New year, new nominees. 

New year, new nominees. 


It’s been exactly a year and the GDC Awards have announced their 2018 nominees. In what is probably now a tradition, I’m going to comb through the list and pick out a few categories and entries that lay within my particular myopic games purview.

Mirroring last year’s format, I’ll jump into it and start off with Best Audio. The obvious frontrunner would be Cuphead, as the throwback 1930s-era blistering jazzy score compliments its similar cartoon visuals and frenetic gameplay extremely smoothly, to create an aurally enjoyable affair. It’s definitely a standout among recent soundtracks and is a big part of what makes the title work in combination with its other elements. However, I think there is also a strong case to be made for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. While Cuphead goes for a playful musical mood overall to match its aesthetics, Hellblade’s intent with its sound design rests on a murkier precipice altogether. Best played with a solid pair of headphones, the effect of hearing Senua’s troubled psyche manifest as different versions of her inner voice constantly whispering a flurry of thoughts ranging from fear, doubt, despair, encouragement and hope (often in rapid succession) all in your own ears is something truly unique and unnerving all at once. I’m not qualified to speak for the accuracy of how true to life this may be in terms of what those who suffer from any form of psychosis experience (as my own insanity is of a different beast) but I can say it is intense and startling in this game. Even after hours of play, it never gets comfortable enough to ignore. Which is sort of the point, and I think it was able to achieve that unsettling atmosphere. It’s certainly not for everyone, but Hellblade attempts to portray something often shied away from in its sound design and that deserves recognition.

In the end it’s a close call between these two, but I would lean towards Hellblade, even though Cuphead’s ST is still great to put on in the background in almost any scenario. (Try it at your next party.) Distant thirds are Horizon: Zero Dawn (although I think it stands out in other categories more than this one) along with Zelda: Breath of the Wild due to its sheer popularity, but both of these games are more likely to win in other categories. Or at least, shouldn’t really win here. But I’ve been wrong before.

On that note, moving onto Best Debut. At this point I’m a little more unsure on this category. Cuphead is one of the breakout titles of the year for sure, so it may be able to snag this one. But there’s also been a lot of buzz for Night in the Woods, which unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play, and have been avoiding spoilers for so that I only know generally what it’s about. Beyond that, Hollow Knight was also supposed to be very solid, but I would say based on the general amount of attention, that it’s probably between the first two, and I’d give the edge to Cuphead simply for familiarity.

Similar to last year, Best Design contains some stiff competition. I’ll take that as a good sign that the industry is doing well in that regard, but that makes it hard to pick a likely winner. It also usually depends on what takes Game of the Year since this award and that one pretty much go hand in hand. I suppose it comes down to whether the trend of sprawling multi online shoot-em-up-fests carries enough weight to combine with the immense popularity of their newest iteration in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, or whether epic sandbox single-player adventures like H: ZD and BotW will return to the spotlight. I can easily see any of the three taking the spot in a photo finish and if I had to pick I would hand it to H: ZD for what it managed to do by taking a fairly standard design formula and making it feel new. Finally, while I wouldn’t call Super Mario Odyssey a dark horse per se, but again the strength of the field might nudge it out.

Within the Innovation Award entries, my choice head and shoulders above all others is What Remains of Edith Finch. I attempted to convey exactly why earlier, but really everyone should just play it to see how it is able to pull off what does, and in such a gratifying way. PLUNBG, if it doesn’t take some other categories, could also snap this up. BotW appears again, but I’m not heavily convinced it’s all that ‘innovative’ in the sense that normally applies here, though perhaps the case can be made that it is so in regard to its long-standing and beloved series. Still, as I mentioned above, I think it’s more likely to win elsewhere.

Best Narrative is by far the tightest race (another good indication that there is some great work being done in this aspect of the field) and thankfully I was able to play 4 out of the 5 games recognized. If Edith Finch doesn’t get the above win, then it should absolutely take home this one. My alternate/runner-up choice would be Hellblade. Not to say the other two I did play, H: ZD and Wolfenstein II, were weak by any means. In fact all of the titles I played subverted many of the clichés and tropes that normally go along with their respective genre’s territory, it’s just that I think the former two represent a bolder and more mature direction of story/narrative evolution within games as a whole.

Lastly as always, the big kahuna-- Game of the Year. My actual choice (to be revealed when we do our Top Games episode in the spring) was nowhere to be seen in the entire range of nominees. Which, given its nature, I’m not surprised by, so with what the GDC does list, I’m going with Horizon: Zero Dawn. It’s just such a complete game, using familiar conventions in a fresh way to create a memorable setting/world with top-notch mechanics to boot. What I think is actually going to win though is BotW, which wouldn't rankle me in any way, I’m simply admitting my bias is for H: ZD if it wasn’t clear before.

Looking at a few of the honorable mentions, I would’ve liked to see Resident Evil 7 included in more actual nominations, since it went a long way towards reenergizing its franchise. Arkane continued its streak of producing solid FPS/RPG hybrids with Prey and that too would’ve been nice to see make it into a category or two. These are small nitpicks though and overall the actual nominees are all perfectly fine and worthy choices.   

A couple of other titles that I have yet to play as of time of writing are Nier: Automata and Gorogoa, which snagged multiple nods themselves, but for now I’m unable to comment much on them directly, other than how they were received, which generally was quite well.  

So once again, there you have my choices/predictions for the 2018 GDC Awards. I’ll be back in March when the winners are announced to see how I fared and offer further armchair critiques of games and their respective awards.

-Scott Thurlow

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Meta Metaphor

 May the something be with someone. 

May the something be with someone. 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi:  A Meta Metaphor


[major spoilers ahead]

The Last Jedi hit theaters this past weekend, and inevitably the tidal wave of opinions, reactions and rants washed over this galaxy, ranging from the usual ‘best since the original’ to ‘sucks worse than ever’ and all shades between. Throwing my own personal reaction into the vast sea of criticism for where The Last Jedi sits in the quality of the series’ canon would be like firing a single lone blaster shot into the death star explosion (and really, our review is of course the only opinion you should trust.) However, since I wasn’t actually on The Last Jedi episode to relay this, I thought I’d lay out and expand my (semi-serious) theory on the commentary I believe the film is making. It’s one that we at The Lost Signals formed the basis of during our discussion of The Force Awakens, when the new trilogy began, and have continued to flesh out with each new film. It is thus: the direction the series is taking represents a sort of lens through which the zeitgeist of the Star Wars fandom at large is being examined and challenged to evolve.  

First let me be clear and reiterate something I’ve said in the past, both on and off air and in other articles as well: I am neither the biggest Star Wars fan nor a dogged detractor of anything within the franchise. I enjoy the story and characters etc. in a general sense while having reservations about some aspects. In fact, anyone familiar with my sensibilities might know that I have the most affinity for a few of the videogame titles that were attached to the property (specifically Shadows of the Empire and Rogue Squadron, while almost any gamer invariably agrees Knights of the Old Republic is a classically great game regardless of any bias for or against Star Wars itself) versus the cinematic world/mythos. In my younger, formative years, I was more invested in that handful of games rather than any of the films or expansions thereof in other media, such as the tie-in novels and cartoons.

That said, as I matured in my outlook and analytical abilities, and encountered more of the Star Wars fan base and its relation to pop culture at large, I began to become more familiar with certain features and, if not ideologies, then perhaps agreed-upon suppositions of it. Heavily tied into that is the prevailing sense of nostalgia that plagues the current pop landscape, for good or ill, and Star Wars is certainly no exception. Given that, and the fact that this IP is probably one of the most recognized on the planet, it’s ripe for applying what I deem to be the “meta metaphor” idea to it, and specifically to this latest entry.   

So let’s look at a few key moments and interactions in The Last Jedi that highlight what I mean by the above. The first of these come from the scenes between Rey and Luke Skywalker, who I hold to represent the newer generation of Star Wars fans and the old guard who hold a candle for the 1977-1983 originals, respectively. In light of this angle, Daisy Ridley as Rey is the audience avatar/surrogate for those fans who see Mark Hamill’s Luke as a legend that they grew up hearing about but don’t directly have the connection to as say their parents, i.e. the older generation do. She arrives at his isolated island planet in search of meaning and her place in the grand scheme of things, naively confident that Luke can both provide the answer and will return to aid the Resistance in (I use this phrase in jest, but it still imparts what I mean) “making the rebellion great again.” She’s heard so much about him (ala how that generation of fans have heard from their relatives how great Star Wars is) that she’s come to see for herself and ask him directly what all the fuss is about.

Here is where the subversions start and the real meat of the “meta metaphor” begins. Almost immediately after their introduction, Luke asks Rey, “Did you think I was going to walk out with a laser sword and face down the entire First Order?” Not only is that a pretty funny line, but it’s almost a rebuke to those die-hard fans who were hoping for that very thing, or something very much like it to happen in this film. He shortly follows that up with explicitly telling her, “This is not going to go the way you think.” Of course in both cases, the character is ostensibly speaking about internal plot-related elements, but they could both be taken as directed to audience members themselves and their predisposed expectations. I don’t think it’s an accident that these lines are delivered by such an iconic character in that particular situation and context. The film is trying to tell that portion of fans that the series is moving on, and they should prepare to do so too. Rey has met her idol, and he’s not exactly living up to the version she had built up in her mind.

Elsewhere but relatedly, newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) encounters Finn, (John Boyega) now established as another “hero” of the Resistance. Rose basically fan freaks out at meeting Finn, before realizing he’s about to leave, immediately disappointing her and perhaps shattering her illusions of who he really is. This is what I imagine the actors themselves must constantly deal with from the well-meaning, but possibly intrusive fans. They want to be polite and thankful for the recognition and hero-worship, but at the same time, they’re just people too, trying to go about their lives. The scene represents the real-world interactions that the faces of the franchise (both old and new) have to endure as well as when fans realize the characters and the actors are not one and the same. Later in the story, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren (more well-rounded this time around) tells Rey that she should, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” An obvious callback to his murder of Han Solo in The Force Awakens, but it also can be taken as the most glaring parallel to what I said above about the film’s attitude toward some of its core audience.   

The Last Jedi also sees Carrie Fisher as Leia symbolically pass on leadership to Oscar Isaac’s Poe, who embodies another section of the new generation of fans. At the same time, he respectfully acknowledges her indispensable contributions to the cause. There is even a touch of humor about this earlier, when Leia is about to wish, “May the force be with you” to Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo, at the very moment Holdo is about to say it to her, Leia stops herself and points out, “You go ahead, I’ve said it enough.” Holdo adds a sincere, “...always” at the end of the line as they part ways. It’s a touching send off and in memoriam for a beloved character and the actress who shaped so much of Star Wars history.

Another much-revered character appears briefly as well, to offer thoughts on the state of affairs. Yoda’s force ghost proceeds to destroy the ancient Jedi scripts housed in the temple, remarking to Luke a little tongue-in-cheek how, “page turners, they were not.” A subtle dig perhaps at the debate over the wavering quality and canonical status of the aforementioned tie-in expanded universe novelizations et al. that I couldn’t help but notice, whether it was intended as such or not. It’s another inclusion that could apply both in and out of the actual story, again delivered by an original character who is essentially moving on himself. His final Jedi lesson being, “failure can be the greatest of teachers.” The perceived missteps of the previous films can lead to better things in the aftermath. And as can be seen from the fact that Rey seemed to save some of the books, not everything from the past needs to be destroyed either. One might say a sort of...balance can be achieved.    

Lastly, Luke gets a fitting and epic send off through his showdown via force projection with Kylo, before peacefully fading away into the literal sunset (The Last Jedi, if nothing else, has some top-notch cinematography) This rather definitively closes the chapter on his role in the mythology, and sets the stage for Rey and co. going forward. The closing stinger shot of the stable boy who was given the Resistance ring off-handedly using the force is aimed obviously at the youngest generation of burgeoning fans, kids about 7-12 years old, who will soon be in the best position to take up what the film offers, to inherit and interpret the story, characters, and themes anew.

So there you have it. Perhaps in the end this is all merely some Waldo-esque application of imparting a pet theory onto a work that only I can see, but I do believe the evidence is there and I’ve submitted my examples for your approval, make of them what you will. Until next time, I’ll be at the casino on Canto Bight, coming up with more over-analysis for your preferred pop culture property.

-Scott Thurlow

Star Wars: Battlefront II Beta: The Good, The Bad, The Sarlacc

 Bumbumbum da da dun. 

Bumbumbum da da dun. 


Star Wars: Battlefront II Beta

The Good, The Bad, The Sarlacc

The early access beta for Battlefront II just ended yesterday (after EA somewhat surreptitiously extended it by two more days) and after pouring a number of hours into it, I return from a galaxy far far away to give my initial impressions and thoughts on what was teased.

Before I begin, just a note about Star Wars in general: As may be gathered from our handful of previous film reviews, I personally was never and remain not the hugest fan, or perhaps not the most invested in this particular property. I do enjoy it well enough, but never delved into it as deeply so as to be able to debate the nuances of midichlorians, the sex lives of Wookies or whatever else “real/hardcore” fans talk about. What I can tell you about is game design and integration, so strap into your X-wing or TIE fighter, here we go:

I must also admit up front that I never played the first Battlefront, so I’ll be unable to say exactly how the changes and updates compare within the versions, just how they worked here. The beta offered 4 modes with one stage/scenario each (although this is fairly standard in betas.) These were: Strike-- smaller squad objective-based matches; Starfighter Assault-- 24 player matches in pitched space battles; Galactic Assault-- 20 v. 20 ground matches with multiple win/loss conditions; and finally a solo/co-op Arcade mode featuring wave battles to earn points based on time completion and performance.

Among these, the standout for me was Galactic Assault. Being part of a massive force of either clone storm troopers or the separatist droid army to alternately assault a palace or defend it was a highly enjoyable experience. With so many players running around, the ability to respawn and choose a different class if desired fairly quickly upon death, it was a chaotic and intense affair that made for some quite fun times and memorable moments. The downside was that, once familiarized with the objectives, I felt one side had a clear advantage. If the Empire team could take down the Rebel droid transport in the first leg of the match, victory was achieved and the entire round ended without going into the second and third portions. While it was satisfying to pull off here and there, it meant that one could feel cheated out of getting to play an actual full match.

On the Starfighter Assault side, things are even more hectic, as ships zip around a docked star destroyer to either take out or defend (what else?) its shield generators and core. The pace is absolutely frantic, with NPC support ships showing up to aid or hinder each side, which double as bonus objectives to earn battle points towards (more on that soon.) But alongside all the lasers flying around and fighters exploding spectacularly, because so much is happening on screen and the nature of space combat, more than a few players including myself found ourselves smashing into the side of the destroyer or other ancillary installation, halting the flow and making one feel more like having Harrison Ford’s real life piloting skills rather than Han Solo’s.

I didn’t play as much Strike, but a few rounds of it were enough for me to gauge that it’s the online mode I’d likely play the least. While smaller in scale and thus more manageable, it just didn’t have the epic feel of either the above to make for interesting or surprising matches. Fought on obviously a smaller map as well, it was easy to get pinned down and feel like one wasn’t making much progress or contributing to the team very much.

Finally, I dabbled in the Arcade mode just to try it out, and it’s basically what it says on the tin. Fight as a hero character (Darth Maul, Rey, etc.) against increasing waves of enemies and get graded according to how well and how fast you cleared out enemies, which can be done solo or with a partner. It seems like a fun side excursion, but as I said that’s all there is to it.

Speaking of heroes, the system for earning ‘battle points’ in matches and then cashing them in upon respawn once enough are acquired to start as a special unit (both hero ships and famous characters such as Poe’s X-wing and Han Solo in addition to the above mentioned ones) is solid at its core. The possible issue is that while it makes sense that only so many are allotted on screen each time, if a team member is using one, and you do manage to build up enough points, it’s possible that you won’t get to redeem them, thus your great performance has gone to waste and again you probably feel cheated out of doing something awesome simply because someone else was able to get it first. From what I understand though, this is a vast improvement over Battlefront 1, making it more skill based, but it still feels a little uneven from what was in place here.

Online connectivity was stable for the most part, although I did have a few isolated instances of infamous lag and enemy player pop-in/out. Party capability also seemed to function fine. I was joined by friend of The Lost Signals, Rich Perry, for a number of games, and the matchmaking kept us together without interruption, bringing back some old-school memories for me of playing with a trusted ally and owning the enemy team together.

The Jabba in the room is of course the loot box/microtransaction system and here is where things have the potential to get nasty. The most egregious flaw is that progression is tied almost if not entirely to the randomized reward crates. So for example, since sniper/specialist was my preferred class in Galactic Assault, while Interceptor was my go-to ship, naturally I was looking to get upgrades specifically for both. However, I ended up with my officer loadout being three whole levels above my specialist regardless of the amount of time I played as each, purely because the crates happened to spit out more rewards that applied to that class. Luckily I did manage to get some decent upgrades for the Interceptor so it was a lot more effective than the other two ship types available, which because I hardly got any for them, I thus largely neglected to use in matches. But again, that was basically random luck and it could’ve easily gone the other way. The sticking point is that no matter how well or much time you play as any given class, the random numbers gods determine their effectiveness to a degree.   

The game does dole out points/in-game currency after each match, but the amount seemed on the lower end, so that it took more and more matches to scrape together enough to buy another crate. After finally getting enough crafting parts, which are also tied to loot crates and upgrading extras (like a double-zoom scope or extended ability times) I was able to create specific desired attachments and the like for a few of the classes I used the most. This is all without the possibility of spending real money to receive a whole bunch of loot at once, increasing the chance that you’ll get a sought-after upgrade, and thus a tangible advantage over others who don’t pony up. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out at launch, but it’s not a good sign overall for now. The issue of loot crates et al. I realize is a current industry hot-button topic, and this example is just one of a few recently that highlights the root problem and keeping in mind this was the Beta, it’s possible and even likely some tweaks will be made before full launch in November. Nevertheless, it’s a shall we say… DICE-y proposition at the moment.

Overall though, the Beta did get me more excited than I originally thought I’d be for Battlefront II, especially with the prospect of having a solo campaign as well to play through. (Similar to Titanfall 2 vs. 1 that lacked a single-player option.) I’m likely to get it now at launch and hopefully join up with some other friends to destroy/save the galaxy and be heavily entertained doing so. It will also be a great case study to see how the above mentioned lootbox quagmire shakes down in what is certainly going to be a huge game in terms of both polarizing the issue and general popularity due to its association with one of the most recognizable franchises on this planet. For now, I’m going to go back to hiding in my gutted bantha, or was it a tauntaun? Whatever, until next time my friends.

-Scott Thurlow

Summer Games Drought Wrap Up

 The summer games came blowing in...

The summer games came blowing in...


It’s the heart of summer, the time when traditionally as the temperature rises, so does my desire to cloister myself away in a cold room playing games, while conversely the number of major releases trickles and dries up to match the scorched earth outside. So, in that spirit I’m going to cover a handful of titles that I’ve been playing since this effect kicked in and give my overall impressions etc. of them. [Slight spoilers ahead]

Let’s start with one that I remember being enthusiastic about when it was announced-- Perception. Developed by The Deep End Games, which was founded by former members of Irrational Games, who some might recall worked on the BioShock games. Touted as a walking-sim where the central conception and mechanic centers on playing as a blind woman named Cassie, who makes use of a Daredevil-like echolocation system to navigate and uncover the secrets within a creepy New England mansion that seemed to call to her in dreams, the premise seemed solid in theory. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. While it is admirable to represent a character who lacks what may be our most important sensory input system to convey a heightened feeling of unsettling confusion in a strange and possibly supernaturally tinged setting, what it translates to in gameplay is having to constantly tap Cassie’s cane on the surrounding environment every 30 seconds, or else be plunged into utter darkness. This may very well be effective at replicating what it would be like to live as a blind person, but in terms of gameplay, it quickly becomes repetitive and annoying, especially since the field of view revealed when using Cassie’s “sixth sense” is fairly limited and thus it is quite easy to become lost in the mostly same looking rooms and corridors.

Compounding this is the fact that the “Presence,” the aforementioned supernatural element, hunts Cassie based on the amount of sound she makes, so that one must either stop using the core sight mechanic to bumble around in the dark for a minute or two before the Presence goes away, or resign to being caught and restarting checkpoints that are sometimes few and far between. There is the obligatory hide-in-closet or under-bed option, but this requires Cassie to echolocate an appropriate spot first, which afterwards are indicated by a green glow amidst the impenetrable black so that again it is often unclear which direction or room it actually lies in when attempting to evade the Presence in a tense moment.

Perception’s level design is spotty at best, and the same can be said of the overall story. Most might know that I’m a sucker for Lovecraftian-inspired tales, and at the outset Perception seems to be going for that, but by the second chapter (out of four total) it becomes clear it’s just another ghost story, retreading and mining the infamous Salem witch trials to make it seem deeper than it actually is. The credits indicate that the story was based on a supposed true tale of an ancestor of one of the lead developers, and again while that may be interesting in theory, in practicality it doesn’t necessarily make for an engaging or satisfying narrative. Here’s hoping their next release learns from the pitfalls that I perceived to be in Perception.


Next up is Prey. Or as I described it: Deus Honored: IsolationShock. Ostensibly intended to be a “soft reboot/remake” of the original title, although due to its stay in development hell earlier, the final release has almost nothing to do with the 2006 title. Nevertheless, it was highly anticipated, as Arkane Studios (who worked on the first two Dishonored games) was given the project with Bethesda set to publish, which looked like a winning combination. And it very much is.

As might be gathered from my semi-tongue-in-cheek summary, Prey borrows chunks from all of the above games and stitches them together into a very enjoyable FPS sci-fi/horror experience that, if not completely unique, manages to spruce things up enough to create a Frankenstein’s monster of a game that is quite alive indeed. With RPG-like elements including both human enhancements and alien powers sometimes similar to (but never exact copies of) those from Dishonored combined with weapon upgrades, zero gravity sections and crafting systems all seamlessly working together, exploring and fighting through the Talos I installation is a tense and satisfying experience. Throw in some interesting alternate history backstory, such as J.F.K. surviving his assassination attempt, leading to an accelerated space race and eventual cooperation between a united U.S. and Russia against an encroaching alien threat that shows up precisely due to humans’ earlier presence in space, and it’s all a recipe for a damn good time.

Prey does attempt a mind-bending plot twist or two, and although it isn’t able to introduce anything truly jaw-dropping, it does sustain enough solid ideas scattered throughout which culminate in a more surprising and less bog-standard ending than what might be expected on the surface. It’s like discovering a newer movie or TV show that clearly owes a lot of its design cues to earlier works, but is quality largely because of that exact fact. All in all Prey does a great job of taking a familiar setting (derelict space station,) framework (human vs. alien,) and mechanics (scavenge/craft/upgrade/kick more ass/repeat) to produce one of the best FPS I’ve played this year. Definitely recommended and as of this time, there is promised (though details are unspecified) DLC which I’m quite looking forward to.


Now onto Gwent (still in public beta)- Based on the Collectible Card-like mini-game from Witcher 3 which garnered enough popularity that CD Projekt Red, responding to their fans’ passion in true fashion, decided to make it a fully fleshed out standalone product. For me it’s been the Witcher 3: Collectible Crack Game. Granted, I possess a huge bias and nostalgia for CCGs in general, and have become a big fan of the Witcher series as a whole, so attempting to ignore my blinders, I would still say Gwent is a blast. Any other developer would’ve likely just jerked off a cut-rate sub-par game to cash in a cheap and easy spinoff from its flagship franchise, but CDPR as usual went above and beyond to make an immensely robust online CCG on both the competitive and casual fronts. I found myself playing many rounds of it between/instead of other responsibilities (like for example writing more articles.)

The artwork first and foremost is top-notch, and there’s even an option to upgrade (or in game terms “transmute”) your cards to animate them. Which on top of being just plain cool to see, doubles as a sort of a status symbol, since you can show off your favorite/most played units after tweaking a deck to perfection. Addressing the kayran in the sea-- yes, while there is what some may call a “pay-to-win” aspect, i.e. you can spend real money for more in-game resources to buy card barrels (read: booster packs) and craft/transmute higher level/cost cards at a faster rate, I haven’t found this particular system to be broken or overly unbalanced, as the matchmaking (both casual and ranked) does a fair job of making sure you’ll be dueling evenly matched opponents often, and powerful ones only occasionally (mostly due to the available player pool at any given time.) Speaking of the matchmaking, I’ve found it to be broadly reliable, rarely encountering issues or interruptions during the hundreds of matches I must have played at this point.

If you’re into CCGs and/or the Witcher, or even better, both, Gwent is a ton of fun that can be consumed in small doses (matches usually last about 15 minutes on average) but also has the depth and range of a truly well-done game within the genre to be long lasting. When it eventually moves out of beta and into open public, I can see it rivaling even the likes of Hearthstone within the CCG domain.


Lastly, I picked up Get Even, whose elevator pitch might well have been something along the lines of “Amnesiac Liam Neeson ripoff gets cool gun while in his fractured memories.” Ironically, my initial impressions thus far find it a bit uneven in terms of gameplay and plot. I would estimate I’m about 55-65% through, and while it does have an intriguing setup, it seems to suffer, again almost ironically, from a sense of schizophrenia. For example, one of the core shooting mechanics provides a ‘CornerGun’, which allows Liam Neeson, I mean, “Cole Black” vision around cover at 90 degree angles and enables the possibility of eliminating foes from behind corners with various upgrades that progressively unlock as you delve further into the Memento-meets-Taken-in-VR themed storyline.

That’s a great idea, were it not for the fact that the game itself slaps you repeatedly for killing what amounts to non-existent adversaries. As it’s established early on, the action is filtered through a near-future VR framework, rendering the faux morality it attempts to impose completely moot. It is difficult to be invested in the lasting consequences of murdering a digitally projected construct already, and when a game’s narrative itself shows us the enemies are all just illusions while simultaneously telling us that we shouldn’t kill them because of…reasons, it’s even less impactful and more confusing. I suppose if a later reveal is something along the lines of ‘but actually they were real all along!’ it may carry some weight, but at that point, the way the characters and plot have been laid out so far, I’d say the effect would be minimal.

Aside from that possible poster case of ludonarrative dissonance, there’s nothing to really complain heavily about nor particularly praise. The writing is serviceable, as are the controls. There is also a bit of a Condemned component, having Cole use a smartphone to scan the environment for evidence and find collectibles/clues, but again it’s all just kind of there. It works, but doesn’t stand out. As I said, I still have a bit to get through in Get Even, and it’s narrowly possible that it will manage to pull off something truly surprising/effective in the end (in which case perhaps I’ll have to retroactively retract some of this) but as it is, I’m not betting on it.

So, that’s my summer of games so far and what I thought of them. There is one more title that I recently purchased and have yet to start, but am looking forward to- Little Nightmares, which has garnered good reviews that I’ve seen and at the very least the art/animation style looks right in line with my tastes. But from amongst the above, I would say check out Prey if you’ve got more downtime (as I neglected to mention that it’s probably a 40-hour or so game) and if you’re looking for something quicker and don’t mind CCGs, get yourself the (free) beta of Gwent and start dueling.

I’ll be waiting for the slew of releases to start hitting in October, just in time to spend my winter hibernating in a warm room, playing games.  

-Scott Thurlow

What Remains of Outlast 2

 Should you stay or should you go?

Should you stay or should you go?


Been a few rounds since my last post, so I figured it’s time to cobble something together on two recently released and very broadly related games from last week-- in the same way grey wolves are broadly related to labradoodles-- Outlast 2 and What Remains of Edith Finch. This will be a sort of mashup review/commentary on both, with slight spoilers although nothing too in depth, since for reasons that will shortly become clear, one of these games deserves to be played and the other just sort of exists, filling the space between our inevitable exit into eternal darkness. The theme of death then, is something both titles on the surface have in common, although each approaches it from a quite different angle. So here’s what I thought of them-- what worked, what didn’t, and why.

First, What Remains of Edith Finch, the second release by developer Giant Sparrow, previously acclaimed for The Unfinished Swan (which I played a bit of but was underwhelmed by. Fellow Lost Signal J. Ian Manczur quite enjoyed it though, so take that as you will.) Falling under the "walking sim” label, or as the pretentious might describe: “interactive narrative game experience,” Edith Finch combines components of games like Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, with maybe a bit of Dear Esther throw in for good measure, but without necessarily outright copying any of these. Rather, it marks a leap forward and step up in the genre, keeping the core conventions intact but adding a healthy dose of imagination and clever design to weave together the bittersweet chronicle of a family whose members over the years have seemingly been plagued by a series of rather unfortunate events ultimately leading to their untimely deaths.

Edith Finch manages to do a lot with a little. Every story of the tragic end of a Finch has its own feel and personality that reflects that of the member it represents as it unfolds, and this is further mirrored in the mechanics of each. The art styles both overall and as applied to the individual stories are perfectly suited to match the narrative tone throughout. Some are stronger/more memorable than others to be sure, but all have something to mark them as distinct, so that taken together they create a collage of melancholic tales rather than retreading one single defining feature for the 6 or so hours it takes to see them all. It’s difficult to comment much further without major spoilers, so just take my vague word for it, if you’re into these types of games, Edith Finch cements itself as one of the best thus far.

Now that it’s probably clear which game is which in the recommend category, let’s move onto Outlast 2, Red Barrels’ followup to the largely successful Outlast. Longtime followers may know I’m a big fan of horror in all media generally and more so in the gaming sector. I liked Outlast a lot and gave it a few playthroughs at the time. Thus I was very much looking forward to 2. First impressions were mainly positive-- the plot hits the ground running pretty hard and fast, establishing an early rock solid atmosphere and for lack of better term, gore/grotesquery accoutrements design. The rural Arizona farm setting is well realized aesthetically and largely immersive if not completely original. I can also respect its ballsy attempts to comment on and depict the darker side of religion, specifically Christianity/Catholicism. These elements though are eventually shoved so relentlessly in your face that it almost becomes satire territory.

On the gameplay side, there are a handful of quirky design choices that more often than not fall flat. The biggest thorn that comes to mind being the checkpoint system. A number of times, O2 reset me at spots where it was extremely difficult to escape a one-hit kill, throwing me into annoying loops of almost near-instant loss scenarios. God may forgive, but when this happened multiple times, all sense of tension and fun evaporated, and in an ostensible horror game, I cannot.

However, since respawning also resets health and camera battery level, it's an easy/cheap abusable exploit to run trial and error paths at other times and then purposely die so as to regain those resources. Often it forces one to do this anyway, at various points of frustrating attempts to navigate where the game wants you to go without much direction and little indication of the difference between which pieces of scenery/rendered objects are interactable vs. simply window dressing.

Because of the above, in my entire playthrough, I never had to use more than 3 bandages max and had a large stockpile of batteries midway through. There’s also an underused mechanic of listening for nearby creeping footsteps via the camera sound pickup, but I found I hardly needed this. It drains battery on top of the more frequently used and helpful night-vision, so that one might as well forgo it completely. Additionally, I found myself inadvertently creating amusing instances of ludonarrative dissonance, wherein I was going through a sequence which the game clearly wanted to impart urgency to, but which I interrupted at points looking for collectibles along the way in side rooms. “Excuse me, demented cultist, while I record footage of some of your previous victims...there, now you may resume chasing me.”  

O2's length is about twice that of Outlast. Due to this some of its ideas begin to noticeably stretch thin vs. the compact running time of the first. Apparently there also is a plot point/note (collectible?) that explains a large missing piece of information pertinent to what's happening and why, but I learned this through an outside recap and not in my initial playthrough, so that if it was truly meant to be impactful/important to add to the story, it was seemingly missable/optional. Given that, and even after learning of this detail, the question I ended up asking was: what is it actually saying about all of this? Your guess is probably as good as mine. Overall, O2 was decent but didn’t reach any new heights of horror. Red Barrels delivers some satisfaction, but along with that come odd and unintuitive decisions that detract from the total experience. RE7 was still much better.

So there you go minions, if trying to decide on what game to play between these two, go for the surreal experience of dark whimsy in What Remains of Edith Finch. And if you feel like playing through some grittily atmospheric but ultimately baffling torture-porn, try Outlast 2. In the meantime, I wait dreaming in the depths for the Call of Cthulhu game to hopefully release this winter.

-Scott Thurlow


 The winners actually are... (image via

The winners actually are... (image via


Back in January the GDC announced their 2017 game award nominees and I went through a few of the categories, going over the games I thought would win in each as well as the ones I thought should in fact win. Yesterday the actual winners were announced, so now it is time of course to recap, see how I fared in retrospect, and give my final thoughts in the aftermath.

Best Audio

My pick: DOOM

GDC:  Inside

I haven't gotten around to playing Inside, though I am planning to (eventually) and know mostly what it's about. Having said that and being unable to comment directly on its audio design, I still think DOOM has the perfect bombastic soundtrack/audio design for what it is, and it would've been nice for it to have a nod, but I suppose you can't kill every demon all the time.  

Best Debut

My pick: Hyper Light Drifter

GDC:  Firewatch

As I mentioned in the original breakdown, Hyper Light Drifter would've been great to see recognized here, but Firewatch is an excellent choice too and a well-deserved win. I'm very much looking forward to developer Campo Santo's next game to follow in similar footsteps, and if so they look to have a bright future ahead of them.

Best Design

My pick: Dishonored 2

GDC:  Overwatch 

Spoiler: Overwatch won Game of the Year, and usually the game which does that wins design, so there it is. Again I must refrain from commenting much further since online competitive shooters aren't really my bag these days, so I'll only reiterate that I think Dishonored 2's design is top-notch and should certainly be played/appreciated. 

Innovation Award

My pick: Firewatch

GDC:  No Man’s Sky

I'm somewhat torn on this one, only because while I understand why No Man's Sky took this category, perhaps the controversy surrounding it should be kept in mind, wherein complaints regarding exactly how much "innovation" was promised vs. what the final release contained somewhat marred the game in general. Firewatch ended up snagging another just below, so in the end I don't think it's necessarily a snub.  


My pick: Uncharted 4

GDC: Firewatch

Firewatch strikes again and I'm more than fine with that. I had words to say about Uncharted 4 and specifically its narrative, but at the time of the nominee announcement I thought it was the standard party-line to receive this one, so again it's nice to see some underdog recognition, and maybe in light of this, underdog no more. 

Audience Award

My pick: Stardew Valley 

GDC:  Battlefield 1

This one I was less sure of in general, but perhaps in retrospect Battlefield is more obvious. I know Stardew has a dedicated fanbase, but ala Overwatch etc. the online competitive shooter scene is much larger in comparison. Based on all accounts, Battlefield is indeed well crafted, so good on ya DICE and your numerous fans. 

Game of the Year

My pick: Overwatch

GDC:  Overwatch

One last time...I haven't played Overwatch nor am likely ever to, I just pay attention to the trends and there was almost no way it wasn't going to get GOTY here. So-called it! My personal pick of games I did play and thought were GOTY contenders from among the nominees was Dishonored 2.

That's pretty much it from me on the GDCAs. Overall I'm satisfied with a majority of the awards and if 2017's games are any indication thus far, it is shaping up to be even an even stronger year. Once more I will elaborate on my own top picks and more when Syntax Error season 3 premiers later this month. See you then,

 -Scott Thurlow


Resident Evil 7: Biohazard: Evil Comes Home

 Knock knock. (image via The Escapist)

Knock knock. (image via The Escapist)


It’s been slightly over a week since Resident Evil 7: Biohazard released, shipping 2.5 million copies in that time, and all I have to say is- goddamned right. Headshots off to Capcom for finally giving us a Resident Evil that returns to its survival horror origins. RE7 is a triumph, taking a spot in the higher tier of the series’ long and sometimes shaky history. But make no mistake, RE7 simultaneously recaptures its former glory and capitalizes on more modern conventions in the best way.

After the all-out, but ultimately asinine, action and storylines of RE5 and 6, Capcom and co. finally deliver a title that feels truer to the nature of the franchise than anything else put out under the name in years. While Revelations 2 did edge a bit closer, there was nothing standout about it in the end and many fans, including myself, were left with a sense that the series was still lacking a concrete direction.

Then Capcom announced a new numbered entry back at 2016’s E3, along with a few details, chief among them being the switch to first-person view and a self-proclaimed intention to invoke the style of the early originals. Many fans then, including myself, began to cautiously, but hopefully, conjecture that this would indeed be the revitalization RE sorely needed. Let me emphasize- it is exactly that, and whatever reservations lingered until now, be assured this is both the Resident Evil we remember and wanted.

In true fashion however, the road to this point was rocky. After an oddly handled teaser/trailer, one which Capcom inexplicably updated three times while only changing minor items, there was still more confusion than excitement. With so little to go on, the question of if and how Capcom could pull it off remained. Having spent the better part of a week with RE7, my answer is- perfectly, as planned.

I don’t wish to spoil or give too much away, because it should definitely be played fresh. Most of what I will mention below was part of the pre-release gameplay/marketing information available, however I cannot avoid going into a few further gameplay/mechanic/slight plot details in order to explain why I think this game works so well, so consider yourself warned.



For starters RE7 requires barely any knowledge of previous titles. There is a broad overarching connection to the existing cannon, but it is not necessary information to understand or enjoy the core story. This is the first sign of intelligent and informed design, making it both immediately accessible to any newcomers as well as giving long-time fans a reason to be invested without feeling like this is a cheap knock-off or cash-in that the RE name was randomly slapped onto (as has been the case before, re: Umbrella Corps.)

From its outset RE7, has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe, though never devolving into outright parody or cliché. Set not in any exotic locale or bloated/sprawling underground Umbrella installation, but rather in the backwater swamp of a sleepy Louisiana homestead, the all-important sensation of isolation is instantly conveyed. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the spot, the Baker family, serve as the primary antagonists who present excellently frightening and deranged foes each time you encounter one of them during the course of the game. Likewise the ‘Molded’ creatures that nest sporadically throughout, ready to ooze through the floors and walls right when your guard is down; sparking flashes of panic upon hearing one form, realizing at the last second that it’s actually behind you as you whirl around hoping to have enough time to get a shot off before booking it the fuck out of the room frantically closing any open doors between you and it along the way, searching desperately for a hiding spot so as not to expend any more precious shotgun shells because you know more Molded are now spawning somewhere nearby and all the while just trying not to die!

Scenarios like the above serve to exemplify how and why RE7 achieves its goals as related to its gaming pedigree and history as a whole. It is able to successfully revive and impart that trademark claustrophobic tension, that vague sense of encroaching dread punctuated periodically by razor sharp sections of action that at its best the series was a master of attaining, all without resorting to predictable or tired jump scares. It feels as fresh here as it did originally, and sets a high benchmark for the series.

Everyman protagonist Ethan Winters is not the trained soldier Leon Kennedy or Chris Redfield are. He moves and reloads more slowly and sometimes awkwardly, making the player feel truly vulnerable. Weapons have a realistic heft and weight to wielding them that adds to this. Due to the viewpoint, it’s more difficult than ever to see what might be lurking around a corner or section of a location without exposing Ethan to danger in the process, and that makes for top-notch survival horror in the truest definition. This switch to first-person may initially seem at odds with what RE is traditionally known for, but it’s a smart move that transitions smoothly, retaining a constant unease while adding a layer of immersion that was previously absent. Taken together, they create an unsettling but viscerally satisfying experience, seamlessly oscillating between intense and cathartic at any given moment.

Sound design must be mentioned as the unsung hero and standout star of RE7 (as we decreed all good horror games should be to some degree) with so many other elements fitted to exploit the expert application of appropriate auditory arrangement; the places in RE7 themselves become alive. The effect is startling once noticed and a slowly dripping bathtub full of blood’s worth of credit should be given to how well it’s integrated everywhere in the game, producing a fantastic blend of subtle but unnerving atmosphere.

RE7 handles the more classic components deftly as well. Resource collecting and management is as streamlined and tight as ever. Safe rooms are scattered variously to save and store excess items in. Keeping a close eye on ammo/health is vital. The addition of a finely implemented crafting system gives every combinable item scavenged the potential to be made into something both useful and novel for a RE game; nothing is wasted.

Among the (few) complaints I’ve seen leveraged against it accused the puzzles of being dumbed down. Though I agree they are simple, I would argue it’s again good design to keep the player going forward vs. forcibly halting them in an attempt to solve too obtuse an obstacle, and thus risk losing any momentum built to that point. The ubiquitous search for bizarrely themed keys is here, but these sections also act as a breathing space between disturbing main boss battles, plot development, and fight-or-flight, combat-or-not encounters.  

Finally, multiple playthroughs to find different items and secrets, and even interesting, alternate ways to fight or evade enemies add to replay value without the old annoyance of being spread over mostly retreaded cross-plotlines of other characters. The game is admittedly shorter, but at the same time that means no filler. It leaves plenty of room for any who wish to delve into RE7 again in search of something that might’ve been missed earlier, or try their hand in the campaign after unlocking the highest difficulty setting for an old-school hardcore challenge.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been this...animated about anything, let alone a new game entry in a series with 20 years of baggage both positive and negative attached to it, but RE7 has brought me to such a point. Although I might stop short (for now) of going so far as to call it an instant classic like RE4, in my eyes it definitely deserves the high praise it’s been receiving and has earned its place as a worthy addition. Resident Evil-- welcome home indeed.   

-Scott Thurlow


Game Developers Choice Awards: 2017 Nominees

 And the other winner is...

And the other winner is...


The GDC recently announced its nominees for the 2017 awards, which will be held March 1. Separate from simply The Game Awards back in December, one can perhaps argue the GDCAs are more 'prestigious' although I think that's somewhat of a false dichotomy. They share many of the same games, and I'm fairly certain I can predict what will win vs. what games I think should've actually won in a number of categories, and as is my wont, I shall do so now.

Just a quick caveat to keep in mind before diving in: I'm only going through a few of the categories of interest to me, and basing my assessment both on what I think the industry will swing toward as well as the titles I actually played so far this year. And as per tradition, Syntax Error season 3 will debut with our picks of the top games of the year, at the end of March after the GDCAs. 

So load up and here we go: Starting with Best Audio, I don't see how DOOM can't win, but I suppose it's possible it'll go to Overwatch simply because it's seemingly become the darling game of this year, but one which I must refrain commenting on since I didn't play any of it. DOOM's score though is the perfect compliment to the nonstop action of the game and certainly deserves it in my eyes.

Best Debut is a tougher one, and I'll take a moment here to salute the GDCAs for having both a better represented field than The Game Awards and for listing a number of honorable mentions in each category that I could easily see making the actual nominees in many cases. Overall, my pick for this would be Heart Machine's Hyper Light Drifter, especially given the circumstances of its development. However I wouldn't be disappointed and/or surprised if Firewatch won, as it's also garnered a lot of attention since release and is an excellent opening title from developer Campo Santo as well. Stardew Valley might be a strong third and definite fan favorite, giving it a chance at taking the Audience Award, but I don't think it's enough to grab the win here. 

Best Design is another tight race, but as I mentioned Overwatch has so much momentum going into this, that if it wins GOTY then it almost certainly will win here too. I would choose Dishonored 2 since that has quickly become a frontrunner in my personal list for best games and specifically due in large part to its design. If DOOM doesn't win for audio, then it should definitely be recognized here, as its level design is similarly top-notch.

The Innovation award is kind of an odd one, being a more vague category, but from among the list, it's likely Inside will snag it, which I have no problem with, but again I think Firewatch is very strong in this aspect and also would be a fine choice.

Best Narrative is one I'm always closely interested in. Uncharted 4 looks to be the best bet, not hurt by the fact it already won in the GAs, but I could see it also going to either Firewatch or Inside here, as they look to be battling each other in every category they're both up for.

Finally we come to the MVP of 2016: Game of the Year. Overwatch is all but a lock for this, with Uncharted 4 the obvious second. Firewatch and Inside continue their wrestling match, but I think it's more likely they will win elsewhere at least once but not quite make GOTY. For myself, Dishonored 2 is everything I think a GOTY title should be, and although I don't think it will win at the GDCAs based on this list, I will certainly have more to say about it on our episode. 

Among the honorable mentions, Titanfall 2 was listed for three categories (audio, design, and GOTY) and having just recently gotten around to playing it, I think it either should have outright been nominated for at least one of those, and in a less strong year might've had a better chance at being included and possibly winning (most likely for design if I had to choose.)

So, there have you have the GCD 2017 nominees and my predictions/evaluation of them. 2016 was in my opinion a much better year for games than last, and the lists reflect the high quality of titles that were released. Stay tuned as always for the right opinion, i.e. mine, and I'll see you all in the next match.   

-Scott Thurlow