Silence is a plane of existence on the cusp between life and death, and it was originally introduced back in 2009's The Whispered World, when it was known as Silentia. It's not an idle change. Just as its name has shifted from its Latinesque form to simple English, so too is the world itself now more approachable for players wishing to test themselves against its many puzzles. Sometimes, in fact, it pushes that accessibility to extremes, and also pushes some of its characters off the stage too soon, but its lush imagery and interactive elements usually yield an escape as welcome for players as the world of Silence does for its heroes.
Silence--the game--is The Whispered World's sequel, even if it never explicitly announces itself as such, and it insists on complicating its narrative with references few newcomers will understand. However, it's not too big of a problem. Early on, Silence does a beautiful job of communicating its major themes while Noah, the Whispered World's protagonist, comforts his frightened sister Renie by telling her of his days in Silence as Sadwick the depressed clown. Soon after, the bombs send them back to Silence, and the two siblings' affection for each other grants this chapter many moments that pack an emotional punch the The Whispered World never really delivered.
These moments are generally strong enough to redeem an otherwise dreamlike, disjointed story. Noah and Renie's return to Silence finds it overrun with oily, spindly creatures called Seekers, with only a handful of rebels keeping them and a "False Queen" from total domination. Yet the Seekers never feel like an urgent threat; much narrative weight is lost in the swift switches from fart jokes in one scene to a rebel expressing her willingness to become a veritable suicide bomber the next. Each character is distinct and memorable, but the plot rushes along at such a brisk pace that few get the characterization they deserve. And then there's Noah himself, who once again becomes the often insufferable, cowardly Sadwick when he dons his cap and bells.
These problems may have been more troublesome if Silence weren't so beautiful. The Whispered World's environments enjoyed a similar hand-painted aesthetic, but its softly drawn characters left it saddled with an "afternoon cartoon special" vibe. Silence, though, stands apart. Here the wonderfully animated 3D models make its visual wonders even more inviting, as they look like they fully belong in the dreamworld that surrounds them. Sometimes I found myself trying to maneuver Noah or Renie offscreen so I could save its views of towering, glowering stone heads touched by shafts of light for future use as desktop wallpaper. Silence is colorful and striking, serving as a stark contrast to the snow and concrete in the game's vision of the real world.
It's a good thing this art direction works so well, as the actual puzzling rarely requires great feats of thought. Silence is more interested in telling its story. Much as with a Telltale game, everything aside from the plot is mere icing (and, much like with a Telltale game, even several of its big choices don't really mean much in the grander scheme). There's not even an inventory here. Everything needed to solve a puzzle is nearby, and a tap of the spacebar shows everything you can interact with. As far as puzzlers go, it's actually rather easy.
Yet Silence breaks up possible monotony by injecting some physicality into the mix. Sometimes Noah needs to overturn heavy slabs of concrete with steady tugs of the mouse; at other times, he balances on spinning globes while you nudge his center of gravity into place with a meter. Noah's caterpillar friend Spot, who can inflate into a ball or lay as flat as a coin, usually comes into play in the tougher spots, but even there the challenge is often one of timing rather than of mental dexterity. Some of the best moments were those when the puzzles themselves become part of Silence's visual poetry, as when Renie traces out constellations using a shard of glass and the glow from a lighthouse.
I'm convinced true brainteasers would spoil such moments rather than enhance them. Removing the possibility of frustration allows the puzzles to work hand in hand with Silence's cinematic angles and lovingly painted backdrops to create moments of emotional power that the 2009 outing never reached.
Appropriately dreamlike with its narrative that shifts from one strange moment to the next, Silence bounds from powerful emotion to powerful emotion in its last couple of hours, and there's a sense here that these are the feelings that developer Daedalic wanted to stir the first time around. The story, in fact, ends on a final choice that's a little too close to that of The Whispered World. Despite this, it still works. I saw from a mile away from what was coming, and even so, in the story's final moments, I could only sit there in stunned, thoughtful silence.
I never missed catastrophes in Cities: Skylines. Dealing with rampaging extraterrestrials, Armageddon-instigating asteroids, and visits from giant lizards have long been a hallmark of the SimCity line, but Colossal Order’s city builder seemed too buttoned-down for such outlandish developments. This is one of the most authentic city management simulations of all time due to a focus on things like zoning, which makes the game feel awfully close to my everyday job as the mayor of a town in Canada. Throwing in regular outings from Godzilla just didn’t seem necessary or appropriate.
I didn’t know what I was missing. The new Natural Disasters expansion charges up the businesslike concept of the original game with random events like tornadoes, meteorite strikes, forest fires, earthquakes, sinkholes, and tidal waves that result in citywide floods. But even though these Biblical catastrophes are always suitably apocalyptic, they’re also realistic. Every doomsday is worked into the serious nature of the game as threats that need to be managed through careful preparation. The end result is greater tactical depth and tension in the virtual mayor’s office, since you know that screwing up here could cost you absolutely everything.
How Natural Disasters handles these tragedies elevates it above the “disasters as punishment” gimmick seen in so many other city builders. Just like in real life, you mitigate the impact of disasters via early warning systems and buildings designed to help recover when the worst happens. Buoys are available to detect tsunamis, and radar dishes can watch for meteorites. Radio towers can be set up to let the populace know that something bad is on the way. Emergency response centers bolster the existing rosters of police, fire, and medical structures and allow first responders to get out to disaster sites. Shelters provide homes for citizens during and immediately after crises, while you clear away the ruins and rebuild.
As with everything else in Cities: Skylines, the need to prepare for disasters feels realistic. It's a welcome contrast to what I expected; other city builders tend to turn similar earth-shattering moments into a form of punishment for building a happy, functional municipality, or to artificially increase the difficulty.
All of these options add an appreciable new layer to Cities: Skylines planning, in both regular games (you can toggle disasters on or off, adjust the frequency in which they occur, or even call them down on demand like Zeus moonlighting as a municipal politician) and in five scenarios structured around specific disasters and goals. Disasters feel like an organic part of the game that’s been there all along, not some tossed-in and tossed-off gimmick geared to do little more than blow everything up at the most inopportune times.
Everything looks suitably apocalyptic, too. While the heart of Cities: Skylines remains a little on the antiseptic side, with mostly bland blocks and buildings slapped together like something out of an Ikea box, the actual disasters are awfully frightening. Tornadoes carve through your cities and hurl cars into the air. Meteorites hit like A-bombs, making whole districts of cities vanish in a flash. Fires encroach on cities gradually, and before you know it, you’re sitting in a circle of hell with flames consuming everything you spent hours building. Even floods have an impact--the gradual approach of water may be the least cinematic of the disasters, but it’s relentless and scary in the way it gathers up all in its path. Seeing cars and trucks swept along like toys reminded me just how helpless we all are against Mother Nature--as did the dramatic declines in my city population every time a disaster came through.
My one real disappointment with Natural Disasters is the limited number of new goal-oriented management scenarios. Such a small sample size does little more than show off the new scenario editor released as part of a free update at the same time this expansion launched. There’s clearly real potential here to expand the focus of the game with these custom scenarios, but right now, the included ones don't make full use of that potential. Some of them focus on the more annoying aspects of the game, too. The wintry Alpine Villages scenario is based on establishing a transit system, still a part of the design that I don’t particularly enjoy. By the Dam is all about building up hills, which comes in handy when flooding takes out the lowland city blocks pre-built at the start of the scenario. Many of the goals require a lot of time and repetition. Tornado Country just blasted me to bits with funnel clouds hitting over and over again before I even hit the population needed to unlock disaster buildings.
This is one of the best treatments of disasters in a city simulation, blending the actual demands of emergency planning measures with apocalyptic moments that ratchet up the tension in the virtual mayor’s office.
Also, there isn’t a lot of imagination displayed here. While it’s nice that Cities: Skylines is finally getting disasters, this expansion really just adds in more content that could have (and maybe should have) been available in the original game. I can’t deny that the add-on brings some interesting new strategic elements to the table, especially given how disasters have been seamlessly worked into the core game design. But like its After Dark and Snowfall predecessors that introduced nightlife and winter weather, these are small, incremental improvements that move the game experience ahead by just a few baby steps.
Even though I’ve always been far too particular of a virtual city planner to care for this sort of devastation, Natural Disasters may have made me a convert. This addition to Cities: Skylines features all of the cinematic appeal of exposing your homemade municipalities to the wrath of God--along with a sober assessment of how such upheavals have to be planned for and managed in the real world. As a result, this is one of the best treatments of disasters in a city simulation, blending the actual demands of emergency planning measures with apocalyptic moments that ratchet up the tension in the virtual mayor’s office.
Building and managing an amusement park is a difficult job. There are a surprising number of things to consider: keeping your rides safe and well maintained, making sure you have enough trash cans and janitors to keep things clean, forecasting and managing your finances to avoid crippling debt, and deciding how many pickles should or should not be on a burger. But most importantly, you need to keep everyone happy. You need to keep your visitors entertained, your employees motivated, and your business a success
Planet Coaster is a game full of optimistic, fun-loving character that conjures up fond memories of visiting local carnivals as kids, full of bright lights and jaunty calliope music, or maybe a more recent excursion to a big-name amusement park, full of thematic details everywhere you look. The desire to try to replicate these experiences is a driving force that makes it easy to get swept up in every aspect of Planet Coaster. This is a simulation where you can find satisfaction in tweaking your park on a macro scale: managing your park's overall cash flow and adjusting variables to influence average guest behavior, for example. But you can also lose yourself in the more frivolous micro level, placing that decorative shrub in just the right spot or making sure a roller coaster triggers confetti cannons at just the right time.
It's possible to feel lost when you first dive into construction and management. There's no integrated beginner's tutorial--only links to YouTube videos explaining some of the basics. But this quickly proves to be an ample solution since the systems in place are so clear and simple to use. With construction, the tools for creating and manipulating walkways, shops, rides, and scenery are efficient and enjoyable. Snaking a path between obstacles or creating a spiral staircase to reach an elevated platform, for example, is painless. Instead of drawing out a route, the pathing tool involves laying down suggested pieces. You can adjust the direction and elevation of a piece with subtle mouse movements, and clicking anywhere places the segment. Mistakes can instantly be undone using the universal Ctrl+Z shortcut, with any money spent instantly being refunded in full. It's an intuitive process that encourages experimentation without the fear of punishment.
Constructing a roller coaster--which may sound as intimidating as riding one--is, thankfully, just as simple. Laying down tracks relies on a similar predictive pathing tool, but with a few handy additions: there are buttons to help adjust the curvature and rotation of each track piece, a number of complex, pre-made turns are available to quickly attach, and the track can be automatically completed and smoothed out. Portions of a coaster can also be adjusted non-destructively after it's been fully built. It's an accessible process that will allow even the most novice of players to comfortably create thrill-rides of their own.This handy heatmap overlay can help pinpoint the exact position where your guests will throw up.
This intuitiveness is consistent among all of Planet Coaster's tools. They're all extremely versatile, but it doesn't take long for them to feel like second nature. You can pull the earth up through pre-existing structures to mold tunnels like it's no big deal. A series of interlocking, elevated walkways spanning across vast chasms takes minutes. In making the labor of construction easy, Planet Coaster fast-tracks you into feeling like the game's creative possibilities are endless.
While you can use pre-designed shops and scenery in your park planning, you can also build your own from scratch. Learning how to construct buildings requires a little more diligence, but only to get your head around the abundance of individual pieces you have to choose from: walls, roofs, windows, lights, animatronic characters, special stage effects, and foliage. Anything you construct can easily be saved as a template for future use or shared with the community. Given that creation is a painless process, it comes as no surprise that Steam Workshop integration is robust, seamless, and virtually limitless. Thanks to the game's long stint in Early Access, there are more than 44,000 items available for use--beautifully intricate structures and stores, ambitious, carefully engineered rides, and detailed replicas of real-world attractions. Casual discovery can be a problem outside of prolific creators, but if you know what you want, chances are it's probably already there.
Planet Coaster offers three different modes of play: Challenge, Sandbox and Career. Challenge mode offers the classic blank-canvas scenario where you begin with limited funds, a limited selection of rides, and an empty lot. Sandbox mode is the same as Challenge mode only you're given unlimited finances, and Career mode puts you in the middle of pre-made scenarios. Initially, Career seems unattractive, especially since the game's tools for creativity are so well realized and beg to be used on a fresh plot of land. However, it's here where you're pitted against the game's management variables and learn how to work with and around them.
Career entrusts you with a number of impressive, half-designed parks--which on their own, are an awe-inspiring glimpse into what you can achieve with the game's tools. It then dumps you in very tricky situations and requires you to learn how to get out of them with what you have on hand. A scenario may ask that you make a park located on treacherous terrain, without resorting to flattening the world with terraforming tools. It might limit you to traditional rides like carousels, requiring you to make the most of them, and tweak your park so it specifically caters to families. It may place a monolith in the center of your park that mysteriously makes attractions break down faster, forcing you to become competent in managing technicians, work rosters, and maintenance schedules.
There's little guidance on the steps you should take to resolve these situations, and succeeding in a Career map may take more patience than other modes. But it's satisfying to solve a big problem in a trial by fire, using hard-earned knowledge. Working hard to pull yourself out of bad situations, slowly improve your finances, and continuing to create bigger, better, and more attractive things under strict limitations is a great challenge. Once you've accomplished your goals, you're left with a profitable, well-attended, attractive park to keep building on.Career mode offers beautiful parks in dire circumstances.
This is what makes Career mode compelling: it encourages you to dive deep into the management layer and focuses your attention on the elements that you may have ignored without consequence in the other modes. With the traditional blank-canvas Challenge mode, it's easy to coast along, since ride integrity and human happiness don't degrade fast enough to require constant attention, at least on the default difficulty. Planet Coaster has a wealth of easily digestible variables to tweak, all of which have tangible effects--the cost of your food and what toppings you have on them, the duration and specific movement cycles of your rides--but if you have no interest in this kind of micromanagement, it's easy enough to leave everything on the default settings and still be profitable, leaving you to focus on the creation aspect.
Planet Coaster's construction tools are effortlessly intuitive and encouraging, and the minutiae of its management variables are fun to tinker with for obsessive players, though it won't punish those who don't find satisfaction there. This is a game focused on the positivity that amusement parks can bring, one that fosters even the smallest spark of imagination and creativity. Planet Coaster's scenario-based maps are a delightful challenge, the included assets are full of character, and its Steam Workshop community is a stupefying bounty of creative talent and inexhaustible content. It's a game that occupies your thoughts when you're not playing it, and it's thoroughly captivating when you are.
Crytek has been experimenting with ways to make games more immersive by utilizing new tech for a while, whether it’s the exceptionally good use of stereoscopic 3D effects in the Crysis games or impressive demos for Oculus Rift. Taking that experience to PlayStation VR, the developer has released Robinson: The Journey, a virtual-reality game that’s everything great and annoying about VR all rolled into one.
The Journey is about a boy named Robin, one of thousands of passengers aboard a massive starship seeking a new world. This craft, the Esmeralda, crashes on Tyson III, a habitable world stuck in the equivalent of Earth's Cretaceous period. Unfortunately, Robin and his floating robotic companion (an AI orb known as HIGS) are apparently the only survivors of the crash.
Soon after landing, Robin discovers a just-hatched and adorable T. rex--and, like any reasonable person would, he adopts her, hugs her, squeezes her, and gives her a name: Laika. Their story then jumps forward a year: Robin and HIGS have made their escape pod a home, they have a working garden, protective energy fences, and a semi-trained baby Laika.
The appeal of Robin's adventure relies on the spectacle of dinosaurs to create a visually stunning VR experience. This is easily one of the best-looking, most technically impressive games to hit PlayStation VR, but it’s also an incredibly interesting, engaging game. Crytek has transformed their earlier VR demos like Back to Dinosaur Island and The Climb into a narrative-focused experience revolving around exploration and puzzle-solving that really shows off how VR can create a new level of immersion.
Robin follows the various paths from his home base, searching for the memory cells of non-functional HIGS units. Such memories yield more insight into how the Esmeralda crashed. Of course, finding these robots is made more difficult by the terrain and prehistoric inhabitants. Thankfully, Robin seems to be part monkey; he can easily climb natural structures, vines, giant cables, and more.
This is easily one of the best-looking, most technically impressive games to hit PlayStation VR, but it’s also an incredibly interesting, engaging game.
The climbing mechanic uses two floating hands (controlled with the left and right shoulder buttons respectively) to simulate actually being there, effectively enhancing your sense of immersion. You have to tilt and turn your head to find the next viable hand grip--and some of these climbs are dizzyingly high. At times, getting the correct hand to grab an obvious grip requires shifting your body around to match the precise angle the game demands.
Robin can also levitate and manipulate items from a short distance, but it's a painful mess of trial-and-error since there’s no smooth way to finely manipulate them in the air. This is readily apparent in the endgame, when you must shove cylindrical power cells into round sockets.
Most puzzles revolve around climbing and manipulating objects, but the objectives are frequently vague. HIGS occasionally provides hints, but the game largely relies on you to figure things out on your own. Laika, for instance, isn’t just a cute sidekick, but a useful puzzle-solving tool. She can growl loudly to scare herbivores, go to specific spots, and come when called. Just the same, part of the overall vagueness of objectives may simply be to lengthen the adventure.
Just running straight through, you can easily finish The Journey in less than three hours (and probably a lot less). The game includes hidden data cells to find, which when analyzed can provide more background data and there is a kind of minigame for analyzing and cataloging the array of exotic animals and insects on the planet, but for the most part, this is a linear trek from start to finish.
Short experiences are nothing new for PSVR, though, and when Robinson: The Journey works, it does so amazingly well
Short experiences are nothing new for PSVR, though, and when Robinson: The Journey works, it does so amazingly well. The sheer sense of scope and detail is stunning. Tyson III is a beautiful place, and its massive dinosaurs are even more impressive. Events like a brachiosaurus stampede, stealthily avoiding raptors, and a particularly inspiring climax involving a fearsome T. rex show off just how amazing VR can be.
At times, you see the game from HIGS’ view. These stationary sequences show off an aerial view of Robin’s surroundings and are easily among the most visually stunning uses of VR to date. The game’s use of 3D to create depth is amazing on the whole, with impressive, but the holographic-like visuals in these segments steal the show.
There’s a distinct advantage to playing Robinson: The Journey on the PlayStation Pro. The game defaults to using step turning where it flips like a slide show in the direction you turn to reduce motion sickness. You can select the smooth-turning option, but unless you’re playing on the PS Pro, there’s a far greater chance of motion sickness due to poor frame rates. The frame rate and draw distance of environmental objects are also enhanced on the Pro, and it looks a little better. It’s still a beautiful game no matter what you play it on.
Robinson: the Journey is one of the most immersive, engaging games to hit PSVR, but it suffers from its short length and reliance on vague objectives. Still, the sheer visual splendor and moments of legitimately awesome sights make it an engaging experience. Crytek has taken their usual flair for gorgeous visuals and made a world worth stepping into.
True to Fumito Ueda's work on Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian is a fascinating game that portrays a heartfelt relationship between two unlikely cohorts--a nameless boy and a giant creature named Trico--who develop mutual trust, communication, and compassion against seemingly impossible odds.
Their tale is a shining example of storytelling through subtle cues and shared experiences; the occasional annoyances that come from trying to force members of two different species to cooperate are part and parcel of their partnership, for better and for worse. But touching moments throughout and an unshakable final act melt these grievances away. The culmination of your incredible journey crystallizes a bond with Trico and makes you immediately long for another adventure with your newfound best friend.
It all begins when you awake from a dream to find yourself imprisoned in a mysterious cave. Trico is nearby, subdued by a metal collar, armor, and a pair of spears lodged in its back. Though the cause remains a mystery until the end, you immediately understand the need to remove the weapons and forge an escape. Trico knocks you unconscious after you extract the first spear, but your continued efforts after you wake payoff. In short order, the creature is free from the heavy shackles, and the two of you begin your tricky escape.
You and Trico are instrumental to each other's progress; it's easy for you to slip through small passageways and precisely manipulate objects to activate doors, but only Trico can leap dozens of feet into the air and reach high, out-of-the-way places. Your massive companion needs to be coaxed into giving you a hand at first, and food in the form of glowing barrels works as a motivator at times, but you otherwise need to provide directions through physical positioning and vocal commands. Because you move with palpable inertia, running around in search of the next step and managing Trico at the same time can feel taxing, but its a small price to pay for the organic, lifelike animations on display.
Success typically comes down to identifying the one object or passage in an environment that allows you to move ahead, and working with Trico to access it. You will climb on the beast's back to reach high ledges, use its tail to descend into pits, and lure it to jump into pools of water so you can ride the resulting wave. But you must accept its slow reaction times and patiently decipher its body language, and it's a process that can test your patience when you've lost your path, dense as the world is with red herrings like intrusive outcrops and heavily ornamented architecture.
Yet even at its most disobedient, Trico is an impressive animal to behold, with the mannerisms of a house cat as it rests and slinks through environments, and the temperament of a lion during run-ins with possessed sentinels. Trico will swat and sniff curiosities--sometimes as a hint, other times because it's simply distracted, and the only way to calm your companion after a fight or a scare is through the solace of petting and coos. When you look into Trico's curious eyes as you run out of reach to pull a lever, or when it senses something frightening, you don't see the artifice that defines most video game characters; you see an honest portrayal.
Much like a real pet, Trico doesn't automatically learn because you want it to, but its progress yields confidence in your cooperation as it eventually learns to take commands on the first try. This is gratifying from a gameplay perspective, since you feel less like you're wasting time investigating the world and more like you're working in concert with a reliable partner. As an emotionally invested player, your patience is handsomely rewarded by the formation of an unwavering bond.
The Last Guardian is, for the most part, a totally convincing experience that draws you into the mindset of Trico and the boy. However, there are times when you're reminded of the game they live in. From beginning to end, without an option to disable it, a button prompt appears when you’re in front of an interactive object. Contrasted with environments that force you to consider every option, it's confusing that the game never trusts you to handle basic tasks and instead opts to interrupt the otherwise complex experience.
And despite handling numerous impressive scenes without a hitch, there are a few scenes with obvious frame-rate issues. These occurrences by no means dominate the game--far from it--but they make you consider the technological lattice holding the world together when they appear. It also makes you consider the impossible task Ueda and company likely faced when The Last Guardian was in development for PlayStation 3.
The resulting shift to PlayStation 4 has obviously paid off--troubled moments aside, your journey is dominated by awe-inspiring architecture and natural wonder. As you weave in and out of caves and ruins, you're treated to wide views of towers and bridges in the distance that you may never visit, but they live on in your imagination as you piece together the story and world around you.
It isn't clear whether or not The Last Guardian means to be frustrating at times--if it's a concerted effort to test your patience for a lovable-yet-stubborn creature. Your affection for Trico and sympathy for both characters blossom nonetheless, culminating in an enrapturing series of revelations that cements your attachment to their personalities. Trico is the undeniable star of the show, exhibiting believable physicality and emotional range, but the boy is a valuable lesson in how to be patient and resilient when faced with unforeseen challenges.
When the book closes on their story, it's hard not to open it up again and begin anew. The trials you overcome endear you to both characters, but the emotions Trico elicits make you want to give it another chance--to be the patient, effective partner it truly deserves.
Since its debut a decade ago, Dead Rising has continuously evolved with each new game. It's changed settings and protagonists, added crafting and vehicles, abandoned escort missions and limited saves. In spite of all these changes, however, the core gameplay always remained intact: grab whatever's handy to kill and maim droves of zombies in a huge variety of gruesome, hilarious ways. Dead Rising 4 maintains this tradition of superficial yet entertaining mayhem by adapting ideas from every previous iteration.
Intrepid photojournalist Frank West, for example, finally returns as our playable protagonist. We also revisit Willamette, Colorado, which has been completely rebuilt since the original outbreak many years prior. Tragically, it's once again the epicenter of an undead pandemic, only now its citizens are supposed to be inoculated. This raises a lot of questions for Frank and his rebellious protege Vick Chu, both of whom fight to uncover the truth in their own ways.
For a game that's all about mindless zombie murder, the storytelling is remarkably adept. Frank and Vick's relationship feels nuanced and believable. The central mystery consistently metes out new clues that keep the plot intriguing and the action meaningful. And though Frank isn't always likable, he's frequently relatable and entertaining, spouting goofy, smart-assed quips at every opportunity. There's also a coherent personality that binds every aspect of the experience together. From the dark, satirical humor of the collectible journals to the jaunty holiday music that plays over the pause screen, Dead Rising's juxtaposition of slaughter and silliness makes for a memorable world.The heavily advertised Exo Suit plays only a minor role in the overall experience.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is a bit more mixed. Fundamentally, the core combat has evolved less than any other facet of the series. Though Frank uses a mix of melee, ranged, and throwable weapons, you're going to spend most of your time just mashing the X button to whack whatever's in front of you. It's serviceable, even satisfying in its cathartic brutality, but it's also rudimentary, offering little depth or challenge.
In fact, Dead Rising 4 is rarely challenging in any way, and there's no way to select a higher difficulty level. I always had plenty of health and weapons, and armed enemy soldiers seemed nearly as braindead as the undead. The new super-agile Evo zombies are definitely harder to put down, but of the 14,000-plus zombies I killed, only 71 were Evos. Honestly, the hardest part of Dead Rising 4 is trying to pick a specific item up when it's situated too near a pile of other objects.
While greater mechanical depth could have made Dead Rising 4 a more intense and rewarding game, I can mostly forgive its one-note combat for two big reasons. First, the deep and hilarious supply of outrageous combo weapons. There are now more than 50 in total, and once you've obtained a blueprint and the requisite materials, you can craft your new death-dealer on the fly rather than dragging everything to a workbench like Dead Rising 2.
Whether you've created an electrified axe or a toy Santa that spits acid, new combo weapons consistently provide fleeting bursts of concentrated joy. And though not technically a combo weapon, the new Exo suit--a mechanical exoskeleton that turns Frank into a robotic superhuman--provides several hilarious ways to send zombies screaming into oblivion. Suits are scattered sparingly across the map and they lose power pretty quickly, but they're a blast while they last. The game may not challenge your skills, but it certainly rewards your curiosity.
There's also plenty to do outside of combat. Unlike the original and its immediate sequel, Dead Rising 4's campaign doesn't have a timer, and while that erodes the series' identity to a degree, it allows the open world and all its activities to breathe. The central mall and its surrounding areas are packed with hidden secrets, interesting weapons, and compelling collectibles. Obtaining combo weapon blueprints frequently forces exploration and puzzle-solving, which can be frustrating but also satisfying. You can also seek out "maniacs"--special side bosses that aren't quite as memorable as previous games' "psychopaths" but can nonetheless hit you with an amusing curveball. Along the way, you might also discover survivors that need rescuing--though thankfully you'll never have to escort anyone to a safehouse.
And of course, Frank's packing his trademark camera, so photography returns as an optional method for accruing experience and Achievements--and the progression system, though perfunctory, does give the campaign a sense of forward momentum. Frank's camera also plays a crucial role in the Arkham-esque investigation sequences that periodically pop up during the campaign. The process of saving your photos isn't particularly well explained upfront, but having a metagame that's always available can turn even random exploration into a worthwhile endeavor.
In defiance of the two most recent Dead Rising games, co-op has been removed from the campaign and funneled into a separate multiplayer mode. The pacing and narrative scaffolding of the campaign work well without a partner, but the new mode doesn't offer much consolation for co-op fans. Basically, you and your squad spawn in a slice of the world, complete a series of objectives selected from a small, preset pool, then head for a randomly designated safe zone. It's enjoyable enough, but the unimaginative structure and lack of distinct gameplay ideas make the mode feel like an afterthought. You can, at least, find continued enjoyment in the campaign by starting again with all your blueprints and skill unlocks intact once you've completed your first playthrough.
Regardless of what you choose to play, Dead Rising 4's tech holds up well--for the most part. I noticed a few zombies trapped in objects with just their arms poking out of, say, a giant rock, but the framerate never slowed noticeably, which is quite a feat considering how zombies could populate the screen at once.
Dead Rising's zombie-slaughtering formula has started to wear a bit thin after all these years, especially since its combat remains largely routine. The surprisingly well-crafted story, wild new combo weapons, and expansive open world elements, however, turn Dead Rising 4 into an over-the-top piece of popcorn entertainment that captures the series' best elements.
George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the sort of writer whose work is unlikely to ever feel irrelevant or unimportant. Although his writing is only explicitly mentioned a few times in Orwell, the game questions modern surveillance techniques and the security of online communication in a way you'd imagine the author would were he still alive.
You play as an “investigator” with access to Orwell, the ironically named surveillance system used to accumulate data on suspicious individuals. Your first day on the job opens with a bomb detonating in a public park, and the next five days, spread between five chapters, are dedicated to working out who was behind this attack and preventing further incidents. This is all done by collecting information about suspects from their digital presence, both public (blogs, comments, social media) and private (bank account, phone calls, email, their home desktops).The Watergate name is a bit on the nose.
The Orwell program has an “Ethical Codex” that requires each piece of intelligence found to go through a two-step process. Data you find can be sent on to an “adviser” who does not have access to the same systems you do, cannot have a conversation with you, and must judge evidence impartially. This system means that you need to really pay attention to what data you’re sending through and what you’re choosing to ignore.
As you peruse the evidence available to you, certain pieces of text will be highlighted in either blue or yellow, corresponding to suspects in the case. The blue-highlighted text can immediately be uploaded to Orwell, but it can be misconstrued. Send through an innocent joke between friends about one torturing the other, and without the proper context, the adviser is likely to think the person is unhinged. Yellow-highlighted text denotes a contradiction with another piece of text, and it’s up to you to study these contradictions and figure out which piece of information to send through. Not being able to go back on your poor choices feels like a gameplay constraint rather than something that makes sense in the narrative, but being forced to commit to your questionable choices ramps up the game’s tension as you search for details.Some characters are harder to dig up information about than others.
Orwell simulates the busywork of an office job to tell a larger story about surveillance. You soon find yourself investigating “Thought,” a mysterious collective made up mostly of young activists with awkward Internet histories. As a game focused on searching through in-game websites for dirt and details, Orwell lives or dies on the strength of its plot and characterization. Thankfully, the writing is consistently lively and intriguing. The depiction of a surveillance state feels extremely relevant; it’s made clear that the obvious advantages of being able to easily track terror suspects online come with a disquieting loss of privacy for innocent civilians. In an age where so much personal information is willingly released by so many, Orwell brilliantly explores the implications of this data being misinterpreted.
The characters feel real and familiar, without ever drifting into cliche. Investigating their lives and relationships means getting to know them and figuring out which characters are actually committed to the ideals they claim to hold. You never meet any of these people, but the characterization runs deep. Suspects like Harrison, an angry idealist with an attitude problem, an inflated sense of self-worth, and a clear willingness to sell-out on his ideals, feel genuine. The game’s writers have a strong grasp of how people communicate online and how rhetoric shifts between personal and public conversations. It’s also interesting how personal bias can seep into the gameplay--I often found that whether I wanted to hide or release certain information depended on how much I liked the person I was investigating.Hey, it’s that guy the game is named after!
The changes brought about by your decisions and discoveries are significant, and while they won’t upend the entire plot, there were noticeable differences in my second playthrough. Subsequent runs are unlikely to be as satisfying as the first, though, if only because solving the central “mysteries” of Orwell signposts which decisions are likely to be “good” or “bad” on a second attempt. I found myself needing to purposely reach conclusions that I knew were incorrect, role-playing as a bad investigator just to see what would happen. But even knowing the “right” answers isn’t always enough--I tried hard to change an outcome at the end of Chapter 3 on my second playthrough, but the thing I’d been trying to avoid still happened, albeit for completely different reasons than I’d experienced on my first playthrough. Orwell’s twists and turns are surprising and exciting, even when you have some idea of what’s coming. There are a few minor issues with Orwell’s current build--the game hard crashed on me a few times, or refused to load images--but each issue I had was fixed with a reload, and because the game saves constantly, I never lost progress.
Orwell is a hard experience to pull back from, even as the dirtiness of your job sinks in. It uses simple mechanics to tell a complex and engaging story, one that feels particularly relevant right now. This is a game where your choices matter and resonate, and which will leave you with plenty to think about once it’s over.