December has come and gone, and there are a lot of things I really wish I could have done this month. I didn’t see any of my relatives or friends during the holidays because I’ve been LARPing that one episode of Invader Zim about germophobia since April. I didn’t get a chance to be disappointed by Cyberpunk, like so many of my friends here did. I didn’t even get drunk and pass out on the stairs, but that’s more because even when chocolate is added to it, I just can’t get past the taste of alcohol to drink enough of it to get a buzz on. On the plus side, I spent some quality time with this mixed bag of games!
I started playing Persona 4 Golden in late November, and after roughly 3 weeks straight I beat it. That is to say, I finished New Game mode after having beaten the dungeon and boss that you can only get to if you do very specific things during in-game December. I also knocked out a dungeon that’s locked off unless you max out the Aeon social link, and that one was probably my favorite one to get through in the whole game.
My first runthrough was on Hard, but it didn’t take too long before I realized that the skill card system could easily be gamed in such a way that powering myself up was fairly easy, if time consuming. A majority of the monsters populating the dungeons were fairly generic and I was disappointed by how quickly I started noticing palette swapped enemies. It’s the writing, the characters, and the overall plot that kept me invested more than anything. I wasn’t able to max out all of the social links, or read all of the books, or see all of the content. I know there’s another secret boss waiting for me that might not have been available during my first run, so I’m still playing this game into the new year.
(The best waifu are the friends we made along the way)
I feel really strangely about Spider-Man: Miles Morales. On the one hand it was fun to play for the most part, but on the other hand I hated the story, the characters, and the whole experience was kind of buggy. I try to be fair when it comes to games that annoy me; take Miles Morales for example, this is a Playstation 5 launch title that I played on a slim PS4. If I played on a PS4 Pro or a PS5 I probably would have had a better time in terms of performance. On the PS4 though, Miles performed a lot like the Spider-Man expansion content that launched after the core game did. It worked, but it seemed like I had to play in a certain way to avoid too many frame drops or physics anomalies.
Swinging around a snow covered Manhattan, exploring and stopping random crimes was a lot of fun. I liked finding the various collectibles too, except for the sounds of the city. Something about how the collectibles are unlocked, that is, something about how the game won’t let you collect things until you get to certain points in the plot, feels like the game is trying to pad out its runtime. I was hoping this game would introduce more elements of Mile’s Spider-Man too. I loved the film Into the Spider-Verse, but one of the costumed antagonists from that movie who is in this game, was absolutely butchered. An interesting, sympathetic character in the movie, that specific person is nakedly evil in the game. Almost everything he says to Miles has a double meaning and the second meaning is almost always, “I’m going to betray you”.
Miles himself is different too. He tries to quip since he’s literally Peter Parker’s student, but everything that comes out of Miles mouth sounds like it’s an octave away from becoming a whimper. It’s like having running commentary from Steven Universe. Another similarly petty gripe I have with this game is the costume selection that’s unlocked throughout the game. Miles has only been around for a decade or so, so there’s not as much to pull from as there is with Peter Parker, but out of the nearly 2 dozen costumes there were only 3 that I really liked, and the Into the Spiderverse costume isn’t one of them. I liked a lot of Miles Morales, but it was a massive disappointment to me overall. It’s probably better on the PS5 in terms of mechanics.
(He DOES have more than one villain, doesn't he?)
Brutal Doom 64 is still the game I pop on for a few minutes if I want to enjoy the fun of an unapologetic killing spree after a dull night’s work. Now it’s the game I play to pump myself up for the imminent release of Brutal Fate, which I hope has a full launch next year, but which I might actually pick up if it goes into early access instead of being released outright.
When I first played Batman: Arkham Knight however many months (or maybe years) ago it really annoyed me, but I gave it a second chance and it won me over. Part of what changed my opinion on the game is the plot; The Arkham canon seemed fairly standard by the end of the first game Asylum, but by the end of Arkham City more than one named character from Batman canon had been killed thus establishing stakes and shaking up the status quo. This continuity carried on to Arkham Knight where the stakes have been raised again and at the point I’ve reached in the story yet another recognizable character has been killed.
It’s not the death that I like necessarily, it’s the stakes. The threat of Scarecrow’s plot and the Arkham Knight’s involvement seems a lot more valid when I know that there could be severe consequences waiting for me as I continue through the narrative. Furthermore, unlike other superhero sandboxes I’ve played this month, the Arkham Knight utilizes foes from Batman’s rogue’s gallery who I’ve never seen before. The titular Arkham Knight is the obvious one, but there was a great side quest involving an opera loving amalgam of Bioshock’s Dr. Steinman and Sander Cohen who I’d never heard of before. Then there’s the Arkham-Introduction of Kirk Langstrum the Man-Bat who I remember fondly from the Batman Animated series and not much else. Then there’s Nyssa Raatko who I’ve also never heard of before playing this game. That’s about it for newcomers, but it’s better than nothing at all.
The city of Gotham has never been this big, and there are layers of verticality and depth that enhance the space. Overall though, it’s probably one of the smaller open world games I’ve played recently. One of the open world side-quests involves chasing and disabling armored vehicles and I didn’t realize how small the map was until, after disabling one such vehicle, I realized that I had travelled from one section of Founder’s Island all the way to Chinatown in Bleake Island. The chase itself lasted for roughly two minutes, and I don’t think I could drive from the Car Crusher in Portland to the Airport in Shoreside Vale in Grand Theft Auto III that quickly! Gotham City is a larger map than Arkham City though, and I know I have a long way to go before I’ve found all of the Riddler content considering how densely packed it all is.
After over 20 hours of gameplay, I’m not even sure if I’ve encountered all of the big-name villains in the city. I’ve looked ahead to see if there are any points of no return to be wary of, and it seems like I haven’t got anything to worry about on that front. Something that I wasn’t expecting, but which I’ve been really enjoying, are the psychological horror aspects of Arkham Knight. At first I thought I was imagining things, but then I caught a clear sight of a statue that had the wrong face, and billboards that were definitely wrong. It’s fine though, they changed back to what they usually are after I panned the camera away from, and back toward them. Arkham Knight has been fantastic so far, and I’m really glad I gave it another chance.
(POV: You're associated with The Riddler)
I don’t remember why I downloaded the Graven demo, but I only played it for about 15 minutes or so. It looked like a modern take on Hexen, but either I don’t know my Hexen or this game is a slower version of what Hexen was. The demo started with a boat ride that I couldn’t skip, and once I got to a sleepy village I was told I couldn’t continue until I unclog a drain. I remember going into a cistern under the town and being attacked by zombies, I remember having a melee weapon that didn’t pack too much of a punch, and I remember finding a magic spell that consumes a lot of magic but does very little damage to the enemies around me. I unclogged the drain using my magical fire though, and when I went back to talk to the gatekeepers I was told to unclog the drain. So I uninstalled the Graven demo and played Brutal Doom 64 for an hour or so.
Sackboy’s Big Adventure is another PS5 launch game that I was able to play on the PS4, but I didn’t play nearly as much of this as I did Miles. This is probably a very petty gripe, but Stephen Fry’s absence gave me a very negative first impression of this game. His narration has been a part of the series for the initial trilogy, and it’s a shame to know that he wasn’t a part of the new game. The more substantial reason I didn’t spend too much time with Adventureboy’s Big Sack is because it didn’t do a lot to stimulate me.
It’s a gorgeous game, even though my ancient hardware can’t load textures as quickly as certain scenes demands, but the presentation is fantastic. It’s like I’m playing one of Nintendo’s yarn games, but with a much higher resolution. The level design actually reminded me a lot of Super Mario 3D World in that the levels progress in a linear fashion despite everything being modeled in 3D. I can see myself playing this a little bit at a time, but I’m just not feeling too hot on this one.
(It's a better launch game than Knack)
The Room is a puzzle game that took me less than 3 hours to beat. Essentially, you’re presented with a safe that has a very enigmatic locking mechanism. Solving the puzzles to unlock the safe reveals a puzzle box, and the more puzzles you solve the more artifacts you find you need to unlock. There’s a series of notes that introduce the character of a lost alchemist, but I’m in this for the beautifully rendered puzzle objects more than anything.
There are a few other The Room games on Steam, and they frequently dip in price to below value meal levels, so it’s been on my radar for a while. I played this late Christmas night/early on the morning of December 26th, and it was just a really chill game to play in the dark and quiet. The atmosphere was almost Rusty Lake-like, but without the horror elements. I strongly recommend The Room if you’re into puzzle games!
(I feel like this is a Dad game)
I haven’t spared too much time for The Outer Worlds recently, and even though I booted it up late this month I didn’t make too much progress with the plot or any of the side-quests. A part of me didn’t want to get too involved because I already engaged with a few other massive games this month and I just can’t find the time, let alone manage the time, to really get into The Outer Worlds right now. Still, it was entertaining to clear out a building and collect a part that was necessary to activate S.A.M.
Streets of Rage 4 has the best soundtrack I’ve heard in a game in a very long time. The soundtrack is usually something that I don’t think too much about unless it’s either really good, really bad, or I do a lot of level grinding in one specific area and a specific theme burrows into my head. Levels themes are catchy to begin with, and usually reminiscent of previous Streets of Rage tracks. As I made my way through each of the levels though, the track would change and intensify in greatly impressive and satisfying ways to my ear.
Wanting to hear more of this awesome soundtrack has been a great motivating force keeping me playing this game, but OST aside, Streets of Rage 4 has been a lot of fun in the few hours I’ve played so far. I haven’t beaten it yet, because I have trouble with grid-based brawlers like this one. Playing on Normal difficulty, I’ve made it to the 12th stage, but I’m just not good enough to beat what I assume is the penultimate boss. So I downshifted to easy and I’m making better progress at the moment. I like how Streets of Rage 4 keeps track of an overall score.
I was a bit worried I’d have to start over from scratch but luckily my progress is all encompassing rather than locked to one save file. I haven’t put enough time into it to say this in any authoritative way, nor have I played competitors like Crash 4 or Demon’s Souls yet, but I can see why Streets of Rage 4 would be a game of the year contender. It’s gorgeous to look at, listen to, it’s easily approached by a newcomer like me, it features a diverse cast...I don’t think anybody is sad or moody in it though so I guess I can see why it was snubbed as a GOTY nominee.
(It's a GOAT)
I’m still playing around with Shin Megami Tensei IV, but mostly while I’m on break at work. I’ve hit a stumbling block though and it took me a bit longer than it should have to understand what’s keeping me from beating Grendel. The issue is that he’s level 44, and nobody in my party, including Flynn, are at level 30 yet. So I’m just wandering around this demon domain leveling up my demons and Flynn’s magic. Well, I was, now I’m wandering around Shinjuku.
January 2021 is going to have such a wildly different feel to it than January 2020. I feel like both have a sense of anticipation and a general feeling that the new year is going to be much better than the previous one. 2020 set a low bar, and frankly I think things have a better track record of subverting expectations when ones expectations are low to begin with. I can foresee 2021 being a fantastic year, but Brutal Fate is on the horizon and if that’s the only good thing that comes from 2021 than it’s already a better year than 2020.