I just realized that I’ve played a few games in this, the month of September, that I probably should have waited to play until the spooky month. It’s fine though, because any month can be spooky if you try hard enough, especially when the world itself is still so spooky. I made an effort to play more games this month that I’ve never played before, and the list below is what I’ve come up with;
(Remember when Chuck E. Cheese used to smoke?)
Call of Cthulhu, the one that launched in 2018, has been sitting in my backlog for a couple of months now, but I finally got around to playing it in the pre-spooky month. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It’s the early 20th century, you play as a grizzled private investigator with a troubled past and a heavy dependence on drink. You’re called to a mysterious New England village to investigate a death surrounded by mysterious circumstances. A cosmis God who dwells beyond time and space is involved. What I was expecting from Call of Cthulhu was a game that pays lip-service to investigative gameplay before falling into first-person shooting action. That’s not what this Call of Cthulhu is all about though: instead this game features investigation, item and dialog based puzzles, and a heavy story focus.
There are light RPG elements too: some of the items you find will increase your skill with medicine or the occult, but you can also level up as you solve puzzles and progress the story. Leveling up allows you to put points into investigative and dialog based skills. The issue at hand is that you can potentially have an investigation skill that’s reached 100% and still fail investigation-based challenges or roadblocks, like lock picking based on RNG. The RNG is probably going to prevent me from unlocking all of the achievements, but luckily I was able to make it through the entire narrative and watch 3 out of the 4 endings. I’ve seen some mixed opinions on this Call of Cthulhu game: RNG definitely makes things frustrating but I got lucky and I really enjoyed my playthrough of this game.
(You could say we're facing a...Cthulhu Dawn)
You already have an opinion on Halo and Halo 2, so do I and so does everybody else of a certain age. What I was planning on doing this month was finishing Halo and playing through Halo 2 but what actually happened was a little bit different. I played through Assault on the Control Room and 343 Guilty Sparks of Combat Evolved, then I transitioned over to Halo 2. I haven’t played the Master Chief Collection edition of Halo 2, and I was thrown off when there was a cutscene of Arbiter and Lock talking about the past early in Halo 2. I only played through Cairo Station and the part of New Mombasa City in Halo 2. What made me stop was The Library in Halo. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: zombies ruin everything and in Halo 2 The Flood are brought in after New Mombasa City because I guess The Arbiter fighting a rebel alien faction is too interesting. I have a very strong nostalgic link to Halo and Halo 2, but I’ve definitely outgrown those games. Reach was my favorite, but I don’t even like playing that one very much. I might pick up ODST since it’s only $5 and I don’t remember it having Flood, but I don’t see myself getting Halo 3, and I’m not touching 4 or 5 when or if they both drop on Steam.
(I wish I liked this as much now as I did when I was a teen...)
Yakuza 0 is really, really, good, but there are two things that stopped me from playing it all month long. The first thing is an intense sense of deja vu: Previously I’ve played Yakuza Kiwami and while I’m sure it has a different story than 0, I feel like I’ve gone through the same story beats before. The other thing that made me stop playing this game for right now is that it makes my PC sound like a fat aircraft carrier that’s running out of breath, and I just felt sorry for it. I didn’t feel too bad about that though, considering I put nearly 7 hours into Yakuza 0 this month. A lot of that time was spent playing classic Sega games like Outrun and Space Harrier, but there was still a lot of face-stomping to be had. Kazuma Kiryu, who isn’t yet The Dragon of Dojima, has been framed for murder, and it seems to have been ordered from within.
I assume that the actual murderer is the man who waved the only gun in Kamurochou at me during a cutscene, but what do I know about investigative drama. Familiar plot aside, I’ve spent a lot of time beating up people who probably didn’t deserve it and buying perks for Kiryu. The main one I wanted, and unlocked, was the one that lets him eat even when he isn’t hungry. I don’t know if it’s a ‘me’ thing or not, but I feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment when I was able to complete a restaurant’s menu in under 2 minutes. It’s probably a me thing: I can’t remember the last time I ate takoyaki and I’m definitely going through withdrawals. Anyhow, I’m at a point in Yakuza 0 where I’m being courted by a third party, I’m still investigating a murder, I can’t remember if locker keys are a thing in this game, and I have the option to start the remote-car racing side quest but I don’t think I’m ready to yet. I really like the gameplay of Yakuza, so the next time I boot it up I’ll probably spend another several hours in it. I know there’s at least 1 more fighting type to unlock, and I want to see how the story unfolds.
(Wait, that's Majima right? I haven't met Majima yet!)
E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy is a game I’ve played a bit of and feel strangely about. Based on a youtube video by Mandalore Gaming, I was expecting an incredibly dense role-playing game set in a cyberpunk future. That still seems to be here since you can hack just about anything, you look like a Space Marine, there seems to be a lot of different skills at play, but I was expecting more out of the game than just a massive gunfight in a generic cyberpunk city. E.Y.E. runs in the Source engine, the Half-Life 2 one, so shooting feels and sounds just fine, but I was hoping I would have seen more out of this game than what I’ve seen so far. I don’t feel too engaged by Divine Cybermancy at the moment. It does a couple of cool things like allowing ATMs and doors to hack you if you suck at hacking (like I do), but it just isn’t clicking for me in the early hours.
(I want to like you so much more than I do...)
Dark Souls II is a game I’m playing yet again. I may have mentioned this somewhere else, but I have a project going on that I don’t intend on completing any time soon. Basically, I’m going for what’s essentially a genocide run. I don’t plan on carrying it out to DLC areas or New Game+ but I do plan on killing everything until it stops spawning in. I also plan on taking out all of the merchants before ending this playthrough. I have a few areas cleared already, but I’m still early on. I haven’t killed any bosses yet for example, but I have cleared sections of The Gutter. I may make a video to show my progress and go over this project in more depth. If nothing else, it’s kind of like a stress relief exercise.
(I'm just realized Shaded Woods is a thing and I'm dreading it more than Shrine of Amana)
I’m still really early on in Styx: Master of Shadows, but I’ve already noticed that it’s really deep. I hadn’t heard of this game before, but apparently it’s the first in a series of 2 stealth action games. You play as Styx who I thought was a goblin, but the humans seem to think he’s a mutant elf. Styx has amnesia, but he knows he’s trying to steal a magical power source from the inside of an ancient tree. The first level is broken up into a clear tutorial section and two much more open areas filled with hidden collectibles, enemies to cut up, and set pieces to drop onto other enemies. In a lot of ways Styx reminds me of a mix between Thief and Hitman: It’s possible to survive if an enemy spots you, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed by enemies if you do get spotted.
I was really surprised by how dense the first level was when it showed me a completion screen and my completion rating was so abysmally low. On the one hand, it made me want to replay that first level a few times, but on the other hand the tutorial section of the first level is unskippable and gets a bit dull after the first time. What saved it for a bit is the writing: Styx is set in a dark fantasy type of world so in addition to the brevity of excessive violence, there’s no messing around with phoney, made-up, fantasy swear words. If a guard notices you in the light, they’re going to freak out and say “Oh shit, a monster!”. It was funny the first few times, but it seems to be the default response to being spotted. I’m still really early on in the game though, so maybe the Elves will have a different reaction and maybe there are more elite guards who won’t care that I’m a monster. I’m not sure if I just dissociated through 2013 and 2014 or if Styx just didn’t get any media coverage, but from what I’ve played of it I don’t see how I hadn’t heard of it before.
(Oh Shit! A forgotten game from this past gen!)
Once I started playing Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition I couldn’t stop. I like Metroidvania style games by default, but I don’t usually get into 1 on 1 fighting games. I bring that up because the more I played Guacamelee, and the more moves I unlocked, the more demanding the game became. From the beginning I had access to a simple 3-hit combo, but by unlocking the first special move, The Rooster Uppercut, the available number of combos I could then perform increased dramatically. Not only did this keep happening as I unlocked more special moves, it became required learning if I wanted to complete platform challenges to progress the game. I always felt like I was getting more powerful as I played through Guacamelee sure, but it also seemed like more was expected of me the more I played. The last power-up I picked up was one that’s hidden away behind a challenge mode for example, and even with all of the tools I could find I have no idea how to find all of the hidden rooms and secret areas buried in this game.
In addition to being more demanding as far as platforming and exploration is concerned, Guacamelee differentiates itself from other Metroidvania type games by featuring almost no ranged combat. Every enemy I fought against basically needed to be punched, and after a few punches they could be grabbed and tossed about. Certain slams are capable of producing a damaging area-of-effect, and with the right power-up more slams can cause more damaging area of effect knock-backs or damage. Guacamelee being such a hands-on brawler in itself is pretty unique for this kind of game, but to focus so heavily on wrestling moves helps to set Guacamelee even further apart from the competition. The combat and platforming was challenging but without being frustrating to me. It made me want to keep playing and that funny thing happened where it only took me a few dedicated sessions to fight my way to the big bad and knock him out.
I can’t say I completed this game yet: you don’t get hard mode until you beat the game once, and as I mentioned previously I haven’t 100%’d all of the areas in the game yet. I’m not willing to call it a guide-game, but I probably will need to check one or two if I want to actually complete Guacamelee. I can’t believe I didn’t play this game sooner.
(An absolute must-play game. This game is objectively good art)
The problem I had with The Surge and The Surge 2 are similar to the problem I had with Nioh. Basically, they take the idea behind Dark Souls 2 but they add in micromanagement. In these games, you can focus on individual limbs while fighting, but this makes switching the target you’re locked onto more difficult than just flicking the right thumb-stick. I didn’t feel like I was being overwhelmed by vast numbers of enemies, but I didn’t feel like I was getting stronger as I pushed my way through a filthy scrap yard in 1, and a city in the second. I also felt like the tutorial was lying to me: When I first met an enemy in The Surge with armor, my weapon bounced uselessly off of their armored limbs. Then a few minutes later, I was damaging a fully armored enemy despite what I experienced earlier. From what I’ve heard, the first Surge is much worse than the second one, but I really didn’t like either one. The prison escape in The Surge 2 got me invested, but the alley outside of the Prison was such a leap in difficulty that I had just completely checked out. I didn’t like either of these games at all.
Metro: Last Light is having the same effect Metro: 2033 had on me; that is to say I started playing it, got really immersed, and asked myself why I didn’t start playing it months ago when I first got it. After the events of the first game Artyom is having nightmares about The Dark Ones who, despite my decision to not bomb them properly at the time, have been bombed canonically. The tutorial mission, in addition to showing you how to put on a gas mask, shop in safe zones, and sneak, introduces a single surviving Dark One who I haven’t reunited with quite yet but who seems to be the main thing pushing this plot along. It seemed to be up until I was hit with a brewing conflict in the Metro system between the Reds and the 4-letter N-words, both of whom wanting control of D6 the vault that Artyom discovered near the end of Metro 2033.
So far Last Light has played like 2033; I’ve enjoyed sneaking around the metro tunnels but the way I’ve dealt with conflicts has been different. A section with giant spiders who are harmed by light stands out in my mind as being really interesting since all I really needed to do was hit them with my flashlight until they exposed their underbelly. What I’ve most enjoyed about Last Light though is the same as what I liked about 2033 and it’s the world. Sneaking around in vents or just walking around peaceful areas and listening to conversations about the situation at hand. I can easily get turned off of a game world, but this one hasn’t lost me yet. The world of Metro Last Light is very clearly clinging on to every last resource they have, and it realizes that every encounter with a Nozalas can potentially decimate the population of a settlement.
Even though a civil war is brewing in the under ground, it’s very clear that the fight is about the possibility that D6 is storing medicine, food, and safe spaces to live away from mutated animals and radiation. The story, atmosphere, and shooting are satisfying, but the stealth leaves a little bit to be desired; I’m either in the shadows and invisible or I’m not and not. Lights can be destroyed to give me more places to hide, but there are times where enemies can be made aggressive and stay in that state until I restart the game. Other games have taken my attention away from Last Light at the moment, but like with 2033, once I get back into it I’ll stay in. Based on what I know about Metro Exodus’ story I may not play that one, but I’m looking forward to playing through Last Light.
(I'd try Mushroom-based Vodka)
You may have some nerdy friends who, whenever they hear Deus Ex mentioned, need to re-install it onto their “deck” and “jack in” to the “web” for an hour or so because they remember Liberty Island being incredible but not much after that. For me, every time I hear Grabbag I have an urge to boot up Duke Nukem 3D and play the first couple of levels of LA Meltdown. I’ve loved Duke Nukem 3D since I was about 10, this is one of my nostalgic, happy-time games that I go back to from time to time.
(Still one of the best games of all time)
MO: Astray is a really difficult platformer with a story that’s clearly hiding something from me. The thing I’m playing as is a blob of goo who can access the memories of corpses and monsters if it attaches to their heads. The little blob of goo, eventually named Mo, breaks out of a test tube and is guided by a strange, disembodied voice. Mo can stick to most walls and ceilings, though after a while Mo will slide down or otherwise fall off of the surface. Mo: Astray is a platformer but unlike most of them it’s not as simple as pressing a button to launch Mo from floor to wall to ceiling: instead you’re recommended to use the right stick of a gamepad (which I did) to adjust the force and angle Mo flings itself. It’s easy enough to understand, but I’ve killed Mo multiple times by misjudging the force or angle of a jump and landing Mo in a chasm or on an instant-kill hazard. It’s a really demanding kind of gameplay, and even after 2 and a half hours I haven’t fully come to grips with it.
Looking at the Steam achievements it looks like there’s a lot of player drop-off before the end of the first chapter. The platforming puzzles require a good sense of timing, some outside-the-box thinking, forethought, and sometimes luck. That alone could be enough to frustrate people, but then there are boss fights that combine a need to be quick, and quick-witted. The combat isn’t direct, it’s more like Mo trying to stay out of the line of fire while manipulating the environment to make it defeat the bosses for...it. The first boss is really straight-forward: just attach Mo to pseudo-heads until the Boss inevitably hurts itself by attacking where you were. The second boss encounter however is a multi-phase series of avoiding enemy fire, platform management, and intense spacial awareness, also there are multiple phases.
What keeps MO: Astray from being too frustrating is how quickly I went from dead to trying again, but what keeps my frustration levels far from zero are just how easily I can accidentally fling myself into danger. I can’t say I’m overly intrigued by the story, but the platforming and the diversity of the level design is what’s keeping me interested in playing more. I’ve just started chapter 3 and right at the beginning underwater navigation has been introduced. Surprisingly, moving around underwater seems to be easier and faster than moving around on land. I’m excited to see where the gameplay goes, even if the plot isn’t as enticing to me. I would say MO: Astray is 2019’s Celeste, but I’ve literally never heard of MO: Astray before this month and it isn’t selling itself on emotions. It’s just a really interesting platformer and I strongly recommend it.
(Very challenging, but I'm having trouble putting it down. Thanks again Wes, this game is fantastic!)
September has been a much better month than a majority of the months this past year, and by default October is usually a great month too. I think Star Wars Squadron’s is launching this month and even though it’s launching at $40 I’m probably going to wait until it’s cheaper than that before I get my copy. Other than that I can’t think of anything that’s coming out this year. Sure Cyberpunk claims to be launching this year, but how many times have we been burned so far? Besides, I have a dense backlog to chip away at...and a Dark Souls 2 project that I’ll probably end up focusing on. Anyway, I hope your Septembers have gone well, and I hope your Hallotober goes even more weller!