Game Review: Spider-Man PS4


Fans of Spider-Man will be happy to know that the new PS4 game does for their favorite wall-crawler what the Arkham series did for Batman, but hardcore gamers may be disappointed that in terms of groundbreaking gameplay Spider-Man on PS4 doesn’t swing too high above the watermark that Arkham set. The open world gameplay is heavily indebted to open worlds past, specifically those inhabited by Batman, Ubisoft’s many Assassins, and the Infamous gang. Spider-Man‘s Manhattan is littered with colorful icons indicating side missions to delight, distract, and occasionally bore the player. Of course this is all par for the course for the modern open world gamer. What sets Spider-Man apart is the sweet sublime feeling of swinging through the city streets, a kind of divinely relaxing routine that allows the player to forget their worries and get lost in the fun.

The story will be hard to discuss without spoilers, but I’ll try my hardest to keep this review spoiler-free. Suffice it to say that in general, the narrative takes an awfully long time to reach some familiar places, pitting Spidey against supervillains while his alter ego Peter Parker is dealing with guilt, grief and relationship woes. The game opens with Spidey on the verge of a criminal bust after eight years of work. Once a renowned mob boss is in jail, Spider-Man is forced to deal with the power vortex he’s created. A new supervillain rises to power, Mr. Negative, a photo-negative look-alike who can zombify people by unleashing their inherent darkness. This darkness idea isn’t really explored so much as it is shoehorned in amongst all the other madcap nonsense involving Dr. Otto Octavius and Norman Osborne, characters so thoroughly established that they feel like an odd mix of nostalgia and redundancy here. The story isn’t as artfully crafted as the dialogue, and eventually the crime narrative rubber-bands to a rapid conclusion, one feeling a bit short and sluggish. Thankfully the character moments are charming and nuanced enough to counter-balance these flaws.

Underwhelmed by is offerings, I rushed through the story so I could dig into what I cared about the most, swinging around the city and stopping crimes. Once the story is complete you’ll have plenty of time to explore, collect backpacks, try on new super-powered suits, and do whatever a spider can, even though sometimes ‘whatever a spider can’ feels oddly familiar to ‘whatever a bat did yesterday.’ The stealth mechanics aren’t quite as polished as Arkham‘s, but they get the job done. Combat is a bit looser and doesn’t feel as much like a rhythm/puzzle game as Arkham. Once you get a hang of the many different mechanics and how they can be hybridized to create your own natural rhythm, things get fun and fluid. Sometimes you’ll find yourself scrambling for that perfect swing or shot and inadvertently doing something more spectacular than you could have imagined. That moment of discovery and the glee that comes with it is enough to make any comic book fan feel like a kid again.

For the Spidey Squad this game is a clear no-brainer, but for everyone else I’d offer a caveat. Spider-Man feels more like a game that might have been released prior to Breath of the Wild or The Phantom Pain in terms of its workhorse aplomb. It never tries to push any boundaries or exceed expectations. It merely tries to match them and provide a game worthy of the name Spider-Man. By that metric it succeeds, and likely will pave the way for DLC and sequels that push the game engine to exciting new heights.

Game Review: Horizon Zero Dawn


It took me a very long time to get through this game. Everyone said that the story sticks the landing, so I stuck it out too. They were right. Horizon Zero Dawn has a fantastic story and beautiful enough cut-scenes to be a great animated movie. It’s the gameplay that I’m not too sold on, both in comparison to its open world contemporaries like The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild, or even as a standalone franchise.

There’s something not sticky enough about Horizon‘s combat. It always feels loose and lackadaisical. Critical hits and type advantages never seem to do enough damage. Every combat mission is basically the same, so it’s never clear whether it might be wise to use a blast sling, a tripcaster or even my melee staff. That’s up to my discretion, but unlike in Arkham Knight, my multitude of gadgetry feels more like a utility belt packed with balloon animals. Fights with big beasts, the selling point of the game, are often brutal and tedious affairs. Beasts are the post-apocalyptic equivalent of bullet sponges, eating arrows and bombs until you’ve brought up your scanner and pinpointed their weak points.

The scanner is really lousy too. It’s like Arkham Knight‘s detective vision, but it slows your movement speed considerably, so you can’t effectively use it mid-combat. You have to be crouched nearby, in pre-fight surveillance. This would all be well and good if the weak points on the beasts stayed highlighted. That effect fades. Rather than sending out a pulse mid-fight like the scanner in The Division, the scanner in Horizon oddly segments strategy and combat into stages. That would be functional in a game that felt strategic, but at the end of the day you’re still firing a hundred arrows into a giant robot crab.

The story is really, really good though. Don’t let my gripes about the combat fool you. It is an epic sci-fi tale with heart. Things start slow, but get considerably better by the three-quarter mark. That being said, the dialogue is not as strong as the story, often sounding wooden and awkward. There aren’t any memorable laughs or real moments of levity. Usually the game’s humor is grim, a cynical reminder of mankind’s weakness. Likewise our hero Aloy is a humorless, by-the-numbers, future-cavewoman-detective. Aside from Aloy, the only vaguely interesting performance comes from Sylens, an uncanny valley version of Lance Reddick who is constantly encouraging you to succeed while chastising you for doing it wrong.

A great game like The Phantom Pain feels like a buffet compared to the minuscule ill-sustaining meal prepared by Horizon Zero Dawn. There the gameplay was the meat. Each location was a chance to open up your toolbox and be creative. The gameplay loop of Horizon boils down to hoarding plants and fire arrows and walking through the bushes to your next destination. Aside from the story, everything in Horizon: Zero Dawn was better when John Marsden did it eight years ago.

Game Review: Far Cry 5 (PS4)


I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about the political messaging of Far Cry 5, everything from people believing it’ll give Doomsday Preppers and real-world cultists new verbiage for their beliefs to those who don’t believe it goes far enough in taking a stand against Trump’s MAGA minions.  It’s true that Far Cry 5 lets its cult member villains wax poetic about the corrupt bureaucracy and immorality of modern society, but to claim that any of these monologues includes a new lexicon for your local well-armed militia may be pushing it. As noted in other reviews, Far Cry 5‘s political satire is skin deep. It references catch phrases, MAGA included, that have swept the meme-ridden media landscape, giving voice to pat expressions of political propaganda that probably didn’t need another loudspeaker. But then again, can the same work of entertainment really be criticized for being too problematic while simultaneously not going far enough?

Such is the case with Far Cry 5, an action-adventure video game where your rookie Montana deputy gets inextricably involved in the eradication of a cult run amuck. The opening scene sees our hero and his police posse attempting an ill-advised arrest on the Manson-esque cult leader known as Father. Shit goes awry, and soon you’re off on an explosive open-world quest to rescue the members of your team who’ve been kidnapped by Father’s sidekicks, his two creepy brothers and the fatally intoxicating Sister Faith. Most of your time will be spent liberating hostages, blowing up bright red silos, and recreating action movie sequences to the best of your ability.

The game gives you the option of exploring any of the three regions- each controlled by a different evil sidekick- hopping between them and completing missions as you so choose. I went for Sister Faith’s region first, as it felt the creepiest and most engaging. Though the inclusion of zombie-esque drugged out cult-ies is questionable, the fun of taking them down is palpable. The other two regions are fairly similar, but are controlled by forgettable villains whose schtick oscillates between maudlin and cornball. When they’re monologuing, I suggest you skip the cut-scenes and grab yourself a Coke.

The fun of the game, and there is plenty of it, comes from the side missions and the wacky party members- including a bear named Cheeseburger. Very little of the fun comes from progression in the main story, which may be thought of as a momentary distraction from the thrill of adventure. For those sick of open-world games and craving a focused narrative, Far Cry 5 may disappoint, but if you are like me and wanted a more refined take on Just Cause 3, you’ll be in luck.

Now then: I’d like to talk briefly about the game’s ending, but it is a MASSIVE SPOILER, so please turn your eyes off if you have not completed the game. The so-called ‘good’ ending of Far Cry 5 is hilariously ridiculous, making almost no sense. Whoever wrote it wanted to seem clever and failed miserably. Oh well. At least we’re treated to one of the most jaw-droppingly insane endings to a game ever.

Spoiler-fearing citizens gone? Good. The game ends with a series of nuclear detonations, a failed escaped attempt, and the conclusion that you’ll be locked with Father, the evil cult leader, in a bunker for the rest of your life. Game Over. The ‘happy’ ending of the game results in your character ultimately failing and being punished for his or her attempts to save the day. It seems to be implied also that the supposedly bat-shit cult leader was actually a soothsayer- how else could he have predicted this outcome?- or an international terrorist, because otherwise I can’t even begin to explain how this turn of events came about.

The logistics of the conclusion- that the villain had somehow either planned or predicted a nuclear holocaust- go so far beyond the realm of internal logic that it feels more like a fuck you to reality than a satisfying conclusion. However nothing in the game had really built in any particular direction, so the fact that the ending was a surprise was enough of a shallow victory to elicit some chuckles from me. This is Far Cry after all. Exciting it is, but smart it is not.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Grown Men Discuss Children’s Toys!


My friend “Big Trav” and I have started a gaming podcast called “The Entitled Gamer.” Please give it a listen, subscribe on iTunes and leave us a positive review.

We have some fun episodes available already, including an interview with some sexy cosplayers, and an episode featuring the best video game music of all time.

In other news, Spellbound Sword has nearly reached 100,000 reads! Even though it’s only a rough draft, my family-friendly fantasy adventure about a boy and his magic sword has reached a worldwide audience, and new fans discover it every day.

I am currently working on building the second draft of the book, as well as plotting potential sequels. The game plan is to query publishers and lit agents once the book is in professional enough condition. Check out the free version now while you still can!

Scavengers Update

(This post originally appeared to my followers on Wattpad. If you would like to check out the sci-fi novel I am working on, click this link.)

Just a quick update on my writing. I apologize that Scavengers is so long. I tend to write a great deal in a short amount of time. The draft that is currently posting is a rough draft. I have yet to edit it. The draft is complete in that it has an ending. I am going to post longer sections from now on, so you get more bang for your buck. That way the finished draft will be available sooner.

In other news, I have been working fervently on a family-friendly fantasy story in the vein of Harry Potter. After spending so much time in the darkness of space, it is nice to do something light and friendlier. Once I’m finished posting Scavengers, I will begin posting that book, called Spellbound Sword, on Mondays and Fridays.

A good question that I imagine people being too timid to ask is, why are you doing this? What’s with all the writing? I’m not exactly sure, but as I read more and write more and feel myself improving, I know that it is important to me. I am not convinced that it will ever be important to other people, but I can always dream. Sometimes we do things purely for ourselves. For the same reason I’ve started going to the gym, I’m going to continue writing every day even if few ever read what I write. I hope you will give my writing a chance, but I know that Scavengers is not for everyone. I look forward to potentially reaching readers of all ages with my next book. While it has a bit of YA awkward romance it is mostly a fantasy-adventure tale. I am trying to include as much humor as possible.

That’s all for now, but thank you again for reading.