Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Hello, humans.  I hope you are all doing well (except the ones I hate; I hope you all are literally on fire right now).  I realize that I did, indeed, miss #FrozenFoodFridays this past week.  While I truly enjoy that segment, as I know many of you do as well, I think I may need to slow down a bit on it for a few reasons.  First of all, my two sons spend every Friday night with me, and by the time we are done hanging out together and they are in bed…I’m usually so tired that I don’t have it in me to do the post.  Secondly, I simply haven’t been in the kitchen quite as much lately – other things tend to pop up and prevent me from engaging in much culinary therapy.  But rest assured that it will still be a near-weekly segment here – I just won’t be able to update it EVERY week!

Another reason for this is that I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  It seems that when I am labeled “pathetic” to my face for the horrific crime of showing kindness to someone, and I restrain myself from obliterating said individual, the result of that internalizing is a period of depression.  Thankfully, I have coping mechanisms – including my weekly nights of coloring books and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my Best Bitch (her phrase), Malevolent Moogle.  And another, being the introvert I am (INFJ FTW), is to escape from my world into others, via games and books.  The upshot is that I hope to increase my reviews of those treats in place of the edible ones I may be lacking at the moment.

And what better way to begin than with the PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn.

horizon-zero-dawn-screenshot-ps4-game-wallpaper

So, in case you ever wondered, in the future, mankind has dwindled to the brink of extinction, and giant cyborg dinosaurs are the dominant species on the earth.  In other words, everything will go exactly as I’ve been planning it for a long time now.  Essentially, someone at Guerrilla Games seems to have gotten a look at my diary and decided “what a fucking good idea for a video game!”  They are, of course, correct, but does their take on my vision of the future stand up well enough to satisfy me – and avoid my wrath for stealing my thunder?

Well, they certainly nailed the main character.  Aloy is a dream come true (for me) – intelligent, strong, brave, but also sarcastic, wry, and witty.  She’s even a redhead – although given the scarlet witch I last dealt with, perhaps that last fact should give me pause.  But hair color aside, Aloy stands out to me among the relatively bland main characters in many open-world games as being a warm and genuinely relatable protagonist.

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That she is not unpleasant to look at is also ok with me.

But no matter how sassy, how savvy, or how seductive Aloy may be, it is all for naught if she can’t handle herself in battle.  Because let’s face it – when a giant mechanical dinosaur sees you, what do you think is going to happen?  If you answered, “rush toward me with terrifying speed and ferocity while I think ‘holy shit I’m going to die'” then that is an appropriate reaction.  There is an impressive variety of species in the vicious cyber-beasts that you will face, but they all share something in common – if you rush in unprepared, they will fucking kill you.

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If this is your view, something has gone horribly wrong.

Luckily, Aloy is likely far more competent than the average meatbag in these types of situations, and she has the tools keep herself alive.  Combat in Horizon: Zero Dawn is by far it’s greatest joy.  Aloy has access to an ability with the storyline name of Focus, which amounts to using heightened senses to detect enemy weaknesses and environmental clues, ala Witcher 3 or the Batman: Arkham games.  Each and every enemy that Aloy encounters can be taken down in an efficient manner – but what that manner is, and how best to do it, are left to Aloy and the player to determine.  That’s right – no tutorials pop up when you encounter a new species to walk you through how best to kill them – you need to look for weaknesses and then test out ways to exploit them.

And the tools to exploit them are there.  Aloy’s weapon of choice is a highly upgradeable bow and various elemental arrows, combined with the ability to temporarily slow time and take precise aim at her targets.  Over the course of the game, she will also come upon several other tools, which she can use to immobilize or set traps for her prey ala the Ratchet & Clank series, but also like that series, while these are fun to play around with in random throwaway fights, they generally aren’t that useful in the main story battles.  But if hte concept of leaning primarily on your bow and arrow doesn’t appeal to you, fret not.  Aloy can also gain the ability override the mechanical minds of her prey, rendering them docile enough to ride or even turning them against their own kind.

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Is she aiming an arrow up his…oh, Aloy, you magnificent bastard!

When you aren’t on the hunt for Dinobots (please don’t sue me Hasbro) then you can retreat to one of the scattered settlements of humans in the world.  Here you will accept quests and missions for fun and profit.  While the primary narrative question to be answered in Horizon: Zero Dawn may seem obvious (“What the fuck is up with the robot dinosaurs?!”) the writing is tremendous and the performances put in by the voice actors is equally well done, elevating the tale far above the somewhat Sci-Fi channel premise that it may seem on the surface to a tale of humanity on the brink and what we will do to survive.  I’ll be honest – going in I had no expectations for the story whatsoever and was sure I’d just power through it in order to go kill more Dinobots (seriously, how has Hasbro not sued anyone over this yet?), and I was happy to be proven wrong.

That isn’t to say the game is perfect – while the story is well written, it does occasionally suffer from some hokey or awkward lines, which DO make me think it should be Bruce Campbell delivering them.  And while the combat is very satisfying, I’d have preferred if they had made some of the weapons and tools outside of the bow more useful, or excised them from the game entirely.  But these are nitpicks.  The reality is this – Horizon: Zero Dawn was touted for a long time as one of the PS4 exclusives that would define the system, and it lives up to that hype.

EWE Says:

EWE Says Horizon

And that’s it for tonight, my friends.  Go get yourself a copy of Horizon: Zero Dawn and enjoy!  Thanks for putting up with me for another day! – EWE

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The Nintendo Problem

Greets once again, boys and girls.  Now, if you’ve spent any time around here at all, you know that I’ve been a huge fan of games for longer than most of you have probably been alive – and if you count starting ACTUAL wars as “war games” then for CENTURIES longer than you’ve been alive.  And in all that time, I can honestly say one thing – I’ve never, ever, EVER fallen prey to the fanboy console wars.  I’ve played every single home console available since the Atari 2600, and most of them at some point as well.  Each one has had their strong suits and weak points, and I’ve enjoyed them all to one degree or another.  So this is not an attack on Nintendo as a console maker or game developer – I dearly love Nintendo and all of the many memories it has given me.

Nor is this an attack in on the Nintendo Switch hardware itself, or it’s killer app, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time playing it courtesy of a friend, and I can say that the Switch itself more than lives up to its billing as a true merging of home console power with portable gaming convenience, and BotW is not just one of the finest Zelda games, or open world games, I’ve ever played, but simply one of the most beautiful and masterfully crafted video games of all time.

zelda-breath-wild

No, my gripe today is with Nintendo as a company, as a business entity.  This is not sour grapes because I am playing BotW on my friend’s Switch rather than on one of my own – rather, it’s the reason behind why that is.  Nintendo has made a disturbing habit over the several console generations of intentional, manufactured hardware shortages – as a business and marketing strategy – and I feel that the time has finally arrived for them to overcome their stubborn pride and admit it for the costly long-term mistake that it is.

Let’s face it – ever since the days of the Gamecube, Nintendo has made no secret of the fact that they have not even tried to stay on the bleeding edge of console hardware capability.  Instead, they have focused on two other things – innovation and marketing.  As with all things in life, they’ve experienced some tremendous successes as well as some setbacks.  There can be no argument that the Wii was a tremendously successful piece of console hardware, nor that the Wii U that followed failed to recapture that success.  But neither device was in any way a high-powered gaming console when compared to its contemporaries.  And yet, the launch of both consoles – and in the case of the Wii U, throughout its life cycle – were marked by a virtual absence from store shelves, with units arriving in minuscule trickles, snapped up within moments, and with never any real idea of when the next may arrive.

These shortages could be nothing short of intentional.  The simple fact is that the components required to manufacture those consoles was not difficult to fabricate nor to acquire.  There was literally no viable reason why Nintendo couldn’t produce significantly more product than they did – which means that they simply chose not to.  Now, there are reasons why a company may do this.  If they are unsure as to what the market demand for their product will be, it is often wise to reduce the quantity of the initial product run while running an aggressive marketing campaign.  This has the effect to stoke market appetite, and then to drive it even further by making the product seem artificially more desirable by virtue of scarcity.  With a paradigm-shifting console like the Wii, which was the true advent of mass market motion-controlled gaming, this approach made some sense, as even with focus testing and aggressive marketing, Nintendo couldn’t be positive that this radically different experience would be universally received well.

Such is not the case with the Switch.  The Switch is less a revolution, an more of an evolution.  It represents the culmination of what gamers have dreamed of for years – a true hybrid of home and portable gaming.  But while this is a fantastic achievement, it was done utilizing fairly pedestrian technical specs.  The Switch is essentially a tablet with a charging dock – none of which is even remotely new technology.  And Nintendo’s Switch marketing blitz did an absolutely phenomenal job of priming the market for the console’s debut – so why the market shortages?  This wasn’t a gimmicky flash-in-the-pan longshot, it was a traditional home console/traditional portable hybrid, with an absolutely killer launch game in BotW.  Nintendo knew this.  And they knew that the aftermarket sales – the Switch’s thrown onto ebay for 2x-3x the retail value – didn’t benefit them in any way.  So in the end, Nintendo’s entrenched policy of intentional hardware shortages, and their stubborn corporate pride in refusing to admit the mistake, as shown with the NES Classic, is resulting not in additional hype, but in a very real and dangerous chance of loss of consumer goodwill.  Let’s face it – this was not a holiday counsel launch.  There are not going to be customers lined up day after day, parents trolling auction sites willing to pay hundreds of dollars above retail so that they can see their kids smiling on Christmas morning.  This was a March launch, and with only one physical game on store shelves that was a must-play.  Sure there are some other fantastic launch games – I Am Setsuna and Shovel Knight come to mind – but those are both digital releases and both available on other platforms.  And BotW, for that matter, is as well – any Wii U owner could play it without finding a Switch.  So rather than setting the stage for a bright Nintendo future, instead this could backfire – customers could quickly grow tired of searching stores and websites for one of the few Switch’s that Nintendo deigns to send to market, and decide that they simply don’t need it.  And Nintendo simply cannot afford that.  After the flop of the Wii U, they need every single person who is inclined to buy a Switch to be ABLE TO BUY A SWITCH.  If that means deviating from previous strategy, they need to do so.

After all, Nintendo was once a playing card and toy company, and they deviated wildly from their traditional strategy and took a major chance on a completely untamed market.  You may know that chance as the NES. – EWE

#FrozenFoodFridays – Out-of-Town Seminar Edition

Salutations, children!  This week was a bit different for me – I spent the last two days traveling to Columbus, Ohio for a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) seminar.  While there, I was treated to something so delicious, it merited a very special edition of #FrozenFoodFridays.  So tonight, I’m not giving you a recipe – I’m telling you about an entire location, and one that you should make every effort to visit if possible: Schmidt’s Sausage Haus and Restaurant.

Schmidt's

My party and I stopped here after dinner for some dessert – and boy were we not disappointed.  The coconut cream pie was delicious.  The German chocolate cake ala mode was also quite good, and officially makes this conform with #FrozenFoodFridays, although I’d have preferred if the cake was warm rather than room temperature.

German Chocolate ala mode

But the absolute masterpiece, and Schmidt’s claim to fame, is their cream puffs.  Dear sweet baby jeebus, the cream puffs.

Cream Puff

Let me put it to you like this – this place put me into such a food coma that within ten minutes of returning to my hotel room, I had intended to boot up my computer and spend the evening writing this entry LAST night – but instead completely passed out and slept soundly the entire night.  IT’S THAT GOOD!

People, I know #FrozenFoodFridays is typically something you may be able to replicate in your own home.  But some things are just too good to not experience in their original glory.  Schmidt’s desserts are a perfect example of this.  If you are ever, EVER remotely near the Columbus area, do yourself a favor and drop by!  You’ll be more than glad you did. – EWE

#FrozenFoodFridays – Better Late (And Drunk) Than Never Edition

Greets, kiddos!  Yeah, I know – it isn’t Friday.  But in fairness, I started to plan this on Friday – it just took me a few extra days to work the kinks out and get some other matters attended to.  So, I’m still counting it as #FrozenFoodFridays, and to hell with anyone that wants to argue the point!  Now, I’ve noticed that two particular types of treats seem to appeal to most of you moreso than the rest – sweets, and alcohol.  I knew there was something I liked about all of you!  I’m kind of glad I haven’t set you all on fire…yet.  Anyway – I decided to once again combine these two favorites of yours, mine, and anyone who has any taste whatsoever, in a way that I hadn’t tried before.  This resulted in something very special – I give to you EWE’s Boozy Buckeyes!

buckeye-booze
The ability to make just about any flavor liquor is one of humanity’s only positive traits.

Ingredients:

  1. 2 cups creamy peanut butter (maybe more depending on how mixing goes)
  2. 1 cup butter, softened
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 5 cups powdered sugar
  6. 1/4 cup peanut butter vodka
  7. 1/4 cup chocolate liquor
  8. 3 cups dark chocolate chips
  9. 1/8 teaspoon coconut oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt until it is well mixed.  Slowly add the powdered sugar, continuing to mix as you go.  When it is all well mixed, add the booze.  Continue mixing until thoroughly combined.  If the mixture is too thin to scoop into balls, add additional peanut butter to thicken.  Once combined, scoop into 1″ balls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper.  Freeze for 30-40 minutes.

While the peanut butter balls are freezing, combine your dark chocolate chips and coconut oil in a microwave safe bowl and melt in 30-second bursts, stirring between each burst.  Once the peanut butter balls are set, insert a toothpick into the center of each ball and use to dip the ball into the chocolate bowl – but make sure to leave the top of each ball exposed so it looks like a buckeye, otherwise you’ve missed the entire point!  Return the chocolate covered balls (HA!) to the baking sheet and return to the freezer until the chocolate has set.  Remove the toothpick and keep these refrigerated until ready to serve.  Or, if you’re me, remove the toothpick, reflect on the pathetic state of your life, and eat the entire fucking tray while drinking the rest of the peanut butter and chocolate liquor combined in a glass and mixed with your tears.  Either way, enjoy! – EWE