Gaming

  • Mafia 3 Review: A Story of Vengeance in the Bayou

    Short and sweet review: Mafia 3 is surprisingly mature and progressive. A three-hit punch of some of the most fantastic writing, character development, and world building that I have seen in a recent title.

    This is a one-way road, Lincoln, and once you start down it, there ain’t no turning back.
    -Father James

    Why Mafia 3 is My Current Favorite “Underrated” Game 

    Okay, this is the weirdest review I’ve ever had to write, and it’s completely about me, a simple otome-and-adventure-game-playing fangirl, completely adoring freakin’ Mafia 3 by Hangar 13 (published by 2k).

    I have never been overly fond of mobster films or stories. My husband, on the other hand, loves them. So how do I, the fangirl who usually goes for titles in franchises like Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect, and artsy walking sims, end up falling in love with a Mafia game?

    Because this game surprised me in all the right ways. 🙂

    In fact, how did I even get the idea to play Mafia 3?

    My friend Christen first planted the suggestion in my brain, explaining it had a really good story and that it was worth giving it a go. And then my author/history teacher friend, Don, praised the game multiple times on Facebook, especially about its portrayal about racism (and setting racists on fire) in the deep south in ‘68. (Quick shout-out to his book The Token Black Guide: Navigations through Race in America).

    Best Buy had a copy for $16 on sale, Allen gave it a shot, and then when I saw the Collector’s Edition on sale for $40 (a STEAL), I decided to give it a go.

    Okay, so what the heck is Mafia 3 about anyway?

    Long story short: You play the entire game as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam vet who returns home from war and gets mixed up in a revenge plot.

    (Minor Spoilers) The story unfolds in New Bordeaux, a direct homage to New Orleans. Lincoln’s family (they took him in after he was orphaned) happens to be the leading black gang in New Bordeaux, controlling Delray Hollow’s criminal activity. Lincoln is initially torn when he returns home from war. He’s delighted to see Sammy (his father figure and the leader of the black mob), but wants to move on. He doesn’t feel ready to tell his family, just yet. How do you tell your criminal family that you maybe just wanna have a simple skilled laborer job?

    But Lincoln’s main weakness is his loyalty to his family. When Sammy finds himself in debt with Sal Marcono, the head of the Italian mob and the boss of all the districts, Lincoln volunteers for an impossible heist to clear Sammy’s debt. Unfortunately, Marcano betrays them, killing everyone and leaving Lincoln for dead.

    The only two people Lincoln has left in his life are his local pastor, Father James, who gives Lincoln a place to recover and seek spiritual guidance, and his CIA ops buddy, John Donovan, who offers to help him enact his revenge.

    Leaving Lincoln with an angel and a devil firmly on each shoulder.

    Despite the challenges and the long road ahead, starting with almost nothing but the burned-out bar that Sammy owned, Lincoln is ready. He’s done more than his share of violence in Vietnam, and his experience in warfare enriches the story as he prepares to wage his own war over the districts Sal Marcano owns. Just like he and Donovan did in their ops missions, they’ll chip away at Marcano’s resources until he has nothing left.  

    Sal is a cancer. A leech. The only way to make that right is by killing every cocksucker who’s ever looked at that piece of shit.
    – John Donovan

    Fangirl Impressions

    The main characters are written well and incredibly engaging, but the standouts in the game are definitely Lincoln and Donovan.

    First of all, I would like to raise my arms in the air and praise the developers for putting so much love into all the characters; the underbosses you recruit, the leaders you take down, and many of the side characters. The cutscenes are cinematic with some fantastic mo-cap performances. The voice acting is top notch. Additionally, the characters are deliciously complex; it’s a crime story, and nobody is coming out of this with their hands clean. And the game doesn’t shy away from this fact. But two characters in particular hit just right for my inner fangirl.

    The main character, Lincoln Clay, is A+.

    Lincoln is charming as hell and it’s a blast to play him. He’s not the typical Hollywood black gangster stereotype (Lincoln is bi-racial). He’s a complex character who left me constantly surprised. Lincoln is open-minded, charming, and displays a disarming patience in dealing with racist assholes of the deep south. He’s loyal to his family and friends, and later earns the trust of major gang leaders (while making sure they know he means business if they decide to screw him).

    But then the switch flips. Hangar 13 does a great job of showing us how brutal, efficient, and tactical Lincoln is, and we discover it’s how he was in the war; that he has a gift at controlling the battlefield and getting the job done with overwhelming odds. Lincoln’s life as a soldier and now a rising mob boss work very well in the narrative, and it helps the construction of the tale and why he’s able to pursue a problem in a way that other criminals may not have considered. Especially with some particularly brutal public executions to get his point across throughout the game in a shock and awe scheme. 

    I also loved how he treats groups differently in his kill moves. Racists get stabbed 6 times in the face. Others get a quick throat slash. And for a few ladies I meleed, he punches them in the face before politely laying them on the ground to nap. 😛 Lincoln has a soft side and doesn’t like murdering women (though you can override this and shoot them/knock them over in the street). The gameplay itself adds just the right details to understanding who Lincoln is as a man.

    John Donovan is fantastic as a handler and… well, utter psychopath.

    When Lincoln is nearly killed, he utters one name: Donovan. And immediately, we know that the dude’s going to be fairly important. John Donovan is a product of the CIA, and the one person Lincoln clearly trusts as brother throughout the entire game. Donovan realized Lincoln’s combat skills in classified missions they ran in Vietnam, and for inexplicable reasons (likely how well they operate together), he seems willing to drop everything to swoop in and act as Lincoln’s handler again. Donovan coops up in a nearby hotel room with stolen FBI surveillance equipment. So as Lincoln seems to pave down anyone in his way, it’s Donovan that helps him learn who to target and what their weak point is.

    Donovan is also absolutely fucking nuts. In all the best possible ways. He clearly loves being a tool in war. He convinces himself that he’s just willing to do what it takes to serve his country (and seemingly his best friend, but he takes such deadpan delight in it that it’s really hard not to fall in love with his personality. His voice actor seriously gets major kudos from me for absolutely nailing it. Donovan is the perfect character to act as Lincoln’s “man in the sky,” and provides excellent comedic relief.

    He’s also happy to accept that he and Lincoln are fucked up in their own ways, and are just doing what they have to do.

    It doesn’t shy away from the racism of the era.

    The game has a pretty cool disclaimer before it starts, saying that in an effort to have an accurate time piece, there is going to be a lot of content that is offensive.

    You play a black dude in the south in ‘68.

    Folks are going to do more than yell “nigger” at you.

    I feel that Mafia 3’s treatment of this reality, especially today where there are still countless racist injustices, is a positive over a negative. It acknowledges that racism is an issue, and we know Lincoln would be able to eradicate it, but at the very least we can run over racists motherfuckers with their own confederate flag-waving trucks. In fact, Lincoln has much more violent kill animations with the racist assholes of the Southern Union gang in the game.

    You can even set set racists on fire with molotov cocktails.

    It’s encouraged in a mission and it’s very therapeutic! (AND you get to gun down a KKK rally!)

    The location, music, and all that A+

    New Bordeaux is beautifully crafted, and seizing control of the districts is pretty satisfying.

    While there are flaws in the sandbox of New Bordeaux, is still stands out as its own character piece. The lighting and game rendering suit the landscape, and the districts stand apart. Downtown, suburban, bayou, slums, industrial; everything is there and the era is reflected in every corner, from the roads to the architecture.

    Every district has its own lifeblood, and the game adds an extra layer of complexity as you get to directly decide which of the three underbosses – Cassandra, Vito, or Burke – get to control the districts and rackets within. You can even choose to let one underboss has sway over all the districts, but naturally that’s going to lead to strife and possibly betrayal.

    The soundtrack is gorgeously curated and really enriches the game.

    It’s super satisfying to hear House of the Rising Sun, Paint it Black, or Sympathy for the Devil as I wage war on rival mob members and roll around New Bordeaux. 🙂 I’m very happy I splurged on the Collector’s Edition (which was on sale for $40), which included some actual vinyl records.

    Great DLC content adds to the story

    The DLC is absolutely worth it; if you can afford it, you should get it. I mean, the game’s on sale for $20 at this point, and if you’re lucky the Collectors Edition or the Deluxe Edition can be snagged for dirt cheap too.

    Faster Baby and No Stone Unturned should be be played during the main campaign. Faster Baby allows you to help the game’s equivalent of the Black Panthers in a sundown town, and No Stone Unturned gives a side story with my favorte character Donovan as he tries to stop a former operative who left him for dead.

    Sign of the Times is suited for post-game, and it’s a nice send off because the DLC allows you to (minor spoilers) restore Sammy’s bar. It’s also a gameplay departure, as it walks you through a cult story with some fun murder-investigation mechanics and some freaky-ass scenes.

    Honestly, the game did have some minor flaws (and glitches).

    I wanted more customization for Lincoln. Watch_Dogs 2 is exemplary in how it handles character customization. Lincoln is an awesome character, and I wish I had a ton more to dress him up with to make him look fine as hell as we drove over racists.

    I wanted fast travel. Driving gets old at some points. I mean, this one is a hard one to complain about, because the driving around does flesh out the districts (as you drive from on to another), but after doing that 40 times….

    I wanted more customization for his car. Because there’s no fast travel, you have to drive. I wanted a killer car customization system, and the game’s was a little lacking for me.

    I wanted more variety in side missions. With the Faster Baby DLC, I decided to say “screw it” to the side missions that allowed my district bosses to generate income and just hover around my weed house with MJ.

    Glitches were frequent. I know patching games aren’t easy; I did experience a few graphical glitches, but thankfully it didn’t kill my experience.

    New Bordeaux can feel lifeless at times. Again, I wish the Ubisoft devs on Watch_Dogs 2 could help them flesh out the interactions in the world the way they did for San Francisco.

    If these issues didn’t exist, Mafia 3 would have almost held a GOTY spot in my heart.

    Problematic Content Warnings:

    • Lots of violence. In-your-face-I-have-to-look-away-for-a-sec-wow violence. Lincoln is BRUTAL. Other characters are also brutal.
    • Some rape content, but nothing directly shown (not glamorized like Game of Thrones). Addressed respectfully. 
    • Many, many adult themes. Drugs, human trafficking, sex, murders, super violent murders. Not a kids game. 🙂

    The game is on sale, so at this point.. you should get it. 😀

    Seriously. Minor issues aside, it’s wroth $20 for the story and characters. Give it a go!

  • Horizon: Zero Dawn is My Current Game of the Year (Review)

    Horizon: Zero Dawn – Mini-Review!

    Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that I’d been loosely following for a while. It’s a Playstation exclusive (sorry!), by Guerilla Games – the folks behind the Killzone series. Which sounds like a weird departure, but I soon learned that this game is directly reflective of the talent behind that studio.
    I was on the fence about cancelling my pre-order for Mass Effect: Andromeda, but my friend Robi Dean insisted that I should just borrow his copy about Horizon: Zero Dawn so that I can still get Mass Effect: Andromeda. (Review for that coming soon.) He lent it to me last week, and I’m already 20+ hours in. I. Am. Obsessed. I can’t express just how many of the right buttons this game is hitting for me. I am even slightly regretting rushing this for ME:A. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that you need to give a go.
    The juxtaposition of the tribal world with technology is a weird combination that Guerrilla manages to seamlessly intertwine.

    Aloy is an Awesome Main Character

    Aloy is an outcast and she finds herself on a quest to discuss her lineage that also folds into a “save the world” story-line as machines grow more and more malevolent. Aloy herself is fantastically voiced by Ashley Burch. Burch plays an expressive, inquisitive, and brave Aloy. Aloy’s designs are fabulous, and her interaction with the world around her feels genuine and real. she is a blast to play and I am really enjoying watching her story unfold as I play.

    Other Characters

    In short: really well acted and fleshed out. Sure, some fall into predictable tropes, but I felt connected to them. Even characters I was weary about, I fell in love with later. This game kept me guessing on characters and I’m stoked that just as much love and craft was put into the supporting cast.

    What’s Up With the Tribes?

    Basically, a LONG time has passed since civilization as we know it ended. Why are people afraid of the old cities and technology? How did they turn into tribes? I will say I was a little bit concerned that the tribes would be hokey, but the story thoroughly explains how Horizon: Zero Dawn‘s world occurred.

    Open World

    The open world is just phenomenally gorgeous. The starting area may feel boring at first, and at moments it can feel like a rehash of Witcher 3‘s landscapes. But once you fold into the second act of visiting Meridian and hoofing/riding from one corner of the world to the next, you’ll realize just how diverse the ecosystems are.
    I have to do an extra shout-out for how beautifully lit the locations are. Guerrilla really pushed the limits of the PS4.

    Gorgeous Set Pieces

    You know how in the Uncharted series you’ll find a mystical city in the end, visit for 4 minutes, and then promptly escape its destruction? Horizon: Zero Dawn lets you stay and explore the epic city and do quests for it. Meridian is one of the most jaw-dropping locations I have visited in a game.
    And how the environment affects thing! When it rains in any location, I stop to see how the forest dampens. When it’s night, the moon and fog are eerie and ethereal. Dust storms remind me of our local haboobs (but prettier). It’s a work of art.

    Hunting the Beasties!

    The combat is smooth, and appropriately challenging. You can get bag of tricks, and how you use them is completely up to your game style. You can hide and snipe down fortresses (reminded me of Far Cry), or override machines and use them to take down other machines and evil humans. The machines are FUN to fight, and each has a series of attacks to learn to take down. If you like the hunting, there are also challenged in the game in the form of hunting grounds and bandit camps.

    Side Quests Flesh Out the World

    Plenty of side quests flesh out the world and the different tribes. I fully recommend them – as it was in Witcher 3, some of the side quests are more fun than the main story missions. There are also different quest types, so you can switch them up depending on how you feel.

    My Verdict: A Must Buy

    If you like open-world games with a boatload of quests, I believe that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a system seller the way The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a system seller for Nintendo Switch. Witcher 3 was my GOTY of 2015, Uncharted 4 was my GOTY for 2016, and without question– Horizon: Zero Dawn is currently in the running for my favorite game of 2017.
  • Review: Mad Max, an Unexpected Post-Apocalyptic Treasure

    Mad Max is a game that slipped under my radar for several months. My husband and I tried a demo at San Diego Comic-Con 2015, but it didn’t engage us enough to pay full price when it came out last year. I also thought the trailer was underwhelming, despite a good friend (who worked to promote the game at conventions) who tried to convince me it was a lot of fun.

    Eventually, I was burned out on Fallout 4, but I wanted another post-apocalyptic world to explore. Holiday deals and a Best Buy GCU discount net me the game for $24 bucks, so I couldn’t put it off anymore.

    Thankfully, for me, Mad Max delivers in almost every single way for a post-apocalyptic adventure!

    Quick Summary if You’re Too Busy to Read This Whole Thing

    • Open World
    • Main Missions and Side Missions
    • Character and Car Customization
    • Only One Main Companion
    • Unique Max – not Mel Gibson or Tom Hardy
    • Car Battles are a Blast
    • Learning Curve, but Satisfying Once You’re Upgraded
    • Freakin’ Fire Storms YEAH!
    • Max is Pretty Cute for a Raggedy Dude, Not Gonna Lie
    • Anabel recommends this game for it’s artistic value, open world, and dark, post-apocalyptic story.

    The Story

    Scrotus

    Scrotus making the best of his injury.

    A kinda-sorta continuation of Mad Max: Fury Road (my favorite film of 2015), Mad Max doesn’t feel like a direct sequel. To enjoy the game, you have to accept it as a parallel universe; an experience where enough of the elements are the same to make it a Mad Max game. I felt that the game greatly respected the franchise, and it showed in the world building, art, and character designs.

    My husband, a huge fan of the franchise, also gave the story a pass for it’s treatment of Mad Max film lore.

    To enjoy the game, you have to accept it as a parallel universe; an experience where enough of the elements are the same to make it a Mad Max game.

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    Words of advice from Chumbucket, one of the best characters of the game.

    The game starts with Max losing his Interceptor (the “black on black” to characters in the game) to one of Scrotus’ war parties. The abominable Scrotus, a surviving son of Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road, is very similar in build to his brother Rictus.

    Long story short, you lose the car and get your ass whooped. Luckily, you deal a devastating chainsaw-t0-the-head injury to Scrotus, placing a target on your back for the entire game by several factions.

    Defeated, Max wakes up in the wasteland and befriends an injured dog the war party left for dead. Eventually, the dog leads you to a strange, hunchbacked, nonsensical scavenger named Chumbucket, who witnessed what happened to you and believes that the “Angel of Combustion” (a religious figure only he seems to believe in) delivered you to him as a sort of mythological driver/Saint. Chumbucket is a former Blackfinger (mechanic) for Gas Town, and offers to help you build a new car: the legendary Magnum Opus, which Chumbucket swears will be even greater than the “black on black.” Max, living in the moment as he runs away from his past, agrees with the plan so he can eventually depart the current wasteland through the Plains of Silence to do Lord-knows-what.

    The Magnum Opus starts out as a rusty frame (to Max’s chagrin), and you spend the game adventuring with Chumbucket to build it to its legendary status. Max needs a car, Chumbucket needs a driver – the best driver. An uneasy partnership begins, with Max and Chumbucket using each other for their strained mutual goal.

    Throughout the game, Max has to make alliances with leaders of each wasteland territory, in order to progress and eventually get to the V-8 engine he needs for the Magnum Opus in Gas Town.. where Scrotus is.

    Max and Chumbucket

    Max burning rubber in the Magnum Opus with Chumbucket in the back.

    Max & Car Customization

    The main protagonist isn’t Tom Hardy or Mel Gibson. He’s a new Max, and his character design is kind of a mish-mash of the other Maxes and the “generic dark-haired white guy” game trope. There are just enough character customization options to make him feel like “your” Max – you can play a handsome and shirtless version of Max, or a really scruffy over-grown bearded “Duck Dynasty” version. You can wear face paint, goggles, bandana, combination, etc. The options are limited, but there are just enough in there. I played shirtless Max for a while (because why not?), but I quickly ended up adding on his highest upgrade jacket, because the armor boost was worth it.

    The car customization is where the game REALLY shines. It takes a long time to build enough scrap to do it, but there are lots of car customization options for the Magnum Opus. I’m not much of a car person, but the vehicles are absolutely gorgeous. I almost enjoyed having enemy factions attack me on the road, so I could admire their rides! You also get a lot of weapons and armor upgrades, to turn the Magnum Opus into the ultimate wasteland survival vehicle.

    The Landscape is a Character

    Collapsed Ship

    A collapsed ship on the horizon.

    The wasteland tells many stories as you wander around. You’ll find survivors building a culture out of collapses ships, towers, planes, and other structures form the “old world.” It’s hard to describe how incredibly beautiful many of the areas are, especially when a tempest rolls into the area.

    Additionally, not to be overly morbid, but the use of gore is very artistic. This is definitely an M-rated game for a reason. You know how Hannibal build that stack of bodies into a totem pole on the Hannibal TV show? In the game, similar totem poles are literally everywhere, and you have to tear them down. Camps are also strewn with butchered people, and you often find cannibal dens.

    Playing the Game the Right Way

    You can’t rush the game, you need to take your time to really enjoy it. While 50% of the game’s content has some really gorgeous (in the context of the world) locations, enough of the side-missions can feel burdensome with recycled objectives. Honestly, I played the game when I felt like aimless and just chose random objectives to accomplish.

    You also can’t gauge how a mission, scavenge hunt, or camp will be by it’s star difficulty rating or description. One 5-star camp was a breeze to pass through, while a 3-star camp took me a few times to conquer.

    Random encounters are awesome, though! For example, I found a fascinating shrine with a very lovely spread of dead corpses both piled in a pit and dangling above me in a cult-like manner. Unlike other locations, there were no enemies around to fight, so I wondered: who left these bodies here? Were they coming back? There were lit braziers, so the location had to have an occupant. Upon departing that location, there was a glint of light in the horizon, and I realized the shrine’s occupant was a sniper who would kill travelers who were also drawn to the landmark and add them to his collection.

    Little surprises like that keep the game fresh when the stronghold fetch missions grew redundant.

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    Take your time to upgrade!

    Take Your Time To Upgrade

    Don’t balk on taking the time to upgrade strongholds, despite my warnings that the act can be repetitive. It’s worth it. Some locations and missions spike in difficultly, and you’ll be grateful for the upgrades.

    Female Character Representation

    Since this is a fangirl site, I feel like I should touch on it. Female representation is a bit underwhelming. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, there is the implication of a character being a sex slave like Immortan Joe’s “wives,” but thankfully nothing is shown of it (as far as I’m aware). It’s not exploitative, like how other forms of media address the topic.

    Sadly, there is not an awesome female character like Furiosa, or a diverse group of female characters like the “wives” in Fury Road. Roughly 85% of main speaking characters are men. You meet Hope (a concubine who believes you can save her and her daughter, Glory) who is is very plot-heavy and Pink Eye (who is a stronghold leader). And maybe some random NPCs.

    Jeet, Stronghold Leader

    Jeet, one of the Stronghold leaders.

    Likes / What Engaged Me:

    • Chumbucket. Initially, Chumbucket is kind of freaky and I didn’t think I would like being saddled with him for the entire game. He grew on me, and I was happy to have him as a companion in my adventure. (You have him as a companion the entire game, your own personal mutant mechanic and sidekick.) He also speaks in a delightful juxtaposition of religious ideology and car culture.
    • Relics. Relics are little historical artifacts you collect in the world, that tell the story of what the world was like as it was collapsing. Relics are deliciously morbid.
    • Surprisingly Diverse Wasteland Locations. The game takes place in 5 main locations in the apocalyptic wasteland. You’d think having 4 desert wasteland zones would be boring.. but surprisingly, it’s not. Jeet’s territory feels like New Mexico, Pink Eye’s territory feels like Sedona, Gutgash’s territory feels almost like an alien landscape at points, the Dunes are.. well. giant dunes, and Deep Friah’s land is a disgusting garbage dump outside of Gas Town. (I guess Gas Town counts as the last location, but I consider it part of the Deep Friah area map-wise).
    • Main Character Designs. The stronghold leaders, main characters, and some bosses have absolutely inspired designs. And their outfits are functional, to an extent, in this version of the apocalypse. When outfits are a bit outrageous, little story notes try to explain them. (The infamous S&M outfits some bosses wear work with their messed up lifestyles described in the game. Torture. Lots of torture.)
    • Car battles are addictive. I love love love taking down convoys, and coming up with strategies to break them down car by car to get the prize on the lead vehicle.
    • Once Max is built up, combat is a LOT of fun. It’s so, so satisfying to beat the crap out of a group of dudes in the game when you unlock all of Max’s special melee attacks!
    • Brutal kill animations and exploding things are very addictive. Max is ruthless when it comes to accomplishing his goal. It’s very satisfying to take down 20 enemies in waves with a multitude of finishing moves, shiv kills, shotgun kills, explosions, and more.
    • Fun Customization! My husband and I had two different play styles with our respective cars and upgrades. Lots of fun!
    • Strategy of trying to take down camps. You have to plan how to take out certain enemy camps from outside and within. Thankfully, many wasteland citizens are happy to suggest tips and hidden entrances!

    Dislikes / My Nitpicks:

    Engine

    Dat engine!

    • Not enough “Dog”! I wish you could do more with the dog, and I wish the dog’s land mine missions weren’t reliant on driving in the defenseless, stupid buggy.
    • Some NPC/boss designs feel dialed-in. Every “Top Dog” mini boss just has a different skin, and they all fight the same. Wastelanders who are not main-mission based all look and sound the same. Skyrim syndrome.
    • Lack of extended RPG/Customization Trees / Limited Max designing. I wish we had more options to change his outfit/colors, but most of the customization is focused on the car. Also, the upgrades to Max are fairly linear. In the game’s defense, it suits the character.
    • Salvaging gets repetitive. Everything has to be salvaged. Everything needs salvage. Salvage can be a pain in the butt to find in the beginning. It takes a long time to build up the strongholds to get the perks that have salvage automatically collected.
    • Choppy cutscenes/frame rate. Sometimes the game just can’t handle what’s going on, and the frame rate plummets significantly. It happens often enough to be noticeable.
    • Pathfinding and finding target objectives can be confusing.

    Overall, the game is a fantastic experience and I’m very happy with my purchase!

    All images for this article were provided by the Mad Max Tumblr page. May the Angel of Combustion bless the marketing team for making this resource available. 🙂