Citizen Sleeper (XBox One, 5/8, 5/9, 10/29)- Thanks, XBox GamePass! I literally knew nothing about this game other than it was about having a small, working class job on a spaceport. I wound up falling in love with it almost immediately and it will likely be my favorite new game I've played this year.
What struck me most about the game was the way the Eye slowly reveals more and more of itself as you go on. The game is paced very well. It gives the player a good setup- if you don't get more of a certain drug, your Sleeper body will shut down- and the need to manage your energy along with the dice rolls is very propulsive.
You wake up, roll the dice, try to judge whether you have enough energy to take a high risk task or not. The Sleeper's own energies depletes with every task, and with every day. Early on you're often just barely head above water and the tension is absorbing.
I'm not going to pretend here- while I'm not rich, I've been pretty privileged, and I've never been in the sort of economic strata Gareth Damian Martin has been in- they were trying to communicate- successfully, I would say- what it's like being on the gig economy. I have a solid job, a supportive family. So while I'd say the game's pretty effective in its critique of capitalism- or rather, interplanetary capitalism- at the same time, once you get into a groove, a good gameplay loop of getting gigs, making money, and eventually discovering how to get enough of the aforementioned drug to survive- it almost makes the argument that thanks hard work and due diligence that the Sleeper can carve out a life for themselves. Maybe Capitalism isn't so bad after all?
Luckily, it's the rest of the characters that remind you this isn't a fairy tale. Criminals, corporations, police, doctors, workers just trying to get by and their children- every single one is well drawn. And good or bad, they are all stuck in this machine on the Eye. Every quest thread feels like a short novel, with plenty of empathy and depth for their characters. I can't believe this is all one person writing it.
Some of my favorite games- Bully Scholarship Edition, Grand Theft Auto IV and V, The Legend of Zelda, Marvel Ultimate Alliance- they occupy my mind when I'm NOT playing them through a quest line. When I'm working, when I'm doing anything else- my mind drifts back to them. I've only played 9 hours of Citizen Sleeper, but when I stop playing it, I'm still there. I keep wondering what Sleeper's next day will bring.
Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion (Xbox One, 5/16)- Thanks, XBox GamePass! An utterly bizarre quasi-parody of simplistic 8 bit quest games where the title character is a rebellious turnip in a whole world of strange food people, mainly vegetables. The gameplay is extremely simplistic and can be somewhat boring- but the more you play it, the more you learn that the world, perhaps, was not always like this. It's distracting enough, and it wraps up just before it begins to wear out its welcome, but perhaps I would feel differently were it not on GamePass.
Assassin's Creed Origins (XBox One, 6/26)- Thanks, XBox GamePass! I guess. Origins tells a somewhat interesting story hidden under an oppressive Witcher clone. I really loved the idea that the Assassin Order only started because Bayek and his son happened to be the wrong place at the wrong time. This centuries long war between the Templars and the Assassins was about one family's tragedy. And that the dissolution of Bayek and Aya's relationship was an unintended consequence. But while the game plays well, it's got too many missions, too many tangents, too many characters, too much STUFF. Ubisofization, people!And the contemporary story, introducing the "new desmond".... well, let's just say I'm not surprised where this character eventually ended up.
There's good character work and good acting. nice graphics. But at the halfway point I began to cease caring.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge- (XBox One, 6/27) Thanks, XBox GamePass! Seriously, thanks. What can I say about this game that hasn't already been said by everyone else? It's a wonderful tribute to the landmark arcade game, and a good game in its own right. Sure, it's not very long, but it doesn't wear out its welcome. It puts a smile on the face and a spring in the step.
Shakedown Hawaii (Nintendo 3DS, 7/22)- Retro City Rampage DX was aremendously fun tribute to 8-bit NES weirdness and classic Grand Theft Auto. It also had a bizarre story I'm not sure I completely understood. But again, who cares because it was fun to play.
The sequel, perhaps in keeping with how the original GTA games grew up with each game, is a more focused affair, with sharper, more satirical goals. Well, kinda. The protagonist is the burned out CEO of Feeble International (har har) who is divorced, has a worthless layabout kid, and is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Deciding to take control of his life, he tears up- Honolulu, I think?- buying up property, going on missions to take out criminal competitors. Scooter, his dumb son, and a henchman who specializes in international travel also figure into the plot. The game plays well enough, basic mechanics similar to Retro City Rampage. The property stuff is a new wrinkle, and there's a lot of things to do to make more and more money... however, there's not much of an incentive to.
You don't really NEED all that much money- weapons are easy enough to come by in the main missions, for example, and it only takes a few bought properties to generate yourself a steady income so you won't go broke. the game doesn't gate missions behind the amount of money you make so there's even less incentive.
The missions are well designed but lack the weirdness and crazy referencing of Retro City. That said, they also provide a slightly better challenge, I thought.
The majority of the imagination comes from the standard riches to even more riches plot, with taking pot shots at consumerism and upper middle class self absorption. I got a chuckle or two, but there's nothing here you haven't seen in the past few GTA games.
I think the problem with Shakedown Hawaii is that it's just too safe- the game never really throws you much of a curveball and the property management stuff feels unnecessary. I appreciated the neat look and liked going around its little world, but there wasn't much of an incentive to stay there.
As Dusk Falls (XBox One, 7/27) Thanks, XBox GamePass. I don't really have much to say about this one- it's not very good, the story that it tells had potential, and I appreciate that it has many perspectives and different paths, and most of all, it's very well acted, by a lot of familiar faces in gaming. But it also just wanders off on too many tangents, and depending on how you play the game, the character you play in the final parts has PTSD over events they may not have experienced.
And most infuriating of all- it is unfinished- the opening menu identifies that it has "Two books" and there's a large, empty space on the side, implying a "third book" and natch, the game picks up a subplot that's threaded through both books ends on a massive cliffhanger to nowhere. Poor form, Interior Night.