Game Review: Limbo and Inside

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Following Ori, I played Limbo and Inside. Both games were developed by the same company, Playdead, and both are essentially 2D puzzle platformer games. Limbo was the first one to be released, back in 2010, while Inside is considered the spiritual successor to Limbo and was released in 2016.

Both are very nice games, but Inside is definitely a couple of steps ahead of Limbo, in my opinion. By being puzzle games, their replay value is not very high. Once you know the solution to every puzzle, there’s barely any mystery left to discover. Other puzzle games, like Portal, give the player some more flexibility in the game mechanics and freedom when solving each puzzle, and use this to their advantage to propose new challenges even after the player has finished the game. In contrast, the puzzles in Limbo and Inside usually have one solution.

Limbo lets you control a boy in his journey through a surreal world full of dangers. The story is, more or less, open to interpretation. Controls are very simple: moving left, right, jumping and interacting with world objects. Artistically, the game is very focused. Its aesthetics are well-defined featuring black and white, noisy art, mixing marked black and white contrasts with soft gradients; blurry objects and borders with in-focus, sharp objects.

Its puzzles are quite interesting and somewhat challenging at times. As with many puzzle games, it’s possible you’ll find some puzzles to be easy while other people find them challenging and vice-versa. Overall, they’re balanced and fair, and make you work with geometry, gravity, momentum and timing.

While Limbo, like Ori, is a simple game that played flawlessly in my system, without crashes, bugs or any noticeable glitch, it’s somewhat limited by its self-imposed visual aesthetics, and its animations, sound effects and music are really simple.

Inside, on the other hand, shows much more effort, or perhaps a bigger team or budget. You, again, control a boy journeying through an unknown world. But this journey is even more surreal, dangerous, open to interpretation, larger and more varied. While its visuals are simple like in Limbo, they are way more refined.

Your character travels in 2D, yet the environments are clearly deep and three-dimensional. The game toys with camera angles and distances to strengthen this perception and show you what’s ahead, above or below. Its use of a simple color palette, volumetric lights and shadows no longer feels like a self-imposed limit or restriction, but like a powerful tool to emphasize objects and the environment. Animations are detailed, sounds effects are more varied and play an important role in telling the story and creating the game’s atmosphere. Its soundtrack is an integral part of the game experience.

Controls are still very simple, but interactions with the environment are more complex and Inside’s puzzles are larger, better designed, more varied, original and feature more elements in play. They rely more on geometry and timing. While they integrate and require you to use gravity and momentum on several occasions, they usually relate those two elements to objects and the geometry of the surrounding environment instead of your own character. Like Ori and Limbo, Inside also played flawlessly in my system.

Both games can be explored completely in under 10 hours and probably under 5 too. As for scores, I’d say Limbo is a nice 7.5 to 8 game, while Inside is easily an 8.5 to 9 game. If you plan to play both, which I highly recommend, play Limbo first. If you only plan to get one of them, grab Inside.

Game Review: Ori and the Blind Forest (Definitive Edition)

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After playing several very long games I took a break and focused on three shorter and simpler games I had pending. The first one was Ori and the Blind Forest. I followed with Limbo and Inside, which I’ll review jointly in the following days.

Ori and the Blind Forest is a platformer game that plays much better when using a controller. I’d say it almost requires a controller to be experienced properly. In the platformer genre it belongs to the “Metroidvania” family. If you’ve never heard the term, it refers to platformer games in which there is a large interconnected world that can be explored by the player nonlinearly, unlocking paths, doors and new parts of the map as the player progresses and gains new abilities. The term originates from the classic Metroid and Castlevania series, which started in 1986. The way Ori plays also reminded me slightly of other games like Super Meat Boy, but with a slower pace.

The story follows the adventures of Ori, a child of the Spirit Tree in the forest of Nibel, trying to restore the balance to the forest. It’s a quite interesting fable, masterfully told as the game advances. The gameplay is completely addictive. The controls feel really nice and I was always eager to advance and gain new abilities in order to explore new parts of the map and visit new secret areas, getting items that had been previously out of reach.

Artistically, the game is impeccable, with detailed and well cared for 2D-drawing style graphics that, under the hood, are powered by 3D polygons. Sound and music have a main role in the game experience and are also remarkable. With so many things right in a game, it’s no wonder it was so well received. In contrast to more complex “AAA” games, the lack of any single bug, glitch or crash in my playthrough is worth mentioning and contributed to an overall charming experience.

Yes, it’s not a long game. It can easily be finished and experienced almost completely in under 20 hours. Most people will finish it in less than 10, and its hours of entertainment to money rate is smaller than what I’m used to, but I can’t stop recommending it. It offers some, not much, replay value thanks to well-selected achievements that set up some interesting challenges, and its only noticeable flaw is that the two new map areas present in the Definitive Edition are not integrated in the normal game story, which forces you to visit every other area. They have to be explored under your own initiative whenever you decide to do so.

I give Ori a technical, gameplay and overall score of 9. Superb game and totally recommended. Stay tuned for the future release of Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

Game Review: Fallout 4

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Time for another game review. This time I went to play Fallout 4, a game I had in my backlog almost since it came out, as my wife gifted it to me in December 2015. We’re both big fans of Fallout 3 and New Vegas, so here’s my review.

The first thing to say is that I agree with other reviews I’ve read and watched after finishing the game when they say Fallout 4 is a great game that happens to be a not-so-great Fallout game. Bethesda made a lot of substantial changes to the core gameplay. Some of those changes were real improvements and some others set the game so much apart from the previous titles that many hardcore fans don’t like them.

The Good

Compared to previous games, Fallout 4 is graphically impressive, but not as impressive as many other games in the market that were released before or after it, around the same time. In any case, the improved graphics make it even more immersive and help satiate our ever-growing thirst for better graphics as gamers.

Combat has also been improved and works much better than in previous Fallout titles, both in direct action mode and while using VATS, the latter now slowing down time during the whole action sequence instead of pausing it while aiming and resuming while shooting. The improvements are noticeable both in the feel of the combat as well as the reaction and behavior of enemies while in combat. It’s a bit of a shame that Fallout favors stealth so much, giving stealth critical hits a high damage multiplier that can even be increased through in-game perks, because I tend to use stealth and VADS, missing out part of the fun.

But, to me, the biggest improvement Fallout 4 brings to the table is an impressive level design. Some people have complained that the map is actually smaller in virtual measures compared to Fallout 3 or New Vegas (I haven’t checked), but it’s packed with many varied locations (small mistake: not providing an Explorer perk that would reveal all undiscovered locations like in the previous titles). These locations expand the world not only horizontally but also vertically. This verticality could be occasionally found in some previous titles. From memory, I recall the different heights of Megaton in Fallout 3 or the whole Lonesome Road expansion to Fallout New Vegas. But Fallout 4 takes it to a whole different level, both in indoor areas as well as outdoor areas and, many times, in the way both types of areas connect together. You can enter some building in Boston at the street level, go up some floors, exit through the roof, find a bridge to a multi-level and elevated highway, continue traveling, exiting the highway later using an improvised elevator or another bridge, etc.

Some reviewers have mentioned how Fallout 4 is game that is, simply put, fun to explore, and I think it really is. Even if you expected something slightly different from a Fallout game, you could just forget it’s Fallout and explore the wasteland around Boston, and it’s incredibly fun.

The Bad

It all comes down to opinion, but I’d say the worst part about Fallout 4 are the repetitive missions helping settlements (or settlers in general), dispatching Institute coursers, etc. A few of them are OK but it gets tiring and, after spending many dozens of hours in the game, the “Help defend <location>” sign was irritating when it came up.

I hold a similar opinion about the (very quirky) building capabilities in settlements and trying to make settlers happy. Mostly because I like Fallout but I don’t like The Sims that much. A recent comment I read in Reddit a few weeks ago by a self-described gaming center employee explained that kids nowadays, due to distractions or a lack of time or dedication, are mostly interested in multiplayer-only games like Overwatch, Counter Strike or Rocket League; or open sandbox games like Minecraft. Games they can play for any amount of time at any moment without side quests or main quests. I personally believe the settlement management mechanisms introduced in Fallout 4 could be designed to cater to that specific audience, and also to give a more meaningful way out to all these usually-meaningless miscellaneous items you can find in the Fallout universe. Then, again, I prefer to play the role of a solitary survivor, exploring the world and doing quests, instead of wasting time managing settlements. If I ever replay Fallout 4, I’ll mostly ignore that part.

I didn’t welcome the simplification or merge of S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes, skills and perks. I prefer the original mechanisms were S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes are harder to change and provide a base to your character, but do not prevent you from maximizing any in-game skill and, in addition, you could choose and gain interesting perks from time to time. Fallout 4 simplifies all of this too much, in my opinion, and is also missing the part in which attributes and skills played a important factor in the way you could solve many different quests, either through specific dialogue options that were only available if you had the needed skills or through specific actions that could be performed with in-game elements.

This last part has been the source of many complaints from users and has almost become a meme, apparently reminding Bethesda to have New Vegas in mind instead of Fallout 4 for the next Fallout game. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Bethesda did try to have a good story in Fallout 4 like it had in New Vegas. At least, it compares favorably to Fallout 3, in my opinion. And the game did have different endings and factions like New Vegas had. It’s true, however, almost the only skill that affects dialogue options is Charisma, giving the player a higher chance of persuasion in selected dialogue options, but the game allows saving mid-dialogue, so you can always retry if the dice roll doesn’t turn out as you expected.

The Ugly

Bugs, bugs, bugs. Technical bugs have been ever present in past Bethesda games. This, together with Bethesda’s typical reliance on modders to fix many of the game issues, are memes nowadays. In Fallout 4, this goes way too far. It’s not fun to find the dialogue system glitching in the first 30 minutes of gameplay, putting up with some extremely long load times (in my case they were noticeably longer when the loading screen was blank, but even with non-blank screens they were long and I’m using an SSD that works flawlessly so far), looking to the ground were some corpses rest and see the framerate tank from solid 60fps to 40fps (why?), having godrays produce weird framerate issues and graphical glitches, or experiencing a few game crashes here and there.

These bugs have reached a level in which they’re hard to ignore and are starting to impact the game experience noticeably for me, and it’s obvious the technology behind Fallout 4 is a bit obsolete and has been pushed too far into territory it was never meant to be. Without having knowledge on the game engine internals or its source code, but as a software developer, I get the impression it’s time to re-architect the game engine or write a new one for the next game.

The weapon and armor crafting systems reminded me of the ones present Dead Space 3 and I find them fun to use, but they come with a few drawbacks too. I prefer items and armor to wear out and needing repairs, because that emphasizes the survival aspect of the game. However, I can see how that’s hard to manage when the weapon you’re using has different parts that have been crafted and assembled together.

Conclusion

The gameplay in Fallout 4 is actually very fun, in my opinion, and lets the player choose from a wide selection of activities and approaches, but it lacks a bit of focus compared to previous games, in my opinion. It’s still a solid 8.5, to give it a specific score, and if you focus on playing just the way you want to play, it can be a 9. I’ve spent more hours in Fallout 4 than in Fallout New Vegas, so that should mean something.

Technically, the game is a 7 or 7.5 and this time the technical aspects cannot be ignored, dragging the overall score down to somewhere close to an 8 or 8.25, in my opinion.

I cannot compare Fallout 4 to Fallout 1 and 2. Isometric RPG games are almost always out of my interest, but I can compare it to Fallout 3 and New Vegas and, in that comparison, I’ve joined the hordes of people who think the best game in the series so far is Fallout New Vegas. But I insist: Fallout 4 is not a bad game at all, and will probably give you over a hundred hours of very fun gameplay and wasteland exploration, so do not hesitate to give it a shot, unless you want to boycott Bethesda for any number of reasons.

Game Review: Far Cry 4

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I played Far Cry 4 right after finishing The Witcher 3. It’s a nice game but nothing spectacular, so here’s my short review. Take into account I didn’t try cooperative mode.

Far Cry 4 essentially maintains the core game play present in Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. That means the game revolves around doing main quests for advancing the main game story and side quests for simply gaining points to invest in an abilities tree. While it has some RPG elements, every ability can be unlocked and used so it’s not a proper RPG game. It takes place in a large open map that’s revealed by exploring and by conquering radio towers, as well as clearing enemy bases so enemies mostly disappear from the surrounding area.

As stated above, if you played Far Cry 3, all of that will sound familiar to you: it’s the same. Different map, different main story, different characters and locations but the same core game play. Some game play elements have been subtly polished here and there without any major changes, while some new vehicles, enemies, animals and traveling mechanisms have been introduced.

I definitely like the story in Far Cry 4 more than the one in Far Cry 3, but neither of them are brilliant. It also follows a recent trend seen in other games were the endings are not exactly the same depending on a few important choices made during your adventure, with no ending being completely “good”.

Its game play low points are similar to the ones I found in Far Cry 3. In my opinion, there’s too much money and too many treasures in the game. Having a limited-capacity wallet can be a bit frustrating sometimes for a completionist player like myself. Learning from the previous franchise entry, I didn’t buy treasure maps and didn’t get obsessed with clearing every chest mark appearing in the map.

Again, there are also too many people and wild animals for such a small area. It’s almost impossible to travel from point A to point B without encountering a so-called “karma event” (good guys needing your help in a skirmish with bad guys) and facing several predators. It can be annoying and time-consuming, specially if, from time to time, they manage to seriously injure you or even kill you. Your safe bet becomes traveling using vehicles, which is usually faster.

Finally, the game is too easy, a common problem with recent titles in this game series. It gives you easy, medium and hard difficulties. I played in hard mode and it’s game over after completing less than 1/3 of the game. Once you have a silenced sniper rifle, the recurve bow and a silenced assault rifle or SMG you’re a lethal and invisible ninja, and even conquering fortresses (the most heavily-guarded enemy bases) is a trivial matter, so you may have to set your own challenges.

Don’t get me wrong, game play is entertaining and I’d like to emphasize, like I did for Far Cry 3, that I like the controls a lot (except the long key press for healing!) and the “physical behavior” of your character when it runs, jumps, grabs ledges, vaults over obstacles or slides down slopes. Being able to attack enemy bases while riding an elephant is interesting and fun.

Technically the game features some improvements, with more detailed textures, better lighting and weather effects and more polished geometry, but without drastic changes. It ran pretty good for me, with some very occasional, and not easy to explain, dips below 60 FPS, but I decided to stay away from the demanding TXAA anti-aliasing mode, using SMAA instead. UPlay is still a liability and the lack of a quick save key is an annoyance I’m starting to get used to in Far Cry titles.

Technically, I’d say the game is an 8 or 8.5. The game play is a solid 7.5 or 8 and the overall score is about an 8. If you still haven’t played it and find it on sale, I recommend you to grab it. If you didn’t like Far Cry 3, take into account Far Cry 4 is just more of the same. Blood Dragon is still my favorite Far Cry title to date, followed by the first Far Cry, but I haven’t played Far Cry Primal yet.

Just upgraded to Fedora 26

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I upgraded my computer yesterday to Fedora 26 in some mere 20 minutes. It’s been the smoothest Fedora upgrade since I started using this OS. I’ve found nothing has broken or stopped working or requiring adjustments on my side. I decided to go for it seeing there hadn’t been major upgrades to Xorg and the kernel was the same (4.11.9). Naturally, Fedora 26 has many under-the-hood changes like the upgrade to GCC 7 and also a new version of Gnome, but I run i3.