Perhaps the most surprising game this month, Just Cause 3 is a triple A game that is only a year old making it an excellent catch for a Plus user. It’s essentially a giant virtual sandbox were the toys are explosions and the laws of physics come to die a humiliating death. You play as returning protagonist Rico Rodriguez, native of the fictional country of Medici which is under the iron fist of mad dictator General Sebastiano Di Ravello who has been mining the rare resource Bavarium in his plan for global domination or something. Also, David Tennent shines as himself if he were kidnapped by a dictator and forced to be a propaganda mouthpiece.
Really, I didn’t get too far into the plot since the meat of the game is exploration and explosions. You’re equipped with a grappling hook, parachute and wingsuit which allow you to traverse the world like a caffeine addled Batman Spider-man hybrid. You can also hijack everything from a helicopter to a moped and return it to a rebel warehouse to be studied and replicated and airdropped at any time with your supply grenades along with any guns you might have acquired. The combat itself is serviceable enough though it’s unusually designed since the ability to zoom in or look down the sights, a feature of just about every 3rd person shooter since the Elizabethan era is only available as an unlockable upgrade which made combat feel more uncomfortable than being fired at from 20 different directions usually is.
There is some variety, most notably your ability to tether anything to anything then bring them together like an exploding barrel to a fuel container, or a man’s face into a wall, or a man and a helicopter, just hitting people against anything was good for a laugh. It can get a tad repetitive though, and the sheer size of the map is both impressive and a little daunting. If you are not a fan of the liberate the districts explore all the little icons stylle of gameplay then you will most likely find the game a bit tedious. But, if you want some good popcorn action and wholesome explosion filled murder this is probably the most advanced and beautiful way to do it.
3.75 Preposterous Parachutes out of 5.
Assassins Creed Freedoms Cry is the standalone spinoff from the excellent Assassin Creed IV Black Flag. Set 20 years later, you play as your first mate Adewale who is shipwrecked in Haiti while pursuing the Templars and their mysterious McGuffin box whose contents are never revealed. This is fitting though as the usual alien magic conspiracy elements of the never-ending Assassin Templar war are swept away in favor of a much simpler tale of liberating slaves which is woven nicely into the gameplay. You can liberate plantations but if you’re not stealthy enough slaves will be killed as retaliation and as you explore the city you will constantly see acts of casual cruelty from people being auctioned, tortured, or pursued like animals.
This makes it incredibly satisfying when you kill the people responsible and recruit new members for your growing resistance. This leads to a well done but deeply disturbing scene on a slave ship near the end, but gameplay wise it doesn’t really matter how many slaves you save except to continue the story or unlock some upgrades. However, I still felt compelled to do every side mission I could, something I haven’t felt compelled to do since helping children get their balloons in Spider-man 2.
The story isn’t anything exceptional, but the gameplay is Black Flag but condensed. The sailing remains a highlight though your ocean of exploration is much more limited. The opening level is a tad frustrating since it expects you to have already played an Assassins Creed game and remembered the combat controls while giving you nothing but your hidden blades against people with swords. It was also annoying that you didn’t get any new sea shanties since the new music with its Haitian chorus and songs adds a unique flavor to everything. Overall a solid gameplay experience with an alright story made richer by its willingness to scratch the surface on the horrors of slavery adding an easy but important emotional connection to the game.
3.5 Liberated Plantations out of 5.
Super Motherload surprised me with how engaging and entertaining it was. There are no enemies or monsters to fight, you’re just a miner on Mars working for a very Russian esq company as you dig down, gather resources, return to base for upgrades and to refuel, then rinse lather repeat. At first at least. As you dig further and further down you begin finding old abandoned stations you can begin using so you don’t have to go all the way up to the surface. Along with old distress beacons calling for help against some sort of experiment that has gone horribly horribly wrong. Don’t worry though! Those are just old TV broadcasts. At least that’s what your every shiftier Soviet Union style bosses assure you. Though the monster bones and messages from a mysterious masked figure suggest otherwise.
As you go deeper you’ll have to use a different series of explosives to get through barriers, lava, or just to get out-of-the-way gems. To get more money you gather resources in a particular order such as getting gold and bronze which forms a different metal worth more or get a large amount of the same metal for extra cash. The game is a bit vague about this and related matters which was a bit frustrating after I had already gone through several levels worth of treasure.
Also, later missions require you to obtain out-of-the-way items that are all over the place in the earlier levels but which aren’t accessible until they are needed for the story which is some tedious backtracking and many of the higher tier upgrades require a ridiculous amount of money to buy. Which is unfortunate since by the time you get to that level of wealth the game is practically over (Metaphor for life?). But even with all of this, the game remained wonderfully atmospheric and really made me care about my humble little mining ship and its wonderful adventures of soul crushing dangerous labor.
4 Gems and Gainax endings out of 5.
Snakeball is an odd little thing. Imagine the classic Atari game snake, combined with a bit of soccer, and a dash of explosions. You play as a cute little sci-fi thing riding a robot snake in the future! You collect orbs which embiggen your robosnake and can potentially kill you if you turn too quickly. You get bonus points for collecting orbs the same color as well as how long you can go before you get rid of the bomb balls which will explode in 10 seconds but if timed correctly can be fired at a hapless player to be absorbed and eaten. It’s designed well enough, the music is ok and it’s probably mayhem if you can get other players online, but it wasn’t particularly engaging and the tutorial levels take way to long. They are optional though so there’s that.
3 Potential Snake Puns out of 5.
Downwell is another roguelike procedurally generated retro looking games that are a dime a dozen these days. The exception for this one is that it is exceptionally well designed. Think of it as a horizontal shoot em up, since as you fall you start equipped only with your gunboots which are exactly what they sound like. Not only do they allow you to blast away at enemies that aren’t killed by your stomp attack, they can provide you with just enough boost to maneuver or reach a missed platform, preferably to reach one of the rare safe rooms that can have upgrades for your gunboots or an item shop where you can exchange any gems you collect for food stuffs and other assorted items. The art style is simple but very endearing. And as the game gets faster and more intense you will panic and have fun doing it.
But, sometimes you move too quickly and have no reasonable way to predict where the next platform will be and can easily miss a safe room which become more important as the levels go on. In addition, it can be difficult to tell what item upgrades will do to your gunboots. You could accidentally go from the precise and devastating laser boot, to a less dangerous and awesome six shooters with no easy way to get the old one back. So while potentially addictive it didn’t quite grab me, but I could see myself potentially losing hours into this strange dark little world.
3.5 shotgun boots out of 5.
Finally, we have Level 22. A stealth game where you play as Gary a poor working stiff trying to sneak into his office before he is spotted and fired for his chronic tardiness. Along the way you’ll acquire mundane office objects to help in you quest such as a newspaper to hide behind, a donut to distract a guard, and the occasional explosives to fight bosses like the security guard on a golf cart. You know, the usual. The game has a nice art design and does an excellent job at making a mundane office feel like a dangerous enemy base ala Metal gear.
Gary remains a likable albeit 2 dimensional and you want to see him succeed at his seemingly simple task. Though the game for the most part does a good job at conveying what you’re supposed to do, there were some moments where it could have been clearer and I only succeeded by accident like discovering I could move into air vents which took a lot longer to figure out then it should have. But the stealth works fine and the atmosphere makes the mundane location feel delightfully absurd and entertaining, especially if you’ve worked in such a location or have watched a ton of The Office.
3.5 office hijinks out of 5.