Tales From The Borderlands, Batman: The Telltale Series, Undertale, Thirty Flights of Loving, Little Inferno, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies and Bloodborne
“Hey what’s up, it’s been awhile” ~ Zayn Malick, formerly of One Direction, in his new whiny hit Like I Would
That’s right, Eye Moustaches is back after another unannounced hiatus. I return to you at a dark time. The absence of new #content has seen readership figures plummet dramatically from the glory days of 80 in December and 51 in May to a paltry 15 in June. Once again, as Editor, Deputy Editor, SEO Expert, Senior Staff Writer, Junior Staff Writer and Shoe Shine Technician of Eye Moustaches I take full responsibility. Mea culpa.
Fear not, for I’ve consulted the Eye Moustaches SEO boffin and used their advice to create this post which has been specially crafted to maximise GAME OF THRONES page views in a manner so subtle that it will not CERSEI LANNISTER impact upon the quality. I’m going to do another run through of what I’ve been playing lately so that, like the audience by the end of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT SEASON FOUR ON NETFLIX, we’re all up to speed.
So without further preamble I present:
SEVEN GAMES THAT I HAVE PLAYED LATELY
(this post may be) A SEVEN MINUTE READ (I haven’t checked)
JON SNOW ALIVE?
The first game I’d like to talk about is Telltale Games’ wonderful Tales From The Borderlands.
TFTB put you in the shoes of a two characters (a change from Telltales’ standard MO) created for the game. Rhys is a corporate stooge based on Helios, the space station base of Hyperion. Hyperion effectively controls Pandorra, a get-rich-quick scheme on a planetary scale. One such schemer is Fiona, the second playable character, a smooth talking con-woman. Fate pushes these unlikely allies and their friends together and so begins our story.
Except that’s not quite it. Rhys and Fiona are instead recounting the story of their adventures to a mysterious third party and so we see the events of the game through their retelling of them. It’s neatly done and also could be taken as a sly admission by Telltale that no matter what options you choose, that the story is heading towards a single endpoint. The writers mine this framing device and the unreliable nature of our narrators for jokes too good to spoil as they do with almost every element of the game. The Borderlands splash cards, Telltales’ standard “X will remember that” nothing is safe.
Top humour aside, Telltale turn in another great tal… yarn, a great yarn. What starts as an amoral schlocky sci-fi western gradually ups the stakes and adds to and develops its characters, some of whom are new and others who are from the Borderlands franchise. The writing and characterisation is good throughout and there are solid performances all round from a cast of voice-acting heavyweights. And a very game turn by SEINFELD AND FAMILY GUY’S PATRICK WARBURTON WHO IS NOW IN THE TICK of all people.
That being said there are still some problems that the developer can’t seem to shake. Action sequences return and, as before, generally feel like you’re fighting against the controls rather than with them. The reticle moves very slowly and is tricky to align with the target areas. At times, this sort of works. Neither of the leads, but especially Rhys, is much of a fighter so the slight panic whenever the games asks you to use the controls nicely mirrors the desperate attempts by our heroes to stay alive. And yet it’s possible to fail these sections and a difficulty spike created by a poorly communicated objective really doesn’t do much for pacing.
On the subject of pacing, the walking around sections are very slow — there are two playable characters now but neither of them could outrace a snail. I consistently found that as soon as I pressed the button to enter into a conversation a background character would start talking only to be cut off by the conversation I’d initiated and it’s a shame to miss out on dialogue repeatedly for such a silly reason. Considering how rare these interactive sections are it’s unlikely they make up much of the budget. Perhaps it would be better if these less enjoyable elements were removed altogether? I’m playing the Wolf Among Us at the moment, and investigation sections are more fleshed out there and fit the story, but not so here.
DONALD TRUMP SAID WHAT?
After five episodes of consistent quality the game ends on a well-pitched quiet moment of reflection. The credits rolled and I was left with a strange feeling. I know, I know, a feeling, generated by a video game of all things! We all know the only things allowed to generate feelings are SHOWS ONLY NINETIES KIDS REMEMBER and BEYONCÉ SONGS but here we are. I supposed I’d grown attached to the characters and wanted to follow them further. Would the friendships developed over the course of the game last? Having grown and changed over the course of the adventure, where would life take them next? Having reached the end I was sad to leave that world behind.
I’ve also played Episode 1 of Telltale’s new series, Batman (BATMAN, WHO IS IN SUICIDE SQUAD, THE FILM STARRING KER-AZZY JARED LETO)! From the get go, the writing seems quite clunky or badly thought out in places, with a lot of stagey or cliché lines. This is sort of justified with Batman’s dialogue, he is in a way playing a character, but makes less sense from Bruce.
Mechanically there are some interesting additions. At one point, Batman investigates a crime scene and you must link the relevant clues to put the story together. Later on, Bats must plan his attack by linking goons with a means of attack. Less successful are the action sequences. There’s a combo meter that builds up with correct button presses, but really this just seems like decoration. The scrappy nature of the combat is less suited to playing as the skilled combat master Batman and at times the prompts (press up and Batman hoists an enemy up into the air by the legs with his grappling hook) seem too simple to fit the action.
Compared to the first episode of TFTB it seems like a step back. I think part of the problem is that, especially as a Borderlands franchise newbie, TFTB was establishing new characters beginning an unpredictable story in a different and exciting new world. Batman, in comparison spends its first episode introducing us to characters that, to one extent or another, we already know. It’s a matter of seeing how Telltale arrange and combine these characters and which interpretation they use. This is interesting in its own way, but perhaps not as exciting as starting out in an exciting new frontier. Only the game’s take on the Penguin stands out as particularly different, and even he has limited screen time. The TFTB premiere ended on a cliffhanger, but had already had some self-contained sequences under its belt, and the player had already gone on an adventure with the promise of more. Meanwhile, Batman is almost all setup, at the end we know where the characters are in their lives and where they might go next, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve really seen anything.
Staying with games known for their stories, I also played the indie hit of 2015 Undertale. The game begins with what seems like a silly premise (a child falls down a hole into an underground world of monsters) that allows for all kinds of weird characters and designs. From these beginning the story grows more layered and complex: the cast of oddballs is expanded and fleshed out and the workings of this strange community are explored, it’s all lovely stuff with some surprisingly emotionally affecting moments.
The combat of the game is a mixture of RPG elements, top down shooters and the timing based attacks of the Mario RPGs. To attack you must hit the button at the right time. When an enemy attacks, you control a red heart and must avoid enemy projectiles for the duration of the turn. But the game’s most idiosyncratic feature is the ACT menu. These methods of interaction can be anything from talk, belittle, pet, flirt and a whole array of other options depending on the enemy. Interacting with enemies in certain ways lets you befriend them and leave the battle on good terms. These options and the even more inventive boss fights are very entertaining, at least initially. Unsurprisingly, they lose their offbeat charm if you’re forced to do them too often.
Dodging enemy attacks is difficult, especially given the level of variety in the patterns. In most fights I haemorrhaged health and had to constantly heal which seems to go against the spirit of the thing. Just “git gud” you might say but I don’t think this is that sort of game. Combat here is just one part of the game, a means to an end, rather than the actual focus as in the Souls games. That said, as with TFTB I’m open to the idea that this is at least somewhat intentional, the idea of the non-violent path being the more challenging fits in nicely with the game as a whole.
The highest praise that I think I could offer Undertale is that as I played it I felt inspired, if only fleetingly, to try and make a game, more specifically, to try and make a world the way Toby Fox has. Game design often seems daunting, with large teams working several different angles, requiring technical expertise in so many disparate fields, the sheer volume of assets that are needed reducing those who work on them to mere gears. Idiosyncrasies are sanded off in the name of avoiding risk. Not so here. Running all the way through Undertale is a bizarre sense of humour, quirks and neat ideas. Now, I’m not suggesting that Undertale was made by only one person or that it did not require an enormous amount of skill and ability, because those statements would be lies. But rendered in a simple 8 bit style with bright colours and text boxes are so many charming touches, jokes and countless minor characters who are nonetheless unique in some way. That so much personality is delivered using the production values of a SNES is really something.
It’s snowing. It seems as if it will never stop. No-one knows why. Fortunately, you have your Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace and a never ending supply of things to burn for warmth and entertainment. Coins can be used to buy items. Burning items releases coins, more coins than you paid originally. Burning specific combinations of items unlocks new catalogues of items that cost more coins but release even more. Buy items. Burn them. Buy more expensive items. Burn them. Receive letters from friends. Burn them. Unlock tickets to get items faster. Burn them. Get more tickets. And so on.
Much like Undertale there’s a quirky sense of humour running throughout, from the strange item descriptions, the items themselves which range from disturbing toys intended for children to nuclear weapons and the sinister advertisements. As nicely articulated here, while Little Inferno is a parody of sorts of free to play mobile games it’s not a mean spirited one necessarily.
The game has its moments and appeal, but will likely be a little lightweight for some. The candle, burns out… uh… too fast… at both ends or something.
The final indie game I’ll mention today is Thirty Flights of Loving from Brendan Chung’s Blendo Games outfit (whose new game QUADRILATERAL COWBOY LOOKS VERY GOOD). Much like Chung’s previous game Gravity Bone, TFOL is short, around twenty minutes long at most and like Gravity Bone is a very stylistic affair. It uses jump cuts to tell the story of a heist gone wrong and…. I’m not really sure after that. Airplanes?
Having played through it a number of times I can’t quite figure what happened. I’ve worked some things out, sure, but overall it’s either incredibly simple or unfathomably complex. While interactive storytelling is no doubt an exciting and fascinating new field, given that picking up on small details is generally regarded as the trick to the plot of TFOL, I wonder if it’s really the best fit in this case. Giving the player control of the camera carries the risk that we’ll miss something, while Chung does make a game effort to direct your attention discretely, it’s not fool-proof.
On the other end of the spectrum of gaming stories is the Phoenix Wright franchise, visual novels that keep players on a tight leash. I played the latest addition, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies: Rise of the Subtitles for the 3DS lately and enjoyed it. While the basic concept, save the innocent from jail by discovering the holes in the prosecution’s case and discovering the real killer remains the same, there’ve been some changes elsewhere this time around.
In this installment there’s a whole three (count ‘em) player characters: Phoenix, newcomer (in my eyes) Apollo and legit newcomer Athena Cykes. Unfortunately, one of the most obvious issues with the game is, despite their wacky hair, how bland these three are. Phoenix and Apollo in particular are very similar in their dialogue, inner monologue and status as cosmic whipping boy. Athena fares a little better, displaying a different, less defeatist worldview and a distinctive backstory.
Her special skill, and the new courtroom gimmick of this game is “Analytical Psychology” and the power to detect the “discord” in people’s hearts. In practice, this is just another format to find contradictions in the courtroom sections, if a witness’s emotions don’t fit the scene they’re describing then they’re hiding something. It’s nice to have a little variety to the trials and helps keep the story moving along nicely, although the scientific reverence payed to what is clearly just intuition grates.
The story moves along at a good pace and the anarchic order of events keep things interesting. There’s really no barriers to pacing at all in this, the easiest Wright game I’ve played. The interface has been changed slightly so that navigation in the investigation is much more straightforward. There’s also a to-do list so there’s no chance of getting lost. Less successful are the crime scene segments in which you pan the camera around 3D environments prodding anything that looks interesting.
Behind the bench meanwhile, related evidence has been grouped together and the penalty for mistakes is still there but has been completely nullified. Although you’d hardly notice, as most of the time the right answer is so thoroughly telegraphed that you’d be hard pressed to get it wrong. A more welcome addition are the revisualisations, a series of questions about what you think happened borrowed from the Investigations spin offs. These sections are a lovely end of trial victory lap for players who’ve figured the truth and really hammer home that wonderful Wright eureka moment.
The prosecutor this time is Simon Blackquill. Blackquill’s a convicted murderer who, in the anything goes legal world of Phoenix Wright, is still allowed to prosecute cases. He’s cold hearted, deathly pale, infamously manipulative, has a hawk called Taka who (naturally) assists him in court and is a big fan of samurai culture. Bit of a twist at the end there eh? I found that the weaboo traits tended to overshadow the gothic, sinister convict elements which was a shame. Addressing people as “dono” and that sort of thing is all well and good, but it’s just superficial fluff. He is, like Batman and Rhys earlier, voiced by Troy Baker, who contributes a total of two words, another missed opportunity for the character.
Nonetheless, I’m still curious about the upcoming Spirit of Justice.
Of course, what self-respecting gamer (quite the oxymoron there) hasn’t been playing Pokémon Go. Me. That person is me, I have not been playing Pokémon Go. I wish I could use my experience to offer you TIPS ON CATCHING RARE POKÉMON, but alas, I have none. Sorry.
I have at least played quite a bit of Bloodborne. While I was enjoying Dark Souls II I had hit a wall, a boss who was just a little too hard to get to. I put in Bloodborne and haven’t looked back.
Right of the bat, Bloodborne, like Dual Destinies earlier, seems to have had some of the rough edges sanded off. The player character, the Hunter, seems more responsive to navigate; falling off cliffs by accident is not as pressing concern as it was with the more sluggish Dark Souls. The stats seem more streamlined, heresy no doubt for Souls fans, but a welcome change for those who don’t have time to get a diploma in what all the numbers really mean.
As alluded to in one of the item descriptions, From Software have tweaked things to encourage a more offensive playstyle compared to the defence orientated Souls series. The player character is generally quicker and while there is a shield, it’s not really a viable option. Generally, your secondary weapon is a pistol, which can stun enemies (like the shield parry of old) and leave them open for a “visceral attack” for extra damage. Damage done to you can be regained by dealing damage to others, a change which encourages you to double down and keep attacking if you get hit, rather than running away to heal.
Probably as another way to disincentivise running away, the estus flask has been done away with. Instead, your main health source are blood vials, consumables which unlike the flask, are not automatically refilled when you respawn. They’re dropped by enemies on a fairly regular basis but it’s very frustrating when you’re trying to beat a boss and have to keep stopping to go farm for more vials and bullets. Encouraging aggressive play styles during regular exploration is an interesting idea, but when you’re farming for potions you can’t help but think that the system has backfired, that you’re in a situation that neither you or the developers wanted to happen.
Git gud scrub
Again? Yes, yes I hear you. Maybe I shouldn’t need health potions at all. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about the lack of hand rails in a game made for people who retch at the very idea. And you know something, on one or two occasions, I did git gud. Honestly. The one that stands out is the Blood Starved Beast. By the time I beat him, I didn’t need health potions, I’d worked out my tactics (dodge all the time, who’d have thought?) and knew when to close in and when to hold back. And the victory did feel better having put the work in, unlike my many victories that relied on glitches or generally cheesing it. But would I have gotten that feeling without some of the hardships? I think so.
And there are hardships. The long walks to the fight only take you out of the moment for minutes at a time. By the time you reach the fight, you’ve already invested a few minutes of unenjoyable travel time into the fight, it’d be shame to die early before you can learn about the boss’ attack, so you better spam those health potions that you’ll eventually have to farm again. In fact, if the distance between spawn points and fights were removed, the non-renewable blood vials wouldn’t smart so much. Having to return to the Hunter’s Dream (your base of sorts) before you can teleport to other locations, coupled with those load times also really gets in the way of the fun.
The game’s lore is certainly interesting, although, scrub that I am I read a lot of Readgrave’s excellent (but oddly repetitive) analysis to fill in the blanks. I’m at a point where the respawn mechanic and the Hunter’s Dream have yet to be given an in story explanation, but it’s really interesting to see how a key mechanic, consumable blood vials that restore health, is so integral to the setting.
Speaking of triple A, I also haven’t played FALLOUT 4 OR ITS NEW DLC FAR HARBOUR OR THE VAULT-TEC WORKSHOP. I know, I know, I’m slipping, I haven’t even played THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT OR ITS EXPANSIONS HEARTS OF STONE AND BLOOD AND WINE DESPITE THEM APPARENTLY BEING VERY GOOD!
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So there you have it, seven games I’ve played recently. Have you played any of them? Do you agree with me? Great! Share this post on all of your social media profiles! Comment below with your thoughts! Do you think I’m way off base with my opinions? No worries! Post a link telling the world how wrong you think I am and submit a comment while you’re at it! That’ll show me! What games have you been playing lately? Why not post them below in the comments? What games are you hoping to play soon? Pop ‘em in a comment! What games do you wish you hadn’t played lately? A comment is the place for that list! What did you eat this morning? Boom, put that in a comment! Not sure if your keyboard works? See if you can post a comment! Trying to learn English? Well, if you post a comment you could get some really useful feedback! Did you go for a walk today? Well I wanna know, in the comments! Are you expecting a child soon? Well come on down to comment town….