Tag Archive: first-person


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Ashes to ashes

Games often subject us to the same experiences over and over, usually with a one-size-fits-all ending we can’t change: rescuing a princess, killing a terrorist, saving the world. But there’s a grain of truth in the way that approach appeals to us, and why it works. Partly why games may be so effective emotionally is that, similarly, life is about the journey, not the destination. It is how we overcome the challenges laid out before us, where we find our enjoyment and potential enlightenment. Also, the ability for people to interact with games allows the medium to simulate emotions at an intensity that other methods often struggle to convey. Most often, they are emotions of empowerment or fantasy fulfillment. When games are at their most remarkable, though, is when they illustrate the emotions we’d rather not face.

Firewatch bravely chooses to buck trends and explores the grief and pain that comes with a sense of loss. It does so in a way that provides a rare, realistic jolt when you are brought to understand how deeply one person cared for another, and find yourself caring about them, too. So, when the game starts with you finding out the wife of our protagonist, Henry, has developed early onset dementia, it is a punch to the gut that feels all too real—especially if, like myself, you’ve had any sort of family member suffer from a mental health issue.

Henry’s immediate relatability has to do with how Firewatch begins. The game does not start by introducing players to the situation through a dynamic, visual bombardment of information. Instead, you are given lines of text explaining who Henry is, but like a “choose your own adventure book” you are given simple choices that allow you to insert yourself into the scenario. They are choices many of us will likely make over the course of our lives, or can at least relate to, and which prove to be completely inconsequential to the main story. These choices help paint a picture of Henry for when the game truly starts, though. Is Henry more crass than charismatic? The game gives you a chance to decide who Henry is to an extent, priming you to be more inclined towards certain dialogue decisions later in the game—even if they have no bearing on the narrative’s eventual outcome. It is not as deep as character customization in an RPG per say, but it helps with immersion once you do take full control. And it is enough so that when you are blindsided by the news of Henry’s wife, you find yourself just as shaken as he would be, the sense of loss transcending the game.

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When Firewatch proper starts, you’ve just arrived in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, nominally to work a summer job as a firewatch patrolman, but with the underlying hope that a chance to commune with nature—and the quiet time to focus on writing the Great American Novel—will serve as a distraction or otherwise help soften the grief. Then, we meet Delilah, Henry’s supervisor at another tower and his only link to the outside world. Somewhat isolated, the two of you can only communicate via a handheld two-way radio.

Delilah will walk you through the entire game, evolving from a motherly wilderness guide to a friend and confidant. You will also learn about Delilah and other people in the forest who have dealt with losses of their own as you perform humdrum tasks, before stumbling upon a mystery that has been growing in the forest for years.

Even with that small twist, the bulk of Firewatch boils down to Henry running around while he and Delilah get to know one another, swapping stories, and lending each other strength in times of need. That probably doesn’t sound exciting, especially with the choices you make in conversations with Delilah having no bearing on the end game, much like the opening text. Well, it’s not, really, but that shouldn’t (and doesn’t) mean it’s automatically bad, either. Excitement does not make or break an experience. The illusion of choice—expertly maintained thanks to Campo Santo co-founder Sean Vanaman’s Telltale pedigree, no doubt—builds up the liveliness of the world and lends a quieter sort of allure: that of building a new relationship.

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From a more practical standpoint, the surface of Firewatch bares scars akin to a forest after a careless spark ignited some kindling on a dry, summer afternoon. Although its message is poignant and powerful, some might miss it when the fantasy shatters due to jarring and frequent framerate drops in the second half of the game. Yes, the visuals are gorgeous—courtesy of artist Olly Moss—highlighted by bright colors spread across the landscape in wide ribbons that dominate your first-person sightlines. But they are also simple, making the technical issues both surprising and disappointing.

Also, even if you adjust to the lower stakes of Firewatch, you may still find yourself cursing the glacial rhythm at a few points. When the mystery deepens and tensions begins to rise, Henry’s slow plodding across the Wyoming wilderness hurts pacing, turning what should’ve been a three- or four-hour experience into the five- to six-hour one we ended up with.

There are also likely some who will be left unsatisfied by the game’s resolution and ending. To this I say, that’s sort of the point. There’s a streak running through Firewatch that you might call “realistic” or “naturalistic” that would be ruined by something more conventionally crowd-pleasing. Any story, fictional or otherwise, can wrap everything up with a happily ever after and then pretend time stopped forever. Opting for something less naive serves as a reminder there’s another, more nuanced approach.

I’ll admit, I don’t typically enjoy games like this very much. Brothers and Gone Home are among the many critically acclaimed tearjerkers that left me unaffected and unimpressed. But Firewatch—technical issues be damned—actually moved me. I slipped into Henry’s persona as easily as feet do worn loafers. Part of this I feel was due to its audacious intro, with the game being only the aftermath of a devastating life moment that would rattle any person to their core; the rebuilding of a soul after it was burnt to the ground. That said, Firewatch’s subject matter may be too much for some, and those more superficial players will likely be unable to see past the game’s surface flaws, but those who are willing to make the trek with Henry will be rewarded. With a bit of patience and perseverance, the journey through Firewatch reveals a well-written adventure with an artful dedication to exploring themes and emotions that are rarely tackled in gaming, but so often essential to how we define ourselves as humans.

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Developer: Campo Santo • Publisher: Panic Inc. • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.09.16
8.0
Through the grounded reality it portrays and simple jobs players are tasked with, Firewatch sneaks up and surprises you when it zeroes in on a powerful message about the human condition.
The Good A heartfelt, well-told tale that should resonate with everyone on some level.
The Bad Routine framerate drops throughout the later stages of the game.
The Ugly We’re all headed for the same destination.
Firewatch is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Campo Santo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to play the first couple hours of Far Cry Primal‘s campaign at a recent Ubisoft event. Here are two missions where I got to tame my first animal, and also took on one of Takkar’s rival tribes, the sun-worshipping Izila. Far Cry Primal will be available for Xbox One and PS4 on February 23, 2016, and PC on March 1, 2016.

Who is deadliest?

For three seasons, Deadliest Warrior on Spike took some of history’s greatest combatants and threw them into a fictional “What if?” scenario. Torn Banner Studios’ Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is a best-selling PC title best described as a first-person slasher where feudal knights clash in multiplayer combat in order to achieve a variety of objectives.

When the two meet, you get Chivalry: Deadliest Warrior, a Chivalry expansion pack coming this fall via Steam. It might sound simple, but after going hands-on with the game, there’s a lot more going on than you might initially expect.

Sure, the first major aspect is obvious: the six warrior classes. The Knight will be familiar to longtime Chivalry players, but the Ninja, Samurai, Pirate, Viking, and Spartan are new—and each brings their own brand of mayhem to the proceedings. In true Deadliest Warrior fashion, all combatants have a choice of weapons, so a Samurai-versus-Spartan showdown could theoretically play out quite differently each time.

The game also includes projectile weapons—much like the main Chivalry experiencethat fit the needs of each character. For example, a Spartan can throw his spear, while a Pirate can fire his flintlock pistol. The Pirate and Ninja weren’t available in the demo, but I did get a chance to try out the Spartan; tossing his spear felt excellent, especially when it hit and impaled an opponent for a killing blow.

Speaking of weapons, fans of Deadliest Warrior know how heavily these bouts rely on statistics. But don’t these matchups wreak havoc on weapon and armor balancing?

“For us, we’re trying to keep the personality of the weapons,” says lead game designer Steve Piggott. “We’re not going to use the exact stats. If Spartans are using bronze weapons and armor, that would never cut through the steel armored plates of a knight. But we’re not going to represent that in the game, because that would be the least fun thing ever. So, we’re trying to maintain the character and personality of those weapons without losing the fun factor of wielding them. And then, from there, it’s just constant iteration to make sure it’s a fun experience.”

Aside from a variety of authentic weapons, each class also has its own unique arena with different traps or features that could change the way you think of combat. I was able to try out the Samurai’s arena, where I was able to run on the rooftops and get the drop on enemies from above. At one point, a Knight tried dropping down on mebut all that heavy armor didn’t make for a sound strategy, and it was an easy kill for my Viking warrior. I also tried the Spartan’s arena, which has a 300-style pit into which you can kick careless foes. Of course, if you’re like me and mash the kick button near that pit, you also leave yourself open for an easy gutting.

The biggest change, however, comes in the form of multiteam matches, where up to six teams of 10 players clash in a single arena. There’s also Mixed Team Deathmatch, which allows for a hodgepodge of classes on a given team; Faction Battle, where 32 from one class go against 32 from another; a traditional Capture the Flag mode; or 1-on-1 duels akin more to a traditional Deadliest Warrior scenario.

Meanwhile, Deadliest Warrior fans will be thrilled that comprehensive stats will be kept on globally ranked leaderboards to help fan the flames of that eternal debate: “Who is deadliest?” Players can also monitor their personal stats, including kills and their most effective weapons. Honestly, there’s a lot of potential here. I only got a chance to see the 1-on-1 duelswhich were certainly exciting in their own rightbut this is a mode that fans of both the Deadliest Warrior games and TV show will embrace.

But it’s the idea of expanding that into multiple teams and factions versus factions that really got me excited. Who wouldn’t love to see 32 Spartans up against 32 Ninjas? Or see 10 Spartans, 10 Ninjas, 10 Samurai, 10 Vikings, 10 Knights, and 10 Pirates duke it out? The potential for mayhem is awesome, and that’s what will really draw players into this $15 expansion.

Originally Published: January 3, 2011, on Youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Singularity for the Xbox 360 from Activision.

Originally Published: November 25, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com and NationalLampoon.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed the latest installment of the celebrated Call of Duty series, Black Ops. Take over as Alex Mason in the middle of the Cold War as you try to foil a Manchurian Candidate like plot in this first-person shooter.

Originally Published: November 9, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed the original Red Steel for the Nintendo Wii from Ubisoft.