Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4) - Review

A ps2 game in ps4 clothing.

As I have stated before, I belonged to what probably is the majority of people on this planet in believing Digimon was nothing more than a rip-off on Pokémon. Once I got around to actually trying one of the games I still thought so, but that didn't keep me from having a really good time. That game was Digimon World DS and it taught me that there were quite a few things that Digimon did that I actually prefered over Pokémon, enough for me to even compile a list over those things. But even though Digimon did a good first impression on me, I never stuck around and tried any of the other games. I played Digimon World on the PS1 but didn't really get into it. And that's it.

But I was still itching to give Digimon another go, but what with all the other games I had lying around crying out to be played I just never seemed to get around to it. Until I heard that Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (DSCS) was getting some decent reviews, and I needed an excuse to buy games for my new PS4. It still took a mention on the VGM podcast Rhythm & Pixels (shoutout!) before I finally got my thumb out of my rear and got it. It took me over 40 hours to finish, so let's see if I can collect some coherent thoughts on it;

Spoiler alert; still the most fun Digimon game I've played.

Maybe it should go without saying, but micro-managing your Digimon is the bread and butter of this game (as I suspect in any Digimon-game), even more so than your typical Pokémon game. The reason for this is that it just works better, if you ask me. Leveling your Pokémon besides your core-group is mostly a chore, even with items like Exp Share. There is also no reason to use half the Pokémon in the roster because quite frankly they just suck. That is not really the case in Digimon, at least not in DSCS. Evolving and devolving your Digimon is how you gain stats and unlock new evolutions, and it's so much easier and quicker to do than in Pokémon. Your Digimon will gain levels quickly, making a devolution (essentially reverting your Digimon back to a previous form) just part of the micro-managing and no setback. Also, there are a lot fewer types, making it so much easier to keep track of who is weak/strong against who. While Digimon also are typed after elements similarly to Pokémon, like Fire, Plant, Wind etc, they're also typed after whether they are Vaccines, Viruses, Data or Free. Although the elements, or affinites as I think they are called, also matter you only really need to keep track of the last four to succeed in the game. For someone like me, who after having played Pokémon for 15 years still can't remember more than the most obvious weaknesses/strengths, this came as a blessing.

It also means that it doesn't really matter what Digimon you carry around or fight with, at least for the first 80% of the game, as they are all very similar in strength. This could also be because the game wasn't very difficult but we'll get back to that. I found the game made it easy for me to swap between Digimon, trying different ones as it fitted me in a way that made it fun to collect them. Add to that the regular (?) Digimon Islands, where you can let all the Digimon you have that you're not currently carrying around level and stat up on their own. Pokémon allows one (1) Pokémon in such a daycare, in DSCS I had 40 Digimon stored up like this, rather than just lying around gathering dust in a bank. If this makes it sound too easy to skill up your pets, the Islands need micro-managing too by for instance installing equipment that boosts certain stats or types of Digimon. You can also assign each Island to different tasks, like training, investigating (finding more cases for you to solve) and finding items.

It's a good thing that micro-managing your Digimon is so much fun, mostly because you spend (or can choose to spend) a whole lot of time doing it, but maybe even more so because the rest of the game is frankly quite meh.

The main characters are nowhere near as interesting as they could've been. 

Trying to explain the story so that it makes some kind of sense is probably going to give me a hernia, but here it goes:
In this world you can log on to a digital platform called EDEN with your avatar, it's basically virtual reality. Something is destroying people's avatars in EDEN leaving their physical bodies in a comatose state (hands up if you've heard this one before...). Your character is one of those people. Fortunately for you, you manage to create a digital body in the physical world (you can choose to play as either male or female), this allows you to do digital hacking stuff to physical items or "connect jump". Because of your new-found skills you get employed by Cyber Sleuth Kyoko Kuremi to solve cyber crime with (or mostly for) her. Digimon start to appear, at first only in the digital world but then also in the physical world. Then a sort of corrupt data creature called "eaters" appear. If they touch you, they destroy your entire data, basically killing your digital self. Where do they come from and what do they want? That is the overarching story of this game.

While this plays out you also solve a lot of more or less related cyber crime side-quests, and there is quite a lot of them. Some further the story, but most of them are only fetch-quests of different varieties which quite frankly never really got my heart racing. That's not to say that they sucked either, some give fairly useful items and the way they were presented still gave them a more-ish feeling. Enough to make someone like me, who normally avoids most peripheral gameplay, do quite a lot of them.

The characters always verge on almost being interesting. Kyoko makes her horrible coffee, Nokia is obnoxious, Arata is mysterious. Then there are side-characters that are presented like they will matter eventually but never really do, like the two cops Matayoshi and Date, the Digimon Pete and the hacker Rina. It's like they were supposed to be part of the story but were cut out and only left in partially. Overall the story is too scatterbrained to make any character feel important and thus to make me care much. Yet again, the only ones I ended up caring about were my Digimon.

Graphically the game makes equally little sense, and managed to evoke no feelings from me other than indifference. Throughout I couldn't shake the thought that this game didn't even deserve to be on the ps4, as everything presented could've been done just as well on a ps2. I usually prefer linearity and streamlined, even tight-strung, settings and stories over something that feels bloated and/or empty (just read my review on Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for an example of this). DSCS somehow manages to both feel extremely claustrophobic and empty. Not only are there few areas to run around in, you'll revisit almost every one of them several dozens of times. Time spent either in the digital or physical world is about 50/50, and the digital world is not even fifty shades of blue, but about five shade of blue. It gets stale very quickly. All the physical areas look pretty much the same, are extremely fenced in as well with invisible walls all over and only allow you to interact with a few select story driving objects. I wouldn't mind this kind of design if it ever felt like it filled a purpose other than laziness.

The only neat looking thing about the entire game was the fact that three of your Digimon run behind you (sometimes really obscuring your view) and I've got to hand it to them, I really liked the design of the Digimon. Most of them looked really cool or just freakishly weird.

This guy was one of my favorites.

Don't even get me started on the music or sound because there is almost nothing to say. It's functional, never really bothered me but I can't say anything stood out as interesting either.

It's funny how I can't really get myself to say that I recommend this game, and yet I did put over 40 hours into it. Despite all this game doesn't do right, which is almost everything - tinkering with my Digimon was still fun enough to keep me going. It absolutely helped, in a reverse-psychology kind of way, that the game like I mentioned is extremely easy and so didn't require much thinking or investment from my side. While this sounds like another reason to not like it, it did make it a good way to wind down at the end of the day. I could even play this game one-handed while snacking with my other hand. It ended up filling the same sort of slot as those tv-series you watch or mobile games you play even though they're not that good, but good enough to keep you around and fill your time with something without asking for much in return.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 13

What's Past is Prologue
That doesn't even make sense

Let's just say things got intense.

With the massive (at least to me, last person to figure stuff out) revelation of last episode I really went into this episode thinking they were going to milk it for a while. Not so, because this episode was if you'll pardon my french - balls to the walls.

Lorca gets out of the torture chamber in the end of the last episode, through fairly-fortunate-plot-device-means and in the beginning of this episode he has already rescued all his former followers from their respective torture devices. His apparently second in command, Landry, says to him "I don't know how you got us all out of here..." and frankly neither do I because it is never shown how Lorca goes from getting out himself to somehow getting access to and releasing every prisoner on the ship. Something that presumably would've been quite the feat, and what I expected this episode to be all about. Unless I fell into a coma and missed it, it all just happened off screen.

In an exposition heavy dialogue between evil-Lorca and evil-Stamets, Lorca reveals that him coming to the prime-universe was basically just a fluke (prime being our universe). He even realizes it's a fluke because he himself is convinced nothing but fate could've made it happen and I'm inclined to agree even though I do not believe in fate. It's either fate or lazy writers, because they could've just as well made it evil-Stamets' work somehow. Of course, one of the first questions that come up as soon as you find out this Lorca is the evil-Lorca is where the heck the prime-Lorca is? Maybe he will show up in the next season? Did I ask this in my last post too?

Prime-Stamets figured out in the previous episode that the Terrans are drawing so much energy from the mycelial network they are basically killing it. And with it also life in all the parallel universes everywhere, ever. Considering there are probably an infantasmal number of parallel universes out there, it's also safe to assume more than one other universe has noticed something is wrong and is trying to do something about it, but that's never adressed here. Otherwise it's great to know that one of all those universes can wipe out life all over from being incredibly stupid and no one would ever know, which I guess isn't impossible in the fantastical world of sci-fi writing.

Ok, which one of you guys wiped out life as we know it?

Either way, Lorca and his army make their way through the ship and manage to wipe out Philippa's crew. Her crew didn't seem particularly capable though, as just before Michael manages to escape the throne room although it is literally packed with guards all over.

Michael sends a message to Saru, explaining the truth behind Lorca, he and Stamets in turn explain the issue with the mycelial network dying. Saru rightly points out that it is odd that his threat-ganglia didn't react to Lorca's deviousness, but the matter is never answered and quickly glossed over. Instead they devise a completely crazy plan about destroying the core of the throne-ship, which apparently isn't a star but a big ball of spores (?) drawing energy from the network. Michael goes to Philippa, convinces her to bait Lorca into letting them into the throne room from where they can release the protection over the ball.

Then there is some back and forth about whether Discovery will get blown up in the process or not, use up all their spores in the process and so not be able to get back home or not... but in the end they manage to solve all those issues.

Sci-fi henchmen are not known for their battle prowess.

But before that happens, Michael and Philippa make it to the throne-room under the pretense that Michael is handing Philippa over to Lorca to join his forces. Lorca is easily convinced for some reason. And yet again a vastly outnumbered group (Michael and Philippa) manage to make an easy job out of reducing Lorca's much greater numbers to zero in what is admittedly probably the coolest fight scene in a Star Trek series to date.

Which isn't saying much because all we've got so far is the now infamous scene between Kirk and a Gorn, a couple of scenes with Klingons flailing their Bat'Leth and not much else... but this fight scene was actually pretty cool and enjoyable.

It all ends with Philippa killing Lorca. So now I really hope prime-Lorca turns up somewhere because I don't want that to be the end of Lorca! There is actually a great interview with Jason Isaacs on that matter over here.

Is this where prime-Lorca is hiding?

Then Discovery blows up the energy ball and beam Michael out of there. Michael grabs on to Philippa who gets beamed to Discovery as well, and isn't too happy about it. Discovery rides on the shock wave of the blast to use it to get back to their own universe and succeed!

Sort of. Turns out they've ended up nine months into the future, a future where the Klingons have won the war and wiped out the Federation. Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. And that is where they leave us.

This felt like a season finale to me, but I am glad it isn't. Great episode either way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 12

Vaulting Ambition
With spoilers

Dayyyyyyymm. This episode was mind-blowing.

Yesterday I told my bf I didn't really feel like watching the latest episode of Discovery. He asked me if I thought it was the weakest series so far and I answered that it was difficult to say. Like I've mentioned in my reviews, every Star Trek series has its fair share of pretty lackluster episodes. What they get right is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts - and Discovery had not yet reached that wholeness. Which I didn't find odd considering that it hasn't even finished the first season. But yesterday, after the last episode that revealed so much of what we had been expecting, I felt a bit drained.

Episode 12, the one episode I decided to not watch as soon as possible, is of course the episode that brings it all together.

Let's start from the top though. The last episode revealed a whole lot of things, but it ended with Georgiou (I absolutely hate trying to spell that name by the way) turning up as the mirror universe Emperor.

So this episode starts off with Philippa (as I will call her from now on) inviting Michael to her palace which is actually a massive starship that looks like it's run on a tiny star (?). Pretty cool. I read in a post by Kotaku that the empire has probably learnt its lesson from the events that unfold in ENT (which I had actually forgotten about) where Sato destroys emperor Archer because his palace is immovably on earth. Michael finds out that the information about the Defiant she retrieved is pretty useless, so somehow she needs to get to the archives in the palace anyway.

And apparently this was the standard uniform.

Meanwhile on Discovery, we get to see what is going on inside Stamets' head aka the mycelial network. Turns out mirror-Stamets also ended up in here, they meet up and he explains the situation briefly. Not only are they both stuck in there, but the mycelial network is becoming corrupt. My first reaction to mirror-Stamets was that he seemed like a pretty nice guy, considering he too is part of the overly-evil Terran empire. Of course I was wrong about that.

As Stamets is trying to help mirror-Stamets and himself get out of there, he finds Culber, who also is in here for mysterious mycelial network reasons. It turns out that mirror-Stamets is the reason the network is corrupted. Culber helps Stamets wake up from his coma, in what is a really sweet scene, but this also leads evil mirror-Stamets to wake up and we don't know what kind of problems that is going to bring yet...

Meanwhile back on Discovery the (at this point) side-plot of Tyler being Voq continues to play out. Saru apparently didn't get information from Michael that Tyler is Voq somehow, so to solve the problem he asks L'Rell for help. After some persuading she agrees to free Tyler from Voq (so apparently it was only a mental thing and not a physical), but it's difficult to believe that was the last we saw of Voq and that Tyler is just all well now.

Back on the palace spaceship, Philippa is offering Michael some Kelpian soup. Not made by Kelpians, made of Kelpians. Yeah, apparently they eat Kelpians in this universe, not that I am surprised. Then she tells Michael she knew that she and Lorca were plotting against her and now she is going to execute her. Before she does, Michael decides to tell her she is not the Michael Philippa thinks she is. So Philippa stays her hand. Michael tells Philippa everything about the mirror universe, what information she needs to return and that they'll be out of Philippas hair as soon as they get it. Philippa tells Michael that the way the Defiant made it through is not going to work for them as it also seems to make everyone insane. Michael mentions the spore-drive to Philippa, which seems like a really bad idea. Philippa makes it seem as if she hasn't heard of it before, but considering mirror-Stamets was working on it that seems odd.

As they talk, Philippa tells Michael more about the plot that mirror-Michael and Mirror-Lorca had against her. This information leads Michael to come to the conclusion, and this is the real bomb here, that her Lorca is actually mirror-Lorca who this entire time has been conniving to get back to the mirror-universe to finish his coup on Philippa.

This hit me like a sack of bricks. This has been foreshadowed so brilliantly, without me being able to pick up on this possibility at all (like I've mentioned I am not very good with these things). But it makes perfect sense! All the times I've mentioned that I like the moral dubiousness of Lorca, the way he just seemed like he had an ulterior motive. He has casually mentioned things throughout that suddenly seem a lot less like odd anecdotes and a lot more like him bringing his plan to fruition. I just could never in a million universes have guessed this was it but not only was the setup for this perfect, it also brings everything that has happened so far together. As soon as they ended up in the mirror universe I was wondering what this was leading to. Now that too makes perfect sense. Lorca has been the key figure since episode one.

I just really hope they can treat this setup the way it deserves for the rest of the season.
And I know I really want to see what happens next.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay - Review

Bite-sized fun.

My first encounter with Riddick, as I assume most other people, was with the Pitch Black movie. I quite liked that movie, and I quite liked Riddick. He was cool enough without seeming to try too hard and it was very understandable and predictable that someone wanted to make more out of such a promising character that suited Vin Diesel perfectly. So a couple of more movies followed, and some games. Where did Riddick even come from? As far as I know he didn't start out as a comic book character, as one could guess but just sort of got a franchise based on himself from nothing else than that first movie.

Remember these guys?

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Buther Bay (EfBB), released in 2004 (same year as the second movie in the franchise), unfortunately didn't get on my radar until all my time was absorbed by WoW, so even though it looked interesting I never got around to it for the longest of time. As with many other games I've eventually played, I did see quite a lot of it through it being played by my then boyfriend and I liked what I saw. Especially later, as I realized that sneak'em'ups probably were right up my alley, and I had heard good things about it - it was definitely on my to-do-list. 

Once I finally got to playing it, I realized I still didn't know very much about it. I knew it was about breaking out of a prison (the title sort of gave that one away), I remembered it being very dark and I remembered getting night-vision at some point. Turns out, that pretty much sums up the game as well.

Story-wise it plays out a lot like one of the movies could. All the characters you recognize (Johns and Riddick in my case) are played by their original actors, which of course is a nice, and in Riddicks case absolutely necessary, touch. The premise starts out simple - Riddick has been caught by his bromance bounty hunter not-friend Johns yet again, and is being sold to the notorious prison Butcher Bay. It's not mentioned, but definitely assumed, that this is not a place you get out of alive. Riddick of course has other plans.

Does this have slash fiction?

It never really gets more complicated than that, and I am actually thankful for it. Many games I've played that start out with a simple and straightforward plot sometimes deviate into weirdness and some confusion towards the end (System Shock 2, Thief, every anime running past 100 episodes). This one sticks to its guns and by mixing up the sneaking with some shooting at times it keeps things interesting. In a twist that could be comical or obnoxious, Riddick is recaptured no less than two times and sent to increasingly stronger holdings. Rather than making the game feel silly or repetitive, this allows the game to show off different areas and also perfectly suits the "I don't give a damn"-attitude that Riddick has. Even when he gets sent to cryo-sleep and you think there is just no way he could make his way out of that, the game gives you a fairly reasonable way to manage.

Gameplay-wise it's like a stripped down Deus Ex. Forget about the character management from Deus Ex and remove most of the branching paths and you have EfBB. While this might sound boring, I found the well designed atmosphere, controls and gameplay elements instead gave me a tight and thought-through feeling. Nothing was in there just to bloat the game (not that it is in Deus Ex either!). With a very generous checkpoint system it gives you an intensity and that lovely "just another try"-feeling that doesn't have to cost you many minutes when you fail. For someone like me, with a tight gametime budget, this game suited me perfectly. Rarely can I start up a game, only play for 10-15 minutes and still feel like I accomplished something. EfBB provides you with exactly that opportunity.

Overall the game felt fair and well-balanced in its difficulty too. It can sway widely from crawling through airvents and sneaking up on unsuspecting victims, to going all out spray-and-pray mode against six enemies and a mechawarrior. Nothing feels out of place and nothing feels like it doesn't work. Enemies are not the cleverest, and don't follow you particularly far even though realistically they should seeing as they are prison guards and you're an escaped and very dangerous prisoner, but none of that ruins the fun of the game. I'm a firm believer that good gameplay comes before realism (if and when the choice is necessary), otherwise I wouldn't be playing games in the first place.

I mean, it definitely looks like a prison.

You'd think putting your game in the setting of a dangerous prison is to make it easy for yourself as a game designer. The whole point is to make it look drab, monochrome and cramped up. But it still has to feel believable and make sense within the universe of the game. I feel they definitely succeeded with that. Each area, that becomes increasingly more patrolled and claustrophobic (the containers hanging off the side in the second third of the game felt truly creepy to me), felt like it could actually be a real prison. The color scheme is overwhelmingly dark blue, brown and gray and that makes sense. Everything is made of metal or dirt and there is barely any sun. You won't see any flowers, forests or animals (other than the poisonous moths and murderous beasts) in this prison. It's supposed to be depressing and it manages the atmosphere well. In fact my only question is why they bother keeping people in here at all, and not just kill them and get it over with? Especially someone as dangerous as Riddick, what is the motivation for keeping him alive? And especially especially when he'd foiled your great plan for the third time.

I rarely lost my way, in fact the only time I managed to backtrack on myself was when I found an alternate route from a previous area and accidentally followed it back to where I had already been. Rather than annoy me it only made me more careful to try to pick out these "secret" routes as I went on with the game. As mentioned, even when you make mistakes or fail it rarely costs you more than a couple of minutes, relieving any tediousness you might feel from trying different tactics or paths.

The inmates have formed gangs and ask you to perform tasks for them before they'll help you out, not all of them are needed to progress the story and I found there was little hand-holding in helping you to solve these "quests". They weren't even always beneficial. Overall however this is a linear experience where you rarely have to worry much about whether you've said the right thing to the right person or picked up the right item to progress. In a time when games get increasingly spread out and "open-worldy", trying to pack in as much content as possible, I found this game to be very more-ish without any risk of getting stuck trying to figure out what to do for very long. Maybe because of that, the game isn't very long, it took me just under 9 hours to complete and from what I read that is a comparatively long time. But this game knows what it wants to do, sticks to its guns and gives you a well-designed experience throughout. In that way it's a lot like a really good book - you know where you are and you know where you're heading, but it's one fun ride all the while.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 11

The Wolf Inside
Definitely spoilers

We finally get to know who Tyler really is, and by this point it should've been obvious. Of course I was the last to figure out, because I am really bad at these things, but we'll get to that...

When the episode started I was confused. I had completely forgotten the ending of the last episode where they were trying to be their own evil counterparts and Michael was now the captain on the Shenzhou. Michael is clearly uncomfortable being morally derelict, and it all gets worse when she is ordered by the mysterious emperor to wipe out a rebel base they've found on a nearby planet. Michael goes to discuss the matter with Lorca who think the most important part is that they keep their cover. Michael convinces him that he is losing his grip in things and that there is a different way, in a scene that is a bit uncharacteristic for Lorca in that he seems unsure about himself for the first time so far. It's understandable though, considering all the torture he has gone through so far.

Again, just as in the previous episode where Tyler was clearly able to visit L'Rell in the brig without anyone minding, Michael is left alone with Lorca without any trouble. Sure, she's the captain and she can order whatever she wants, but in a totalitarian and backstabbing state like that it's still surprising that no one is curious as to why she is spending so much time with him.

Michaels plan is to infiltrate the rebel base instead, to steal information on where all their bases are and so have the means to destroy more than just one. At least that is what she tells everyone else - her real plan is to warn them of the attack, while at the same time get information on how the Klingons manages to be in a coalition with so many other species - information she thinks can be highly useful back in their own universe.

I like the moral conundrum though, and feel like it's a nice throwback to some of the best Star Trek episodes. Should Michael sacrifice the rebels of this universe for the greater good of the people back in her universe? This reminds me of episodes like "Similitude" of ENT, where they clone Tucker to harvest the organs for the "real" Tucker who is dying from an accident. That Star Trek episode actually had me crying at the end. Another good one is the "Nothing Human" episode of VOY, where the Doctor is set with the conundrum of using medical information obtained through immoral means to save one of his patients. In this episode, the conundrum is more of a setup of for the rest of the plot rather than the point of the episode, but it was an interesting reminder of some of the things that I really like about Star Trek.

"You only exist so we can harvest your organs. Nothing personal."

Also I was reminded that the doctor of Discovery is called Culber. Let's see how long it takes me to forget. EXTRA SPOILER HERE! I read an interview with Jonathan Frakes who directed the episode where Culber dies, and he sort of hints that it's not the last we see of him. It doesn't mean much, but I wish I hadn't read it none the less. END EXTRA SPOILER.

This episode actually sets out to explain a lot of things. So we get to know about more about what is happening to Stamets. In essence he is turning into a tardigrade, sort of, maybe? I didn't really get much of it, but Tilly says she wants to try to fix him using the spores and to no surprise of course it fails, because that would've been to easy otherwise.

Michael also speaks to Saru on the Discovery, telling him that she has the information about the Defiant that they need but no good way to transport it off the ship without anyone noticing. We also get to see that in this universe, Saru is a slave. For some reason Michael chooses not to tell Saru when he asks if she has encountered any Kelpians like him.

Back on the Shenzhou Michael and Tyler are ready to get beamed down. I wouldn't trust anyone beaming me anywhere in a regime where beaming people into open space is the go-to way of execution. How is Burnham to make sure that the people at the controls don't just do that or beam her into a wall or straight into the rebel base? I'd take a shuttle...

Just saying, it CAN happen.

Once they're on the surface they get shot on a bit but as soon as they lay down their weapons the rebels decide to listen to what they have to say. Considering the Terrans are such a scourge in this universe that Klingons have decided to be BFFs with Vulcans, the rebels are awfully trusting.

They are taken to the rebel leader, who happens to be on this exact base that they found? Pretty lucky ain't it. It also happens to be Voq, if ya'll still remember him? In this universe he has fared a bit better than back home and I've been wondering what happened to him after L'Rell said she was going to take care of thing a lot of episodes ago. Well, we don't have to wait much longer for that answer... Tyler starts acting very weird around Voq and it all ends with Tyler shouting things in Klingon and trying to murder him. Fortunately he fails but obviously now Michael has had it with Tyler's weirdness. Before they leave though she tells the rebels she is giving them an hour to evacuate before she'll blast everything for show.

When she confronts him back on the Shenzhou we get to find out that Tyler is in fact Voq, in a twist that, as I mentioned before, came as a surprise to no one. Since I am a bit daft I only realized this was the case when Tyler met Voq in the rebel base, but it was really quite obvious. We don't get to hear anything about Voq since episode 3 (or so) and it's clear Tyler is a Klingon. Of course he is Voq! (It doesn't help that the information is on IMDB where I go to look for other information every now and then, but clearly missed this).

He tries to murder Michael, and almost would've made it too if it wasn't for the meddling slave-Saru who comes in and saves her life. Voq/Tyler is taken prisoner and sentenced to death. Michael beams him into cold space herself and as we see Voq/Tyler floating around there we know it can't be the end of him because that would just be stupid. Of course, he gets saved. By Discovery?!

Who fortunately looks nothing like this.

Saru beams him onto the Discovery and says some stuff about how even though they're not in their own universe they need to abide by Federation law and put Voq/Tyler on trial. At first I thought he was stupid, but turns out Michael used Voq/Tyler as a means to transfer the data disk of information on the Defiant. Very clever! Very odd however that no one notices that Voq/Tyler has been beamed out of space again.

Then the episode ends with the rebel base being destroyed ahead of time by another ship, presumably killing everyone in it including Voq and Sarek (whom, I forgot to mention, also is there). Then Shenzhou gets a personal visit from the emperor himself, actually herself, because it turns out to be none less than Phillippa Georgiou in this universe. And she is not happy with Michael disobeying orders on destroying the rebel base.

This episode was good in the sense that it answered, or at least laid open, a lot of the things that it has been lurking for the last couple of episodes. And it ends in a place where even though a lot of things have just been clarified, we really want to know where things are going from here. Is Michael going to be found out? Is Voq/Tyler going to reunite with L'Rell now that they're both in the brig (I'm assuming they only have one brig, but I would really not put those two anywhere near each other) and scheme murderous plans? How long will Lorca want to deal with the torture and how will it further deteriorate his mental state? Will they be able to get back to their own universe with the information they have on the Defiant (that seems like a given)?

Sucks to be Voq/Tyler though, who went through all that trouble to become human so he could infiltrate them to steal information, and not really accomplish any of that. Or did he?

I'm definitely looking forward to the next episode and that is always a good sign.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery Ep 10

Despite Yourself

And we're back! I really thought this episode would be called Mirror, Mirror after seeing it, because that is essentially the episode we got. It started off a bit slow but the second half got increasingly interesting.

Even though I quite liked the previous episode and thought the first half of the season was fairly entertaining, I realized as this episode aired that I hadn't really missed it. Oh-oh, bad sign. I think that might also be why I thought the episode started a bit slow, because I wasn't really into it. That, and I recently started watching The Expanse (I'm only at episode 5 yet though) and that got my attention way more than this series has so far. Storywise they're not really comparable as they play out completely differently, but storytelling-wise I feel like ST has some to learn when it comes to character build-up and pacing. Anyway, let's get on to today's episode.

In the last episode we left off at a real cliffhanger - Discovery made a faulty jump and ended up only Kahless knows where. Seeing that I speculated whether they were doing a Voyager, although I didn't find it very likely as it would change the style of the story too much.

I miss these Klingons actually...

First thing that happens is that a Vulcan spaceship shows up and fires at them. Everyone is confused. Me too, why would such a tiny little ship even dare to bother what is among the best ships in the Federation army? It quickly turns out that Discovery didn't get lost in space, but in dimensions. Welcome to the Mirror, Mirror episode where everyone is really, really evil and the Vulcans have apparently teamed up with the Klingons (and the Andorians). We can all assume it is the same parallell universe that Kirk & Co stumbles upon in their episode that started it all. Not only is the Federation an Empire that pretty much kills everything and everyone, including themselves, on sight and opportunity - people seem to have swapped personalities as well. So it is that Tilly, the least likely candidate in our universe, is actually the ruthless murder machine known as Captain Killy (yes, for real) in our alternate universe, and captain of the Discovery. Michael and Lorca are presumed dead.

Tyler continues to struggle with his PTSD and gets some much needed character development. I have really not found him particularly interesting so far, but in this episode everything is leaning towards that he is in fact an actual Klingon, changed to look like a meek human. This is interesting, too bad so many things surrounding the reveal just seem weird.

Firstly, Tyler spends a lot of time talking to and agonizing over L'Rell by her prison cell. He even lets her out at one point although it is not entirely clear whether he just dreams this or not. I just keep wondering where the security is? This is presumably your only threat on the ship, and there is no guard, no cameras, no nothing to keep track of what is going on in there? I'd assume you'd even log every entry into that room just to make sure you know why anyone would visit your only, and quite important, prisoner. Especially when it seems to happen as often as with Tyler.

Secondly, Tyler goes to talk to the Doctor whose name I can never recall (so he'll just be Doctor with a capital D) and ask him to help him with his PTSD. Eventually the Doctor finds out that Tyler is sufficiently weird to point to the fact that he is in fact not Tyler at all. Tyler quickly goes on to kill the doctor (a move that quite surprised me actually). Why did these massive changes to Tylers body not raise question marks to begin with? And does no system on the ship react when someone is killed? Isn't that a function of the badges, to keep track of life signs? I'm pretty sure they've been used to track life signs in other ST episodes (can't remember exactly where though) but either way it seems odd that there is no reaction whatsoever.

Or is it just made of cloth?

Thirdly, they go on to find out who everyones counterpart is and what they're up to in this universe. That is how they find out that Lorca and Michael have a history and are presumed dead and that Tilly is Killy. But nothing on Tyler? Considering how important it is that he doesn't bump into himself for the upcoming mission (read further down) you'd think they'd do this. But if they did they'd find out he doesn't actually exist. So I guess that reveal is left for another episode for plot reasons (namely bringing him on said mission). Which also makes me wonder if they mentioned that his records don't exist in the Federation database? Do they? I can't remember!

Also there is a scene where Lorca tells the Doctor he'll give the case of Stamets (who, by the way, seems to know who Tyler really is in his delusional state) to another doctor. This scene only seems to be there to throw further fuel on the case of Lorca's dubiousness, because this other doctor is never seen and not present in the room with Stamets when the Doctor is killed.

Everyone is eager to get back to their own universe, so they think up a totally crazy mission involving getting on the Shenzhou (the ship that Michael was on in the beginning of the series that was destroyed, it still exists in the parallell universe) to get to information about the Defiant, which is a ship that apparently managed to make the jump between parallell universes without the spore-drive. (EDIT: After a short brain-lapse I realized it of course has to refer to THE Defiant from many other Star Trek series. That is a very nice touch.) Also apparently that information is classified and hidden on the Shenzhou.

Again I am not entirely sure why no one but Stamets can use the spore-drive? This is a point I brought up in another post, but I don't know how Stamets was uniquely qualified except for the fact that he came up with the idea. I still don't think that would in any way help him for the experience that is the spore-drive. Since he managed over 100 jumps before succumbing to whatever illness he has, surely someone could give it a go for a couple of jumps just to see if that would work? I still think that is less of a gamble than the plan they settle on.

Back to that plan - Michael gets on the Shenzhou with Lorca as a prisoner, because in this universe that is how things are, and while Lorca gets tortured Michael is getting comfortable in the captain's chair. For some reason they still apparently have no one more qualified to join than a clearly less than able PTSD:d and probably Klingon agent Tyler. I also find that really hard to believe, since just a couple of scenes earlier Tyler nearly botches a simple job because he gets too stressed out. Really, this is the guy you want to bring on this highly important and extremely risky operation?

So everything surrounding Tylers secret nature isn't handled well and full of plotholes, which is really unfortunate because the premise is interesting and could turn out cool.

Again, overall an ok episode which at least makes me want to see the next one and to be fair that is more than can be said about a lot of TV-series for me, so I guess that is pretty good.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Witcher 2 - Thoughts and Review

There are most definitely spoilers ahead.

I finished The Witcher 2 the other day and I was shocked. I didn't expect it to end there, not like that! Ok, I had expected it to end with a showdown between Geralt and Letho but as the cutscene before the fight was playing out I even turned to my bf and said "well, I really thought Letho would be the final boss of the game but since I'm only half-way I guess I was wrong". The fact that you can choose to spare him further threw me off. Turns out I was wrong, the encounter with Letho is indeed the end of the game (unless it does a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and only pretends to be done when it's actually at the half-way mark?). But it left me feeling like I hadn't actually accomplished anything yet, like all the plot threads were still hanging in the air waiting for me to get to their end. The Witcher 2 felt more like a prequel than a stand-alone game and I can only hope The Witcher 3 will give me the closure I so badly need now.

Otherwise The Witcher 2 improved on the first game in the series in many ways but also changed a couple of things that did grate on me quite a bit. So they made it so that you could craft potions anywhere and not just by a campfire as in The Witcher, also you didn't need to meditate to remove the toxic effect like in the first game. Finding herbs for said potions was also easier, although I didn't find any of the above a big issue in the first game. But a couple of Quality of Life changes worthy of a sequel, that's great. But who the heck decided that Geralt would only be able to scoff potions out of combat? This must be one of the most annoying gameplay decisions I've encountered in a post-2000 game since ever.

While you can't meditate everywhere, Geralt is surprisingly ok with sitting down in some weird stuff.

I can imagine the idea was probably to add a bit of challenge and maybe tactical thinking, and in reality potions weren't super-necessary in normal mode (except for the healing one) - but in practicality this turned out one of two ways; you're stingy and don't want to waste potions when you're just running around gathering herbs and not doing anything special... BAM! Surprise attack by five endregas that you weren't expecting and you're dead. Reload and now you know they're coming so you can prepare, yay! Or you're stingy with your time and don't like the trial and error attitude of the game because it's not 1989 anymore and decide to run around with the most essential potions active pretty much all the time. Add to the problem that potions only last around 10 minutes (you can add a couple of precious minutes with talents) and you spend a lot of time preparing for fights you're never going to have. Or dying in fights you never thought you were going to have. Either way, as you may understand from my rant, bad design choice.

Surprise mothafakka!

They also overhauled combat quite a lot, and since I didn't have any problem with it the first time around this took me some time both to get used to and to accept. I died a lot in the beginning before I realized I could take a page from Dark Souls and run in-stab-stab-dodge-stab-dodge-stun-stab-etc. Basically, don't get greedy and think you can go in like it's some hack-and-slash. It also feels like you fight a lot less types of enemies in this game compared to the first. The first introduced you to a lovely plethora of monsters, but here I found myself mostly fighting Rotfiends and Harpies (and of course, humanoids). Just as in the first game though, only two of the signs are useful - fire and stun. I did use the shield one for some fights so I guess that one is alright but I literally never touched the hex and trap sign. I didn't use traps at all in fact. Maybe they're more needed on the higher difficulties.

Gone are stances, which I actually missed, but at least they kept the fact that you need to use different swords for different enemies. I guess that one was too rooted in lore to remove entirely. Just as with The Witcher however, once you had gotten the hang of the combat I rarely found the game difficult. There was a boss guarding a chest that gave me a headache, and an ambush by a couple of dwarves and elves, other than that I found the game to be well balanced difficulty-wise.

Graphically it's a massive improvement to the first game, but it's an unfair comparison because pretty much anything would've been an improvement. While the Witcher 2 still reuses some character models it comes nowhere near the level of the first game, and I played the enhanced edition for that so apparently it's even worse in its original make up. That being said though, I somehow still found the first game to be more immersive and inviting than the sequel. There was something about the sequel and the places I visited (I only did one of supposedly two different ways of playing it through) that didn't make them seem as open and "real" as they were in the first game. This probably added to the feeling of the game ending at the half-way point, I was always expecting to get to that one big area to run around in but was mostly cramped up in cities.

It aint pretty.

While the story in The Witcher 2 takes a turn for the very political and talkative, I overall enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Personally, yet again, I preferred the first game where Geralt was more of a free spirit and less entangled in the machinations of kings and sorceresses (or rather, the way that game made you believe you were less entangled). The Witcher 2 puts you smack in the middle, for better or worse, and I think I would've enjoyed it more for Geralt to be the joker, out-of-nowhere-player that he was in the first game. I also felt that this game had a lot less of the extremely well-designed choices that the first game had, where I genuinely wracked my brain about which way to go and often just had to choose what felt like the lesser evil. This game gave me a couple of choices but they rarely felt anywhere near as difficult. Do I save Triss or Philippa? Well considering Triss is my long-time friend (and lover) and Philippa just betrayed me...

I thought we were friends!

Though I enjoyed most of the characters, I also felt they got less build-up than in the first game. Zoltan Chivay makes a return but the game assumes you know everything about him from the first game (which you probably do, but still) because this game adds practically nothing to his character. Same thing with Triss, who spends most of the game being kidnapped anyway. Gone are the way side-characters got a lot more love like in the first game, like Shani, Thaler, Raymond and Vincent to name a few. We get an option to befriend either Iorveth or Roche. I chose Iorveth to make up for my sins of siding with Siegfried in the first game (while I really liked Siegfried, I didn't like the way they killed a lot of non-humans). Iorveth is one of the few characters that is well realized, even the main antagonist Letho feels too anonymous when you finally fight him in the end.

Overall I really liked The Witcher 2, although it might sound like I was just annoyed it wasn't as good as the first one. While I do think the first one was more fun, there were a couple of things the second did that I felt moved the series forward rather than making it feel like a step backwards. Most importantly, it made Geralt feel more personal and real and not just like a really cool game protagonist but like a really cool person that I want to know more about and experience more of. He has a lot of the sassy, gritty persona showing through already in the first game but through all the political intrigues and dialogues of The Witcher 2, you get an even better idea of what kind of person he is and in the end it is definitely someone I'm happy I spent all that time with. Also it is pretty telling when I think a game is too short, rather than thinking it's a blessing it finally ended. If you enjoyed the first game I would still definitely recommend this, with the caveat that you shouldn't expect them to be much alike.