Life is Strange: Before the storm episode 1 (Awake)

Going back to the coastal Pacific Northwestern town of Arcadia Bay has been a joy. So many familiar places and people made it welcoming once again. As to did the game’s visual style and character development.

One of the central points of Life is Strange was Max Caulfield’s new power – the ability to rewind time, allowing the player to pick an alternate choice to their original. I was interested to know how a new game, a prequel in the case of Before the Storm, would hold up without this huge key component.

As it turns out there is so much more to these games than just the ability to rewind time. In fact the more I played Before the Storm, the more I realised that – although it is key to the original’s plot – Max’s ability isn’t the most memorable thing about her and Chloe’s adventure. The most memorable things for me were the characters, their relationships and the world they all live in.

Chloe’s special ‘gift’

Although Chloe doesn’t have Max’s power, she does possess the gift of ‘Backtalk’.

Stay with me.

Backtalk is when you engage in a battle of words with another character, with each of your responses having to be chosen before the timer runs out. It feels great to win an argument in this game and a lot of Chloe’s comebacks had me genuinely laughing out loud.

Chloe Price rocking out to firewalk
Chloe Price rocking out to firewalk in the game’s opening scenes

More of a coming of age story

Where a lot of the plot of the original was a mystery / detective story, Before the Storm is more of a coming of age story. There is no mystery to solve here. You, as Chloe Price, are going about your business and quickly befriend Rachel Amber. Their relationship advances nicely given the relatively short time frame and number of locations they have. By the end of the episode I could feel the strength of their friendship quickly becoming love.

I also loved how we got to experience life as Chloe, seeing her subconscious and how she’s coping with the loss of her father. We also see the early stages of David, her mom’s new boyfriend, moving into her life. I have to say that I couldn’t dislike David at all since I knew how heroic he became in the climax of the first game. Saying that, her comebacks to him when engaging him in backtalk are golden.

Still a game of exploration

Before the Storm is just as fun to explore too, as with it’s predecessor. You should talk to everyone and walk everywhere, because you never know what cool little conversations you will have. Each scene also has areas where Chloe can tag with her black marker pen. These are rewarded with achievements too so make sure you find them all.

On the whole I really enjoyed this game. I didn’t miss Max or feel the game needed anything else like another magic power or anything like that. Before the Storm felt smaller in scale to Life is Strange, but the characters and situations still helped to flesh out the world of Arcadia bay much more in my mind.

Review of Life is Strange

Put simply, ‘Life is Strange’ is one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The level at which I connected with the characters, even from early on, was palpable. I put my headphones on, turned off the light, and got lost into the small coastal town of Arcadia Bay.

Like with Until Dawn, ‘Life is Strange’ is a game driven by your choices and the consequences that come as a result. Except where Until Dawn was focused around which characters would get brutally ripped apart, this game gets deeper into the relationships between its myriad of interesting people. Not only that, but you can even go back to make a different decision if you change you mind. This idea is a fundamental part of the game.

Life is Strange

You play the game as Max Caulfield: a photography student who recently arrived back to her home town to attend Blackwell Academy. After one of her routine classes, she witnesses a horrific incident in the girl’s toilets This incident shocks her into discovering a special ability she has – the ability to rewind time.

The mechanic of rewinding time is really well integrated into the game and is actually really fun to keep going back and making different decisions to affect immediate outcomes. Of course many decisions will have long tail affects which you wont actually see the result of until much later on.

As the game progresses Max learns more about what her powers allow her to do and the effects that her time jumping actually has – sometimes to tear-inducing effect.

Her powers give herself and her best friend, Chloe, a unique advantage as they begin to dig into the dark underbelly of Arcadia Bay and into the disappearance of local girl Rachel Amber.

Chloes Bedroom in Life is Strange
Chloe and Max in Chloes Bedroom (Life is Strange)

A game of episodes

When I first heard about games being created as episodes my immediate thought was that it was a con; getting people to pay more money for what amounts to a single game. However, not only are each of these five episodes well-priced, but the way the story flows, you really do need a breather after each episode’s climax.

It’s hard to believe that breaking Life is Strange up into five episodes was because of budgetary constraints – the story benefits from this format and gives the player a natural place to take a break from the story.

Have tissues at the ready

You know that feeling of having a frog in your throat when you experience a really emotional scene in a film? Like the end of ‘Titanic’ or the bus singalong to Tiny Dancer in ‘Almost Famous’? Well this game has moments like that in spades. There is one climax in particular – the end of ‘Episode 3: Chaos Theory’ that choked me up more than in any other game I’ve played. Obviously I can’t go into the scene itself but you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

BFFs

The relationship between the two main protagonists, Max and Chloe, is handled beautifully. You are given decisions to make throughout the game, many of which are tied to Max and Chloe’s friendship. When I was forced to make some – often really hard – decisions with them, I found myself becoming more invested in that friendship, like I actually was Max.

Take your time and explore

Nathan points a gun
Nathan points a gun

This is not a game that you should want to rush through just so you can say you’ve completed it. You will be so thankful to take your time and experience Arcadia Bay in full. There are moments in the game where you can just lie or sit down, allowing you to chill. During these moments Max will think out loud about what she’s just seen and what she’s going through. You can even sit Max down and have her play her guitar for as long as you want. You can truly get lost in this world.

Go Otters!

I encourage you all to play this game. At least play the first episode, which is now free on Steam and PS4. I guarantee that once you play the first episode you’ll be bulk buying the other four immediately.

Until Dawn – First Impressions

Within the breathtaking landscape of the snowy mountains at night, a young couple play at snowball fighting. The pair are obviously an item and the soundtrack playing enforces the innocence and playfulness of youth.

All would be fine and dandy if it wasn’t for the impending doom that leans over all of the characters. Until Dawn has immediately drawn me in, and although the whole game thus far has a shade of terror about it, I find it hard to pull myself away.

A game of choices

Until Dawn is a game all about choices – your choices to be precise. Each decision you make throughout the game affects all future outcomes and new decisions to make. Even the little remarks made by a particular character seemed to be as a direct result of my actions as a separate character earlier.

Most choices seem to have a risky option and a safe option. I’ll admit I have been taking the safe options quite a bit, if only for the well being of the characters. However, I have started throwing some curve ball responses in just to see what happens.

Starting as you mean to go on

The opening of Until Dawn gave me a good taste of how the game is played and the sorts of choices I would need to make as the player. These opening scenes had just enough suspense to keep me wanted to know more. Whilst not laying on too much horror, so as to risk topping out at the start.

In between the main storyline I am placed in a therapy session and asked about my thoughts when given certain items. A creepy photo of a small farm; a scrapbook of ever-increasingly scary imagery (then asked to pick which images scare me more). I can’t help but feel that even these decisions, seemingly outside of the game’s main thread, will later affect how this game is played out.

Character Introductions

I really liked how the character introductions were handled. Each character is freeze-framed on, displaying their name and some of their character traits. As each new person was introduced it became obvious that a complicated web of love and relationships was unfolding.

I’ve already forgot some of the characters’ names but to be fair there are eight of them. I have faith that within a short amount of time I will have each character’s face and name committed to memory.

Must be fate

A friend of mine recommended this game to me, but it wasn’t on my list of immediate games to play. Then when I joined the Playstation Plus membership, and discovered it was one of their free games on offer, I knew it was fate. Now whenever I come to play a game after dark, Until Dawn is the one I play.

I’m really looking forward to the story unfolding and seeing where my decisions take my new friends.

Review of Tomb Raider 2013

For my 14th Christmas I was bought an original Playstation along with a copy of the newly-released Tomb Raider 2. On boxing day I sat there, transfixed to the screen, trying to work out how to traverse the Great Wall of China with two tigers hot after my blood.

After a good few hours of working my way through that first level I finally made it out and was soon following the next clue to Venice. Ever since Lara first dropped down into the streets of Venice, gaming was never quite the same for me again.

This was the first time I remember being swept up in the magic of a gaming world. The winding waterways of Venice; the sunken wreck of the Maria Doria; the trippy, other worldly nexus of the Floating Islands; and finally the last ditch effort by Bartolli’s men on Lara’s home. Lara Croft was, and remains to this day, my favourite gaming hero.

After Tomb Raider 4: The Last Revelation I kind of lost interest in the series. I was moving on to other things in life and gaming sort of fell behind. I never actively searched out any of the newer releases since Tomb Raider 4. That was until the rebooted Tomb Raider (hereafter referred to simply as “Tomb Raider”) was released in 2013.

Tomb Raider 2013

Tomb Raider completely blew me away from the get go. Lara was finally a real flesh and blood woman. She came alive right in front of me and wasn’t actually a battle-hardened raider of tombs yet. She was a scared young woman, who I would come to follow through to discovering her destiny on the island of Yamatai.

Tomb Raider Shantytown
Lara Croft over the shantytown

During Lara’s journey across Yamatai, she encounters a range of adversaries: armed soldiers; huge, demonic Storm Guards; sneaky forest wolves. All are out for blood, and all you will need to fight through at some stage. People have mentioned to me how they were disappointed by the focus being more on the fighting than on the actual raiding of tombs. While it’s true if you just follow where the story nudges you, you may find puzzles at a minimum. However there are many tombs located across the island and are there for you to try and solve, should you want to. So it’s not that there are less puzzles as such, only that you can choose if and when you want to attempt each tomb. I find this is actually more realistic than previous games as these hidden tombs would be just that – hidden. In fact I am currently on my second play through and have discovered a whole portion of the Mountain village that I had missed on my first play through.

Lara’s seemless progression across the island make this one of the most immersive games I’ve played, and one that I keep wanting to return to. I never feel that I’m just in a game, only that I am fighting my way through a living, breathing, deadly landscape where everything from the wildlife to the patrol guards are out to get me.

For me, Tomb Raider is a welcome addition to the family; the big shot of adrenaline the series needed. It also serves as probably the best origin story for Lara too, along with 2015’s Rise Of The Tomb Raider, which follows on.

Tomb Raider can be picked up dirt-cheap on Steam now for both Windows and Linux and you really should experience it.

Bring home the bacon – A review of the game Virginia

One of the marks of a great game is its ability to stay with you long after you’ve finished playing it. Even more so is it’s ability to imprint specific memorable scenes into your mind – surrounding them with feelings that help to bind that scene to your memory. Usually these memorable games are pretty long in length, having time to build up into those moments, however this is not the case with Virginia.

A small game with great depth

Virginia is probably the shortest game I’ve ever played in terms of start to finish, but it’s also one of the games to stay with me the longest after finishing it. One of the many things that Virginia does so well is it’s ability to contain so many iconic scenes compacted into its relatively short time span. And please don’t think I’m mentioning the time span of Virginia as being a negative thing – quite the opposite. The way you need to think of this game is as an interactive film / novel. The story is set and 99% of the actions are inevitable, however giving you full control over performing those actions puts you completely in the mind of the main character.

I have previously praised the music of Virginia, expertly written by Lyndon Holland, so I wont go too much into that again here. All I will say is that the music of Virginia is the game’s heartbeat; it’s skeleton; its very being…

…It kind of has to be when there are no words spoken in the whole game. That’s right, no words are spoken throughout the whole game! The story is driven forward, and the characters thoughts and feelings implied, by the aforementioned music coupled with the unique animation style used.

Sojourners Truth
Sojourners Truth scene from Virginia

Virginia’s Exceptional Style

The artwork for Virginia is just as beautiful as the music that scores it. As you can see from the image above, the game’s scenes are very vibrant-looking with an almost painted aesthetic. It didn’t take much playing until I was wanting real life to look like this – simply put, it is gorgeous. Even the dark dream sequences are full of colour. The use of the photographer’s dark room red is exceptional in one of the games first dream sequences.

The story itself gets trippy and quite cryptic towards the end, in fact most of the game contains cryptic imagery, but it feels cohesive through it’s confusion. Like Twin Peaks, from which Virginia has lovingly taken much inspiration, so too does the story of Virginia not have to be completely understood first time round. Instead it is more than enough to simply soak up the dream-like atmosphere and let the game conjure up whatever feelings it does within you.

Virginia is a unique offering and a great accomplishment for the developers at Variable State, and I eagerly await their next offering.

Trying out Rise of the Tomb Raider on GNU\Linux

Linux gaming, for me at least, has always presented problems. The initial issue is the fact that the selection of games is very slim compared with what is available on Windows computers. I was however greatly pleased this month when Rocket League was finally made available, and the smoothness is just as smooth as on Windows. In fact the only reason I was still using Windows up until last week, was in order for me to play Rocket League. Pathetic, I know.

To get around the lack of the other games, I have attempted in the past to set up wine in order to install the Windows version of Steam. However with this I found that the quality of the graphics and FPS suffered greatly. So I just gave up a went back to using a Windows PC, which always made me feel dirty.

Before Playing

Tonight I thought I would follow a guide to installing PlayOnLinux word for word, and try out my favourite game at the moment, Rise of the Tomb Raider. PlayOnLinux is basically a front end interface over the top of Wine. Wine, I should probably mention, is a GNU/Linux program that allows Windows programs to be ran on a GNU/Linux system.

As I type this, I have just finished installing the Windows Steam using PlayOnLinux. I am now awaiting Rise of the Tomb Raider to finish downloading so I can try it out. I’m not expecting great results at all, but just to be able to play it would be good.

I have actually completed the story line of the game but love the world so much I want to finish all of the side quests and get 100% completion.

Try to play it

It finished installing, I clicked play, and it game me an error. It says “Failed to start game (Invalid Platform)”, which is apparently down to a Direct X 11 issue.

Oh well, I guess it was never meant to be.

My First Month in Rust – A Write Up

My first month in Rust has been a huge learning curve in the game, and I think it may have changed me… as a gamer.

I wrote a post recently detailing seven tips for new players that I had picked up along the way. As it turns out there are some more tips I have, which I’ll be sharing soon, as that first month is now finished.

I am writing this as my preferred server is being wiped and reset with the latest patch updates. Exciting times, especially when I’ve just spent the final fifteen minutes with a free rocket launcher.

Lone Wolf To The End

I opted to not try and team with anybody this month as I have come to not trust anyone. I enjoy being a lone wolf, exploring the airstrip; the desert; the military tunnel. All of these were hugely atmospheric – especially with the great soundtrack and the fact I was alone.

I did have a slightly dark moment towards the end where I was running south alone before hearing a voice calling for help. A kid, it sounded like, saying “Please don’t shoot! I’m a noob. I need help please.” With only a moment’s hesitation I shot him point blank without saying a word. He, however, proceeded to ask me why I would do such a thing and he really did sound upset with me. That was the moment I truly entered Rust.

I now feel like Rick Grimes with his distrust of anyone who he doesn’t know. I now shoot on site and ask questions later.

The future to come

I’m not sure what the future will hold for me in Rust, but I know I can go into the fresh server with the knowledge I have gained. Also the reduced fear I now have of heading towards the games fixed, static areas – The nuclear plant; rad towns; dome sphere.

Whatever does happen I will share it here and hopefully help others out in the process. Maybe I’ll even see you about in the game. But a friendly warning, please don’t approach me unless you know you can take me.

There Is No Love In Rust – 7 Pieces Of Advice For New Players

If there is one thing I have learnt in my opening days of this game, it is that there is no love in rust. Initially I found myself getting really frustrated with the game. I would try time and again, to find a nice little home area, before getting slaughtered by someone.

With the idea of helping fellow noobs out like myself, I have shared some ideas and tips that I have picked up so far.

Start chopping and mining straight away

Start gathering rocks and wood straight away.

A big part of Rust’s game mechanics work around the concept of levelling up and earning XP currency. These two points are the only things you will retain when you die. And die you shall.

As such you should start knocking away at any trees and rock mining nodes as soon as you see them.

Don’t make the mistake I first did by walking off and looking for “The Perfect Place” for your home. You wont actually be able to make much until you go up a couple of levels any way.

So get that rock out and start hitting stuff!

You will never find the perfect place for your home

The fact that Rust is completely open, means that at some time or another someone will walk past your home. However, that being said, there are a few tips that I have picked up that have helped me so far.

  1. Try and build between rocks and foliage in order to minimise your home’s visibility.
  2. Don’t go more than one level high.
  3. Don’t build near the game’s static locations, such as Radiation Towns; Domes; Airfields etc.
  4. The smaller the better. My first home was two spaces by three spaces. Whilst not giving much floor space, it did mean I could upgrade my home’s material relatively cheaply.

My First Home In Rust

Don’t get too attached to your home base

Rust is a brutal game, as brutal on your feelings as it is when someone takes a hatchet to your face. The truth is, is that you probably will get raided at some point, if only for fun. For this reason I urge you to not get too attached to your base.

If you make your home really weak, people may just destroy it as they wander past. On the other hand if you try to really fortify it people will see that as a challenge and most likely target you. Either way you will be dying in your sleep – in the game of course.

Embrace the true nature of the game

The true nature, and the overall goal of the game, is to survive. Whether that be from other players hell-bent on world domination, or a wandering bear in the woods. I treat every game of rust as a chance to beat my last length of time in staying alive. Don’t judge your progression on the size of your base or the strength of your weapons. This goes back to my previous point of not getting too attached to your home.

Try and think more about your survival rather than other players’ demise.

Don’t be afraid to explore

Second to the games core idea of survival, exploration is a close second in my opinion. In fact just today I found a small collection of buildings and a ladder into a hole in the ground. This ladder led into a sewer system that I had no idea was in the game. In the sewer there were many boxes to open, both medicinal and weapons.

Exploring The Dome In RustI also have a fondness for the derelict airstrips that you can sometimes find. These are huge areas of hangers, flight centre and a very long airstrip running between.

Of course these places not only hold barrels and boxes of special items, but they also attract many people to explore them.

That being said, don’t be afraid to get out there and explore the world.

Take advantage of Rust Maps

If you head over to http://playrust.io you can search for the server map for the one that you are on. Each map is unique but by running around your spawn area you can sometimes find your rough location on the map. Finding a special location like the airstrip or a dome will help in orienteering your way around.

Some of the maps even have a live location tracker for yourself built in, if you sign in with your steam account. Unfortunately procedurally generated maps don’t have this feature.

Trust no-one

As Fox Mulder once said, you should indeed “Trust No-One”. If you see a naked man with a rock running to you crouching, don’t trust him.Getting offered free weapons if you meet someone out on the road? Don’t trust them. See a guy in full armour with a gun running towards you in the distance? Definitely don’t trust them.

Almost every one in rust is out to get you. This isn’t being paranoid; it’s simply the nature of the game. Everyone is out to survive, plain and simple, and people would love to see what supplies they can salvage from you. After all, there is no love in Rust.

My Naked Rust Corpse

My Second Day In Firewatch – A Write Up

Despite having my sheets stolen and my window smashed, I somehow managed to sleep last night.

My Second Day In Firewatch

I woke that morning feeling uneasy from the previous night’s events. This was followed by Delilah giving me the task of investigating the knocked-out communications that had been reported.

Once I was dressed and awake, I set off towards the cave entrance I found during the previous day. From here I continued north until I found the cables overhead. Following the cables up a mountain incline at Beartooth Point, past some discarded beer cans, I came to the top of the hill – and to where the communication wire had been cut clean.

I was sure that it was these bloody girls from yesterday who were responsible for cutting the wire. On continuing my investigation, I found their previous campsite abandoned. That is if you ignore the discarded beer cans about the floor. Continuing forward I came across a lone rucksack hanging from a tree, inside which I found a disposable camera and enough rope to last me a while.

My Second Day In FirewatchI moved forward down the only trail I hadn’t yet investigated and came across a chain-linked fence, warning people to keep out. I wonder what could be on the other side? Onward I travelled on through a beautiful area known as Five Mile Creek. I followed the trail to the south west till I found the girls’ new campsite. This new site was also abandoned, only this time in a way that seems to have been violent in nature. The tent and discarded clothes had been torn and spread about the ground; the area was a state.

Just where could these girls have now got to?

In Conclusion

During my second day in Firewatch I managed to uncover more of my surrounding countryside. Some side areas may have been missed but I will go back and find them shortly. I am loving the sound design of this game – how the trees rustling in the breeze seem to be treated as part of the score. I love how the music is using sparingly and to great effect when it is. The isolation is a comfortable one at the moment, but I am expecting things to get darker pretty soon.

My First Day in Firewatch – A Write Up

Earlier on today I bought Firewatch for P.C. after hearing great reviews about it. Those reviews so far seem to be spot on.

My first day in Firewatch was an interesting one. The opening intersects a multiple-choice backstory for the main character with his trekking to his new place of work. The telling of this backstory was perfectly melancholic, piling on the loneliness and atmosphere of the great big empty wilderness.

The game is split into days, from what I’ve seen – having completed “Day One” so far. This seems like a really interesting way to approach this narrative. I can imagine the isolation of the game really kicking in once I get through the many days to come.

Day one consisted of my meeting a lady coworker – albeit on the radio. We exchanged witty banty, which was followed with my being given my first task – investigate nearby fireworks.

My First Day in Firewatch

I was told to head down to a nearby lake to investigate the nearby fireworks, which I found after negotiating the winding descent from my new place of work. On arrival I was greeted by discarded clothes, some rucksacks and the near-distant sound of music.

Following the sound into the woods I came to a clearing where I found the stereo next to me, and two girls – the culprits – over in the middle of the lake skinny-dipping. After I threw the stereo into the water they soon ran off, shouting obscenities, leaving me to negotiate my way back to home base.

The typewriter was lying at the foot of the watchtower’s steps on my return. The inside of the watchtower had been vandalised and the window had been smashed. I had my second feeling of fear in the game at this point. The first time came earlier but I don’t want to spoil that for anybody.

I assumed it was vandalised by the girls from before, but I doubt they could get back to their clothes, dress, and get back to the tower to trash it before I retured.

I guess time will reveal what happened.

First Impressions

My first day in Firewatch was very engrossing – it drew me into its wonderful isolation with ease and the occasional mild fright. The atmosphere is just the right side of isolation. It has a creepiness to it and I’m not actually sure yet if this is a horror game or not. I really hope not, ’cause it’ll be scaring the hell out of me soon if it is.