Monday, November 16, 2015

Video Game Reviews: Science Fiction Variety

In another departure from my usual reviewing habits, today I’m going to tackle science fiction video games for Sci-fi Month!  I have been a kind of intermittent gamer since I was a child. I played my share of NES titles, but then switched to PC games until the PS2 came out.  After a brief, intense period of playing PS2, I switched back to computer games--most especially World of Warcraft, in which I had a lot of fun.  These days, I mostly play Resident Evil, Left4Dead and Diablo 3 on PC, and my husband and I have launched a new project to enjoy console gaming.

Shortly after the PS4/Xbox1 came out, we purchased an Xbox360, planning to check out all the best used games.  To that end, we had an amazingly fun day-trip to Lyon, where we visited all of the gaming stores we could find and picked up a wide variety of titles.  We have primarily targeted science fiction or fantasy games that are not FPS, since FPS on console is extremely annoying for my left-handed husband.  I’ve been considering doing short reviews of these games on this blog, as we go through them, so I figured Sci-fi Month was a great time to give it a try!  

Remember Me by DONTNOD Entertainment

Remember Me is one of the most memorable (haha) of the games we’ve played so far.  Not only does it include some creative game dynamics and aesthetically pleasing art, it also featured a really interesting future world and story.  The story is set in a dystopian future Paris, where a corporation called Memorize has commodified memories through a popularly-used implant.  The main character, Nilin, begins in the Bastille, where the prisoners are kept docile through forced amnesia.  The amnesiac discovering her own identity is not a unique story in video games, but I loved learning about the world and Nilin’s life alongside her.

The game dynamics ranged from decent to really interesting.  The combat involved the ability to build your own combos, which would allow you to both do damage to your enemies or heal yourself. There was also a fair amount of climbing around Neo-Paris, but only on predefined paths. The most unique dynamic of the game is the main character’s ability to change a person’s memories, and therefore change who they are in the present.  I liked how it emphasized the relationship between our experiences and our identities, and the shaded morality involved in the manipulation of memories as means to an end.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West by Ninja Theory

In case you didn’t pick it up from the name, this post-robot-apocalypse game is based on the ever-famous Journey to the West. I was really surprised by how well the ancient story translated into science fiction, though of course there were some changes. The main characters are the ‘monk’ Tripitaka and Monkey, though in this version they are a young woman who manages to trap a muscular guy known as Monkey through the use of a modified slave collar.  They journey to the west together towards Trip’s home, and they learn about the truth behind their broken world in the process.

This is another fighting/climbing adventure game, but with the added fun of partner-based strategy. The player takes on the role of Monkey, and has to coordinate with AI Trip’s particular set of technology-based skills in order to survive.  For instance, Trip can send a robotic dragonfly around to spy out the land, or make a hologram to draw fire away from Monkey.  I really loved the AI-teamwork aspect of the game, and finding out how to optimize the use of both characters.  The way the story ended was very unexpected, but I think it is a more ambiguous, thoughtful ending that will stick in your mind long after the game is through.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis Games

XCOM is a game I’d always heard was awesome, but I seemed to have missed my window to play the original game--I ran into all sorts of problems trying to run old XCOM on a new computer, and eventually gave up.  I’m glad I checked it out in its newer incarnation, because it is an awesome game!  In fact, it’s one of the only games I feel like I might want to play again sometime (and maybe not lose Australia to the aliens.  Sorry, Australia!).  I don’t mean that as a slight against other games, though, I just think that a strategy game like this one tends to have more replay value than an action role-playing game.

XCOM balances base-building, research, and turn-based combat.  All of these things are really fun, but I think the soldiers that you gear up and take out to fight aliens were my favorite part.  I was surprised by how attached I got to my soldiers, and I still have happy feelings about Maria the psychic sniper being one of the survivors of the final battle.  I was one of those people that obsessively saved after every minor skirmish, because I just couldn’t handle the thought of my favorite soldiers being killed by aliens.  Just writing about this makes me think it might be time to play it again soon...   

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified by 2K Marin

Then one day, someone thought that XCOM really needed to be reimagined as more of a shooter/ role-playing game.  In practice, it was reminiscent enough of Enemy Unknown that I was disappointed by the differences.  There is some research, but it doesn’t quite carry the same weight.  You do fight with a squad of soldiers, but the combat is time-based instead of turn-based, and it revolves around the main character. I didn’t feel as attached to the soldiers, and their class skills seemed less interesting and useful.

The main positive difference is the inclusion of a story that involves a small set of major characters.  If you want a kind of XCOM that has more immediate action and a more linear story, this might be what you’re looking for. Agent Carter (no, not Peggy, sadly) starts off as a pretty standard doesn’t-play-by-the-rules tough-guy, whose dark past has sent him into alcoholism. Once the aliens get involved, though, the story picks up and becomes more interesting. If one can avoid comparing it to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, then it really is a fun game in its own right.

Prototype by Radical Entertainment

Prototype follows a guy named Alex Mercer as he tries to find out the truth behind the virus that is changing his body, while it simultaneously spreads to kill everyone in his city. The story is not that complicated, but the game is really based around action and violence.  You have a lot of freedom to leap around the city map--engaging in challenges and generally rampaging--in between the central story quests. The story is kind of interesting, and it was kind of exhilarating to send Alex running up skyscrapers and leaping from rooftop to rooftop, though I had a hard time getting fine control over his movements.  

The world has three factions: civilians, military, and infected.  You’re supposed to stay undetected by the military, or they’ll send tanks and helicopters after you.  Of course, you can always just commandeer the tanks and shoot down the helicopters instead of hiding, and it’s usually faster.  The infected include the most difficult enemies to fight, and the civilians are mostly collateral damage. Prototype was a little less my style than the other games listed here, in that it felt more like an action game than a science fiction game, and I’m not really into the gratuitous violence. I’ve already got a copy of Prototype 2 on the shelf, but it might be a while before I get around to playing it.


  1. Yayy, I've been waiting for the video game posts for SFM! :D

    Remember Me has been on my Steam wishlist for a while, but every time it comes on sale I'm always hesitant. Nice to see that you enjoyed it. :)

    XCOM sounds awesome - almost. I'm not a fan of turn-based :( But the technology looks pretty cool.

    1. I loved Remember Me!

      If you don't like turn-based, maybe The Bureau would be a better style of XCOM? You can slow down time to give your squad instructions, but the combat is time-based. It was also pretty fun, and my preference for Enemy Unknown is mostly because I loved the turn-based strategy. :)

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