Tag Archives: ps4

Grim Fandango- Manny and Meche

During the 1990s, there seemed to be a glut of spooky romance across various media platforms.  Movies like The Addams Family and Nightmare Before Christmas shared eerie love stories on the big screen, while authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton provided supernatural intimacy on the printed page.  At record stores, there was no shortage of music with themes of Gothic adoration, and video games were starting to come into their own with telling stories of otherworldly love.

grimfandangomannymeche

While I would hardly consider Grim Fandango to be a horror game, its story and subject matter certainly revolve around death.  Our intrepid hero Manuel “Manny” Calavera is a travel agent for recently departed souls entering the Land of the Dead.  As he begins to uncover a plot of crime and corruption within his employer, the Department of Death, Manny meets a virtuous soul named Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.

At first, Manny merely thinks of Meche as his ticket out of his dead end job.  If Manny can score a client with an honorable life such as Meche’s, he believes this will work off his debt so he can move onto a true afterlife of rest.  But when Meche’s chance at a golden ticket to the Ninth Underworld is stolen from her, Manny begins a quest that will ultimately lead him to fall in love with Meche.

Over the course of the game, a certain piece of music pops up as Manny and Meche begin to show feelings for each other.  The exact instrumentation varies in each scenario, but the basic melody calls to mind a haunting dance between two souls.  Soft strings resonate feelings of love and sorrow; the struggles of a romance that has been tested by difficult circumstances.

Composer Peter McConnell created a beautiful piece of music to encapsulate the feelings between Manny and Meche, and the remastered performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is both heartwarming and haunting at the same time.  There is a sense of sad uncertainty to the music; as if the dancing couple may not get to enjoy each other’s company once the song is complete.  But just as Manuel Calavera said, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bloodborne- Witch of Hemwick

Of the many horror stories I ingested as a child, the ones that linger in my memory featured an unexpected turn of events.  Tales where the main character believes they understand the entire scope of a situation, only to discover the true nature of a threatening scenario is right behind them.

As I traversed the Hemwick Charnel Lane area of Bloodborne, I was regularly accosted by a unique enemy- old crones brandishing crude weaponry.  Appropriately called the Hemwick Grave Women, these hags were often found celebrating around the numerous decrepit tombstones of the Charnel Lane.  Whenever I would try to sneak by their gruesome revelry, these shrews would attack in a mob; lashing out with dagger, scythe, and even a bloodied sledgehammer.

Bloodborne™_20160906234349

These coordinated strikes implied that the Grave Women must have some sort of leader guiding their movements.  After seeing the mutilated faces and bestial proportions of this flock, I could only imagine how monstrous their shepherd must be.

At the top of a hill, I found the well-worn remains of an old farm manor that seemed to be a place of status within this massive graveyard.  I entered the building and descended into a large basement storeroom, where a lone creature stood on the opposite side.  This thing was nearly twice my height, with long skeletal limbs and skin that resembled aged leather. Thick matted hair grew from its head to cover most of its upper body, and two glowing eyes gazed out from this mess of decay.  As this beast brandished a sickle and lumbered towards me, I knew this must be the leader, the Witch of Hemwick.

The game identified her as such, displaying a health meter at the bottom of the screen with her title.  I took this as my opportunity to launch my first attack at the ancient witch; repeatedly striking her with my threaded cane.  Despite the fury of my blows, the witch made little attempt to defend herself.  This gaunt creature quickly fell to my assault, but this victory seemed hollow.  Then I noticed: throughout this short melee, the Witch’s health meter remained untouched.

Something was wrong.  Why did my attacks deal no damage to the Witch?  The room was now empty, but the sense of dread was stronger than ever.  The music in this area matched my emotions perfectly.  What started with soft and haunting strings had swelled into a menacing chorus of otherworldly chanting.  The once beguiling sound of a single violin became a threatening symphony of brass and percussion.  With the music reaching a violent crescendo, I knew something must be stalking me.  I frantically searched the room, but to no avail.  The room seemed devoid of such a predator.

It was only when I stopped to take a breath that I noticed her.  Lurking just behind me, close enough to reach out with her dagger caked in blood, stood the true Witch of Hemwick.  A ragged little crone, hunched over from a life of horrors, wearing a cloak with all manner of eyes sewn into the patchwork fabric.  It was she who had summoned the gaunt monster from before.  She would be the real threat on this day.

bloodbornetruewitchSo far, the Witch of Hemwick has been my favorite boss encounter, and perhaps my favorite moment, in Bloodborne.  It subverted my expectations, just like the preferred horror stories from my youth.  The music particularly contributed to the foreboding atmosphere of this encounter.  The team of composers for Bloodborne (Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Yuka Kitamura, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, Cris Velasco, and Michael Wandmacher) did an amazing job crafting a song that would match the emotional course of the player; from a lulled sense of security, to heightened foreboding, and finally, the feeling of being threatened by an unexpected otherworldly menace.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Digital Draughts: Uncharted 4 with Heavy Seas’ Plank IV

Historically, the best series come in sets of three.  For films; Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Die Hard are typically enjoyed during the first three movies.  Many television shows start to lose interest after a third season.  Even a vertical tasting of wine usually includes bottles from three particular vintages for comparison.  Let’s face it: humans seem to appreciate collections in triplicate (especially writers when trying to make a point).

When it comes to video games, the Rule of Threes starts to get a bit muddy.  Beloved gaming heroes like Mario and Link have long since surpassed their third game, yet they continued to be adored by the gaming public. Meanwhile, some characters languish well beyond their glorious trifecta of earlier titles; overstaying their welcome and becoming a joke among the community.

When Laura and I played Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception nearly five years ago, the series seemed to have met its logical, albeit unsatisfying, conclusion.  At the time, we didn’t even entertain the idea of a fourth Uncharted title coming to pass, as there was no obvious plot carrot dangled before us.  As luck (and the appearance of a new Sony console) would have it, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was released earlier this year.  Naturally, this was one of the games that cemented our decision to purchase a PlayStation 4.

Eager to see how the fourth game in a previous series of three would fair, Laura and I started the game on its day of release; making sure to have an appropriately themed brew to accompany this adventure.

Uncharted4PlankIV-9

For the last several years, Heavy Seas Beer (brewed by the Clipper City Brewing Company) has experimented with the unique influence of wood aging on beer.  Dubbed the Uncharted Waters series, this line of beers features different styles aged in specific barrels or wood.  Some examples include Blackbeard’s Breakfast (an imperial coffee porter aged in bourbon barrels) and Red Sky at Morning (a Belgian-style saison aged in Chardonnay barrels).  These beers are typically offered as limited releases over the course of the year.

Appropriately named, Plank IV is the fourth in a series of beers aged on woods that have rarely been used to produce unique beers.  Released in 2011, Plank I was an English ale aged on kilned poplar wood planks. Plank II in 2012 was a German Doppelbock aged on a combination of poplar and eucalyptus wood. Plank III in 2014 was a Belgian Tripel aged on Jamaican allspice wood.  For the fourth in this series, Heavy Seas took a Belgian Quad and aged it on four different woods: planks of kilned poplar, kilned cherry, Jamaican allspice, and Cuban cedar.

Uncharted4PlankIV-1

The result is a very complex and rich beer that pours with a cola brown color and cherry red hues.  Plank IV has a strong odor of dates, cinnamon, and maple syrup, with a smoky hint from the wood aging.  The taste matches the nose; starting with a tart raisin flavor that leads to a rich allspice body.  There is a lingering smoked finish, that gives way to a vanilla bean aftertaste.

As implied from its origin, Plank IV tastes like a beer with a unique history.  This is no mere Belgian Quad.  There are unique notes of smoked wood and aged spices mixed with the expected dried fruit and dark sugar flavors.  This beer is an ideal match for the swashbuckling narrative and complex backstory of Nathan Drake’s latest, and presumably final, adventure.

Uncharted4BoxArt

Of all the game series Laura and I have enjoyed together, Uncharted is the only one that has been a mutual experience from the start. Sure, there are plenty of games that I have shared with Laura (and vice versa), or titles that we individually played while occupying a shared space. But every moment of play in the world of Uncharted has been as a team.

When we last left our hero Nathan Drake, his adventuring career seemed to have come to an end. The third game showcased that if left unchecked, Nathan’s pride would lead him to ruin. Thanks to the advice of his mentor (and a few too-close calls), Drake reconciled with his wife, Elena, and started a semi-lucrative career in salvage.

Uncharted 4 opens three years later, with a glimpse into the Nathan’s current life. His days are spent rescuing cargo from damaged freight ships, while his nights are filled with domestic bliss; playing video games with Elena to decide who cleans the dishes. All things considered, Nate should be happy with his new situation. But there is a part of him that misses the old thrill of adventure, made evident by a clever combat tutorial in the form of a toy shooting gallery that Nathan has set up in his attic.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160624214414

So it comes as no surprise that Nate eagerly agrees to join his thought-to-be-dead brother on a massive treasure hunt involving mercenaries, criminals, and pirates.

For the most part, the core gameplay in Uncharted 4 is mostly unchanged from previous entries in the series, which is just how we like it. Nathan Drake still spends most of his time traversing exotic locales and ancient ruins via jumping, climbing, and (in our case) repeatedly falling to his doom. Developer Naughty Dog has introduced some new tools, such as the climber’s spike and grappling hook. These items add new verbs to Nathan’s movement repertoire, which enhance the tradition of fun movement puzzles and enjoyable action sequences.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160716003321

Alternatively, manual vehicle sequences are an unwanted and cumbersome addition to Nate’s means of travel. Poor handling and strange inertia make every moment spent driving an automobile very frustrating, which is compounded by certain terrain that is designed to be hazardous. When your car already handles like a drunk walrus, the inclusion of muddy hills only makes things worse. Fortunately, Nate doesn’t have to take the driver’s seat in every vehicle, and the moments spent shooting from the passenger side are genuinely fun.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160714232404

There is a shift in the combat to a stronger focus on stealth gameplay, which fits into the greater narrative of Drake and Company being severely underpowered when compared to the Shoreline private military company (the main baddies of Uncharted 4). While this makes for some very satisfying takedowns, it further emphasizes a problem I had with the previous Uncharted titles: combat arenas. Most of the enemy encounters bring the narrative to a screeching halt, tasking players with clearing every potential threat from an area instead of trying to avoid them altogether. I understand that in certain situations, it makes sense for Drake to take out all enemies to make progress, but repeating this action in nearly every combat scenario makes the game drag at certain points.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160602163659

Minor combat grievances and major vehicle complaints aside, Uncharted 4 is an excellent game. The increased power of the PlayStation 4 has provided Naughty Dog with the tools to make a beautiful and impressive world. The transition between each gameplay moment and cutscene is seamless, making for a more cohesive narrative than many of its video game peers.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160714235841

Without getting too deep into Spoiler Territory™, what beings as a narrative about a treasure hunter coming out of retirement transforms into a very heartfelt and engaging story about family; both biological and marital. Initially, Drake uses his brother’s resurfacing as an opportunity to have one more big adventure like those from his past. In order to do so, he lies to his wife about his plans, thinking that he is protecting her by keeping her separate from this part of his life. What Nathan discovers is that at its core, marriage is a partnership. Elena is the best teammate for which Nate could have asked, and her involvement would only strengthen his chances at finding a lost pirate treasure to save his brother.  She literally and figuratively saves Nathan on this quest, which gives him the final push to figure out what truly matters in his life.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End™_20160716011836

Like many other fourth titles after a trilogy, I expected Uncharted 4 to feel like a tacked-on expansion to the series.  I figured there would be some marginal improvements to the visuals and gameplay, along with a story that feels like so many other action movies and video games.  However, Uncharted 4 exceeded all of my initial expectations, and turned out to be my favorite in the series.

The upgraded visuals have set a new standard for video games, while the mechanics are polished to near-perfection.  The story is earnest in a way that avoids being on the nose; with complex characters and relationships that seem wonderfully out of place in an action-adventure game.  Both the treasure hunting setting and the engaging narrative are a perfect complement to the rich flavor and wood-aged notes of Plank IV.  I would definitely recommend this pirate-themed combination.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Digital Draughts: Firewatch with New Belgium Brewing Company’s Ranger IPA

Summer is the time for adventures.  As the chilly April showers wane and the May flowers burst into blossom, June is an ideal month to write a new and exciting chapter in the story of our lives.  For many of us, the warmer months don’t provide the same amount of boundless time as the summer vacations of our youth.  In spite of this, we will carve out weeks from our busy lives to make a pilgrimage into unknown territory both near and far.

While the spike in temperature and daylight hours fills my heart with longing for fresh wilderness, a similar wanderlust grows in my gaming appetite.  I seek out unique and compelling narratives that stray from the well-worn path of annual releases.  Historically, the results of such journeys are rather divisive.  I could discover a delightful game that provides an interesting twist on traditional mechanics, or I could find a disappointing title that fails to deliver both in gameplay and plot.

FirewatchandRanger

Despite the known risk of a wasted summer day, I decided to invest in just such a story-driven indie game that takes place in the Wyoming wilderness in 1989.  And as with any journey into the unknown, I made sure to bring supplies from a tried-and-true brewery.

Of the numerous craft breweries that cover the rolling hills of these United States, the New Belgium Brewing Company stands out as one of my favorites.  I tried their flagship beer Fat Tire many years ago while traveling with my girlfriend-now-wife.  At the time, the delicious amber ale was not being distributed in our home state, so we relied on our various roaming friends to deliver rations of Fat Tire whenever they would visit.

Since those halcyon days, New Belgium has made their way into our neck of the woods, and we couldn’t be more pleased.  They regularly release delicious seasonal experiments such as the Heavy Melon Lime Ale and the Pumpkick Spiced Ale (brewed with pumpkin and cranberry).  Their variety packs often include a tasty limited re-brew of a discontinued beer from their 25 year history.  And their year-round beers include some of my top brews of all time, including the 1554 Black Lager and the Shift Pale Lager.

RangerPour

Counted among New Belgium’s year-round beers is the Ranger IPA.  This India pale ale serves as a tribute to the brewery’s Beer Rangers; their brand and brew ambassadors who, “span all states from the Pacific to the Atlantic.”  This beer is made with three different hop varieties (Cascade, Chinook, and Simcoe) which impart distinct flavors during the brewing process (citrus, floral, and fruity, respectively).  Ranger is also dry-hopped with Cascade, which means even more hop aroma and oils are imparted in the final product.

The result is a beer that pours with a brilliant golden color, orange sunset hues, and a powerful resinous hop aroma.  There is a strong odor of pine on the nose, with hints of grapefruit in the background.  Despite the intense hop scent, Ranger starts with the smooth taste of toasted bread.  This malty flavor quickly gives way to the expected pine-hop crispness and finishes with a mild citrus flavor, leaving a lingering sweetness of oranges.

I will admit, I am not a Die-Hard Hop Head™.  I have to be in a particular mood for a hoppy punch to the face.  That being said, the malt profile of Ranger IPA serves to balance the bold hop character, resulting in a sessionable beer that makes an ideal companion for a virtual trek through the woods.

FirewatchScreen1

The wilderness of national parks can represent many things.  For those who visit, the various flora and fauna could mean an opportunity to experience a world outside of the suburbs and cities.  Land that is mostly untouched by man’s progress with a hint of danger and the unknown.  For those who tend to these parks, the forests and streams are a responsibility.  It is a ranger’s job to protect these lands from visitors who would do harm, whether through ignorance, maliciousness, or just plain laziness.  They are educators and caretakers, stewards and evangelists.

The protagonist of Firewatch comes to the Shoshone National Forest as both visitor and ranger, but this protected land represents something else to him: an escape.  From developer Campo Santo’s website:

“The year is 1989. You are a man named Henry who has retreated from your messy life to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Perched atop a mountain, it’s your job to find smoke and keep the wilderness safe.

An especially hot, dry summer has everyone on edge. Your supervisor, a woman named Delilah, is available to you at all times over a small, handheld radio—and is your only contact with the world you’ve left behind.

But when something strange draws you out of your lookout tower and into the world below, you’ll explore a wild and unknown environment, facing questions and making interpersonal choices that can build or destroy the only meaningful relationship you have.”

Firewatch3

While Firewatch opens with a very raw and emotional glimpse into the complexities of Henry’s life, the bulk of the game is spent exploring the gorgeous vistas of the Shoshone National Forest.  As a novice fire lookout, Henry (and the player, by extension) will get a lay of the land rather organically through the functions of the job.  With each day of the game’s plot, Henry is tasked by Delilah to investigate any abandoned campfires or law-breaking visitors to keep the park safe.  There is no mini-map or overbearing quest marker to lead the player to each major destination or plot point.  Just like Henry, I had to rely on the in-game map and compass to find my way.

There were times when this method of exploration proved frustrating.  My progress from the watch tower to certain areas became a stuttering mess as I checked the map dozens of times to orient Henry in the correct direction.  But on a whole, this minimalist approach to navigation contributed to the game narrative.  I spent so much time exploring this beautiful game that the occasional logistic confusion didn’t sour the experience.

Firewatch4

Since so much of this game’s appeal lies in how its story unfolds, I am going to avoid a deep dive into this powerful narrative.  Suffice to say, Firewatch kept me engaged from start to finish.  The real strength of the narrative comes from the conversations between the main characters, Henry and Delilah.  Thanks to the voice actors’ heartfelt performances, I was thoroughly invested in the interpersonal drama as it unfolded across a simple handheld radio.  Additionally, most of these conversations take place without interrupting gameplay, which keeps the story moving at a constant pace.

Now that I have completed this digital walk through the woods, I can confirm that Firewatch was exactly the sort of adventure I needed.  The gorgeous visuals and engaging narrative provided a unique experience.  The story doesn’t drag or overstay its welcome, which makes a perfect compliment to a sessionable beer like Ranger IPA. I would recommend this combination, especially to those of us who are looking for a worthwhile experience off the beaten path.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,