Shmee Heads West For Red Dead Redemption 2!

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed when Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced to be a prequel to Rockstar’s classic western game, but that disappointment was misplaced, Red Dead Redemption 2 is fantastic.  Just about everything about it works.  It turns out there is a reason it took them eight years to make a followup, near perfection takes time.

In the first game you as play John Marston hunting down your former crew, the Van der Linde gang, to free you wife and child, and now in RDR2 you play as Arthur Morgan one of the leaders of that gang during its final years.  I didn’t know if I wanted to be an outlaw, but they give the supporting cast so much heart and story, and Arthur’s yearning to be good even though he was raised bad is a little heartbreaking.  In other words, I am fine with it now.

Like all Rockstar games, Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in an open world, but unlike most modern games, that open world is not just a series of icons to track down.  There are markers for different characters to interact with, but what you will be doing when you get there varies, and then there are just random things that happen as you ride by that you can interact with, or not, and most of it is amazing.  It is no wonder they force you to play the game awhile be for they let you buy your fast travel map, and even then, it is only to an unlocked location from your main camp, and it doesn’t let you fast travel back.  They want you to explore their world that they lovingly crafted.

That is not to say the normal open world stuff is not there, you can hunt, fish, ride up on camps, and get in all the shoot outs you want, but this feels more like a real place and not a carnival.  As a matter of fact, it makes Rockstar’s other premier franchise, GTA, feel like a cartoon.  If you do bad things exploring this western paradise, you will get punished accordingly, and you will have to pay your bounties or face the consequences, and due to the realism of the world, you feel bad about hurting people and taking what doesn’t belong to you.

It is not all sunshine and open pastures however, I hate their menu system. I know it is supposed to make the game more ‘tactile’ and ‘real’ feeling but holding down buttons while cycling other buttons is a chore, and once you have played for a while, the long horse rides do feel a little grindy, so you will be more willing to pay for a train ticket or a stagecoach ride.  These are minor quibbles, but over a lot of hours, they do start to get more annoying.

While I know this review is a little late for most gamers because they are already playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I just wanted to add my two cents because I have been thoroughly enjoying myself.  If you haven’t spent the money on Rockstar’s latest epic yet, you should.  It is an amazing accomplishment.

Shmee Hangs With The Thief Of Thieves!

Apparently Rival Games has been playing a lot of Hitman, and is very fond of Telltale style narrative games.  Because Thief of Thieves, based on the Kirkman comic of the same name, attempts to be a mashup of the two.  Since this “first volume” (AKA Episode 1) is availble free as part of Xbox Game Pass, I gave it a try.

Let’s get the good parts out of the way first.  It looks great.  It looks like a comic book come to life, with clean lines and vibrant color.  Rival clearly has a good art and graphics team.  Also the diolog and story seemed pretty good.  It is hard to say because the first episode is really short, so I didn’t get a clear picture of how the story was shaping up.

Now on to the things that don’t seem to be working very well.  In an attempt to frame the action like a comic book, Thief of Thieves has set camera angles.  It looks great, but it is frustrating to not get a clear view of what is going on.  Likewise, while I am on board for a story based stealth game, it plays like someone added Hitman mechanics in to Telltale’s stiff old engine.  Which is to say, they do not work so great.  You are supposed to be a spry thief, but you move like a Mack Truck with a transmission problem and a power steering fluid leak.  The first episode is pretty easy, but I could already see that I will be hating things if they get any more complex.

If I was told this was a proof of concept for a Kickstarter, I would be excited.  The fact that this game is already out and completed on PC, so the stiff unresponsive controls probably will not be sorted out, gives me pause.  The cool look and interesting story are enough for me to recommend a download for people with Game Pass, but I would hesitate to recommend paying anything more for it.  If things get better as the series progresses, maybe.  Though I wouldn’t hold my breath.  However, I am curious where things are going next, so if the next episodes all end up on Game Pass, I will probably keep playing them.

Microsoft Makes The Internet Mad! But They Shouldn’t Be.

I was going to review The Grinch today, but the internet has been all in a tizzy about Microsoft’s newest studio acquisitions.  Namely Obsidian Entertainment and inXile Entertainment.  There have been a lot of gifs on the subject.  A few of these:

And probably more appropriately some of these:

And while seeing these major RPG studios get gobbled up by a corporate entity known for buying studios and then closing them after a couple disappointing games seems alarming.  We all need to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture.

Both of these studios were having cash problems.  It turns out for inXile making RPGs for a niche market doesn’t provide a lot of cashflow, and for Obsidian, they were also releasing niche isometric RPGs that were doing okay, but their major games like South Park were not doing a ton of business.  As we saw with TellTale, once cash gets low it only takes one mediocre round of funding, and all your employees are walking out the front door with their knickknacks in a box with no severance package.  All of the sudden a major cooperation with a lot of cash and a history of treating employees well seems like a good idea.

Not to mention for most gamers nothing changes in the short term.  Obsidian’s next untitled game is still coming out for all platforms on 2K’s new indie label Private Division, and Wasteland 3 from inXile was partially funded on, so Microsoft will have to publish the game on all the platforms that were listed there (Windows, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) to honor its investors.  These games getting finished was probably not a certainty a few months ago.

Now after those two games, I am sure their next games will be locked in to Microsoft platforms, but their games usually don’t push graphical boundaries, so finding a PC able to run them shouldn’t be an issue.  Better yet, so Microsoft can get some ROI we are guaranteed at least one more game from each of these devs.  Which we should all be very happy about.  Even better Brian Fargo from inXile was going to retire after Wasteland 3 came out, but now it sounds like he is sticking around for a while.  It is probably nice being able to just build a game without wondering where all the money will be coming from.

With these purchases Microsoft gains two legendary RPG houses (Even more legendary if you take in to account they used to be Black Isle Studios and Interplay Entertainment.  I mean Microsoft needs to buy the Interplay company branding like yesterday), and it gets to add a lot of games to its upcoming PC focused Game Pass, and at least two exclusive RPGs for the Xbox One X2 or whatever they will call it.  For everyone else, we get four games instead of none, and even if the studios do close, we know Microsoft will treat those employees properly while they look for their next opportunity.  What I am saying is, everyone wins, and sounds like a good deal to me.  Better yet, I am betting we are getting that Halo Universe RPG in a few short years, and that is something to be excited about.

Shmee Destroys Great Britain In Forza Horizon 4!

If you read my Forza Horizon 3 review, you know that FH3 was/is one of my favorite games of all time, and guess what?  Forza Horizon 4 is more of what made Forza Horizon 3 great!  So, if you loved Forza Horizon 3, you will probably find a lot to love in Forza Horizon 4.  It is not a re-invention of the franchise, but no one wanted that anyway.

In Forza Horizon 4 you are no longer the ‘boss’ for the Horizon Festival, you are just another racer, so you are no longer trying to level up Forza event locations.  What are you trying to do is win all the races, so you can become a British Real Estate Tycoon.  Which is to say that without event locations, you need to buy houses for fast travel locations, and the houses you buy come with perks like more wheel spins, fancy clothes or extra cars, so you want those houses (and castles).

You also need those houses, story wise, to stay in because you now live in England through the changing seasons, and if you are going to live in the UK for foreseeable future, you will need a few places to lay your head and store your cars.  The seasons are fun: Things are frozen over and thick snow blocks your progress in the Winter, mud and rain ruin your traction in the Spring, conditions are perfect in the Summer, and you get Spring with leaves in the Fall.  It is always a challenge to retune your skills with each change of the season (seasons change every week).

The other big change is that Forza Horizon 4 is online by default now.  Instead of Drivatars racing around, they are real people, and they are also ghosts.  Spooky!  It makes sense, you don’t want people purposely being able to grief each other while going from place to place, I mean that is what the races are for.  It is fun to watch other people screwing around at least as much as I am.

Besides the Forza Event locations, the only thing Forza Horizon 4 lacks from 3 is the event Blueprint system.  You can’t plan out your own jumps or speed traps anymore.  All you can do is tweak existing races.  I am guessing this had to be done so the game could always be online, and I don’t really miss it that much.  Mostly because I am leveling up all the time, and I don’t just mean my overall level, but you level up in types of races, car collection, photo mode, skill points and just about everything else.  I am pretty sure the only way not to progress in FH4 is to just sit still, but even then, there must be some bar going up somewhere.

Mostly, FH4 is just more Forza Horizon, and I love it.  I love driving a Lamborghini off a cliff and in to a pond below, or racing a Willys Jeep across the country.  If I don’t want to do any of that, I can just mess about, and the game pats me on the head and tells me I am its favorite and hands me some points.  It is all so good.  Even if some may call Forza Horizon 4 an expansion for 3.  It is a vast expansion with a lot to do, and it expands on a wonderful game, wonderfully.  Buy Forza Horizon 4 (or get it with Game Pass) it is more fun than just about anything else out there.

Lucky Tells Shmee A Super Tale!

Did you know Microsoft has an exclusive platformer?  And it is not Blinx or Voodoo Vince?  It is Super Lucky’s Tale, and it is a sequel to an Oculus Rift title, so I am sure there was a ton of demand for it.  Well all joking aside, it is a pretty decent game.  It is not a classic, but it scratches that Mario 64 itch.  You explore cute worlds, find coins and collect random things.

You play as the titular fox Lucky who gets trapped in a magical book with a lot of ‘evil’ cats, and you need to kick them out.  To do so you need to collect clovers and be able to play a platformer.  The more collectables you find per level, the more clovers you get.

As far as the game goes, it is a basic 3D platformer.  It is a little slower though, so think more Mario and less Sonic.  However, there are lot of different types of levels: standard exploration, endless runner, super monkey ball tilting levels, and other random puzzles.  Not to mention the boss levels, so there is plenty of variety.

Super Lucky’s Tale is not going to set the world on fire, but it is fun, and if you have younger kids, I am sure they will love it, or even if you are old like me, collecting things is a good time.  While I don’t think this game sold as well as Microsoft wanted, I hope they stick with it because they lack a solid platformer in their portfolio.  Super Lucky’s Tale was a good first try, and I think they should give it another one.