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Game Review: Control

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on February 12, 2021

505 Studio’s Control is game that seems like it should have been a good game. Unfortunately, it’s an average third person shooter with a lot of problematic game design elements sporting one almost redeeming concept. Let’s explore.

What kind of Game is it?

Control is a game about, well, control of sorts. Not so much the control you might expect, but the control that the game designers want you to come to know. Basically, your player character, Jesse, is thrown into a world of objects dubbed O.o.P. or Objects of Power. These are everyday objects that contain a supernatural force. In this sense, the game ripped off Friday the 13th The Series and Warehouse 13. Both of these TV series revolved everyday objects imbued with a supernatural element that, if harnessed, would typically lead to wanton destruction.

In this same vein, the game world in Control has this same problem. These everyday power objects not only allow people to harness the supernatural forces within, these objects bestow unique abilities upon the bearer. However, in those aforementioned TV series, their objects not only gave the person a supernatural ability, it typically sapped the good out of the person leaving only evil behind. In this video game, this object situation does not similarly exist. The player character remains in full control of their faculties and remains sane and able to ward off any evil that may be part of the object.

As you might surmise, as you progress and find more and more power objects, the player character grows in strength and abilities. That’s how the skill tree opens and progresses. The game is much like other similar superhero games like the Infamous series, The Darkness series and, to a lesser extent, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. Basically, as you find and gain abilities, your character’s strength grows. It’s obvious that this setup is leading to a final boss level where you’ll have to close out the game using many, if not all of the character’s abilities to defeat that final boss. It’s a fairly standard and cliché setup for a video game.

Story

The story in this game is mostly utilitarian. It primarily exists for the purpose of creating this video game. The story is essentially there to support the character’s gaining of new abilities, not the other way around. The character finds herself in a building called the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC)… it’s this video game’s equivalent of the FBI or CIA… with the added twist of also investigating all things of a supernatural nature. This situation she finds herself in affords her new abilities along the way. Though, she already has one ability that she’s already gained as a result of exposure to a power object when she and her brother were both kids.

Now, Jesse finds herself confronting the very outfit that kidnapped her brother, but at the same time becoming the FBC’s savior because the building has somehow gone completely out of control… which, this story setup is probably predictably obvious.

The first object of power that Jesse finds (well, technically the second) is a gun which now affords her protection. There’s nothing really very special about this object of power other than it’s a gun. I was a little disappointed to find the game developers offering up the weakest of all power objects as the first that she finds. I mean, what’s the point in finding an object of power if it doesn’t somehow confer a new supernatural ability? No, instead we find a gun that’s just a gun. It shoots bullets, but other than that it doesn’t do much in the way of anything else. It’s not even a very powerful weapon. It’s simply a pistol. So far, the game is starting off weak.

Abilities

As the game progresses, Jesse gains more and newer powers and abilities. The difficulty is that this is a slow row to hoe. Meaning, this game is about as slow burn as it gets. Don’t expect to get many abilities very fast at all. They definitely come to Jesse at a very, very slow pace.

Still, her abilities and powers grow as she slowly finds the objects to help her improve her situation with “The Hiss”. As I said above, the building itself has gone out of control. Most of the people in the building are floating catatonic many feet above the ground. These unfortunate people are under the control of what Jesse dubs, “The Hiss”. It’s basically a form of mind control that forces people into this catatonic floating state. Jesse and any who are wearing a Hedron Resonance Amplifier (HRA) can avoid becoming a casualty of “The Hiss”.

As Jesse progresses into the game and into the building, she finds all sorts of departments investigating all sorts of paranormal activities, including ESP, telekinesis, mind control and so on. Unfortunately, the game throws all of this information at you, but Jesse makes no comments on any of it. It’s like she’s simply expecting to see all of this stuff as she makes her way through the Bureau of Control building. Nope, to her it’s not a surprise at all. Yet, to the player, the questions all remain open as the story addresses none of this.

Control Points

As Jesse makes her way through this labyrinthine maze of a building, she finds red circular zones with 3 parabolic dishes aiming at the center. These control points, once “cleansed”, allow Jesse to fast travel to these points in the building. As a game mechanic, fast travel points are convenient. For the game’s story, this whole system feels contrived. Regardless, the control points not only allow Jesse to straighten out screwed up parts of the building through “cleansing”, it allows her to use these points to move around the building more easily… which is needed in this convoluted design of a building.

Puzzles

As with many games of this nature, Jesse’s challenges sometimes involve cryptic puzzles to be solved. This means working out how to solve the puzzle, sometimes using abilities, sometimes not. For example, one puzzle involves getting punchcards into the correct order in each terminal of five total terminals. Once done, the machine dependent on the correct order of cards inserted into the terminals can then be started. Of course, once started, the machine fails leading Jesse to yet another area of the building to get something else.

When Jesse isn’t solving puzzles, she’s fighting enemies, she’s conversing with an NPC or she’s running around in the building. Many of Jesse’s quests involve either fetching something, doing something for someone or attacking enemies or being attacked.

Combat

Since we were just talking about this very topic, let’s expand on it. Combat is part of any first or third person shooter; otherwise, it’s not a shooter. The enemies in this game are The Hiss, a nebulous set of voices that invade a person and can eventually possess that person and have them do things, including fight. All of the enemies in the game are former FBC officers who have been possessed or transformed by The Hiss. The Hiss is a nebulous enemy who lives in an alternate dimension from the game’s 3D human inhabited world. This supernatural force can reach through into the “real” world and control humans. The Hiss doesn’t seem to have any special agenda other than taking up arms against the game’s protagonist… at least, none that the game has let the gamer in on.

In other words, The Hiss is pretty much like The Flood in the Halo series. It’s a nebulous enemy who uses humans to possess and propagate itself into the real world. Unfortunately, like The Flood in Halo, possessing a human corrupts and transfigures the human into unrecognizable creatures that afford only basic life or death instincts… much like The Flood in Halo.

Jesse uses her ever evolving supernatural abilities and supernatural weapons to dispatch these unwanted abominations. That’s where the player comes in.

The combat is fairly straightforward, but with some glaring problems. The game strongly recommends using manual aiming throughout the game. However, in the options panel, there is an aim assist mode. If you enable this mode, the game, again, strongly recommends playing the game through with this mode off making some nebulous statement about being rewarded for doing so.

Okay, so I tried to do this for a few levels. However, what became painfully obvious is that the over sensitive camera movement makes manual aiming in this game next to impossible. Most games suffer from this same design flaw, but this super sensitive movement is way more pronounced in Control than most games I’ve played. This makes manual aiming a chore. I could live with this chore, however, were it not for the next additional glaring flaw.

Enemies in Control have near perfect aim every single shot even when hidden behind obstructions. While my bullets miss enemies when I’m shooting at them with the reticle directly over the top of them, enemy bullets connect almost instantly. Wait, it gets worse.

Enemies can shoot Jesse in the head from behind objects with perfect aim and take nearly 99% of her health, sometimes all of it, in one shot. Yet, Jesse’s shots do maybe 10% damage to an enemy even in the head. The enemy’s perfect aim when combined with being so overpowered make the game a joke to play. This game isn’t supposed to be another Dark Souls, which Dark Souls is intentionally designed with combat so difficult so as to make you throw the controller across the room on occasion.

It’s one thing when game developers attempt to make enemies operate at about the same damage level as the player. It’s another when developers clearly don’t give two shits about this and set the enemies as one-shot player kills, yet can absorb every bullet in the player’s gun and still not die. Worse, enemies can literally appear out of thin air, standing right next to you and then summarily execute Jesse in one hit. It’s so absurd that you have to laugh to keep from throwing the controller at the screen.

As a result, I enabled aim-assist. If the game is going to cheat by making enemies so overpowered they can kill Jesse in one shot, it was only fair that Jesse obtains a similar advantage. There’s nothing worse than seeing the death screen in a game over and over and over. It gets worse again.

Death Mechanic

If Jesse falls in battle, the game reloads Jesse back to the closest save point. Because save points can be quite far away from where you were playing, that forces you to spend time sprinting all the way back to that point again. It’s not only annoying, it’s an incredible time waste. It can sometimes even become a challenge to get back there if it requires using lifts or yet more combat to get back there. Therefore, doing something to help mitigate the death loading screen and being forced back to the load point is well worth it. This is part of the reason I decided to enable aim-assist from the beginning.

While I’m okay with a small death penalty, such as consuming points that could be used towards upgrades, we don’t need multiple different penalties. Penalties such as this game has:

  1. Loss of points that can be used towards upgrades
  2. Being forced back to closest save point
  3. Loss of current battle in progress
  4. Confusion over where you end up after respawning

Thankfully, the game doesn’t lose the progress or force you to start everything over from scratch after Jesse dies, but you must determine where you are, figure out where you were and then spend time traversing back over there. You might even run into more Hiss along the way just to get back to where Jesse fell.

It’s not the worst death mechanic in a game, but it’s pretty close to it. Control will lose points for its weak death + respawn mechanic.

Graphics

One shining spot of this game is its world lighting, background objects and atmospherics. It has some of the best atmospherics I’ve seen in a game. It gives the world depth and it serves to give the office space a sense of realism. While the lighting doesn’t work 100% in every situation, there are some lighting conditions that are exceptional. This is one of the shining points in this game, but not the sparkle in this game… that’s coming below. Unfortunately, a lot of game developers put a lot of effort into choosing an engine that offers a substantial level of lighting realism, but then forget to put that same level of effort into the character models.

Speaking of character models, the 3D character models are average in this game, specifically the main character, Jesse. However, even the supporting character models lack. If you want to see character models that look genuinely and stunningly real, you need to look at the Call of Duty series. The character models in Call of Duty are some of the most outstanding and realistic models I’ve yet seen in a game. Sure, even those models look video gamey as all 3D models ultimately do, but they’re probably the closest to using a human model as I’ve seen from a 3D game character. Unfortunately in Control, Jesse (and the rest) aren’t the greatest of 3D models. You can even see that depending on the lighting, the character models can look okay or they can look flat, dull and unconvincing. The hands are particularly bad. It’s like playing a game using Barbie and Ken dolls.

Audio

Unlike many video games which offer the player character no voice, this game does give Jesse, the game’s protagonist, a solid voice. Not only does Jesse have a voice to speak to other characters in the game, this character also has thoughts of her own. It’s a refreshing and welcome change to see a game developer voice the protagonist and give them a backstory that unfolds as we’re traversing through the narrative. Unfortunately, the musical audio portion doesn’t fare as well. The music chosen is not inspiring or powerful. If anything, I’d use the word utilitarian. The music serves its purpose to cue the player into skirmishes, but that’s about as great as it gets. There’s just nothing much inspiring about the music included in this game. There is one exception and that’s discussed below.

Problems

As with most games that have been released in the last two or three years, I find game developers more and more relying on cliché game tropes to carry the story. These tropes make game development easier because most game developers already have toolkits built which can insert these tropes right into the game. Tropes like the press and hold to interact. Tropes like dead enemies dropping health pickups. Tropes like enemies with perfect aim. However, if the tropes were the end of this game’s problems, I might not even mention them. Combined with a bunch of other problems, it just exacerbates Control’s overall problems.

Video games that rely on quests, particularly where the game can carry multiple quests at the same time, have learned to mark not only on the map where the quest destination is, but also mark on the player’s directional HUD system which way to head to get to that destination. Unfortunately, Control does none of this. Not only does it fail to adequately alert the player where on the map is the destination is, it fails to offer a directional HUD or floating marker to lead you in the correct direction.

Instead, the player is forever fumbling his or her way to get to the destination. Sometimes the destination is so obscure and not marked, it’s impossible to find a way to get to it. This problem is compounded by the building’s convoluted and overly complex layout. I realize the building itself is a kind of extra-dimensional structure, able to rearrange itself at will. Regardless, the structure is overly complex requiring traversal of many stairs and small doors to move between and around areas.

Combine this with the fact that doors are level locked, the player has no way to know how to get into an area until you finally and magically hit upon the correct quest that drops the key in your lap.

Map

Yes, the map itself is also a problem. Unlike many games which choose to utilize a separate map screen, this game uses a map overlay. The map overlay obscures the screen itself, yet the screen stays live with the character able to move while the screen map marker moves. This is mostly a negative for the game. It’s great that you can see you’re heading in the correct direction, but because the screen is so overly obscured by the map, trying to traverse the interior of the building can be impossible with the map overlay open.

The only other game that has offered a similar map overly screen was Technomancer. Technomancer‘s game’s map overlay screen, however, chose not to obscure the gamer’s view of the game play field while still allowing the map to be visible. This meant you could leave the map open and traverse the map to your destination. If Control had chosen to allow visibility of the play field at all times, the game play experience with the map open would have been far, far better. As it is now, Control’s kludgy map overlay system is made worse by its failure to be useful other than for quick glances.

This map situation gets much worse. There are times where the map doesn’t even draw in. It’s just a bunch of question marks and words floating in space with no image underlay showing the room layout. You simply have to guess where the hell you are. Even worse, this undrawn map can stay like this for minutes at a time, sometimes eventually drawing in, sometimes not. It’s also weird that the map worked just fine 5 minutes ago, but just a few minutes later it’s not working. I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that a bug this functionally problematic has been allowed to exist in a 505 studio game over a year after release. Though, admittedly this game studio has had a very rough start with Death Stranding… a game that confused a lot of players, was too slow burn and afforded mixed critical reviews. Control also falls into this same boat, but for very different reasons.

Telekenesis (aka Launch)

Yes, this power also falls under a problem area of this game. In a game that allows you to pick up and throw objects, an accurate object targeting system is imperative. Unfortunately, that targeting system fails more often than it succeeds. For example, there’s a point in the game where you’re required to run through an obstacle course in around 60 seconds. As part of this course, you are required to pick up cube structures and throw them into wall plugs to activate them. Far too many times, the game will, instead of picking up the cube which is right under the reticle, it will yank ceiling or wall material down forcing you to send that flying and try again. Sometimes it will fail to grab the cube multiple times in a row using up the precious telekinesis power bar. You only get about 3 tries at this before running out of power and being forced into a slow recharge.

Even with the fastest recharge speed mods, you still have to wait 10-15 (seconds) for the bar to recharge ensuring that you fail the course. I don’t know how many times I had to run through that course before I was able to succeed simply because of this single stupid game design failure.

If you’re developer planning on including short duration timed activities, you need to make damned sure that the mechanics required to complete the course function reliably 100% of the time. Control really failed the gamer with this course. That’s not to say the course cannot be run and succeeded. It will, however, take many trial and error attempts until you can manage to get luck to line up properly with all of the kludgy game mechanics.

Ashtray Maze

Let’s get past all of these pesky problems. What I will say about this particular level is that this level is the payoff for the entire game. It should have been the final thing you do that ends the game. My guess is that this level was designed first. Some developer came up with this level idea which wowed everyone who played it and then a game was wrapped around this one level as a reason for this game to exist.

This puzzle level requires a special object of power to be obtained before it can be run. If you enter into the maze without this object of power, you can only run in circles. Once you have this object of power, the entire level opens up and boy is it impressive. The entire run is so precisely timed to the player that it’s like watching a music video. Yes, even the soundtrack on this level is awesome. As I said, impressive. This level is the sole reason to play Control and, while fleeting, the level is amazing to behold and is the single most impressive thing about this game. After I was done running the level, I was thinking that I want to do it again… it was that impressive.

Unfortunately, one outstanding level can’t redeem a mediocre third person shooter. But, nonetheless, the Ashtray Maze is definitely a must see (and hear) level. It’s too bad the rest of the game couldn’t have been quite so impressive.

Overall

Control is a game not about control, but about being controlled. It’s about, well, nothing much in particular or even too interesting to be honest. This game combines a lot of its not-so-subtle cues from a lot of different games series including Bioshock, Halo, Portal, Assassin’s Creed, Infamous Second Son and Half-Life. In fact, it feels like a mashup of the game series just mentioned. It feels way less original than it should and, thus, it ends up far less impressive overall. However, the developers had a gem of a concept in the Ashtray Maze that they simply squandered away, but which could have been used in many ways all throughout the game to bump up the playability and fun factor of Control.

For example, the silly and repetitive Oceanview Motel sections were not only intensely boring and repetitive, they were completely unnecessary. If those segments had been replaced each with slightly modified runs of the Ashtray Maze, this game could have been much, much better and way more satisifying. I could have done the Ashtray Maze run several times and loved running it every single time. Instead, we got saddled with the trite Oceanview Motel, which is insipid, uninspired, slow and unnecessary. Maybe 505 can learn from these mistakes when crafting the sequel to Control.

One final thing I’ll state is that this game has two endings. This information doesn’t at all spoil the game. However, know that it has a fake out ending and a real one. The fake out ending is still part of the game and there’s a small amount more gameplay (maybe 15-20 minutes) after it, but before you get to the real ending. I’m uncertain why 505 decided to add a fake out ending, particularly so close to the end, but they did. I thought I’d mention it so if you choose to play this game you don’t get caught off-guard thinking that the game ended early and abruptly and put the game away before completing Control.

Graphics: 8.5 out of 10
Sound: 8 out of 10
Game Control: 4 out of 10
Playability: 7 out of 10
Replay value: 1 out of 10
Overall: 4.5 out of 10 (an average third person shooter with only one redeeming level)

Netflix: Lost in Space Season 2

Posted in entertainment, netflix, reviews by commorancy on January 5, 2020

LostInSpace.jpgOn the whole, I enjoyed season 1 of Lost in Space on Netflix. The premise stayed fairly true to the original Irwin Allen idea. The actors chosen are not bad for a TV series. However, by Season 2, the series veers way off course. Let’s explore.

Spoilers

This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch this series for yourself, I’d suggest that you stop reading here. The spoilers won’t be huge, but this review must reveal certain plot elements to critically discuss how this series goes so off course.

Additionally, because Netflix has dumped their ability to leave reviews directly on its site, I feel that it is important that someone reviews Netflix original series somewhere. I’ll begin this one as a new series of reviews as I watch various Netflix efforts. The posts will always be prefixed with ‘Netflix:’ when it is a review of a Netflix original series.

Lost, Lost and more Lost

The original premise of Lost in Space is that the Jupiter 2 gets, you guessed it, lost on its maiden voyage. The original 60s series starring June Lockhart and Bill Mumy kept to this premise all throughout the run of the series, changing format only to move the Robinsons around, but not disband the “alone” premise.

However, this Netflix original series sticks to the original plot only for the first season. The second season sees only one episode that holds true to that original plot. In fact, after inexplicably resolving their “stranded” predicament in pretty much “Lost in Space” form, the whole series takes a turn for the worse and it goes downhill from there. Let’s get into it.

Robot Lost

The first problem is that the Robot has disappeared and is lost. This is supposed to be about the family lost, not the robot. However, in an attempt to escape the planet they find themselves on, one with inexplicable lightning events that traverse across the planet at a specific location and in flashing sequence no less…(a location they can see from shore), they shrug it all off as a natural event. Before they can leave, they first need to understand that there’s absolutely nothing natural about that lightning event. Yet, Maureen, the “mother with a head on her shoulders” shrugs it off as “part of the planet”. There’s nothing at all natural about a clock work lightning event on a planet. She, of course, gives some nonsensical explanation citing a location somewhere on Earth that seems to have a similar kind of storm activity. A lame justification at best.

Worse, Maureen then concocts a plan to turn the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat to “sail” out to the lightning storm to recharge the Jupiter 2’s batteries. I guess that’s one way. Yeah, lightning is, at best, unpredictable. Predictable lightning events are even more unpredictable. At worse, it could fry every electrical system on the Jupiter 2. Yet, Maureen mentions nothing of that danger. Instead, she goads John into turning the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat by attaching rigging and a mast. Yeah, its fairly far fetched.

After doing all of this modding to the J2, they push the J2 into the sea and head out to where the lightning occurs. After a few mishaps on the ocean (to be expected), they find the need to let Dr. Smith out of her confinement to help the sailing process. It seems that Dr. Smith is some sort of a jack of all trades. She can do everything and she always does it exceptionally well, even though she also happens to be a ruthless, conniving, cold psychopathic killer. We all must shrug her behavior off and let her become “friends” every time the family needs her. This whole story premise is so badly concocted, I’d have stopped right here. But, I decide to press on and boy does this series go from bad to worse.

The Resolute

After finding an inexplicable structure that rings the planet creating a huge waterfall in the middle of the ocean (yeah, how is that supposed to work exactly?), they find writing on the bottom of this trough and some huge spikes that “they don’t know what they do”. Um, Maureen, are you all right there? Clearly, the spikes attract the lightning. For what reason the builders want to attract lighting isn’t exactly made clear. But, use some logic here, hon.

One thing is clear, the spikes are likely collecting electrical storm energy for capture. More specifically, if the trough is man made to capture the lightning, then it’s crystal clear that someone or something is harnessing that lightning for energy use purposes. Yet, Maureen’s head is clearly not in the game here. It’s like she’s taken a dumb pill or something.

The short of it is, after a few struggles and silly setups, lightning strikes “The Chariot”. That lightning is then miraculously captured by the J2 which then gives it all the power it needs to lift off and fly away immediately. No waiting on charging up couplers or anything.

After getting into space, they locate and land on the Resolute, a floating ring station that allows docking of multiple Jupiter crafts. After a few moments on the Resolute, they find an abandoned child with the rest of the station not having been inhabited for seemingly weeks or months (it’s never made clear). It also seems that those who formerly lived on the Resolute left in a hurry as food is all still sitting out in the mess hall.

While Maureen, John and the rest of the Robinson family wander the empty halls of the Resolute, Dr. Smith does her own nefarious thing of managing to hack her way into the Resolute’s security computers. She then changes her identity to Dr. Smith, implants her wrist with a new RFID sensor that she’s conveniently ripped out of the real Dr. Smith, whom she happens to find on board in suspended sleep (convenient!), which allows her to gain access to higher classified areas. Oh, so she’s implausibly good at medical implantation too? Yeah, so…. let’s skip the rest of the Dr. Smith stuff here. This part is incredibly badly written. Eventually, the family simply uses Smith as a tool to get what they need from the now returning Resolute crew. I can’t even believe that such a conniving person as Dr. Smith would allow themselves to be so easily manipulated by the Robinson family, after having gone to the trouble of “becoming legitimate”. Let’s move on.

Robot Found

Here is where the series takes it biggest sour turn. Inexplicably the abandoned Resolute crew “hear a signal” coming from the Resolute and fly their Jupiter back up to the Resolute to find out what’s going on. In doing so, they find the newly minted Dr. Smith and the Robinson family wandering its halls.

In fact, there’s apparently a rogue robot of some form wandering the halls loose on the Resolute. After a few moments, Maureen concocts a plan to capture the loose robot and she does it so quickly and efficiently that you’d think Maureen is some kind of miracle worker! After her lapse in judgement on how capturing lightning works, I guess she’s trying to make up for that here?

Inexplicably, the rest of the Resolute staff decides its time to return to the Resolute (with no explanation). Now that Jupiter 2 is back, I guess that means “everything is okay” and they can all return to the abandoned Resolute station. Oh, but there’s one catch. The Resolute’s jump engine has been taken by a robot. Sad face. Maureen again concocts a plan to take the jump drive from the Jupiter 2 and place it back into the Resolute so they can get to Alpha Centauri. The only problem is, no Robot as it’s still lost… somewhere.

Without Robot, they can’t use the jump drive. Suffice it to say that after some toiling and a lot of fill time, they discover Robot (and other similar, but hostile, Robots) on the planet just below the Resolute (convenient). They bring Robot back, but he refuses to help because of “family” issues. After doing things for Robot, he decides to help but not before…

Hastings Interferes

Hastings is a security officer over the Resolute, but clearly seems to be in command over the whole thing. Even the captain seems to take orders from Hastings. Additionally, Hastings seems to also be psychotic… willing to strand the vast majority of the “colonists” on the planet below simply to get the Resolute to Alpha Centauri.

Let’s just stop here to understand exactly how badly written this is as a story concept. If this is supposed to be the best and the brightest sent into space, how does a man like Hastings, with clear psychological problems, get a job aboard a critical mission like the Resolute? Wouldn’t mission protocols enforce subduing potentially psychotic individuals to prevent further damage to the mission? How is a person like Hastings left to roam free on the ship to do whatever he pleases?

The captain of the Resolute should have seen to Hastings removal the moment his intentions to abandon 500 people became known. That’s not the mission. Anyone with a brain could easily see Hastings mental faculties have been compromised. Whether that’s from a pathogen or from space sickness, it’s clear that Hastings is not in his right mind. Yet, no one even questions this man’s mental state.

Any organization putting together a space mission would have not only clear mission objectives, but also personnel sanity protocols in place. If a person gets beyond their ability to lead, then someone else needs to assume command of that role. Hastings was clearly compromised. Both he (and anyone loyal to him) should have been relieved and brigged. Yet, Hastings remains free to not only abandon 500 colonists, but also endanger with intent to kill Maureen and John and anyone else who stands in his way. Hastings is not rational. Yet, even after that, no one sees it. No one acts on it. No one even mentions it. The biggest danger to the Resolute is not John and Maureen, it’s Hastings. While Maureen’s stunt to capture ammonia from a gas giant to clear out the water supply of a foreign contaminant borders on insanity, at least her idea was born out of good intent to save ALL colonists. Hastings has no good intentions. Hastings isn’t at all rational and shows all of the signs of space sickness. Being in a position of security, that should have immediately thrown up red flags throughout not only the rest of the Resolute’s crew, but also to John and Maureen. Yet, everyone seems to blindly overlook Hastings’s delusional behavior.

Gone Astray

This season’s story flaws and woes go way deeper than the above. Lost in Space is a show about the Space Family Robinson who, through no fault of their own, become lost and on their own. This show is not about finding other backstabbing humans. They have already enough of a backstabber in their midst with Dr. Smith. They don’t need another one in Hastings. Hastings was an unnecessary antagonist. In fact, everything that transpires between the Robinson family and Hastings could have been handled by Dr. Smith. In fact, all of that story should have been given to Dr. Smith. We’re still trying to come to terms with our trust levels of Smith. Keeping not only the Robinson family on their toes with her treachery (along with the audience), giving this arc to Smith would have cemented her two-faced personality.

That this arc was given to an extraneous character, Hastings, who is effectively wasted and a throw-away, is in fact a pointless exercise. We as an audience learned nothing. The Robinsons also learned nothing. Dr. Smith gained nothing. It’s better to give these kinds of story arcs to characters who will remain with the show season upon season, building their character arc. Giving such deep story arcs to effectively throw-away characters shows just how amateur this show’s writers really are. Think, writers, think. Give important story arcs to the recurring characters, not to characters we don’t know and don’t care about.

If all of what Hastings had done had been given to Dr. Smith, this would have nailed down Smith’s treacherous nature. Instead, we are treated to John and Smith colluding to determine what the Resolute staff is actually planning. Why? What point did this serve? It showed us that Dr. Smith wasn’t beyond manipulation by John Robinson. John also didn’t need to really know the Resolute’s details. However, if John can manipulate a character like Dr. Smith, then John Robinson is way beyond the amateur status of Dr. Smith. Instead, by giving Hastings’s arc to Dr. Smith, this would have shown us that while Dr. Smith appears to be nice and good on the outside, she’s as treacherous as they come… something that the show dearly needs to prove to us.

Instead, we get a watered down Dr. Smith who is about as strong willed as a turtle.

Overall

Season 2 is definitely a sophomore effort in all senses of the word. The writing is convoluted, logically bad and in places asinine. The music is top notch, but that’s not enough to carry the weak and silly plot lines. Molly Parker, as an actress, needs to let go of using her smirk at the wrong times. It seems to clog up the character and makes her seem silly and less serious than she should appear.

Overall, the show was decently okay, but there were plenty of times where I wanted to tune out and go watch something else. Unfortunately, it’s 20 far too long episodes. If you’re really a die-hard Lost in Space fan, then you might like parts of season 2. I was hoping for far better with season 2, but it delivered much, much less than it should have.

In fact, the writers need to ditch the Resolute quick in season 3 and go back to the Robinsons on their own flying around in the Jupiter 2. Let the story focus on the Jupiter 2 rather than a ship we care nothing about. If the Resolute must make a reappearance, it should only be one or, at most, two episodes in length and then move on. Oh, and let’s not lose Robot again, m’kay?

Overall Rating: 2.2 stars out of 5 (with music being the best part of this season)

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Game Review: Watchdogs

Posted in gaming, reviews by commorancy on June 24, 2014

Watchdogs-artLately, I’ve decided that I don’t want to know anything about the AAA titles before they are released so I can be surprised. Going into Watchdogs, I knew nothing (other than it had some hacker theme). Well, I’m somewhat disappointed in this title. Let’s explore.

Grand Theft Auto

I don’t mind playing Grand Theft Auto clone games, but games that don’t expand that idea enough beyond jacking cars really don’t do it for me. That, and I’d only recently finished playing Grand Theft Auto 5. Yes, I know, I play games slowly and in steps. Just prior to that, I had finished Saint’s Row the Third, also another GTA derivative.

Rehashed Ideas

It’s not that I have a problem with game developers taking some ideas from games and using them in new creative ways. But, when you just abscond with the entire control system and gameplay mechanics nearly unchanged, that’s when it treads far too near plagiarism. Though, adding the ‘hacking’ gimmick to divert your attention away from Ubisoft’s blatantly ripping a page straight from Rockstar’s GTA book doesn’t mean I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m definitely not okay with this. We already had the original GTA and Saint’s Row, do we really need another GTA? It’s a cool game structure and all, as long as it’s under the Grand Theft Auto name. I forgave Saint’s Row only because of it’s satirical nature. Anyone who can add irony and satire to a derivative game franchise will always make me want to play it.

But, that’s no where to be found in Watchdogs. Watchdogs is as serious as serious games come. It makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it’s a GTA clone, but it doesn’t make fun of that fact either. It’s just a straightforward ripoff with no apologies.

Road Layout and Car Handling

If you’re going to spend time writing a GTA clone, then make the road maps accommodate driving a car. More specifically, driving a car fast. The one thing that really irks me about Watchdogs is the crappy road layout of the city. Seriously, if Rockstar got anything right with GTA5, it was the roads and how they work in relation to vehicles. With the exception of the Vinewood Hills area in GTA5, the rest of the roads had easy and realistic curves that work quite well with high speed driving.

Unfortunately, the maps are an extremely sore point in Watchdogs. You simply can’t do high speed driving in Watchdogs. Nearly every city road runs into literally an L turn. And I’m not talking about a curve like (. No, I’m talking about an L. If you’re doing high speed to avoid the cops, the road abrubtly L turns and you’re crashing into a barrier or coming to a crawl to make the turn. Bad bad design. It’s clear, Ubisoft’s level designers put no thought into the road design. You can drive maybe 2 blocks before encountering yet another L turn. The subdivisions are just not conducive to high speed driving. Sure, I expect some L turns on some roads. And even then, they were occasionally in GTA5. But, they were the exception, not the rule. In Watchdogs, the roads are nearly L turns at every dead end.

Another thing Rockstar finally got right was the driving feel of the vehicles. Not so much in Watchdogs. The cars careen all over the road in unrealistic ways. In fact, the handling is so bad, it feels like a game from the 90s or maybe GTA 1 or 2. It doesn’t matter what car you jack, they all drive like crap. Ubisoft just didn’t get the driving or the roads right at all.

Cops

Just like GTA, if you go vigilante on the public, the wanted level goes up and the cops come after you… right down the Helicopter chasing you with a search light. It’s just a complete and utter rip off of GTA. Though, instead of the wanted stars, you get this flashing line bar. Effectively the same, though. And, like GTA, as long as you can outrun the cops or are good at hiding, you can eventually evade the cops. I even evaded the cops by jumping in a waterway and swimming away even when a helicopter was after me. This is something that would never have happened in any GTA game. The helicopters would have simply sent you to the hospital. Of which there is…

Dying

When your player character dies in the game, the game reloads back to the same point where your character died. So, for example, if your character happened to die in the middle of the freeway, that’s where the game places you after loading. No money lost, no trips to the hospital. I’m mixed on this, though. On the one hand, I like that I don’t lose my place where I was. On the other, placing my character in the middle of a busy freeway on foot is not really ideal.

Though, losing your place is one of the bigger problems I had with GTA5. If you happened to be in a part of the city where you’re not sure the exact location or weren’t paying attention to the map when your player character dies, you’re transported to the nearest hospital which might be a very long way from where you formerly were. So, on the one hand, I like that your character spawns where it died. At the same time, it’s not always practical to spawn in some of these locations. Overall, I’d say this is a miss by Ubisoft.

Hacking

Yes, Ubisoft did add the ‘phone hacking’ feature to Watchdogs as its primary gimmick. Note that hacking was actually a big part of Saint’s Row the Third, but offered up in a different way. The mechanics involving the cell phone hacking here is actually done very well. But, it doesn’t add so much to the game that you feel it’s a primary reason to play this game. The hacking is really to be thought of as another weapon that can help or hurt you as you progress through the game. Because the game is way overshadowed by the GTA5 feel, the hacking piece feels like an add-on that could have just as easily been added to GTA.

I would have preferred them rip off Assassin’s Creed’s climbing and or the quest system over GTA5. Give me the ability to climb the buildings over jacking cars, popping caps and joyriding.

Though, I will give credit to the camera hacking system. In fact, the entire game could have revolved around camera hacking. As long as you can ‘see’ another camera in the camera you’re viewing, you can hack into it. With this idea, you could string along camera hacking and ‘travel’ throughout the entire city without leaving the street corner. In fact, with this idea, it could have had other abilities like exploding street lights or hacking other devices that you might even be able to thwart crime simply by using the phone. While this infinite camera hacking idea wasn’t explored, it has a great potential at making a big part of a game. This is the one idea in this game that was left way underutilized but had immense potential. In fact, the camera hacking could have been a game unto itself.

Overall

Having just completed GTA5 and SR3, I’m still in my ‘I don’t really want to play another one of these games’ modes. I’ll snap out of it in a year or so, but for now it’s not really something I long to play at this point. GTA5 also had a whole lot going for it with the ability to mod vehicles and store them in garages and also supported switching between multiple player characters. While I don’t know if modding cars or storing cars is yet possible in Watchdogs, I’m not really planning on playing this game for a while to find out. I’m just a little burnt out on this style of gaming, but I’ll pick it back up eventually.

Because the roads are also not conducive to street racing, the game really made a huge blunder here. If the roads had been designed with more subtle curves to allow for high speed racing, chasing and escaping from cops, Watchdogs would have been a whole lot more fun with the cars. As the city roads are designed, it’s a chore to drive around the city. If you’re planning to rip off GTA (which is effectively a car-centric game wrapped in story), then you need to design the in-game roads to accommodate racing the cars. Right now, Watchdogs just doesn’t work well enough for that.

Recommendation: Rent or Buy
Gameplay: 5/10
Mechanics: 7/10
Car Racing: 2/10
Graphics: 10/10
Audio: 9/10
Overall: 7/10 (needs improvement)
Comment: Derives far too much if its play from GTA5. Road design is crappy and doesn’t work properly for racing.

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