Game Review – XCOM: Chimera Squad: Underrated and Overshadowed

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Like many others last year, I never got around to playing Chimera Squad. While I’m certainly not disappointed to have found it in my monthly Humble Bundle, I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t take my own advice and consider that it was only getting negative reviews because it lives in the shadow of its predecessors.

I was right.

Chimera Squad’s biggest flaw is being tied to XCOM.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is (in)arguably the gold standard for turn-based tactical shooters. With its equally incredible expansion, Enemy Within, it is nearly a perfect game. Compelling story, great gameplay, challenge, depth, replayability… it has it all. I’ve put hundreds of hours into it, myself. Hell, I want to play it right now, just talking about it–and that’s the problem.

Chimera Squad is an XCOM game, very intentionally set in the XCOM universe. It doesn’t really place itself as a sequel, or an in-between to XCOM 2, it’s more of a side story. It’s sort of what Lower Decks is to the rest of the Trek universe.

Star Trek meta joke about the over-pronunciation of "sensors."
My apologies to those who don’t understand most of the obscure references I make.


It’s not nearly as deep, it’s not nearly as dark, and it’s definitely a more casual gameplay experience compared to its big brothers. It takes a much lighter, but more direct approach to the story, and your unit is made up of indisposable characters integral to the plot, rather than a lineup of random recruits you may lose along the way. So it’s more narrative focused, and has less overall decision making as to where to go next.

None of these things are poor design choices in my opinion. The problem is that it’s impossible not to compare it to the other games, which are inarguably better. So, I can understand why some people might pick up this game and say, “wow, this just doesn’t hold up to other XCOM games,” and dismiss it as that.

I get it. Nothing beats the mech suits from Enemy Within.


You might miss out on a fun game, though.

It’s true, it doesn’t have the depth or diversity of gameplay as the bigger XCOM games, but that doesn’t make it a bad tactical shooter on its own. In fact, I’d say it’s a very good one.

Since it is made by the same developers of the original games, you can expect that the combat is good. Really, good. It feels a bit more forgiving on those higher percentage chances to hit, as well. Plus, because you are working with unique characters, they also have unique abilities. There’s no need to train or modify soldiers, you can just pick from characters you like. There’s also a new Breach mechanic, which gives you the opportunity to surprise enemies as you bust down a door, or blow a hole in a wall.

You can even split your squad between multiple breach points.


Since your unit is made up of important characters, they communicate frequently and seem to have varied dialogue depending on who you chose for the mission. They also contribute to the narrative aspects and feel like characters who were built with consideration, having more than just one dimension. There is a lot of quality game here that shouldn’t be tossed aside just because it’s a more casual approach to the genre.

It’s also not without some depth on its own: there’s weapon and item crafting, there’s unit customization, there are a variety of different mission scenarios and side quests that deviate from the main story. It’s not just a narrative focused, one-and-done game. There’s no reason one couldn’t find a hundred hours or more here.

You have a base where you can do base stuff.


Plus, I actually like the concept of it being more of a mid level cop division of XCOM, rather than being the top tier focused on saving the world. Sometimes it’s nice to hear the stories from the clean up crew, and not just from the guys making the mess. Being the sole savior of humanity is a heavily used trope in gaming. There’s plenty of room for diversion from that.

Again, it’s so easy to compare this game to its bigger brothers, but you’re best not to. While it fits well into the XCOM world building, it might be easier just to think of this as a game made by a different studio designed as a love-letter, instead. You might just enjoy it more as a thing by itself, rather than as something trying to live up to the original–because that bar is higher than most.

/gameon

No photo description available.
Remember: avoid manhandling and/or panhandling.

Game Review – Breathedge: Why are you mad that it’s funny?

Rating: 4 out of 5.


I know, I know, it’s another new new “survival” game. Believe me, I’m bored just saying it. But stay with me on this one.

The gaming metaverse is correct in the generalization of it being “Subnautica in space.” Especially in the ways that it counts. It has a great immersive quality, there’s lots to do, and it rides the line of chill and stressful without going too far in either direction.

This title’s most divisive quality however: its use of humour. Some like it, while others seem utterly repulsed by it. Enough so to leave a negative review, and they even seem to comprise the bulk of the negative reviews, against the otherwise high ratio of positive (90%) reviews on Steam.

In today’s news, games are no longer allowed to be funny.


So when is the literary use of humour enough to turn people off, and even stop playing an otherwise clever game? Well, we’ll get into that. But first, let’s talk about what the game is.

As is asserted and agreed upon by many, this game shares a lot of similarities with the highly acclaimed, Subnautica. It drops you into a dangerous, unforgiving world, with little but your wits to figure out how to survive and thrive after a catastrophic accident aboard a spaceship. So yeah, basically the exact prologue to Subnautica.

It’s not so bad being compared to this game.


You spend a lot of the first act just trying to survive. You have limited oxygen and limited tools, so you spend a lot of time just trying to acquire blueprints and materials so you can spend more time in space. Eventually, you move to build yourself a habitat, while further exploring and delving deeper into the narrative. The base-building is simple, easy and doesn’t ask for a monumental grind, but there is a chance you will have to fix systems along to way to keep your base in good health, especially as it grows. Item and gear progression should be familiar to most, especially if you’ve played similar games.

There is a divergent sense of atmosphere, most certainly, in the attempts at humour. Subnautica comes across more serious, and is occasionally absolutely terrifying. Breathedge pushes away from horrors of the unknown, and takes a more lighthearted approach. If I were to compare it to anything, it has some similarities with Borderlands, and Fallout, or Outer Worlds in its juxtaposed cheerful corporate dystopia.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate Vault Boy Reveal Trailer Nintendo Direct 2020 -  YouTube
Is it ironic that Vault Boy is now a Smash character?


So this is where the controversy begins: when is use of humour too much? I will admit, the game never lets up. Every item description, every helpful notification from your internal computer voice, every achievement even… are all written to be clever or funny. I can see how this might be tiresome to certain people, but in the later game it just blends into the environment. For me, the humour is just another element of the game, like the skybox or the art style. When jokes hit, it adds to the game for sure, but when they miss, I don’t find it any more detracting than a poor colour choice, or a low res texture. It can be distracting, but it’s unlikely to actually take away from gameplay, especially if the gameplay is good.

I’m sorry, but this is a spectacularly good Area 51 raid joke.


And the gameplay is good. While the humour absolves the game of starkness, and wedges out most potentially scary moments, I consider the eased tension a nice break from the stress and occasional terror present in so many other survival games. Subnautica is an easy comparison here, because it is genuinely terrifying at times, without ever classifying itself in the horror genre. It does a good job of this, however, by balancing the terror with beautiful, serene moments in shallow waters. Most other survival games also approach fear in various ways, especially in having more dangerous monsters come out at night, or even making sanity a mechanic with its own meter, like in the Don’t Starve series.

But there’s no day-night cycle in Breathedge, so no creepy monsters to pop out in the dark. And while there are things to shoot at later on, the game never really seems intent on jump scares, or generally causing fear reactions just for the sake of it. There are some creepy elements here and there, but the general sense of joviality never really lets you be afraid of anything other than dying and losing progress. Considering there are corpses littering the entire map, both those who were alive and dead before the accident (you were in a space hearse, transporting hundreds of coffins, after all), I give this small indie developer credit for going with a dark humour approach at what would otherwise be considered a horrific incident.

Oh look, my visor has frozen over completely and I can’t see anything. Great.


This feels refreshing to me. Sure, the jokes don’t always hit, and they are unrelenting, but it’s such a nice change of pace from every other survival game that plunges you into darkness every 10 minutes so it can send waves of enemies at your base. Even one of my more recent favourites, Valheim is guilty of this.

So now I have a game where I can base-build in peace, while still having to make considerations for the health of my character. I have a game where I can experience the struggles of surviving in a cold, unforgiving vacuum, while also being literally memed by the developer into crafting a helmet that has zero visibility, or a phallus shaped out of scrap metal.

Are you even gaming if you can’t grab and manipulate corpses inappropriately?


Perhaps I have a leaning preference towards games which don’t take themselves too seriously. I definitely have a bias against those which do. My recent review of OUTRIDERS might reveal some of those sentiments. Too many (especially “AAA”) games these days focus so hard on flashy visuals, and confusing, world-bending narratives, they forget to just let the player have fun.

In today’s ever advancing graphics engines and competitive push to sell VR hardware to the masses, it’s important to remember that games don’t need to emulate hardcore realism to be immersive, and I think Breathedge is more than capable of selling an immersive experience while reminding the player, and perhaps the industry as a whole, to have fun.

/gameon

May be an image of 3 people and text that says "SOIJOINED THIS SHITPOSTING GROUP, BUT THEY POST LOT OF DAD JOKES SOI DECIDED το MAKE A SHITPOST CALLING THEM OUT ON THEIR DAD JOKES BECAUSE IT DOESN'T MATCH MY NTELLECTUAL LEVEL OF HUMOUR IM REALLY ONLY INTO ΜΕΤΑ HUMOUR WHERE TS AN RONIC NON-JOKE WHICH ENDS UP BEING FUNNY BECAUSE THE PEOPLE IN THE CONVERSATION MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND THAT I JOKING. IT'S JUST A REALLY SOPHISTICATED LEVEL OF HUMOUR, NOT EVERYONE GETS I IT'S LIKE, RICK AND MORTY LEVEL HUMOUR, YOU JUST HAVE To BE REALLY SMART το GET T. ASTROS"
It’s clear that we just don’t “get” your level of humour, bro.

Game Review – Hollow Knight: A Love Letter

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hollow Knight is a perfect game.

I know, a bit grandios to begin a review of a game with such a definitive and superlative statement, but I truly believe there is no other way to describe this title.

So hear me out.

Let’s start with the gameplay:

Smooth, precise and varied. Challenging, without being punishing. Exciting, but allows you to breathe. The pacing is well mannered and accessible. Rarely does it feel like the game is being unfair, even when you fail more than once.

Attacks feel weighted, even while playing as a tiny character. A character identified as small, not only by the environment, but by the NPCs themselves. Yet, you are strong, and feel as such. Your character is an agile warrior, and you are constantly reminded with a clever progression of mobility upgrades and swift attacks, but you don’t become an overpowered God to early game monsters, either. Anything can kill you, and you are always required to play the dance of mechanics. There is something satisfying in this, as predecessors like Dark Souls have shown.

Dance, monkey.

While there is certainly souls/metroidvania inspiration in this game, I hesitate to compare it too much, as it is so very able to stand on its own legs. While some mechanics may be lifted, others are simply things it has in common. Such as the immaculate and deliberate level design. Rewarding exploration and discovery. Non-linear storytelling and unguided pathfinding. The challenging gameplay and varied bosses, requiring you to learn mechanics. There are a number of things which have a bit of a souls-like/metroidvania feel, and the fact that you have to go “get” your body after dying in order to reclaim some of your life does have some parallels for sure.

But all of those things contribute, and never feel reused or stolen. Namely, because the game’s world itself is unique and fascinating.

I want to preface this next part with the fact that I don’t like bugs. Spiders creep me out, and even just the idea of visiting Australia gives me anxiety because of how huge some of the bugs are. Hell, I’ve never even seen Antz or A Bugs Life, (and I am the appropriate age to have seen them) because that’s how not interested I am in bugs.

It is kind of adorable.


So when I say that this marvelous little bug world really drew me in, I want you to understand that I otherwise I have no interest in entomology or even just having bugs near me. It is easily the most immersive 2D game world ever designed, in my opinion. Character design is diverse and creative. Monsters are varied and curious, not always just typical “bad guys.” Boss fights are glorious and reward you in unexpected ways. Sometimes you meet a new friend. Sometimes you earn the respect of warrior-leaders. Sometimes you’re just learning something new.

Dung Defender is an incredible name, and you wish you thought of it.


The lore is also deep, while never spoon-fed. You have to read, converse and make decisions to unravel the mysterious world around you. There are some aspects debated to this day, such as the result of spirits being hit by the Dream Nail–an important weapon given to you, which gains power upon striking lingering ghosts–and whether or not it is good or bad for the spirits, as many you find are innocents and kind souls. This is the kind of thing which makes great games stand the test of time. Hollow Knight is a game worth pondering over, while you play it.

You want lore? We got lore for days.


I suppose I can admit to some bias when it comes to this kind of game. I do love metroidvanias, and I consider Super Metroid to be one of the greatest games of all time, without question. I like sidescrollers, and I like platformers, and Hollow Knight is most certainly inspired by some of the classics which guided the early game industry as we know it. It doesn’t hold back on platforming, either, and even has some challenging spots which require fairly precise wall-jumping. I wouldn’t call it as punishing as say, Super Meat Boy, or Celeste, however, and much of the truly heavy platforming is relegated to side areas which are not mandatory to progressing the game.

Mostly I just love existing in this little bug world, which to me is the sign of a truly great game. I remember when I was young, playing Ocarina of Time on my N64, I’d just ride on my horse around the open world for hours. Just ride. I can’t name too many games where I just want to spend time in the world without any specific intent to accomplish anything, and Hollow Knight is one where I’ve done circles around the map, just to see if there are any new undiscovered nooks and crannies.

Lots of goodies to find, too.


It’s safe to say I’m pretty excited for the follow-up, Silksong to release (hopefully) this year. As such, I’d really like to point out the wonderful developer of this franchise, Team Cherry. I own this game on both Steam and Switch, have pumped more than 60 hours into both versions, and would say that the performance is indistinguishable on both. It always runs at a steady 60fps, and I have never experienced so much as an obvious frame drop, glitch, or even localization error. It runs as smoothly on a technically hand-held console as it does on my brand new gaming PC with an overclocked i7 and 3080.

Part of this is due to the fact that they don’t give release dates until the game is close to finished. Which is easier for a smaller team, for sure. I followed their Switch development cycle fairly closely, and while they’d give updates every few months, they’d continually say they weren’t comfortable giving a release date until they were sure it was polished enough to do so. The same methodology has continued with Silksong. I believe this is the correct way to publicly develop a game. Internal goals are fine, but as soon as you tell the public a date, you create expectations, and we have a Cyberpunk, or No Man’s Sky situation where a game is delayed several times and still released unfinished. The only expectation we should have is that a game be finished. The date is irrelevant if it’s unachievable. (Expect an article about the fallacy of setting expectations via release dates sometime in the near future)

TBA until it’s done. As it should be.


I could probably write another several hundred words about all of the things that make this game great, but I feel like I may have made my point to the uninitiated, and am just preaching to the choir when it comes to the existing fans, so I will leave you with this:

Hollow Knight is a perfect example of why this is the era of indie games. Big publishers continue to have their blunders by either misreading the market, or releasing unfinished games, while spectacularly good indie titles are coming from tiny studios with big hearts, and a passion for what they’re making. No amount of Ray-Traced realism, and hi-res, next-gen graphics can replace that in my gaming collection.

Modern indie masterpieces like Hollow Knight are a glorious reminder that games are made by artists; and there’s a big difference between corporate-designed pop music, and an orchestral symphony.

/gameon