Until Dawn

Your choices have consequences.

Introduction

When I had a PS3 I didn’t play Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, but when I heard about Until Dawn, an interactive horror story/movie for the PS4, I finally took the plunge. This was one of the few games I played and finished long before watching Markiplier play it, and I enjoyed watching his play-through just as much as when I played it.

In Until Dawn a group of teenagers meet up at a remote lodge in the mountains (see they’re already screwed) one year after a similar meet-up resulted in the deaths of Josh’s two sisters (that should be another alarm bell going off!), whose family owns and used to live in the lodge (where the parents are now, who knows!). As soon as the teens meet old tensions, memories, and petty rivalries flare up; it’s hard to feel there’s any genuine friendship or romance, which does detract from an otherwise quite solid and engaging story.

Gameplay

The game uses a mix of in-game cutscenes as well as letting the player control the current “star of the scene”. Sometimes the in-game cutscenes come about pretty frequently and interrupt gameplay, which can be annoying. During some of these scenes, the player will need to make a quick decision such as which way to go, or to choose a safer or riskier route. At other times while the character is running or climbing a random button will pop up, and if the player doesn’t press it quick enough something will happen, which can affect the current character’s story as well as further story ramifications. There are also points where the character will need to use a weapon to hit a specific spot in a short amount of time, and whether it hits affects the storyline as well.

One interesting concept shown to the player early on is that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all, to let events transpire without any interference or influence. This does factor in later on as a few characters’ survival actually depends on this. It’s a neat twist, and it can actually be hard to remember at which points to actually do nothing.

The Therapist

In between sections of the game, the player will be in the office of a therapist, who will ask the player to describe their feelings, choose between images, or other methods to judge the player’s (and the unknown-until-the-end character’s) reactions. With each visit the office evolves (or breaks down, depending on the view) and leaves the player wondering just what is going on with this supposed therapist. It adds an interesting layer on top of the game’s story, but it does pull the player out of the action and main story of the game somewhat often, so I’m not sure just how necessary it is. If it’s meant to be a game-within-the-game, or some sort of meta the “real” game is actually the game-within-this-game, well again it doesn’t add a whole lot and the game would flow much smoother without it. At the end of each session, the player is presented with a “Previously on Until Dawn” video montage, which doesn’t make any sense if the game has been going for awhile, and instead of a helpful reminder or catch-up becomes an annoying repeat of recent game scenes.

Conclusion

Ultimately I enjoyed Until Dawn very much, and I really wish there were more games like it; not necessarily horror, but at least with a story of intrigue and second-guessing as time goes on. The graphics and gameplay were exactly what I wanted in a current-gen game, but some more prominent music and sound effects would have really helped. I liked the split-second decisions and aiming moments, mainly because they weren’t over-used. I hope to play Detroit: Become Human in the near future, and I look forward to Supermassive’s The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan.

Life is Strange 2 Episodes 2 & 3

Episode 2

Was it really 4 months previously that I played the first episode? Dontnod took quite awhile to release the next episode, and for as slow and little plot progress this episode has, I have to wonder.

Taking place right after the first episode, Daniel is lifting rocks and other objects like it’s no big deal now, and Sean is pushing him to keep “training” and refining this supposedly new power (I’m not entirely convinced during episode 1 was the first time Daniel has discovered and used his power). Having left Seattle, the brothers head towards their grandparents in Oregon after Daniel becomes ill, likely due to the winter cold and an abandoned house providing little relief.

At their grandparents house Sean and Daniel try to learn more about their mother, but they don’t get much information, even after getting into their mother’s childhood room. While at the house they see the neighbor boy Chris (yep, this is where Captain Spirit ties in) fall from his treehouse, and Daniel uses his power to save him. Unfortunately Chris believes he is the one with the power, which will play into the ending of this episode. During their stay Sean and Daniel go to a Christmas market, where they meet train-hoppers Finn and Cassidy (which will factor into Episode 3).

Near the end of the episode Sean and Daniel discover a letter from their mother, expressing her desire to meet her children. After an argument with their grandparents, Sean and Daniel have to escape when the police arrive at the house. In an unexplained twist Claire distracts the police so they can escape, and Chris’ actions factor in here. I won’t give away what can happen, but I hope no matter what it will be addressed by the end of the game.

The episode ends with Sean and Daniel getting onto a train going south, with an outstanding closing track by First Aid kit (which I wrote about here). It was hard to judge how I felt about this episode. Looking back, not very much happens, and besides a few key interaction it’s still just Sean and Daniel. I suppose that’s the point of the game (and the first one was mostly Max and Chloe), but for some reason here it just gets too repetitive. I think it’s because the brothers never have any time apart, and it’s mostly back-and-forth bickering and whining about tough times.

Episode 3

For still unknown reasons, Sean is encouraging Daniel to train and use his powers. Even more obvious in this episode is how whiny Daniel is. Yes, we get he’s a little kid who’s been through a lot. But why he’s allowed to work on a pot farm along with Sean (yeah, I know) I’m not sure. Even more incredulous is that they somehow met up again with Finn and Cassidy!

Sean and Daniel, along with Finn, Cassidy, and several others have a nice campsite in California. We’ll learn later on that nearby is where Big Joe lives, pot dealer Merrill’s second-in-command and oversees the workers. When not working they hang out here, around the kitchen table, campfire, or down at the lake. Daniel becomes jealous of Sean spending more time with them rather than him.

One day at work Merrill calls everyone (except for Daniel) into his office, where he is evidently going to pay them). But before he does Big Joe comes in holding Daniel, claiming he was sneaking into Merrill’s office. As punishment Merrill doesn’t pay any of them, and fires Sean. When Merrill also tells Big Joe to punish Daniel, he must use his power, which the others witness. They swear to keep it a secret, but at a farewell party that night Finn keeps trying to convince Sean they can use Daniel’s power to get back at Merrill.

Near the end this episode ramps up the music and drama, but yet again it’s simply the result of Daniel freaking out and using his power in an uncontrollable manner. Finn talks Sean into breaking into the safe for the money, and Sean and Cassidy try to intercept them before they get caught by Merrill and/or Big Joe. Merrill does catch them, pointing his shotgun at them and telling them to get on their knees. Daniel unleashes his power and destroys the house, as well as knocking everyone around, some quite violently. The last shot is a still-unconscious Sean with a shard of glass in an eye.

Conclusion

I’m still not sure what to think of Daniel, Sean, and all of the characters. Even after 3 episodes I just don’t know if I care what’s happened to any of them. This is a staggering contrast to the first Life is Strange, or even Before the Storm. Sometimes I have to wonder if this is actually the same developers. Was Dontnod so keen to capitalize on the success of the first game they rushed to bring something similar out, using the same series title? There’s two more episodes to go, and I hope we get a lot more insight into Sean and Daniel’s mother, and perhaps even callbacks to previous characters, namely Layla, Brody, and Chris. I’m not sure if they’ll indeed end up in Mexico, or perhaps will return to Seattle. Perhaps for the latter, the truth of the officer’s actions will surface, leading to Sean and Daniel no longer considered fugitives.

Art & Arcana

From Empire of Imagination author Michael Witwer, joined by Kyle Newman, Playing at the World‘s Jon Peterson, and Michael’s brother Sam, Art & Arcana is a very comprehensive look at the visual history of Dungeons and Dragons. Starting from the beginnings of the original game and going up through the current 5th edition, this book is absolutely crammed full of artwork! The accompanying text is not too bad a read, though the text size was a tad small for me. Also, I did appreciate the slight ribbing at the 3rd, 3.5, and 4th edition rules and the exaggerated artwork that came along with it (seriously, I CANNOT stand Wayne Reynold’s artwork!), but glad it wasn’t too overbearing. I bet there’s plenty of artwork you’ve never seen before, and it was nice to re-visit some of my favorite pieces from David Trampier, Erol Otus, and Jeff Easley!

Apes Victorious

Introduction

One of Goblinoid Games’ recent releases, Apes Victorious, arrived with very little if any hinting or fanfare. As a one-man operation (although now often with additional writing by Tim Snider and even material from original Starships and Spacemen author Leonard H. Kanterman) Dan Proctor rarely promotes/updates his work on the now-bare GG website, let alone the blog and near-dead forums. Once the shining star of the OSR, so many others have risen in popularity and taken over where the founding OSR authors began. Is it worth taking a look or even purchasing this recent Goblinoid Games RPG, especially something in as niche in genre as intelligent apes?

Initial Impressions

In contrast to all previous releases, the first thing I immediately noticed about Apes Victorious is that it’s set in 6″x9″ rather than U.S. letter-sized. Moving to this size (and 1 column) will certainly make this easier to read on a tablet, though it does of course bump up the page-count.

Like most other recent GG releases this game is exclusively illustrated by Mark Allen; thankfully I haven’t tired of his work and think it works perfectly, though I would still love to see stuff from Peter Mullen and/or other (perhaps even new!) artists as well. I know artwork isn’t cheap; perhaps Dan and Mark have a great deal worked out, who knows. Sadly this is somewhat addressed in the game’s forward, where Dan notes this is the first game to come after Steve Zeiser’s death, and that he would have otherwise contributed artwork.

The title and header font is unique, if also a tad hard to read at a brief glance. The rest is the traditional B/X Souvenir, which is fine if a tad boring at this point. Tables are fairly easy to read, although they utilize a multiple-row highlighting/shading which still throws me off.

Introduction (Game)

Apes Victorious is a post-apocalyptic game. But unlike Mutant Future and so many other similar games in that genre, it doesn’t focus too much on radiation and doesn’t mention mutations, etc. A third world war devastated the planet and brought in a nuclear winter. The end of that winter brought about many changes, both to the planet itself and its inhabitants.

Humans were split at the onset of the nuclear winter: those who remained on the surface, and those who retreated underground and were safe within their constructed homes and shelters. These latter human evolved differently than their primal cousins, advancing in technology and even developing PSI powers. Meanwhile apes, gorillas, orangutans, etc. also evolved and have gained intelligence as they built their own settlements and societies, coming into conflict with both human groups.

Of course the planet has changed as well, much of it either still radiated from the nuclear winter or left as barren desert. Only small areas have regained plants and foliage, but where there is more water and plant life has seen animals and other features return in both familiar and unexpected ways.

The rest of the game’s introduction goes over RPG basics such as die rolls and terms used. Of course in this game the person running things is called Ape Master; ugh I’ll just stick to Gamemaster, thanks!

Characters

The basic Abilities (I still tend to call them Attributes) are the same as in other OSR games, with the addition of Psionic Potential (PSI). So far it seems pretty simple, then I look at the Ability dodifiers table; it’s not just the standard one column of -3 to +3 or such; there are five different columns/categories of modifiers for the range of Ability scores! Whyyyyyy?! At first I thought it negated the need for saving throws, but I looked ahead and nope those are still in the game. So that’s another table I’ve gotta bookmark and/or put on a GM screen to remember…

Apes Victorious has seven classes: Astronaut, Bonobo Agent (total nitpick but this should have been page-breaked), Chimpanzee Scholar, Gorilla Soldier, Humanoid, Orangutan Politician, and Underdweller. Like other OSR games there’s a Ability requirement for each class, as well as a 1E-like Ability adjustment. All but one class (Astronaut) also have a maximum level. After getting used to BRP RPGs and Stars Without Number Revised, it’s almost comical to see the tens if not hundreds of thousands of experience points needed to advance in levels.

Money and coins are expressed as simian copper, simian silver, and simian gold. Can you hear me roll my eyes? Just keep it copper pieces, etc. jeeeez. Of course if you’re an Astronaut you’ll have some equipment to start out with. Among the equipment available to purchase are guns, but personally I would exclude those kind of weapons, as they would likely have been used up, destroyed, etc. in a nuclear winter and associated “fallout” (not the literal nuclear kind).

Psi Powers

The PSI system seems pretty simple to run, but I personally wouldn’t use this in my game. At just 5 pages, this chapter might seem more like an afterthought or little add-on than an integral part of the rules/game.

Adventure Rules

Similar to any other OSR game, this chapter covers the rules to run the game, including combat. None of this section is new or different if you’re familiar with those kind of games.

Dangerous Evolution

Here we get a quite-small selection of creatures and opponents to use in the game. All but one stat-block is single-column (the other 2-column presumably to fit the artwork on the same page) and shows the same/normal stats as in any other OSR game (with the addition of PSI). A note at the end states that additional creatures can be brought in from any other Goblinoid Game product (there is a conversion section near the end of the book).

Ape Society

As the chapter name is self-explanatory, it covers ape governance, religion, science, and technology. This chapter will of course be more useful to those whose games will give most (if not all) attention to an ape-centered game, whereas my game would feature very little of this. It also assumes a caste system, with orangutans and bonobos rule over chimpanzees (still considered intelligent) and gorillas (presumed to be all brute strength and very little intelligent). While there may be a biological basis to some of those assumptions, I would again ignore most of that. What if I did want to play an intelligent gorilla?

The Underdwellers

Should 3 pages even be considered a separate chapter? Anyways, here we learn a little more about the humans that survived the nuclear winter underground as well as some example technologies that might be found/utilized by them.

The Ape Master

The last “actual” chapter of game rules, it’s also the most useful. It covers many things including running a game with a 1970s view, adventure themes and locations, ruins and artifacts that can be found there (including 2 very useful tables of random objects as well as random book subjects), along with tables for male and female ape names. The chapter concludes with an example outdoor/wilderness map.

Escape Ape Planet

Something I REALLY wish other Goblinoid Game products included, this is an introductory adventure. This is a nice small, quick adventure that can absolutely help out new players (and new GMs as well!) get a feel for what kind of game is possible with these rules.

Conclusion

The book ends with a Conversion chapter (covering Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, and Starships & Spacemen 2E), a character sheet (very plain and symbols are a tad annoying for double-digit numbers), and the OGL license. I must commend Dan for making the large majority of the book Open Content, including the example outdoor/wilderness map as well as the adventure!

This was a tough game to review. I’m a huge fan of Goblinoid Games; I still consider Labyrinth Lord the ground-breaking and pinnacle OSR game. I really like Tim Snider’s continued involvement; his material for Mutant Future and Cryptworld have been great and I think he helps encourage Dan to develop more material, as busy as he is in other aspects of his life. In this game I like the new 6″x9″ single-column layout, and Mark Allen’s artwork continues to be a perfect fit, as much as I miss Steve Zeiser and would love to see more varied material from others. The rule-set is pretty close to other OSR games, with a few little changes that I personally think are more annoying than innovative. I would need to have the right group to run and/or play this, and perhaps I need to brush up on my movies in this genre to generate a little more understanding and excitement.

Nevertheless, I’m glad to see new games from Goblinoid Games, and I do like seeing those that cover other genres besides the standard fantasy and sci-fi, and not just simply retroclones. I look forward to seeing what else comes down the pipeline!

Life is Strange 2 Episode 1

Introduction

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that the first game came out (2015!), but it’s probably more that I didn’t hear about and play the game until later on. Before the Storm then came in 2017, and finally the short demo The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit earlier this year. Now we have the first episode for Life is Strange 2, so I’m writing this as my memory is still fresh. Instead of one long review I’ll be posting a review as each episode comes out.

Episode 1

Compared to the first Life is Strange, this sequel starts out a little on the slow and uninteresting side. We play another high-school age student, this time a Hispanic male named Sean Diaz. He lives in Seattle (although it feels like a small town, so I really thought we were back in Arcadia Bay) with his younger brother David and his dad Esteban. Like any teenage boy Sean has a crush on a girl and acts indifferent to his brother and dad. Walking home from the bus stop with his friend Lyla, Sean is trying to invite his crush Jenn to a party, but only succeeds with Lyla’s help.

Upon Lyla’s departure Sean is in his room when he sees the asshole neighbor Brett confronting David. Sean goes out to intervene, and apparently the cops have already been called, as when Brett is shoved by Sean to the ground they arrive. Brett has apparently fallen onto something and is gravely wounded. Ordered by the frankly-hysterical under-trained cop to kneel, Esteban comes out wanting to know what’s going on. Of course nobody can just chill out, because before we know it Esteban is shot. Sean is left stunned and David yells, which seems to set off the energy blast hinted at in the beginning.

Proceeding with the sirens of the approaching back-up in the background, Sean picks up the unconscious David and they flee. The game cuts to 2 days later, as they are walking along a highway (yeah because that won’t get you noticed…) and David already pissing and moaning (if we’re supposed to be sympathetic I don’t have any investment in the characters) about being tired and hungry. After walking further and camping near a lake for the night, they come to a roadside gas station. The lady at the cash register is reasonably nice, as is Brody, the man hanging at a table with his laptop. After brief conversations with both Sean pays for their items (unless you choose to steal, but you’ll likely have the money from earlier) and they head outside to eat and figure out what to do.

This is when racist-McGee rolls up and hassles them. I just don’t get what the point of any of this is. He’s a racist asshole who has no qualms hitting kids. And yet no-one else around sees or does anything apparently. Sean ends up handcuffed to a pipe in his office while waiting for law enforcement to show up. David comes back and helps Sean escape, with the help of Brody. Brody is pretty likable, but this is Life is Strange, how do we know he ain’t a Mr. Jefferson? Driving through the night, they end up at a small motel near the coast. Brody has graciously paid for a room for the two for the night, heading off on his own adventure.

After winding down a bit and starting a bath for David, Sean goes to get a soda when all hell breaks out again. David finds a news report on the TV and learns the truth about their dad, sending him into another emotional rage and causing the telekinetic waves to start swirling around. David barely manages to talk him down, and the next day they are on a bus, continuing their trek. The game ends with a very small hint, a large rock in snow that begins to hover.

Conclusion

As this write-up no doubt shows, I’m not too impressed nor happy with the start of this game. The first Life is Strange is a watermark for storytelling, music, and emotional investment. Before the Storm stumbled a bit, but many simply attributed that to the different developer. But with this sequel and back to Dontnod, unfortunately so far it seems the lightning escaped the bottle. Episode 2 will have a LOT to do if this game is gonna even come close to comparing to the first one. I certainly hope I’m proven wrong, but with such a slow, confusing, and frankly boring start I’m not holding my breath.