Spiderman Miles Morales

I loved Marvel’s Spiderman on PS4. It even held up to my rose colored memories of Spiderman 2. It was a new story with a new version of Peter Parker. It had a slew of classic Spiderman villains. Combat allowed you to feel powerful but vulnerable at the same time. Of course, it nailed web slinging in combat and traversal. That’s what made you feel like Spiderman.

Miles vs. a heavy

It’s not a spoiler at this point to notice that Spiderman introduced Miles Morales. He also gained spider powers over the course of the story. The end of the main game had Miles revealing to Peter that he had powers. Some of the Spiderman DLC had Peter reluctantly agreeing to train Miles.

Miles Morales starts with a joint Spiderman mission as a tutorial. The OG Spiderman then leaves town to help Mary Jane overseas. This leaves Miles as the sole Spiderman to protect New York City over the Christmas holidays. Things go south as conflict between an environmental terrorist group and a clearly labeled evil energy company bursts into open violence. Most of Spiderman’s rogues gallery is sidelined for this adventure. Rhino shows up and Wilson Fisk makes a cameo, but most of the enemies will be from Roxxon Energy or the Tinkerer’s Underground terrorists. Another character plays a role that should please Into the Spiderverse fans, but I don’t want to spoil anything.


Miles animation makes clear he’s not as polished as his mentor. He seems a little less durable, but has some new powers that are discovered and explored through the course of the game. He’s not going to outquip Peter Parker, but he does get a few choice barbs in during fights. Miles makes a nice contrast since the first game established the OG Spiderman as a seasoned superhero. Miles wants to do the right thing but hasn’t always seen enough to know what that is. In fact, you could argue that the story is less about Roxxon vs. the Underground and more about this new Spiderman learning what it takes to be a hero.

Miles may not yet have access to Peter’s full rogues gallery, but he does have his own support system and different vibe thanks to the move to Harlem. His mom Rio drives part of the story. His friend Ganke is the man in the chair. His uncle Aaron shows up in ways that will not be surprising if you know anything about Miles Morales. Various business owners and neighbors show up to make the neighborhood feel alive.

Exploring Harlem

Miles has a new Spiderman app where citizens can report crime or suspicious activity. This feed means there’s always something to do. That’s the real crux of this game. Are you a completionist? If so, there’s plenty to do here even justifying it’s $50 retail price. However, if you just came for the main story, it’s a bit of a disappointment in length. It’s probably half the size of the original.

Combat holds up just as well in this game. You are not a bullet sponge, but you’re fast, agile and hit hard. Miles doesn’t have all of Peter’s gadgets, but his powers make up for that. There are still stealth sections where you can go loud at any time. One of Miles’ new abilities should help with this, but, of course, it gets nerfed way too soon.

The weather deteriorates

There are a few brilliant set pieces and boss fights to break up the regular action. The world is still vibrant and alive though that changes with the weather. If you play as the developers intended, story mission, exploration, side mission, then some additional tasks before attacking the next story mission, this is a worth follow up to Marvel’s Spiderman and a great set up to the upcoming Spiderman 2 which will let you switch between Spidermen on the fly. If you’re only here for the story, make sure to get it on a good sale. Overall, highly recommended. Bring on Spiderman 2 on October 20th, 2023, at least on PS5.


Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2023/09/spiderman-miles-morales/

Horizon Forbidden West (PS4/PS5)

Horizon: Zero Dawn kind of came out of nowhere to be an amazing hit. It drew people in with robotic dinosaurs and then gave players a truly fascinating world to explore and a story to uncover. It’s sequel, Forbidden West (FW), has a lot more expectations to live up to. Mostly, it succeeds even if the story isn’t quite as strong.

Zero Dawn (ZD) had two major mysteries. How did the world end up like that? And, what made the machines go crazy? The first game did a good job answering the first question and gave hints about the second. Forbidden West focuses on the second question while adding a few details to what was uncovered about the first. Ultimately, it turns out that understanding the world Aloy lives in was the more compelling question and mystery. However, there’s still a ton of fun to be had in the Forbidden West. You can play the entire game ignoring the story and missing all the references to the first game. I would recommend at least a story mode play through of Zero Dawn because it makes this story much better.

Flying mount
Soaring above the fray.

For the story it makes sense that we follow Aloy as she continues to try to repair this broken world. Unfortunately, for gameplay it makes sense to bust the player down to a low level scrub to generate a real sense of progression as you go along. I think they took this a little too far. It’s a bit jarring early on to have all these characters calling you hero and champion while you’re struggling to take down the easiest of enemies. It’s important to realize that the game really starts after the ‘Embassy’ mission. If you save your exploring and side missions until after that point, the game will be more fun. Once everything opens up, you have enough options to chase equipment, collectables, crafting materials, weapons, enemies and quests that you’re never at a loss for something fun to do. If you’re not high enough level or don’t have the right equipment, there’s always another direction to explore.

The core gameplay is still great. There are some new weapons and status effects. Weapon and armor upgrades are more substantial this time around. There are compelling reasons to switch between weapon and armor sets this time around. There are still plenty of things to collect, but FW gives you a stash. This reduces frustration. When your pouches are full, any excess automatically goes to the stash which can be accessed at any settlement or shelter. That makes it easy to top off your supplies. There’s even a single button refill at your stash which works very well. You might just have to go back and adjust your potions. All this means more time out in the world doing fun stuff which usually involves taking down robodinosaurs.

Elite Fireclaw
Elite units are even tougher and can’t be overridden.

There are still enemy human encampments to take out. These seemed a little tougher this time around. I think it mostly came down to the new champion types that can be found at camps. Some had powerful and advanced weapons. They often had tough armor. Usually I’d be engaged in melee with a couple of normal fighters when one of the champions would roll in out of nowhere and destroy me. This resulted in me stealthing most camps taking out champions from great distance with a precision bow. I’m sure people who enjoyed all the new unlockable combos for melee combat probably fared better than me. Still some of the champions just seemed way too powerful. There was eventually a story explanation for that, so I was somewhat mollified.

The developers, Guerilla Games, did seem to want to end some of the exploits from the first game. I remember some ZD videos with titles like “Kill a Thunderjaw in 5 seconds.” Usually, the gamer just had twenty different traps and tripwires set up to blow up any dino in no time flat. Now there’s a limit on the number of traps active at once in FW. There are still ways to get overpowered, but they usually require quite a bit of grinding to unlock and then upgrade the best weapons.

Overriding the core
Yes, overrides are unlocked by overriding cores found in cauldrons.

Here’s one example. Many legendary weapons parts that can only be scavenged from the toughest machines in the game. For example, the Fireclaw sac webbing can only obtained by taking down a Fireclaw. Now a Fireclaw is a tough enemy, but it should be regularly doable towards the end of the game. The problem is that the usual way to take down a Fireclaw is to ignite its belly full of blaze and then finish him off with normal attacks. Unfortunately, if his blaze belly is detonated, it destroys the sac webbing. So you have to take down this large and dangerous machine without using any fire or explosive ammunition while carefully avoiding using any attacks that might hit his large, volatile belly. If you do that, you’ll be rewarded with one sac webbing. Usually, you’ll need several to upgrade a legendary weapon one level. Depending on the weapon, you might need to do it again for subsequent upgrade levels.

None of that is necessary to enjoy the game or even get the platinum trophy. You can be quite well kitted out with lower tier armor and weapons that don’t require such exotic materials to upgrade. In fact, most lower tier equipment (and its upgrade materials) can be purchased if you find the right vendors. Since the game takes you over most of the entire map during the campaign and fast travel points are plentiful, you should be able to find everything you need to support your chosen play style.

Night reconnaissance
That’s a lot of machines down there.

There’s a compelling story driving you on to do all this. You don’t have do everything to appreciate the colorful world and characters that Guerilla built for Forbidden West. Some of the situations and people you’ll come across reminded me strongly of Rockstar’s amazing world building. That’s high praise indeed when you’re challenging the best in open world genre. Like the first game, you’ll end up winning over a motley collection of rogues and heroes whose help you’ll need toward the end of the story. Several familiar faces will be there while new tribes and factions flourish in the west requiring active recruiting.

Speaking of the story, it’s still pretty dense. It also assumes you remember a great deal from Zero Dawn. If you don’t feel up to a story replay, you might want out some story summary videos to refresh your memory. There’s a lot to uncover here, and most of it builds directly upon what you learned before. Yes, you can ignore all of it if you desire, but it’s clear that this was a labor of love for the dev team. Really, I enjoyed almost all the story with the exception of a couple of villains being two dimensional mustache twirlers. The team you build as you go along are the highlight of the story. Each has their own background and motivations when you meet them, but they all grow, change and adapt as they learn about you and the truth of the world around them. In the end, they’re all fighting as a team not because they magically get along or just love you, they have a purpose larger than themselves that drives them even to the point of putting their lives on the line time and again. Each character has their own journey toward that point. If you do all their side quests, you’ll grow to know and appreciate each one all the more. I would have enjoyed the story anyway, but the characters depths really push it into the top tier.

Fireclaws are big, mean and on fire

Overall, the game is more a refinement than a revelation. It really only suffers in comparison to the original. If this was our entry point to the Horizon universe, it would be just as jaw dropping. As it is. Forbidden West is an improvement in nearly every area except the main mystery. It’s fun on every level. The writing is consistently good. The core characters really shine. Highly recommended.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2022/12/horizon-forbidden-west-ps4-ps5/

Watch Dogs Legion (PC, PS, Xbox)

Yes, my love/hate relationship with Ubisoft open world games continues. I actually enjoyed Watch Dogs 2. It had the fun, character and story that the first was missing. Legion doesn’t continue that upward trend.

Drone Hacking
Mini Drone Hacking

Legion is a fun sandbox. There are cool toys in there. It tries not to make a political statement but ends up making one. Movements need leaders to keep everyone on the same page, inspire the troops, and articulate their values. It turns out stories need the same.

Legion lets you recruit and then play most of the population of future London. If your operative gets captured or killed, you can continue on with another member of your team. That sounds great in theory, but it’s kind of a mess in action. Everyone is kind of generic and reduced to a collection of skills. Team members with the most and most useful skills are the ones you’re most likely to play. They also hurt more when you lose them.

Looking down on the little people

So, in a sense, it fails on two levels. The story isn’t as good or coherent without a strong point of view. You don’t actually gain much from trying to play anyone and everyone. So avoid at all costs, right? Not so fast.

It’s a good toy box. You have a large variety of tools and complex puzzles to use them in. The bad guys are a little too Snidely Whiplash, but they’re still fun to beat. I guess they’ve proven that the core mechanics are strong enough to make a good enough game. I have to wonder if their multiplayer hopes were the root of the problem. Everyone (including Rockstar) wants to make the next GTA Online. Clearly a game where you’re not tied to any one character would make that easier. However, nothing about the game or its mechanics made me want to take it online.

Lion Mask
Who can it be now?

The core gameplay loop is still fun. Sneaking around, getting the lay of the land by hacking cameras, maneuvering you mini drone to a key console without being spotted and ultimately shutting down enemy operations without any sign you were ever there remains thrilling. Little things like weapon feel and driving are tighter and more responsive. Direct combat is rarely your best option, but it’s nice that it works well when your plans fall apart.

Some of the story missions are a little too tightly scripted and take away from the fun of the try anything attitude of the rest of the game. Things can feel unfair when one of your best operatives is arrested/kidnapped while you’re using another agent. Thankfully, the game will automatically generate a new mission to rescue them.

Skills and gadgets

If you want to complete everything, many activities will get repetitive. Still, they’ve made London a visual treat. I wish I could say the same about the audio experience. The music is fine. The voice acting ranges from acceptable to awful. And there’s way too much awful. I realize there are limits when you have to potentially voice the entire city. However, there had to be a better balance than this. It’s a good thing that the best voice acting is the one in your ear most of the time, the AI Bagley.

Fire fight
That didn’t go as well as planned.

Overall, the game was fun enough but feels like a missed opportunity. There was a better game with this setting, these villains and fun gameplay. We just didn’t get it. Watch Dogs 2 fixed many of problems with the original game. I was hoping they’d continue the upward trajectory. As it was, it felt like a small step backwards. Recommended mainly for fans of the mechanics of the second game. There’s fun to be had here as long as you’re not expecting greatness.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2022/10/watch-dogs-legion-pc-ps-xbox/

Mario Strikers: Battle League

Mario Strikers: Battle League

I have to give Nintendo credit. I bashed them last year for not releasing their switch sports game (Mario Golf: Super Rush) until after Father’s day. Perhaps they knew what they were doing since the reviews were pretty mixed with some brutal reviews. That’s not what I have to give them credit for though. This year they’re releasing their next sports game before Father’s Day. It’s Mario Strikers: Battle League.

Mario Strikers Overview

The buzz seems to be more positive with this one. They even have a time limited demo with some online play. I also enjoy the fact that they call it, “a 5-on-5, soccer-like sport with no rules—do whatever it takes to win!” That’s pretty hardcore for Nintendo.

Gear up
Customizable gear could be great, or not

We’ll have to see how the collectible gear and upgrades works out, but I’m looking forward to this one. At least, as much as one can look forward to getting pummeled by one’s kids.

The pitch
A green shell is one way to get past a defender.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2022/05/mario-strikers-battle-league/

Subnautica (PS4/5)

I just finished this. It was a fun ride. I played basic survival. I died a lot at the beginning but rarely toward the ends which feels about right for a survival game. It was at times creepy, beautiful, tense, fun and scary. It definitely confirmed that I will never go cave diving. It was so easy to get turned around in tight spaces. The cave breadcrumb tool was awesome whenever I remembered to use it. Usually I thought about it way too late.

Base Building
Base Building

I was playing the PS4 version on the PS5. It ran well and looked great. There were some visual bugs, nothing too distracting. I had it crash once and had to replay about an hour. I ran into the Prawn movement bug many times. Fortunately, I had already installed the grapple arm. It slowed my enjoyment down several times.

If you’ve ignored it, Subnautica is about surviving on a dangerous water world after having ejected from your starship. You start with just your escape pod and its contents. From there you’ll have to figure out how to survive and eventually thrive and finally come up with a plan to escape the planet.

The Prawn
The Prawn

There are the obvious dangers of the planet including many fauna that want to eat you. There are also more subtle dangers and problems that you’ll discover along the way. In fact the sense of exploration and discovery is the best part of the game. Each new area and biome give you scenic vistas and wonders to behold as well as resources to exploit and mysteries to solve.

I enjoyed the story a lot. The humor didn’t really hit with me. The rest of it was great. It felt like a real world with layered history and an active ecosystem. I constantly had little goals that were leading toward bigger goals that lead me all the way to the end of the game. I did use some online maps towards the end so I didn’t spend forever wandering around the Lost River or Lava zone.

Exploring ancient Wonders
Exploring Ancient Wonders

Each tech and base improvement brought a surge of satisfaction. It really felt amazing to see how far I’d come from the beginning struggling for air and exploring with only a knife. Perhaps the early frustration enhanced the sense of accomplishment later. Overall, highly recommended. It’s a very much a great game as long as you don’t mind the quirks of a survival game.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2022/01/subnautica-ps4-5/

Maneater (PS4/5)

Let me say this up front. I can’t recommend buying Maneater. I got it as a Playstation Plus game of the month for PS5. Normally, if I finish a game that’s enough for me to at least recommend it to someone. In this case, it just means the game is short. It’s short, but there still manages to be several sections you have to slog through. Even then the payoff isn’t worth it. There are plenty of parts that shine enough to show this was a labor of love for some of the devs. The whole just never comes together.

Maneater or fish eater

Maneater is an open world (open ocean?) shark simulator. After an intro tutorial level, you start as a baby shark making your way in the shallows. Fortunately, that song never makes an appearance. There’s a framing device of some sort of ‘shark week’ documentary following both sharks and those that hunt them. This lets the narrator comment on all sorts of things. He might just be the best part of the game. The story is largely forgettable, but some of the one liners land. My wife even laughed at some when she was just walking by as I was playing. If you’re thinking that jokes and narration shouldn’t be the best part of a shark game, you’re right.

Let’s start with the obvious. Sharks just swim and eat. That’s probably not enough for a compelling game. That’s true here. Yes, technically, you can jump and tail whip and activate your super shark power, but the whole game is swimming and eating. At least with such a limited move set, they must have nailed the controls, right? Yes and no. Most time you feel like you have an amazing amount of control of your shark. You can zip through tight spaces, turn and attack quickly, jump out of the water and hit someone on a boat. Other times it feels like you’re constantly fighting the controls. Maybe it’s in the shallows or trying to jump across land (that happens way more than you’d expect in a shark game, but sorry Land Shark fans, no doorbell ringing) but usually in the heat of combat the game fights you to control the shark. Maybe you want to eat that fish to restore some health but the game decides you want to attack that enemy that’s out of range instead or vice versa. I honestly can’t tell if they’re horrible controls that the devs managed to contain most of the time or good controls that sometimes go haywire. I didn’t much like the ‘thrashing’ controls either, but that almost seems niggling compared to the game’s real issues.

Deep Six
Another boat going down

There’s no real balance either. You’ll waver back and forth between being too squishy and too tough. It’s rare that the challenge feels just right. Even when it’s close, such as during some of the shark patrol fights, you’ll take someone out bumping up the alert level unbalancing it again. I suppose the ocean is unfair too, but it’s not supposed to be a game.

As for the graphics, it’s ok. Some parts look pretty good. Close ups of your shark look nice. The lighting is fairly nicely done. It’s not a graphical showcase. There’s nothing next gen about the looks. Even some pretty obvious things like bite marks aren’t there. Sharks are scary because they take big chunks out of their prey at a time. Here you just sort of ram into things until their health bar is gone, and they explode into cloud of blood and chunks. There’s usually a spray of blood each time your shark lands a hit, but that’s not the same as seeing the damage you do to an enemy with parts missing after each bite. It felt like another missed opportunity.

There are times when it looks pretty good

Really, the whole game feels like a missed opportunity. That’s probably unfair though. There was only so much fun that could be found in playing as a shark. That made too short a game. That’s how you get Maneater. It’s still a short game but with everything wrung out too much. If you get it free, enjoy the intro tutorial and then uninstall the game. You’ll be happier for it. Not Recommended.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2021/08/maneater-ps4-5/

Days Gone (PS4/5)

Surviving isn't living
No, no it’s not.

Days Gone is an open world post apocalyptic zombie game that started as a Playstation 4 exclusive, but now it’s just released on PC. I played just played through this on the PS5 since it was included in the PlayStation Plus Collection (and last month it was a PS+ game of the month), and it was one of the bigger titles that I hadn’t played. I’m sure the improved frame rate, cumulative patches and faster load times made for a better experience than if I had bought it at launch.

The Island
That island is pretty important late in the game

First, I want to say it’s a solid game. I enjoyed it and got the platinum trophy. I can also understand the middling reviews though. It was hampered a bit by expectations and by a focus on scope over polish. It just never achieves the rarified air of its Sony stablemates.

Just think about this run of releases Sony had:

Horizon Zero Dawn
God of War
Marvel’s Spiderman

Days Gone

Death Stranding
Ghost of Tsushima
The Last of Us Part II

There were some smaller releases in between, but those were the big ad campaigns. In that list you have better stories, better characters, better combat, better open worlds, better acting, better graphics and much better polish. On it’s own, it’s a pretty good game. It suffers from the comparisons.

Bike repair
Take good care of your equipment and it’ll take care of you.

Days Gone is set in rural Oregon and takes advantage of the beautiful terrain. It’s not really a graphical showcase, but it looks good whether you’re checking out a scenic vista (landmarks are a collectible in the game) or zipping by on your motorcycle. It’s an interesting though necessarily cynical take on how people deal with crisis and loss. It is the end of the world after all.

You play as former motorcycle club enforcer Deacon St. John. As an aside, this is a completely ridiculous name, but only one character comments on this. That character starts out as a bit annoying and deteriorates from there, so I must conclude that the developers liked the name. Anyway, most people call you Deke. As you might expect of an action hero, Deke is competent at most things and deadly in a fight.

Burnout Apocalypse
Sort of emblematic. That sounds cooler than it is.

The other thing I noticed about Deke right away was that he’s Sam Witwer (with bonus tattoos). You might know Witwer from games like the Force Unleashed series, TV shows like Being Human and Supergirl or know his voice from many animated series like The Clone Wars. Like the Force Unleashed, the character model is Witwer. This was distracting for the first few hours, but either he or I settled into the character.

Days Gone is a big game. It can take 40-60 hours to complete. With one big exception, the core gameplay loops will remain the same. You’ll just be doing them with more and better toys and a bigger health bar. The exception is the big feature of the game, huge zombie hordes. Most of the game, triggering the hordes is either instant death or a mad dash to your bike to escape. Late in the game, you’ll finally be strong enough and well equipped enough to take on the hordes. I have to wonder how many people played the game and never made it that far. That’s too bad since it’s a crazy mix of planning, improvisation, panic, tools, toys, environmental hazards, skills and luck. The feeling of relief and accomplishment after killing off a large horde is pretty amazing.

Go kick rocks
It felt like the game was telling me that more than once.

There are some cool ideas in the game. Enemy human gangs will set traps for you. If you’re paying attention, they’re not hard to avoid, but if you’re zipping along at night in the rain or running from a big zombie or heavily armed gang, it adds some drama. Enemies will fight each other. An infected brute or bear fighting regular infected is pretty cool to watch, though sometime it highlights the limitations of the AI. You can lead a horde or other infected toward an enemy base or encampment. It’s satisfying when they do a good job of eliminating each other for you.

Probably the best idea in the game is your motorcycle. Due to story reasons, you start with a piece of junk. Piece by piece, you’ll upgrade it. Most importantly, you can feel each upgrade. You’ll go faster, farther and take less damage with each improvement. Some top tier items are behind story progression gates. Mostly, though it gives meaning to grinding for credits by making your game life easier. It doesn’t hurt that your bike looks better and more dangerous as you go along.

Stamina Increased
Stamina turns out to be more important as you go along.

Mechanically, it’s time to damn the game with faint praise. Beyond hordes and your bike, everything works. Melee combat, not flashy but it works. Ranged combat, sniping, stealth, climbing and traps all work. Each has been done better elsewhere. No areas fall down as a failure. I’m sure it’s quite the technical challenge to get all these systems to work together without breaking. Too many games have set the bar higher.

What about the story? On one level, it’s the story of Deke’s redemption after he’s given up on humanity. Characterization is probably the game’s strong suit. Each trading camp is lead by a vivid character. Even some of the non infected enemies are quite interesting. Deke is flawed and both strengthened and weakened by his sense of morality and code of honor. In fact, it’s easy to argue he’s wrong at several points in the story. Unfortunately, strong characters don’t automatically result in a great plot. Here the threads tying the characters and story beats together are rote, worn out or often uninteresting. The story is functional. It just feels like it wastes some interesting characters. I never hated it. More faint praise.

One down
You’ll often leave a trail of bodies in your wake.

I only experienced a few bugs playing Days Gone. One completely broke a mission. It required closing out the game and reloading the checkpoint after the game restarted. A few enemies got stuck on terrain. Occasionally, I found braindead AI. There were some hitbox errors. Overall, it was a pretty clean experience for such a long and complex game.

In many ways, Days Gone is a scrappy underdog. I see why people want to root for or against it. It’s got no great weakness, but only rarely soars to great heights. I liked it. I didn’t love it.

With some editing, polish and a better story, it could have been among those Sony greats. It coulda been a contenda. As it is, if you want to experience the fantasy of being a heavily armed outlaw bike surviving the zombie apocolypse, it’s a fun ride. Recommended for genre fans, Witwer fans and players with the patience to make it the horde killing endgame.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2021/05/days-gone-ps4-5/

Mario Golf Super Rush: Why Nintendo?

Mario Golf Super Rush
Mario Golf Super Rush

Look I’m all for a new Mario Golf game. It has local and online multiplayer. It’s golf. You know the sport fathers are famous for loving.

For the life of me I can’t figure out why Nintendo would release it right after Father’s Day. I mean move it up a week or two and a bunch of happy fathers get to play some golf with Mario. Maybe they get to play with their kids too. Come on Nintendo. It’s not that hard.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2021/05/mario-golf-super-rush-why-nintendo/

Mafia 3 Definitive Edition (PC)

Underground Lair
Looking tough Lincoln.

2K has released a Mafia Trilogy on major platforms. They rebuilt the original Mafia from the ground up. They remastered Mafia II in HD. Mafia 3 was just released a couple of years ago. It just gets all the DLC bundled together with the main game. On the plus side, current Steam owners of Mafia II and 3 got a free upgrade to the definitive edition. This was enough to finally get me to sink my teeth into the most recent entry.

I had picked it up on sale sometime after release because of my love of the series, but there were still reports of bugs and problems of the game. Also the thematic shift along with a bunch of new gameplay mechanics alienated some fans of the series. I had set it aside and hadn’t gotten back to it. It’s often described as the weakest of the series. Let’s see how it stacks up now.

Hot Rod
There’s so much going on here.

The original Mafia came out shortly after GTA III. We’ve seen so much evolution in the open world crime drama since then (much of it lead by Rockstar) that it’s easy to forget how clunky the original Mafia games were. Mafia 3 came out in 2016 and tried to update the series to modern standards. Graphically, it succeeded easily, but the heart of Mafia has been the story, characters and the locations.

Let’s start with the last one first. New Bordeaux is a city with character. While it’s clearly a New Orleans analogue, it’s more of a remixed New Orleans with a bit of Gumbo made from 1960’s southern cities. It does feel like a lived in southern swamp city. It’s also set in 1968 and casts you as a Black Vietnam veteran. The game does not shy away from the casual and overt racism of the South in the 1960’s. If being exposed to that might upset you, you need to avoid this game. More common to the series are the collectable Playboys and Vargas paintings which, of course, contain nudity. There are also scenes with strippers and prostitutes. Finally, among things that might make you avoid this game, the violence is over the top. It’s not overly realistic, but it certainly is celebrated in the game.

Sixties Shopping
Setting. Check. Time period. Check.

If that didn’t scare you off, the characters are worth the price of admission. Sure, some of them fall into mob movie stereotypes, but most of the people you interact with are vivid, memorable and unique. Clearly Mafia 3 didn’t have the budget of GTA, but I think they made the right choices in where to focus those resources. You’ll see a lot of the same pedestrians and low level thugs wandering around. However, almost all the more important characters have unique models, good voice acting, often clear motivations and a combat style that suits them.

Our protagonist, Lincoln Clay is a Vietnam veteran who wants to put violence behind him. His surrogate family come into conflict with the Mafia boss early in the game. It’s up to Lincoln to right the wrongs and ultimately get revenge. Along the way he runs into the Irish Mob, the Black Mob, Haitian gangs, the Southern Union of white supremacists and various captains of the Italian Mob. Certain characters end up being your lieutenants as you build up your power base. Lincoln, his lieutenants and their relationships change as the revenge campaign progresses. Lincoln, in particular, learns to embrace his love of violence while slowly realizing it will eventually destroy him. Your enemies mostly change from various aspects of evil to dead. Many of them take you on an interesting ride before falling under a hail of your bullets.

Briar Patch
The game excels at making you loathe racism.

It’s too bad these vivid characters and locations are lost in such a rote story. Really, Lincoln lays out his plan for revenge in the beginning of the game, and it’s simply a matter of connecting the bullets to the bodies to get to the end. That’s not to say there’s no good writing. It’s just all dedicated to character development and backstory. There are plenty of interesting gameplay tasks for you to do. You’ll ultimately end up doing them all too many times. Mechanically, it’s all solid even if nothing feel particularly innovative. It’s kind of like you gathered the Royal Shakespeare Company and just acted out a bunch of battle scenes. There’s some great moments, but you feel there could have been so much more. Some selective editing and a focus on story could have turned this into a real gem.

As you might guess, this is ironic. It’s much more Inferno.

Overall, I’d give a modest recommendation. It’s a fun ride for a while. There’s a lot to do. There are interesting characters to meet and/or kill. So play it for a while and have fun. Drop it once it starts to feel like a grind. The ending wasn’t enough of a payoff to slog through for if you’re not having fun. I’m glad I played it. I’m more satisfied that I meet such interesting characters in a vibrant space. It was so close for me. I can certainly understand those who loved it and those who hated it. The devs certainly reached for greatness. I admire them for that.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2021/02/mafia-3-definitive-edition-pc/

Death Stranding (PS4)

Relaxing for a moment

That was weird. I said that a lot during Death Stranding. I really don’t know how to describe the game. It’s kind of a even more out there take on the Postman. Fundamentally, it’s a game about connections and the bonds that tie us together. Strangely, that part works better than any other in the game. Perhaps that’s due to the strange times I found myself in while playing.

Many on Twitter noted that the Corona virus lockdown was strangely similar to the world of Death Stranding. I think we’re all glad the world hasn’t actually become as weird as a Kojima game. Still, it’s hard to deny the rise of virtual interactions, importance of home delivery and the lack in of in person contact during this time. Certainly many people have lived with the idea that Death is out there in 2020.

It’s cold out there.

As you might guess from the title, death is a major theme of the game. Dead bodies bring destruction. If they’re not cremated, they will trigger a large explosion devastating the area nearby. The game begins with a race to a crematorium. Obviously, these structures need to be well away from where people live given the risks involved. The outside world is overrun with crazed scavengers, violent and deadly ghosts and weather that can quickly kill you. People live underground. Either they live in small city states or in isolated bunkers.

Stark beauty.

No man is truly an island, so trade is still necessary. It’s crazy dangerous out there, but a few brave souls deliver the goods that keep people alive and society running. I’m sure you can guess what your job is in the game. Fortunately, at least in a manner of speaking, you can’t die. Unravelling what happened to the world and what caused your own deathless state are the overarching goals of the game. More practically, you deliver goods and expand a new ‘chiral’ network that links people together.

Hot springs.

This is a Kojima game through and through. That means lengthy, unnecessarily complex explanations, long monologues, futuristic, almost magical technology and human depredation. Do we need to discuss the importance of the distinction of the difference between the body and soul? Well, we must use the ancient Egyptian terms to make things less clear. Characters must have a name and a nickname that will later make sense. Did I mention that even walking around can be dangerous? The fact that Kojima games work despite the craziness is clearly a sign of brilliance. However, this is not the game that’s going to change your mind if you think that they’re too off-putting.

Even walking can be difficult.

The core gameplay loop, is simple and satisfying. Pick up goods, traverse terrain, avoid obstacles, and deliver goods to make people happy. If you make people happy enough, they’ll agree to join the network. Once they do, you’ll be able to upgrade the infrastructure to make traversal easier in the future. You’ll unlock new tools and vehicles along the way. It’s never easy, but it keeps getting better. As you journey, you’ll get to know the characters out there and eventually uncover the answers you’re looking for.

Did I mention your (code?) name is Porter?

I could talk about your allies and antagonists, but really, it’s better to experience them yourself. Most of them are sympathetic and understandable even if they and their stories are insane. In some ways this is the most pure Kojima game. The one big difference is that you’re not supposed to kill your human enemies. Obviously, setting off a series of megaton explosions is not rebuilding society. Even one incidental kill means a lengthy and dangerous side trip to a crematorium. Happily your ghostly opponents can be put down and represent most of the combat in the game. Just make sure to use the right tools in your arsenal on the right enemies so you don’t create a mess.

Is that Die-hardman? No, it’s Heartman. He’s wearing a defibrillator.

Amazingly, everything about the game is satisfying even the long, convoluted ending that gives you most of the answers you’ve been searching for. The question is are you willing to put up with the craziness to get there? I was and thoroughly enjoyed it even though thinking back on it makes me shake my head. It’s essential for Kojima fans and an excellent palate cleanser cleanser for anyone else with the patience to learn (and sometimes just experience) the game.

I’m not even going to get into the weirdness that is BB.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2020/12/death-stranding-ps4/