Game Development and Media Reviews

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Death Trash Review

Death Trash is an Action RPG created by Crafting Legends that was released on August 5th 2021 in Early Access on Steam. The player gets to control a character who was exiled from a sheltered colony and released into a barren wasteland. This whole premise feels pretty close to the Fallout games with the distinction that the horrors of nuclear war where simply replaced by grotesque meat abominations. Does this make for a good game? Let’s find out.

Big chunks of the game take place in underground bunkers that are reminiscent of the vaults in Fallout.

The game starts off with a short and simple intro sequence that could have used a voice actor. It proceeds with a character creation screen. I was never a fan of picking stats at the beginning of the game as it is absolutely impossible to know which stats and skills are important and which are not. This kind of game design was carried over from pen and paper role playing games and just forces bad decision making by new players.

I put my character points exclusively into ranged weapons just to find out that melee is super important in this game. Some games mitigate this problem by introducing predefined classes or moving the first decisions to level 2 but this game just acknowledges the issue with the ability to invest your points later.

The game continues with an optional and very short tutorial but let’s you completely off the leash after a couple of minutes. That’s pretty cool. You stumble into your first quests by talking to nearby NPCs and visiting nearby locations. These locations can be reached by traveling on a world map.

Some locations are already revealed by quests and some have to be discovered. The world map features random encounters with enemies or merchants.

The basic combat mechanics are pretty easy to learn and the fights have a very pleasant learning curve. Melee and ranged weapons seem to be equally important as you would need way too many bullets relying on ranged weapons only. There is some sort of cyber-magic too that lets you stun and burn enemies or summon meaty allies to the fight. The additional abilities complement the fighting system very well. The number of weapons, armor pieces and abilities feels already generous given that the game is still in Early Access. The game did not do a very good job explaining when to use the different weapons types though. I have yet to understand when the different weapon types work best.

The game already features a lot of different items and crafting options.

There is a stealth element to the game that allows you to sneak up on enemies and to potentially kill them without any resistance. This is especially fun with exploding enemies as this allows you to take out smaller groups with a single hit. It seems that the game is even designed in a way that lets you circumvent some fights completely. However, skipping out on experience points or loot does not sound very entertaining outside of a pacifist run.

Stealth can be really fun in this game and is helpful to conserve health and ammunition.

The dialogue with the NPCs does not feature interesting decisions yet. Most conversations revolve around accepting or closing quests. Empathy is a speech attribute that offers you additional dialogue options. However, it is currently implemented in a way where it lets you skip quests instead of offering you something interesting which does not seem fun at all.

The dialogue options are kept pretty simple.

The main quest ended around two hours with a work-in-progress notification. Exploring the rest of the map took another three with some parts of the world not being accessible yet. The current version of the game features over 20 locations. Some of the locations were closed off by locked doors that could not be opened. The next content update might be able to provide the necessary key. The further I traveled, the more I was presented with the need to come back later. However, at the very edge of the map I encountered two very interesting boss fights.

Teaser for future content updates can be found everywhere in the game.

This game is a lot of fun. I did not encounter a single significant bug in my +6 hours of gameplay. I already can’t wait to give it another go when it’s done. However, the game at it’s current state was in development for 6 years. This might be an indicator that this title won’t be leaving Early Access in the next one.

4/5 – Hope this helps.

The Suicide Squad 2021

The Suicide Squad was directed by James Gunn and stars Margot Robbie, John Cena and Idris Elba. I wasn’t very sure what to expect from this movie as I did not particularly enjoy Suicide Squad from 2016. However, this movie feels like a much needed do-over with a bunch of obscure characters from the DC universe that you have probably never heard of. The movie starts with a completely misleading bait and switch that explains the premise of the movie while also perfectly capturing its tone. The opening felt like an enormous gamble that paid off.

The Suicide Squad is featuring a new team with a couple of familiar faces.

The competitive relationship between John Cena and Idris Elba received a lot of screen time and was easily the most entertaining part of the movie. Idris Elba becomes the relatable protagonist of the story while John Cena leans heavily into the outrageous delivering easily the best lines of the script.

The bickering between these two characters is easily the highlight of the movie.

I was never a fan of Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn in her previous movies. The Brooklyn accent and her overall personality were always a bit too much on the obnoxious site of things. This didn’t change significantly in The Suicide Squad but at least she had a couple of very interesting things to do.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

The rest of the cast did a good job making the more obscure members of the team likeable. King Shark, a mix between a man and a shark, reminded me of a mix between Groot and Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy and worked really well as a comedic relief. I even ended up really liking the Ratcatcher 2 and Polka-Dot Man.

David Dastmalchian as the Polka-Dot Man is not even the most obscure character in the movie.

The most surprising element of the movie was the portrayal of the politics surrounding the Suicide Squad. The story openly acknowledged that the team does not exist to do good but to cover up shady government operations in off the books missions – it was portrayed as straight up evil. I haven’t seen this level of open criticism towards American imperialism and the indiscriminate killing of foreigners in a comic book adaptation before. The Boys had similar critique to offer but usually focused on the private part of the military industrial complex rather than government operations.

Viola Davis reprises her role as Amada Waller.

The movie is R-rated and shows a lot of outrageous violence which was always presented in a light-hearted way. You will see grotesque scenes of people getting stabbed multiple times, ripped apart or eaten while the movie tries to make you lough about it. One scene in particular felt like a killing blow from the video game Mortal Combat.

A lot of people get killed in this movie.

I was thoroughly entertained. The movie made me care about obscure DC characters and a completely ridiculous plot. I would like to see more!

4/5 – Hope that helps.

Review of ASTRONEER

ASTRONEER is a 3rd person sandbox game that lets you explore seven different worlds with fully destructible terrains and an innovative base building system that lets you link different modules together. You need to collect resources, build up a base and research new technologies. These technologies allow you to travel between worlds, gather new resources, and to build an even bigger base that is capable of manufacturing complex materials. I played this game for over 55h before I reached the official end of the game, here is what I thought.

This is my base on the starting world. There is only a limited number of buildings available in the game with the majority of buildings being dedicated to energy production and resource storage.

Resources

You spent most of your time gathering resources. The terrain is fully destructible and your digging tool can be modified with different power booster for especially hard rock or base building. The digging in underground caverns reminded me a lot of Minecraft. You will find plenty of resources in the terrain which will be transferred into your backpack while digging.

Gathering Resources in ASTRONEER is interesting as it deforms the terrain and you never know how many resources are hidden underground. It leaves ugly holes around your base though.

Your inventory is pretty small and will become even smaller if you researched quality of life improvements like work lights, an O2 tank or batteries as they share the same space. You can involve vehicles on your resource expeditions but they are usually really hard to handle in caverns and only of limited use for resource hauling outside of the beaten path. Drilling with vehicles is an absolute nightmare. This leaves you with the option to spent the majority of your time building reliable roads or requires you to spent a lot of time backtracking. Something like an elevator would have been fun here.

Your final gear ends up using a majority of your backpack space. This leaves you with only 4 free slots.

Base Building

The platform provides large and medium sockets for a furnace and additional storage.

The base building system is pretty neat. There are 3 different socket types in the game. The small sockets store individual resources and items. They are the same ones you have in your inventory. The medium sockets can hold medium items and the the large sockets can hold large items. Each building requires a specific socket and these sockets are provided by platforms you place onto the ground. This socket principle is pretty self-explanatory and it’s pretty fun to ‘click’ your base together. You have to connect your buildings with electrical cables to utilize solar or wind power. Wind generator and solar panels have different output levels on different worlds so you need to adjust your outpost composition according to that. As those energy types do not continuously produce energy you have to store the energy in batteries to consistently provide energy for your base. This makes energy management a lot more interesting as you have to account for spikes in energy consumption. The Factorio vibes are not as strong as in Satisfactory but you can clearly feel the inspiration the first time you build an automatic ARM – and this is despite the lack of conveyer belts. The game offers base automation but the required amount of resources to finish the game does not make it really necessary to go beyond the absolute basics.

Exploration

The early exploration in the early part of the game is fun. Your O2 supply is limited and fresh O2 is provided by a network of tethers. You are therefore limited to the range of your tether network when exploring during the first hours of the game. You can expand your network by placing new tethers which are pretty cheap to make. While some might feel like this is very restrictive I appreciate the tether network to guide me back to my home base. At some point you will have vehicles available that enable you to roam around more freely without tethers as they serve as a mobile supply for O2. The untamed wilderness is a big damper on the fun exploration with vehicles though, as your vehicle frequently flips or gets constantly stuck in the environment. You really have to pave roads everywhere.

The tethers are your lifeline. They provide you with necessary oxygen to survive. They show you where you have already been and how to get back – that is pretty good game design.

There are little ‘puzzle boxes’ sprinkled all over the world that require you to provide a certain resource or a certain amount of energy in exchange for some research points. Crashed space ships have useful resources or items inside. While this is really interesting in the first couple of hours, running around on the surface gets boring rather quickly. As you dig yourself to the core of the 2nd or 3rd planet you will grow increasingly disengaged with the world in front of you. There are huge underground caverns with interesting looking elements that do not offer anything of value to the games progression but a couple of research points. At around 1/3 of the game I just ignored all of that beauty. Games like Subnautica offered new resources at every depth level and this made exploration way more rewarding as you actually had to engage with your new environment.

On my quest to reach the core I usually ignored all caverns by simply digging a long tunnel all the way down to the core. This took a lot of time and wasn’t that fun.

The best part of the exploration aspect is building rockets! It’s a lot of fun to prepare for a trip to another planet or moon. You have to decide what to take with you to get your outpost running as your storage capacity is very limited and crucial resources might not be readily available at your destination. Visiting new planets is necessary to obtain special resources like gases or minerals that are vital to your technological progression.

There are three different shuttles available in the game. They all use the same type of thruster. I actually never used the large shuttle as the medium shuttle had just enough storage space to work with.

Gameplay

The game is guided by missions which tell you what to do next. These missions are optional but seem to be tailored towards an ideal progression. You have to activate a shrine on the planet’s surface and you have to then dig towards the center of planet to activate its core. You do that seven times with little to no meaningful difference. Sometimes the terrain requires a stronger drill. Sometimes there is a hyper aggressive plant. Sometimes there is less wind or more sunlight. Sometimes a crucial resources is a bit rare – that is it. I would have loved some more meaningful variation. ASTRONEER can be played in multiplayer and supports sessions with up to 4 players.

You can create outposts on different worlds to gather and process new types of resources.

Conclusion: 4/5

ProCon
+ fun base building
+ fun power management
+ building rockets
– main quest is very repetitive
– no incentive to explore the majority of caverns
– gathering resources with vehicles is painful
– all worlds feel the same

Hope that helps.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

The theatrical release of Justice League did not remain very fondly in my memory – it actually barely remained in my memory at all. There was this joke about Batman being rich, Superman coming back to life and the assembled team fighting an army of CGI monsters to prevent a doomsday machine. This was all pretty generic comic book stuff. Ben Affleck as Batman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ezra Miller as The Flash looked interesting on the surface but didn’t do anything memorable in the whole movie. The main reason being that their characters’ usefulness just paled in comparison to Superman. ‘Let’s watch this team of heroes struggle for 2h until Superman swoops in and saves the day with ease’ was simply not a very enticing plotline.

A couple of years later, Zack Snyder was able to release his original vision of the Justice League movie. His ‘Do Over’ released on HBO Max in a 4:3 aspect ratio. You have to be prepared for some thick black bars on your left and right of your TV screen. The movie is divided into 7 parts including an epilogue and has a runtime of almost 4h. It starts off with a personal message from Zack Snyder thanking his fans that made this release possible. It is, generally speaking, the same movie but with some extra time spent on fleshing out the characters. The movie made me actually curious about the Flash and the main antagonist Steppenwolf. Unfortunately we also get a lot of bland CGI battle scenes that do not bring anything new to the table although they were noticeably more violent. I also never cared for this whole Amazonian world-building that they did in the Wonder Woman movies and unfortunately we get a lot of that in the first part of Justice League as well. I actually ended up hating the first third of the movie. The rest of the movie was better – significantly better. The characters had something to do. Each and every one of them contributed to the plot. Well, except Louis Lane who was just there to make us feel sad about Superman’s demise. The assembled team was interesting to watch but it was never really explained what the individual characters could and could not do. This led to some ‘I guess they can do that now’ moments. Despite the team being way more useful than before, the movie still felt a lot like Superman just showing up at the end to save the day. The end of the movie with its whole epilogue chapter overstayed its welcome, despite having good scenes with the next antagonist Doomsday and another very intriguing dream sequence that was set in the previously seen dystopian future where earth seemed lost.

Overall, the theatrical cut of Justice League failed where Zack Snyder’s cut succeeded. The new version made me curious. I actually want to see more. I want to see a standalone Flash movie and I want to see Batman fighting alongside Jared Leto as the Joker against the army of Doomsday and an evil Superman. That might be fun, right?

3/5 – Hope that helps.

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