless of the name, really has less to do with actual spy sneaking and more to do with the brutal murder of hundreds and hundreds of missile base guards, and the subsequent looting of their file cabinets. While it is certainly possible to sneak your way through a level, bypassing as many guards as possible in order to give you that tingly spy-like feeling of completing your objectives stealthily, this method of play appears to actually be discouraged because you can get a vastly higher score by just straight capping people in their dome. Not to mention the fact that non-lethal weapons are few and far between and are often times not terribly effective. Like the sleep dart gun which alerts nearby guards because the guy you just darted will likely have wondered aloud what just pierced his flesh, moments before he tucks himself into bed.

Counterspy’s art style is really nice and the game still looks great on the Vita, but the frame rate takes a pretty big hit, which proved to be annoying when I first switched to the handheld version. That said, I was admittedly bothered less and less by this the more I played of it. The gameplay is unhindered on the Vita version and continued to be enjoyable far into the game but, ultimately, rests pretty comfortably on the easy side of things from start to finish. The missions never really became any more difficult despite the game’s attempts to simply stuff a room full of an absurd number of guards, many of which are armed with various weapons that one would likely not find to be held by base guards. I’m no military expert but I really don’t see the need for three guys with rocket launchers to guard a catwalk that is suspended inside a nuclear missile silo. That shit is just wildly inefficient, yo. Aside from my usual gripe with 2d side scrolling shooters that insist on having enemies in the background, a tradition which this game dutifully upholds, there really aren’t many problems present in the gameplay. Although, the level design can become a bit samey after a while considering that they are randomly generated, providing me with a pretty strong feeling that I’d seen everything the game had to offer after only a couple of hours.

The story is barely there and filled with shrug worthy “We tried” humor and the gameplay is simple, functional, and very enjoyable. Counterspy knows exactly what it wants to be and accomplishes that pretty handily, providing a pretty decent five hour distraction from the needlessly complex and padded out titles that we often surround ourselves with. I’d say it’s worth fifteen bucks but, then again, I’d play just about anything while trapped in a hotel room.

Playstation Now…ish?

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

PlayStation Now has been in open beta for about two weeks now and I’ve finally taken some time to give it a shot in between furthering the agenda of my Argonian land tycoon in Tamriel. Seriously, building mansions in Skyrim has been, like, simultaneously the best and worst addition to that game.

PlayStation Now exists nestled deep and snug in the UI of the already poorly designed PS Store. Navigating to the PS Now tab initially gives you a few informational cards on exactly what PS Now is, and the navigation bar on the left side provides options to peruse the library or test your internet connection to see if it will survive in the PS Now gauntlet. Don’t worry about having to get excited about any of the games on offer because the current library of streamable titles is absolutely fucking abysmal. What a rollercoaster of emotion I was while I attempted to decide between the absolutely amazing offerings of Dead Island: Riptide, Ben 10 Omniverse, and Greg Hastings Paintball 2. The lack of some major first party titles like Uncharted or God of War is pretty shocking, BUT you can play the overall mediocre Killzone 3. Since you likely will not be able find a title that you actually want to play, you won’t have to worry about being upset by how ridiculous some of the pricing options are. Asking for three dollars to rent a game for four hours just smacks of absurdity. Especially considering that you wouldn’t be able to near completion of most titles in that span of time anyway.

After deciding that perhaps I actually would like to subject myself to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, I thought it wise to ensure my ability to play the game by testing my connection. After a couple of seconds spent staring at a loading bar, PS Now was kind enough to tell me that I could utilize its service as intended but neglected to provide any additional information. Perhaps I would like to know exactly how much above the recommended specifications my particular network fell? Nah, obviously not. I’m just a controller using, console playing mongoloid who couldn’t possibly comprehend such things.

So I rented Enslaved for the thirty day time period at the great price of $9.99 and was treated to excellent visual compression and screen artifacts in the opening cutscene. Enslaved was already known to be lacking in responsiveness but streaming it brought new meaning to the term input delay.

I’m going back to smithing nails so I can hang some doors in my alchemy laboratory.

PS Later

The hater’s guide to enjoying Skyrim

Opinion, Video Games

By William Chandler

Me (pictured above), screaming in rage from what I then percieved as an inherently dull Elder Scrolls game

I’ll admit, I was pretty pissed when Skyrim came out. Like, I only put 60 hours into it so it’s like I basically didn’t even play it. A big part of my frustration came from the complete removal of stat point allocation in favor of a more streamlined “perk” like system that would, in theory, provide more of a direct understanding of the ways your character improved over time. But, as a long time series fan, all I could see was the complete bastardization of what made The Elder Scrolls franchise an RPG and the subsequent attempt at pandering to a more mainstream audience. Plus, they took out Acrobatics as a skill and with it my ability to make an Argonian trapeze artist that could nearly leap entire structures by endgame, so fuck that. Another massive issue is the seemingly apparent choice of quantity over quality in regards to many of the dungeons, as the land mass has several times more dungeons than Oblivion (despite being smaller) but all of them felt like slight variations of the same dreary gray crypt filled to the fucking brim with Draugr and giant spiders. And can we please take a moment to shit on giant spiders as an enemy? Like, giant spiders are seriously the most generic and unimaginative trope in the fantasy genre and I would prefer a more sparing use of their stupidly disgusting asses in the future.

Anyway, the series has admittedly always suffered from having a distinct lack of dungeon variety, but it seems considerably more apparent with the increase in the number of dungeons. Plus, I preferred the style of dungeons in Oblivion to the ancient Nordic theme. But what’s truly remarkable is the fact that the main questline managed to be less immediately interesting than even the ridiculously shitty one in Oblivion where Sean Bean turns into a dragon. At that point, even the improvements made to combat, the addition of a sprint button, the massively improved quality of voice acting, and the fact that shouts are just straight up dope couldn’t stop my steadily flowing river of discontentedness. Disappointed in Bethesda and disgusted by Skyrim, I lived for two years as a Skyrim hater. However, that all changed two weeks ago.

I now present to you my guide to allowing yourself to appreciate Skyrim.

Step 1: Get drunk

Yeah, yeah, I know. Just hear me out. The ingestion of alcohol is admittedly what led to me returning to Skyrim at all. Like, to be honest, I just wanted something kind of relaxing to play and I thought walking through the ridiculously atmospheric woods of Skyrim sounded like a great idea. So, I create a new character and just start roaming. Like six hours later I find that I’m actually enjoying myself. Fucking weird.

Step 2: Mod that bitch

(I’ll add a full list of the mods I’m using to the comments later when I can see them)

And I don’t mean be a dumbass and add some fucking lightsabers or throw in a logic core from Portal just for the lulz. I mean find some mods that actually improve the atmosphere and the core systems of the game without completely changing it. For instance, there are some excellent mods improving graphical fidelity, upgrading blood textures and damage decals, improving sound design, and even drastic enhancements to the visual styles of the towns. Seriously, do anything and everything to elevate the game beyond the apparent limits of being ‘designed for consoles’.

Step 3: Change your mindset (a bit)

Expecting (or, more aptly, demanding) another Morrowind or Oblivion is what ultimately led to my inability to appreciate Skyrim for what it is. On some level, this type of thinking is ultimately unavoidable as you always want to preserve what you love about a beloved franchise or series. That said, it is sometimes necessary to judge a game solely on the basis of its own merits and try to leave previous entries mostly in the past. Don’t go all soft and completely forgive a game’s downfalls either because that shit is decidedly pedestrian. Rather, just try to keep an open mind. Feel free to apply this principle to other aspects of your life like meeting people and trying exotic new drugs.

And it really is just that easy. I can now enjoy the more streamlined and accessible Skyrim AND the fucking hardcore as fuck, ‘death to accessibility’, Divinity: Original Sin at the same time with no real consequences to my self worth.