By dankempster 3 Comments
It's been a pretty eventful month for me in terms of both playing and actually finishing some video games. I kicked January off with a pretty thorough playthrough of United Front's Sleeping Dogs (my thoughts on which you read here). Since then I've made my way through a few other titles, none of which are really big enough to sustain a whole blog post on their own, but as a collective should be able to manage it comfortably. Structurally this is going to be pretty similar to my 'A Little, More Often' blogs from last year, with a few brief thoughts about each game under its own heading. I'll kick things off now, with the first game I played after beating Sleeping Dogs:
Sam & Max Episode 5: Reality 2.0
I've now wrapped up five of the sixteen episodes of Sam & Max that I bought back in November when they were on sale on GOG.com, and I think it's safe to say that Reality 2.0 is my favourite instalment to date. I think a big part of that is down to the series' trademark sense of quirky, irreverent humour, which started off pretty hit-and-miss but really seems to have hit its stride in the last couple of episodes. The storyline of Reality 2.0 concerns itself with video games and the internet, two topics I'm fairly au fait with, and as a result I found myself laughing a little harder at the jokes than I had in previous episodes.
It's not all gags about +2 swords and half-elven merchants though - Reality 2.0 really delivers from a gameplay standpoint as well, much more so than any of its four predecessors in my opinion. I think a big factor in this is the episode's structure, which is built around the 'light/dark world' conceit popularised by games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Having to move between the regular world of Sam & Max and the "in-game" world of Reality 2.0 made for some great puzzles with equally great solutions. The episode's finale, which saw the Internet de-construct Reality 2.0 into a retro-style text adventure, was a stroke of genius. I've got one more episode to play in this first season of Sam & Max, but I think it's going to be very difficult for it to live up to the brilliance of Reality 2.0.
Alan Wake Downloadable Content
In another call-back to November of last year, I decided to revisit Remedy's Alan Wake, one of my favourite gaming experiences in recent memory, and finally tackle its two downloadable episodes. The Signal and The Writer aren't terribly different from one another, so I feel comfortable judging them together as a single 'epilogue' to the core game's story. They're not very different from the main game, either, offering the same winning combination of immersive atmosphere, tense combat, and out-there narrative that pulled me into the game and refused to let me go. Picking up where the main game's narrative left off, the DLC chronicles Alan's journey through the Dark Place under the guidance of Thomas Zane. The continuation of the story focuses heavily on the questions asked of Alan's mental well-being in the main game, in a way that I personally found very interesting. Ultimately, it's best described as "more Alan Wake", and in my eyes that's definitely a good thing. If I had to offer a single criticism of the DLC, it would be the same one levelled at it by fellow Giant Bomber Oni on Twitter - that at its end, Wake is in pretty much the same position that he's in at the start. Even so, the DLC delivered exactly what I wanted, and I feel like it was worth every last Microsoft space-buck to spend more time with Alan Wake. Speaking of which...
Alan Wake's American Nightmare
Still craving more time with my new favourite troubled writer, no sooner had I wrapped up The Signal and The Writer than I decided to jump straight into Alan Wake's American Nightmare. A Twitter acquaintance was kind enough to gift me enough of Microsoft's internet-currency to download this not-quite-sequel, and having now seen it through to the end, I'm very grateful for his kindness. The narrative, framed as an episode of Night Springs (the Alan Wake universe's answer to The Twilight Zone), kept me captivated throughout its four-or-so hours of play time. Suffice it to say the plot is distinctively 'Alan Wake', reprising characters and tropes from the original game as it weaves the tapestry of words framing Wake's ongoing battle with his psychotic doppelganger Mr. Scratch. The note at the end of the credits revealing the storyline of American Nightmare to actually be that of Return, the sequel to Departure that Wake is seen starting at the end of The Writer, made me feel almost compelled to applaud, and has left me eager to see whatever Remedy do next with this excellent franchise.
Even as a fan, I'm willing to admit this bite-sized bit of Alan Wake has some issues. The biggest problem with American Nightmare for me was the combat. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but I actually found it to be a little worse than the gunplay in its predecessor. I think that's mainly down to the inclusion of automatic weapons, a design decision that makes the shooting more varied, but ultimately kills a lot of the tension that made fighting the Taken so exhilarating in the original Alan Wake. The situation is further compounded by the design decision to have torch batteries recharge at lightning-fast speeds, and the plentiful availability of ammunition in pretty much all sections of the game. The end result is combat that's smoother, but nowhere near as tense. I will say that the improved fluidity of the combat lends itself well to the Arcade mode, though, which I found a lot to like about despite not being the biggest fan of similar wave-based survival modes in other games. Whatever way you spin it, American Nightmare is well worth a look if you enjoyed the original Alan Wake, and at 1200MSP, it's very reasonably priced too.
I'm pretty sure that's all I've got to say about games at this point, save for what I'm planning to play next. I've currently got a mind to play the sixth and final episode of the first series of Sam & Max, just to tie up that loose end so I can take a slightly longer break before diving into the second season. After that I'm planning to get through the second half of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance's main story missions - I've had the game on hold for over a month now, and I think now is a good a time as any to push forward and try to wrap it up. When my time in Ivalice is over I'll most likely be moving on to Borderlands 2, skipping back into Pandora for the second instalment of The Great 2012 Catch-Up. It's a pretty hectic gaming schedule, but they won't play themselves, right guys? Anyway, thanks very much for reading, and I'm sure I'll see you around the site.
Currently playing - Sam & Max Episode 6: Bright Side of the Moon (PC)