Monthly Archives: May 2017

Review: Strafe

Ed’s note: We’re proud to welcome Richenbaum Fotchenstein to The Manor, the first of several new regular contributors. Check out his stuff at https://horrorgasm.org/.


Before I begin, let me take a moment to thank our esteemed host, Lucius Merriweather, for welcoming me into this fine Manor, and thank you in advance to you poor readers out there, for allowing me the opportunity to befoul your unsuspecting eyes with my uncouth words.

Now, if you’ve heard of Strafe, it was most likely due to its controversially NSFW (due to graphic violence) promotional trailer that dropped a few years ago, when the game’s Kickstarter campaign began. If not, Strafe is essentially a parody/tribute to the X-TREEEEEME first person shooters of the 90’s, presented in the form of a sadistic, procedurally generated roguelike. This description alone will either fascinate you or send you screaming for the hills, depending on whether or not you happen to live in that particular patch of land, residing deep within Niche territory.

Personally, as a long-time fan of classic Quakes and Dooms and such, I found the concept very compelling… BUT, now that the time has come, does Strafe live up to its hype? Even now, I’m not entirely sure, which in itself is not exactly a glowing endorsement for the game at all, is it? Strafe absolutely nails the over-the-top 90’s attitude, both in-game and through the course of its continuing, impressively amusing marketing campaign, but when it comes down to the gameplay, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, one that contains many unfortunately amateurish mistakes.

Welcome to the Icarus. It will probably be fine.

The combat is fun, but it’s definitely overly simplistic, with no AI to speak of, just enemies rushing headfirst towards your position once triggered, in a way that feels more similar to post-nineties wave shooters like Serious Sam than the nineties shooters it’s trying to emulate. It’s also viciously difficult, to a degree that will probably put most players off pretty quickly. Not to toot my own horn, but I can beat any Dark Souls type game or roguelike you throw my way, but I still haven’t finished Strafe. (Mark my words though Strafe, I’ll get you someday.)

Time to… PAINT THE TOWN RED!

Another aspect that is oddly both exciting and frustrating is the amount of secrets and Easter eggs. Exciting, because there are so many nods to classic shooters and interesting little hidden mini-games, such as a secret arcade cabinet that lets you play a Wolfenstein 3D clone (done in Game Boy style for some reason) to win some extra power-ups. Frustrating, because most of the secrets are so obscure that you almost certainly won’t find any of them on your own. Having to really work for those optional, non-necessary secrets is one thing, but you also have features like teleporters that allow you to skip worlds, which would be very nice to have access to, considering the fact that full runs of this game can take up to 3-4 hours – but that would be too easy. Instead you have to assemble each teleporter in each world, piece by piece, and 3/4 pieces are random drops, some of which have incredibly low drop rates. I still have never seen the last piece I need to assemble even one of these things, and oh boy am I not a fan of being forced to rely on completely random luck over skill.

The game is also plagued by some baffling design issues, like an absolutely worthless mini-map and weapon upgrades that somehow actually make your weapon worse, as well as a disturbing amount of performance and sound issues and game-breaking glitches across all platforms. While it seems that the developers are trying their hardest to fix all the problems, you have to wonder why it was released in this state to begin with. This is an indie game with no big-company-enforced deadline to meet, yet here we are, about to receive a fifth patch within the first few weeks of release.

I disagree philosophically with the fall-through-the-ground-forever feature.

I love the idea of this game so much, and it’s obvious that the devs were really passionate about it. I even still kind of like it despite all its unfortunate flaws (is this what Stockholm syndrome feels like?), but I simply cannot recommend this game to anyone but the most fanatical nineties shooter fans and/or the most masochistic gamers in search of a challenge that goes beyond ‘hardcore’, into a realm that is, sadly, perhaps too X-TREEEEEEEME for its own good.

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Darksiders: Warmastered marks a last hurrah for the Wii U

Look what just arrived in the post!


Sir Gaulian has been banging on about how good Darksiders is for years, so I finally decided to try it for myself. I initially dismissed the game as a bit emo for my tastes – the ‘LOOK AT ME I’M SAD AND ANGRY’ stylings of try-hard sequel Prince of Persia: Warrior Within sprang to mind – but I’m told it’s more like Zelda than anything else, and that pretty much sold it to me.
The fact that THQ Nordic is releasing this remastered edition on Wii U at all is something of a surprise. It comes seven years after the original game and seven months after the release of Warmastered on Xbox One and PS4, not to mention a good five months or so after the announcement that Nintendo has ceased production of the Wii U. It’s likely to be one of the last boxed releases for Nintendo’s retiring console.

But by all accounts, it’s an excellent game to go out on.

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Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X

Let’s get this out of the way first: Xenoblade Chronicles X is big. Really big.

Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was a pretty damn massive 100+ hour adventure, but its sequel (of sorts) knocks its predecessor into a cocked hat in terms of scale. At around 50 hours in, there was still an entire continent I hadn’t even set foot on.

Getting to that 50-hour mark, however, took a lot of perseverance. Having played the previous game in the series, I thought I’d be able to slip into the gameplay fairly quickly, but no – X throws a cavalcade of new, complicated systems at you with only the briefest of explanations as to how they work, and I spent the first few hours in a state of utter bamboozlement. At least the fighting system remains broadly similar, so I sort of knew what I was doing when trying to beat things up. But it took me many, many hours to learn the tricks of that arcane system of Arts and Auras on the Wii game – I genuinely don’t know how someone new to the series could possibly hope to work out what the hell was going on in Xenoblade Chronicles X without extensive reading of the manual and online forums.

Speaking of which, you really need to read the in-game manual from (virtual) cover to cover to have any clue as what to do. It’s the first time I can remember actually reading a game manual in a very, very long time – probably since when they used to have exciting cartoon pictures of what the pixelly things on screen were ‘meant’ to look like, and space at the back to note down passwords. The fact I haven’t read a manual in years is a testament to how most modern games have improved by providing thorough tutorials and help, allowing you to play with confidence without the need for written explanations – in this sense, Xenoblade Chronicles X is thoroughly old school.

Just look at all of the info you’re presented with. It took me HOURS to work out what all of it means.

So, it’s not the easiest of games to get into, then. But my word, what rewards it offers to those who can master its complexities.

The story is compelling – it starts off with Earth being destroyed, which, as an opener, surely takes some beating. The survivors take off in various ark ships in search of a new home, but they are followed by the aliens that laid waste to the Earth. One ark ship – New LA – crash lands on a planet called Mira after being attacked, and the game sees you exploring the new planet in an attempt to find the ‘Lifehold’ section of the ship that contains stasis pods in which the residents of New LA are sleeping. But the aliens are also attempting to find the Lifehold in an effort to wipe out the human race, for reasons which remain unclear.

But because its Xenoblade, you’re also trying to gather up jewels to decorate dresses, building a Back-to-the-Future style time machine and putting on firework displays for the potato-like Nopon folk, because what would a JRPG be without oddball subquests?

It’s damn pretty though. I should have mentioned that, it’s an extremely pretty game.

And speaking of quests, my god there’s a lot of them. Xenoblade Chronicles had a ridiculous number of missions along the lines of ‘kill X of these monsters’ and ‘collect X of these things’, and Xenoblade Chronicles X ups the ante even further. I’ve no idea of the total number of quests in the game, but it’s certainly considerably more than the previous one. After playing for over 130 hours and completing the main story, I still have an untold number of missions to complete. You could literally play this game for years – especially as it introduces online multiplayer and ridiculously hard ‘Nemesis’ battles that occur around once a month. (I barely scratched the online components, but there’s a healthy number of people playing it, even a couple of years after the game’s release.)

So it’s big and intimidating, but Xenoblade Chronicles X is also one of the most rewarding and compelling games I’ve ever played. Getting my own Skell – a sort of giant bipedal mech – at around 5o hours in was one of the most exciting gaming moments I’ve ever experienced. Some have criticised the length of time it takes for the game to give you one of these metal beasts, but I think the waiting just makes the eventual moment all the more satisfying. Having a Skell completely changes the way you perceive the map, and it suddenly lets you confront the huge beasts you’ve been running away from for most of the game. It’s a pivotal moment, but it’s not the only one – there’s an even better part a few tens of hours further on, which I won’t spoil for you here.

You’ve probably realised by now that I’m pretty fond of the game. It’s not without its flaws: intimidating complexity, some naff music, repetitive quests and a morosely unfunny running gag about eating a Nopon ‘friend’ who tags along with you are just some of them. But the amount of things to do is mind-boggling – and it captures the excitement of exploring an unfamiliar alien world better than any game I’ve played before.

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The Year of Zelda: Link Archer Amiibo

For The Year of Zelda, I’m aiming to finish all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to complete before treating myself to Breath of the Wild at the year’s end. It’s going pretty slowly so far – I’ve only managed to complete Oracle of Seasons from the list – but that’s mostly down to putting 100+ hours into the sublime Xenoblade Chronicles X, as well as going mad for Fire Emblem. Now that Xenoblade is nearly done (my level-50 Skell is fully tooled up and raring to defeat the final boss), I can throw myself into my Zelda quest with renewed vigour.

But even though my intended purchase of Breath of the Wild is still months away, I couldn’t resist treating myself to one of the sweet, sweet amiibo that accompany the game.

Pre-orders for Breath of the Wild amiibo came and went in minutes, but I was lucky enough to spot the Link Archer for sale in Sainsbury’s of all places.

As ever, the detail on these amiibo figures is fantastic. I love Link’s little pointy ears.

Link has now taken pride of place on my office-desk amiibo line-up, right next to Chibi-Robo. I’m tempted to get all of the Breath of the Wild amiibo, but realistically I’ll probably stick at the Link Archer and Zelda – if I can get hold of her. Last time I checked, the Breath of the Wild Zelda amiibo was going for silly money on Amazon (one reseller was charging a hopeful £118), but as with other amiibo, she’ll probably come back into stock at a reasonable price once the initial demand fades.

I can wait…

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