Victor shows Jon “Forbidden Planet”

Welcome to the first episode of our new series “Victor shows Jon…” where Victor will be showing Jon classic movies that Jon has not seen.

In our first episode, Victor shows Jon SciFi classic “Forbidden Planet” (1956) Directed by Fred M. Wilcox, starring Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, and Anne Francis.

Stay until the end to watch the original trailer.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review

I have been a fan of Ninja Theory for a long time. I fell in love with Heavenly Sword, back on the PS3, with it’s frequent fourth-wall breaking, deep and interesting characters, and lore. I also enjoyed their take on the 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West, entitled Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. I even liked what I played of DMC: Devil May Cry although admittedly I never beat it (I suck at combos). Therefore, I have been following the development of their first completely independent project, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, with anticipation.

I was not only looking forward to it because it was a spiritual successor to “Heavenly Sword”, but Ninja Theory’s team promised to tackle head on the topic of mental illness. Senua, the titular character, is a Celtic warrior that suffers from Psychosis. Ninja Theory even consulted with those that were experts in the field of Psychology, as well as with those suffering with mental illnesses themselves. As someone that has an anxiety disorder, as well as a dissociative disorder, I was curious and hopeful that they could put into Video Game form what it feels like to not be so sure of what’s real.

The game’s mechanics are all used to seamlessly tie in with the protagonist’s mental state. The creatures she battles represent the warrior she was trained to be, as well as the mythologies that she would have been exposed to given the time period. The puzzles in the game represent how those in her condition typically see patterns and connections in their environment that might not actually exist. The guides (or Furies) Senua hears demonstrate what it might feel like to hear voices in one’s head, both praising her and berating her on her quest.

While playing the game, I was astonished to find how much I related to Senua and her journey. How much of the symbolism seemed to relate to my own perceptions of reality and my own mental struggles. I found the game to be extremely cathartic, and came out of it feeling better about myself, inspired, and hopeful. I believe that “Hellblade” demonstrates the power of Video Games, to help us work through our own real-life issues.

Aside from the game itself, the development of the game also has an interesting and inspiring story. I highly recommend watching Ninja Theory’s Dev Diaries that they had made over the years. They chronicle what it is like to be going from dealing with publishers to becoming a completely independent company. Over the years they literally invented new motion capture technology as they did not have the budget to use technology already in place. Also, they discovered a star, as Video Editor Melina Juergens was initially hired to edit the Dev Diary videos and ended up becoming Senua herself (she had never acted before). The development of this game has literally changed the landscape of the video game industry, demonstrating what independent developers can accomplish. Finally, if you are still not impressed, they managed to accomplish all of this while able to make profit selling it at half the price of a AAA game at $30 on the PlayStation Store and Steam.

10 / 10

Here They Lie Review

Here They Lie, for Playstation VR, truly demonstrates the immersion Virtual Reality can provide. There were moments when I actually felt like I was flying out of my body, standing close to a fire (my brain was tricked into feeling heat), or standing close to an attractive woman. In general, a character being physically close to the player has a much stronger effect when in VR. This leads to especially confusing emotions when over-sexualized, Silent Hill-esque, monsters will use their body language to flirt with the player. I often felt a physical presence when this occurred that I have never experienced when looking at a television or computer monitor. This is also effective when some of those same creatures hunt you down, jump on you, and beat you to death. Essentially, being in VR, makes the game more frightening and disturbing than it otherwise might be.

The story is heavily inspired by Dante’s Inferno. It is about a man searching through Hell to find his lost love. However, the temptation of sin may prevent him from achieving his goal. The game’s world is mostly depicted as a series of abandoned villages and subways.

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Throughout are scattered pictures that, when picked up, provide audio logs of people speaking about spirituality and philosophy. It is unclear if these were scripted or excerpts from real life interviews. But each picture / dialog discovered represents the tone of the environment in which it was found.

Like many VR games, that provide 360 degree movement, I initially felt motion sickness every time I would have to turn with the right analog stick. However, the game gives the player a couple of options to decrease this effect. One option allows the player to snap the camera into place, when pressing left or right, therefore eliminating the turning motion. But I found this annoying when I desired to investigate a corner of something that I couldn’t quite get straight on. The second option allows the player to turn in the same way you would any first-person game. But in order to decrease motion sickness, while turning, the game gives you a sort of tunnel vision blackening the player’s peripheral view. Personally, I didn’t think that helped. What did help me was being able to dial the turn-sensitivity all the way up (to allow for fast movement), and physically turn my head left and right along with the analog stick. This actually gave me the illusion that I was in control of the turn and therefore eradicated my feelings of motion sickness. To learn more about this method, click here.

There were a couple of bugs that I discovered throughout my play-through. One bug actually required me to restart from the last check point, since I became stuck in the floor and behind a wall. Let me tell you, being stuck in a bug in VR is very…weird. Also there was a bug that I actually began to use as an advantage in the game; If you approach any wall, door, box, etc. and lean in with your head, you can see right through it. I started to use this as a mechanic to see if enemies were gone while I was hiding from them. It was, also, pretty cool to see unfinished parts of each level or un-rendered areas. But, seeing enemies that could not see me, gave me an unfair advantage that it does not seem the game’s designers intended.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my 4 or 5-hour experience playing Here They Lie. If you have a Playstation VR and enjoy psychological horror, then I recommend giving it a try. However, if you’re expecting the polish of a big studio horror game, or a game that has fully worked out the kinks of how to move in VR, you may be disappointed by this effort.

7 / 10

Playstation VR Review Discussion

Jon and Dom discuss their experiences playing Playstation VR on launch day. They also discuss what the future of VR might bring, who should buy Playstation VR, The Matrix, and nausea.

Speaking of nausea, check out Jon’s trick for remedying VR motion sickness written after this review was recorded http://nycgeeksociety.com/playstation-vr-motion-sickness/

Pneuma: Breath of Life Review

Pneuma: Breath of Life is a First-Person Puzzle game about a character, Pneuma, becoming self-aware. It raises questions on what it means to be self-aware. It raises questions on what it means to be a Player in control of a character that is self-aware.

As with any person that embarks on a path in life (which is every person), we experience initial feelings of euphoria and the impression of power and control. But the further we proceed in life, the more we realize how little control and power we truly have. We solve puzzles and learn things that seem to be leading somewhere and to something, but we have little to no knowledge of where and what that somewhere and something might be. The puzzles in Pneuma: Breath of Life serve as wonderful metaphors for these life-long struggles. Starting as simple environmental obstacles, gradually becoming more complex as Pneuma’s internal dialog and intellect become more complex. The puzzles themselves never truly stumped me, although I did find myself having to look solutions up twice. In both instances, though, I was stuck because I missed something obvious (I blame it on midnight gaming and exhaustion).

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The Neo-Classical (ancient Greek and Roman style) Art design, as well as the orchestral music create a wonderful environment that blends perfectly with the Philosophical themes in the plot. Voice actor, Jay Britton, portrays Pneuma with wonderful tones of humor, excitement, and depth. All of which led me to truly care about the character of Pneuma and deeply relate with him, especially since I’ve been having similar philosophical questions in my own life.

By the end of the game, I realized how much I truly cared for Pneuma and found myself actually talking aloud to the screen as if he were real. I felt a kind of kinship with him. I found myself laughing at his child-like thoughts throughout most of the game. This strong connection led to feelings of guilt, knowing that I served as a catalyst to a somewhat tragic realization he has at the game’s finale.

Pneuma: Breath of Life might not fully satisfy someone looking for puzzles as complex as those found in other puzzlers, such as The Witness. But, it is a short and less expensive alternative that manages to leave the player with philosophical quandaries, and a distinct reminder of both how large and small we humans are in relation to the unknown Universe we live in.

9 / 10

Quantum Break Review

I love Alan Wake. That being said, I was sorely disappointed when I found out that Remedy Games was not able to get funding for Alan Wake 2 and instead would be focusing their efforts on Quantum Break.

However, I am a huge fan of time travel stories. The Back to The Future Trilogy is my favorite movie (yes, I count all three as one long movie) and my favorite book is The Time Machine. So, when I discovered that Quantum Break was a game about time breaking, I was intrigued. I continued to follow Remedy’s development of the game, and it soon became one of my most-anticipated games for 2016.

Having played through Quantum Break, I am not disappointed and consider it in many ways a spiritual successor to Alan Wake. Especially with the many references to Alan Wake lore as well as the character himself, it is undeniably clear that Quantum Break and Alan Wake are in the same universe.

Although Alan Wake was a more slow-paced Survival Horror game, Quantum Break is a full-on Max Payne-style Action Shooter (Max Payne was also developed by Remedy Games). I understand the focus on more Action over Survival, but I was dumbfounded to find my handgun had infinite bullets. I feel that if they were going to have this feature, it could have at least been explained in-game given that the main character is able to manipulate time. But infinite bullets were not explained at all. What makes it even more confusing is that I rarely found myself needing to use the handgun since bullets for more powerful weapons were always around and easy to find.

Speaking of bullets, there was only one real melee attack that I did not gain the ability to use until much later in the game. Therefore, forcing me to mow down enemies like a shooting gallery. One would think that a normal guy like Jack Joyce, who is not a cop or military man, would feel strange about mindlessly killing people especially since he’d never done it before. Even when we meet Nathan Drake, in Uncharted, he’s already had a seedy history involving gunplay. We are told that Jack has been a bit of a rebel with a record of protests, theft, and assault. But as far as we know, he had never taken a life before the events of this game. Which is why I find it mostly unrealistic that he would more commonly decide to shoot a man over punching him in the face…especially since he could manipulate time.

Proceeding through the game I found other confounding and counter-intuitive game design decisions. The most frustrating were the three boss fights in the game. Two of them were the same boss fight but in different areas. All three of the battles were very simple-minded and tedious. They all fall back on tired video game tropes that instantly make it obvious what needs to be done. The only challenge lies in that no matter how far you are into battle, if you die you’ll have to start from the beginning of the fight again. What adds to the frustration is, that once you die, there are incredibly long load-times. Then, once the game loads, the player is given the option to either watch a cinematic or skip it…but, skipping the cinematic makes you wait through another load time that is just as long as the cinematic itself. During the second boss fight, I clocked it took a full minute before I was able to start fighting again, every time I died.

Another nuisance occurs when the player is encouraged to investigate the world by reading emails and gathering clues to piece together the game’s backstory. Ironically, time does not pause when reading such emails and documents. So, I was frequently having some NPC nag me to move forward while I was trying to read a 3 page email. It was a minor annoyance that I found could be resolved by navigating through my items menu to read the documents there, but I felt that it significantly pulled me out of the in-game experience. What couldn’t be resolved is the text-size for emails and journal entries was incredibly small, leading me to strain my eyes every time I desired to read anything. Perhaps it’s just my old thirty-something eyes, but I asked my twenty-something friend his opinion and he concurred that the text was hard to read.

Difficulty in reading the found documents is disappointing since there were many times these optional reading materials illuminated incredible back-stories and details about characters. Some of them were incredibly amusing (if you find “Time Knife” you’ll know what I mean), while some of them were incredibly emotional and touching. For example, there is mention of 9/11. People from New York especially know how terrible it would be to know those events were going to happen and not be able to do anything to stop it. I feel that they treated the subject matter with respect, and let it carry the weight it should.

Another point of strife, was encountering an abundance of glitches throughout my play-through. Most of them were minor graphical issues, such as pop-ins and delayed rendering. However, there was one glitch, early on in the game, where I ended up going over a guard rail I wasn’t supposed to, having to then restart from my most recent checkpoint in order to continue playing. That only happened once. But, there was a common game design issue of it being unclear whether I could jump on, off, or over something; this is a common problem in linear games, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that it broke my immersion and confused me.

Even with a few glitches and strange game design decisions, there was enough done exceptionally well to keep me interested. The shooting mechanics and special time-themed super-powers were very enjoyable and addictive. There was a certain sadistic thrill every time I was able to charge at an enemy frozen in time, create a time-bubble that could be used as a shield, or freeze an enemy to shoot 10 bullets at him and then un-freeze him watching him fly back and down. Accompanied with a great soundtrack and ear pleasing sound design, every time Quantum Break pulled me out of the game, it almost immediately was able to pull me back in.

The tie-in live-action TV show segments are a strange but welcome addition to the experience. Each Act in the game ends with a half-hour TV episode that focuses on what is going on with the “bad guys” of the game (Monarch Corp. employees). These segments, in particular, reminded me a lot of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”. The two are similar since, in both, I found the “bad guys” very likeable, charming, and humorous but found it emotionally difficult to connect with them since they were supporting such heinous acts. However, later in the show when it is revealed the true motivations of the characters, it makes them much more easy to relate to.

But, there is a downside in switching from computer animation to live-action and back. It can feel a bit jarring when seeing the digital characters vs. their live-action counterparts. It reminded me a lot of Theme Park attractions such as Terminator 2’s 3-D experience at Universal Studios, where there is a mixture of live on-stage performances that interplay with the 3D movie…you can tell that the actors you saw on-screen are different than the actors on-stage, but it’s subtle enough for your mind to convince yourself otherwise. Likewise, your mind can tell the difference between live-action and computer animation, but it’s not jarring enough to ruin the experience.

Something worth mentioning is that, by default, the game will stream the episodes much like Netflix. However, unlike Netflix, buffering isn’t so great and can definitely interrupt the episode as well as the visual quality. There is another option to download the TV portion onto your hard-drive but it will take up 75GB. Also, worth noting, is the TV show’s subtitles would sometimes go in and out which could prove problematic for the hearing-impaired.

The game has an intriguing story overall, with nuanced and believable characters. Although I was engaged from beginning to end, the emotional core of the story really picks up in Act 4. While the first three acts relied mostly in building up the plot, Acts 4 and 5 dive more deeply into the characters and their motivations, therefore delivering a more emotional impact.

Both the show and game are assisted by an incredible cast including Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Dominic Monaghan (Lost), Lance Reddick (Fringe), and Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones). However, the performance I was most impressed with was for Beth Wilder who was played by Courtney Hope. She demonstrates a range of emotions that goes from exciting and flirtatious, at the beginning of the game, to heavy and cynical towards the end. I only wish there was more of her, and would even welcome a sequel with her as the main playable character.

Quantum Break concludes with an incredibly philosophical query of whether we are controlled by fate, or if we have free will. Although time-travel story fans might find this to be cliché, it is a question that never seizes to fascinate me, leaving me with the desire to go back and find all the clues and narrative objects that I might have missed. I would still like an Alan Wake 2. But, if Remedy Games can continue to build off of Quantum Break, or make games just as intriguing, I will be content.

8.2 / 10