Little Nightmares | Review

Background: Little Nightmares is a puzzle-platformer horror adventure game that was developed by Tarsier Studios and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Players control Six as she endeavors to escape The Maw with only wits and a small lighter.

Have you ever had a nightmare of being eaten? For little Six, it’s not a nightmare at all. It’s a pretty certain outcome of any slip-ups in a resort called The Maw. So please, if you’re helping Six escape, don’t get caught.


Little Nightmares picks something creepy and sticks to its guns. Over the course of this short, 4 hour game you’ll sneak through many distinct locations. However, while the setting may change, the overall threat of being eaten stays steady. I was impressed with this. The title seems to allow the possibility of exploring multiple horrific scenarios, but instead stays consistent with haunting manner in which you’ll meet your demise.


This is a welcome choice because it allows for a cohesive narrative that the player can piece together. Everything is related and each area and discovery builds upon the last.  The Maw is a mysterious resort that will effectively creep you out while simultaneously begging you to explore its dark secrets.


While exploring you’ll have only a small lighter and your puzzle solving skills. Stealth is a big deal here because enemies are unforgiving when they spot you. You have to act smart and act fast to solve the puzzles and escape those ready to serve, cook, and eat you. The puzzles were engaging while still being difficult. You’re often forced to run into the open, cross dark rooms, and get very close to people you’d rather avoid.


The only trouble I had with Little Nightmares is that the game was short. Once you begin to have an idea of what’s going on, the game picks up and is soon over. The puzzles were interesting, the setting was creepy, and the story was disturbing. Similar games in the genre left me puzzled as to the overall meaning or intent of the story, but Little Nightmares tells its piece and leaves you thinking about it for a few days after.



Gears of War 4 | Campaign Review

Background: Gears of War 4 is a third-person cover shooter developed by The Coalition and published by Microsoft Studios as a Play Anywhere title in 2016. The latest entry in the series, Gears of War 4 picks up decades after the conflicts settled by Marcus Fenix and company. The game follows Marcus’ son JD and his friends as they survive in the aftermath.

The most immediate difference between Gears of War 4 and the rest of the series is that JD and his friends aren’t part of the COG – they’re Outsiders. Outsiders in other Gears of War games are looked down upon and left to fend for themselves. The game opens with JD, Del, and Kait raiding a COG base to obtain supplies for their settlement. As usual in a Gears game, things go downhill from there.

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I was very impressed with the new direction for this narrative. JD and Del are Outsiders who have abandoned the COG, so we get to see a completely different side of the world. Here, unlike the previous games, the COG are often spoken of negatively and disapprovingly. Their actions and motives are questioned by the non-military people who are trying to get by. It was refreshing to hear the main group talking to each other about life, conveying worries and fears, joking, and being normal. It’s a very new and very welcome experience.

Since they’re Outsiders, the first half of the game involves struggles between the group of friends and the COG. I enjoyed playing levels set in cities, COG fortresses, and Outsider settlements. I finally felt the struggle of the Outsiders instead of looking down on them from the COG point of view. When the inevitable alien species enters the conflict, I was worried about the families and people in the settlements who didn’t have the resources or firepower to protect themselves.

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This engaging narrative slowed down at the end of Act III when I realized that the story was falling into the same track paved by the previous games. The conflict felt similar, the settings were becoming more similar. There were a few new types of enemies, and the enemy race was under a different name, but even enemy encounters began to feel very familiar. Coming down from this new excitement to settle into what previous games had already done was disappointing.

The unfortunate thing here is that Gears of War 4 begins to drop the ball on the narrative. There is an attempt to bridge the Outsider conflict of the first half of the game into the level and story structure of previous games, but it only left me wishing they had stuck to the former. The game ends on a very big cliffhanger anyway, so it left me wishing the cliffhanger had been the reveal of the new enemy after wrapping up an Outsider vs COG conflict that could have been very unique.

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Luckily this lack of an engaging story is the only place that Gears of War 4 falls short. The game looked incredible in both 1080p on my Xbox One S and in 1440p on ultra settings on my PC. The only holdup I had here was that cinematic cutscenes were sometimes inexplicably blurry. I often felt that the actual gameplay looked better than the cinematics because of this, which was obviously still a welcome occurrence. When the cutscenes weren’t blurry, though, the visuals were stunning.

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The game played without a hitch on both platforms, so there shouldn’t be any worries about lag in the Windows 10 option. The only trouble I had with using a mouse and keyboard on PC was being too lazy to remap buttons. The default melee button made it hard to rev the chainsaw and move around at the same time. I have no plans on playing competitively, though, so I hooked up my Xbox One controller and everything was fine.

Gameplay is very similar to previous games. There are a few new weapons and a few reworks of previous guns. The level design was great. I didn’t ever feel like I was stuck in an area where the cameras were awkward and cover was usually readily available. The robotic Deebee enemies in the first half of the game were exciting, though they played very similarly to Horde and Swarm enemies.

There were a few new mechanics, like the ability to vault over cover while kicking anyone who is on the other side. If you don’t want to vault over, you can also reach across and pull the enemy to your side of the barrier. This leaves them vulnerable to assassinations.

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Ultimately, Gears of War 4 takes the best gameplay elements from the previous games and improves upon them, bringing the most fluid combat experience I’ve had in any of the games. The updated visuals of the current console generation, plus the ability to play on PC, makes the graphics beautiful and the settings really come to life. There are hints of a unique and engaging story, but this ultimately falls through into a familiar and predictable narrative reminiscent of the previous entries.


Prey (2017) | Review

Background Info: Prey is a first-person action-adventure game that was developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. It’s a reboot of the 2006 game that shares the same name. Players control Morgan Yu, whether male or female, while investigating the mysteries surrounding the Talos I spacestation.

Corporate controlled space operates about as predictably as you’d expect: classified research that’s above your pay grade, money and power driven experimentation, and the promise that you can become all that you want to be through new products that have undisclosed origins. When I woke up in Morgan’s apartment to a voice message telling me that I needed to get ready for some testing before being sent to space, I was pretty excited. Jumping out of bed, I put on my space suit and ran into the living room to explore. I checked my emails, scavenged some items from the kitchen, and I was on my way.

Little did I know that one of the best first-hour game experiences was ahead. Arkane Studios got the atmosphere so right. My excitement to go to space was augmented by beautiful music and a gorgeous scenery view from a helicopter. This eagerness appropriately soured when, during the tests, the scientist observing me was obviously disappointed in what I thought was a stellar performance. Throw in some heavy philosophical questions for the final test, and I was beginning to feel like something was off.

Avoiding spoilers, the story takes off from there. Talos I is scary, eerie, and grippingly mysterious during the first hour. For me, this was pretty much as good as it got. Continuing through the main story, I found a pretty typical narrative that was very similar to other games out there: science experiments that would change the world gone wrong, an alien (Typhon, here) breakout in the aftermath, conspiracy, and secrecy. Once the sensation of the first hour’s turn of events wore off, Talos I lost it’s spooky feel and just seemed mostly empty. It didn’t feel quite as empty each time I encountered a new enemy, but, until the end, nothing about the story brought back the feeling I was looking for. The post credit cut scene returned me to that sense of wonder found in the opening hour, and I loved the idea, but it felt like two good ends of a story with an empty middle.

Luckily, the rest of the game provides a big enough distraction that I didn’t really find myself too upset about the story. One of the best things about Prey is that every single area of the game is immediately accessible – depending on which skills you choose to upgrade. There were doors blocked by big tape decks that I could move if I upgraded my strength skill, but then I wouldn’t be able to hack certain computers, door codes, or safes. It really felt like the world was changing directly because of the actions I performed and the skills I chose. There are multiple ways around traps and through doors, and it all depends on what you choose to upgrade. Neuromods, the basis of the story and the item used to obtain skills, can be found all over Talos I, so you usually don’t have to wait too long for the next upgrade.

This makes the exploration invigorating. If you come across a safe that might have a weapon or a neuromod but don’t have the code, you can hack it. If you don’t have a high enough hacking ability, you’ll have to read every book and pick up every note to try to find the code. This is, after all, a game heavily influenced by the “every book can be read and every item can be taken” mentality of the western RPG genre. Prey does this exceptionally well. It’s very rewarding to unlock secrets because you correctly used your skills in a creative way to get through whatever is blocking you. I found myself spending hours away from the main story so I could visit every room in Talos I and discover the little story that unfolded there. Sometimes these individual back stories caught my interest more than the main story, but usually I was just exploring because it was fun to test myself and solve the puzzle that would allow me to get to the next area and pick up everything.

This attempt at looting Talos I and claiming loot for myself was more tense when there were Typhon around. Again, adopting the principle of “play[ing] your way”, combat can either be tackled head on or avoided completely through stealth. But, if you’re wanting to collect every item and check every corner, combat is unavoidable.You eventually amass an arsenal of weapons to deal with these annoyances, each unique and effective against a different type of enemy. Once you acquire a story related item, you can also obtain Typhon abilities and use those. The combat in Prey is good, but its success relies on affording you multiple options for killing enemies, not on anything novel.

That being said, Prey can sometimes be unforgiving. A combat system that’s good enough to get by is troubled by fast moving, disappearing, and prop-hunt-style cloning enemies with attacks that wear down your health and suit strength (yeah, you have to manage two different bars relating to health with different items, plus a third bar for abilities later). This led to multiple encounters that resulted in death, especially early in the game and during escapades that took me to areas that I probably didn’t need to be in yet. I didn’t really feel that the combat was lacking, but I also didn’t feel like it added anything special to the gaming world.

Apart from all of that, my time on Talos I has been pleasant. The level designs are well thought out and the graphics are pretty good. This experience is only sparingly interrupted when the camera will stutter while running and jumping. I haven’t found any major annoyances beyond that.

Prey is a stunning game that fundamentally gets exploration and skill leveling right. It’s very fulfilling to spend hours playing your own way to solve puzzles, unlock backstory, and find weapons and upgrades. Combat can be fun, but it doesn’t add anything too original to what already exists. The story starts off incredibly strong and ends with a bang, but a space station crisis is hardly new and I found myself missing the first hour feelings throughout the majority of the game. Luckily, Prey does most of the other things well.


ReCore: Review

Background Info: ReCore is a 3rd person action-adventure platformer by the creators of Metroid Prime that was published by Microsoft Studios as a Play Anywhere title. It released in September of 2016. You play as the main protagonist, Joule Adams, on a mission to prep an alien planet for human civilization.

When you first wake up on Far Eden with your K-9 corebot Mack, the desert planet that greets you is full of promise. Fortunately, exploring this vast new setting is one of the most entertaining things that ReCore has to offer. This exploration is slowed by random enemy encounters. Luckily, combat is better in dungeons and during the story. Along the way, you’ll acquire a couple other corebot companions that can be upgraded, customized, and swapped out to help with combat and exploration. And with all this at your disposal, you’ll save the world. Or you’ll just explore. A lot.

Armature Studio, Comcept, and Asobo Studio bring a wonderful and enjoyable platforming experience to the table. Far Eden is a vast desert planet, full of rocky nooks and crannies that beg to be explored. To incentivize this, there are loot caches, permanent health upgrades, audio logs that give background story info, and optional dungeons to discover. Joule’s movement is very responsive and is augmented by mechanical boosters that allow her to double jump and dash. The later corebots you receive also provide different ways to traverse the terrain.

These exploration mechanics shine during the optional dungeons. By far the most memorable parts of the game, I was amazed at how each dungeon I explored was unique and exciting. Walking into a room full of suspended bridges and rolling electric balls of death really tested my ability to platform. Each dungeon also has three objectives – time, an item-carrying enemy, and color attuned switches – that can be completed to unlock extra loot at the end. I found myself rerunning dungeons multiple times to complete all of the challenges. Most dungeon run times are just a few minutes, so repetition isn’t a pitfall here.

The platforming and exploration outside of dungeons is only bogged down when it becomes mandatory – more on that later – and by how big the areas are. You’re in a desert, so much of the map is open sand. There are plenty of places to explore, but each felt like its own little island with a sea of sand in between. A more fluid and connected approach would have been welcome.

Combat in ReCore has its highs and lows. You’re equipped with an automatic rifle that has 4 color attunements. Matching the attunement to the enemy’s core will increase the damage dealt. Each attunement has a status effect it can inflict with a charged shot. Being an energy rifle, there is no reloading or running out of ammo; instead, all four attunements share an ammo pool that recharges when you aren’t shooting. Basic combat on a mouse and keyboard consists of holding down right click to lock-on to an enemy and holding left click to shoot while avoiding damage. Your corebots can use special abilities when they have the energy for it, and enemies have segmented health bars to provide a combo multiplier.

The combat itself never seemed too difficult, but as the game went on fights got more and more hectic. With so much going on, sometimes it became frustrating when you couldn’t see your corebot being carried away or the status effect shots about to hit you. Getting hit usually means that you have to button mash, waggle, or dash away the status effect, but when battles become hectic it often means you’re left vulnerable to all the other things about to hit you. In theory this works well because it means that one of the best parts of the game – platforming – is required to dodge attacks, but when you’re pretty much required to lock onto an enemy to do consistent damage, keeping track of where everything is in the room around you gets tiresome.

This is can be even more irritating if, like me, you run into bugs. I played ReCore on Windows 10, so I don’t know if the Xbox One version was a victim of the same faults, but I ran into a few bugs that made the game completely unplayable until resetting. Once, during a crucial boss fight, my mouse cursor appeared and was no longer center-locked with my reticle. This made it so I could accidentally open the task bar if I needed to look down and hovered over it. In addition, I couldn’t turn continuously. If I moved my mouse far enough in any direction, it would get to the edge of my monitor and stop, which also halted any turning motion. This happened twice until I exited the game and restarted it.

Another time, during a story dungeon, my corebot ceased movement and froze in place. He wouldn’t do anything. When combat is heavily aided by a corebot’s abilities, having a corebot that isn’t frozen is crucial. This only happened once, and I’m grateful is wasn’t in an area that required me to use that corebot for traversal, but it still required restarting the game to fix.

Lastly (of the most memorable bugs), there was a time early in the game where I exited a cutscene to a world devoid of any non-ground level structures. Again, this required restarting the game because, to continue the story, I needed ramps and platforms to get up and around to a hidden section of a building where a door was waiting to be unlocked. These were glaring bugs in an otherwise beautiful and seamless game.

Speaking of the graphics and performance, ReCore did admirably. The world of Far Eden looked incredible, though sometimes the rocks lost texture in the out of bounds areas. There are impressive small details like how dashing while on the ground would create a permanent wake in the sand. I even wrote a word with the wakes to see if they were permanent or if the game could only keep a few. Joule and the corebots look great, with freckles and paint details creating a realistic scene. I never noticed any performance issues beyond the bugs mentioned above.

The visuals during gameplay were just as good as during cutscenes, which isn’t something that’s often true. It made it easy to feel that the story transcended the cutscenes and bled into gameplay seamlessly. Though somewhat predictable and not the most original, the story was unique enough to keep me wanting to know exactly what happened. No spoilers here, but being alone on a planet where everything has gone wrong certainly breeds curiosity. I loved the idea of the story, but it left me wishing that I had seen more of it. Despite this, it keeps a pretty good pace until the end when – as I alluded earlier – unlocking the next step requires you to go collect enough of an item to advance. Then, once you clear that section of the final dungeon, you have to go collect some more.

ReCore really shines in the moments of intense platforming: racing the clock, looking for hidden switches for extra loot, climbing massive structures, scavenging for health upgrades, and zipping around Far Eden with the help of corebots. The combat tries to keep up, but open world encounters just limit your freedom of exploration. Boss and dungeon encounters were fun, though sometimes they were too hectic in the name of difficulty. The story is engaging, but it slows down and loses its immersive grasp when it requires you to go collect items in order to progress. If you can avoid the game breaking bugs, Far Eden offers a beautiful setting for platformers, jumping puzzlers, and shooters alike, though you’ll find the best content in the optional dungeons.