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Friday, 22 December 2017

LogicButton's Best Games of 2017

The last few months have been a bit hectic, hence the haphazard update schedule on the site. Still, I thought it would be good to sign the year off with a look of what I found to be the best games of the year.

I should preface this by saying there were loads of really obvious releases that I haven’t got around to playing yet. Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Wolfenstein 2...and that’s just the AAA stuff. I’m waiting to get cracking with Danganronpa 3, a series that I’ve already made clear how much I adore.

All in all, one hell of a backlog.

Putting all that aside for the moment, I still played through loads of games this year, many of my thoughts on them documented over the course of (*checks site*), thirty or so posts this year. So, with the obvious caveats in mind, here’s my picks for the best games of 2017.











Minimalist platformers are easy to find post-Ico, and it’s a genre that both indie developers and the AAA crowd are happy to pull from. I’ve just gotten around to playing Breath of the Wild and you can see Fumito Ueda’s style all over it.

Rime is very similar, and it’d be easy to brush it off as just a small budget imitator. Between the gentle pace, the art style and the terrific sound design however, it manages to strike a great balance that works incredibly well.

It can be hard to really “sell” Rime as a concept or game since so much of what it does well has already been done. It’s not particularly challenging, nor all that original, but that doesn’t always matter so long as you get the execution (and emotional pay-off) just right.











Take the bare bones structure of X-COM and Mariofy it. That’s all that happened here, but it worked so darn well. Ubisoft got to show that they can do things that don’t involve farming out ubiquitous sequels for their primary franchises and instead captured how Mario should look and play perfectly, only with a genre that he’s never gotten to grips with yet.

X-COM purists might recoil at how it stomps all over the deep, complex mechanics of Firaxis’ classic, and I’d be lying if parts of Mario + Rabbids aren’t a little shallow, but that’s not enough to prevent it being thoroughly playable from beginning to end.











I am the primary target of Resident Evil 7. I get the level design nods and winks, and the throwbacks to the original game. There’s the obvious references; the shotgun in the dining room, the “mansion” followed by the trip to the other part of the house and a Hunter-style POV shot.

Beyond that though, there’s all the really clever elements of its design. How the Baker family are a retooled and repurposed Nemesis for a new blend of survival horror. In fact, anything to do with the Bakers in Resident Evil 7 is pure gold. How many ways are there to finish that encounter in the garage again?

Despite its critics, Resident Evil 7 isn’t a hashed-together cash-in on fan nostalgia. I mean, nostalgia is baked into how the game works but it’s not specifically the reason that makes it good. Sure, the ending hour or two are pretty poor, but this is the closest that Capcom have come to getting what to do with their most prized series in well over a decade.











Persona 5 is a good game, but it’s an incredible game trapped under some mediocre writing and/or an iffy translation.

The first episode of Persona 5, that has you dealing with both teen suicide and child abuse at a school, sets up exactly what the game is going for. This is a darker, moodier piece than Persona 4. Persona 5 manages to do this without exploiting its topics. Anne and Ryuuji’s twisted relationship with the gym teacher, Futaba’s battle with social anxiety, everything this game deals with it has a genuine warmth and earnestness to it…

...but it had the potential to be so much more. It’s clear that there were reams of extra material that had to be cut due to time constraints. Shido’s role as a corporate snake playing with fascist/hard-right politics is alluded to very weakly rather than dealt with head on. There’s so many great themes that Persona 5 touches on without really going all the way and the fearlessness of the opening ten hours or so sets up expectations that then don’t pay off.

All that aside it really is fantastic and is only a slight disappointment when compared to how good the previous two games were.











I finished this game and my first thought was that I wanted to play more of it. Even good games these days seem anxious about having smaller runtimes. Little Nightmares does its thing however, and then it’s gone.

As with Rime, it’s the execution that works here more than the concept. This is little more than a reworked series of LittleBigPlanet levels, but the atmosphere, story and world design, all of which are conveyed through play, make it way more than the sum of its parts.

Signing Off

So there’s my games of 2017. Like I said, the last few months have been pretty chaotic and have eaten into the amount of time I’ve been able to devote to the site. I’ll be back next year though, and I’m hoping to expand on the typical review format with some pieces focusing on elements of game design and generally expanding the site some more.

Oh, and keep an eye on the YouTube channel, too. I’ve been meaning to put a few more commentaries together over there so be on the look out for those next year.

Have a great Christmas folks, and I’ll be seeing you again in January!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Outlast - Whistleblower - Review

Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher:  Red Barrels
Platforms: Linux, Mac, PC, PS4 (version played), Xbox One

[Note: I've written reviews for various sites over the years and, inevitably, things get removed, disappear or generally vanish into the deep spaces of the interwebs. I figured some of those pieces could be put to better use up here on the site. So, voila, every now and then you'll see something I wrote for somewhere else.]

There are some truly appalling sights in Outlast: Whistleblower. Horrible things are done to bodies, and nasty people chase you around threatening to do unspeakable things. It's really, really, bleak. But is it scary? That's a little more complicated.

To anyone that played Red Barrel's original Outlast earlier this year (or last year, if you're on PC), this DLC expansion is very much the same kind of thing. Taking the general hide-and-seek template that can be traced back to Capcom's Clock Tower, the game has you scurrying around environments in the dark, with the only tool at your disposal being a HD camera and a few spare batteries.

Whistleblower is less a sequel to the original game and more of a parallel story. One of the main flaws Outlast had was the vague, rather annoying, cliff-hanger ending, and, without going into spoilers, this expansion doesn't do all that much to clear that up. Instead, with this DLC we get to see what happened to Mount Massive Asylum from the inside. As Miles Upshur, we only got to see the proverbial poop after it had hit the fan; probing the haunting, blood-covered hallways as an outsider. With new protagonist Waylon Park however, we're much closer to the horror, and pretty much from the outset are just trying to escape.


Whistleblower opens in a very Half-Life-style fashion, with our protagonist being ordered to carry out his job in the labs by fixing a computer. After a brief set-up we're thrust in to a very similar nightmare, albeit with a few new environments and some new characters.

Red Barrels do a pretty good job upping the stakes for a game that's built around nothing more than running and hiding. One early scenario sees you creeping through a section of the asylum whilst you're doggedly pursued by a bone saw-wielding cannibal. He's an interesting villain and the tell-tale "whiz-whiz" of the bone saw is both chilling and at the same time an inspired touch of game design; allowing you to better pin-point his whereabouts without exposing yourself too much. 

On the whole, this expansion is a bit tougher. It's clear that Red Barrels assumed you've honed your running and hiding skills on the original game and so up the challenge pretty much from the get go. Some locations don't always have obvious exit points, and escaping from enemies still requires you to have to get uncomfortably close to them at certain points, skirting around their field of vision so you can escape through a nearby ventilation shaft.

For the most part, if you enjoyed the original this is essentially more of the same. Problems arise however, when we start asking whether Whistleblower is actually scary and, unfortunately, it's not. What's ironic is that this isn't down to any lack of trying, Red Barrels to their utmost to try and unsettle you. As previously mentioned, there's some truly horrible sights Whistleblower, and its final "villain", who I won't spoil, definitely helps end the game on a high note much more than the entity that chased you around at during Outlast's conclusion.


No, Whistleblower's problem, scare-wise, is that it tries too hard. Booming orchestral stings, copious amounts of blood, and the constant sight of dead bodies desensitizes you to the horror the game is trying to create. The game is at its creepiest when it simply drenches you in the crushing atmosphere of Mount Massive Asylum. Unfortunately, the developers seem to be so worried that you'll not find this scary that they accompany every new location with an abundance of jump-scares and heaps of gore. At some point it simply goes over-the-top and almost risks becoming a parody of itself: a gory, overly loud theme park ride with almost non-stop "boo" moments.

If it were just a little more subtle then, in many respects, the game would have been much better. There's no denying Red Barrels talent, and spotting an asylum patient at the other end of the hall with your camera's night-vision still has the power to unsettle you.

There's still plenty to enjoy here with Whistleblower however, it's almost as long as the original game for starters, and as a conclusion to the Outlast story it's much more satisfying. With a bit more restraint here and there, this could have been a genuinely disturbing survival horror outing. As it stands, it's a gory thrill ride through a spooky building, which is still worth playing.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider - Review










Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks 
Platforms: PC, PS4 (version played), Xbox One

Dishonored is a series I find endlessly frustrating. On the one hand, it’s a set of games that I think I should really like; there’s the unique art style, the (in theory) interesting world, and a fairly flexible game system that allows you to play in multiple ways.

All this is scuppered however, by the fact that there’s something inevitably bland about the game’s design, despite its attempts to avoid typical fantasy tropes. The game would seem to want players to care about its world; after all, a big element of the game is its chaos system, yet, most Dishonored characters are dull robots with little in the way of character. As I said in my previous review, Arkane Studios seem to care a lot about making an intriguing world but don’t seem as desperate to tell interesting stories in that world that they’ve gone to the trouble of creating, and I think that’s a huge part of the series’ problem.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider switches up a few formula staples. For starters, all of your powers are available right off the bat. Playing as Billie Lurk, you have three special abilities at your disposal; a teleportation skill, basically Billie’s version of the typical Blink ability that forms the foundation of Dishonored’s level design, a disguise power that allows you to assume the faces of enemies and pass as them for a limited time, and Foresight, which freezes time and enables you to scout ahead outside of your body.

The streamlined approach to your skill suite does a lot to help Death of the Outsider keep its focus. Without a broad spectrum of powers to check and balance, Arkane are better able to grasp the myriad ways that a player can approach each challenge.

This does come at the expense of some of the previous games’ freedom, mind. There’s a clear focus on stealth this time around. Of course, that’s always been a heavy focus for the series but here it borders on mandatory. Billie’s combat equipment lacks some of the heavier arsenal that Emily and Corvo had access to. Her gun for instance, is a silenced wrist shooter.


The game’s levels have been designed around this narrower skill-set. Earlier chapters have you skulking around Karnaca, trying to track down clues about the Outsider. It’s the third act that’s the most engaging however; an elaborate heist inside a bank vault. It plays to the game’s stealthy focus whilst still giving players a broad range of ways to tackle the challenge; with multiple entry points and ways to get to your target.

Other sequences suffer from the short development time, however. Sections of each level have characters parading around that you need to off or steal something from in a really clunky and artificial manner, emphasizing that this is in fact a game space and not a lived in world. In another game this wouldn’t be too bad, but if there’s one thing this series has nailed its the ability to immerse the player. Throughout Death of the Outsider though, that illusion regularly dissipates as the game makes concessions to its time and budget.

It doesn’t help that many of the series’ flaws haven’t been fixed. Combat is still a clunky button-mash that’s not made any better now that most of the cooler toys have been removed. Meanwhile, whilst stealth is clearly the way to go, the game has a wonky system even at the best of times, with some characters lacking any peripheral awareness whatsoever, whilst others spot you from a mile away.

It’s the game’s finale that’s the most frustrating. As I’ve said, Dishonored is a series with impeccable world building but frankly dreadful writing. Hiring Rosario Dawson and Michael Madsen to voice your characters will only get you so far, and by about the halfway mark, any attachment you (tried) to have with these characters will be long gone. This is a game where Daud, Billie Lurk’s mentor, chides her on snooping through his journal which he hints that he’s hidden...only it was hidden right on top of his bed, in plain sight.

Without the cookie-cutter revenge plot that the previous two games used, Death of the Outsider struggles even more than its predecessors did. The Outsider makes for an annoying, bland and vague villain, spouting nonsense and gibberish which, whilst that might be the point, (he’s somewhere between an Alistair Crowley-type and something out of Lovecraft) doesn’t make for engaging storytelling. It’s frankly laughable when, during the game’s final scenes, you’re left to decide whether to save this stupid character or murder him. There’s zero attachment there, zilch, I wasn’t feeling remorse or anger towards this figure, simply indifference.


Perhaps the biggest risk that Death of the Outsider takes in its trimming down of the game’s structure is the removal of the chaos system. This is the one game mechanic that directly tied into its best feature; its world design, and is sorely missed here. Without any incentive to play a certain way, and with the breadth of your skill-set curtailed by the smaller pool of powers, the game frequently feels hamstrung and limited, lacking the replayability that the previous instalments offered.

To be fair, the game does provide some incentive to stick around in levels and root out some extra things to do. Each chapter has a series of contracts; basic assassinations and thefts that you can carry out. The big reward for doing them, aside from the satisfaction, is the money you accrue can be spent on upgrades to your gear. Only, the upgrades are trivial at best, bigger ammo pouches, quieter footsteps, it’s rarely interesting and makes you less inclined to risk being spotted in a level just to go after an additional mark for some extra cash.

It’s a little unfair to compare Death of the Outsider to the previous games simply because this clearly doesn’t have the same time and budget spent on it. It’s a DLC expansion and should be treated as such. However, the best expansions do just that, they expand the concepts of their parent game in new and interesting ways. Death of the Outsider tries to do this by shrinking back its scope and focus on a narrower array of gameplay options in a more intimate fashion. In doing so however, it robs the series of its greatest strengths whilst also highlighting many of its weaknesses.