Category: Contemporary Reviews

Reviews about mainstream games released in the past few years.

WRATH: Aeon of Ruin – Revisiting an early access boomer shooter.

Have you ever written a critique about something, then come back to it years later to see if it still holds up? I have that feeling with a lot of things I’ve played. Since I try to improve myself as a person, sometimes I have to reassess my opinions on something or if I’ve changed. With how games change from day one to day 365 thanks to the wonders of patches and Early Access, it has me occasionally revisiting stuff to see if it’s gotten better. And in this case, it’s going back roughly 4 ½ years ago… when the boomer shooter craze wasn’t at a fever pitch. I’m gonna look back at WRATH: Aeon of Ruin.

Developed between small indie studio KillPixel Games and slightly larger studio Slipgate Ironworks, and published by 3D Realms – the new one ran by Fredrik Schrieber, not the old one that gave us Duke Nukem Forever – the game initially came out in Steam early access in November 2019, the game went through a dormant dry spell before finally being released in February of 2024, nearly five years later.

A friend had gifted me the game back during that early access period, and I was… pretty darn harsh on the game. To quote my now out of date Steam review from that time:

This game, on the other hand, has problems. Lots of questionable design decisions that don’t make sense. Enemies that take too much damage, on arenas where circlestrafing is not an option. An unwieldy inventory system which is counter-intuitive to the style of gameplay this wants to emulate. And whoever thought that reviving the “save gem” concept from Daikatana was a good idea needs to be smacked in the head with a baseball bat […] I cannot recommend the game in the current state it’s in. It needs some balancing adjustments to be mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned retro FPS throwbacks.

This game definitely didn’t have it’s balance set correctly in 2019. (Taken from the Early Access period.)

Basically I lauded the look and style of the game, while also feeling the gameplay needed some improvement. By 2019, the concept of a retro FPS/boomer shooter requires a type of finesse to make it stand out from the others. A lot of New Blood’s work, like DUSK or Amid Evil, is a good example of this. This is more important 2024, when we’re in peak Boomer Shooter Heaven, where everybody’s getting in on the craze. So let’s see how KillPixel and Slipgate Ironworks did to improve from their early access version.

I feel like I’m crossing the River Styx.

A quick story primer: You play as the Outlander, an unknown figure who meets with The Shepherd of Wayward Souls, where one must find the sigils of an area before fighting a big boss at the end of three episodes. The Outlander transports to levels and defeats any monsters in their way to get the sigil at the end. Basically a little bit HeXen, a little bit Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, with a pinch of Blood and Quake for flavor. (Fitting, since WRATH is made on DarkPlaces, a source port of Quake’s engine.)

Sharp. Pointy. Zoomy.

Much like other boomer shooters, the Outlander has a myriad of weapons at their disposal. First is the Blade of Ruination, a good go-to melee that also has an alternate fire where you lunge forward, which is great for getting past gaps and doing massive damage to certain foes. Then there’s your usual FPS arsenal of a handgun, a double-barrel shotgun, a “Fang Spitter,” which amounts to the game’s rapid-fire automatic weapon, an acid-spitting launcher and even a railgun equivalent. There’s other weapons too, but most of these are in those early episodes. All the weapons have an alternate fire that can be useful in sticky situations.

Celeste and my frustration with puzzle platformers.

You know, there’s a kind of genre I don’t quite get why people like it: The puzzle platformer. I’ve tried playing some of the ones so highly recommended to me, only to leave with frustration and disappointment. A lot of puzzle platformers get me so frustrated that it soured the overall experience for me. But there’s one I played recently that got me rethinking my outlook on this genre, transgender memes notwithstanding.

Celeste. The puzzle platformer from EXOK Games that came out on 2018 that has become a transgender allegory in recent years, due to some of the plot relating a lot to trans folk. Lead designer Maddy Thorson realizing her own trans journey through the game after the release probably helped a bit too. We always need more queer game designers, after all.

I’m not gonna get too much into the non-gameplay elements here. The art style’s cool by using pixel art in a way that’s unique without feeling too much like deliberate retro bait, Lena Raine’s soundtrack is tense yet touching at the right moments (and I never got to play any of the B-sides which also sound like a bunch of bangers), and the story is rather touching and something I can relate to as someone who struggles through life. But I wanna talk about this game further cementing my belief on puzzle platformers.

This part from Blood of the Werewolf still haunts me to this day.

When I mention I get frustrated by these kind of games, I’m not kidding. When I think about some of the action/puzzle platformers I played for the blog last year, like Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit and Blood of the Werewolf, I leave those games with frustration and anger. How one mistake will usually result in death, with little chance to redeem yourself. Some parts of these games are so malicious to the player that requires so much perfect timing that I’m surprised I haven’t thrown my controller into my computer screen after some of the bullshit I had to go through to beat it.

This is apparently the only screenshot of VVVVVV I took. Rather fitting, really.

But it doesn’t just apply to those mostly-forgotten niche platformers. It applies to the more popular ones as well. For example, I never finished the critically acclaimed VVVVVV. The gravity-shifting puzzle platformer with a pseudo-DOS art style and catchy chiptune music was an absolute chore to play at spots. A lot of hazards and pixel-perfect precision to make it across made it maddeningly to play, so much so that I only got about halfway through it before giving up on it.

Blood of the Werewolf: The hunt for a good werewolf game.

(content warning: blood and cartoonish gore.)

Y’know, I realized there haven’t been many good games where you play as a werewolf. Out of all the horror monsters out there, werewolves seem to be the ones who get the shaft the most. Often times they’re used as an enemy or a villain, but rarely are they ever the hero. I even asked a few folks about good werewolf games and the one suggestion I got was a quest line in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. So yeah, it seems kinda dire.

But then there was this one game I saw where you play as a werewolf that seemed kinda neat. And I have a knack for playing the fairly niche Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network titles from the early 2010s, so I grabbed it. Will this game be the one that breaks that curse?

Gotta say, that title is metal as hell.

Blood of the Werewolf is a platforming game developed by Scientifically Proven, a studio that proudly boasts its 11-person development team, as per one of the load screens states. Scientifically Proven doesn’t have much of a major resume; outside of this game, they worked on assisting Epicenter Studios on games like Real Heroes: Firefighter and… Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls. Now, to be fair, just because they work on what amounts to shovelware doesn’t mean they can’t put out an original game on their own. But this definitely doesn’t bode well.

I had heard of this game because it was being one of the few games being delisted off of the Xbox 360 marketplace. I was trying to grab games that were only available on the 360, and since this had a PC release, I figured I’d just grab it there instead. In hindsight, this was probably a good move, as we’ll get into in a bit.

This was available a few days early for patrons. Wanna get in on that yourself? Well, transform into a werewolf and howl your way over to my Patreon, where just $1 will get early access to my work. It’s fun! Like being a werewolf.

She’s quite the resilient mother, that’s for sure.

The story goes like this: You play as Selena, a mother who’s child, Nickoli, has been kidnapped by some monsters, and her husband has been left for dead. Armed with her trusty crossbow, she must travel the various hazards of the world to save her son and keep the blood family alive. Oh, by the way, Selena is also a werewolf. One of a dying breed, according to this game’s lore.

This… doesn’t bode well.

Selena in her human form has the usual platformer rules: Walk, jump, climb ladders, and shoot a crossbow. Pressing RT will shoot in the direction she’s facing, but using the right stick will have her aim at a specific angle, which can be useful for hitting enemy targets or switches.

If you’re expecting an elaborate transformation sequence, you will be solely disappointed.

At certain points in each stage, Selena turns into a werewolf upon a full moon, which follows common werewolf lore. In werewolf mode, she can double jump, do a forward dash with RB, and charge up a damaging shot with RT that takes a bit of time to charge. There’s other powerups you can find and switch between with LB, but for most of the game I stuck with the default dash. Playing as a werewolf is a lot simpler than playing in human form, which turns out to be a good thing, as I’ll get into. The game will switch between Selena’s two forms at certain spots, and sometimes they get quite crafty with the change.

I knew something was off when the first level takes place in The Sewers…

Avicii Invector: A rhythm game tribute to an electronic musician.

(content warning: mention of suicide.)

My tastes in music are… rather eclectic. If you’ve ever been a longtime reader of the site, you’ve probably had me write about some of the weirdest stuff and sometimes finding good stuff in them. I end up picking up soundtracks a lot because of the licensed music. Hell, while I may not talk about it a lot on the site here, I really enjoy rhythm games. So when I saw a rhythm game based on one of the most notable EDM artists out there, I had to give it a try, even if I never heard of him before playing it.

Is he about to drop the sickest beat?

Avicii Invector is a rhythm game developed by Hello There Productions, a small developer based out of Gothenburg, Sweden. Originally released in 2017 on the PS4 as simply Invector, the game was updated and re-released in 2019 to more prominently feature the artist whose music was used in it, Avicii. Avicii is the stage name of Tim Bergling, a Swedish EDM musician who was a major worldwide success, releasing two major albums and a few EPs in his lifetime.

Tragically, Avicii committed suicide in 2018 at the young age of 28. In the years that followed, there’s been work released posthumously, an Avicii museum in Stockholm, Sweden, and his family launching The Tim Bergling Foundation, a mental health/suicide awareness charity, in his honor.

I grabbed this game on a cheap discount on Fanatical, a digital discount storefront. Since I’m a fan of rhythm games – glancing at the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on Rock Band and Guitar Hero stuff over the past decade – I figured I could probably enjoy this game even with only knowing Avicii as “a guy who has a game dedicated to his music.”

So I’m basically Faith from Mirrors Edge but piloting a spaceship? Cool.

The story is rather barebones: A female ship pilot has to send things to various planets, while blasting the songs of Avicii to get from planet to planet. These cutscenes play every few songs, and while they’re mostly non-contextual, they bring a bit of life to the game’s overall feel. After all, if you’re a rhythm game, you either play it super-serious like a Rock Band or you go full over-the-top like a good chunk of the Guitar Hero games did, so for Hello There Games to go for the latter route is a wise call.

I assure you it’s a bit more complex than this.

Avicii Invector plays rather simply: Press buttons in time with the music for points and to build a combo. While most of the time you’ll be pressing the face buttons, sometimes you’ll also need to hit either shoulder button for lines that are on the track. Changing lanes is handled with the left stick. Higher difficulties add more buttons to press and a lot more lane shifting, which can be quite disorienting if you’re not used to it. Much like most modern rhythm games, if one hits enough notes, they can activate a booster with the triggers which doubles score for a brief time.

While I’m used to games like Rock Band where it’s less about timing and more about making sure you hit the notes, Avicii Invector takes its cues from games like Dance Dance Revolution, where hitting notes right on time gets more points and a bigger combo. This took a bit for me to get used to, but thankfully the timing seems to be rather generous, even with that little gameplay quirk.

I Am Alive: Ubisoft’s dollar store version of a survival action game.

I never really cared for post-apocalyptic stuff. That stereotypical dystopia of derelict cities fighting off some zombie horde or devastating dust storm while people living in squalor… It all felt a bit too played out to me. Considering what’s happened in the past few years with us living through a global pandemic, I can’t say I’m really interested in playing too many things that hit a bit too close to reality like that.

That doesn’t mean I never play those kind of games. I’ve played stuff like Fallout 3 and Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead which take place in dystopian worlds and yet still enjoyed them. But it’s definitely not something I actively seek out.

Yet, I decided to start 2023 by playing a game that took place in a post-apocalyptic world. One that was recommended to me as something interesting, but fairly clunky. And as you’re gonna learn, feels like the dollar store brand of something more notable.

I mean, it’s better than being dead, I suppose.

I Am Alive – a title that while grammatically correct, still sounds weird to my ears – is a survival action game published by Ubisoft and developed by Ubisoft’s Shanghai studio. Released in March 2012 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and later the PC through Steam and Uplay Ubisoft Connect; the game was one of those aforementioned post-apocalyptic games, coming out just as the survival action genre was starting to take off.

Originally announced as just Alive in 2008, I Am Alive was being developed at Darkworks, a French studio who had done other similar games, such as the interesting survival horror game Cold Fear and the mostly-forgotten Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

After an initial trailer showing a player surviving a catastrophic event in Chicago, Illinois, the game went dark, with only occasional news reports of the game still being alive (no pun intended). After countless delays, the game was rumored to be canceled until Ubisoft moved the development in-house around 2010, while also shifting the game’s focus from a major retail title to a smaller digital-only title. Darkworks shuttered its doors not long after.

Unless some Darkworks developer held on to some unfinished development code, this particular version of I Am Alive is presumably lost, with only some proof of concept trailers still available online.

Even after moving development to Ubisoft Shanghai, they opted to take Darkworks’ concept and start completely fresh, basically making a new game under the same name. Let’s see if they revived this concept, or if it should’ve stayed dead.

It’s like I’m watching a found footage movie!

In I Am Alive, we’re introduced to the playable character, a boring, run-of-the-mill dude protagonist whose name is never mentioned at all during the game. For some reason, I thought his name was “Ethan,” but all the sources I checked have him unnamed, so he’ll be named Our Hero going forward. 

After The Event – the nebulous term the game uses for the apocalyptic event that ravaged the country – Our Hero returns to Haverton, a fictitious New York-like locale. He goes to find his wife and daughter – who do have names unlike Mr. Unknown here – but after finding that they’re not home, Our Hero then gets wrapped up in a journey that involves reuniting other families, getting supplies, and taking advice from various strangers around Haverton to eventually escape out of this hellhole.

Ezio Auditore he ain’t.