Resident Evil is a franchise that hits a lot of bullet points for what I consider to be fun gaming. It's horror themed, which I love. It's campy horror that doesn't take itself too seriously which adds to the fun factor. The atmosphere, zombie/monster-killing gameplay and item management aspects are consistently engaging. And I just really like the whole concept of a malevolent biotech company conducting fringe genetic research and experiments, opening the way for all those wonderfully twisted monstrosities. It's just a backdrop that is rife with possibility, and apparently Capcom agrees, judging by the number of installments in this long-running series. I had let Resident Evil Revelations slip through the cracks for a long time, and decided to finally remedy that in 2019.
In the first place, I was impressed by the visual fidelity for this game that had its roots on the 3DS. I tend to be pretty forgiving on the technical front, and it's not a stunning achievement by any means, but I wasn't expecting things to look as nice as they did, given the origins. And the primary setting of being on an ocean liner makes for an interesting environment for the bioterrorism eradication. Granted, it's really just a mansion on the sea in most practical regards, but the overall atmosphere was a bit different, and I enjoyed that. This installment plays out in episodic fashion, where we jump between characters and locales in the intertwining narrative. And while that was a fresh approach, I actually prefer the singular protagonist viewpoint through a campaign. But the narrative itself was suitably epic and befitting a tale in this wild universe. In terms of item acquisition, we are the beneficiaries of a new gadget called the Genesis that lets us scan environments and enemies for items in addition to finding things laying around as we normally would in the series. It had the effect of slowing exploration down, and I didn't mind that. There were a nice variety of bosses, and they could be pretty significant difficulty spikes, which isn't uncommon for the series. In the case of the first boss - the communications officer - if you forgot to pick up the shotgun, which I overlooked, it's quite the hurdle. And all of the bosses, for that matter, take tons of damage and do a good job depleting your ammo reserves which ups the tension and sense of accomplishment quite nicely. We're granted a new dodge move in Revelations that is timing-based relative to enemy attack animations, and utilizing that can serve to make the boss fights much more manageable. It also works effectively against the regular mutants, and allows you to get out of some precarious situations. Finally I enjoyed the raid mode, which gives the game more legs after you've finished the main campaign.
There are some sore spots worth mentioning. I did miss the inventory tetris. I know it's an annoyance to some, but I like the item juggling/management. I also wasn't a huge fan of the bite-sized design. I understand the choice based on the original hardware being a handheld, but the relatively short, albeit interconnected, missions made it feel less like a big traditional Resident Evil adventure for me. I like the long, seamless feeling adventure more than the disconnected but related episodic content. Another point of note I'd like to mention is the camp. It seems the cheese is more self-aware here, like it's intentionally placed rather than having that naivety of the earlier entries. It just felt forced rather than genuine. And I didn't think this entry had the charm of the mainline entries. It felt, in many ways, like a spinoff, although a very good one. I can't say that this is my favorite Resident Evil. I've played 1 through 5, REmake and Code Veronica X, and it probably would rank on the lower end of the franchise from what I've experienced, but that certainly isn't an insult to the game. As stated, I really love this fictional universe, and Revelations is another fun trip into survival horror. 5/5
#5 Uncharted The Lost Legacy (PS4)
When you find yourself in the mood for a high-budget, AAA adventure with only the finest of production values, the Uncharted franchise has long been a series that would properly scratch that itch. The worlds are always gorgeous, the characters are well realized and voiced, the animations and globe-trotting set-pieces are glorious, and there is always an intoxicating blend of just the right proportions of humor, action and adventure. Looking to satisfy that "wow-me" aspect of the gamer within, I reached for the spin-off or side adventure, Uncharted : The Lost Legacy.
In this testosterone-challenged adventure, we travel with ladies from Uncharted's past, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, as they search India for the lost tusk of Ganesh, an artifact that, without spoiling things, is more than just filthy lucre and woven nicely into a personal and somewhat touching narrative centering on Chloe and her past. Chloe has always been a sexy, witty, daring, charismatic, fun-loving character, but I enjoyed the more intimate nature of this tale, and I thought the added weight given to the artifact's pursuit made things more meaningful than just another soulless cash grab. It opened up Chloe as a character and made her more human, disarming her of her aloof, cynical, sarcastic, and endlessly quipping nature and did a nice job of rounding off her edges, making her more relatable - and likeable - in the end. I couldn't help but feel a mixture of relief and disappointment as I watched Chloe Frazer develop into the embodiment of what the evolution of Lara Croft should have become.
As I made my way on this adventure in India with Chloe and Nadine, I found things to have many pleasant similarities to the ghost of Nathan Drake as well as some treasures all its own. Obviously the tech is amazing. Naughty Dog are masters at coding, and no expounding is really necessary in this regard. I did think, however, that Naughty Dog did raise their game in terms of facial animations. They were mostly fantastic, showcasing subtlety of expression that really captured various emotions in a shockingly authentic way, something I can imagine must be quite difficult to do considering how rare it is to see it done with such craft in this medium, and maybe never to this level previously. (L.A. Noire notwithstanding) I also really enjoyed an expansion on the concept of bite-sized open-world gaming that Uncharted 4 introduced. In one chapter of The Lost Legacy you encounter what is essentially a miniature open-world game within the overall game, and I really liked having that sense of exploration here. I thought it felt very harmonious with the prevailing series' theme of going on a treasure hunt, and contrasted nicely with the series' - and remainder of this game's - otherwise mostly linear nature. The melding of open-world and linear action-adventure games was done in a way that didn't make you feel like you were losing the essence of Uncharted while still giving you a bit more freedom to take a personal adventure, and I thought it did a wonderful job of satisfying both itches with a single scratch. Of special note within this open level was the pursuit of a trinket known as the Queen's Ruby. Obtaining this item was not only satisfying for its own sake, but also offered an in-game reward and utility - which I won't spoil for any who haven't played it. I really like when accomplishing things in games give rewards that overlap with the rest of the experience. Sure this is common in RPGs and some other genres, but it was nice to see a bit more depth and meaning given to what you were pursuing in a genre that doesn't always offer such interplay. I also thought the puzzles were pretty enjoyable here. They offered a decent sense of accomplishment without any real frustration, and I'm sure walking that fine line must take some work and attention. Finally I got really lost in the photo mode. I thought it was really enjoyable and certainly well-suited to a game of this beauty. I found myself pausing incessantly and editing in painstaking fashion when I got a shot that really pleased.
In terms of things I didn't like, well, honestly not much. I enjoyed this ride from beginning to end, and thought that this entry was not only wonderful as a side-adventure on its own merits, but also found it to be a polished refinement of all Naughty Dog has learned over the years with this franchise. It hit the high notes I've come to expect from Uncharted and avoided feeling stale by offering new, if familiar, protagonists as well as expansion and improvement on things that have already been done. For me, The Lost Legacy showed how much life this series still has in it, and I hope that Naughty Dog doesn't set it aside. There really is no reason to discontinue a franchise that checks off so many boxes in its category of easily digestible entertainment. In the end, Lady Indiana Jones was every bit as satisfying as Nate Drake was in the male representation of the archetype. After having finished, I'm hard pressed to identify a game I like better in the entire franchise. The high-point of the series for me has been Uncharted 3, and having played this, it can hold its own as contender for best-in-series crown. Chloe Frazer is truly worthy of taking on the mantle of the new adventure-heroine in my humble opinion, and has easily supplanted the modern incarnation of Lara Croft. An enthusiastic 5/5.
#4 Fran Bow (PC)
Epistemology, what can be known? This purview of philosophy has been a passion of mine - probably the passion of my life - even prior to any awareness of such a term, stemming from my earliest days and memories. I have always been fascinated with the question of what is real, what can truly be known without any protest or the slightest dubiety? What is fixed, if anything, in terms of truth? To illustrate my nature, I recall being very young - preschool age - and sitting at my mother's feet and asking her the question in the most sincere manner possible, "Is life just a dream?" Replying, "I don't know." her brief, distracted and unfulfilling response truly disappointed, as I was sure that she, if anyone, would have the answers to my deep curiosity about the fundamental nature of things. Having searched both within and without for many, many years, I have come to - what I feel to be - the ground of reality or truth, but that is certainly not the focus of this testimonial. Such a concept is, however, relevant when discussing the attributes of a game known as Fran Bow.
Fran, a young suburban girl, begins her journey as she awakens inside a children's mental hospital after a brief introduction where she receives a cat named Mr. Midnight from her parents, encounters a mysterious creature outside her home window and witnesses a profoundly disturbing event. Of course the suggestion given by her placement in a psychiatric facility is that she suffers from a fragile mental state, maybe a broken mind. And that opens the whole can of worms regarding the nature of what is to follow. What are we witnessing when we peer through the eyes of this girl? To be succinct, the events that follow take Fran on a wild and incredible ride into other realms that twist and distort any notion of firm ground upon which to place your feet and expectations. She, like Alice who is herself referenced late within the game, goes deep down the rabbit hole until any concept of truth, stability or normalcy is nearly altogether obliterated. I won't go into detail because I found the experience to be so amazing, and I wouldn't want to spoil any specifics. Suffice it to say that what happens to Fran is left open to interpretation, yet there are many bread crumbs left for the player that allow for the formation of your own account of the happenings.
In terms of structure, the game from the players perspective is a point and click adventure, with the typical trappings - conversation trees, objects and inventory to collect and utilize via puzzles, and so on. I must say that I found the puzzles to be nicely balanced without being overly obtuse. I had no need to consult any external assistance, although there were a few times where I was left thoughtfully rubbing my chin for a little while. which is big part of the appeal of this genre in the first place for me. Progression for the player was satisfying and logical, paradoxically within this surreal and unpredictable world, and solving the problems presented to Fran was a real treat. Of course the length of the game can vary depending on how quick you are with your puzzle-solving, but it is, for most, probably not an overly long game - probably between 6-10 hours for the average play I would guess. Although so much happens on this journey that it felt very dense and fulfilling, actual time spent playing aside, and for me, the length felt perfect.
In terms of presentation, there are few games I've ever played that achieve this level of personality. It's dark and twisted while also being whimsical and hopeful. It really feels like a (new & adult) classic fairy tale. The graphics exude a hand-crafted beauty and style - appropriately enough since it was made by only two people, a married Swedish couple, Natalia and Isak Martinsson. The art is gorgeous - vibrant and colorful - and the characters are expressive in their appearance and animation and beautifully detailed while stylized in a manner that is reminiscent of Tim Burton's aesthetics. The soundtrack is also phenomenal. It's both playful and moody, oscillating across the spectrum of emotions and often doing excellent work reflecting Fran's surreal journey - just wonderful overall in terms of presentation. Everything is saturated with personality, charm and imagination. It is truly a proper and potent elixir for AAA gaming fatigue in my experience.
Of possible interest to some is the fact that there is no voice work here, and for me that is usually a positive. While there are exceptions, so often the quality of voice work in gaming detracts rather than adds to the experience because it is either (very) poorly done or just doesn't fit the character. But these characters had so much personality that the lack of voice did not diminish their presence in any way.
And I haven't even really touched properly on Fran as a character. She's an intoxicating personality who resides in a state of wonder and curiosity despite all the twisted and dark events that are consuming her life. She remains vibrantly alive and engaged despite all. Amor Fati! I could really go on and on about this game. It was satisfying in a way that I didn't expect. I enjoy point and click games from time to time, but it's far from a staple genre on my gaming plate, however Fran Bow is truly exceptional. A one of a kind wonder that consistently entertains while posing the question "What is real?" within its subtext along the way. If you have the slightest interest in the unique, the dark, or the bizarre, and the least amount of tolerance for the genre, you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn't take this macabre and curious journey with Fran Bow. 5/5. Glorious!
The great thing about gaming - or any form of creativity - is that it can be about anything you want. Games can be realistic or interpretive, serious or whimsical, mechanically engaging or narrative-focused, and on and on. The are no limits to the blank canvas of digital entertainment. And one day back in the mid 90's a developer named Amccus decided that it would be fun to make a game that revolved around living a rural farm-life. Well, lot's of ideas are potentially good, no matter how outside the norm, but it usually falls on the execution to carry things. Thankfully, in the case of Harvest Moon, the execution of that idea has been wonderful and has carried this franchise for more than twenty years and many installments. I certainly haven't played them all. In fact, the only one I've ever played is Friends of Mineral Town on the Gameboy Advance, but that is one of my all-time favorites, and I decided I was well overdue a return to the farm. So I pulled Harvest Moon : The Tale of Two Towns from my DS backlog and hoped that I would fall in love just as I had with Friends of Mineral Town. And I am pleased to report that I did just that.
Before picking up Friends of Mineral Town on the GBA, I knew very little about the game or series. But it caught my eye one day - while perusing Amazon, I believe, and I was immediately drawn to it. I guess it seemed so different, and it was one of those cases where my instinct was very strong that I would really love it, despite having no real information initially upon which to base that feeling. I just knew, and I was right. The whole rural life simulator was, and still is, a breath of fresh air because of its niche status, and because I have a real affinity for rural areas, despite having lived in a large city for most of my adult life. Tending to crops and animals and building relationships with townsfolk are all nurturing, slow-build activities that are in pretty stark contrast to the bulk of gaming. I find it really soothing and satisfying to plant, water and fertilize various crops, feed and groom my livestock, run errands and give gifts to the denizens of my local village, go fishing, enjoy festivals, and do all the little things associated with the country fantasy way of life. Everything is just so happy and upbeat, and I really find it easy to lose myself in the concept.
In the case of The Tale of Two Towns, you are a new resident of one of two villages. You can choose to live in either Bluebell which focuses on livestock or Konahana, which is into growing crops. (Although you can do both activities in either village thankfully.) There is an old feud between these two towns that are separated by a large mountain - each residing in the valley on the opposite side of the other. The Harvest Goddess had grown tired of their feud and collapsed a tunnel through the mountain that had previously connected these two little hamlets. The crux of the narrative is that you can reunite these disharmonious places through your presence and efforts, eventually reconnecting them through clearing out the tunnel. (Although they still meet on the mountaintop for festivals or can reach each other by going over the mountain.) It took a fair amount of game time to resolve the main conflict, but as with all Harvest Moon games, there is still plenty of meat on the bone in handling your day-to-day activities where you are trying to generate income, maintain and deck out your farm and upgrade your items. And like always, there are plenty of little things to try and accomplish or discover. These games do a great job of doling out things gradually to keep it fresh in my opinion. I've played almost two full in-game years at the time of this writing, and I feel like I still have so much I want to do. I haven't even married, and only recently decided who was the best waifu. Many goals/upgrades are very costly and will take a long time to accomplish which gives you things to work for and look forward to. I always feel engaged because my daily routine has relevance in a larger context. And it's a perfect game to play one in-game day per real-life day. Dedicate 20 minutes or so to it, and it kind of follows a rhythm in parallel to your own life.
In the way of negatives, I did feel like it was not quite as good as Friends of Mineral Town. Although to be fair, I'm still playing and plan to continue to do so. The biggest problem for me with The Tale of Two Towns was the fact that there weren't enough unique lines of dialogue from the townsfolk. It seems like this could be remedied with minimal investment by the developers and would go a long way to fleshing out the characters and adding a great deal of color to the rural fantasy. Also, there is only a single save slot, which is very outdated. The naming of animals is overly restrictive, not allowing for many characters. Sometimes the time crunch can feel like a real issue. It seems like there is just so much to do and absolutely not enough time to do it. Granted, that's probably pretty true to actual farm life, but it can sometimes cause a bit of anxiety for the loafer in me. And for some, I'm sure the routine can feel very repetitive, but for me it is so in a soothing, rhythmic way. Knowing that all actions are geared towards growth and improvement give sufficient impetus and meaning to drown out any potential tedium. All in all, however, any problems I had are really minor relative to the fun on offer. I've played many hours already, and plan to play many more. This series just hits the right notes for me, and I hope to experience more of what this franchise has to offer in the future. Easy to recommend and for me a 5/5.
#2 Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 (PC)
I've been a huge sports fan since I was young enough to walk. Team sports, individual sports, whatever. I love to play (more so when younger, lol) and be a fan of them all. But if there was a hypothetical scenario where the world had decided to eliminate all but a single sport and it called upon me to make the decision about the lone sport we would keep, I would choose to allow the world to keep playing soccer. It would truly gut me to lose baseball, football and tennis especially, but no other game carries the drama, passion and excitement of the beautiful game for me.
And being a gamer, I enjoy recreating my love for sport, and in this case - soccer, through this medium we love. I have played Pro Evolution Soccer since the beginning of its availability in the US. Well to be entirely accurate, since Winning Eleven 6 on PS2. I never played ISS back in the PS1 days. And I've always been biased towards PES over FIFA. I have enjoyed some FIFA entries, especially the World Cup installments, and FIFA certainly made strides (by aping PES) starting in the late PS2 era in my opinion, but PES has always felt more natural and organic for me. There is a randomness, an "aliveness" to the unfolding action on the pitch that FIFA doesn't seem to be able to recreate. And it does a wonderful job of building and maintaining tensions as you try to nudge things in your favor. The thrill of watching your build-up lead to a beautiful chance or goal never fades. Finding that final pass to spring an attacker into the clear is ever-exhilarating, and there's such a great variety of goals and situations that develop over the course of play. And seeking that high has extracted hundreds of hours of my life over the years. And for next level fun, playing on full-manual allows for more organic play (especially against human opponents), high-level skill and is absolutely incredible. It had been a couple of years since I last played PES, so going back to it this year was a really comforting and exciting feeling.
And as this franchise has developed, there has been an increasing amount of ways to play. From head-to-head online (which admittedly Konami still struggles with, sadly) or local play (phenomenal), to Master League (my favorite single player mode), to the individual-player focused Become a Legend (think RTTS for The Show fans), League, Cup, and lastly the microtransaction focused myClub mode which I always avoid - there are just so many ways to enjoy the sport. It's an entire soccer universe at your fingertips, and for the soccer fan, the appeal is immense.
There are certainly some problems worth mentioning as well. The most obvious to many is the lack of licenses. This is easily remedied with mods, but even if it weren't I'd still rather play PES than FIFA. In terms of the online mode, the connection issues can be pretty problematic and inconsistent. There is also a sense that things can be scripted at times, both online and off, but especially in the case of the former. There will be moments where teammates will not react normally and appropriately to loose balls / chances. Sometimes there is a lack of urgency and awareness which can feel frustrating and unrealistic. And sometimes you might find yourself getting run down from an advantageous angle or position, no matter the speed of your player or that of the defender. And sometimes opponents feel destined to score no matter your tactics or actions. Having said all that, however, the issues are not frequent or severe enough to diminish the overall experience in a truly damaging manner. In the end, I love soccer and I love PES, and PES 2019 is absolutely a joy to play. The beautiful game is still beautiful in this virtual incarnation, and the series is one of my all-time favorites. PES 2019 is a perfectly thumped long-distance screamer fizzing into the top corner and bulging the net tight. 5/5.
#1 Dark Souls 3 (PC)
We all play games because we get something out of it - aesthetic satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, competition, narrative pleasure, mechanical engagement, simple entertainment or distraction, whatever. The Souls series for me has always ticked so many boxes for why one might want to play a game. It sets a sense of place like few - if any - have ever managed to achieve. The world is dripping with atmosphere and impetus, and everything feels very handmade and touched by an attentive and loving creator. There is real craft here, and that stands out perhaps more than any other single element. Somebody (ies) really loves what they're doing and making, and it clearly shows. From the environments, to the weapons, to the bosses, to the narrative, to the sound, to the systems/build varieties, and on and on - every element feels as if someone felt a real joy or passion for what they were making. And for me, that is the crux of real art - the expression of something meaningful by a creator.
Aside from the phenomenal artistry on display, this series has such a wonderful feeling of progression. Things are not always easy, but there is always a way through if you are patient and observant - or even if you want to eventually brute-force it. Discovery is always satisfying because it feels well-earned, rewarding and exciting. In addition to simply making your way forward in the game, there are seemingly endless ways in which to do so in the first place. How you choose to approach your character is an art and joy unto itself, and really gives the series a well-deserved classification as a genuine RPG. Just experimenting with different weapons and equipment can eat up dozens of hours as you learn the nuances of combat and how to adapt your avatar to cope with different challenges and situations. Additionally, the combat itself has always been fun. It may not be the deepest mechanically, but it is very well done and always engaging and enjoyable. The ballet of attacking and evading while minding your stamina never gets old for me. I can easily get lost making runs through particularly satisfying areas over and over again, tweaking things here and there. It may be monotonous to some, but for me, it's strangely addictive. Overall there is just a wonderfully layered depth with so much room to experiment and play with various builds. It's a marvelously nuanced experience that never stops giving.
In terms of specifics regarding this entry in the series, I will say that it had some of the most memorable and satisfying bosses. The Sister Friede fight, in particular, really stands out as memorable and among the very upper crust of Souls boss encounters. I also liked the idea of filling the throne room with the ashes of the fallen Lords of Cinder. It gave a nice visual sense of progression and was interesting thematically. I also enjoyed some of the new weapon skills that allowed for approaching enemies in different ways. Managing Focus Points along with estus and stamina added another layer to things.
There are some elements that may be off-putting to some. First of all, it's very familiar and the formula is apparent. If you have had your fill of Souls, it probably wouldn't be worth it. I also found it to be the most difficult in the series. I thought it was a byproduct of getting older perhaps, but I did check some forums out of curiosity and found that I was certainly not alone in that assessment. And this series in general is not well-suited as a casual time-waster. If you're not in the right frame of mind going in to a session, things can feel punishing and be a real slog, but that's not the fault of the game - it is what it is. But it's always best to play when you find yourself in a positive and patient state and have a decent amount of time and focus to give.
I've heard some say this was simply a "Souls greatest hits", but I felt it brought more than enough to the table to warrant its existence. Then again, I can never get enough of this franchise. This series by FROM remembers what it means - as far as I'm concerned - to be a video game, which is strange in this day and age. It gets out of your way and lets you play. What a novel concept! If this was the curtain call by FROM for anything with the "Souls" moniker, as they take their bow they are surely deafened by the thunderous applause and roaring approval blasting endlessly from their grateful and dedicated audience, of which, I am a life-long, fanatical member. 5/5. Sublime.
Alright. I'm done. If anyone managed to read all my reviews, you've got real problems.