Metro Exodus is really good, and I had a lot of thoughts. You can read those thoughts on Polygon here, for whom I reviewed the game!
Catherine Classic is the PC port of Atlus’s bad-romance-action-puzzle-platformer that many have been waiting for. Here‘s my review for it, where I talk about what I like in the game, as well as some of it’s more… troubling elements, for Rock Paper Shotgun!
Visceral Nazi-killing catharsis that brings with it a rich and relevant narrative
I’ve written a lot about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I’ve talked about how its audience has changed with the times, and about its depiction of Marxists. I’ve now played the game at last, and I can safely say that it absolutely did not disappoint me.
You reprise the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, hardened badass World War II veteran and arguable figurehead of the Kreisau Circle, a resistance group fighting against the Nazi regime. You find yourself in a critical state after the events of the previous game, when General Deathshead pulled the pin on a grenade that you were caught in the blast of.
“whether intentional or not, carries with it a myriad of parallels to the current political climate”
You awaken on the Eva’s Hammer, the u-boat stolen in The New Order, from a five-month coma, having had organs removed to facilitate your recovery. Frau Engel, formerly a secondary antagonist and now Lieutenant General of the SS, mounts an assault against the u-boat, and you emerge from your comatose state, fighting your way wheelchair-bound to the surface. Caroline Becker, leader of the Kreisau Circle, is killed, and you obtain her Da’at Yichud Power Suit, and escape.
This is where we encounter the first point of online debate in the critique of The New Colossus. The injuries Blazkowicz sustained are terminal, and for the first half of the game, the only thing keeping him alive and functional is the power suit. To reflect this, throughout this period the health bar is halved.
Very interesting and understandable from a narrative perspective, but it does impact the difficulty, and in some cases, the enjoyment of the game. It almost becomes an example of where ludonarrative dissonance perhaps should have been deployed, as fellow games journalist Jim Sterling pointed out. There’s a reason games have recharging health bars and an often almost superhuman ability to dodge bullets and soak damage; these unrealistic aspects in a game make the experience more enjoyable.
That’s not to say The New Colossus isn’t fun. On the contrary: the fluidity of the movement, the power and impact of the gunplay, and the visceral satisfaction of the hatchet executions all leave me wanting more of what Wolfenstein brings to the table in the other shooters that I play.
I’ll echo what other critics have said regarding the difficulty of stealth. It seems the Wehrmacht have upped the ante when it comes to perceptiveness. This makes outright stealth playthroughs, and even my favoured play-style of picking off officers quietly and then rushing in for a final assault, incredibly challenging, even on easy difficulty (through which I played the entire game). It’s still fun to try it, but at least in this regard it can sometimes feel like you’re limited in your options of approach.
“these unrealistic aspects in a game make the experience more enjoyable”
Your arsenal feels smaller than in The New Order, though part of this is due to the lack of any significant time jumps showcasing an improvement in technology. And they make up for a slightly-trimmed selection of weapons by expanding the options you have regarding upgrades. Where The New Order allowed you to stumble across, say, a suppressor for the handgun, The New Colossus opts instead to allow you to find upgrade kits in the world that give you the option to purchase a selection of up to three upgrades for each weapon. With the handgun for example, you can buy a suppressor, an extended magazine, and a magnum upgrade that acts as a secondary firing mode, upping the damage, but also the recoil and the noise.
The diversity brought in by these secondary firing mode upgrades effectively gives you two weapons in one, as they can really change the feel and the situational suitability of each weapon. Early in the game I barely touched the Sturmgewehr (assault rifle) but after unlocking its marksman scope, it became the weapon that I used the most.
I touched on the narrative earlier, and despite how satisfying the gameplay elements of The New Colossus are, the story of the game is definitely its strongest aspect. MachineGames have gone a long way to develop a rich, complex, and dark world that, whether intentional or not, carries with it a myriad of parallels to the current political climate. I talked about the potential in modern gaming to tell more nuanced and thoughtful stories in another piece about Wolfenstein, and it’s nice to see that the trailers and teasers we saw of the characters, themes, and events of The New Colossus leading up to its launch didn’t betray this potential.
The New Colossus gives us a very honest and realistic (as realistic as dieselpunk fire-breathing Nazi robot dogs can be) image of a Nazi occupation in America and its inevitable resistance. There were many in American society, especially in the early twentieth century, that would likely either have welcomed Nazi rule or quietly complied out of convenience, and a resistance against this regime would have reflected the opposite; the outcasts and the marginalized.
We see B.J., a man with Polish-Jewish heritage, fight alongside Marxists and Black Liberation fighters to rile up the people of America into pushing back against the status quo, and these are, realistically, the people who would best act as a force for change in such circumstances.
But that isn’t to say The New Colossus is a serious, humourless game. In fact, at times it can be incredibly funny and entertaining in a way that doesn’t create a tonal disconnect. The Nazis are comically evil, but not in a way that renders their monstrous nature cartoonified. The resistance are a group of society’s beaten-down, but they still have fun and enjoy themselves.
“as realistic as dieselpunk fire-breathing Nazi robot dogs can be”
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t a perfect game. But it’s a really bloody good one, and one that’s incredibly important right now, however convenient its timing may be. If you’re going to play a Triple-A game before the end of the year, make sure it’s this one.
Steam Link || £39.99 / $59.99 / €59.99
It’s always happy hour in this slice-of-life dystopia
Most games today put you in the shoes of the valiant knightly figure saving the world, or the jaded antihero caught up in global plots, but rarely do you find yourself a bystander to the chaos of the outside, with the interpersonal relationships and struggles that Triple-A behemoths might write off as mundane at the forefront of your experience.
VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action gives you this experience. Described by developers Sukeban Games as a “booze ‘em up about waifus, technology, and post-dystopia life,” you are Jill Stingray, serving customers you receive from the unforgiving ultra-corporate dystopia of Glitch City, Hong Kong in a series of drink-mixing minigames.
One More Drink
Through interactions with these patrons and news updates from the Augmented Eye news corporation, you begin to form an image of the world outside, and can even influence it with the drinks that you make (slipping a little extra booze in the Augmented Eye CEO’s beer, for example.)
But this isn’t what makes VA-11 Hall-A so special. What truly solidifies the game as a worthwhile experience is the time it takes to explore the relationships between Jill, the player, and the other characters that you meet along the way. You form close friendships, you dabble in romance, and you work through past trauma for better or for worse. VA-11 Hall-A makes you feel like a regular citizen in a world full of cyborg assassins and android K-pop stars, and it’s a feeling that you won’t be able to get enough of.
AdVenture Communist is merely a tool of Capitalization masquerading poorly as “the world’s greatest communism simulator!” and it makes my red blood boil.
AdVenture Communist is the sequel to Hyper Hippo Games’ AdVenture Capitalist, which I made my thoughts about very clear in my feature on Capitalist propaganda video games.
And while on its surface, this sequel might seem to be more my sort of thing (and initially piqued my interest) I’m here to tell you otherwise: AdVenture Communist makes me angry. Why? Because its thin veneer of Communist themes is nothing but a sham. Allow me to explain.
AdVenture Communist is relatively simple in regards to its mechanics: it’s a clicker game with resource management, where you maintain the production of five different state resources: potatoes, land, ore, weapons, and medicine. You do this by clicking, with each click creating one of that resource, and filling up an upgrade bar that you can redeem after a certain value has been reached to increase the multiplier of resources-per-click.
You eventually work your way up to using these resources, as well as another base resource called Comrades, representing the number of general workers that you have available, to purchase specialized workers that obtain those resources automatically without you needing to click. On top of this, you can use Scientists, a sort of currency (we’ll get onto that) that you use to expand the technology that you have available to maximize your clicks: improved base multiplier buttons for your resources, temporary mega-boosts to resources-per-click for a limited time, and even automatic clickers.
This all then feeds into resource expansions, that give you more of the expansion preceding it, which give you more than the expansion preceding it, and so on. For instance, you buy Communes to give you more farmers, Collectives to give you more Communes, Plantations to give you more Collectives… you get the jist. You also get one mega-expansion that you can claim every six hours real-time to gain a Scientist.
Notice anything familiar? Understandable: AdVenture Communist is effectively a restructured re-skin of AdVenture Capitalist. There are a few minor differences, but we largely see the same elements: resources replace investments, expansions replace managers, and so on. And if it wasn’t enough that AdVenture Communist is a Capitalist propaganda video game wearing a budenovka and a hammer-sickle shirt, the game also comes with its own set of problems.
Many of them are quite small but come at the expense of attempted improvements, like being able to hold down the mouse button to produce resources, but not to produce specialized workers, which seems like quite an RSI-inducing oversight. Others are quite inherent in the game’s mechanics, like alleged bugs poor multiplier balancing late-game. But worst of all?
Like its predecessor, AdVenture Communist has pay-to-win microtransactions.
Remember those Scientists we talked about? The resource that lets you purchase quite significant progression boosters? Well, if you go to the shop in-game, you can buy them. With quantities and prices ranging from sixty Scientists for $1.99, to twenty thousand scientists for $99.99.
This fucking clicker game gives you the option of spending a hundred dollars in one go on upgrades that relieve you of the need to click on things. It was already present and absurd in AdVenture Capitalist, but in a game that claims to be “the world’s greatest communism simulator,” and the “most glorious game ever,” it becomes an especially evident farce.
AdVenture Communist is nothing but an attempt by the Bourgeoisie Hyper Hippo Games to capitalize off of the glorious aesthetics and themes of Communism, and it does so with such gall and blatancy that I need to listen to Laborwave to calm down from the anger.
[DISCLAIMER: ANY NONSENSICAL CONNECTIONS MADE BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND COMMUNIST THEMES, ZEALOUS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS DICTATOR-ESQUE BEHAVIORS, AND PERCEIVED SUPPORT AND/OR APOLOGISM OF OPPRESSIVE REGIMES LIKE THE SOVIET UNION ARE PURELY INSTANCES OF SELF-SATIRE AS A MEANS OF COMICAL INTROSPECTION, AND IN SOME CASES HAVE NO BASIS IN TRUTH OR PERSONAL BELIEF.]
Check it out here!
I don’t remember how I found Calm Down, Stalin. All I did know is that I purchased it almost immediately after its discovery. I don’t regret that decision.
Calm Down, Stalin is a comedy simulation game, putting you in the shoes of former leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. You control Stalin’s hands as he performs stately duties, manages his stress levels, and attempts to maintain the ‘cold’ aspect of the Cold War.
Let’s get this out of the way: Calm Down, Stalin is absolutely fucking ridiculous. It’s a glorious work of satire through absurdity, boiling down the complex and brutal machinations of Stalin’s regime into a collection of time-sensitive minigames akin to Surgeon Simulator mixed with the cutscenes from the Red Alert series.
It begins as Stalin, the main character, has moved into a brand new office. It’s barebones, but the State slowly populate it with more items, be they decorations or more tasks to perform (after choosing an optional mission path that led me to focusing on my Stately duties, I was given a portrait of Vladimir Lenin to hang on the wall behind me).
There are two primary components always present: the enemy invasion timer, and the nuclear detonation button. Stalin must perform a series of tasks in order to maintain the “State Integrity” meter, but must also be wary of the “Tiredness” meter, which can affect motor functions. If the timer reaches zero minutes to midnight, then the West will invade and there will be Nuclear War, and the means through which you prevent this is by threateningly hovering your finger over the nuclear detonation button, while being careful not to actually press it.
As well as tiredness, your motor functions are also affected by stress, caused by failure to perform your stately duties. These include answering the phone, stamping important documents, executing enemies of the state, and whacking a faulty lamp. If your stress and tiredness are too high, it can make not only performing these tasks more challenging, but also your ability to simply threaten nuclear war, rather than letting your hand slip and pushing the big red button. It becomes a high-pressure game of maintaining state integrity, holding back the threat of war, and managing your stress through pipe-smoking, shots of vodka, and working out your frustrations on a punching bag.
Stalin moving into a new office is a nice way of explaining the slow progression, and gives you a steady learning curve to get to grips with the best ways of performing each task as they come about. And that steadiness is definitely needed, as all of the tasks require constant attention in order to ensure there are no slip-ups. Once you really get into the meat of the game it can be frustrating, stressful, but ultimately more entertaining.
It’s quite a basic, small game, as reflective of its price tag, but much in the same way as Surgeon Simulator and its progression into a (debatably) fuller, higher production value game, I feel like a bigger budget and a larger team working at Calm Down, Stalin could lead to a genuinely funny and compelling experience, perhaps even more-so than Surgeon Simulator ever did. Which isn’t to say that it’s not fun and worthwhile in its current state, it certainly is for me at least: but there’s potential for even more, perhaps with a greater story angle and dialogue that could enhance the comedy of the game.
It does at times feel unnecessarily slow, with some levels feeling twice as long as they might need to be. Calm Down, Stalin is a game that I’d like to enjoy in short bursts, and its levels don’t feel concise enough to qualify. And as competently as it functions with its mouse and keyboard controls, I can only imagine it’d be a lot more fun to play with a dual-analogue controller, with each stick controlling either of Stalin’s arms, rather than having to switch between the two. It’s little things like this that come together and hold the game back from being an outright recommendation, but if you’re a die-hard Communist shit-poster or enthusiastic about silly simulator games, then I’d say give it a go!
Calm Down, Stalin put a smile on my face, and while there are pitfalls that keep it from being the short burst game that I want it to be, there’s a lot of potential at its core and it has the framework to become something really compelling. Also it’s got Stalin in it, which is a bit funny, isn’t it?
Steam Link || £2.79 || $3.99 || €3.99