Author: Jed Pressgrove

Tekken 7 Review — Kissing Capcom’s Ring

by Jed Pressgrove

After playing various iterations of Namco’s Tekken series for more than two decades, I couldn’t have predicted that Capcom, responsible for the Street Fighter series, would keep coming to mind during Tekken 7. While Capcom has held the most influence on the fighting game genre since Street Fighter II became a pop sensation in the 1990s, and while there was a Street Fighter and Tekken crossover title (Street Fighter X Tekken) released in 2012, Namco’s franchise has always had its own legacy (though 1993’s Virtua Fighter certainly opened the door for the original Tekken in 1994). But in too many ways, Tekken 7 is a shameless continuation of Street Fighter IV, as evidenced by its multi-angle super moves and the inclusion of Akuma, the one-dimensional, fireball-throwing Street Fighter villain who just won’t go away.

On a fundamental level, Tekken 7 will be quite familiar to anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time with any Tekken game, especially if your favorite character is still in the mix. For example, I’ve been using Paul Phoenix throughout the series, and while his repertoire has a few new wrinkles, he retains the moves and strengths that have made him a standout contender. For many long-time players, Tekken 7 is welcoming in this respect. At the same time, the lack of risks with the game’s general design draws even greater attention to the changes Namco does make, and these additions show little imagination despite how cool they might look on the surface.

One of the major additions is what the game calls a “Rage” technique, which can be done when a character has lost almost all health. Each character has two different kinds of Rage moves, and one type, the Rage Art, is a bastardized version of the Ultra Combo from Street Fighter IV. Like the Ultra Combo, the Rage Art is designed to reward people who have taken too many hits (i.e., people who more than likely deserve to lose). When successfully landed, the move triggers a series of blows that can take off as much of a third of the opponent’s health. These combinations are automated (meaning they take virtually no skill to complete), have considerable priority (meaning they will usually go through an attack of the opponent), and can be initiated, in some cases, by only pressing two buttons together (at least Street Fighter IV consistently required more input for such a cheap tactic). The Rage Arts utilize various camera angles to accentuate over-the-top martial arts; while the combos may look neat, Namco is just stealing presentation tricks from Street Fighter IV.

Another “new” mechanic in Tekken 7 is the Power Crush, which involves a character absorbing blows (and taking damage), as opposed to being interrupted/countered, while landing a powerful attack. This addition shows, again, that Namco is too in love with Capcom, as the Power Crush recalls the Focus Attack from Street Fighter IV. The main difference between the two is that the Focus Attack offers more variety of play. You could perform Focus Attacks of various power levels (they can become unblockable), you could cancel Focus Attacks by dashing backward or forward, and you could cancel special moves with a Focus Attack, setting up a variety of strategic possibilities. In contrast, the Power Crush in Tekken 7 is all brawn. Just do the move and watch the idiotic fireworks.

The stupidest decision by Namco, though, is allowing Akuma to be a playable character in Tekken 7. For those unfamiliar with Akuma, he has always been an overpowered Ryu/Ken clone in the Street Fighter series, and Capcom keeps putting him in games as if he adds anything to the proceedings other than a superficial air of menace (Akuma’s defense has traditionally sucked). But Akuma’s presence is even worse in Tekken 7. Whenever he’s in a match, he’s clearly out of place, hurling fireballs and jumping with the fluidity of a 2D fighting-game character. Like the evil Akuma, Namco has lost its soul.

Game Bias’ 15 Greatest Shooters List — 15-11

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: You can read the introduction to this list here.

15. Earth Defense Force 2017 (2006)

With its over-the-top voice-overs, extremely crude weapon/health/armor icons, and ridiculous physics, Earth Defense Force 2017 could be written off as a joke. Yet there are few games that match this 3D third-person shooter’s emphasis on scale as you face hordes of gigantic ants, spiders, and walking robots. Developer Sandlot shows there can be a fine line between being in awe and not taking something seriously: as you eliminate flying drone after flying drone in one level, the screen shakes so violently that you can barely see what’s happening. Never has the urge to laugh been so married to spectacle in video games.

14. Stargate (1981)

Also known as Defender 2, Stargate doesn’t get as much attention as its predecessor Defender, but it’s the better game by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar. Although you still fly left and right in Stargate to stop alien ships from abducting humans, the drama is higher with the very first stage, thanks to a greater variety of enemies and the inclusion of a volcano that spits bits of lava that you must avoid as you suicidally zip toward and away from pesky targets. This sequel also gives the player more help with the titular portal, which teleports you to the nearest threat to humanity, and a temporary cloaking ability. But the standout aspect to both Stargate and Defender is the devastating audiovisual punch of the protagonist’s weapon. It’s almost offensive how loud this game gets as you launch line after line of concentrated fire. The irony is the ease with which your foes can slip through the narrow passages between these shots, even though you could swear from all the noise and visual punctuation that you should be invincible.

13. Gradius (1985)

Director Hiroyasu Machiguchi led a reinvention of genre with the power-up system of Gradius, laying the foundation for many good horizontal and vertical shooters (including Life Force, another Machiguchi game under Konami). Yet there is one thing the children of Gradius usually don’t reproduce: the sense of exploration and space in sections where you can fly up or down to make the screen shift vertically as you continue to advance horizontally through narrow channels. And while Gradius can seem ridiculously unbalanced when you die and lose speed, a shield, lazers, and whatever else you collected, the music by Miki Higashino is hopeful (in stark contrast to the nerve-wracking theme in Xevious), suggesting that another try after failure can result in heroism.

12. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2014)

As much of a horror game as it is a shooter, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the definitive edition of designer Edmund McMillen’s Freudian nightmare of a maniacal mother, excrement-filled rooms, and an uncaring God. McMillen evokes The Legend of Zelda in his presentation of a seemingly neverending dungeon full of random power-ups that deform as much as empower the tearful boy protagonist. The various elements that could offend, particularly the levels that put you inside a womb, reflect an abusive history where fear and hatred, not comfort and love, are compellingly tied to every aspect of the woman — an unflinching view of hell from the eyes of a child.

11. Sin and Punishment: Star Successor (2009)

This effort from developer Treasure is the ultimate rail shooter experience. Unlike most rail shooters, which automatically scroll the player from one shooting gallery to the next, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor allows you to move an avatar on any part of the screen as you shoot, slash, and evade your way through an incredible assortment of enemies and threats. Whether you are flying through a city upside down or trying to survive a six-part boss, the sense of breathlessness in Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is unparalleled.

Game Bias’ 15 Greatest Shooters List — Intro and Honorable Mentions

by Jed Pressgrove

The word “shooter” is frequently used as shorthand for a particular subgenre of pop games. I’m referring to the first-person shooter, which includes everything from 1990s sensation Goldeneye to the seemingly eternal Call of Duty series. And while first-person shooters are worthy of analysis (like any subgenre), it’s limiting to think of Doom, Overwatch, and the like when someone says “shooter.”

As such, this list will not focus on a single shooter subgenre. Any type of shooter is eligible: first-person, 3D third-person, vertical, horizontal, gallery, run n’ gun, topdown, platformer shooter, rail, and more. Although their perspectives and allowances for player expression differ, the games I list are all united by the button-tapping, or button-holding, delivery of projectiles. These games might let you talk, dodge, fly, run, jump, scan, thwack, explore, and more, but you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting along the way.

Finally, you might ask, “Why only 15 in the list if you almost have enough honorable mentions here for a top 20?” From my view, the honorable mentions are not quite in the same class as the 15. They are also not the only honorable mentions that I could list. I could cite TwinBee, Wild Guns, Lords of Thunder, Metal Slug 3, Downwell, and many others, but I picked the following honorable mentions to make specific points.

Note: For my thoughts on the unique appeal of vertical shooters, go here.

Combat (1977)

The pack-in game for the Atari 2600 for several years, Combat required more than one player, as many online shooters do now. But unlike its modern counterparts, Combat doesn’t pay lip service to fairness and competition. Compared to most, it actually is fair and competitive. When the game begins, there’s one player on the left and one on the right. Both players are tanks. Both players have to make due with the odd controls (to move forward, you press up on the joystick, and pressing left or right turns the tank). No reverse. No power-ups. Just shooting and slow movement. What makes Combat truly special is its ingenious array of tank modes. One allows you to guide bullets with the joystick. Another requires you to bounce your bullets off a wall first in order to register a hit. And yet another renders both tanks invisible, except when they fire, but only for a second. Sure, Combat stumbles with its plane modes, some of which kick fairness out the door, as when one player is stuck with a humongous specimen that is much easier to hit. But the tank modes of Combat are thrilling in how they bring together stripped-down opponents. The pretentious communities that complain about balance should adopt this game, art that sees us as equals and makes us laugh at our limitations.

Mega Man 3 (1990)

Mega Man 3 is the best Mega Man game, as I argue at length here. One incredible part in the Mega Man games is when they show you that your bullets are worthless. Shoot an enemy’s armor, and you hear a distinct but inoffensive ping as the bullet makes impact, right before it flies diagonally upward all the way off the screen. There have been times where I will repeatedly shoot impenetrable parts of enemies to watch this detail. Great kinetic art can make all action, even the impotent sort, interesting to observe.

Tempest (1980)

Some implied Resident Evil 7 was scary for leaving behind the traditional Resident Evil third-person perspective for a first-person perspective. But tension doesn’t take on a new form due to a perspective alone; it’s what you do with the perspective, as demonstrated by the third-person Tempest, designed by auteur Dave Theurer. A so-called tube shooter, Tempest has you look down at tiny enemies that get bigger as they climb up walls, at the top of which you flip around and rain down fire. Although Tempest isn’t unique in how it encourages you to prevent invaders from closing in on your space, it’s uniquely uncomfortable when the malevolent beings join your plane, as you no longer feel like a god looking upon the weak. Nothing in Resident Evil 7’s horror cliches is as unmistakable as the suspense of Tempest, yet the latter only sports wireframe graphics.

Shutshimi (2014)

Not merely a parody like Parodius or Star Parodier, Shutshimi is the quintessential postmodern scrolling shooter. My review of this game can tell you a lot about why it’s mentioned here, but I want to point out that Shutshimi is a distinct product of the (Mis)Information Age, much like the recent RPG hit Persona 5. Both Persona 5 and Shutshimi go overboard on tutorialization. The difference is that Shutshimi recognizes the flood of information as a hindrance to our understanding and progress. Shooter mechanics as social observation.

A Small Point about Game History

by Jed Pressgrove

Do video games naturally get better over time? There is a prevalent feeling among game critics and fans that gaming has changed for the better over the last few decades, especially when one plays certain old games that don’t hold up well. Terms like “evolution” accompany this feeling and confirm a deterministic stance. Unsurprisingly, this line of thinking mirrors what game companies want you to think.

But even if we place aside the interests of companies, my answer to the question above is still “No.” This is not to suggest the modern era doesn’t have its fair share of great games. Releases like Off-Peak and Titanfall 2 may more than deserve to be put in the same category as Planescape: Torment and Contra.

I simply think that too often people assume that game design overwhelmingly improves as years go by. This assumption is thought to explain why certain old games are hard to appreciate. But I maintain that people frequently pay too much attention to old games that never deserved much praise in the first place.

Consider how many people were quick to say that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild overtook The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the “greatest game of all time” (imagine being able to pinpoint the biggest accomplishment in an art form in mere weeks after a new release!). My feeling is that of course Breath of the Wild is better than Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time had more tedious exposition than any Zelda game before it and was surpassed, especially in terms of art direction and emotional complexity, by its sequel Majora’s Mask.

So perhaps certain old games have been dethroned because they were never that good, and perhaps new games would not automatically seem like beacons of superior design if one explored and thought about more game history.

What Remains of Edith Finch Review — Everyone’s Missing … Again

by Jed Pressgrove

Like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, the premise of What Remains of Edith Finch involves walking in a particular area and learning why no people are around. This time you control Edith Finch, a woman who returns to her childhood home where various relatives were locked away in their rooms as part of an effort to avoid a family curse. While developer Giant Sparrow gives the game some distinction with a wide variety of flashback sequences — each detailing the demise of a different family member — the experience often feels contrived given the familiar setup, repetitive narrative, and shortchanged characterizations.

Whereas Gone Home pretended to be a horror story and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture feigned spiritual significance, What Remains of Edith Finch is upfront about its intention to thrust the player into a series of tragic deaths. Well, perhaps “thrust” isn’t accurate; the game takes its time to get going, thanks to Edith’s slow walk and throat clearing as the narrator. Director/writer Ian Dallas explains Edith’s gait with the revelation that she’s pregnant, but from a writing standpoint, there’s no excuse for a lot of the exposition, as when you examine the Finch family history to learn of a consistent theme of misfortune, only for Edith to chime in afterward with “Whatever’s wrong with this family, it goes back a long ways.” It doesn’t help that voice actress Valerie Rose Loman sounds as if she is somewhere between bored and too matter of fact about such dark origins.

Eventually, though, you are able to activate flashbacks without much delay between them. During each of these scenes, the player controls a soon-to-be-dead family member, from a former child star to a young man who works at a cannery, and walking about is no longer the driving force of the game. For example, in one sequence, you assume the role of a little girl who imagines herself as a cat, owl, shark, and tentacled monster, and you get to play as each thing. Another episode turns the game into an interactive horror comic book, complete with a new narrator with a despicable timbre to his voice.

These vignettes are often visually stunning. While playing as a boy on a tree swing, you reach new dizzying heights, allowing you to see the Finch’s yard from peculiar and mesmerizing angles. As the aforementioned worker at the cannery, you become immersed in an alienating routine of chopping off fish heads while, on the same screen, guiding a legendary ruler through forking seas. But these amazing sights can’t make up for several wasted opportunities to get into the minds and hearts of certain characters. For instance, while you are told the former child star’s life is tough, this character’s emotions are cheapened by the Jazzpunk-esque flashback where she comically uses a crutch to whack at things. Another relative amounts to nothing more than a paranoid twit in a basement.

As such, it’s difficult to grasp why one should care about the Finch family in general. I give credit to What Remains of Edith Finch for attempting to share a life-affirming message during its conclusion, but the sentimental tone is off-putting and unearned given the nonstop parade of death that precedes it. If you can imagine the absurdity of a new entry in the Final Destination film series that asks the audience to keep tissues nearby, that is the bizarre type of empathy at work in this game.

ATV Renegades Review — Keep It Simple and Stupid

by Jed Pressgrove

Too often games are praised for having a lot of “content,” a word that hatefully reduces ideas and work to the stuffing of a product. ATV Renegades, an update of the Nintendo DS and 3DS game ATV Wild Ride, rejects the trend of cramming everything you can into a game, sporting a workmanlike, bare-bones approach that recalls the great shooter Earth Defense Force 2017. On one hand, ATV Renegades doesn’t come close to the multifaceted brilliance of 2001’s ATV Offroad Fury, which did as much justice to stadium races as it did to outdoor roaming. Yet it’s fun to play a game that modestly and humorously knows its place in 2017, the year of overblown pop epics (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon Zero Dawn).

Although developer Renegade Kid (now defunct) could be criticized for not including an exploration mode that recognizes the idle-play culture that surrounds four-wheelers, ATV Renegades works fine as three racing modes: Free Race, World Tour, and Time Trial. World Tour is the best, with each tour lining you up against five other ATV riders on four tracks across the globe. To advance to a new tour, you have to accumulate enough points to attain first place at the end of a tour, a la Mario Kart. The tracks cover countries ranging from Russia to England, with scenic features (snow, castles, etc.) making each national spot distinctive and other sights, like a rusty ship and jet streams, bringing general life to the proceedings. With reverse versions of both regular and extended tracks, ATV Renegades does a good job of keeping you off-guard throughout the tours despite only six countries being represented.

One of the keys to winning lies in the relationship between tricks and nitro boosts. All of the tracks will send you flying via ramps at some point, and while in midair, you can perform a short, medium, or long trick to fill up your nitro-boost bar to varying degrees. Learning what type of trick you have time to do is essential, as you only have three laps to complete on most tracks; any devastating crash or well-timed boost can mean the difference between 10 points (first place) and no points (fifth or sixth place). Risks must be taken because if you aren’t doing tricks (each one only takes one press of a button), you will more than likely hear an opponent yell “Whoooo!” as they zip by you during his or her own boost.

You also aren’t going to win if you don’t take turns as close to the corners as possible, but taking this risk means you have to avoid losing momentum by running your four-wheeler up a hill or, worse, ramming into something hard and flipping over. Another challenge is steering your four-wheeler while airborne when you see that the track is turning so that you move with the road after you land, as opposed to crashing into a wall. Even though the steering in ATV Renegades isn’t as tight as it was in ATV Offroad Fury, the more arcade-like style is exciting and funny, especially when you watch computer-controlled riders make seemingly human mistakes, such as failing to steer away from other landing riders and causing nasty collisions (the sound effects are laughably loud and generic).

The different ATVs have their own handling, top speed, and acceleration, but the riders you choose are only diverse on the surface and have no backstories. Their trite monikers — Simon Jeremy, Travis Wylde, Jose Lopez, Lily Sage, etc. — give a comedic slant to the races. It’s unusual such things would motivate one to play more, but after all, who wants to lose to some dolt named Simon Jeremy while listening to crappy punk and nu metal? ATV Renegades’ dubious appeal, along with its sheer simplicity, makes for a purer thrill than counting all the hours one spends with a game that desperately hopes all the crap it throws at audiences will seem profound.

Cosmic Star Heroine Review — Turn, Turn, Turn

by Jed Pressgrove

There’s a reason Cosmic Star Heroine has an uncomplicated, unpretentious, unemotional spy plot: developer Zeboyd Games sees turn-based combat as an artform that can almost single-handedly justify the existence of a game. Sure, Cosmic Star Heroine has an interesting cast (the 11 playable characters include a nature-loving private eye, a robot who hits on both sexes, and a bounty hunter who recalls Final Fantasy VI’s Shadow and the Japanese movie alien Zeiram), as well as some well-designed settings enriched by HyperDuck’s catchy soundtrack (like the night-club location that benefits from this pop smartbomb). But all of these things ultimately amount to gift wrapping as Cosmic Star Heroine zips toward the next series of fights that demand a unique type of forward-thinking play.

On the surface, Cosmic Star Heroine is a Chrono Trigger wannabe, as seen in the way the characters run, the style of the overworld map, and the enemy encounters. The latter element in particular is a necessary rather than nostalgic design choice: unlike a traditional Final Fantasy, which randomly transports you to a stage for battle, Cosmic Star Heroine always allows you to see your foes, and once you get too close to them, you transition immediately into combat mode — your immediate surroundings are the arena. This borrowed concept complements the fast pace of the story, which, in one wittily frantic sequence, has you fend off a bounty hunter right before battling a huge mech that you then pilot to kill a city-threatening monster.

Following the lead of Zeboyd’s previous games (the best of which was Penny Arcade 3), Cosmic Star Heroine streamlines the typical turn-based RPG experience to make it more urgent and less repetitive. There are a limited number of enemies, characters automatically heal after victory, opponents become more powerful with each new set of turns, and so forth. Cosmic Star Heroine takes its predecessors’ groundwork to another meticulous level, however. Most actions, whether a simple physical attack or a healing move, can only be used once before the player is forced to defend and recharge all abilities. In order to win efficiently (which is a concern given enemies’ ever-increasing strength), you not only have to think ahead but also remember the single techniques you’ve depleted.

The need to think of your moves as perishables puts Cosmic Star Heroine on a rare strategic plane given that turn-based RPGs, even with the variable of magic/ability points, tend to encourage players to spam the most effective techniques. Zeboyd’s complication of the formula doesn’t end there. In most cases, you gain “style” as you perform moves. Because style gradually increases the effectiveness of your actions, it could be smart to avoid unleashing certain weapons until later in the battle. Characters also become “hyper” on specific turns, during which you receive a significant multiplier effect. There’s always risk with these bonuses, though, as waiting for extra attack power can be deadly if you’re fighting an enemy who is already extremely strong and will only grow stronger with each new turn.

This system is even more ingenious thanks to the numerous abilities the 11 heroes gain as they level up. In addition to the ever-present defense/recharge option, each character can only “carry” seven unique moves into battle, so your party members can serve very different purposes based on what abilities you assign. And the abilities themselves may come with catches, like a more powerful physical attack that causes you to lose a turn, a buff that goes into effect for only one turn, or a party-replenishing heal that kills the user. Integrating the various strengths of individual allies with consideration to style and “hyper” turns, while also remembering to recharge abilities and eliminate threats before they are too overpowered, shows a brand of orchestration that Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, Zeboyd’s two main influences, don’t come close to touching.

Night in the Woods — Ode to Millennial Egotism

by Jed Pressgrove

As expressed in The Who’s pop masterpiece “My Generation,” most people don’t like their generation being outright dismissed or insulted. But if millennial gamers sing high praises for Night in the Woods, any defense of themselves will be hard to swallow. Writers Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry have created a puzzling contradiction with protagonist Mae and the small-town setting of Possum Springs: while the latter by itself has palpable authenticity, right down to the humorously varied “Get off my porch” dialogue from a grumbling male, Mae becomes more and more irresponsible as employed, stressed-out people allow her privileged behavior to grow to unbelievable degrees.

Simply put, Mae epitomizes the stereotypical millennial’s disconnection from traditional everyday toil, and the script of Night in the Woods pretends that working-class citizens would not call her out for mooching and breaking the law. In the story, Mae has returned to her hometown to live with her parents again after dropping out of college. From there, you guide Mae through a variety of self-absorbed, immoral activities that include tampering with crime evidence, shoplifting, and digging up the coffin of a boy, all with little or no consequence. Although the anthropomorphic cast of Night in the Woods gives the writers leeway to indulge in some cartoonish, unrealistic depictions, the story suggests the supporting characters have real-life concerns, especially pulling one’s own weight, that help the player suspend disbelief. Why, then, do these people — family members, friends, and hard workers — excuse, overlook, or laugh off Mae’s flagrantly selfish and stupid actions?

At one point, it seems Benson and Hockenberry will address this glaring question through Bea, Mae’s childhood friend who has been running a business ever since the death of her mother. Bea confronts Mae’s blase attitude toward dropping out of college: “I stayed here and got older, while you left and stayed the same.” Yet Bea inexplicably goes on to support Mae’s thievery and grave defilement (and for some unknown idiotic reason, the populace of Possum Springs doesn’t care about a decades-old corpse being disrespected). Bea’s dedication doesn’t get rewarded, though: in a late scene, Mae embarrasses Bea with callous disregard, which causes Bea to bring up how she wishes she could have had an opportunity to go to college like Mae, who can’t even offer her good friend a reason as to why she quit school. Bea eventually says Mae is “genuinely a good person,” even though the story has only shown evidence of Mae taking advantage of everyone around her, with no effort toward explaining herself or making a contribution to society.

Developer Infinite Fall also excuses Mae’s deplorable acts by gamifying them. Stealing, destroying property, and stabbing are presented as fun, throwaway minigames. This design choice, coupled with the townspeople’s bizarre lack of criticism for Mae’s egomania, implies that sociopathy should be celebrated, not examined. Even if Night in the Woods had a cogent point, Mae would remain an unflattering caricature of a millennial. Benson and Hockenberry’s writing is unacceptable in light of Three Fourths Home: Extended Edition, which demonstrates how the hardships of a capitalist society give millennials and baby boomers more spiritual connectedness than many realize.

Night in the Woods is at its most tedious when Mae drags all of her friends on a ghost-chasing mission, as it’s fairly obvious from the start that there are no ghosts. Benson and Hockenberry use this setup to reveal that Mae and a clandestine Republican-leaning cult are similarly insane. For connecting mental illness to murder (straight out of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”) and all sorts of other unsavory activity, Night in the Woods registers as pandering and cliched Democrat hate on one hand and a demented apology for millennial immaturity on the other.

Horizon Zero Dawn Review — Foregone Heroism

by Jed Pressgrove

Horizon Zero Dawn boasts yet another modern open world, but given the unquestionably moral protagonist and cookie-cutter quests (such as killing bandits and wiping out corrupted machines), it would be more accurate to say the game features a big world in which it’s fairly fun to shoot things with a bow. Due to her deer-in-headlights look during dialogue exchanges, Aloy, the red-headed hero at the center of it all, is more interesting for her combat skills than her personality. All of this ultimately makes Horizon Zero Dawn a straightforward action game where the goal is to take out a lot of bad guys as efficiently as possible. And while this simplicity is refreshing when compared to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s more intense pseudo-survival aspects (such as constant weapon breaking and stamina depletion), developer Guerrilla Games doesn’t do enough to ensure drama in the game’s many fight scenes.

With its warring tribes, light settlements, and abundant wildlife, the world of Horizon Zero Dawn recalls that of Far Cry Primal. The main difference is the role of technology: Aloy has a device attached to her ear that can scan her surroundings (think “detective mode”), and the most noteworthy animals in the game are 100 percent machine. Using both natural materials and components salvaged from the mechanical beasts, you produce ammunition for a variety of weapons, which range from a slingshot that fires bombs to a crossbow that slings down ropes that trap enemies. You also wield a spear for melee and stealth attacks, and you level up to activate all of Aloy’s capabilities, the best of which is an ability that slows down time when you aim your weapon while jumping.

Although this game, like Breath of the Wild, opens with tutorialization and exposition rather than a daring invitation to the wilderness, Horizon Zero Dawn surpasses the latest Zelda at keeping the protagonist in exciting motion. There is no stamina meter to distract one from the allure of kineticism, extra ammo can be crafted in the middle of a fight, and Aloy, unlike Link, has weight to her leaping (she can entertainingly scale some mountains in this way if you time and place your jumps well). Horizon Zero Dawn also has an exquisite arrow-shooting system: the longer you hold the fire button, the more Aloy pulls back the string of her bow (you can feel this difference as the controller lightly vibrates), which can improve the trajectory of your shots. Guerrilla Games does misfire by slowing your movement to that of a turtle when you use Aloy’s scanning device, but otherwise the action of Horizon Zero Dawn is allowed to soar.

It’s unfortunate, then, that Aloy’s advantages in combat turn Horizon Zero Dawn into sort of a comedy. The best way to defeat most enemies is to sneak to higher ground and jump and shoot (thus activating slow motion) again and again. This strategy has some challenges, such as anticipating your opponent’s movement and adjusting your aim so that the arrow strikes one of the enemy’s weak points in regular motion once the slow-mo stops, but once you get the hang of it, you are not likely to be taken down, especially if your medicine pouch is leveled up and full. At first, I was delighted to incessantly thrust the game into fits of crawling action, and the pleasure of hearing and feeling Aloy’s feet hit the ground after each John Woo-inspired mini-clip is unlike anything I’ve experienced.

Yet this approach takes the wind out of the game’s dramatic intentions, as the higher ground that you need for the slaughter can be, depending on the threat(s), something as short as a big rock. Watching vicious, technologically souped-up animals circle around a physical structure — one which they should be able to knock me off of — becomes an empty joy, as it exposes Guerrilla Games’ limited kinetic imagination. This problem renders the ho-hum, save-the-tribe story even more inert: in one main quest, you have to fight a giant corrupted machine at a fort, but I dispatched this guardian from a mountain ledge of barely moderate height, despite the monstrosity’s boulder throwing and before I even eliminated all the smaller foes. Aloy is too powerful and too casually heroic for Horizon Zero Dawn to register as anything more than a fleeting curiosity.

Everything Review — Nothing Upstairs

by Jed Pressgrove

At times you are told to press a button to “think” in David OReilly’s Everything. This command serves as a way for OReilly to smirk at video-game shorthand and offer trite existential dialogue (“Am I really controlling this?”). More ironically, the command is OReilly’s attempt to turn off the player’s brain, as anyone who doesn’t need to be told to think might see that this game, like Mountain, is an unfunny, unintelligent joke.

The premise of Everything is you can play as anything: animals, trees, rocks, grass, planets, and so forth. But you start off playing as one thing — in my case, a donkey. The donkey, like other animals, doesn’t walk as you might expect; it rolls thanks to extremely choppy animation with humorous intentions. So you roll to marked places in the world to talk to other things and learn new functions of the game, such as the ability to get similar things (in my case, other donkeys) to roll with you as sort of an absurd army. Along the way you unlock audio logs of philosopher Alan Watts, whose academic tone clashes with the idiotic sight of rolling donkeys and the game’s many silly and inconsequential lines, such as when a tree says, “I wouldn’t mind a nice jacket, though.” The tonal mismatch becomes even more embarrassing when you hear the pensive violins of the soundtrack.

If you actually listen to Watts’ words about all things being connected (it’s always tempting to turn off the audio logs), you might consider the notion that Watts watered down Buddhist concepts for pretentious westerners. At the very least, OReilly’s goofy vision, where anything from deer to rocks can procreate by dancing in a circle, muddies the contributions of the scholar. That everything in Everything seems to come with kindergarten humor suggests OReilly is hoping Watts can give some depth to an oversimplified portrayal of existence.

The closest Everything gets to genuine insight is how you can see the world from a different perspective depending on what thing, from gigantic to microscopic, you are. Perspective is not just about spatial differences, however. It’s also about different states and patterns of being. Thus, OReilly confirms his lazy intellectualism and design with the fact that animals in Everything travel and multiply in the same way that rocks do (was Watts ever this stupidly literal?). Everything could use the more distinct vantage points of Ryan Thorlakson’s Light’s End, which allows the player to assume the role of any person in the story, as in one memorable sequence where you, as a beggar, experience the prejudice of nonplayable characters. But like his condescending peers Davey Wreden and Toby Fox, OReilly knows it’s easier to create and sell whimsy than wisdom, so the superficial philosophy of Everything seems predestined.