Transference is a first-person sci-fi horror experience for VR. It was developed by SpectreVision and published by Ubisoft. It was heavily advertised as a psychedelic adventure and was heavily promoted by Elijah Wood during E3 2017 & 2018. The plot focuses on your navigating through a computer simulation of the minds of a three-person family. Depending on whose memories you explore, the layout of the house in which you spend the majority of the game will rearrange itself. Surprisingly, when the game came out in late September, it was largely ignored with no fanfare or ads. It also released on Xbox One and PC, despite being slated as a VR-only title. It’s quite possible that VR would enhance the experience, but the game still has to hold up on its own merits. This copy was reviewed without the use of VR, but still on PS4.
This is definitely a case of style over substance. The game has a great array of really good looking lighting FX, visual glitches, transition sequences, and mocap. There are also several scenes that blend 2D videos into the 3D environment in interesting ways. The problems this game has come from a technical standpoint. Despite the spectacular use of props, colors, and layouts to represent different psyches, one thing takes you out of the experience. The texture quality is just abysmal. Cables look like squares, a jar of sand had jagged edges, a cassette tape looks like a blown-up JPG. That’s really too bad because it definitely shows that a lot of detail was put into everything else. You can pick up props and look at them but the details are muddy. Still, the overall look works.
Absolute drivel. The story of this game is about a family man who went crazy and digitized the minds of his wife, child and himself onto a computer. But the context of why you’re experiencing these memories in the first place is never made apparent. You’re just there to stop in and look at some things that happened to this family. The kid had a dog he loved, and honestly, I can’t remember the actual fate of the dog. Just that something bad happened. The wife is sad because she thinks she gave up her career to be with this man, but I’m not really sure what it was he did that made her have to give everything up.
You never really feel like you’re in danger, and these NPCs are at worst a minor inconvenience…
And the husband? Well, he went crazy. Why? I don’t know, it appears that he just did. The game has several points where you get to watch camcorder footage of the family to get a better idea, but it felt very inconsistent. In one scene, they are at a park having a birthday party and the dad is acting just okay. You find another video later that appears to be the same time and location, but the dad has turned a complete 180 and was acting like a drunken abusive asshole. Why? I don’t know, it looks like he just did. Maybe the truth was hidden on one of the collectibles? That might be the case but it’s not much of a story if it’s mandatory for me to pick up every single object in every room. Also, the less said about the “acting” in this game, the better.
Despite the terrible script and bad acting, the quality of the voice work is well implemented into the game. Several wonky features are added to the voices of the family, distorting them, echoing them, and burning them. This game dives into the reality of horror for the most part, and this game expertly implements the “horror atmosphere” that many scary games excel at. It has everything, cramped spaces, hums, random noises, door knocking, clock ticking, music boxes, the usual. This is amplified with a soundtrack that blends into the scenes you encounter. There are heavy padded synths feeding through distortion tubes as scenes get more and more intense. Zero complaints about anything in the audio department of this game.
This is a relaxed horror experience if that makes any sense. You enter an apartment, and spooky things happen. You will walk around, look at things, watch video logs, and avoid walking afoul of the enemies in the game. These phantoms you encounter look like the Endermen from Minecraft. If you touch them, you just get sent backward a little bit. You never really feel like you’re in danger, and these NPCs are at worst a minor inconvenience and one of the least scary things about the game. Thankfully, there really aren’t any jump scares. The biggest problem was that there were a handful of puzzles that either stopped the game dead or were extremely easy. I won’t be able to forgive this game for the “piano puzzle” sequence any time soon. Some of the puzzles made sense plotwise, while others were real head-scratchers.
VR: That said, VR might have enhanced the scares just a little bit. This is literally the only section that VR could have improved the experience. It might have been scarier to walk around this cramped place in a fully immersive manner.
The couple of puzzles that stopped me dead in my tracks were rather annoying. Once I did figure them out, I didn’t feel smart. I just felt “Oh really? Just that? Okay then.” My interest in the fate of this family diminished by the minute. When the game rolled into its conclusion about 2 hours in, I was glad it was over, because I didn’t want to play it anymore. Even then, the ending is incredibly abrupt and completely unfulfilling, accomplishing nothing. You basically just rode around on a haunted mansion ride until you had to get off. The game just shrugs and says to me, “Yup, that’s it. Have a nice day I guess.” Maybe it’s my fault for having high expectations, but I’ve had these expectations for other games in the SciFi/Horror genre that live up to the hype. This one doesn’t.
This whole experience is basically a shaggy dog story about a broken family. Transference is content with itself; it tells you about a series of unfortunate events (which is a crap book series, fight me). This generation of gaming is finding more and more “AA” experiences resurface and make for some high-quality adventures. We got tales like Hellblade, Get Even, Soma, and several other games that serve as an experience on top of being a game. This particular title doesn’t really make the cut.
Stabilizers? Check. Laser Canons? Check. Frequency Blade? Probably not what its called but check. Let’s start f*cking sh*t up baby.
I’m in the cockpit of the all powerful orbital frame Jehuty and even though they keep calling me Dingo, Vega is ready to party. First objective is to get this gate open so I can get in there and see what the big hype over this other orbital frame is. I have two panels, obviously super far away from each other, and that should set things straight. Alright, let’s get to it.
Ok, alright cool, let’s try that again. This time I’m gonna go for the one on the left first.
As I proceed to destroy these robots I start to wonder “Who the hell is piloting the enemy machines?” Eh, none of my business. Keep slashing and destroying this endless supply of machine enemies. I finally arrive at the panel and with an over charged spirit bomb (it’s not really a spirit bomb but dammit thats what it looks like) I destroy it. Now I gotta travel all the way to the other side of the gate. Let me save real quick in case something goes wrong. Playing this from a first person perspective is way harder than playing in third person. And the lock on system still doesn’t work properly.
On to the other side. Alright here we go, not doing to bad.
What the f*ck! Why doesn’t this damn game lock on to the closest enemy instead of whatever f*cking random enemy it wants. Wait. Are you kidding me! It’s making me start over and I gotta clear the first panel again. Aahhh!
Vampyr is a game that flew under the radar, coming right before E3. And it was June, which is the front side of the gaming deadzone where not to many major releases pop up. But still, despite the review I gave it, here’s some videos on the game. Decide for yourself.
A Way Out is a two-player action adventure game developed by Hazelight and published by EA Games. Hazelight is mainly comprised of developers who worked on Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons so it shows that the developers had a knack for working on two-player games. In a world of season passes, games as service, and 80-hour sandboxes, it takes a lot of chutzpah to come out and say you’re going to have a linear, story-focused campaign that has to be played with another person, preferably one sitting right next to you. Indeed it has become a novel experience to play with your friends in person rather than online. With the graphical demand of consoles, some developers have had struggles trying to keep same screen multi-player available, but Hazelight pulled it off. But how is it?
If anything, the game is considerably unpolished. While main characters Vincent and Leo have a lot of detail put into their appearances, that same can’t really be said for the rest of the cast. Plenty of variety is used for the various extraneous characters is in the game, but they just have an amateurish look as if they were generated by one of the customizable protagonist games that have a ‘random’ button. But it’s a small team, and they have limited resources, but it’s clear they did everything they could to keep the game looking good. Despite what you may expect from the footage you’ve seen of this game, there actually is a considerably large amount of different locations the game takes place in. These scenarios are very diverse, from the dreary grey of prison to the bright blues and greens of a tropical locale. There’s that and the visual effects are pretty good, especially the way rain looks when you get inclement weather. It’s very detailed and in-depth, they made sure this game would run well and look decent while not sacrificing too much of either.
There’s a thin line between homage and theft. The plot of the game goes off into this crazy dash through all the beats of more than 10 different movies and sometimes even lifts a scene or two. There really wasn’t much going on that you haven’t seen in another movie, which means that yes, the game features a lot of overused tropes. Usage of familiar tropes isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s very hard to get invested in some of the characters. It’s a tight string of a story, running along from beginning to end without a whole lot of buildup on any characters other than the main characters. You end up with a story that begins and just jumps here and there leading you to a series of several non-climactic moments book-ending every chapter. Does it play the part well? Of course, it does. But the lack of originality and motivation aren’t present.
The game featured a lot of surprisingly bass-heavy orchestral tracks during a lot of the exposition. But if it comes down to memorability, I can’t remember anything about it. The OST seems to have simply gone with a sort of generic template for action/adventure movies and doesn’t seem to keep in line with the mood of the story. But the soundtrack is still very well-mixed and Vincent & Leo’s voice actors gave some pretty good performances, giving the characters life even if they sometimes have bad lines.
Over the course of the game, you will do so many average versions of what would probably be better in a sandbox game. Driving, fighting, QTE’s, shooters, stealth action, and big decisions, you play just a little bit of all those games type as you make your way through the game. When it came to walking through a few mountains, trying to stealthily take out cops was adequate. The shooty bits at the end of the game are adequate. The driving is very arcadish and adequate. There were no big ideas, just focusing mainly on the story, the game tries to make playing with your partner as easy as possible. Nothing ever gets too difficult because the game made sure to have you deal with whatever game mechanic is thrown at you during the chapter you’re in, then poof, it’s gone from the game. It’s on a cruise control that lulls you into quickly knowing what you’re dealing with and doing it. There’s not much more to say, everything works, but nothing is spectacular.
Co-op on the couch is a very rare thing indeed. If it weren’t for the showing at E3 that heavily pushed for playing with a real-life partner, the experience wouldn’t have been whole online. Full disclosure, I played the game with my uh, err, current and formidable life partner, we almost had a fight but never did. Even when she got stuck on a wall FOR THE FOURTEENTH TIME JUST PULL AWAY AAAAAAAAAAAAAA. But the moments of frustration were few and the moments of being heavily engaged in playing were plentiful. Sure, as I’ve said before, not a single thing in the game is unique, but the fact that you’re going through so much game with someone in real life is a special experience that not a lot of games can tout. This game most reminds me of Quantum Break of all games, it’s a completely new experience that while not the best, is a very creative way of getting the player’s attention. And in this case, the company breaks ground by going back to the good ol’ days and having you play together. In real life, preferably.
A Way Out does what it sets out to do: be a solid co-op experience. It unfortunate that the sum of all its parts is still rather low but it still manages to have that special X-factor. If you have someone you know that you want to play an experience game with, you could do worse than this. Looking at you, F.3.A.R.
Actually, now that you mention it, Fear 3 was a pretty mediocre game too. It wasn’t scary, that’s for sure. Also, said partner copy-edited this article and heartily agrees that arguments almost happened.
What Remains of Edith Finch is an interactive narrative adventure game developed by Giant Sparrow and published by Annapurna Interactive. This game is the first from the newly founded publisher, a video game division of Annapurna Pictures. The game sees you as a young woman returning to her childhood home, a bizarre cut & sewn structure that defies explanation. You spend your time in the game finding secret passages and reading books about the members of the family and how they all eventually met their demise. For a game about death, it does manage to be very colorful in story and gameplay elements.
This game hits that sweet spot of style vs realism that doesn’t quite go too far one way or the other to set it off balance. You can tell that special attention was made for each and every room you enter inside the house. Often times the design of the rooms themselves tell you more about the character before you read about them in their diary. But it’s not just striking a good balance, it also has range. Throughout the many stories of the game, some alternative art styles will pop up like cel-shading and other stylized art. And the placement of the subtitles of the game are well-crafted. These subtitles don’t just sit at the bottom of the screen, they occupy the space you’re looking at. There are several moments when you can even interact with text as it appears before you. While projecting subs onto the environment isn’t necessarily a new idea anymore, this game still manages to be considerably inventive with it.
I cried at the end. I mean, that’s not actually all that hard for me to do that. But, it was surprising that such a whimsical story about people dying could emotionally affect me. Especially when I didn’t feel that much of a connection with any of the characters. The game doesn’t expect you to necessarily identify with characters though. Merely, the essence of the story is basically about telling stories in and of itself. It would be a disservice to the game to go into details about the story, as the game is rather short. Sitting anywhere between 2-3hrs max, it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, the timing was actually rather perfect. Your interest in these tall tales can only go on for so long, so after one particularly poignant tale, the game moves on to the finale on cue.
This is one of those games that also expertly implements procedurally implemented music, with music meant to play during certain cues, ever changing as the game takes you through every character’s big adventure. With a lot of variety, the songs featured go through a range of different genres based on the mood and setting of every character’s story. Then there’s the titular Edith Finch, who is going through the house and reading out many of the stories that are presented. Actress Valerie Rose Lohman, whom doesn’t appear to have any other major claims is a great host, delivering a performance without taking things over the top. All the other actors who narrate their stories sound real and believable, again no sign of overacting, even when things do get a bit ridiculous. Not to spoil it, but the “spooky” narrator puts on a great show, especially in his aping of old TV horror specials.
And here’s the rub. It may be unnecessary to call an interactive narrative experience game (or walking simulator as you may casually refer) derivative, as these games were born upon the successes of breakthrough titles like Dear Esther and Gone Home. But that second one in particular is a real sticking point, because Edith Finch and Gone home are heavily focused on exploring a house that tells you a story. But in GH, that story is told to you by figuring it out for yourself, as you move from room to room and pick things up and thumb through old journals, scrapbooks, tapes, and other junk. Here in Edith Finch, you have stories that are directly delivered to you in a largely linear guided tour with very little agency in interacting with anything inside the rooms. You just go from one to the next, following convoluted paths that involve hidden passageways but somehow always lead you to where you need to go. That’s my only real point of contention, a game like this has been done better before, especially in terms of engagement. While some walking sims have a lot of things for you to stop and take a closer look at, this title is far more akin to the of a Disney ride, complete with unsettling implications.
At not one point was I bored while playing. I never felt like anything had to be rushed. I wasn’t annoyed by any of the minigames. The pace was perfect. Loading times were non-existent and transitions were seamless. Most importantly, this game is truly accessible. The controls are simple enough for most people to grasp and non-demanding of the player to be particularly agile or quick. Anyone can play it, and that’s a good thing for games like this. Some games in this genre can be far more challenging, but not this one. There’s only one exception, as one of the penultimate stories has you doing two things at once. Do one activity on your left thumbstick while doing another activity with your right thumbstick. Not necessarily the hardest thing in the world for sure. But in terms of acting like a sort of “final boss” it is the most difficult little game in this anthology. When I think of games I like to show my sister, who used to play games 1v1 with me ages ago, this is the kind of game I like to fire up, give her a controller, and let her enjoy the experience firsthand.
Wonderous and humble, this game about a cursed family with a disturbing propensity for unfortunate deaths is not something you’d expect to be a fun and enjoyable experience. But it is. This game has enough new ideas to feel more engaging than just being force-fed exposition. If you like interactive narrative adventures (walking simulators) and want to see something refreshingly good, this is the one to pick up.
September 6th, 2017 by Stefan Adrian "AdminMas7er" Robu
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is an episodic interactive story game made by Deck Nine Games and published by Square Enix. It tells the story of a younger Chloe Price, the blue haired punk rebel and main companion from the original game. In this, she tries to cope up with her personal problems after the death of her father, and her newfound relationship with the popular Rachel Amber.
One of the bigger changes of Before the Storm is in the graphics, it may not seem different at first but I did notice the disappearance of an odd pink-ish hue and more God Rays. It still has the artsy and cartoonish aesthetic of the first game. Another change is the transition from Unreal Engine to Unity, which may or may have not cause the reported performance issues, which also vary by machine and graphics settings. That said, the scrapyard scene really showcased the power of the new engine, with improved lighting and textures at their best.
STORY: 1/2 [SPOILER ALERT]
Episode 1 starts off in a weird way, showing off the rougher side of Chloe by going to a somewhat unknown concert of one of her favorite bands. Things do not go as smooth as planned but she does meet with a new friend, Rachel. My gripe with the intro is how bad it manages the pace, the first 5 minutes of the intro are slow and meticulous as Chloe tries to get into the show. But in the last part of this intro, things gets faster. Chloe gets into some conflict and Rachel saves her, taking her to the concert floor to have fun. After that, the game goes back into a slow pace, only to pick up a bit later. She ends up ditching school to hang out with Rachel and things close off dramatically.
The second gripe I have with this episode is how fast the relationship between Chloe and Rachel develops, it goes from a simple “let’s know each other” to “let me tell you about my inner family drama”. I do not know if the writers made these moments just to add drama, or if the characters really have a lot of trust in each other. Speaking about writing, the dialogue is a lot more improved compared to the previous game. It does not have as many “hip” elements or slang, thus being somewhat more realistic, which is a plus in my book, hell, it even makes a joke at one of the more annoying words in the first game, the famous “hella”.
Sure, the music may be still of the indie genre, but it is a little bit rougher. It reflects on Chloe’s attitude and perspective regarding life in general at the time. There are not that many artists so far, compared to the first game. Deck Nine resorts mostly to a single composer, Daughter, to make the score, meanwhile sneaking in some licensed music every now and then. The voice acting was well-done, lip-syncing wasn’t really an issue but the change of voice actor for Chloe was obvious in some cases.
Just like the original Life is Strange (and story-based games in particular), the mechanics are easy and somewhat intuitive. The rather interesting, yet unexplained, mechanic of time-travel from the first game, is replaced with a new mechanic called “backtalk”. It makes the player pay closer attention to what the person is saying, and then has Chloe use key words against them. The removal of the rewind mechanic also puts more emphasis on the “your choices matter” part of the game, something that I had a small issue with in the first game. Otherwise, nothing is really changed, apart from the fact that there are more “break choices” as I like to call them. They are more apparent, putting even more emphasis on “your choices matter”, and even some non “break choices” do matter. A bad side is that the rewind made Life is Strange interesting, so it’s somewhat good, and also bad, that it’s gone.
While this return to Arcadia Bay and its people was welcome, Life is Strange: Before the Storm has some adjusting regarding story and a bit on the character side. But it is good for a second replay to see what I missed in the first place, offering two distinct attitudes to Chloe in her choices, either be understanding to the people around her, or just giving everyone the middle finger, but I won’t call this “emotional”, or “fun”, or even “moving”. I would just call it “interesting”.
In conclusion, Episode 1: Awake, offers some improvement over the first game, refining what was already good and fixing some quirks, leaving me wanting for more in upcoming episodes.
WRITER NOTE: Because this is an episodic game, I will review each episode separately and then do a general review of the game once all episodes are out, scores may vary per episode. This review is solely based on episode 1, some comparisons with the first Life is Strange may be used.