Category Archives: Alex Plays

Man of Medan: All We Have to Fear is Fear Itself (and the Ocean)

mans of medans

It’s October, gang: spooky season cometh. May I interest you in a fun, surprisingly intricate, delightfully creepy interactive ghost story?

Man of Medanthe first instalment in The Dark Pictures Anthology—tells the tale of a group of American tourists (and their intrepid, impatient captain-for-hire) whose diving holiday to French Polynesia gets unfortunately interrupted when they’re kidnapped by pirates. The pirates’ attempt at ransoming the rich twenty-somethings are also interrupted, however, when their boat crashes into the side of a World War II freighter that seems to be anchored, abandoned, in the middle of the ocean. With the boat damaged and the legend of “Manchurian Gold” in the vicinity, the motley crew climb aboard the ship and descend into a shadowy, haunting space lost to time, and… well, it’s safe to say everything begins to go pear-shaped from there. But how, exactly, is up to you.

Note: the first section of this is a spoiler-free review. When we dive (no pun intended) into the deeper stuff, it will be marked. For now, enter if you dare… Continue reading

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Butterfly Soup: Queer Romance, Geek Humour, and the Authentic Teen Experience

Butterfly Soup (107)

Did you know during metamorphosis, inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into soup? […] If you want to be a butterfly, you have to be butterfly soup first.

The more I think about it, the more “butterfly soup” is the perfect analogy for the type of coming-of-age story I’m interested in: that messy in-between stage of life when the characters are figuring themselves out and becoming something new, though they’re not entirely sure what yet. It will be strange and at times awful, but they will come out the other side transformed by what they’ve been through, whether that’s an epic adventure or just the plain ol’ forging fires of high school.

Butterfly Soup is a game about growing up, a little snippet of four girls’ lives during this pivotal, clumsy chrysalis phase. It’s about falling in love, about figuring yourself out, about dealing with crappy parents, and also about baseball and anime and not being straight. It’s a sweet and moving little visual novel that speaks from the heart and tells a very real-feeling tale of teenaged existence, and provides a hearty mix of both comedy and drama all the while feeling like a smooth ride rather than an emotional rollercoaster. Continue reading

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How Telltale Games Plays with Expectations in Their Superhero Series

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I don’t have to tell anyone reading this site that we’re living in a world saturated by superhero media. Between the hundreds of movies, TV shows, Netflix originals, video games, and of course comics, how does one stand out from the crowd? Especially when you’re one of many adapting/rebooting something as ridiculously overdone as Batman? Well, you do what Telltale Games does: you acknowledge that media saturation and the fact that your title character is a pop culture icon, and you decide to use that to do something different. You accept that your players will be bringing some knowledge of the superhero franchise—be it Batman or, more recently, Guardians of the Galaxy—you’re adapting to the table. And you use that knowledge as a foundation to play on audience expectations and take the opportunity to toy, fanfiction-style, with some “what if?” scenarios to create innovative and intriguing new takes on the familiar stories. And you do it all while exploring and giving agency to sidelined women characters, too!

Scoot to Lady Geek Girl and Friends for the full post!

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Oxenfree vs Until Dawn, the Cage Fight

oxendawn comparison

In this horror game, a group of teenagers who kind of hate each other travel to a secluded environment with no mobile reception and only one safe passage in or out (because that’s always a foolproof plan for fun). Tension is high because they’re mourning the loss of the sibling(s) of one member of the group, and people are blaming each other for their death. Two characters kind of have a thing going on and the player has the opportunity to get them together or keep them apart. Spooky things start happening, the group gets split up, and what began as a sweet fun high school romp becomes a quest to survive the night and get safely home. Is it indie ghost story Oxenfree I’m describing, or my Problematic Fave Until Dawn?

These are actually two wildly different pieces of media, but on reflection they had enough similarities that I felt a compare-and-contrast could be interesting, if only because of the first thing they have in common: supposedly I don’t even like spooky fiction, weak soul that I am, yet I loved both of these games and find myself still thinking about them enough to write another thousand-or-so words months and even years after first picking them up. The second thing these two have in common is that it feels kind of incorrect to call either of them “horror games”: Until Dawn is more of an interactive horror movie, complete with a fully-loaded arsenal of stock characters and predictable tropes from horror cinema around which it builds its existence; and Oxenfree is more of a ghost story in the traditional sense. It’s this atmospheric shift that makes comparing them so interesting, since they both manage to be fantastically engaging and frightening despite the very different ways they build their worlds and attempt to scare the pants off you. Continue reading

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Trailer Tuesdays: Life is Strange: Before the Storm

I’ve been hearing whispers about a new Life is Strange project for a while, though I couldn’t figure out how the developers would do it. A sequel was out of the question since the ending of the game is set up deliberately to take the story in two completely different directions, so making a direct Life is Strange 2 would surely be impossible unless they wanted to make two completely different games. Lo and behold, it turns out the new Life is Strange game is a prequel, focusing not on Max and her time powers but on Chloe a few years before the events of the original story. This is, all things considered, the sensible choice, though I’m intrigued and cautiously optimistic about how it will turn out.

Jump to Lady Geek Girl and Friends for the full post!

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“This Town is Full of Ghosts!”: The Power of Atmosphere and Landscape in Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods bike

You first meet the protagonist of Night in the Woods, 20-year-old Mae Borowski, when she arrives at her hometown’s bus station after dropping out of college. She remarks that the bus station is probably the newest and fanciest building in the town of Possum Springs, all the better to give people coming through the best first impression possible. However, we soon see that the bus station, with its shiny floors and glorious sunny mural advertising prosperous life in Possum Springs, is just a façade, and as soon as Mae arrives in the town proper, we see that it’s crumbling inside and out.

As Mae explores her childhood home, the game’s use of color, landscape design, character dialogue and atmospheric music all help to build a rich, vivid, sensory picture of this once-great but slowly dying coal town, injecting so much personality that the setting almost feels like a character. Which not only makes it a fantastic backdrop for the unfolding story, but a neat metaphor for what’s going on with Mae herself. And… also a little bit of something deeper and darker.

Head to Lady Geek Girl for the full post! (big plot spoilers don’t kick in until after the video clip)

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It’s a Metaphor, Max: The Storm

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I remember the fateful day when the final chapter of Life is Strange—appropriately titled “Polarized”—came out and the internet as I knew it, even parts I hadn’t known were invested in the game, collectively exploded. The starkness of the final choice, now dubbed “save the bae vs save the bay” because you have to laugh otherwise you cry, was the main topic of discussion and/or ranting, for good reason. I’m not saying it’s a bad dichotomy to present the player with (and as I wrote about in my last post, can be interpreted to represent Max’s character development and contribute to the story nicely), it just could have been done so much better. One aspect of this, which bugs me personally the most, is the fact that the entire scenario is kind of… nonsense. Which, like last time, I’m going to try to break through using WB’s “everything that makes no sense is a metaphor” theory. Let’s take a bite out of it. Continue reading

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