Review: The Yawhg

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The Yawhg is a storytelling machine.

An independently developed choose-your-own-adventure game, The Yawhg weaves a different story every time you play it. How each story plays out depends on your choices and some amount of luck. Its blend of tragedy and triumph keeps you engaged long enough to see several 15-minute-long stories through. But The Yawhg has a pre-determined life span. Eventually, you reach a point where you’ve discovered everything there is to see, and the mechanics behind the stories are revealed, losing the novelty.

The Yawhg is best played with friends. Its four main characters have no backgrounds or motivations, they are defined by the decisions they make throughout the game. Alone, you can play multiple characters, but it’s tough to maintain up to four separate narratives by yourself. With friends, on the same PC, each of you can create unique stories and feel the effects you have on the way it plays out, for better or for worse.

The Yawhg has a simple and grim setup, ripe for stories of defeat and victory. An impending danger is six weeks away from destroying a town, and its fate depends on your choices. You can try to prepare yourself for the end or disregard everything for pleasure. Not every decision is simple though, sometimes what you thought was doing good, turns against you and dooms the entire town.

TheYawhg1The Yawhg is structured into six rounds, representing the final six weeks before the mysterious Yawhg decimates the town. Each round, you choose locations to visit from an overhead map screen. Once selected, you’re presented with two actions, one selfish and one selfless. For example: If you visit the slums, you can either fight crime or pickpocket. One will earn you wealth, and the other will help clean up the streets and possibly affect a later decision. Where your decisions have the most impact are the randomized events that occur after you choose one of the two actions. These events can affect the entire story, like infesting the towns water supply with deadly leeches or rendering the palace inaccessible after your failure to disarm a bomb. The repercussions of your choices can be as small as a single event, or they can happen throughout the story.

How successful you are at each decision is based on a set of attributes increased and decreased depending on your actions. Stats like strength will help you battle in the arena, mind will let you solve complex problems, and wealth determines how much money you can spend. It’s not always clear which attributes can affect a given choice, sometimes you’ll need to put yourself in your character’s shoes and make the decision purely on your own terms. These types of questions deal in moral grey areas and are rare, but they’re what keeps you coming back to The Yawhg for subsequent playthroughs.

TheYawhg2Emily Carroll’s Scandinavian-styled art gives The Yawhg life. Each drawing compliments the emotion in a given scene. They’re detailed enough to portray an action, and vague enough for you to fill in the blanks. Combined with the folk soundtrack that ramps up as the story progresses, The Yawhg soaks you in its themes until you exit the game.

The Yawhg is built to be played multiple times. But there’s a hard limit. Eventually, you start to see the systems underneath it all. The Yawhg is at its worst when you play it like a game, focusing too hard on the attributes and not going with your gut. After enough playthroughs, in my case five, you start skipping through it just to get to something new, and the game loses almost all of its novelty.

That’s the most disappointing thing about The Yawhg. I wanted more, pushed too hard to find it, and soured myself on the game. But that’s doesn’t render the wonderful stories I created with it moot. Some left me stunned, and others had me laughing and theorizing what might happen next with friends. The power of The Yawhg is its ability to tell an exciting story filled with both highs and lows based on your input, and to leaves you wanting to go right back in and do it again.

Blind Anarchy

Rise Records signs more than a few bands that sound alike. It introduces new groups of twenty-somethings producing music structurally described as “risecore” — a play on the genre’s roots in metalcore — and critically described in even poorer fashion every month. Most of the music that slides out of the assembly line of rubbery, auto-tuned vocals and caffeine-induced synths, finds an audience drunk on the familiar formula.

That formula, predictably switching between clean and screamed vocals, backed by thick-headed bouts of palm-muted guitars, saturates entire albums. Every 3-4 minutes, someone is lyrically angry about something, and instrumentally stuck in perpetual motion. None of it saying anything interesting about the human condition.

What looks depressing for our society’s musical taste, and looks like a business strategy to Rise Records, is all the attention people are willing to throw away for a guilty pleasure. Every lazily, hammered together “lyric video” relishes in thousands of YouTube views as Codie replays them during his bedroom workout.

Rise Records doesn’t sell music, it simulates anarchy so you don’t have to. It’s an excuse to feel hardcore while you sit sheepishly on the bus home from school. It satisfies those juvenile, attention-deficit thoughts, however frequently they occur. Then you grow up, and realize you deserve more, and you’ll spend your whole life searching.

Enter Memphis May Fire, a symbol of hope for the post-hardcore, metalcore, or any other convoluted genre title you have. Somewhere in the rulebook it says if you hear a twang you can add southern to your Facebook bio. That was enough to turn heads with 2009′s Sleepwalking, however their descent from southern, post-hardcore, to post-hardcore, to full-on risecore only took 3 years.

Challenger, released under the beloved Rise Records, logically concludes the direction 2011’s The Hollow was headed in. Lead vocalist Matty Mullins brings the precise amount of bipolar disorder you’d expect in his role as Beauty and the Beast. Behind him, the guitar-shaped gears grind the album forward, coming up for air only when required. When combined with a drum performance best described as standard, Challenger rings mindlessly anthemic.

While Mullins shouts about being misunderstood, the album grows increasingly familiar. Each song begins with the insults and ends with the world’s smallest, self-deprecating violin. Throw in a breakdown or two, and you have the entirety of Challenger’s ambitions.

Though structurally rote, “Prove Me Right,” digs deep enough to feel vulnerable as Mullins shifts into soliloquy with “Ignorance had me by the throat / From the day I learned how to sing!” Lyrics like that give weight to his otherwise empty arguments. “Prove Me Right,” like all the tracks, has a clear message, but what it says about the band’s relationship with their previous label separates it from the rest of the album’s check list of angst.

“Jezebel,” another stand out, although, admittedly, without strong competition, walks across a bouncy tempo and finds a quiet moment during the second half. Flavor to wake you up from the rust of everything else spilling out of your speakers. It’s hard not to find humor in how Mullin’s verbally berates the female subject of “Jezebel,” calling her a “one track mind,” exact words incredibly tough to avoid using as I write this.

The remaining thirty-four minutes fly by like a stampede of elephants, loud and aimless. With surprises like 2 breakdowns instead of 1, Challenger has nothing more to offer. It aligns itself directly with the anarchic themes and dull configuration of risecore, becoming somewhat counter-productive in its message, ultimately ruining any hope Memphis May Fire would be the ones to mature a genre drooling all over itself.

Fit to Print: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review

What, you’ve already read this before? Well, first of all, thank you, and second, yeah, I know. I’m going back through my previous work and sprucing it up, making it a little more legible. It’s probably more self-indulgent than it is appealing to you, but I need to get better at editing, and I thought, hey, I have all this (sometimes embarrassing) work to use! Enjoy it or skip it, I won’t be offended!

This weekend I played a theatrical movie, and its name is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Moments in, you’ll feel the plethora of cinematic qualities tucked inside the game that are unlike thousands of others before it. Almost instantaneously after pressing the tradional “start” button you’re left in control of the most enjoyable fortune-hunter I’ve ever seen.

Nathan Drake has been betrayed, and now he sits in a derailed train car with a bloody wound above his hip. Unbeknownst to him, the abandoned car is a few feet away from sliding off a cliff somewhere in the Himalayas. When Drake quickly becomes aware of his imminent doom, he begins to assess his options. This is one of the many moments where the game flawlessly converts from cutscene to gameplay. Immediately the train lurches even further off of the cliff and causes Drake to descend closer to his ominous fall. Luckily, Drake still has enough in him to grab onto the door jutting out from the back of the car. From there you must lead him further up to the top of the cliff, and eventually make the final, life-saving jump. Once you arrive on safe ground, I guarantee you will breath a sigh of relief simultaneously with the game’s protagonist.

Events like these are scattered throughout Uncharted 2, making the game thrilling and very intense at times. From dodging a pursuing helicopter in a office building that is exploding with you’re inside it, to nearly escaping death from a hulking tank following you through a village; Uncharted 2 doesn’t let you go until the very end. Naughty Dog implemented unique actions depending on Drake’s current situation that create a sense of realism that I have yet to see in a video game. The firefights make for visceral events etched into the game’s masterful tale. While the weapons are the general variety, each firearm felt distinct while running from cover-to-cover, trying to flank the oncoming swarm of enemies.

With that in mind, the game hurts itself in smaller areas. I found myself constantly sticking to a wall for cover while an oncoming RPG was hurdling my way. Trying to jump frantically off of a cliff caused some deaths because Drake felt the need to hold onto the ledge often too long. Even battling in train cars cause some unnecessary deaths due to the imaginary glue on the walls. Ocassional frustrating scenarios like these were annoying, but they couldn’t ruin a game of this value.

The men and women who contributed their voice talents for the game (notably: Nolan North) should be honored. Each cutscene was presented in the most amazing in-game graphics to date, along with superb voice-acting. Not o mention the story feels like it was stolen from a multi-million dollar movie script. It’s clear in the narrative, Naughty Dog developed the gameplay directly alongside it. You constantly feel as if you are the actor in a magnificent tale.

A video game cannot offer more that what is delivered in Uncharted 2. Every aspect of it left me astonished. Before purchasing a PlayStation 3 Uncharted 2 was one of the games I was looking forward to. All I can say is buy this game. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

What did I change? You can read the original review here.

Fit to print: Halo 3: ODST Review

What, you’ve already read this before? Well, first of all, thank you, and second, yeah, I know. I’m going back through my previous work and sprucing it up, making it a little more legible. It’s probably more self-indulgent than it is appealing to you, but I need to get better at editing, and I thought, hey, I have all this (embarrassing) work to use! Enjoy it or skip it, I won’t be offended!

Coming from a strong history of innovation and expertly designed gameplay, Bungie’s Halo series has been superb so far. When the initial announcement for an expansion pack to 2007′s Halo 3 came, I trembled in anticipation. Throughout the months following its unveiling my expectations grew, only to be shot down as the release date got closer. From what was once a $30 expansion, Halo 3: ODST became a full package, retailing at the usual $60; the price change was staggering. Convincing me to lay down $60 for what began as an expansion would require the game to have a much wider scope and a lot more features tucked in. Finally, some initial reviews trickled in and things weren’t looking good. I  had the chance to play it, and disappointingly it became obvious: ODST is not worth the $60.

Now before you totally disgregard the game outright, it’s important to learn what the it provides you with. ODST tells a very compelling story that I particularly enjoyed. You play as The Rookie, a seemingly normal Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (O-D-S-T hey!) without the abilities a Spartan like Master Chief would have like dual wielding and advanced shielding. You’ll quickly learn the difference between the ODST capabilities versus the Chief’s. ODST are much weaker and therefore have health hiding beneath their delicate shields, making the combat much more tactical and cover much more valuable.

Your team was sent to stop the Covenant from completely destroying the city of New Mombasa, unsurprisingly things don’t go as planned. Unfortunately hell breaks loose before you and your squad land and you’re forced to search for your fellow comrades through the mementos they left behind.

Throughout the campaign you will be traversing New Mombasa in the dark. This “hub world” lets you explore and find clues in order to find the survivors from your team, and hopefully regroup. Bungie did a excellent job of letting you understand that you’re alone, and that your character actually cares about these missing people. Each clue that you find transports you into a flashback. In these flashbacks you play one of the ODST that you’re searching for. These flashback sequences allow you to widen your eyes, as it’s no longer dark, and get back into the epic gun battles that historically represent a Halo game. These parts are paced very nicely throughout your midnight memory hunt, but the combat sequences between feel like place-holders. Linking the flashbacks together to form a cohesive narrative was more difficult than I thought it would be and it ultimately felt messy and confusing. Near the end of the game things start to culminate into very recent flashbacks, rendering the first set of sequences unnecessary. Although, if they weren’t present, the game would be even shorter than the 4-5 hours it already lasts.

The graphics are very similar to the Halo 3 engine that you’ve already seen in action, and that’s not a bad thing. ODST’s focus on its characters could have been more impressive and genuine if the their faces weren’t still ugly. Bungie’s intent for you to realize you’re not playing Master Chief is inconsistent, you can still jump over towing crates, and walk around while wielding a giant machine gun turret. The game inevitably teaches you to find cover often as your battle strategy, but never punches you in the groin for being too brave. Maybe that’s harsh, but it felt frustratingly contrived after realizing the only difference between Master Chief and an ODST is primarily the health deficiency and the lack of a dual-wielding ability.

Without “Halo” in the title, ODST is a solid first-person shooter, but it carries so little weigh it feels out of place in the Halo series. Martin O’Donnel’s soundtrack is arguably the only thing that met and exceeded my exceptions; it is absolutely amazing. If you are looking for a solid campaign and some more story to add to your Halo knowledge this would be well worth $20-$25 alone, but with its shortcomings and higher price, Halo 3: ODST  doesn’t live up to the quality of its predecessors.

What did I change? You can try to read the original review here.

Music Catch Review: First impression

I wrote this for another reason, but I figured I might as well publish it here.

The immense amount of enjoyment that overwhelms you from listening to a new musical piece cannot be replicated. The curiosity driving your interest through the song can be pure ecstasy. Music Catch provides this feeling, and at the same time, uses the music to control your reactions. Like many great pieces, its dynamic nature quickly fades and becomes a static experience.
Your task is to weave a lonely, yellow circle through pulsating bursts of basic shapes. These bundles of shapes emit from a solid line that continuously rotates around the screen as the music builds. When touched, each shape will reward you with points. As the flow of the song fluctuates they will stream out of the line at different intervals, masking your primary objectives.

The few shapes that share your color scheme are meant to be absorbed as you dash about the black abyss. On a successful impact your circle’s size will increase and you will gain one point of a score-multiplier. Occasionally red-masked shapes will work their way out of the crowds too. These dastardly polygons will eat away half of your multiplier and seriously shrink both your size and confidence.

The piece in question is Isaac Shepard’s “Before Dawn”. Shepard’s work, while beautiful in its own right, forms the primary antagonist in your first few playthroughs of Music Catch. As it builds to an intense crescendo, the difficulty rises. Shapes will begin to scream out with such vigor that it can be hard to find your groove. These frantic moments showcase the game at its best. The first time through it feels like a journey, but after your inaugural musical adventure you begin to memorize the rhythm.

Music Catch is a flash game that thrives on its first impression. Unfortunately, what was once a discovery becomes a stale pattern that falls flat with repeated ventures.

 

Music Catch is a flash game by Reflexive Entertainment. Play it here.

L.A. Noire Review: Success is a double-edged sword

When someone tells you Rockstar Games is working on something new, assumptions are made, and in the past, have been mostly correct. Rockstar’s craftsmanship has flourished from their first encounter with open-world gameplay in Grand Theft Auto 3.  L.A. Noire breaks that pattern and offers a variety of drastically different mechanics that arguably counter the freedom of their past work. For the avid fans of the GTA series, this is a game that’s not the same style, or even same genre for that matter. L.A. Noire is an adventure game first, and a stereotypical Rockstar game second. Partnering with Australian developer Team Bondi to create such a different game with a unique style was a smart choice, but it’s obvious that this was a learning experience that has yet to be perfected.

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Portal 2 Review: A mechanical class act


Slight spoilers regarding the events of Portal. Also this review covers only the single-player experience. The co-op was unavailable to me at the time.

I’ll admit it. Offing multiple dudes with a variety of dangerous objects and guns can be very entertaining, but shotguns, machetes, rocket launchers, and plasma guns all do the job just fine–it’s simply a matter of efficiency and pints of blood. Outside of that, the creativity is lost. It’s for those reasons the lack of quizzical puzzles in most of these games is unsurprising. In 2007, Portal solved that mishap all while limiting you to one non-murderous weapon. Portal 2 aims for perfection with the original concept and throws in more mind-bending mechanics to boot.

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