No Man’s Sky

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I won’t ever forget the first time Wyatt and I came across an alien creature in No Man’s Sky. I wanted nothing more than to feed the creature and be friends. Wyatt had other plans. Once he got a hold of the controller, he blasted the creature with a death ray. ZAP! Moments later, the creature was gone.

The other alien animals around us started to run. We had blood on our hands.

“Why did you do that!?!”

Wyatt giggled, surprised that I was so angry at him for blasting the creature.

Quit Game? Yes, please.

No matter what type of game developer Hello Games promised to deliver, No Man’s Sky was a dream waiting to implode. Early trailers hinted at space travel that would allow the player to:

  • See a planet
  • Fly down to said planet’s surface
  • Land / Explore gorgeous environments brimming with life
  • Take off
  • Do it all over again

A blackhole of expectations soon formed in the gaming sphere. Hype morphed No Man’s Sky into the second coming of space simulators. The greatest space exploration game ever made.

Expectations are savage beasts. Release day revealed No Man’s Sky to be a survival game with heavy resource collecting. Disappointed gamers didn’t know what they were playing on their TV screens. Hello Games had failed gamers, everywhere, or so the Internet said.

50 First Dates

After our initial creature disaster, Wyatt and I stayed away from No Man’s Sky for months. In the meantime, Hello Games continued to release patches for the game. One of the patches added a Creative Mode. MineCraft is all about Creative Mode, No Man’s Sky should be just as fun, right?

Creative Mode presented us with options to build any of the game’s units. We first built a space base with twisting and turning corridors. There was no logic to our design, we were having fun. After we tired of base building, we discovered that we could build vehicles. Oh yeah! We drove the various rovers as hard as we could, launching them off of cliffs and trying to blow them up. The Creative Mode was fun while it lasted.

The Update

Months passed. 9 months to be exact. I heard about the Atlas Rises update changing the game for the better. Wyatt and I popped the disc in once again. Outside of prompts telling the player what to do next and a text log story, not much had changed. The core pacing is still the same. Which means the pacing is slow. Travel, whether on foot or in a ship, takes too long. The sprint feature exhausts too quickly. If space is this boring, I can see why the United States hasn’t returned to the Moon in decades.

Wyatt’s Thoughts:

I liked:

  • Exploring the planets.
  • Flying around in the spaceship.
  • Shooting the asteroids in outer space.
  • Trying to get the plutonium, other minerals, and stuff.
  • In Creative Mode: That I could drive around in vehicles.

Bottom Line:

My friend Josh has viking funerals, for games, all the time. He’ll delete the game from his hard drive and then remove the game from his house. I’m there. In fact, I’ve already gotten rid of the game.

In the end, I applaud Hello Games for embracing such a massive and ambitious concept for their first game. All the bones of a good game are present. But Hello Games shot for the Moon with No Man’s Sky and missed. Here is hoping that they learn to let go and try new things. Game patches do not always make perfect.

wavesplinter1/5 – Don’t waste your time.

Wave SplinterTitle: No Man’s Sky
Developer: Hello Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $39.99

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Yonder

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Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles opens with mystery. After years of being away from your island home, you are returning. Where you’ve been, what you’ve done, are all non-issues. As you sail near the island, your boat is struck by lightning. And then, a spirit named Aaerie appears…

“WHAT IS THAT!? That’s scary.” – Wyatt, age 8

You are then tasked with removing the Murk, the bad stuff, that has infected the land.

Cast onto the rocks of the island of Gemea, you wake up wet and cold. You venture forward, knowing you must head yonder.

Yonder excels at encouraging the player to keep moving forward. See that mountain over there? Let’s go explore it! The core exploration is fantastic, as the world feels alive and begging for adventure. Wyatt and I found ourselves tromping all over the place. Minutes would span into hours. And in a first for us, Yonder caused us to fight over who was playing. An achievement for developer Prideful Sloth.

We love running around and exploring. But we dislike the Pokémon collecting, lite farm simulator, and generic MMO quest system.

Nothing like Pokémon Collecting

To defeat the Murk, you, the player, need to collect Sprites. Think Pokémon-like creatures who enjoy playing hide-n-seek. Some Sprites are captured by simply finding them. Tag. You’re it! Other Sprites require small quests of appeasement, a “I’ll join your quest if you give me 5 wood”, sort of thing. The Sprites are cute. However, they do not add special powers or unique interactions to the game. I feel like this was a missed opportunity. As they exist, Sprites are content gatekeepers. Want to destroy the Murk in this area? Sorry, you need to collect 5 more Sprites.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Early in the game, you come across a farm with broken fences. You are immediately tasked with bringing the old place back to life. Once done, you discover that this is no farm but a ranch. A place to hold animals, who poop, a lot. Yonder allows the building of various animal pens by collecting materials. That’s about it. While I wasn’t expecting a Stardew Valley experience, Yonder left me wanting more.

The Compass is Broken

As Aaerie tasks you with clearing up the Murk, she gives you a Celestial Compass to give you your bearings. The compass shoots a beam of light to the quest giver for whichever quest you are on. The big problem, for Wyatt and I, is that the compass only points at the original quest giver. The compass does not update location based on where the player is in the quest. As it stands, the compass is a broken tool we’d love to see fixed.

Which leads me to talk about the quest system. The quest system comes across as padding or filler. There is nothing meaningful in having to collect x-amount of wood for an individual. Modern quest design has pushed past the “kill ten rats” mindset. Yonder tries to wrap this generic design around meaningful stories. For example, the one quest that sticks out to me is one where we helped a lady grow a beard. This required us to go to a specific pond at night. Collect a certain type of fish (Side Note: The fishing mechanic is spot on). Prepare the correct concoction, etc. A silly but unique quest. I wish more of the game’s quests were as memorable.

Wyatt’s Thoughts:

The Good

  • I like running around and exploring.
  • I like being friends with the animals.
  • It feels like playing a Link game with no monsters or weapons.

The Bad

  • The day and night cycle is too fast (but I think that’s their point).
  • I don’t understand the story or what is going on.

Bottom Line:

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles failed to grab Wyatt and I. This is not to say that the game is bad. Yonder is a good game that is perfect for playing with children in the room. For us though, we needed a reason to keep coming back. Depth to either the farming system or to collecting Sprites would have done this. If you are looking for a game to play with your family that encourages exploration, Yonder is the game for you. Prepare for many hours of walking, map reading, and feeding all the animals. As your in-game pockets fill with items collected, perhaps Yonder will grab you more than it did Wyatt and I.

wavesplinter2/5 – A beautiful game that lacks purpose.

Wave SplinterTitle: Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles
Developer: Prideful Sloth
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $19.99

*Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles was reviewed using a code provided by developer Prideful Sloth.

Review: RIVE

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 RIVE is not my jam.

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RIVE (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Two Tribes
Publisher: Two Tribes Publishing
Released: September 13, 2016
MSRP: $14.99

RIVE is an explosive twin-stick shooter that wants to beat you up and steal your lunch. Sending you home with a black eye while shouting at you to come back for more. Punishment is the name of the game. Can’t keep up with the onslaught of laser death-dealing robots? No problem. RIVE‘s failure screens will remind you of how bad your reflexes have become. You’re an old man, gramps! Too cool for this school.

Beyond the difficulty, I love how RIVE‘s checkpoint system shows the player mercy. The more you die, the closer the checkpoints become. Encouraging players to keep fighting, no matter how hard they have been smacked down.

What I’m not quite sure about is the placement of the jump button. On the PlayStation 4, the jump button is assigned to the L2 trigger versus the standard X button. The end result is curious and awkward feeling.

RIVE reminds me of the worst games I played during the Console Wars of the ’90s. Difficult. Demanding. No satisfying reward.

In the end, RIVE fails to bring anything new to the playground. Not even revealing one compelling example to keep pressing onward. The game revels in bashing the player over the head with difficulty for the sake of difficulty. I have no time for that. RIVE is not my jam.

Wave Splinter

RIVE reviewed by Bryan Hall

[Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail build provided by Evolve PR.]

The Final Station

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The Final Station embraces the storytelling confidence of The Last of Us. The world has gone to hell with hope riding on a single train of salvation.

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This train just keeps a rollin’

It’s rolling down the track

I am the silent conductor

And I can’t look back

Because I am outrunnin’

Death

Biological warfare waged by an alien race. The first invasion, which released gas-filled pods, has already occurred. Humanity invaded from within. Survival gone genetically awry.

The bomb lives

Notes of clarity rise above the government conspiracy-laden setting. The Oregon Trail-like train simulator portions allow you, the player, to make a difference. People you find, while out scavenging, become your passengers. You can feed them; you can provide medicine to help keep them alive. Life is your choice. But the train must keep rolling. No matter who dies.

The Final Station falls into a rhythm that sings on repeat:

  • Explore buildings
  • Scavenge for supplies
  • Rescue those you come across
  • Find the slip of paper with the keypad code (this unlocks the Blocker that keeps the train from moving)
  • Survive and eliminate those who have succumbed to the gas
  • Maintain individual train systems
  • Monitor the passengers

Gameplay loop excellence soon overstays its welcome like Steve Urkel. Enemy types and encounters become rote. Individual station stops become less about survival-filled exploration and more of a slog. Even the constant “what’s in the next room” tension eventually gives way by the fourth hour of gameplay. Text size issues further complicate the matter and make reading anything story related hard.

But the train just keeps a movin’. And by then you’ll want to stick it out to the end of the track.

Perhaps there is hope?

Are we there yet?

I loved The Final Station. The level design reminded me of the army bases I used to draw as a kid. Tunnels, secret bunkers, pathways into the darkness. Imagination allowed to run wild.

The Final Station is a fantastic effort with just enough neat ideas to keep me onboard. Good job, ya’ll!

wavesplinter5/5 – The Final Station fails to complete the warm The Last of Us hug it is trying to give. Despite that huggable failure, I love the game. Just keep this nightmare generator away from your kids, okay?

Wave SplinterTitle: The Final Station
Developer: Do My Best, Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $14.99

*The Final Station was reviewed using a code provided by Tinybuild.

The Aetherlight Bible NLT

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The Aetherlight Bible is tool, a companion piece meant to help players navigate through the fog. Presented in the New Living Translation, this Bible is easy to read for both children and adults. Built with the desire to connect players of The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance with Biblical truth, The Aetherlight Bible features:

  • A soft cover and overall size that feels sturdy and fantastic to hold
  • Inserted pages that tie in-game characters with their Biblical counterparts
  • A Dictionary/Concordance
  • A 365-Day Reading Plan
  • Words of Christ in scarlet
  • Footnotes, in the Old Testament, that point players towards Christ
  • And my favorite part, at the bottom of some pages, Aethasian sayings such as:

Build for others what you would want them to build for you.

AetherlightBible

From the outside cover to the smallest details found inside, The Aetherlight Bible is a video game tie-in done right. Each page, from the watermarks to the quotes, show that much time and love went into the creation of this Bible.

However, I dislike how the page numbers are situated near the spine of the book. But, I realize that this formatting choice could force readers to actually learn the Books of the Bible. Clever.

I recommend this Bible to the hardcore players of The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance and to those not familiar with the game.

Parents, grandparents, this is the Bible you want to buy your kids/grandkids.

The Aetherlight Bible’s cover is inviting. Almost begging the reader to pick it up, read it, and embrace the adventure.

I was given a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

Song of the Deep – Lost in the current with my son

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The search begins.

As Song of the Deep’s protagonist Merryn built a submarine to search for her lost father, Wyatt looked at me:

“If anything were to ever happen to you, I’d build a submarine and come find you too.”

Preparing to dive.

Into the oceanic abyss we dove, deeper and deeper. The couch, our submarine. Wyatt deftly piloted the helm. Until controller dexterity issues arose when we encountered electrified jellyfish. Fighting with the sub’s mechanical arm while steering was just too complicated for him. So I took over. He watched.

In the abyss.

We journeyed through a sunken city, wondering what had happened to this lost civilization. Wyatt grew bored. He didn’t ask to pilot the sub again. Song of the Deep frustrated him. This coming from the kid who can hold his own in Guacamelee and PixelJunk Shooter.

End of Watch.

Insomniac’s Song of the Deep is a “passion project” influenced by Brian Hastings, chief creative officer at Insomniac Games. Brian said that he wanted to create a heroic character to share with his 10-year-old daughter. I applaud him for that.

This game is pretty.

I had hoped that the underwater beauty and awe inspiring moments were something I could actually share with Wyatt. The movement of the submarine proved to be too much of a barrier. Dated puzzle mechanics, such as adjusting light mirrors (ugh), further threatened to sink our voyage.

I wanted Song of the Deep to be more confident in itself to be different and new. Game mechanics resurrected from the era of Ecco the Dolphin come across as hazardous underwater currents. Currents I want to avoid.

Ecco lives!

Ecco lives!

Bottom Line: Song of the Deep is challenging and entrancing in it’s beauty. I like that I can play the game in front of Wyatt. I just wish co-piloting was a tiny bit easier. But skills will improve. Difficulty will be overcome. 

wavesplinter3/5 – Great game to play with your kids. Co-piloting may prove challenging depending on your child’s skill level. 

Wave SplinterTitle: Song of the Deep
Developer: Insomniac Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $14.99

*Song of the Deep was reviewed using codes provided by Insomniac Games.

2015 – A Year In Review

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2015 has been a roller coaster year.

We’ve Explored

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Should Men Put Video Games Away As “Childish Things” For Their Wives / Girlfriends?

I have known countless guys who have given up their favorite hobby due to a spouse or girlfriend disapproving– I am sure that this is true for the female species as well. Once upon a time, these guys enjoyed playing video games. They used them to drop stress levels, rest, and relax. For some reason though, chemistry, the alignment of the stars, who knows, they end up coupling with someone who disapproves/looks down upon their hobby. So they have to quit, have to walk away from something they love to be in love.

Read more here

We’ve Been Real With One Another

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Longing For That Missing Person

Social media is filled with photos of babies. Beautiful children who are all snugly and cute. While I am excited for my friends and family who are pregnant, there is always this void that gnaws at my soul.

Read more here

We’ve Shared In The Joys Of Parenting

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Boys Club

Best part of our day was in the backyard. Wyatt wanted to go outside and play Transformers. So we each picked a weapon. I grabbed a foam sword, he grabbed a Nerf gun. Somehow we never got around to playing. Wyatt was too concerned with making up rules, structure, to our play. I got bored. So I grabbed his gun and took off. There were tears over my dual wielding weapons.

“You can’t have two!”

Read more here

We’ve Read Some Great Books

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Scary Close – Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy

I first discovered Donald Miller in college. I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t sure about my Christian faith anymore. There was a disconnect between the Christians I read about in the Bible and the Christians I met everyday. Tired of the hypocrisy, I found honesty in Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Someone was finally writing from a perspective that felt authentic. God used Miller’s words to remind me of the freedom we have in Christ; He used Donald Miller to bring me back to Him.

Read more here

We’ve Called Each Other To More

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A Call: Moving Beyond Artificial Relationships

Surface level relationships will never go beyond the surface. Diving equipment, time invested in person, allows us to get to know one another better. Being purposeful in our pursuit, this is key. We have to make time to have time to spend with others; We have to get over ourselves, move beyond technology.

An invitation to go for a walk, time set aside to enjoy nature and listen. Spending the lunch hour eating with a friend. Time invested. Physical time. We need more of this. We need to do this.

Read more here

I’m not sure of the places we’ll go in 2016. But we can explore, share, and be real together. Here is to another great year. Happy New Year!