Thoughts on Fallout 4

Reviews, Video Games

The Fallout series has been at the top of my list of favorite franchises for a number of years. I put 200+ hours into both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas and I’ve played the original games through multiple times. You could say that it was predetermined that I would champion Fallout 4 as the must have game of 2015. And you wouldn’t be far off.

I came into The Commonwealth expecting to love every second of my time there. After all, the gunplay is vastly improved, the setting is interesting to me (loved seeing what they did with Fenway), and I was more than intrigued by the new crafting system seen in both your equipment and your settlements. Heck, I put 200+ hours into this game (platinumed it even) and couldn’t help but ask myself, “is that it?”

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It looks big, but why doesn’t it feel that way?

You see, in a lot of ways, my time with Fallout 4 is perfectly summed up by looking at one of the main antagonists in story, the Synths. Synths are faster, stronger, smarter, and less likely to die from radiation poisoning than their human counterparts. However, as machines, they don’t have the soul that makes human beings human. In almost every sense of the word, they’re perfect, but, even then, they can’t hold a candle to the real thing.

And that’s how I feel about Fallout 4. For all intents and purposes, Fallout 4 is “better” than Fallout 3 or New Vegas. The “gamey” segments of the game take a massive step forward. Playing without V.A.T.S. is finally possible because the guns actually control decently well. The crafting system is deep, if clunky, and gives adventurers something to do when they get bored of exploring The Commonwealth. Speaking of The Commonwealth, it’s absolutely chock full of things to do. The density and scale of Boston are well represented here and put the relatively sparse Capital Wasteland and New Vegas to shame. There aren’t any boring subway tunnels or desolate deserts to explore here.

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A Sample of the Weapon Crafting

But, even with all of those buildings and environments to explore, Fallout 4 feels empty. At first, exploration feels great because there’s so much of it. But then you’ll hit your 20th named area, walk inside, look around, and realize that there’s nothing interesting here. The modern Fallout series has always struggled to tell a compelling main narrative; it’s the side stories and little moments out in the wastes that bring the game to life and give it character. And, in Fallout 4, there’s almost none of that.

There’s an image floating around that compares the quests offered in Fallout 4 to those in Skyrim that I’ll link here: https://imgur.com/a/Mvc3i. As you can see, the number of quests has gone down significantly and, as someone who’s done most of them, quite a few of those are repeatable and offer little to no story development. The most interesting quests in Fallout 4 are, undoubtedly, the companion quests. Unlike the majority of the game, your companions are actual characters with backstories and more than three lines of dialogue. Unfortunately, there are only four of those, which means the nine other companions are largely left out to dry. That doesn’t necessarily mean those companions aren’t worth picking up, it just means their impact is minimal.

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Nick Valentine has one of the better Companion Quests in the game.

Even putting the actual quests and narrative aside, the world feels like a barren wasteland, and not in a good way. In past Fallout games, the world felt lived in, there were people in the most random locations that made the wastes feel like a real place. This isn’t the case in Fallout 4. There are no memorable locations that aren’t included in the main storyline. You won’t find a Republic of Dave or a Gang of Granies. Those kind of fun, one-off experiences are no longer present in this world and that takes the magic out of what made Fallout such a popular series for me.

Even still, it’s hard to find much else to fault in this game (aside from the many bugs that are synonymous with Bethesda open-world games). In many ways, it is the best video game in the modern line of Fallout titles. However, it goes so far away from the essence of what Fallout is, that it’s hard for me to recommend even after spending 200 hours mostly enjoying myself. That’s why this isn’t a real review of the game. That would be me praising the game for the vast majority of the post and then mentioning in a few paragraphs how badly it fails at capturing the Fallout spirit. Instead, I think it’s important to simply focus on why this game isn’t what Fallout fans like myself are looking.

Should you play this game? NO, NOT REALLY

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Scoring this game would be near impossible for me. It’s difficult to separate my expectations for a Fallout game from what I look for when trying to critically look at a video game. Maybe that makes me a poor reviewer; however, I think it’s important for a franchise as big as this one to, at least somewhat, cater to their fans. This entry goes against the main thing I would consider crucial to a modern day Fallout game; a wasteland filled with interesting characters who all have stories to tell.

Fallout 4 is bigger, stronger, faster, and possibly better than the games that came before it. But, much like a synth replacing a loved family member, it lacks the soul that made the series special and, no matter how polished and seemingly perfect the replication is, it will never have the same impact of the thing it replaced.

Survivor: Second Chance – Week 13 Power Rankings

Survivor

Abi was a victim of Tasha incorrectly leveraging her position in the middle of two alliances and giving that power to Spencer. I’m not saying Abi should’ve stayed, because it’s nice to have at least one goat out of the game. However, I think Tasha made a big mistake to not take out Keith this week and stay with the women’s alliance for at least one more week. Does that decision drop her from the top spot in my power rankings? Read on to find out.

7) Abi-Maria Gomes (0)

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Strategy: 4   Challenge: 3   Entertainment: 5   Total: 12

Hurricane Abi has finally petered out. I thought this boot would come much earlier; however, Abi was able to (at least in the edit) lay low for most of the post-merge game. That was quite a feat given how volatile she had been in the pre-merge. That said, you knew the fireworks were coming at some point and we starting getting glimpses of it a few weeks ago. Abi was successfully blindsided by Spencer, so we didn’t get a show from during this episode, but I expect her jury speech with be equal parts unintelligible and scathing, especially if Spencer makes Final Tribal Council.

6) Kimmi Kappenberg (0)

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Strategy: 6 Challenge: 3   Entertainment: 5   Total: 14  

Kimmi is playing the best goat game of anybody right now. Keith will need to win at least one more immunity to have a shot at making FTC, but Kimmi might just make it if she sticks with the Jeremy, Spencer, Tasha trio at the next vote. The question will be, can Kimmi convince either Jeremy or Spencer to drag her in spite of Tasha’s “no goats” philosophy on this season. It’ll be an interesting development to watch.

5) Kelley Wentworth(-3)

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Strategy: 5   Challenge: 5   Entertainment: 5   Total: 15

Wentworth had a great path to FTC. She had Abi locked in and seemingly had Keith and Spencer on her side. She even had an idol if things got tricky. But then, she seemingly neglected the women’s alliance she helped build last episode and it turned on her. If there’s anything not on television that I’d like to see from this season, it’s how the divide between Kelley/Abi and Tasha/Kimmi came about. Those four could’ve easily made it to at least final five together, but it just didn’t happen. And the edit never told us why. Hopefully I get some answers in future exit interviews.

4) Tasha Fox(-4)

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Strategy: 8   Challenge: 2   Entertainment: 7   Total: 17

I thought Tasha was better placed than anyone following the Joe boot. I assumed she and the other women would go after Keith to solidify their numbers and give Tasha an opportunity to flip back to Jeremy and Spencer if things smelled fishy on the other side. Tasha decided to go another way and reaffirm her allegiance to Jeremy and Spencer. That move doesn’t really hurt her as much as the other move would’ve, seemingly, helped more. That said, I have to deep Tasha’s spot relatively low following an immunity challenge performance that saw her almost drown. Obviously, you don’t want to kick anyone while they’re down, but it did have to affect her score.

3) Keith Nale (+1)

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Strategy: 4   Challenge: 7   Entertainment: 7   Total: 20

Keith continues to paint himself as a challenge threat down the line, which is why I think most people will want to get rid of him, especially someone like Spencer. People love Keith and, as much as I think the jury is going to reward good gameplay over likeability, Keith is looming over everyone as an outside winner given his challenge performance and “good ole boy” personality. If Keith isn’t the first boot during the upcoming three-hour finale, I will be very surprised.

2) Jeremy Collins (+3)

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Strategy: 7   Challenge: 7   Entertainment: 6   Total: 20

Jeremy continues to play the steadiest of games. He’s excelled at staying relatively even-keeled regardless of what’s going on around him. That’s a great trait to have in Survivor and the reason I picked Jeremy to win this whole thing. Time will tell if that pays off, but he’s in majority alliance and has an immunity idol going into the final six. That’s a great place to be in this game.

1) Spencer Bledsoe(+2)

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Strategy: 9   Challenge: 9   Entertainment: 7   Total: 25

Spencer found himself in a similar situation to Tasha last week. He was sitting between two alliances and was, for all intents and purposes, the swing vote. He elected to go with the Abi boot and set himself up for a run to FTC with Jeremy. I also think Spencer is in a position that, no matter how the numbers fall next week, he’s not the first target for either side of the tribe. Kelley and Keith will want to bring in Kimmi or Tasha to go after Jeremy; while Jeremy and Tasha will be pushing for either Kelley or Keith. That means Spencer likely makes at least final five and he has demonstrated the ability to go on an immunity run. That said, Jeremy and Kelley’s idols are looming and who knows what will go down if both of them are played at the finale. Either way, Spencer might just have the clearest path to FTC out of anyone left in the game.

Last Three Boots:

I think the first boot of the finale is going to be Keith. He’s just too big of a threat for Jeremy, Spencer, Tasha, and Kimmi to keep in the game. Plus, I can’t see Keith scrambling to save himself. His old-school style means that he almost has to win his way into FTC or hope that someone sees him as a goat (which he really isn’t). In another season, he might have a shot, but with the quality of players we have in season 31, I can’t see it happening.

If Keith goes first, then Kelley can’t be far behind him. I could see her playing her idol at Final Six, sending Keith home with a vote or two and then being very vulnerable heading into Final Five. Either way, I don’t think she’s long for this game. She’s excelled at playing from the bottom this season, so I would never count her out. However, I believe Jeremy and Spencer are too smart and too focused to keep her around for long.

This is where things get very, very interesting. With Jeremy, Spencer, Tasha, and Kimmi left in the game, you have to assume that Jeremy and Spencer will want to get rid of each other. So, it will come down to who wins immunity and who has the most support from the two women. Well, I’ve been on #TeamCollins all season, so I see no reason to stop now.

1) Keith Nale

2) Kelley Wentworth

3) Spencer Bledsoe

And with those three gone I think the season ends with Jeremy as Sole Survivor, Tasha in second place and Kimmi bringing up the rear. Will I be right? Tune into CBS on Wednesday to find out! Thanks for reading.

Survivor: Second Chane Week 13 – Hurricane Abi becomes the Tropical Storm of Ponderosa

Survivor

Hurricane Abi has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm and their is a sense of calm over the island of Cambodia. Okay, that might be taking it just a little too far, but the fact remains that Abi was voted out this week and a massive source of unpredictability went with her.

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That’s not to say that this season is wrapped, far from it. In fact, most contestants have an even more crucial week in front of them falling Abi’s boot. There isn’t a clear final four. This six is completely in flux outside of Tasha and Jeremy (and maybe Keith and Kelley). There isn’t a clear way this will fall and Jeff Probst just had to tease us with the line “for the first time in 31 years of Survivor…” to cap the “Next Time On” clip.

It’s madness, and, if you’re a fan of Survivor, you’re loving it. No one can sit on their hands going into these last few boots. This is Survivor at its best. Let’s discuss how we got here.

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Last week, I placed Tasha in the best possible position heading into the final seven. She was squarely between two alliances in Jeremy and Spencer‘s bromance and the girl’s alliance that was Kelley, Abi, and Kimmi. I thought her smartest move would be to go with the girls and get Keith out and then flip back to Spencer and Jeremy in an attempt to blindside Kelley.

Alas, Tasha and I weren’t on the same page. Everything seemed to be going well following the reward challenge. Tasha was at camp with Kimmi, Abi, and Jeremy. Abi (in a rare instance of strategic gameplay) floated the idea of giving Keith the boot because he’s been such a force in challenges.

Tasha and Kimmi were quick to agree, but Jeremy wasn’t so sure. After all, if Keith goes, then it’s easy to see a women’s alliance taking control and sending himself and Spencer out back-to-back.

It was here that Tasha laid her allegiances completely out on the table. She told Jeremy that she was completely with him, and would later tell both Jeremy and Spencer that it would be a disservice to this season and the fans if a goat like Abi or Keith made the final.

I’m not saying it was the wrong move to get Abi out of the game, I’m just saying it’s not the choice I’d make. I thought Tasha should’ve taken this week to lock up Jeremy and Spencer, but pretend to be with the girls and get out Keith. That sets up a (hopefully) easier path to the final five, giving her an opportunity to either backstab Kelley, Kimmi, or Abi and build her resume or put herself in front of the women’s alliance when they get out Jeremy and Spencer.

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By sticking with Jeremy and Spencer, I truly think she’s setting herself up for a third place finish. In her current situation, she almost has to win an immunity challenge or two to give herself that winning resume. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’ll be a much more difficult path.

On the other side of the island, Kelley went to the reward wins courtesy of Keith. Spencer was there, as well, and those three agreed to a final three deal (as you do at late reward wins). This move, coupled with Tasha’s decision to ride-or-die with Jeremy, put Spencer in a position of incredible power.

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Spencer could’ve easily gone either way. If he stays with Kelley and Keith, they bring in Abi and send Tasha packing. With Jeremy and Tasha, they take Kimmi into the fold and drop Abi. It seemed like decision was completely up in the air heading into Tribal Council.

At the end of the night, and as you already know, Spencer elected to keep with Jeremy and Tasha and send Abi packing. I can’t help but wonder if the biggest reason Spencer made that decision was because of the fourth person in each of those alliances.

At this point in the game, I think a strategic player like Spencer is looking for the closest to a sure thing as he can get. Abi-Maria is about as far away from a sure thing as there is. Kimmi, on the other hand, is calm, she’s steady. In Survivor terms, she’s probably not flipping on you unless a stronger player tells her too.

Thus, Spencer sticks with Jeremy and sends home the biggest source of unpredictability left in the game. Further, it sets up what is sure to be a very interesting final six for both the Survivors and us fans.

Other Highlights:

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That immunity challenge seemed devastating. First, you had both Keith and Spencer take bone-crunching falls that really opened the door for a Jeremy win. Then, Spencer, as Probst would say, “Dug Deep” and caught up to Jeremy not once, but twice (the second time after, yet another, big fall). From there, Spencer solved the tangram in like 10 seconds. As someone who has worked at a summer camp for eight years, I know how difficult tangrams can be. I’ve seen groups of five or six college kids struggle with them twenty minutes or more. So I was really impressed with how quickly Spencer put that together. And finally, we had Tasha’s near-drowning. What a scary moment for her and it was pretty astounding how quickly she came back into the game after that. I would’ve struggled to get off the ground, let alone plan a vote at final seven. All the props in the world to Tasha there.

We’ve covered most of the other highlights in this strategy heavy episode. Be sure to check back this weekend for my updated power rankings and I’ll see you at the finale!

Thoughts on Life is Strange

Reviews, Video Games

(Note: Fair warning, this write up is going to contain a few spoilers for Life is Strange. I don’t feel like I can do this “Thoughts on..” justice without them. If you don’t want to be spoiled stay away.)

This write-up is going to be a little different from my traditional “Thoughts on…” series. That’s because, for me, the things that make Life is Strange such a must-play game aren’t really traditional to video games. Thus, I’m not going to waste time talking about the graphics (solid for an adventure game, though the lip syncing is very bad), the voice acting (stellar, especially Ashly Burch as Chloe and Dani Knights as Victoria), the gameplay (interesting mechanic that lets you rewind time to replay decisions with different information), the music (fits the setting remarkable well), or any other things you’d usually see in this space.

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Instead, let’s talk about makes this game so special. In a world of bad stories in video games, it’s rare to get a good one. Those usually come in the form of a major twist that blows your mind, some excellent character development, or a twist on a classic story. Life is Strange has all those things. The time travel story has been told before, but the ways we get there are new and interesting. The arc of Max (the protagonist) and Chloe is one of the better ones I’ve seen this year. And the game brings at least two major twists (one more expected than the other) that are sure to cause you to put down the controller/mouse for a minute or two.

All of that would be great on its own, but what elevates Life is Strange’s story from just good to great is how it takes a setting most of us know well (high school, those these students are at a super expensive art school in Oregon) and forces you to put your own perspective onto the events playing out in front of you.

This effect happened in a small way at first. You begin the game in your art class, but, once the bell sounds, you go out in the hall and see all of your fellow students milling about between class. This is a familiar experience and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people find a reasonable facsimile of who they were back in school if they take the time to look. For me, it was when I came upon Daniel DaCosta.

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Daniel is chubby kid who’s really into drawing and, when you first see him is getting beat up. That was pretty much me in middle school, if you replace drawing with Diablo 2 and Starcraft. Thus, I couldn’t help but feel for him and decided at that moment, it would be my mission to help this guy as much as possible.

After receiving my rewind powers in the girl’s bathroom, I went outside to go meet Warren (we’ll talk about him a bit soon) and saw Daniel sitting by himself in the grass. I ran over as fast as I could, hoping to spill all of my advice as someone who had been in his place 15 years ago. Of course, Max doesn’t have that knowledge, so I had to do the only option available. I let Daniel draw me like one of his French girls.

That was when I had to take a step back. Was I using Max to fill my own middle school fantasies? Girls didn’t talk to me. I didn’t have any friends my age. Was I trying to use Max to solve those problems I had had so many years ago? I often roleplay my characters as the best version of myself, so this is likely the route I would’ve gone in any other game. However, because I saw so much of myself in Daniel, it forced me to really examine if I was using Max as a tool to fix my own problems or actually playing the game the way Max would.

We put ourselves into video game characters all the time, especially in RPGs and adventure games. How often do we ask ourself if we should? Is it fair to Max to try and railroad her into a relationship (romantic or not) with Daniel? What if the real Max doesn’t like Daniel? Does that make me a bad person? Does it matter? After all, she’s just a video game character.

Daniel wouldn’t be the last person that forced me to ask myself these questions.

After meeting a few other students of Blackwell, Max and I walked over to the parking lot to meet up with Warren and continue our quest. Warren is a lovable goof, who’s interested in science class, geeky pop culture, and Max. It’s your typical “boy is in love with a girl who barely seems to notice and/or care”, which is a story I know too well.

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I spent my junior and senior years of high school along with most of my freshman year of college chasing after a girl very similar to Max. Every time I thought I was moving forward, she would re-enter my life and proceed to lead me on for a few months before telling me she wasn’t interested.

So, you can see why I was able to quickly level with my man, Warren. It’s obvious that he’s smitten with Max, but she doesn’t really seem to reciprocate. My first instinct was to force Max to fall for Warren by making the “right” choices.

But that felt wrong. I was forcing Max into a situation that she might not want to be in just because I had some problems with a girl in high school? What if I could find the solution I hoped would happen to me? So, with that new goal in mind, I tried my best to cut Max out of Warren’s life and let him realize that he has everything he wants in a girl in Brooke (another Blackwell student).

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really allow for this scenario, but I was able to find solace in a late move that put Brooke and Daniel together. Maybe this was the game teaching me something I’ve struggled with so many years. It’s when you’re not really looking for love, that it actually finds you. Brooke wanted Warren, but couldn’t have him, and Daniel was only interested in drawing. It’s fitting that those two would end up together after I pushed so hard to put Brooke with Warren and Daniel with Max. And, much like before, this wasn’t the last time Life is Strange would surprise me.

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My stepdad passed away this past spring in a freak small airplane accident. I’m telling you this so you can understand why I was able to connect, in some small way, with Chloe. Five years before the start of Life is Strange, Chloe lost her father in a car accident. And it wasn’t how the tragedy affected Chloe that got to me, it was how hard it hit her mom Joyce.

When I come home to see my mom, slumped over the bills she can no longer afford, I always think, “is there something I could do?” Could I move back home, take a job, and try to help her out until she’s able to get back on her feet? Would that make her happy? It’s a frustrating place to be in because there really isn’t anything I can do.

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But Max can do something. Max can rewind time. Max can save William, Joyce’s husband and Chloe’s dad. And she does. for a split second, it seems like everything is great. Max pops back to the future, finds herself back at Blackwell, hanging out with her friends, and decides to get to Chloe’s house as quickly as possible. For about 30 seconds, it’s complete euphoria. William is back among the living; standing there, greeting Max and calling for Chloe to come to the door. And that’s when the other shoe drops.

You see, in fairy tales (and lesser video games) stories like these can have a happy ending. The princess marries the prince and they live happily ever after. But real life? Well, real life is strange. And when you add mind-bending time rewinding powers to the mix, that’s when it gets truly crazy.

I sat there, hoping to see my good friend Chloe alive and well, enjoying the time with her dad that she lost in the other reality. Instead, Chloe rolled into frame in a wheelchair. She couldn’t feel her body below her neck and had to completely rely on her parents for everything.

That’s when I lost it. I sat there for a good ten minutes, just slack jawed. As tears welled up in my eyes, I realized that, in some weird way, this game was speaking to me in a manner I hadn’t seen before. Life is Strange makes you ask questions. Not questions about what will happen in the next big plot point (though those do happen), but questions about your own life. I had begun the game trying to fulfill fantasies from my middle school days and rectify mistakes I made in high school, but now, now this game, this video game, was helping me deal with a real adult situation that has deeply affected my family. And that was only in the third episode!

In my opinion, that’s the mark of a great story and of a truly great work of art. It makes you question things in life and gives you a new perspective on the problems around you. Life is Strange forced me to accept that there’s nothing I can for my mom except to love her deeply and hold as long as I can. I always knew I’d be there for her, but now I’m at peace with my own limited ability to help her. Just like Joyce and Chloe (oddly enough, Chloe is my stepsister’s name), my mom will find a way. Because that’s what strong people do.

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I don’t know if I’ve done this write-up justice. It was hard to write for many reasons, but, if you take one thing from this, it’s this: Life is Strange is worth your time. It’s the first video game I’ve played with a truly great story that you should experience. It tackles important mature topics in a meaningful manner and is among my favorite video game experiences of the year.

Should you play it? ABSOLUTELY

Survivor: Second Chance – Week 12 Power Rankings

Survivor

The Joe boot we’ve been dreading (waiting on?) has finally happened. It was a potentially game-deciding move that either solidifies the Final Three of Tasha, Jeremy, and Spencer, or brings about a girl’s alliance that will run the game for at least the next two weeks. We also saw a loved one’s challenge and an immunity challenge where the competitor’s literally left everything on the field of play. It was a great episode and really sets up a juicy Final Seven for this coming Wednesday. Who’s on top leading into next week’s episode? And who am I predicting goes home? Read on to find out.

 

8) Joe Anglim (-6)

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Strategy: 3 Challenge: 8  Entertainment: 6   Total: 17  

We all knew this was coming at some point, I just didn’t expect it to be so intense. Joe’s a great challenge competitor, but nobody can win every post-merge challenge and without an Idol in his pocket, Joe was an easy target. That said, I honestly didn’t think he was gone until Jeff read the votes. The edit just made it so obvious that Joe was the boot that I assumed they were trying to swerve us and hide an Abi or Kimmi boot. I was wrong and we lost Joe. It’s a loss I’ll take given what it sets up for Final Seven.

7) Abi-Maria Gomes (+3)

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Strategy: 6   Challenge: 4   Entertainment: 7   Total: 17

This is the girl I thought was gone, but she managed to stick around for another week. Unfortunately for Abi fans, it looks like Hurricane Abi II is peeking around the corner and out for blood. And we all know, that means no one is safe. At this point, I won’t be surprised if she plays herself out of the game next week or goes on to win the season. She’s just so erratic that it feels next to impossible to predict where she’s going next. Note to the girl’s alliance: Stay Away from Abi.

6) Kimmi Kappenberg (+3)

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Strategy: 8 Challenge: 4   Entertainment: 6   Total: 18  

Kimmi made a very interesting decision to flip this week and try to bring about a girl’s alliance. Which is exactly the reason she decided to orchestrate the Monica Padilla vote so many episodes ago. Will the hypocrisy catch up to her? Or does she manage to ride this to the end and use the “I’m a mom” angle to win over Kelley and Abi? I’m not super high on Kimmi’s gameplay, so I would guess the former, but only time will tell.

5) Jeremy Collins(-4)

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Strategy: 6   Challenge: 6   Entertainment: 7   Total: 19

This has to be the lowest placement for Jeremy since the merge. And the only reason he was low in the pre-merge episode was because Bayon was almost never on TV. Even with an Idol in his pocket, Jeremy has never been more vulnerable than he is right now. It all rests on which way Tasha goes moving forward. Jeremy and Spencer are going to have to play very hard to both stay in the game next week.

4) Keith Nale (0)

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Strategy: 5   Challenge: 10   Entertainment: 5   Total: 20

Keith gutted out an extremely impressive immunity victor over Joe. It was a quite showing for the old firefighter. In fact, is it just me or is Keith quickly becoming a threat to win this whole thing? Sure, he’s not a strategic genius by any means; however, he’s been incredibly resilient in challenges and no one could ever say a bad word about Keith. Would that be enough? Maybe not in a returnees season, but it gives him an outside shot.

3) Spencer Bledsoe (+2)

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Strategy: 7   Challenge: 6   Entertainment: 8   Total: 21

I’m placing Spencer above Jeremy in the power rankings because of the great moments he gave us throughout the episode, but he’s much more likely to go next week, given Jeremy’s Idol. That said, how great was it to see Spencer finally tell his girlfriend that he loves her? It was a big, personal moment for him and heavily plays into a potential winner’s edit. Plus, I think it does a lot to solidify his relationship with Jeremy both inside and outside of the game. If these two don’t either flame out or go to the end together, it will be robbing us of a great story. I’m a huge Jeremy fan and like Stephen more than Spencer, so I wish it was Fishbach in this spot, but I’ll take a great “best friends” edit here, if I can get it.

2) Kelley Wentworth (+2)

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Strategy: 7   Challenge: 9   Entertainment: 5   Total: 21

Kelley has been great all season playing from the bottom and getting to the top. It’s when she’s on top that she’s struggled. She helped get together the potential women’s alliance and thrust herself back near the top of the totem pole. Now the question is, can she stay there? She hasn’t been able to thus far, but she has that Idol in that pocket, so we know she’s dangerous. She needs to make a big move and go after either Jeremy or Spencer. She can’t go the easy route and vote out Keith. If she rest on her laurels, she’ll lose her spot very quickly. It’s go big or go home time for Kelley.

1) Tasha Fox(+7)

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Strategy: 9   Challenge: 6   Entertainment: 6   Total: 21

Tasha is all but running the game right now. She’s is sitting directly in the middle of the tribe, right between the Jeremy and Spencer tandem and the all-girl’s alliance. It is a very advantageous position for Tasha Fierce. Unfortunately, even with that expert positioning, she potentially exposed herself just a tad last week. Telling Jeremy and Spencer about the girl’s alliance was probably a good move, but what if the girls vote out Keith this week and then Spencer starts to hear his name being brought up. At that point, the girls would have a 4-2 advantage and Spencer or Jeremy could easily go to the other women (likely Kelley and Abi) and tell them Tasha isn’t completely with them. Would Kelley and Abi go with Jeremy and Spencer to boot Tasha, while keeping the numbers in their favor? That could set up a big Idol play by Jeremy to send one of the girls home and get Spencer and himself to Final Four. Is it super likely? Maybe not, but I think Tasha might’ve made a slight mistake last week that could open her up for a surprise boot down the line.

Next Boot:

The third spot has to go to one of the women. They have a lot of power, which sets them up to be on the wrong side of either an Idol play or a Blindside. I think Kelley is the best option for Jeremy and Spencer, but she has an Idol, so I think they have to take Abi from her. I could certainly see Tasha or Kimmi in this spot as well; however, Abi is the most obvious player here.

I’m slotting Spencer into my number two position because I think his position in the game is shaky at best. Of course, this is all hinging on where exactly Tasha’s allegiances lie. It feels like she’s leaning toward the women, while continuing to play the men. We’ll know a lot more next week.

I have Keith as the most likely to go home simply because he’s the easy vote for the all-girl’s alliance. I know I just got finished saying he has potential to pull out a Sole Survivor victory, but that doesn’t change the fact that he would be an easy out to solidify the women’s numbers. Of course, Keith could easily play his way of that position by winning immunity, which would set up an interesting vote between Jeremy and Spencer. At this point, it might be in Jeremy’s best interest to try and get votes on himself, use the Idol, and send Abi or Kimmi home. But really, this week looks to be the most up-in-the-air that the games been since we began this season. It all comes down to what Tasha wants to do.

1) Keith Nale

2) Spencer Bledsoe

3) Abi-Maria Gomes

Thoughts on The Video Game Awards

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Last night (December 3rd), Geoff Keighley put on the second annual  Game Awards, which is an award show that doesn’t really focus that much on rewards (something that’s somewhat refreshing given how boring the Oscars, Emmys, and other often feel). Instead, Keighley slick production tends to put more focus on their “world premieres”. Back when The Game Awards was the Video Game Awards, these were usually big reveals of things like Skyrim, MGSV, and Mass Effect 3.

Sadly, for fans of seeing lots of video game trailers, those days seem to be behind us. In fact, the biggest news out of this conference might be the announcement that Psychonauts 2 is coming out (if you crowdfund it). That said, I wanted to take some time to post some of my thoughts on various announcements as something of a personal catalog that others are free to view.

Psychonauts 2 is COMING (but you have to fund it first)

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When this trailer hit, my jaw hit the floor. I honestly never thought we’d be getting this game because of how long it has been since the release of the first Psychonauts.That said, it was a little disappointing (though not surprising) that it was going to be a crowdfunded title.

Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of success in the crowdfunding platform over the last few years. And Double Fine has been among the most successful at building quality campaigns. However, it still feels weird to have something announced like this. I know Shenmue 3’s campaign was announced at PSX last year, but that felt like a one-time thing that was Sony’s way of showing that they are actively going forward with the “Building the List” initiative.

This announcement, on the other hand, felt like Double Fine’s way of trying to prove that Fig is a viable platform. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that they would go with such a cult favorite to be the first big game on their new crowdfunding site; I just didn’t see it coming and don’t really love the announcement for something that might technically never come out.

Of course, at the time of this writing, the game has raised 1.3 million or 40% of their goal, so the chances of it not hitting its funding in 34 days seems pretty low. I guess this is our new reality and old men (or twenty-somethings) like me will have to get used to it.

Kojima barred from attending by Konami

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In a surprising and disappointing turn of events, Hideo Kojima was legally barred from attending this year’s Game Awards by Konami’s lawyers. It was a pretty shocking and petty display by a publisher that has been in hot water all year long. Surely the bad will gained from moves like this are going to cut into the company’s bottom line at some point (at least in America).

It really was a bummer that an artist like Kojima was unable to accept the awards he earned by putting everything into his Metal Gear Solid series. It’s pretty rare in gaming to see a creator as synonymous with his creation as Kojima is and not seeing him present  for what should be a night of celebration left a bad taste on the proceedings.

The Witcher 3 cleans up

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The Witcher 3 led all games with six nominations and came away with Role-playing game of the Year, Developer of the Year, and Game of the Year. That’s about as successful as a studio can be at one of these things.

However, it felt weird to me. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and if you want to champion The Witcher as your GOTY, then you’re free to do so. I just didn’t expect so many industry veterans to come to that consensus over Bloodborne, MGSV, and Mario Maker.

Listen, I adored The Witcher when I played it earlier this year. I was pretty glowing in my praise when I wrote about it for this blog. However, it didn’t really stick with me like other games did. I can’t really remember too many notable quests and the gameplay wasn’t good enough for the narrative to not matter. It’s a great game; I’m just surprised it’s the Game of the Year.

Telltale’s making a Batman game

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So, my brother is the biggest Batman fan I know. He loves all the Arkham games, buys tons of comics, and watches Gotham religiously. Thus, I was expecting he’d be excited when I told him Batman was getting the Telltale treatment.

His reaction? “You mean the ones where don’t really play a video game?”

And really, he’s not wrong. I’m sure this game will sell like gangbusters, but are Telltale games still worth getting excited over? The engine is pretty terrible and the whole “illusion of choice” seems to be wearing out its welcome. Time will tell, I suppose.

Xbox gets Rocket League (and other Microsoft news)

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It wasn’t too surprising to see Microsoft bring some noise in contrast to Sony pretty much saying nothing. After all, Sony has their own press conference coming up this weekend at PSX.

That said, Rocket League is a pretty good get. Obviously, this one was coming to XBone at some point, but it’s still something that’s going to really excite that community. Also, that Tomb Raider DLC is making it even harder to wait an entire year for it to come to PS4. Not that I’m questioning my console choice, but that last game was pretty great.

Quantum Break still isn’t really doing it for me. Even after reading Game Informer’s big feature story last month, I’m still not sure if I should be interested in this one or not. But overall, Microsoft had a subtly good Game Awards.

Her Story and Rocket League lead the way for Indies

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Speaking of Rocket League, it and Her Story won two awards each, which put them on par with any other game outside of The Witcher. I haven’t gotten to Her Story just yet (curse you Fallout 4), but I’m very intrigued to play it sometime soon.

Rocket League was one of the better games I can remember being released during the summer and I thought it should’ve been up for GOTY over Fallout 4. In a year of great Indies, it’s nice to see a few get some big time recognition at these awards.

Greg Miller and Reggie Fils-Aime bring the feels

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In the most heartwarming moments of the night, Reggie Fils-Aime and Greg Miller delivered poignant tributes/shoutouts to various developers.

Reggie, obviously, had a lot to say about his friend and mentor Satoru Iwata, the former Nintendo President who passed away this summer. It was a touching send-up of one of the more key figures in gaming.

Greg Miller dedicated his speech for winning Trending Gamer to the people who make video games. It was an excellent speech that you should really seek out for yourself here:

All in all, this was a pretty slim show as far as announcements go. I was expecting Microsoft to drop at least one big, Triple A bomb to get in front of whatever Sony’s bringing this weekend. Additionally, Nintendo was very quiet on the announcement front, which left the show feeling sparse. Of course, this could be a sign of Keighley’s production trying to put the awards first. If that’s the case, then I think they did a decent job and set a solid foundation to build next year’s show on. I guess we’ll find out in 2016.

Survivor: Second Chance Week 12 – The Golden Boy

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I unfortunately had to miss last week because I was traveling and then my Mac’s hard drive crapped out; however, I’m back at it and very excited to dig into this episode.

We finally saw the demise of Joe this week (sadly, one week late for Stephen Fishbach) and, I have to say, I wasn’t expecting it. The edit pushed so strongly for a Joe boot, that I thought they’d have to go another way. In fact, part of me expected a complete swerve, with someone like Kimmi or Keith going home.

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That didn’t happen though. The potential all-girl’s alliance got their wish and the Golden Boy was sent packing after, quite literally, leaving everything he had on the field of play during the immunity challenge.

And really, that’s where Joe lost it for me. Not that he didn’t win immunity, that was bound to happen at some point. No, it was that he didn’t try to milk the fact that he passed out. This was something Tyson Apostol did so well in Blood vs. Water and what separates the two challenge beasts.

If you’ll remember, Tyson hurt his shoulder pretty badly during a challenge in BVW and was able to use that to hide his challenge ability for quite a few votes. He didn’t really break it out until he had to at the end and that’s likely what won him the game.

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Joe would’ve had a bit tougher go at convincing people that he wasn’t in top shape, but I think it’s doable. Instead, he just goes back to being the Wonder Boy and that makes him a huge target. I don’t know if trying to hide behind a blackout would actually work, but it had a better chance than relying on Spencer and Jeremy did.

With that said, this move probably worked best for Tasha. She now has her pick of alliances going forward and gives her quite a bit of leverage with both groups going forward. She can go with the women’s alliance and potentially make it to the end with Kelley and either Kimmi or Abi. Or she can hook up with Jeremy or Spencer and try to bring Keith or Kimmi along. Either way, she’s got to be the most comfortable person at Tribal not holding an immunity necklace next week.

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Besides Tasha great placement in the game, I think Keith and Kimmi have to be happy with where they’re sitting. Both have obvious goat potential and whoever gets power will likely want to drag them along. Keith, in particular looks set up well because if a girl’s alliance does happen, he’s going to be the last male to be knocked off.

Kimmi is in a similar position, in that if Jeremy and Spencer get power, she’s probably the last female to go because Tasha is more of physical threat and, at final four, loyalty only goes so far.

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Jeremy and Kelley both have idols, so you don’t have to be too worried about either of them. They’re both also excellent players, so I doubt they go home with an idol in their pockets. That said, Kelley needs to work hard to keep the women together and Jeremy needs to lock up Tasha ASAP.

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Spencer might just be in the most worrisome of positions. I think he’s less likely to get votes from the girls than Jeremy, but Jeremy has the idol, so Spencer would go in a vote split. He and Jeremy will be double-teaming Tasha all week to try and get the gender numbers even. I think they have a good case in saying that Tasha would be on the bottom of that alliance, but who knows if she’d listen?

And finally, Abi sits in a nearly equally tenuous position. She’s the safest vote out, but also one of the best goats left in the game. I think that buys her at least one more week, as people might be looking for another big move following the Joe boot. That said, until Tasha proves her loyalty it’s difficult to predict who’s on the block for next week.

It’ll be very intriguing to see play out. Alliance lines should really solidify next week and the voting bloc will be completely out the window. I expect a big move to cap off what has been a great three-week run.

Other Highlights:

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Was anybody else creeped out by how close Joe and his dad got to touching lips when they kissed? Maybe it’s just the fact that my didn’t tell me loved me until I was 23 and has never hugged me, but I can’t imagine being that physical with my dad (or any member of my family). It was…different, to say the least.

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Speaking of that family visit, I felt robbed that neither Joe nor Spencer got to go on it. They’ve been the ones talking about their significant others the most this year (at least on camera) and Spencer finally telling his girlfriend he loved her really made it feel like we needed more time with one of those couples. I know it’s a game and production can’t rig challenges, but they should’ve rigged this one.

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Final thought on the family visit, how great was it to see Dale back on the show? Is your answer so great? Because it should be. He was so bad in BVW2 that he got his own daughter booted off the island. He’s like the anti-Ciera.

People really need to stop ignoring Keith. He and Spencer are the only people who have been close to Joe in most of the immunity challenges, but Keith continues to be ignored as a winner threat. He’s infinitely likable and a great competitor, even at his advanced age. If he gets to the end, he might just deserve a win. He’ll never wow anyone with strategy, but he’s played the game as well as he can.

And then Keith votes for Tasha at Tribal. Did no one tell him anything, so he just voted in reverse alphabet order? Is that the Hammer’s strategy? It’s probably better than anything else he’s come up with.

All in all, a solid episode that continued the string of good Survivor TV. Next week should continue that trend with one more #bigmove. Look back this weekend for my power rankings and thanks for reading.