Sunday, March 24, 2019

Just Cause 4 Review

After having such a good time with Just Cause 2 a few years ago (review), I was pretty excited to check back into the series for its fourth installment and cause a little open-world mayhem. Similar to the previous games, in Just Cause 4, secret agent Rico Rodriguez is tasked with overthrowing an oppressive regime by causing chaos and inciting the citizens to rise up against their dictator.  While  there was plenty of satisfying havoc to wreak in the new game’s expansive world, I found myself wanting something more as the credits rolled. Here are my takeaways from my time with Just Cause 4:

  • Being a game heavily inspired by corny action movies, there is one thing it absolutely had to get right: explosions. And, oh boy, does it deliver in that department. JC4’s upgraded physics engine allows for all kind of opportunities to blow up enemy compounds with vehicles, weapons, and chain reactions. One of my favorite techniques was turning propane tanks into missiles by shooting a hole in one side of them, causing them to rocket off in the opposite direction.
  • Just Cause 4 continues the series’ penchant for excellent character locomotion. Equipped with a  grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, that he can swap between instantaneously, moving Rico around the environments of JC4 is a joy. One I got the hang of it, grappling to a tree or building to build speed and then abruptly switching to the parachute for lift followed by the wingsuit to fly through the air made Rico feel even more like a superhero (and I previously described him as “Spiderman with a gun”).
  • In JC4, Rico’s grappling hook comes equipped with new gadgets that are a lot of fun to experiment with: a tether, a balloon, and rockets. The tether can be used for lashing enemies to objects (or each other), the balloon is great for those times when you just want to turn a tank into a blimp, and the rockets can turn pretty much anything into a missile. Several hours of my playtime probably consisted of trying out different combinations of these gadgets on various objects just to see what would happen.
  • Much of the campaign consists of seizing territory from the dictator’s control. While I like this concept, there are only about three or four different types of missions to take territory and Rico has to conquer dozens of regions to complete the game. This begins to feel repetitive after a while.
  • The territory control missions and smaller story missions build to a handful of major story moments and action set pieces. Unfortunately, on several occasions, these set pieces took the form of cut scenes instead of interactive sequences. I found this to be a let down; I wanted to fly through the tornado myself and go head-to-head with the Big Bad, not just watch it play out in a pre-rendered scene.
  • The game world is quite large and full activities to unlock new weapons, vehicles, and upgrades. Most of these tasks were what I like to call "open world busy work" such as performing deliveries, driving NPCs around, and flying aircraft through rings. For the most part, these didn't hold my interest for very long.
 At its core, there's a solid action game here with very strong mechanics, but the game design doesn't give you as many interesting things to do with those mechanics as I would have liked. With a little more development time or resources, I think Just Cause 4 could have been made into a fantastic action-packed experience, but what we ended up getting is mostly just a sandbox in which to experiment with physics. That's fine, but I can't help but feel like there's lost potential here.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 25 hours (normal difficulty, all territories conquered)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Hatoful Boyfriend Review

 For this year’s #DatingSiMonth, I elected to go for an oddball title that I’ve heard come up several times over the past few years, Hatoful Boyfriend. After picking it up for a song during the Lunar New Year sale on Steam, my wife and I played through one path of the game in a single evening. It was a very bizarre experience indeed. Bear with me here as I attempt to explain this one…

Hatoful Boyfriend is a visual novel dating sim that takes place in a school attended exclusively by sentient birds. The player character, as the first and only human student, must navigate their strange school life and build relationships with their classmates (I did my best not to think too much about how human-bird dating would work while playing this). Like most visual novels, the majority of the gameplay consists of reading through dialog and looking at still images while making the occasional decision that leads down different branches of the story. Playing through a single story path takes less than two hours.

  • While the game initially starts out very jokey,  it has some genuinely dramatic moments as it goes on, especially during the "best friend" character's plot arc (which is the route I completed during my playthrough).
  •  The decision-making is very simplistic. Most of the time you're just picking where you'd like to spend your time which generally very directly correlates with whom you'll be spending time with. Want to get to know the librarian bo-... bird better? Spend more time in the library. I didn't have an issue with the directness of this, but it could have been interesting to see a little more depth to the choices.
  • As the only human in the game, I like how the player character is frequently the target of "hunter-gather" stereotypes. It was also a nice touch that the player's strength stat is always maxed out (presumably because the stats are on a scale intended for birds).
  • For a seemingly silly game, there appears to be some sort of dark subplot going on in the background. I'm kind of interested to play through a few other paths to see more of it, but I must admit that it's unlikely I'll end up getting around to it (unless I pick up the mobile version at some point).
  • I appreciated the mixture of serious and completely off-the-wall characters (e.g. Okosan).

This ended up being a strange one, but not in the way I expected. It’s simultaneously a parody of dating sims while also occasionally being a very earnest one. I tend to be someone who only plays through a game once, so the extra depth that may be added by replaying is something I'll likely miss. As interesting as Hatoful Boyfriend was as a cheap game to play on a lark (see what I did there 😜), for the next Dating Sim Month or Visual Novel November, I think I'll go with something a little less gimmicky that can tell a richer story in a single playthrough.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: 95 minutes (one story path)

Note: Events like #DatingSiMonth and #VNNovember are put together by ApricotSushi from the Chic-Pixel Blog. Be sure to check out her whole calendar of Community Game-Along events.