The final episodes of Telltale games are always interesting, because they’re simultaneously a culmination of everything that’s led to that point, and go against the whole premise of the game. How can choices really matter when it’s all going to be over in an hour or two? Sure, it’s possible to make some decisions in the interim, but they tend to feel more cosmetic than anything. As a result, the big question for episode five of Minecraft: Story Mode Season Two is simple: was it worth it?
The dreaded Sunshine Institute was no match for the Order of the Stone in the last episode, and they managed to escape with a new cohort in tow. As it happens, Xara – the new addition – is one of three legendary admins; the other two are Fred, who’s gone missing, and Romeo, who’s been the one terrorizing the group all along. Xara is willing to lead the group to a portal to the surface, but (as they are wont to do) things quickly become more complicated. When faced with giant Endermen, magma golems, and – horror of horrors – trivia contests, will Jesse and her friends make it out, or will they be trapped Below the Bedrock?
Things weren’t looking so great for Jesse and company at the end of the last episode. Forced to look on in horror as The Admin enslaved one of their friends, the rest of the crew was cast down into a horrid prison. That’s exactly where episode three of Minecraft: Story Mode picks up, with Jesse crash-landing in a bleak, fiery realm. Stripped of their items, Jesse desperately struggles to track down their friends and escape. The question is: is escape even possible?
Season two of Minecraft: Story Mode got off to a surprisingly strong start, with some fun new characters, welcome gameplay tweaks, and an intriguing new story. It did an excellent job at feeling like an interactive cartoon, with an overall sense of light-heartedness, punctuated by just enough seriousness to keep things interesting. With the pace set, though, can episode two keep up the momentum?
Another day, another new Telltale series. It seems that every franchise is getting adapted to the tried-and-true “interactive movie” format, and with the first season of Minecraft: Story Mode, the formula was starting to show its age. The series wasn’t without its high points, but these came with tonal inconsistencies, technical problems, and some downright cringe-worthy moments. The prospect of a second season didn’t so much appear as a chance at redemption as another cheap cash grab on top of the first season’s questionable Adventure Pass. However, completely out of left field, Telltale actually seems to have made some changes with this one! The question is, are they enough?
Of all the franchises that Telltale has tackled, Minecraft seems to be the one that was met with the most scepticism. There’s no real plot in the original game; any sense of story comes from the player’s own creativity. The world is randomly-generated, with a distinct lack of memorable landmarks and locales. How can a game that amounts to a digital toy be turned into a linear, narratively-focused adventure? Well, Telltale seems determined to find out, even if it must build a new world from scratch to do it.
Slow, stamina-based combat? Check. Enemies that respawn whenever you rest to heal? Check. Experience points that get dropped every time you die? Check. No, this isn’t some ill-promoted sequel to the Dark Souls series; it’s an isometric action game by the name of Immortal Planet.
To say that Immortal Planet draws heavy inspiration from FromSoftware’s famous series is an understatement. For the first half hour or so of the game, every time I asked, “I wonder if it does this thing that Dark Souls does?” the answer was a resounding, “Of course!” Thus, Immortal Planet takes place in a semi-open world backed by a largely vague narrative. As a mysterious Awakewalker, you are tasked with restoring the Cycles of the planet, the lack of which has caused it to turn to a frozen wasteland. In your way stand countless enemies with varying attack patterns, all of which need to be analysed and circumvented to succeed.
Randomness in games is an excellent method of promoting custom story generation. The fact that nearly everyone will have an experience that is at least marginally unique means that there’s always something new and interesting to talk about that many players may have never seen or heard of. That’s the goal with The Long Journey Home, a rogue-lite space game that channels FTL: Faster Than Light and No Man’s Sky into a challenging, galaxy-trotting, survival experience.
Five years is a long time in the world of gaming.
Five years ago, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 only existed as prototypes. Games like Dishonored, The Walking Dead, and Hotline Miami were considered new IPs. Half Life 3… well, people were a bit more optimistic about its existence.
Amidst all of this, the first two episodes of The Dream Machine slipped onto PC. At the time, it probably seemed impossible that it would take until 2017 for the story to reach its conclusion, yet here we are. Somehow, it managed to avoid the encroaching grasp of development hell and emerged as a beautiful head-trip of a game.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” is a quote that appeared on my new browser tab this evening. In a way, it’s appropriate. Here I am at 10 PM, realizing that I have no games ready to review, and homework that I should really be working on instead of fixing that. The insanity of the last week has left me feeling at loose ends this weekend, despite knowing full well that I have work to do. Maybe it’s warranted, though. Multiple 1-2 AM nights, one 3:30 AM night (is it even considered night at that point?), and probably something like five litres of hot chocolate. Thinking back, I barely know where half the time went. There were frustrating university assignments, final classes that seemed to last for an eternity, and the joys of crunch time on a video game development project. Yet it’s all just a blur.
On the other hand, I feel motivated. I know that I’ll never truly stop being busy, yet it seems like the worst may be over for the time being. Coming out of last week, I’ve realized that, aside from three exams and presenting the aforementioned video game, I have very little on my plate, at least from a school standpoint. In its place is something that I find far more exciting.
As a storytelling medium, video games are something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, their interactive nature has the ability to create far more visceral and engaging experiences for players. However, this also brings with it some inherent drawbacks. Budgets need to be allocated not just to production design, but also to programming, QA, and more. Bugs and glitches may spontaneously occur, sucking up massive amounts of time and energy. I bring up this comparison, because Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons stands as a prime example of both. It is hampered in many areas by the restrictions of the medium, with bugs, technical problems, and gameplay issues taking me out of the experience on a number of occasions. Despite this, it manages to feel like a near-perfect pairing of story and gameplay, where each is able to complement and enhance the other.
Full disclosure: it is entirely possible that playing ABZÛ was very much a case of “right place, right time”, where this particular point in my life was the perfect moment for me to experience it. Certainly, having a pleasant, zen-like gaming experience is not something that I’m opposed to at the moment. With that out of the way, ABZÛ is one of the most wonderful video game experiences that I have ever had the pleasure of being immersed (heh…heh heh) in.