Quickie Reviews #30

What Remains of Edith Finch

In case you missed my favorite games of 2012 or my list of the 50 best PS3 games, I really liked The Unfinished Swan. Well, Giant Sparrow is back with What Remains of Edith Finch, their second of three Playstation exclusives. And it’s really good, you guys.

First, some context. To boil it down derogatorily, it’s a walking simulator. You play a teenage girl returning to the house she grew up in, and you walk around it, experiencing the deaths of your close and distant relatives, which are all related to the house. It sounds incredibly morbid, and at times it is, but it’s also funny and charming and quite interesting mechanically. Plenty of people (including myself) have likened it to Gone Home, and those comparisons are easy in terms of set up, themes, and story. But the game plays quite differently, and that’s its biggest differentiator.

Each character vignette has a different gameplay style. None of them are incredibly deep or complex, but they weave with the storytelling in a perfect way and really heighten the experience of living another person’s moment of death. There’s one where you play as a cat trying to catch a bird, then a shark trying to catch a seal, then a sea monster taking down a boat, all in first person. Then another where you’re living in the mind of another character, that takes you through some of the different changes in RPGs throughout the years as it weaves a tale of his depression. It starts as a simple, pixelated, top down experience, then morphs into a more complex isometric view, then finally as a traditional third-person level.

The highlight for me was playing as a family member who was once a child star in a monster movie. This story is told via the pages of an interactive comic book, and beyond just the cell shaded graphics, it includes some great throwback music and some purposely janky first person melee combat. I was surprised and blown away by the creativity shown in What Remains of Edith Finch. And for fans of The Unfinished Swan, there’s a really cool nod in there that’s hard to miss.

Beyond the gameplay mechanics, the story really is the star. It’s an engrossing look at this family who all seemed to die before their time. The biggest disappointment for me was that it touches several times on why this family in particular was so cursed, but never really follows through. I wasn’t looking for a definitive, cliched answer like “they turned away a witch on a stormy night in the 1800s” or anything, but that thread kind of falls to the background and is then dropped entirely. It wasn’t very satisfying. The game is also very short, clocking in at around two hours, depending on how much exploration you want to do. Still, What Remains of Edith Finch is a phenomenal follow-up to The Unfinished Swan, and I can’t wait to see what Giant Sparrow puts out next.

9.4/10

Passengers

It’s hard to talk about Passengers without bringing up expectations. There’s plenty of evidence online to suggest that the movie started out as a modest, $40 million sci-fi romance and ballooned into this $100 million epic once Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were attached. I think it’s for this reason that the marketing shifted to try and sell this cool, action/adventure/mystery in space, despite the movie delivering on almost none of those promises. Primarily for that reason, Passengers was a disappointment. But, even taken on its own merits, without considering the behind the scenes moves, it just really isn’t all that special.

There’s nothing offensively bad about the movie, it’s just a very average at best space romance starring two leads that surprisingly don’t have all that much chemistry together. Sure, it has a lame Hollywood ending that involves one of the characters making a decision that feels totally wrong, but that’s pretty par for the course in this genre.

The mystery/action elements are few and far between, and despite the entire set up being “why were we woken up early and oh no the ship is dying,” neither of those things are given proper attention or satisfying resolution. This movie would have been wholly forgettable if it was pitched as what it really was, but because of the promises the trailers made, I got sucked in. And Passengers wasted my time.

6.3/10

Prey Demo

This isn’t so much a review as it is just impressions for the time I spent with the Prey demo. There won’t be a score attached to this because it’s not a final product and I certainly didn’t see enough of the game to speak definitively.

The real reason I’m writing this is that the demo itself actually un-sold me on this game. I hadn’t pre-ordered or anything, but knowing the talent behind the development team and hearing comparisons to Bioshock, my interest was most certainly peaked. And now I’m really glad that they put out a demo because it saved me $60.

There are totally some strong moments in the opening scenes, as the story begins to reveal itself and the mystery builds. But the story and world were about all I clung onto because the gameplay felt very unfinished. I’ve heard people say that there’s actually some controller lag present in the PS4 demo (which is what I played), but I’m not so sure that I buy that. Everything feels a bit floaty. Bioshock’s biggest drawback was the shooting mechanics that didn’t feel quite as precise or snappy as you’d like. I guess I wish Prey didn’t take such obvious inspiration from every element of that series.

But as a Bioshock fanboy, let me defend it a bit. The reason the slowish aiming worked for me is because the enemies seemed tuned to that style of play; plenty of them were slow and hulking, and the ones that weren’t at least moved in semi-predictable patterns. In Prey, the early enemies are super fast and small, and aiming at them is a complete chore. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the weapons just have no impact. Using a wrench or shotgun, I never really knew if I was connecting with my hits. I just kind of flailed around, hoping that I was doing damage while also being unaware of the damage being dealt to me.

Add on top of that unimpressive graphics and “audio log” storytelling that is way past played out, and I left my time with the Prey demo very underwhelmed. I’ll wait and withhold complete judgment until full reviews start hitting and people I know get back with their thoughts, but this one went from my “probably going to play” list to my “only if I have extra time and money” list. I don’t think that’s what Arkane or Bethesda wanted to happen when they put out the demo a week ahead of release.

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