Wednesday, March 18, 2020

State of the Website

Hello readers!

This is William Lowery.  In case you haven't been keeping up with news, there's a virus on the loose, causing all sorts of problems around the world and at home.  For three years, I have attended the University of Southern Mississippi, and although I will be graduating in May, the current state of affairs is a bit uncertain.

Spring break was extended to two weeks, and even when students get back, most of the campus will be closed, and we'll be taking our classes online.  It's a strange time, for sure.  Ironically, it was around this time last year that I faced some personal issues, ones which made the future seem uncertain.  I don't know what will happen in the forthcoming weeks or months, but rest assured, I won't be going anywhere.

Next month marks the five-year anniversary of GamerGuy's Reviews, and what a ride it's been.  It's crazy to think I've been running this site for five years, and though there have been highs and lows, the important thing is I've kept at it.  It's not easy trying to put out content on a regular basis, but if you take the time to commit and hone your craft, it will pay off in the long run.  As of this writing, the site has over 8,700 views, and though it seems small to some, I'm proud because it makes me happy knowing people are checking out what it is that I do.

It's been more like six years as a writer, but you get the point.

I know this year has been a bit spotty regarding output, but much of it is because of commitments I have to school and work.  Not to mention, there's also the podcast.  This month marks the one-year anniversary of the podcast, which currently has 47 subscribers.  Again, small beans compared to what other channels have, but like I said, it takes time and commitment, don't expect to become an overnight sensation, unless you do something outrageous to attract views and whatnot to your channel.

The bigger question is this: where do I go from here?  Eventually, I do want to start a website that will act as hub for everything I do.  If I want this to become a full-time gig, I need to put in the effort.  Over time, I will inform readers of when I have started work on building a website, and then comes the "fun" process of bringing all the content I've done, regardless of it's written or recorded, onto the site.

If you want to stay informed on when the next reviews are, there are two ways to do so.  You can either follow me on Twitter or follow the GamerGuy's Reviews Facebook page.  There is a Facebook page for the podcast, but it will be updated to be a universal page for both the website and the podcast channel in the forthcoming weeks.

When I wrote my year-in-review retrospective, I mentioned you could expect some collaborations this year.  Don't worry, they're still happening, they're just in the planning stages, and I will keep y'all updated on when the videos are out for y'all to see.  This is the first time I've dabbled in video production, so I'm excited, but also a bit nervous.  Fortunately, my writing and editing expertise won't make it too much of a challenge.

That wraps up the current state of affairs.  Reviews are on the way, and I am reviewing Doom Eternal for the college newspaper, and I'll post a link to it once the article is up.  I know the future seems uncertain for a lot of people right now, but I am remaining optimistic and know things will turn out fine in the end.

I don't want to spend the rest of my adulthood working in an office cubicle.  I want what it is I currently do to become the thing which pays the bills.  It's possible, but it takes effort, commitment, and even a little humility to pull it off.  If you're wanting to start your own blog, YouTube channel, podcasting channel, go for it, just know that it takes effort from yourself to get it done.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Medal of Honor: European Assault (PS2) Review

Medal of Honor kickstarted a trend where the first-person genre became inundated with titles centered around World War II.  Some were good, some were bad.  Over the span of eight years, twelve Medal of Honor games would be released, sometimes within the span of a few months of one another.  The iterative approach the series took on resulted in an uneven balance of quality with each passing installment.  After 2007's Medal of Honor: Airborne, the series went on hiatus and came back in 2010 with a reboot which aimed to ape the success Call of Duty had with its Modern Warfare titles.  It didn't work, but back in 2005, as the series was still in high gear, gamers were treated to another bout of World War II action with Medal of Honor: European Assault.

European Assault follows Lieutenant William Holt and his series of adventures across the European theatre of World War II.  He travels from St. Nazaire to North Africa to the Soviet Union and to Belgium, taking part in various operations intended to halt whatever it is the Nazis are scheming.  In the final stretch of the game, Holt must track down and eliminate General von Schrader, who is building a dirty bomb to house a virus that will severely impede the Allies' progress, should he be allowed to finish it.

An arsenal of WWII-era weaponry isn't complete without
an STG-44.
As one can tell, the game's plot isn't in-depth, and serves only as a vehicle to funnel the main protagonist from one location to the next.  Even the hero himself is as generic as they come, although it is cool how in one of the later missions, you get to rescue Manon Batiste from Medal of Honor: Underground, and after you do, the two of them have to hold off a retaliatory attack by the Germans from inside a barn.  Despite this, the story is serviceable but ultimately forgettable.

Like the story, the gameplay is by-the-numbers, but it does introduce some new concepts to shake things up.  Each missions has a series of objectives for Holt to complete, such as sabotaging equipment, rescuing soldiers, or obtaining intel.  What sets this game apart from previous entries is the sandbox-like nature of the levels.  You're free to accomplish the objectives in whatever order you please, and taking the time to explore each locale will unearth new secondary objectives.  The more objectives you complete, the higher the ranking you'll receive at the end of the stage.  It's a nice change of pace and rewards players for going out of the way to see what might be hiding.

Holt is not doing things on his own, as he's always accompanied by one or two allies.  These soldiers have health so if they die, they're gone for good, and how many are still alive by the end of a level determines how many med-kits you'll be rewarded with.  On that note, med-kits can be found scattered across the environment and used to heal yourself or your comrades.  By pressing a button, Holt can order troops to take cover at whatever spot he indicates.  Although this seems to imply the game is more strategic a'la Brothers in Arms, it's a barebones feature, and you're more than capable of taking on the Nazis by yourself.  It's a shame because it could have made the combat more interesting had this idea been fleshed out more.

When it comes to combat, it's serviceable.  If you've played any other World War II shooter from the mid-2000's, then the selection of firearms will be incredibly familiar.  From the Thompson to the M1 Garand to the MP40, all of the guns are standard fare for this type of shooter.  What is unique for this game is the rage meter.  Killing enemies fills up the meter, and when full, it can be activated, which slows down time, makes Holt invincible, and gives him infinite ammo for his currently equipped gun.  As ridiculous as it is, it's a lot of fun to use, and in later stages will be a life-saver due to how much the difficulty ramps up.

No joke, but in the last level Holt gets into the bunker and
has to take on a dozen Nazis that come rushing in.
Medal of Honor: European Assault is not a bad game, just one that's incredibly conventional.  It's fun, it's functional, but after you beat it, there's not much of a point to replay the older missions.  The sandbox levels and rage meter give the gameplay much needed variety, but otherwise, it's the same old Nazi hunt.  However, get ready to die a lot due to the surprisingly difficult nature of the game.  Later levels pit you up against Nazis with weapons which will rip you to shreds in an instant.  Instead of checkpoints, the game uses a life system, and more lives can be earned by completing secondary tasks, but on higher difficulties, there are no lives to earn so if you die, you start from the beginning.  The final act is a tour-de-force of repeated dying, and I'm not afraid to admit this, but I resorted to cheat codes to get through the tough parts.

On the PlayStation 2, the game looks rough.  The selection of locales is varied, but the washed-out graphics and basic character models are distracting.  Plus, the framerate dips whenever there's too much going on, so if you do plan on picking up this game, get the Xbox version, as it has the smoothest performance of three.  Sound is uneven.  The voice acting is passable, but the voice actor for young William Holt gives his performance all the enthusiasm of someone just waking up.  Luckily, the weapons sound impactful and the music is grand and orchestral.

Medal of Honor: European Assault is a fun-enough time, but with a bit more refinement, it could have been a much better game.  Elements such as the open-ended levels are a great concept, but other ideas, namely, the squad mechanics, leave a lot to be desired.  For what it's worth, the game is decent and offers plenty of Nazi-killing action, but it's been done better in other games, Medal of Honor or otherwise.  Oh, and get ready to knock on death's door quite a few times in the second half of the campaign.


Monday, March 2, 2020

Catherine: Full Body (PS4) Review

Video games and movies tend to exaggerate perceptions of love and romance.  The story plays out as we expect: the good guy stops the bad guy and gets the girl, or the guy reconciles with the girl after a break-up and the two live happily ever after.  Rarely does entertainment offer a realistic examination of love because we don't want to be reminded of reality.  We want to be happy knowing everything works out fine for a fictional man and woman versus what actually happens in the real world.  There are two examples of media I can think of which offer a truthful take on relationships, the first is Don Jon, a comedy-drama film from Joseph Gordon Levitt, and the other is Catherine, a game which juxtaposes the set-up of a man caught in a love triangle with intense puzzle-based action.  Did I forget to mention this game is from Japan?

Vincent Brooks is a man caught in a mid-life crisis.  At 32, he's unsure of what direction his life will go, and he's nervous about marrying his longtime girlfriend Katherine.  He receives a rude wake-up call in the form of Catherine, a wild, young woman who he accidentally gets into a one-night stand with after a drunken night at the bar.  Now, Catherine won't leave him alone, and if Katherine finds out, he's done for.  Not helping his fears is how when he falls to sleep, he ends up in a nightmarish landscape where him and others are forced to climb towers made of different blocks if they want to survive and not die in their sleep.  During all of this, he finds time to help an amnesiac named Rin find a place to stay, a job, and possibly figure out how she lost her memory.

Roses are red, violets are blue.
Vincent a numb-head, and Catherine a screw loose.
As surrealistic as things get, the core of Catherine's story is about commitment and responsibility.  Does Vincent want to close the book on bachelorhood and marry Katherine, or would he rather enjoy the funs and thrills of being with Catherine?  The remake, known as Catherine: Full Body, goes one step further with the introduction of Rin, and what was once a love triangle is now a love square.  There are multiple ways the story could unfold, all of which depends on what decisions are made over the course of the game.  The compelling writing and characters, not to mention the oddball nature of the game itself, keeps things satisfying from beginning to end.  One could argue it puts into perception the player's views on relationships and what it means to be in love.  Now, let's talk Rin.

When Catherine was remastered and released for the Vita and PlayStation 4 last year, new modes and a character were introduced.  Catherine: Full Body is like the director's cut of a movie, with Rin acting as the new scenes.  She's weaved into the main story well enough, although the transition between old and new material can be obvious at times, but her perspective on life and romance is interesting, especially considering what you learn about her late in the story, should you choose to pursue her.  Her path is optional, but if you're a veteran player looking for something different, exploring Rin's story is the way to go.

Catherine's gameplay is split into two parts.  One half is spent witnessing the story unfold and interacting with characters, and the other is an intense game of Q-Bert Meets a Nightmare on Elm Street.  After watching some cut-scenes showing the latest chapter in Vincent's life, him and his friends end up at the Stray Sheep bar.  Here, you can talk with his friends and other patrons there, plus you can check Vincent's phone for messages, replay old stages for a higher score, or save your progress.  Chatting it up with the customers reveals more about their histories and whatever personal demons they might be fighting.  Talk with them enough, and they might survive.

The PS4's online capabilities are put to creative use in
the main game.  As little flames like these indicate where
other players got stuck.
Alternatively, you can choose to do none of the above and drink the night away, though this will affect Vincent's performance when he falls asleep.  Speaking of which, after returning home for the night, he'll go to sleep and end up in the nightmare once again.  The goal of these sections is to make your way up a tower, pushing and shoving blocks to make steps you can climb up.  Make it to the top, and you're one step closer to freedom.  Watch out, as the floors below are gradually collapsing, and if you're stuck at the bottom, Vincent falls to his death.  Things start off simple with moveable and immoveable blocks, but future stages add ones with ice physics, spike traps, or they're rigged to explode once he steps on them, and the blast destroys any blocks caught within its radius.

By night six, your palms will be sweating, your head aching, and your eyes twitching due to how complex these later levels are.  Many times, the solution will seem impossible, but with enough patience, you'll figure out the way up.  Catherine: Full Body is difficult, yes, but it's the good kind of difficult that pushes you to play efficiently and rewards those who think outside the box.  Besides, it's refreshing to have something like this game remind us that we need to be challenged every once in a while.  However, there are few gameplay mechanics to alleviate the stress.  A rewind function lets Vincent undo his previous move if you felt like you messed up, and if it looks like he is stuck on a floor about to collapse, Rin will chime in with a piano melody which slows down time enough to let you make a couple of quick, last minute moves to get to safety.

There are also power-ups to collect.  These include the ability to conjure additional blocks or a drink which launches Vincent up two blocks.  Power-ups are found in each level or can be purchased at the chapel, which acts as a temporary domain of peace from the maddening climbing.  Here, Vincent can save his progress, talk with other sheep to learn new tricks, or step into the confessional when he's ready to move on.  Before leaving, an anonymous figure will ask Vincent to answer a question, and the response he chooses tilts a scale of destiny one way or the other.  It should be noted that buying power-ups for use will decrease the final rank you receive for the next stage you're about to do.  Also, each night culminates in a boss battle where Vincent has to climb to the top towards sanctuary, all the while avoiding whatever attacks the boss has.  Surprisingly, these encounters are easier than the stages you just took on.

Remix mode adds new block types to deal with, and if
a stage gets too hard, you can use autoplay to let the game
beat the stage for you.  But why would you want to cheat yourself?
When it was originally released in 2011, Catherine sported a great, anime-inspired visual style that meshed well with the nightmarish landscapes of the dream world.  The graphics and lighting have been given a boost for the Full Body edition, but it's not too big of a difference.  Voice acting is solid and if you've watched any anime released and dubbed in the 2010's, then a lot of the actors will sound familiar, as the cast includes the likes of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, and more.  The music, whether it's the laid-back jazz tunes of the Stray Sheep bar or the twisted tunes of the dream world, sound good.

Catherine is one of the most interesting, unique, and offbeat games to come out in the last decade.  In a time when the gaming landscape was dominated by action-packed shooters and open-world romps, this was a nice change of pace.  It's not every day you play a game that explores topics like love and commitment while on the other hand featuring a main character who has to flee from butt monsters and babies with chainsaw arms when he goes to sleep.  The puzzle-based, tower-climbing gameplay is challenging and frantic, but fun, and like Vincent, you cheer once you figure out a tough stage and reach the top.  The cycle of talking by day and climbing by night might seem like a grind, but it's a fun gameplay loop that leaves you in anticipation of what Vincent will have to deal with the next night.  As for the Full Body edition, the new modes, tweaks to the gameplay, and additional narrative thread are good additions to the base game and are worth checking out.