Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC Review – More Great Horizon (PS5)

Of all the games I played last year, Horizon Forbidden West was my absolute favorite. I love the lore, the lead character and supporting cast, the storytelling, and the combination of action combat and adventure-like exploration and exposition. It should come as no surprise that I was very excited about the Burning Shores DLC when it was announced last year.

With that being said, expansions are usually not my thing. Most spin their own standalone tale within the framework of the main game but do not extend it or move it forward. Unless the gameplay is outstanding and the sole driver of the experience, DLCs face an uphill battle trying to convince me. And even in those gameplay-is-king cases, like Control, the expansions failed to entertain. I want more lead protagonist, more main story. Random side content that may or may not have ties to the main events rarely tickles my fancy. The issue comes down to the importance and meaningfulness of the new adventure. What could be significant enough to jump back into a game when the main objective is completed and the big bad boss is defeated?

(Rhymin’ and stealin’)

Horizon Zero Dawn’s expansion, The Frozen Wilds, was a new adventure, yet it also laid some groundwork for what would come in Horizon Forbidden West. Together with the fact that I just really enjoyed Zero Dawn, I happily played it. Forbidden West was an even better game, and I expected something similar from its DLC. In fact, it was my most anticipated “game” in 2023.

Burning Shores did not disappoint and delivered more of what made the base game an extraordinary experience: gorgeous visuals, entertaining combat, a couple of new machines, new skills, another Zenith threat, and a new side to Aloy’s character.

I immensely enjoyed my time in the destroyed and flooded future Los Angeles, and I want more Horizon because of that.

(Tomorrow, if possible. Kthxbye)

I think I can keep this review relatively short since the game’s core is still the same. We’ll see how it went when I write my famous last words 😉.

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Detroit: Become Human Review – The AI Game (PS5 + PC)

Yes, this is a controversial title, and I am definitely playing the clickbait game. Yet, I also believe that it is not that far off the truth. Depending on your viewpoint, you can interpret “The AI Game” as a game generated by AI or as a game whose core idea revolves around artificial intelligence. Detroit: Become Human falls into the latter category.

Broadly speaking, our contemporary understanding of AI focuses on generating text or images, and attempts at creating music also exist. The results are truly astonishing and also frightening. Imagine the political damage a convincing AI-generated deep fake could cause. Leaving this discussion aside, Detroit: Become Human takes AI further and introduces Androids into a not-so-distant future version of Detroit. These Androids look and behave like human beings and are supposed to follow a specific programming for given tasks. Still, circumstances enable some to break free of their restrictions and start thinking and feeling like living beings. And at that point, the question becomes: are they living beings?

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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart – A Technical Showpiece I Recommend (PS5)

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is my first Ratchet & Clank ever. I did not even know this franchise existed until I saw it being part of the early PlayStation 5 launch titles. As a Digital Foundry subscriber, I received all my information, especially what made it a technical showcase, from their excellent coverage and discussions. I was interested in the tech, but impressive visuals or other technical prowess alone do not make for a good game. The gameplay looked fun, however, and I stored that title on my maybe-if-I-ever-get-a-PS5-I-might-play-it list.

That day has come, and my recent test of Sony’s version of Game Pass afforded me a 50% discount on that title. Considering Sony still charges 80€ on their digital store, it was quite the price reduction. Amazon isn’t any better, either.

I called Kena Bridge of Spirits “essentially an interactive animated Pixar movie “. Ratchet & Clank falls even more so in this category. Kena focuses more on gameplay and combat, whereas Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart strongly concentrates on characters, the narrative, and cinematic storytelling. If you string together all cutscenes and in-game conversations, you essentially get an entertaining, family-friendly animated movie. And all that is wrapped in a visually stunning real-time package.

Let’s get into it and look at a few nice pictures, shall we?

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Pentiment Review – I Recommend 66% Of It (PC & Xbox Series X)

It may come to you as a shocker, but I have never played a point & click adventure game, like the well-known Monkey Island series, for example. It is something I know exists and is beloved, yet I never touched it, despite several releases of the franchise being of my time. Pentiment falls into the same game category, and the coverage I follow had high praise for that title.

So, when I got sick recently, I figured this would be a chill game to pass the time while trying to recover.

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My Year in Gaming 2022 – Game of the Year and Others

Last year, I wrote a summary of all the games I played in 2021. It was one of the ways of coping with the stress I deal with at work. And I like games. And writing. And writing about games. And digressing.

Two does not yet make for a series, but I’d like to continue the idea, and maybe I can turn it into one. So, here is my gaming year 2022 in review. I am not yet confident that I have nailed the format, so this blog post will differ in style from the inaugural version. I will start with a bit of story mode, as I am wont to do. Afterward, I’ll present the games in the order I started (or finished?) them. We’ll see. Lastly, I’ll reveal my Game of the Year in 2022.

AND DON’T YOU DARE JUMP AHEAD WITHOUT READING THE REST!

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Uncharted – The Nathan Drake Collection Review (PS4 Pro)

If I were to explain to someone how Uncharted plays, I would say that it is like Tomb Raider, only with more shooting, more linear, and a lot more character-building and interaction.

I guess I’m done here. See ya next time. Thank you for reading.

Yeah, no. I am incapable of being that brief. It is 2022, and I am enjoying a game franchise developed initially for the PlayStation 3. The first entry in the series was released fifteen (15!) years ago by Naughty Dog, nowadays of The Last of Us fame. Uncharted 1 Drake’s Fortune debuted in 2007, was followed up in 2009 with Among Thieves, and the trilogy (yes, I am aware there is a part four) was completed in 2011 with Drake’s Deception. I am not really one for nostalgic trips, so I picked up the remastered version instead of the originals (and I do not have a PS3). Bluepoint, now a part of PlayStation Studios, enhanced these three games for the PlayStation 4 and splashed out 60 fps gameplay. Note, though, that the remaster itself is also already seven years old. It was released in 2015.

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Kena Bridge of Spirits Review (PC)

I do not recall when I first became aware of Kena Bridge of Spirits. According to this announcement trailer, it must have been sometime in 2020. I was immediately hooked, but I did not jump in right away when it launched in 2021. I do not even remember why. It was a tough year for me personally, so maybe that was one of the reasons. Whatever it was, I am rarely on time with game releases, so why would Kena Bridge of Spirits be any different?

It is a different game, though (horrible segue *cough*), and one that I think stands out among all the others I have played in the past decade. Kena Bridge of Spirits is a PlayStation and PC exclusive, and it is the first title I played after building a gaming PC after just one year of abstinence. I haven’t heard much of this game after its release. Still, it apparently did well enough for Ember Lab to warrant a free anniversary upgrade at the end of September 2022.

Close combat games aren’t usually my jam. That is not because I do not like them. It has more to do with my inability to master the combat for an enjoyable experience. I must often resort to the Easy difficulty to complete challenging sections or bosses, and in the majority of times, the Easy mode is so accessible that it is borderline boring. Despite that, I went into the game with an open mind, and I am glad I did. I still had trouble with some of the bosses, but for the most part, I fought my way through the game on the normal difficulty. Let me tell you about it.

As always, I begin by discussing the game’s technology.

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Cyberpunk 2077 Ending Review

When I published my Cyberpunk 2077 review last month, I had not yet finished the game. Based on what I had played until that point, I still felt confident in my opinion – hence the review. I beat the game a couple of weeks later and have watched all possible endings on YouTube (no, I did not play them all myself). My general stance on the game has not changed, but I am even more convinced that Cyberpunk is a character and narrative-driven game, first and foremost.

Before I go on, beware that I use this blog post to talk freely, something I avoid in my usual reviews. I will drop a few spoilers, and although I try to stay as vague as possible, there will be a few hints here and there. With a little more knowledge and research under my belt, I will also briefly return to gameplay and the technical aspects of CD Projekt Red’s ambitious creation.

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Cyberpunk 2077 Review (Xbox Series X Next-Gen Update)

To continue, press “B”.

To continue, press ”=”.

I hate when games do this, and Cyberpunk 2077 does it twice when starting for the first time. It greets you with two screens that you must dismiss with the push of a button before you get into the menu. Why, CD Projekt Red? Why? That is not the kind of a first impression you want. It makes for good variety in the introduction segment of my reviews, though 🤷.

(I later discovered that the first “screen” is an intro video. It just does not appear to be one in the first seconds. I am so used to games starting with a pointless screen to dismiss that I immediately canceled the video without knowing and landed on the actual screen to click away.)

Cyberpunk 2077 is coming to its second birthday, and the hype surrounding it and CD Projekt Red came crashing down hard on last generation’s Xbox One and PS4 consoles.

(Like the meteor wiping out all dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.)

CDPR has been very busy since then, and in February 2022, they finally released the next-gen update for current-gen (🙄) consoles. This finally incentivized me to purchase a copy for myself and see if this game is as good as it could have been without its many issues at launch. According to recent reports, I am not the only one doing so.

Unlike the Witcher games, CDPR decided to go with a first-person experience for a deeper immersion into the colorful yet dark and gritty world of Night City. The game’s art style is reminiscent of The Ascent, a twin-stick shooter I played last year. In contrast, Night City is a vast Open-World metropolis with a few rural places surrounding it. Geralt’s companion Roach has morphed into a car, and dirt roads and farm tracks have been paved over and are now asphalt. You can walk, drive, or use fast-travel stations spread across town to get around.

In its simplest form, you can reduce the combat system to be just a Shooter. Cyberpunk 2077 adds a couple more mechanics on top of that for more variety if you choose so. You can go the stealthy and non-lethal route or become a proficient hacker (aka Net-Runner). I am a simpleton, so my character is a tank that sh*ts bullets (although I also like to sneak when I can). Despite the options, from what I have seen, there is no way to play the game without ever firing a gun. Hacking is more than manipulating computers. It seems like everybody is somehow connected over an unprotected Wi-Fi, and you can utilize a person’s cyber implants against them. Ever heard of 2FA 😉?

CDPR has shown in The Witcher games that they are masters in storytelling. You can find the same mastery in Cyberpunk, which I was most interested in. You will meet many different characters with their own traits and agenda. There is a lot of action RPG stuff to do, a skill tree, an inventory – the typical Open-World role-playing experience, if you will.

Let’s get into the details, shall we?

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Why are Some Console Game Controls so Terrible?

One of the “PC Master Race” issues with console gaming is the controls. I certainly was among them, and the more I play on a console, the more I keep coming back to this topic. 2021 was the first year where I spent the majority of my time playing on an Xbox Series console. Everything I tried during that year was okay, or it was still new enough to me that I could not differentiate between good and bad controls. On the PlayStation, I only played Horizon Zero Dawn, and I found it to be one of the best controller input implementations out there. In 2022, I have played fewer games in total in about the same period. Still, a higher percentage of them frustrated me with their implementation of analog-stick movement to the point where I was about to give up or actually gave up playing the game.

Why is it so hard for some developers to figure out an enjoyable controller feeling? Am I the only one noticing this, or are long-time console players just used to it? Let me take a step back and explain.

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Horizon Forbidden West Review (PS4 Pro)

After a bit of “Bla Bla”, I opened my Horizon Zero Dawn review with the following statement.

Best. End-of-the-World Story. Ever.

In the later parts of the review, I summarized the overall experience like this.

Horizon Zero Dawn feels excellent. It is one of those games that makes you feel empty once you beat it and put down the controller.

Both quotes express an extremely high bar of quality that Forbidden West is going up against. I am delighted that Guerrilla Games did not disappoint and delivered an incredible sequel that improves the experience in almost every aspect. Aloy’s second adventure has a couple of downsides resulting from modern Open World side activity design. However, compared to the exceptional setpieces you encounter during the main missions and the core gameplay, these are minor gripes you might choose just to ignore.

Forbidden West ups the ante further regarding the elements that matter to me in a modern (action) adventure game. It will be a benchmark in storytelling, character, and mission design. Zero Dawn was already excellent when it came to cutscenes. Lacking were only the dialogue sequences with other characters. Forbidden West changes this dramatically, and it looks and feels so much more organic now. Other key gameplay elements have also improved, like overriding Tallnecks or exploring Cauldrons. But more on that later.

Lucky me, I did not have to wait five years to enjoy this game as I did with Zero Dawn. However, were I inclined to get the absolute best experience, I probably would still have to hold out that long. A PlayStation 5 continues to be unbelievably hard to come by in Germany. But not to worry, there was no need for me to get into a crouching position again and hide in the shadows while I watched somebody play on YouTube. Horizon Forbidden West still looks and plays great on the PS4 Pro.

Keeping in tradition with my first Horizon review, I wrote the first words on April 23, 2022. I might actually get this review done before the year ends 😅.

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Horizon Zero Dawn Review (PS4 Pro)

Let me start this review with a big fat spoiler: Horizon Zero Dawn has one of the most beautiful worlds and world-lore ever conceived. The period that the authors cover is mind-blowing. Never has an apocalypse, the events that lead up to it, and what happened afterward been stretched so far apart as in Horizon Zero Dawn. It is called a post-post-apocalypse scenario for a reason.

Best. End-of-the-World Story. Ever.

There, I said it. Feels good. I had this one on my chest for a very long time while I was procrastinating instead of crafting this review as promised in My Year in Video Gaming 2021 story.

(Takes a deep breath <inhales> … <exhales> and starts from the beginning.)

As I start writing this review, February the 6th, 2022, Horizon Forbidden West is just around the corner. Five years earlier, also in February, Guerilla Games released a completely new franchise that became an immediate success. It was one of those games that are said to exist only on PlayStation – a narrative-driven single-player adventure with an incredible focus on detail, quality, and polish. My kind of jam. But there was a slight wrinkle, though. As a PC player that had no intention of purchasing any type of console, and Sony not yet being in the business of also releasing their flagship titles on PC meant there was no point in waiting for a port. What does a ravenous gamer do in such a situation? He carefully presses CTRL and sneaks into a dark corner, hiding and unable to be seen by other PC players. He then shamefully turns to a trusted YouTuber and watches the spectacle in absolute awe and with envious contempt for himself.

About five years later, the former greedy PC gamer has now turned to consoles for his fix. Consequently, it was about time to experience Horizon Zero Dawn for myself. I have raved about this masterpiece to my sister, and she ended up buying it but then sat on the PlayStation while it gathered dust. To satiate my hunger, one day, I grabbed my PS4 Pro in one hand, my sister in the other, tossed both in the trunk of my car, drove home, and we ended up enjoying the game together. Good things come to those who wait, and I have waited long.

(No PlayStations have been hurt in this depiction of events.)

Let me dive into the details in my usual manner and tell you what I liked about Horizon Zero Dawn and what elements were not so optimal.

Enter the review
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My Year in Video Gaming 2021

2021 has been a challenging year, for obvious reasons, but also in other personal aspects that are not part of this little essay. Despite all the trials and tribulations, I have probably never played so many games in just one year – some of them in Coop and others all on my lonesome. Many of them I finished, others I, or we, aborted. But not only that, I have also managed to transition from PC gaming to console gaming – a long-held goal of mine.

As always, I am pretty late to the party because I have trouble motivating myself to write stuff, despite having the ideas and mentally developing concepts for them. Much thinking, few doing. One of my 2021 issues.

(I am surprised I managed to get this huge Halo Infinite review out the door.)Here is how this will go. I am starting with a story about why I replaced my gaming PC with consoles and a laptop. Then I transition into my experience with said consoles, and I conclude this gaming year review with the list of games I have played in lonely-mode or Coop. Don’t worry. I didn’t go Halo Infinite on every game. I kept it short-ish because the list is astonishingly long.

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Halo Infinite Review

When you look back at the history of video-based media, how many games or movies come to your mind with such an iconic theme song that it always evokes a particular feeling whenever you hear it? A theme that you immediately recognize and that conjures specific scenes or gameplay moments you are so fond of? Off the top of my head, I can think of two: The Imperial March from Star Wars and Halo’s invigorating battle soundtrack. Halo is back, infinitely better than Halo 5, and along with it, its recognizable music. I suggest you set the perfect mood and open the link above, and then come back and read my review of Halo Infinite. Start from the beginning because I linked directly to the battle music part (but that is also a good choice).

Now, is it even worth getting in the mood? If you ask yourself, I hope you do not mean my writing 😉. I hope you ask that question because you are anxious for a good game but afraid you might get disappointed. When I read and watched many reviews from known media outlets, I found very different opinions and wasn’t sure what to think. IGN mainly had positive things to say and was very upbeat in their Halo Infinite podcast episode. In contrast, the Germany-based Golem.de website found rather harsh words for some parts, mainly storytelling and the new AI (more on that later). The most common denominator among all of them was the excellent feeling combat. Looking at the complete experience, I think I land somewhere in the middle between Great and Mediocre, and if you are still curious, I will tell you why.

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The Ascent Coop Review Xbox Series X

Do you know the feeling that you occasionally get when watching a gameplay trailer, and you immediately want to get your hands on the game? Like, right now? This sensation does not come around too often for me, and two games managed to do just that last year. One was Outriders and the other one The Ascent, which I am discussing today. I am not sure what exactly did it for me, but probably because it reminded me of something I played in my youth. In 1999, a game named Expendable made the rounds, primarily due to its stunning visuals at the time. Back then, it demonstrated the power of a graphics feature called Environment Mapped Bump Mapping to enamor the game’s textures with depth information and more perceived detail. The core visuals will not excite anyone in 2021, but that game was full of effects and did not hold them back. Expandable still puts on quite a show. 

Games like this are a rare breed and seem to catch my eye whenever one pops up. A more recent example of this type of game that I am aware of is Halo Spartan Assault and Halo Spartan Strike – of which I played the first one. Combine this with stunning visuals in a futuristic, gritty, cyberpunk-themed world, and you get The Ascent. Because it is 2021, no game can make do without some RPG elements. Thus, you get to create your character, level up, and collect loot along the way, making shooting stuff more enjoyable.

And enjoyable it is. Once you get to the point where your brain can cope with the twin-stick-shooting mechanics, and you start to both move and aim in the right direction, The Ascent begins to make a lot of fun – especially in Coop. I discovered how the game works with another player, which is always more motivating than figuring out weird concepts alone. After a while, it started to feel right, and I wanted to continue playing weekend after weekend until we had beaten the game – and that is a good sign.

Here is my report on The Ascent in Coop mode: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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