#REVIEW: Hoa (PS5)

I haven’t written a game review on here in a while, mostly because I’ve been confining most of my gaming to my YouTube channel, but I just finished Hoa last night and I feel like this one deserves a little bit more of a push. The Let’s Play isn’t going to run for a few weeks– the current game I’m playing is going to wrap up on the 30th and there’s a whole other game I want to play before Hoa runs, but I picked it up on sale and more or less on a whim– at $4.95, I’m willing to play ten minutes and decide I made a mistake– and it’s absolutely fucking delightful, and if you’re any kind of gamer at all you owe it to yourself to check this one out. It seems to have launched on basically every available system, so you don’t even have to have any particular device to play it.

Hoa is a platformer/puzzle game, only about two and a half hours in length– it will run five episodes when I stream it– and all of the art assets are entirely hand-drawn. It is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, as you move through (mostly) naturalistic, wooded settings, interacting with fish and insects and other forms of wildlife along with the occasional robotic enemy. The game is divided into five or six zones, and the progression is pretty linear– you collect five butterflies in each level and then turn them in to … well, not a “boss,” because the game doesn’t have any combat at all, but a large denizen of the level, who gives you a new movement ability and sends you on to the next area. There is a story, but it’s kind of bare-bones until all the reveals come at the end, so I’m not going to spoil anything.

This is not a challenging game, and I don’t think it’s meant to be; it’s one of the few games I’ve played where I really feel like relaxation was one of the goals of the game designers, and the piano soundtrack (while occasionally a bit too loud) is just amazing. This is a great game to just play through and chill to, and it’s one of the very rare games where I feel like trying to speed-run it might be fun.

What pushes this game into territory where I’m raving about it is how it handles the ending. There is a big chase scene that is actually handled as a cutscene, which took me by surprise, but then the game does something completely unexpected once the game ends, and the way it handles revealing the parts of the story that had been opaque through endgame cutscenes is really impressive. This was a good game until the last half-hour or so and then shifted into something entirely more notable at that point, and I strongly suggest you play it yourself before watching me do it. It’s a steal at $4.95, and I wouldn’t have felt bad at all if I’d paid the full price. Definitely check it out.

ELDEN RING post-Network Test impressions

One thing is absolutely clear: I need to clear my calendar for late February and probably all of March, and I am going to take a personal day the day this game comes out and I’m not going to feel even the tiniest bit bad about it. I will flat-out tell people that I am staying home to play video games. Deal with it.

I recorded five hours of footage from the network beta test of this game– three hours on Friday night and two more on Sunday night, before hitting a situation that ended the stream so perfectly that continuing to play (and cost myself sleep the night before work) seemed wholly unnecessary. During that time I explored a pretty good chunk of the map we had available to us, defeated several bosses including Margit the Fell up there, who appears to be the first major storyline boss in the game, found but did not seriously attempt to kill the dragon, and cleared out three caves. I dipped my toe in multiplayer a bit, letting myself be summoned to help one player (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) defeat a boss, and summoning people myself to take out Margit and one other boss. I also got invaded once and killed the invader. I only really tried out the one class, deciding to get deeper into progression with a single character rather than repeat the same content with a bunch of them, but I chose the Enchanted Knight class, meaning that I had access to melee and magic abilities.

This game is a fucking blast, y’all, and while I have some scattered concerns here and there I think they mostly fall into either “this was the beta test” or “you will get used to it” categories. I’m going to switch to bullet points now; note that any references I should happen to make to the development of the game come from a position of nearly total ignorance, so I may have the idea that very complicated things are easy or that easy things are very complicated. Take everything with as much salt as you’d like.

  • The combat and basic game itself is pure Dark Souls, which is a good thing (because that’s my favorite game series) and a bad thing (because they are literally reusing tons of animations from Dark Souls 3.) This is one of those places where I’m wondering if a lot of the animations are placeholders that are going to get swapped out later. Other things, like fonts and such, are also pretty similar and I suspect might see some polishing in the next several months. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a Dark Souls game; it’s a whole new IP and while nobody’s complaining about the obvious shared DNA it does need to have more of its own identity.
  • The look of the game is fantastic, and the network test covered a diverse enough swath of environments (and weather conditions!) to give you a good idea of how all sorts of things are going to look. Graphical fidelity is not going to be a problem here.
  • The game was very, very clean. The only bugs I noticed (and didn’t bother reporting) was that sometimes player messages were floating off the ground rather than being where they were supposed to be. I had no crashes at all, no glitching, nothing like that, and I haven’t really seen any reports of major bugs either. AI seemed on point across the board, although sneaking up and backstabbing enemies is maybe a little easier than it ought to be.
  • That might not be true. There were a couple places during the Friday session where I was trying to summon people and having no luck at all. That could be a bug issue or could be a result of summons getting snatched up the second they got placed; it’s hard to say from this end. But if it was a bug, it was the only one, and I wasn’t having those issues nearly as much Sunday night.
  • I didn’t feel like there was enough variation in weapons and armor available. There were next to no drops from humanoid enemies, and nonhuman enemies mostly dropped crafting materials. Five hours into any other Fromsoft game other than Sekiro would have given you tons of different weapons and armor. I found a twinblade really quickly that I used for most of my run, but by the end of the five hours I only had maybe four or five weapons, which is ludicrously low. This is something else that I assume they’ll correct by the time of the game’s full release. No reason to give everybody full customizability right off the bat.
  • Similarly, the demo had no initial character customization at all, and made sure to put most characters’ faces behind helmets. I figure they left it out on purpose.
  • Other than the fact that there is an Elden Ring out there and it is destroyed and you’re looking for it, there were no real hints at the story at all. Which is, to be clear, absolutely fine.
  • Changes from the Dark Souls model: the ability to charge spells is awesome. I also really like being able to replace special abilities on weapons with others that you’ve picked up, and turning enemy summons into an item is a fantastic move even if I thought the three wolves summon was flat-out unfair by the end of the second stream. There will be rebalancing; there’s no doubt about that. It’s inevitable. I also really like the mechanic where wiping out entire groups of enemies can result in recharging your heals. This does two things: one, it encourages more aggressive gameplay, and two, it adds another element of risk/reward to the game, which is something Fromsoft games have always excelled at. If I only have half a health bar and no heals left, do I attack that last enemy or two knowing that if they hit me, I’m dead, but if I beat them without any mistakes I get all my heals back?
  • Boss difficulty and design is pretty solid, and Margit the Fell is one of the most complex early bosses I’ve ever encountered in one of these games. I was pretty sure I could take him sooner or later by myself, but went with summons to help out because with a clock ticking I felt like I didn’t have time to fuck around learning attack patterns that could change by the time the game comes out. Better to steamroll the bastard so I can see what’s after him. 🙂
  • Recording this game is going to be tricky. Open-world games lend themselves better to streaming, but I don’t have a lot of time to stream, and half-hour episodes are going to feel really inadequate, especially considering how frequently I was getting distracted. Assuming I’m still running the YouTube channel by then, I may have to reconsider how I present the episodes. Luckily I’ve got plenty of time to figure that out.
  • EDIT: Just discovered there was an whole entire-ass tutorial area that I completely missed. Oops?

I may add some details here and there as I continue to think about this, but I figure this is enough to get started with. Damn, I need more friends who play video games.

#REVIEW: The PS4

The PS5 is in place, in the location in front of the new TV where it will likely remain for several years, and … damn, I knew the thing was going to be a behemoth, but it is a behemoth. I’d post a picture of mine instead of this one I grabbed from the Web, but there are cables everywhere and it looks like butt, and this gives you the idea. The thing is gorgeous, with this oddly architectural look that I’ve never seen from a console before, and while I actually haven’t spent a ton of time playing (because downloading all the shit that I need to download takes forever, and I had stuff to do today,) the first fifteen minutes or so of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the first level of the Demon’s Souls remake are astonishing. I still need to figure out how to get my son’s save games moved over from the PS4, but that’s the only technical hitch I haven’t overcome so far.

I still can’t chase people for shit in the Spider-Man game; it’s nice to learn quickly that I’m not going to be any better at that.

But this post isn’t about the PS5, it’s about the PS4, and it’s specifically about me making this comment: I have been a gamer for a very long time– we had an Atari 2600– and I am fairly certain that the PS4 is my favorite console that I have ever owned. I bought mine in 2014, maybe seven or eight months after the thing launched (I’m writing this without bothering to look up the dates, so if they’re wrong, trust the “seven or eight months” part more) after a couple of generations of being an Xbox Guy (I never owned a PS1, had a PS2 but rarely played it, and bought a PS3 specifically to play The Last of Us, a decision I never regretted) and I never even glanced at the last Xbox generation. We have a Switch but it’s basically for the boy; other than the latest Mario I don’t think I’ve beaten a single game on it.

But the PS4? Jesus. God of War and Sekiro and the Dark Souls games and Spider-Man and Ghost of Tsushima and Bloodborne and Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Witcher 3 which was kind of a pain in the ass but aged well and Fallout 4 and Fallen Order and Hollow Knight and Nioh and Nioh 2, a game I just discovered I have sunk three hundred and fifteen hours into playing. Like, any one of these games could conceivably have sold me the console, and it had all of them.

To be clear, the message here is “If you’re a gamer, and you don’t own one of these yet somehow, you could buy one right now at a low cost and have years of unbelievable games to play before you worry about the next-gen shit.”

Just fuckin’ awesome.

In which I review THE LAST OF US 2 without ever playing it

I loved The Last Of Us— I bought a PS3 basically just so that I could play it, and I called it the best game of 2013 after I beat it. If you’re not familiar with that review– and why would you be, since I wrote it seven years ago– you might want to give it a quick read before you read this. Also, I intend to spoil the hell out of the sequel, so if you’re going to read this you should probably have either already beaten the game or not plan to play it. Lemme throw a separator in here to help you out:


SPOILERS ABOUND BEYOND THIS POINT


If you didn’t read the previous review, here’s the important parts: I really connected with this game as a dad, and that resulted in 1) paternal feelings toward Ellie that made the part where you play as her, and thus get killed over and over and over again, really emotionally difficult, and 2) totally understanding why the game ended by forcing you to gun down the scientists who were trying to find a cure for the Cordyceps fungus– because it would have killed Ellie, and there’s just no universe where Joel would have ever allowed that to happen.

I got all kinds of whispers and rumors about this game before it came out that made me feel like playing it– especially right now, with all the other shit going on in the world and in my life– was not going to be an emotionally sound decision. Kotaku called the damn game a “misery simulator.” I don’t need that. But … damn, it was the sequel to what is still one of the best games I’ve ever played! Made by the same people! How do I just ignore this?

I decided to watch a Let’s Play on YouTube instead, which would provide me with the game’s story– in this case, most of what I cared about– and allow me the ability to either 1) buy the game if I decided that’s what I wanted or 2) nope out at any time. And so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching a couple of half-hour episodes a day as they’ve been being released, and up until last night I was more or less still secure in my decision but also thinking eeeh, I probably could have bought this, but never really coming close to the point where I needed to. Plus, it’s violent as hell, to the point where I don’t want my son exposed to it yet, so I’d only have been able to play after he went to bed. This decision worked for me, is what I’m saying.

Well, the guy I’m watching isn’t as into the story as I am, and after having to watch him complain through one of the quieter parts in the denouement at the end of the game, I decided fuck it and went ahead and Googled the spoilers for the rest of the game. And this is where I’m exercising my nope the fuck out option and not even watching the rest, because despite having watched probably 90-95% of it the game has somehow saved a good 2/3 of its assholery for the final minutes.

Huh. I haven’t actually spoiled anything yet.

Here’s the thing: The Last of Us 2’s central thesis is that every decision you can possibly make is going to lead to loss and heartache. That there are no good people, that there is no forgiveness in the world, that where forgiveness does exist it is a fatal mistake, and there is no way, ever, to do the right thing. That the right thing is in fact an illusory concept from the beginning. It’s going to come back and bite you in the ass eventually no matter what you do. Literally every decision any character in this story makes leads to pain. Every single one. There are two moderately sympathetic characters, neither of which are playable, and both of them are put through utter hell. The two protagonists, Ellie and Abby, are both repeatedly shown to be awful people, and I think Ellie absolutely gets the shorter stick in that regard, so if you, like me, came into this game predisposed to like her as a character because you viewed her as a daughter … well, be prepared for the game to hurt you for that as well.

Every decision every character makes in this game leads to the death of their friends and family members. Every single one. And in case you’ve picked up elsewhere– because I haven’t talked about it yet– that revenge is a major theme of the game, be aware that the game shits on its characters both for seeking revenge and for not seeking revenge. Both are terrible mistakes. You cannot escape them.

I, uh, don’t need this in my escapist fiction right now. There’s a place for depressing entertainment out there, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that your average Holocaust movie is told with a lot more hope for humanity than The Last of Us 2. There is nothing but nihilism here, nothing at all, and I don’t need it.

The gameplay looks to be about exactly the same as the first one, by the by. That’s a recommendation; if a semi-stealth shooter with absolutely gorgeous graphics is what you’re looking for and you’re capable of ignoring the story you probably will have a good time with this. I can’t; or at least I can’t with this particular series. I’m not even watching the last couple of episodes now that I know how it ends. I’m fucked up enough from reading about them; I don’t need it in my head. I’ve got enough real emotional stress right now without letting fictional misery in.

BOOYAH

Damn right I am Nioh.