A Noobs Review – AI: The Somnium Files

I went into this expecting a visual novel akin to the Zero Escape series, a series that I have covered to completion on my channel. What I found was that the similarities are few and far between, and I think that if this is a visual novel, then it is on the very border of the definition of the genre. That is by no means a complaint. While a lot of the mechanical differences didn’t hit for me, the story (which has to be core of any game that identifies as a visual novel) succeeds in telling a thrilling murder mystery, in a world where the gritty, shocking atmosphere doesn’t get bogged down by the sci fi elements, but is rather enhanced by them.

+ The Story

Something that I think is important to note is that everyone may get a very different experience of the story depending on the choices you make. The game has a flowchart structure where you follow a route to completion, then go back and change your choice to see what happens in different scenarios. By the end, you will have the same information as anyone else, but the journey in which you got there could be vastly different. I personally believe I got all of the endings in an order that was specifically curated for my tastes (anticlockwise around the flowchart for anyone that is curious) and feel very lucky for doing so. Following this route, the story ramped up very far very quickly and I was hooked. The mysteries had me desperate to see what was going to be around the next corner.

Looking back, it must be some good story telling that it had me guessing so many theories. Some were close, some were mildly correct, and some were way off. Allowing you to have this variety of thoughts, and yet the actual answers being satisfying too is a credit to the writers. I think my favourite thing about this developer is the ability to allow your imagination to go wild, misguide you and leave you asking questions right to the end. They did that well in the Zero Escape series and they were successful here too.

+/- The Writing

While I was praising the writing of the story above, the writing of dialogue can go from great, to so annoying that I don’t even know why I am playing. The player character is a man named Date. Don’t get me wrong, Date isn’t the only one guilty of this. But obviously that doesn’t make it any better. It makes it worse, because you don’t only have to endure it from him but others too. I do like his character sometimes but it gets overshadow by how perverted he is. The occasional lewd joke, sure, why not. But every scene has something. Some have multiple, and it is just not funny. It comes across as juvenile to me and makes me grateful that I didn’t stream or record this game. That way, I could just roll my eyes and move on instead of having to take in what was being said.

+/- The Characters

The Characters are such a mixed bag for me. Some of them feel very over the top to be almost caricature-ish. It is impossible to explain why without spoiling the game so I won’t go too deeply into it, but Mizuki and Mayumi were great to me. Iris and Ota not so much.

+ AI

AI, Eye, Aiba. I had no idea what this game was about when I started. All I knew is that it had a title that made no sense to me. The game very quickly explains the deal with AI and I was into it instantly. I am very attached to my eyes – something happening to them is probably one of my biggest bodily fears – but I do think I would give one up if it meant I could have an AI. Also, her physical form is frickin adorable.

– The Somnium Puzzle Sections

Where the Zero Escape series had novel sections and escape room sections, AI has a little more variety. The bulk of the puzzle sections though are the Somnium puzzles. In these sections you are exploring various dreamscapes, investigating for clues and progress by interacting with objects. So far this sounds like something I would love, but it is completely ruined by the time mechanics. Every Somnium has a 6 minute time limit. Every action you do costs a certain amount of time. Some interactions give you modifiers that you can choose when to use (for example one modifier might make an interaction take exactly 30 seconds, another might make it take an eighth as long as it was going to). If you happen to get a bad modifier then your next action will take double time or more. At first I thought this could be neat. It is something new that I hadn’t seen before. But actually playing it doesn’t work on so many levels. Firstly, if I am in a dreamscape, that is super interesting! I want to be able to explore without consequence. Secondly, it is not intuitive which actions are going to help you progress, sometimes its something completely unexpected. Thirdly, what if I want to try out all of the silly interactions? Well if that’s the case then be prepared have to go through the convoluted retry system or start again from the beginning. If you do need to restart you can fast forward text, but that is no fun to me. In the end I gave each Somnium one try, then as I was running out of time I would pull up a guide because I found replaying so tedius. Finally, these puzzle sections are where the story branches happen. The trouble is that there is no way of knowing what interaction you make is going to take you down what path. Like I stated before, I am very lucky that I got the story in the perfect order for me, but that was literally just luck becasue I had no idea what direction I was taking things. In the Zero Escape series you make blind choices that lead to different paths, but at least in that game you can base your decisions on who you would like to spend more time with. In this one, you don’t even necessarily know you are making a choice till you have commited by interacting with a random object.

+/- The Other Mechanics

As I mentioned before, this game is more interactive than many other visual novels. What would often be a novel section in other games can almost be a point and click section in this one. You can look around your environment, clicking on everything and hearing comments from your own character as well as others around you. I really enjoyed this to start with, but it gets repetitive. I bet by the end most people are no longer clicking on the background objects. The problem is, they do throw in some new lines every now and again, but you never know when. So you either go through the tedium of clicking on every object due to fear of missing out, or you miss out on some character quirks and jokes. This section is also used to ask characters questions which I enjoyed.

There are some other sections too. This game contains action. And with action comes quick time events. These were fine. If anything I think I would have preferred to just watch the action rather than doing the QTEs. I am not sure what happens if you miss them so I can’t comment on that, but if you have to start the section again that would suck, it would ruin the pacing just as much as replaying a somnium does.

Finally, since you are a detective, there are interrogation sections. Unfortunatly there arent much to them, but I did like them none the less. You will be presented with a question and a few clues and you have to pick out the relevant answers. It is simple but it is nice while you are in the process of putting things together. If you choose the wrong one then Aiba will tell you, so there is no failstate.

+/- The Audio

As mixed as I have been with everything else, I am also mixed on this too. I don’t find the soundtrack very memorable. They did reuse some sound effects from the Zero Escape series which took me out of the game a little bit. There are occasions where you have to sit through an extended section of pop music and I was sat there like ‘oh my god, is this still going’. The best part of the audio though is that it is fully voice acted, and I think the majority of the actors did a great job. I enjoy hearing what each character sounds like as it gives them their own personality, more so than if I was just reading all of their lines.  

I have tried to be as spoiler free as possible because the less you know the better, but also I believe knowing the caveats in advance can help set expectations and should hopefully improve the experience for anyone reading. Despite all of the problems I had, I still recommend this game if you have the patience, because the mystery was great and I really enjoyed the story. I am curious if any of my problems have been improved upon in the sequel! 

+ The Story

+/- The Writing

+/- The Characters

+ AI

The Somnium Puzzle Sections

+/- The Other Mechanics

+/- The Audio

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A Noobs Review – PowerWash Simulator

Playing PowerWash Simulator is like using a colouring book. It is something mindless to keep your hands and a specific part of your brain busy while you are doing something else such as watching a show or listening to a podcast. I never intended on finishing this game but I have had a challenging month, and this game turned out to be the perfect white noise that I needed to get by. It has a very similar feeling to the paint-by-numbers game I play on my phone when I want to pass time without engaging my brain.

+ (Non-)realism

Upon cleaning my first van I felt slightly irritated. Bugged by the fact that this is not how cleaning works. I can be a very systematic person. I have a set way that I wash my dishes, and that is because cleaning is annoying and awkward and putting things in water doesn’t = clean. So imagine my confusion when this game allowed me to clean the windows of the vehicle before I did the roof. How could that be? Everyone knows the dirt would come off the roof and re-dirty the parts you have already cleaned. This was against the laws of cleaning nature and I had a hard time accepting it. I finished up my now squeaky clean van and got to work on a huge garden. Slightly overwhelmed, I started on the fences and worked my way around. But then while I was doing the fences, I may as well do the floor between them. But I hadn’t done that bench yet so I should probably do that too. Then it clicked. If this game had real life cleaning physics it would be unbearable. It would go from an alternative to colouring in, to absolute chore simulator. I thanked the game dev gods that it wasnt me making this game, petitioning to make it realistic. Instead, they took fun and convenience into consideration, which enabled my compulsion to do things in any order that made sense to me in that very moment without consequence.

+/- The Compulsionism

I found my rhythm by the end of the game. Go around the edges of things, then do the betweeny parts. The only problem with this – how do you ever stop. Everytime I splash a bit of water onto a new section, I feel like I have signed my soul to a soapy devil and I am now committed to finishing this piece. Do my edges, splash onto the next area, sign a new contract, rinse, repeat. It is very hard to stop. Some times it feels less out of enjoyment and more of a duty. Of course, this isn’t a problem with the game, this is entirely in my head and if anything, it shows good game design. Not being able to put a game down is often a goal in making a game and usually the sign of a successful one.

– Bugs

I had a couple of bugs while playing. One time I got stuck somewhere unable to move. Then there were multiple times where my ‘show me the dirt’ button wasn’t working. Thankfully all of these were solved by either leaving then re-entering the level, or restarting the game. Nothing too major, just little annoyances but I could never tell when they were going to happen.

+/- Navigation

The menu is generally laid out well. It is really easy to jump between levels in seconds should you need to. It is designed as a tablet which works well with the theming of a mobile business. You can use the menu button to get a list of things like ‘Shop’ and ‘Settings’. That was all very clear. What wasn’t as clear to me was how to change your clothes. Throughout your cleaning career you are constantly opening your equiptment tab to change the length of your machine, so often that you cease to actually see the menu. What I didnt notice is that within that tab there is a clothing tab. I only realised after a google search because I was near the end of the game and desperate to try on my new gear. I never actually figured out how to change the skin of my Power Washer until I purposefully reloaded the game to figure it out specifically for this review. It is a triangle on top of a tab and it is so easy to miss. Again, only minor things but they felt worth mentioning.

+ Game Modes

Career mode is the bulk of the game. You will receive texts from clients offering you jobs. Near the beginning you can often choose between two or three, but by the end it becomes one at a time. As you complete jobs you will earn stars which will unlock upgrades in the shop, and money that will allow you to buy said upgrades. When you are done with career mode you can use free play mode to redo previous areas with all of the shiny equiptment and unlimited soap supplies. Also, there are special levels that contain 4 novelty scenarios to clean. I wonder if this is going to be added to over time. Co-op mode is an option if you want to clean with your friends, or just clean you friends. Finally, there are challenge modes, including time challenges and water usage. I tried and failed a time challenge three times before I gave up. I am no speed cleaner but they are there for others if you are up for perfecting your power washing technique.

+ Story

Wait.. This game has a story? Actually, kind of! As you play through career mode you will recieve funny texts that may or may not be related to the job you are doing. Admittedly, I was so absorbed in my podcasts (Bonfireside Chat in case anyone was wondering) that I didn’t read them for most of the game. As I got to the final third or quarter of the game, things begun happening and the messages were catching my eye more and more. At this point, I was ready to stop. When I started flagging I went to trusty google to see how many levels were left, and seeing some of the titles of said levels gave me a bit of a second wind. True enough, I was then committed and had to see it all the way through to the end. I had to know what would happen. The game has a fun tone and it really works in its favour.

+ The little things

There was something so joyful about seeing something you have previously cleaned show up on a level. One example is seeing vehicles you have previously cleaned in the background of your current job. It happens more as the game goes on and consistently gave me a little dopamine boost.

+/- It’s a time sink

If I can loop back round to the intro, you can spend a lot of hours in this game. On one hand, fantastic. My time is filled without allowing and creeping thoughts or problems. Just keep washing. On the other hand though, where the hell did my time go? So many hours… down the drain (hur hur).

I think that is all I have to say about PowerWash Simulator! Overall, I finished the game. Considering I cleaned every inch of this world, I still feel so dirty that I put so many hours into it. Truth is, it is so much easier than cleaning in real life but has a similar satisfying effect. Trouble is, you then stand up from your computer and realise that there will always still be cleaning to do in real life. It served me well, but I am pretty happy to be hanging up my Prime Vista PRO for good.

+ (Non-)realism

+/- The Compulsionism


+/- Navigation

+ Game Modes

+ Story

+ The little things

+/- It’s a time sink

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A Noobs Review – Hades

I feel I need to start this one with a disclaimer. Reviews are subjective. I am going to talk about my experience with the game as a person who doesn’t play games for their combat. People who like the challenge may disagree with what I say, as I have seen many people online say this game is too easy. I, personally, am not a god at video games. I can only talk from my own point of view, that this game can also be great for people like me, even if it does have its drawbacks.

+ The Premise

Alright, so Hades is an artistic, stylish rogue-lite based in Greek Mythology. We play as Zagreus – the Son of Hades – and we have one goal. Escaping the underworld. Everytime you die you are transported back home, which makes sense as that is where the majority of the dead end up sooner or later. This alone is such a fantastic concept. I love when game mechanics are tied to the story and I can think of no better set up for a rouge-lite. Throughout our escape attempts, our family on Olympus will offer us aid in the form of boons and this is where the classic roguelike gameplay factors in. Different perks combine in different ways to allow a variety of playstyles. Throughout our escape attempts – and eventually escapes – we get more and more story, be it characterisation of the gods, or directly talking to everyone back home. We also get more and more mechanics, including weapons to shake up your playstyle and difficulty modifiers, for better or worse. The best part of this set up is that death doesn’t always feel bad. In fact, sometimes I wanted a death just so that I could go back to the house and see what everyone was up to.

+ Aesthetics

At first, when I had only seen others play and not played myself, I didn’t love the aesthetics. Everyone was raving about them but I didn’t really get it until I tried it myself. You would think that the staple colours of red and green would shout Christmas. But they dont. Instead they evoke this regal hell. Rather than a festive cheer, it feels expensive and strict, yet also has a sense of home. The music is so good, everytime I start a run my head has to bob, it is perfect to hype you up for the challenge ahead. There is also diegetic music that is appropriately beautiful and evolves in fun ways as you go. The art in both the portraits of the characters and the movement itself is quite busy, but so unique. When things are busy sometimes my senses freeze up, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed looking at the details put into the characters. Then somehow everything also looks great when it moves. Overall, they took a premise that is already fantastic on its own, but then executed it so stylishly that it oozes personality.

+ The Voices/Dialogue

Before I was familiar with the game I heard a lot of praise for the voice acting. This was another thing that I didn’t really ‘get’ when I started playing myself. I don’t find them traditionally ‘good’. I do find them very stylised in a way that once I got used to it, I loved. As an example, lots of lines are read very quickly and don’t seem to pause in places that you would usually pause. Or there would be no gap between sentences. It felt very unnatural to me for a while, but in the end I feel like it becomes a defining factor in the style of the game. What I do love about the voices are the effects that are used on them. Some of the characters in the game are even beyond gods, and the audio designers did a fantastic job of creating ethereal effects that really characterise the way they speak. This, on top of the fun dialogue and the beautiful art, creates these very evocative and memorable characters, even if we do only meet them one line at a time. There is also so much dialogue. It will be a long time before you hear anything repeated. It is very impressive and a great hook to keep you coming back for more.

+ The Family Dynamics

Family drama is something that can be hit or miss. In real life, it SUCKS. But when that family are Greek Gods? There is something very enticing to be involved in the dynamics of these extremely powerful, extremely temperamental folk. I don’t know much about mythology in general, but I do know a lot of these characters are known for being petty, dishing out punishments, holding grudges etc. I do also believe they know how to have a good time. So having these colourful characters as our uncles and cousins and such was a rush. I didn’t trust them at all, but they so were fun to interact with. The family dynamics in the house are great too and you get to know more as you progress through the game. I really started to care and as dysfunctional as it is, some qualities shine through that you root for.

– The Difficulty Curve

Moving onto the gameplay itself, it is a very mixed bag for me. I am not that experienced with roguelikes but I do know that the more you play, the better you get. You learn the game and you improve. I did enjoy the process in the beginning, however there are certain blocks that felt like a huge wall to me. I managed to overcome some of them, but that doesnt stop them from becoming tedious. Without spoiling too much, the third area enemies often have a lot of armour and can respawn. It would sometimes take me minutes to complete a room. It was frustrating and boring. That might not sound like much but when you have been flying through the first area it feels like molasses. The same thing goes for bosses beyond the second area, I just don’t enjoy them. Thankfully, with every run you are collecting darkness and other items which you can use to upgrade your character. For me though, the satisfaction of coming back upgraded and getting further does not overcome the frustration of the halt of progress in the first place. (This may sound like I just don’t like rogue-lites. The only real point of reference I have is The Binding of Isaac, and I feel like that game moves a lot faster while also having more to think about, so there is less time to be bored). It is not a good feeling when over half of a run feels like a slog and I sometimes feel like throwing it because I can’t be bothered with the boss.

+ God Mode

God Mode is genius and I thank the Devs so much for including it. If you are playing for the story rather than the challenge, God Mode is an optional setting that can progressively make the game easier until it balances out at your level. Every time you die, you will gain a bonus to your damage reduction stat. Meaning enemies will hurt you less. You can turn this on or off at any time and it was a life saver for me. I played the game without it until I got my first clear. To get to credits you need 10 clears. I kept playing and playing but I wasn’t getting any more clears. Then the tedium mentioned above set in. I decided to turn on God Mode and it was the best decision I made. Two clears in a row and my enthusiasm for the game was back. After dying a few more times I reached the correct difficulty for me and got an 8 win streak. These weren’t easy wins either, it was just right that it was down to the wire most times. I urge you that if you are finding it tedious, getting bored, or doing a collect-a-thon, use God Mode. I certainly wouldn’t have got as far as I did without it.

+/- The Pacing

In a game with two distinct sections (gameplay during runs then story time and upgrading between) it was always going to be hard to pace it well. For a lot of people, the story sections ruin the pace of the gameplay. They are ready to jump straight back in but have to go around talking to everyone, breaking their momentum. For me, it was the other way around and play almost felt too long. I wanted to be back at the house for the next story beats and to upgrade my stuff. Based on those two types of players, I don’t really see how they could have a middle ground. It is not detrimental to the game, but it is a common complaint that I have heard and felt myself occasionally, even if it is opposite ends of a spectrum.

+ Other Objectives

There is a lot more to do than just clearing runs. These aren’t things that you have to do but are an option if you need something other than combat like I do. Some characters have side quests that you progress by gifting them items between runs. You can improve relationships, unlocking new dialogue and scenes. Then there are the Boons. If you are a compulsive list taker like me, collecting every Boon is so much fun. Some Boons require you to have other Boons first, and navigating that was a game that I enjoyed more than getting clears. I have officially collected them all and really enjoyed doing so. By the end, every fated choice (one you havent picked up yet) received a celebratory fist bump from me. There are also heat levels that you can unlock to make the game more difficult if you are so inclined. All of these things provide rewards that you can either put towards improving more runs, or buying house fashion.

I hope that if anything, this review shows that Hades can be enjoyed by many different types of people. It is very accessible as a first foray into the genre, while equally providing a new challenge for the genre savvy. While I don’t think it is a perfect game, I do believe it deserved all of the love, praise and awards it recieved. By the end, the game was leaving Game Pass so I was rushing to complete everything that I wanted to. I really don’t think this is the way to play. Chipping away with a few runs here and there after the initial addiction keeps the runs more palatable in my opinion. You can definitely have too much of a good thing! Having said that, it has provided me with many hours of entertainment and I will think back on it very fondly.

+ The Premise

+ The Aesthetics

+ The Voices/Dialogue

The Difficulty Curve

+ God Mode

+/- The Pacing

+ Other Objectives

I streamed my entire journey to my first clear!

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A Noobs Review – Stray

This year I have been blessed with the amount of ‘me’ games that I have been able to play. Stray, I am pleased to admit, is one of them. Without playing it, it is easy to think of it as nothing more than ‘that cat game’. That is how I thought of it before. I had hope that it would be great but expected charm and not a lot more. However – for me at least – it was so much more than that.

+ The Protagonist

In Stray, we play as a ginger tabby cat. Not a talking cat. Not a person that has been transformed into a cat. Not a magical cat. Just your regular old, run-of-the-mill, carefree street cat. Other aspects of story and play get added as you go, but the cat is still a cat, if a very smart and loyal one.

Throughout this game we traverse through different environments of this fictional dystopia, exploring, learning and taking in the surroundings. We are a speechless outsider, observing and interacting as we go. We aren’t one of them, and my playable character also sharing these qualities with me (the player) created a uniquely immersive experience that hit me on a genius level. This would have been a different game if we were playing as one of the robots that inhabits the city. 

Then there is the cat itself. The animations are beautifully made and transition seamlessly. Everything, from the swagger and agility to the curiosity and behavior screams ‘real cat’. The interactions with other cats, the scratching at objects and rubbing on peoples legs were things that didn’t need to be included, but do wonders for immersion. In some games, going off the beaten path feels strange because you are on a mission to save the world or on urgent business, and stopping to talk to someone or play a mini game breaks the narrative. You do it, because it’s a game, but it feel wrong. Here though, we are a cat. If we see a perfect nap spot, we are 100% going to take it. Because that’s what cats do. We are emotive and adorable without feeling like a caricature, and it is just a pleasure to control this excellent boi.

+ The World Building

Urban and Cyberpunk settings don’t often appeal to me that much and for that reason I was here for the cat, nothing more. To my surprise, it didn’t take long for me to be completely invested in this world, desperate to explore to learn more of what life is like here and why. While ignorant past Noob felt like rolling her eyes at the idea of there being robots in this game, present Noob was delighted to meow at every single one I happened upon. You can learn a lot by interacting with everything you can, exploring the areas, taking notice of the details and putting the pieces together. Although it is a story of robots, it is more relatable than expected. Dealing with issues like pollution and poverty, two very real things, the game managed to keep me in a state of melancholy while also making me think.

+ The Aesthetic

Like I mentioned above, I didn’t expect the setting to really jive with me. Although I haven’t experienced a lot of it, I felt like I was burning out of the dark, dreary cityscape with colorful neon lights. All I had to do was play to realize that I was wrong. This game is stunning and the use of colors kept my brain twinkling in awe. Moving onto a new area always brought something new and interesting, and the beauty within the damaged and broken parallels with the themes of hope that are scattered throughout. Robots are robots, and while they seem sentient, everything they learned is from the humans. The way this is creatively used brought me so much joy. Abandoned apartments layered in rugs, linens, books and plants, creating the most stylish shabby chic décor. It isn’t practical but it doesn’t need to be. Every robot adopting their own style based on what they can find. Lights, lights and more lights. From the intricate interiors, to the wide shots of places you are discovering and have been, there is a beauty to this game that is not only pleasing to the player but really adds to the world building. The biggest crime that there is no photo mode (although maybe that is for the best, I might still be playing to this day).

+ The Difficulty

This is a very easy game, and I think that decision suits it very well. It allows for the flow of exploration without the frustration that can come in other games. Having said that, if you aren’t into exploring as much as I am you don’t have to. It isn’t difficult to figure out what you have to do next so if you want to mainline the story that is also entirely fine. Any puzzling is very minor, which makes the game very accessible to experienced gamers and new players alike.

+/- The Controls

I am personally very happy with the controls but I know a lot of people were underwhelmed. This is no precision platformer and I am glad that it doesn’t try or pretend to be. You can’t jump freely, only where the game allows. One could see this as a lack of freedom, or you could see it as a time saving and quality preserving mechanic. I didn’t waste any time trying to make jumps that maybe, just maybe, I could make. And I wasn’t taken out of the experience by janky animations caused by jumping places that were never intended because I was never allowed to. The levels are hand crafted with verticality in mind and the simple but intuitive controls were additive for me. The fact that there is an on demand meow button is just icing on the cake. 

+ The Details

I talked about some of the details in the protagonist and aesthetic sections, but it deserves to be its own positive mark. My favorite detail is how every NPC has their own little personality. Most of them have their own hobbies and styles. When you meow at them, they all have their own reaction to you. It only flashes across their face for a second, but it is there and that was enough to ensure that I meowed at every single NPC that I met.

+ The Collectibles

There were no pointless collectibles. They took the form of memories, and every one that you found added some more context to the world. They weren’t too difficult to find (I think this is the first game ever that I found them all by myself) and they encouraged exploration which, to me, is the highlight of the game. Exploration, rewarded with story, which then encourages more exploration is a dream game loop for me and it was executed to perfection.

+ The Level Design

This game felt like a living and breathing city. I explained a lot of why it works in the Aesthetic and Controls sections above, but I want to give a shout out to the open world areas. I expected more of a linear game so arriving in the slums was a huge surprise. There is lots of exploring to be done and the entire level makes sense. It is unique, lived in, full of character, easy to maneuver and not too big to be overwhelming. And the same can be said for every other open world section in the game. There are nooks and crannies that you can only access due to being a cat. At first it can take a while to get used to the fact that bars aren’t a wall, you can walk through them or jump over them. It keeps things unusual and interesting. A different perspective.

+ The Pacing

I really enjoyed the pacing. Although I would have liked even more time in the open world sections, it would probably be to the detriment to the game. When you are ready to move on, the game is separated with chase/stealth/sort of combat sections that also do not feel like they last too long. The game in its entirety is relatively short, and throughout the entire game I was engaged enough to not put it down. 

+ The Surprises

There were things in this game that I did not expect to see at all, but it was all entertaining enough. Obviously this is very vague as to not ruin it, but I think you will know what I mean when you get there.

Overall, this is an awfully sad world with hidden havens dotted around that I couldn’t get enough of exploring. I loved my character and I loved my time with it. I don’t think there are any cheap emotional stabs which is something I always fear in games containing animals, and I couldn’t be happier with the time I spent with this game. In the end, everything in the game made sense and I was very satisfied with the conclusion. The game resonated with me, and not just because of the cat, which I would say is an achievement for ‘that cat game’. Pawsome all around (be grateful. I could have used so many more puns throughout this review).

+ The Protagonist

+ The World Building

+ The Aesthetic

+ The Difficulty

+/- The Controls

+ The Details

+ The Collectibles

+ The Level Design

+ The Pacing

+ The Surprises

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A Noobs Review – My Time at Portia

My Time at Portia is a game with many flaws, but if you can look past them then it can be an absolute delight. I feel like Portia is ideal for the people who love Stardew Valley/Harvest Moon type games but find the farming tedious after a while. These aren’t the only type of people who might enjoy this game, but if that resonates with you then it could be worth a shot! Not only through the first few hours but throughout my entire playthrough, I was constantly surprised, confused and amused by the stuff I would find and the things that would happen, leading to the affectionate nickname of ‘My Weird Time at Portia’.

– Doesn’t know what it wants to be

When I first started playing My Time at Portia, I got the sense that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Games like Stardew Valley have a lot to do. You can farm, craft, cook, mine, forage, fish, create relationships. I feel that all of these things are key to the slice-of-life farm sim genre that these games are part of, which is already quite a lot of things to do. Portia is similar in that sense, except, add a main story, side quests left right and centre, dungeon crawling, named boss fights, a full on skill tree with three entirely seperate sections to go down, a photo menu, a workshop manual, a research system, a fluctuating economy, social mini games, regular mini games, festival mini games. It is a lot, and for a while the main thought going through my head was ‘What on earth is this game’.

+ Something for everyone

Though the absolute muddle of things to do and potentially overwhelming vibes this game gives out, the bright side is there is probably something for everyone. If you are like me and enjoy the systematic collection of things and ticking things off lists, you can do that. If you like making friends with everyone in town, you can do that. If you like spending your time decorating your home rather than completing commissions, you can do that. If you like dungeon crawling and fighting for loot.. I can’t say that I recommend it but it is there. More on that later!

– The jank

Before you even think about playing this game there is something that you have to accept. This game is Janky. And I mean Janky. Sometimes characters speak out loud, sometimes they dont, when they do it is generally awful. Sometimes they will say the right words, sometimes they will say something entirely different, sometimes they won’t actually be there while they are talking. Sometimes the camera will focus on weird things. NPCs are constantly stuck on the environment and will occasionally teleport. Photo quests break often. Mounts become unmountable. The game does a lot and generally it works, but with love, I do have to say that it can be quite a mess.

+ The jank

On the other hand, if this game didn’t have its Jank then I don’t think it would be half as memorable than if it were perfect and smooth. If you have a mount they are going to be running around in the background of every cutscene. When you get past how awful some of the cutscenes are they become hilarious and you look forward to the next one. When creating my character I couldn’t figure out how to change her name on console so she ended up being Linda. I gave her some pink cheeks that looked nice in the character creation menu. As soon as we got into the game though, it turns out those pink cheeks basically glow. Every day in game, something in the world is going wrong and it was a constant source of glee for me. A lot of the Jank is graphical or in the animations, and they can be the best.

– The combat

Okay… if there is something that I have to give my biggest criticism in this game, it is the combat. I don’t enjoy combat at the best of times but I can usually appreciate it if done well. It isn’t the end of the world since this game isn’t about combat, but you have to do it often enough that it can become frustrating and tedious. There is no feedback, or at least it tries to give you feedback through visual effects, which in the end just feel like a mess on the screen. I genuinely cannot tell when I am getting hit. There are numbers popping up but there is no feeling to it at all. Sometimes you can hit through or be hit through walls. Sometimes the enemy ends up in the air and doesn’t come back to the ground. Timing doesn’t feel like it matters much and when it does it can be frustrating. Hit boxes are hit and miss. AI companions will run at enemies and agro them when you are trying to draw them out one at a time. Thankfully, if you die during a boss fight you will respawn without their health being replenished. This is a mercy that I am grateful for, but it almost feels like confirmation of an awareness that the combat isn’t the best. Throughout the main story you will be put into multiple combat scenarios. As long as you keep plenty of health replenishing items in your inventory then you can tank your way through without too much pain. It can be a huge drag though.

+ Low stakes

I think what I love the most about this game are the low stakes. Sure, there are optimal ways to play and you can min/max if that is how you like to do it. But if not, there aren’t really any punishments for going slow. The only things that are timed are daily commissions (which you can choose to do) and very few quests/side quests. Other than that.. go nuts. Fancy spending an entire week in the mines? Go for it. As long as you have set your machines away there is really no reason to come home at night, so you can pass out at 3am doing whatever you were doing and wake up with full stamina the next day without losing anything. This all makes it really easy to pick this game back up even if you haven’t played for a month. I really appreciate it when I compare it to say, Stardew Valley, where I don’t want to boot up my game without my notebook in hand because I need to stick to my plan.

+ Crafting

I believe Crafting is a really clever way to solve the problem that I mentioned in the intro. By the end, I usually find farming really tedious in these games. Having to water everything every day, plant them at the right time, harvest and replant, then if you miss the window you have to wait an entire year. I always pray for rainy days so that I can go and do other things. Instead, in this game you have to gather materials and process them, to then craft them into different items. Different materials can be processed in different ways, so it is up to you to manage what you have, what you need, and that is the loop rather than plant, water, harvest, repeat. It is much more flexible and, for me at least, enjoyable.

+ Progression

The fact that I already enjoy the crafting is doubled when paired with progression in this game. Throughout the main story you will get many different commissions to help make the city a better place. If there is something I love in a game, it is an environment that evolves over time. Not only does Portia do that, but it only does so thanks to your efforts. Building bridges will allow you to access new areas. Building busses will unlock fast travel. You will build buildings and areas that from that moment onwards will be a permanent part of the town. It never stops being satisfying. On top of this, the crafting progression itself also feels nicely done and natural to me. Once you are able to build everything available, you know that you will then need to upgrade your equiptment to unlock more options. If you have options available that you dont yet have the materials to build, you know that your next quests are going to unlock an area that allows you to access new resources. It is a cycle that repeats throughout the game and works very well.

+/- Relationships

I don’t really know where to place relationships here. There are things I really like and things that I really dislike about them. On the positive side, relationships bloom themselves as you progress through the story, which I think is very naturally done. As you help improve the town, the townsfolk will like you more. As you do commissions for individuals they will like you even more. Then as you grow relationships with them you will start to get cute little side quests which I found to be a nice touch. Becoming friends with certain vendors will get you discounts, and you will occasionally receive gifts from your buddies.

The relationship system is let down in two ways in my opinion. Firstly, I don’t think it’s very fun. There is the traditional system of giving the person daily gifts that they like which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. Then there are some more unique systems, most of which didn’t land for me. Some characters have their own minigames you can play, some can spar (see combat above to explain why this doesn’t hit) and once you become their friend you can go on playdates (or proper dates if you are romancing). After I had done two dates I was already bored of the system and just wanted go back to old fashioned gift giving. Secondly, when it comes to romance, I don’t feel like there are many good options, specifically for husbands. I didn’t really want to marry anyone. Six of the options are identical. Having kids is as far as you can go down the family route and they don’t grow up from being a toddler. So relationships in general in this game are a really mixed bag for me.

+ Attention to detail

The attention to detail in this game is great. While some systems feel unnecessary, there are others that add to the overall charm of the game. My favorite thing is that anything you are holding, your character will be holding it in their hand. If it’s big they will carry it over their head. Most accessories that you can wear for stats you can also see on your character. They didn’t have to do these things but it really adds to the experience, and it will always be funny running along carrying a giant poop above your head.

– Navigating crafting

Navigating the crafting systems does not flow well, and while you do get used to it, it could be better (and I believe they may have solved this in the sequel). For example, if you are assembling a big product, having the ingredients in your inventory will not do. They have to be directly in your hand to place them. Eventually you get some automation options but it is so late in the game and unintuitive that I have to mark the game down for it. When I don’t play for a while, the hardest part is reacquainting myself with all my stuff since I need to know where to grab things from.

+/- Festivals

Something else to watch out for in this game are the festivals. Many slice-of-life games have them.. But none of them have them quite like this.

++++ Pinky

And the final positive point of this game, saving the best till last. Pinky. 

There are a lot of reasons to like this game and many surprises along the way. As long as you know that you are going into a very imperfect experience and are open to some fun, there is such a good time to be had. If you like what you heard above then you should definitely jump in. If you claim the free games on the Epic store you may already own it, or it is currently on the PS Plus Extra Tier and Xbox Game Pass. The Sequel ‘My Time at Sandrock’ is in Early Access right now so it is the perfect time to jump into the series.

  • – Doesnt know what it wants to be
  • + Something for everyone
  • – Thejank
  • + The jank
  • – The combat
  • + Low stakes
  • + Crafting
  • + Progression
  • +/- Relationships
  • + Attention to detail
  • – Navigating crafting
  • +/- Festivals
  • + Pinky
I did stream my first few weeks in Portia, I’ll leave this here in case anyone is in need of misadventures.

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Noobs Top 10 of 2021

I like to consider myself a patient gamer. I don’t really buy new games, which means I often don’t have a lot to contribute to the Game of the Year conversations. I am however, an avid list keeper and would love to write about the top 10 games that I experienced this year! I am going to go in a descending(ish) order, but frankly, I really struggle to rank things so just remember that I loved every experience on this list!

10. Psychonauts 2

Oh hey, I am already contradicting what I said in the opening paragraph! Generally I am a patient gamer. BUT, when you have Game Pass and an anticipated game like this comes out it would be rude not to.. right? I was introduced to Psychonauts by The Left Behind Game Club Podcast and played it for the first time in 2020 (last year). Whilst I don’t have the nostalgia that some may have for a game of its age, it managed to charm its way into my soul and I loved my time with it. Needless to say, the prospect of a modern sequel was pretty hype for me and the fact that it was released day one on Game Pass was perfect.

The game was wonderful. Some of the levels felt more grand at the time, but others have stuck with me for their underlying messages. Overall, the psychedelic visuals, the fun platforming, the attention to detail and the thoughtful messages provided me with a lovely experience that I got to share with everyone. There are certain things that I think the game could have done to be higher up on my list, but they are personal preferences and I am going to try to keep this list positive. Perhaps I will write a post about it some day!

9. Hades

2021 unexpectedly became the year of the roguelike for me. This is not the first one that I played this year but it is the latest. Hades is so universally praised, both critically and within my social circles. However, whenever I tried to watch anyone playing I never had any idea what was happening and just decided it was not going to be a game for me. Fast forward to November with a little bit of experience, who could have guessed I would be getting my first clear? Certainly not me! I streamed my entire time from my first moments in Tartarus, to the many failures on the way. There were some absolutely nail-biting runs. Not only down to the game but my.. should we say.. chaotic style? There was progress, then there wasn’t. Every time I thought I was near the game would throw something new into the mix. It was stressful and adrenaline fuelled while also being a great, funny time. Every new milestone felt like a huge achievement, leaping yet creeping ever so closer to the goal of whatever the heck was going to happen when we finally escaped. 

Did it take me a while to pluck up the commitment to play this game? Yes. Did I love it very much? Yes. I feel like sharing the game with the community helped give me a higher appreciation, especially for the art. The music and entire vibe were cool. Every time I dropped into a new run my head would start bobbing. But is this game difficult? Yes. Have I played much since my first clear? No. Am I going to put it on God Mode (a sort of adaptive difficulty) because I find the later levels a bit tedious? Yes. Because despite the difficulties, I have really really enjoyed getting to know the Greek gods. Even with every failure there more story, and I feel pretty invested in it.

8. Ori and the Will of the Wisps

I almost didn’t get round to this one this year. Thankfully my Game Pass coming to an end forced me to make some priorities, and this felt like a good December game. I played Ori and the Blind Forest earlier in the year. I really enjoyed my time with it, but I find myself struggling to remember anything too specific about the game. I know that I may have some recency bias for Will of the Wisps, but contrary to Blind Forest, I feel like there are many things from this game that are going to stay with me for a long time. In a strange way, it almost feels like they took the first game, but then tailored it specifically more to me. I think the main change that suits me is that there is a very forgiving checkpoint system which makes exploring so much less of a daunting task and much more freeing.

As well as 2021 being the year of roguelikes for me, it has also been the year of the platformer. During the year I have played Unravel, Limbo, Inside and more. And do you know what? I am so grateful that I did. I feel like all of this experience that I didn’t have last year really elevated my overall experience, to fully embrace everything about the game. The art is breathtaking. The music evokes so much emotion. The movement is very precise and extremely fun. The metroidvania aspects really release that dopamine when you get a new ability. The sidequests bring so much life to the world. And finally, the emotions. Gosh the emotions. I have never cried on stream before. This game made me cry twice. If I think ‘beauty’, I think of this game.

7. It Takes Two

The official Game of the Year! And the second none patient game on my list. Oops. It Takes Two is available on Game Pass via EA Play, and it also comes with a Friend Pass so only one person needs to have it! That is a pretty sweet deal for one of the weirdest, hectic, annoying yet smooth, heartfelt and creative co-op games I’ve ever seen. This game was made by the developers of A Way Out, and while I haven’t played that one, I have seen enough playthroughs to know that I would have had a blast playing it blind. Based on that, I knew I wanted to play what they made next. And It Takes Two did not disappoint.

This game has a totally different tone to the other games by the devs, but still contains the fun, co-op mischief that they are starting to be known for. It was great playing a split screen game for the first time in a long time, it felt nostalgic but still very current. I think the game is longer and has a lot more to it than anyone could have expected, and while it may look like a family game.. I would not recommend it for kids! I played with my good friend Brox. We had so many laughs, the game feels very designed for that. Plenty of ways to kill each other as well as innuendos left, right and centre. Particularly in the first couple of levels, I feel like we were close to dying laughing. Despite it being longer than expected it never gets stale. Every chapter gives you new environments with new abilities which provide new puzzle solving techniques. All I can say is, if you are looking for a co-op game, play it!

6. Disco Elysium

A game I was slightly intimidated by before starting – and infinitely more so after. Disco Elysium was a game that I was frightened that I wouldn’t be smart enough for, but instead it beautifully presented an insight into things that do go on in the world. When thinking back to this game I think sombre. I think gloomy. I almost think of hopelessness. But then I hear the music in the Whirling-in-Rags and feel at home. I think of Kim – one of my favourite characters in a game ever – a ray of the realest sunshine. I think of our different systems talking to us, but us ultimately deciding who to listen to. I think of those times we messed up but then carried on. I think of the times we shouldn’t have got by but did. I remember what we achieved in a world where everything was against us. Nothing, and yet something. I feel comfort. And I think that is all I want to say.

5. Bugsnax

Time is going so quickly and yet so slowly, to think that it has been nearly a year since we played Bugsnax! After not being too hyped by the trailer and the memeness of the entire thing, my interest was slightly piqued at the fact that it was going to be on Ps Plus. Little did I know I would be completely sucked into this strange adventure. It has become pretty clear to me this year that I am an exploration girl. Give me a map to explore and I am in my element. The other thing that I like more than a lot of folk is collectibles. If you strip this game down to its very core, it’s about exploring for collectables. But then when you look at the full picture it gets so much better. There is a seemingly surprisingly dark mystery on the Island. You are a journalist interviewing all of the characters. You get to customise characters with the collectables you gather. Every collectible is a puzzle to solve, some getting quite difficult towards the end. And one of the best parts of it is that you absolutely don’t have to catch them all if you do not want to. Based on my expectations, this game blew me away. We recently coined the term ‘compulsionist’ in the community. Sometimes I like to be completionist, but there are only a rare few games where I can’t stop, and this was one of them. We could have ended the game, but instead we spent a few hours catching them all and you know what? It was very worth it. I enjoyed every second.

4. Resident Evil Village

I have to start with a disclaimer for this one. This is not a game that I have played myself. However, I do sort of consider myself a RE fan. They are not games I would play myself but I enjoy watching playthroughs, and Village is no exception. Before the game came out it earned a place in my heart. If you were watching at the time then you may know where I am coming from with this. I believe it was the PS5 reveal event. The trailer premiered and it was my favourite moment in any game event I have ever witnessed. “It looks a little like RE7 in the graphics department.”. “Probably not, what is this weird story?”. “That looks like a puzzely statue.”. “Oh never mind werewolves.”. “This mansion looking place with a nice staircase looks very RE.”. “Na these frames are awful.”. “Was that an Umbrella logo? Could it be?”. Then the title ‘Village’ appeared. “Oh, I guess not then.” Then eventually the 8 appears over the Village logo and it all makes sense. Mannnn so many goose bumps just thinking back to it. That hype I was feeling put this game into a pretty bad position for me. I don’t get high expectations very often, but I was very much looking forward to watching the game. When I am that excited there is a lot of room to feel let down, but thankfully, it was even better than I hoped it would be.

I personally think it could be the best paced RE game to date. I was really excited to see how they were going to make RE7 but in an outdoors environment as my brain could not understand what that would look like. Exploring that village for the first time? That felt special. Then every time after coming back? Also felt special. The opening was so intense, followed by some completely new territory with no idea what to expect, I was horrified! I find the Lycans terrifying and I really do think the opening few hours of the game are a masterpiece. The game continues with new environments and themes, while still always feeling like a Resident Evil game. The idea that they were going to cross RE4 with RE7 (based on the trailer) left me excited. In reality they also threw in some RE2Make and in my opinion they delivered. If it isnt obvious this was my pick for Game of the Year.

3. 428 Shibuya Scramble

A game that I feel like no one has played! 428 Shibuya Scramble is a visual novel, where the artwork is photography and the characters are played by real actors. Unfortunately it isnt voice acted, and it is a long game which would be a heck of an undertaking for anyone recording or streaming it. Playing/reading it yourself though is so very worth it. A girl has been kidnapped, and throughout the game you will play as 5 different people, some more involved than others but their stories intertwined none the less. The story is full of twists and turns and I HAD to know what was going to happen next. Each character has their own visual and music style which gives them each their personality.

The game is played in 1 hour in-game chunks. You choose a character and read their novel, making choices as you go. You may get a bad end, which means you made a bad choice somewhere in that hour, but not necessarily on that character. Its a really fun way to add a puzzle element into a visual novel and some of the outcomes are fantastic. If you like visual novels, if you like creative games, if you like fun but dramatic/thrilling stories it is a must play.

2. Virtues Last Reward

Virtues Last Reward is the second game in the Nonary Games Series and I believe is the last big game that I recorded purely for YouTube. I had the most amazing time recording this series. It was hilarious, it was confusing, it was dramatic, and every time I thought I might have had it figured out I didn’t. Every time one question was answered three more arose. I enjoy all of the updates from its predecessor 999. It feels like it does a lot of the same, with a cool story, suspense and plot twists, but better. At the same time, it has less of the caveats. The way the Nonary Game changed from the first one opened up a whole new level of mistrust and difficult decisions. It’s not something I would have thought of myself but the second I learned the new rules I was entirely on board and it lived up to my hype.

I feel like the routes you take in this game are a little less random than the first game, which is a welcome change. But other than that the gameplay is the same. Make some choices and do some escape rooms. Some of which I found very difficult. The gameplay loop was enjoyable and the cliff hangers are killers, but it all comes together in a very satisfying way leaving me very excited to play Zero Time Dilemma. (Disclaimer: Zero Time Dilemma is coming at some point. I promise. I’m sorry for the delay)

1. The Binding of Isaac

Never in a million years would I expect my favourite game I’ve played this year to be a game like Isaac. I didnt even think I liked games like Isaac! It turns out there is so much to love about it and I haven’t even gotten to Repentance yet! The Binding of Isaac is a roguelike game where you play as a young boy, escaping from his abusive mother. You descend into the basement and beyond, fighting monsters with your tears. It is full of nasty things like abusive themes, infant death, suicide, religious extremism and poop. Lots of poop. I am very aware that I am not selling the game well and the problem is, the game has so much depth that I cannot do it justice in a paragraph or two. All I can do is try to point out why it clicked with me.

I feel like one of the things that makes Isaac special are the synergies. You pick up two or more items per floor of the game. Some of them are basic stat ups, but some can be game changing. Change your tears into scythes that do more damage. Get homing tears. Get tears that go through the walls. Get bomb tears. Get different status effects that each give every tear an individual look. Almost all of the items also give Isaac cosmetic changes. Another point I love is that every consumable can be used as a currency in one way or another. This means that you don’t always necessarily have to be good at the game to do well. There are ways you can game the game to ultimately get an insane run if you are so inclined, and I’ve got to tell you, it is a blast.

This is definitely the kind of game that benefits having a friend to share experiences with. It would be easy to believe that you have beaten the game pretty quickly, but at that point you have barely scratched the surface. I was lucky to have a friend to show me the game and tell me everything I wanted to know to get the most out of my experience. Once you know that the game isnt over when you win, it could then very suddenly seem overwhelming or intimidating. All I can say is if you are slightly interested you should give it a chance. You will learn as you go and although it is not an easy game, there are multiple ways to win. If I can do it, anyone can!

I hate that some games that I loved didn’t make the cut! I wanted to add them but I have to stop, otherwise I’ll just be writing a list of most of the games I have played this year. I do want to give a special shout out though to some multiplayer games as I don’t really feel like they fit well in the ranking lists.

Sea of Thieves might be my favourite game to just jump in and find some random adventures. Navigating and driving the boat is so satisfying. The slight added threat that there are other people out there is enough to keep you on your toes, but not enough to stop the grog and sea shanties. It’s really good for simulating the vibe of hanging out, and giving you something to do together.

Astroneer is the first game of its kind that I have really played (gather resources to make more machines to gather more resources etc) and it was a delight. I feel very grateful to have had friends there to show me the ropes. We completed the game but not for lack of mishaps!

Satisfactory is the second game of its kind I have played after Astroneer. There are glaring differences, but I would at least put them in the same genre. The game truly is satisfactory. It is dangerously addictive so I am going to have to limit my time playing, but it is very fun having the freedom to make not only functional but beautiful factories.

What were your favourite games you played this year? If you struggle to keep track you could keep a twitter thread starting now! I love looking back on my list throughout the year 🙂

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Review – Stardew Valley – PS4

Stardew Valley is a top-down, indie, farming game, developed by solo developer, Eric Barone. I had heard a lot about Stardew Valley being this amazing, relaxing and addictive game, but originally I was put off by the 2D graphics. Eventually though, I had a massive Harvest Moon itch and Stardew Valley went on sale. I took the plunge and never once regretted it!

This game has a lot to offer, especially to think that it was made by one guy! You control a little character who has inherited their grandfathers land, and from then, it is basically up to you what you want to do. Farming crops, farming animals, fishing, foraging, mining and crafting are all ways to make money. The village is full of characters that you can befriend by giving them gifts. The more hearts you get, you get new dialogue and can eventually marry certain characters. You can collect resources to upgrade your farm, just first you have to choose which upgrade you want to get.

The game runs in days. You have a certain amount of energy and a certain amount of time to get everything you want to do done. There are 28 days in a season, and in each season you get new crops, new fish and new dialogue. There are festivals on certain days and birthdays on others. There is a community centre you can help rebuild or a corporation you can invest in depending on your mood, and there are plenty of hidden areas that you can only reach with certain upgrades. By the time you set yourself some goals and commit to them, then after ‘just one more day’, you will realise its 3am and you haven’t moved for the last 8 hours.

The game is charming. It really is a great Harvest Moon substitute, and as I was playing I kept feeling surprised that there was still yet more things to discover. The artwork is lovely with the seasonal changes and the music fits well. Although there isn’t really a ‘storyline’, it is the perfect game to just pick up and get lost in. The trouble is, I have sunk into the organisation hole. I spent the first year of the game just going with the flow, but then by winter, I started planning everything out. Now, I know I am going for the Platinum so I only play when I know I have time to concentrate for a while. Overall though, this game can be whatever you want to be. If you want to farm, farm. If you get bored of farming, fish. If you get bored of fishing, mine. There are plenty of paths that you can take.

What do you think of Stardew Valley? Are you impressed or underwhelmed? Are you addicted?

Review – Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition – PS4

Sleeping Dogs is an open world, third person, crime/action game developed by United Front Games. I had heard it described as a surprisingly good GTA clone set in Hong Kong which sounded good to me! It regularly goes on sale for less than £5 on the PS Store and that includes all DLC. It’s a steal. We play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop, infiltrating a faction of the Triads, the Sun on Yee. Between gaining their trust, the increasing rivalry both internally and externally, and keeping his true motives secret, Wei has to find the balance between keeping his cover and keeping his humanity.

Getting to play a cop instantly differentiates this game from the GTA series and that drew me to it straight away. It is an interesting dilemma and it also allows us to play both sides of the fence, creating an area of gameplay that you can’t explore in most other crime games. The game is played like most other open world games. There are the main ‘Triad’ missions, then there are the side ‘cases’, jobs, random events and favours. All of these missions raise your XP in each area to unlock new perks. Finally, there are races and loads of collectables.. because would it really be an open world game without them?

The whole style of play also sets this game apart from GTA. Where GTA has a lot of gunplay, Sleeping Dogs is more focused on hand to hand combat. With combo based moves and limited weapons, whether you prefer this will totally depend on whether you prefer melee or range. As much as the game receives a lot of praise for the combat, I prefer to keep my distance in these types of games, therefore that mechanic is slightly lost on me. Having said that, it is very satisfying to be completely surrounded and managed to kick the asses of every one of them single-handedly. I found the chase scenes and parkour a little odd at first but it is very easy to get used to. You can only really go where the game allows you to which is a shame when you try to explore something you can’t, but at the same time at least it stops you wasting your time.

Hong Kong is a great setting for the game and I enjoyed the atmosphere, from the hectic market, to the long alleys, to the oriental parks, to the peaceful temple, to the more upmarket areas. I have never been to China but I have been to Chinatowns.. and after playing this game I am still not sure whether I want to go or not! The different districts each have their own feel, and I feel that the map is the perfect size. The graphics are nice, especially when it is raining. They are nothing ground breaking but they are definitely modern enough to keep you engaged.

The controls were good most of the time but I did have some issues. First was the responsiveness. Sometimes when I would try to counter an attack it just would not work. Sometimes when I tried to enter a car I had to find exactly the right angle. I had heard the driving was bad, but I didn’t actually find the driving too bad. It was the camera angles that were a nightmare. It isn’t unplayable by any means but it can be annoying sometimes. That and the motorbikes. As soon as I finished the motorbike races I promised myself that I wasn’t driving one again.

There were some features in this game that were just simple things that made the world of difference, especially when you compare to GTA. There are garages dotted all over the map, so when you need a car you don’t always have to steal them. This was huge for me, it’s so much more convenient. Another thing I loved is the fact that everything didn’t constantly reset itself. If I left my car somewhere and went to do something on foot, nine times out of ten my car would still be there, where as in GTA they always seem to vanish. I liked the GPS system too, or at least when it worked. Sometimes it didn’t differentiate whether I needed to be on a road above or below where I was, but it was very handy on the highways because it shows you a big arrow pointing at which lane you need to be in. The police system was SO much better in this. When police are nearby they show up on you map, and they don’t just chase you for any little thing. Even when they do, they are a lot easier to escape than in GTA. This was the most welcome change ever for me, I always use the cheats in GTA simply because the police are constantly everywhere and so bloody annoying. The collectables map is a huge help in this game. You have to unlock them, but once you do, it is an absolute life saver if you are going for 100% or want the perks that come with them. Finally, the last improvement over GTA for me is that you can save from anywhere. When you load your game you will be at your nearest apartment, but when you save you don’t have to travel all the way too it. This saves so much time if you are like me and like to constantly save in case you eff something up.

One of the things that I think GTA wins the battle on is weapons. In Sleeping Dogs, melee weapons aren’t very durable and break after a few hits, and if you get a gun in a mission you generally don’t get to keep it. It makes sense that you can’t walk around carrying all your weapons, and I got used to it eventually, but I still prefer being able to switch when I want. But, to counter this, it does make for some exciting missions. Bringing fresh air to a gunfight then coming out on top is always fun! The other thing that I find quite funny in Sleeping Dogs is the AI. If you are driving a car and you hit something, they never stop, they just keep on driving. Every time. If you nearly run someone over they will just stand there in front of you and stare at your car. Thankfully it’s usually ok to run them over because you can see on your map that there is no cops around. Lastly is the spawning. When I call my valet my car always spawns in the weirdest of places. The last notable one I had was under a truck.

Technically, I didn’t have any problems with the game for most of my playthrough. I took my PS4 to my neighbours one day because I was house sitting and as I was playing, I noticed the game was feeling a bit laggy. Then at one point, it completely froze up on me, I had to force it off. This would have been really annoying if I didn’t save so often. I have no idea what caused it because using a different TV shouldn’t affect it at all, but I just think it is worth bearing in mind. Other than that I had one other glitch. If you have your gun out, everyone around you cowers, even the ones you can usually talk to. So if you have your gun out, even if it gives you the option, don’t talk to them. I made this mistake. I got a pop up saying to you want to buy this, Yes or No. No matter what I pressed on it wouldn’t work because the person was now cowering. I had to quit the game to get out of the situation.

To sum up, I really do recommend this game to anyone who enjoys open world games. It has a good story, a great main character, fun gameplay and a nice unique atmosphere. I am aiming for the Platinum which is getting a bit grindy, but I have yet to play the two DLCs (accessible from the main menu) so I can’t comment on them yet. I can, however, say that I’ve got my money’s worth. It’s bloody, it’s violent and it’s satisfying, so please, pick it up and enjoy it!

What did you think? Did you enjoy it? Was it better than GTA?

Review – Telltales The Walking Dead: Season 2 – PS4

The Walking Dead: Season 2 is a direct sequel to The Walking Dead: Season 1 and it’s DLC 400 days, all developed by Telltale Games. Season 1 is widely considered a great game, one of Telltales best. The only comments that I had read before about Season 2 were about how it wasn’t as good as its predecessor. I went in with that in mind and I’ve got to admit, I was very pleasantly surprised. Not only did I really like the game, I actually enjoyed it more than the first one, which is something I hadn’t even considered happening.

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The story takes place soon after the events of Season 1 and we take control of a young Clementine. It is difficult to do a plot summary without spoiling anything but I’m going to go with this. Think about the TV show. Remember how in the first couple of seasons, the walkers were the main danger? Then as the seasons go on, other people become even more of a threat than the walkers? Well –  if Season 1 is the equivalent of the first couple of seasons of the show, Season 2 is more like the rest of the show. Do you get me?

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In Season 1, I found some of the characters likable but I really hated some of them too. This time around, I found the characters more realistic and relatable. The change in my emotions towards these characters felt natural and I felt the dialogue flowed well. I also thought the pace of the story was good, although admittedly, it was a bit absurd sometimes when things kept getting palmed onto the eleven year old.

In the first season I was dreading what was going to happen next and instead of enjoying the story, I was secretly wishing it was over. This season though I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay. I don’t know whether it was because it felt less ‘horror’, or because I could relate to Clem as a main character, or just because I enjoyed the situations more than the first. Whatever the reason, I haven’t yet seen anyone else that feels the same way as me.

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Technically, this game ran a lot better than any of the other Telltale games that I have played. They all have an issue of lag whenever there is action with fast cuts. Every single game. As far as I can remember, I only had this issue once in this whole game, which is a huge improvement. Other than that, it worked perfectly. Just an FYI, there is no platinum trophy for this game. All of the trophies are earned just by playing so by finishing it you will 100% it, but there isn’t a plat available.

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Overall, I just really enjoyed this game. I loved the atmosphere, I enjoyed the characters, I got quite emotional and I LOVED the ending that I got. It was a joy to play and if you have enjoyed the first game then you will no doubt like this one at least a little. Make sure to play 400 Days before you play (if it was included in your purchase of TWD: Season 1 then it will be a bonus chapter, I didn’t even realise I had it till I googled how to get it.), it’s not essential but it is a nice introduction to some of the characters. Season 2 actually had 5 endings so I am intrigued as to how Season 3 is going to continue the story. I went from being indifferent about the sequels to looking forward to the next one which definitely means this game did something right!

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Characters –

Clementine – I loved playing as Clementine. She has matured and is growing into exactly what she needs to to be able to survive in this world. She is still sweet and caring but has a sass to her that is perfect. Sometimes she seems to be the most mature person in the group, which I get that people don’t like, but I also think it sometimes makes sense. Being the age that she is, she manages pretty well to take everything in her stride. An eleven year old thinks more about the now, where as adults tend to think more about the past, present and future. Obviously the adults have more life experience, but I can also see how their thoughts can be detrimental, leading to high tension and petty arguments. Most kids growing up in this world are going to deal with it better than the adults because they find it easier to accept the new ‘normal’. With a few exceptions of course.

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Sarah – Sarah was an interesting dilemma that unfortunately didn’t end up amounting to much. From the beginning I could not decide whether she needed babying or whether she needed toughening up. I went down the babying route because she didn’t just seem scared, she seemed more like she had a mental health problem. I managed to save her in the cabin but when the balcony collapsed, I opted to just save Jane instead. I felt bad but at the same time I was a little underwhelmed. I really thought that babying vs being tough was going to come back and bite me in the ass, maybe getting someone else killed or having her step up, but it doesn’t seem to matter either way. I thought she was an interesting character with a potentially interesting arc, but I was just a little dissatisfied with her ending. Although, I did enjoy the comparisons with Janes sister and that some people just can’t be saved. I imagine that would be true should the apocalypse actually happen.

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Alvin and Rebecca – Alvin was the one character that I immediately disliked. He went to the eleven year old and asked her to go in the unchecked room looking for food for his wife. Do it yourelf! He kind of redeemed himself at the end, but to be honest, I didn’t find what he did to be noble so much as necessary. There was no way I could have got him out of the room so if he was staying behind he might as well shoot someone. I really felt sorry for Rebecca. Pregnancy is something that I don’t even have the slightest interest in doing. I’ve seen my sister do it and it looks hard. Now imagine being pregnant with no hospitals and no doctors in a world where everything wants to kill you. It is almost a death sentence. As soon as the doctor died I knew shit was going to hit the fan. I wasn’t surprised when Rebecca died, but I loved how it happened, and I know taking a shot during a Mexican standoff isn’t the smartest thing to do but I thought she was going to eat the babies brains.

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Nick – Nick was a frustrating one. You could tell he was going to be a liability but you could also tell he didn’t mean to be. I saved him over Pete because I thought Pete was bitten, and I do think that his reaction was silly. ‘You could have saved him, why didn’t you save him?’ Why didn’t I save him, why didn’t you save him?! I’m a little girl for Christ sake. But other than that, I think I managed to keep him going as long as I could, and I really appreciated the fact that his death was off screen. I didn’t expect to just stumble across zombie Nick but I thought it was quite cool. Poor dude just wasn’t made for the apocalypse.

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Luke – I liked Luke a lot. He seemed quite real. For some reason I thought he was going to survive to the end but as soon as that ice cracked, I panicked. I went in to save him but I couldn’t. I kept hoping that he was going to pop up after but nope. We really should have walked around the lake. Massive shame that he died but I do wish he could have had a less preventable death.

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Mike and Bonny – I liked these two. I really thought they were part of the group. The night around the bonfire was great, I loved those moments. I seriously cannot believe they did what they did, they were both always nice to Clem. I can understand that they didn’t want to be around Kenny but to take all the food and the car. Traitors.

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Jane – From the first time I saw her I had a feeling I was going to like her. She looked like a badass who knew what she was doing. The time her and Clem spent together was interesting. I felt like Clem was the person she wished her younger sister could have been. I loved the parts when she was teaching her about survival and it was also interesting hearing her views on people and the world. I understood all of the points she was making. I was on board with her, I liked her, I saved her over Sarah, then what did she do. Watching the argument in the car Journey was starting to get a little uncomfortable, then when she was talking about leaving Kenny I was considering her words. When we crashed the car and she got out and ran off, I started feeling very suspicious, then when she came back without AJ the alarm bells were ringing. As soon as he left and she told me not to get involved I put two and two together and knew she was planning to set Kenny up. I wasn’t sure what she had done to AJ but she completely missed the point in my book. She was trying to prove to me that Kenny was dangerous, unpredictable, a killer. But she did not realise that I already knew this, I saw what he did to Carver for crying out loud. I could have already told her that if anyone touched a hair on that baby’s head he would do whatever he felt he needed to do. But for her to manipulate him like that, then try to manipulate me into accepting it, then use the whole thing as an excuse to kill him spoke volumes to me about her personality. I would never be able to trust her again nor would I want to. She had to go.

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Kenny – I feel so bad for Kenny. I feel like he is so misunderstood. Imagine not only losing your silly, innocent Son, but your wife committing suicide at the same time. Within a few moments he had nothing left to live for. People cope with things in different ways and to tell you the truth, I honestly relate to his rage. Now let’s fast forward. Everyone you know is dead, you almost died trying to save/mercy kill some asshole that you didn’t even like, you survive on your own for however long till you are found by someone who can’t fill the void but can provide some comfort. You let yourself fall for her and come across some kind strangers. Things are starting to look up, then the one person that knew your family that is still alive stumbles back into your life, serving a daily reminder of what happened. Your new kind friends get killed, you get kidnapped, beaten to near death losing an eye in the process, then you escape only to see your new loved one die, suffering after having her arm hacked off. Of course you are going to be in extreme depression again by now, but you manage to pull yourself out of it enough to help a woman give birth. She dies but the baby lives, meanwhile the rest of your friends die and betray you, and the last remnant of your family gets shot. You decide to take a father role to the two kids left in your life and take them to the supposed haven with your last shot of hope. On the way, the new girl that you don’t even trust is picking fights with you, then loses the baby that you have sworn to raise better than you raised your own son. I think Kenny was WELL within his rights to flip out. Bashing Carvers face in, raging out at zombies, beating up Arvo and arguing with the group are all things that I think I probably would have done in his situation too, and I honestly don’t blame him at all. I find him to be such an interesting character and I couldn’t be happier with my ending.

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Ending – In the flashback of Lee, he said that part of growing up is doing what’s best for the people you care about, even if sometimes that means hurting someone else. I think a lot of people interpreted that as needing to put Kenny down because of his actions, but I didn’t take it like that. To me, in that analogy, Kenny is the one we care about. Jane has to be hurt (or killed) to protect him because all she is doing is trying to bring out the worst in him and she will not let it lie.

A lot of his other words felt so poignant if you think about Kenny. They were talking about Lilly killing Carley, and how sadness can make you angry. If you ask Lee whether he has ever been like that, he says yes, once. We all know Lee is a good guy but even the best of us can fall off the deep end. He says about how bad things happen to everyone and it can make it difficult to be the same person that you were before. Again, he is talking about Lilly but all I see is the parallels with Kenny. Kenny is full of grief and rage, yes he’s a dick, but he is not bad, deep inside. He will probably never be the same person he was before but part of him does and always will remain, all he needs is a chance to get through the worst of it.

Obviously, from what I have written above, I chose to look away and let Kenny kill Jane. I hoped in the back of my mind that maybe he wouldn’t KILL her, but at the same time, I felt absolutely no remorse when he did. That, followed by finding the baby in a car in a blizzard in the zombie apocalypse, told me everything I needed to know. We needed to press onto Wellington anyway if we wanted a chance at finding Christa. Seeing the change in Kenny when he was just with the kids confirmed everything I thought. Even though Kenny can be seen as unstable and a liability, he is going to do everything in his power to protect Clem and AJ. Absolutely everything. Jane would leave anyone behind in a heartbeat, she all but admitted it. Not Kenny though. Clem needs Kenny and Kenny needs Clem. He looks out for her and she gives him purpose. That is why my heart absolutely broke when we reached Wellington and found out that Kenny couldn’t come in. That is the hardest I have cried at fiction for a while. Kenny was crying, Clem was crying, I was crying, I never even considered that we would get the option to stay. It was a no brainer for me. Without the kids, Kenny would die. Like I said, they give him a purpose. Without that purpose, he would for sure succumb to his grief. There is no way that he would make it and to be honest, they’ve been doing ok on their own. Walls are overrated anyway. All it takes is for someone to die inside and shit hits the fan all over again. TEAM KENNY.

What did you think of Season 2? Did you like Season 1 better? Who was your favourite character? Which ending did you get?

Review – Murdered: Soul Suspect – PS4

Murdered: Soul Suspect is a homicide detective game with a twist, developed by Airtight Games. You are actually the murder victim and you have to solve your own death. As someone who enjoys solving a good mystery it was a no brainer for me to pick this game up. That, and I was completely intrigued by the whole concept. You play as cop, Ronan O’Conner, in the haunted town of Salem. The whole game takes place over the night of your murder, bringing with it the spooky atmosphere of a night in a town with a haunting history. The experience is elevated again when you remember that Salem is a real town in Massachusetts, well known for its history of Witch Trials.

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I found the atmosphere of this game to be absolutely perfect. Walking around in a different plane, you see not only the present but also ghosts of the past. The way the town is now and the way used to be. It is eerie and honestly very creepy sometimes, but it is also fascinating and it didn’t put me off exploring the world. Well, not at first anyway. Add this to the noir, mystery vibe and I honestly think they nailed it. I would say there are definitely horror themes. Pretend you are in a horror movie and list everywhere that you don’t want to go. I dare bet that most of the places on your list are places that you will visit in this game. But it isn’t a horror game. I seriously don’t do horror, but I managed to get through it. Only just, mind you, but I’ll come back to that a bit later.

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The story is divided into chapters where you enter an area (most of the time only available for that mission) to progress the story, then between the missions you will have access to the semi open world of the town. Most missions consist of getting from A-B safely, and investigating. I LOVED investigating. I love finding clues then putting them together. I loved exploring and finding hidden secrets. If that was solely what this game was about then I would have adored it. I loved the collectibles in this game, they really gave a purpose to exploring. Almost everywhere that you can go there are collectibles and sometimes there were even puzzles to get to them. Not only that but the collectibles were interesting. Each unlocking a piece of history of your character, or other characters, or the town itself. It’s one of the first games that I have actively gone hunting for collectibles without a guide and thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course, there is a downside though. If you don’t get all of the collectibles as you go then you will have to play the whole game again. This particularly annoyed me because in almost every section I had missed ONE collectible. I thought to myself ‘I’ll go back and get it later’… only you can’t go back and get it later, unless it is in the main town. Even then, once you have finished the final mission the game is over. On the bright side, your collectibles transfer over to your second play-through. So, even though you have to play the whole game again, you don’t have to re-find every single one, only the ones you missed. I personally would have no hesitation to play through a second time if it wasn’t for one thing that almost spoiled the whole game for me. Demons.

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You learn pretty early on that demons can be found roaming around the ghost world, and if they see you they are a bitch to escape. The aim is to sneak up behind them and execute them but that is sometimes easier said than done. To be honest, they were an annoyance at best, at worst they almost made me quit the game. It is not like they are that difficult, but they completely ruined my mindset while playing this game. When there were no demons I thoroughly enjoyed searching every nook and cranny for collectables. However, when you hear that awful scream you know they are there and you are going to have to spend some time getting rid of them. As I mentioned above, I did not buy this game to kill demons and I did not buy this game for any kind of horror. I bought it because I wanted to play a detective game and solve a mystery. If they didn’t exist I would have finished and platinumed the game months ago, but I honestly never want to deal with those demons again. It is very annoying because I really do want to see the rest of the ghost stories. I wish they had never implemented them into the game, it would have been better off without them, they just weren’t fun.

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The technical side of this game is where it is let down in my opinion. If you enter the clues menu, it tells you your current objective. Till the very end of the game, my objective was stuck on one of the first. I was afraid that when I turned the game off that the autosave may not have worked but it did, although the objective never updated. That was just a minor issue I had. The game is very buggy. One time it froze and I was just about to force my PS4 off but it started working again. Sometimes collectibles weren’t registering and the prompt to kill the demons wasn’t appearing. Also, whenever I came back to the game after turning it off, it gave me the tutorial messages for the menu features every single time. It does get quite annoying if you are playing through a lot of sittings.

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I enjoyed the story of this game very much. From the opening scene, showing us Romans past, I thought it was beautifully done and I was sold. Throughout the game I kept going back and forth in my mind who I thought the killer was, then in the end it still surprised me which is something I value so much in a story. I thought the characters were all interesting and I just really enjoyed the direction the story went. The ONE issue I had was I wish the Epilogue scene was slightly longer, but that doesn’t matter too much since I can still use my imagination. It is a really nice mystery and I urge everyone who enjoys detective games to play, despite its flaws.

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Overall, this game is all about exploring and investigating, uncovering mysteries and helping people, with some stealth involved, all in a supernatural yet realistic setting. If that sounds up your ally then I urge you to play. Especially since this game often goes on sale for £5 or less, you can’t go wrong.

Have you played? Did you enjoy it? Did you guess the killer? Did you hate the demons as much as I did?