We're back for another edition of Two Good Hours, where I detail my impressions of three games plucked from the ranks of Microsoft's PC Game Pass service.
Game Pass is the perfect place for a gamer who wants to try out so many games but does not have the budget to buy each one. I decided the best way to maximize the number of games I get to try is to spend just two hours with each one before moving on to the next. If a game hasn’t grabbed my attention during that time, I feel safe in saying it isn’t for me.
Last time out, I played SpiritFarer, Kentucky Route Zero, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. Quite the varied experiences in that group, to be sure, and each was enjoyable in its own way. The start of Kentucky Route Zero was slow, but I'm curious to watch the whole playthrough and see what the story is like. The Turtles game was an incredible retro experience that left me with a smile on my face the whole time. And SpiritFarer was emotional and thought-provoking while still being a fun game to play. This is a game to which I will definitely return.
This time out, I wanted to focus on a few games that were newer and had received a lot of acclaim. I went with The Last Case of Benedict Fox, Pentiment, and Hi-Fi Rush, with Benedict Fox a late substitution into the trio as it came out the day I started preparing for this piece.
Without further delay, let’s get into the games!
The Last Case of Benedict Fox
The highest praise I can give a game while operating within the strictures of a two-hour time limit is that I will go back to play it again. I knew within 10 minutes of firing up The Last Case of Benedict Fox that I would return to get more than the brief exposure this piece allows. It’s sometimes difficult to avoid making pronouncements about a game when I have such a limited perspective, but there’s a lot to love about this experience so far.
Starting things off, the game looks fantastic and sounds amazing as well. In fact, it’s one of the better-looking indie games I’ve seen in years, with visual panache and a level of detail that makes me want to keep playing just to see what is in the next room. The voice acting is great and features well-written dialogue, both things that are easy to take for granted in modern gaming.
Though you don't get a ton of answers in the first two hours, the story is compelling, with the titular character searching for the truth behind the death of his father and the mysteries of his own life. The tale slowly unfolds through cutscenes and discoveries you make as you progress through your father's mansion. You can also inhabit a limbo dimension (think the Upside Down, for you Stranger Things fans) thanks to the demon companion that is bound to you everywhere you go. That demon companion also confers upon you certain abilities which contribute to the actual gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, there’s a certain clunkiness to it, but in the two hours I played, it wasn’t bothersome. I could foresee a point where the jank and limited scope of the core mechanics could wear thin, however. Those mechanics are a light and heavy melee attack with your knife, which then charges a flare gun you use for ranged attacks. Where the jank comes in is jumping, and with different levels and platforms to traverse in the limbo world, you’ll be dealing with it a lot. Sometimes you’ll be missing jumps you feel should be makeable, and when your demon powers are active, you’ll have access to a double jump that doesn’t always have reliable timing. As with combat, it didn’t bother me much in the two hours I played, but I could see it growing tiresome the longer you deal with it.
I absolutely cannot wait to get back into the mysterious and atmospheric adventure with Mr. Fox and his devilish friend. It remains to be seen which way this one lands with extended gameplay, but I'm a huge story wonk and can look past some gameplay flaws for a good yarn.
This is the toughest game to evaluate that I’ve come across in my adventures with PC Game Pass. On one hand, it is clear there’s a story lurking here that I’d love to experience. As one who enjoys a good story to the point of overlooking weaker gameplay at times, I’m squarely in Pentiment’s target audience. But the beginning two hours was so tedious that I can’t imagine returning to this to play any further.
I almost hate typing this, because I am a huge proponent of publishers and the industry making space for games like this to be created. The “blockbuster or nothing” mentality that Sony and others seem to embrace these days is the worst thing for fans because it marginalizes the ability to take risks with a game like Pentiment. I see the indie scene as the savior of the old-school, games-should-be-fun ethos that shouldn’t have to fight for survival, and while Pentiment was made by a AAA studio, it’s the type of passion project that has the indie spirit at its core.
The game puts you in the shoes of Andreas Maler, an illustrator working at an abbey in 16th-century Germany. Apparently, the story eventually becomes a murder mystery and only you, with your wit and knowledge, can solve the case. This is essentially a walking simulator, where you walk across the sizable abbey grounds and surrounding area, talking to everyone you meet. Occasionally, you’ll be tasked with pressing a button to interact with the objects you see, advance the conversation, and choose responses in the dialogue trees. The NPCs will react to the things you say and remember them, which supposedly affects the future interactions you’ll have with them.
The writing is uniformly excellent, both witty and engaging. There is just so very much of it, and in a very particular stylistic choice, it is displayed on the screen as if written by the author in real-time. The vast amount of your time will be spent reading or waiting to read as the text fills in, then clicking the button to do it again, then choosing a response from a small list, and repeating the cycle until the end of the conversation. If you enjoy this time period and learning more about it, I dare say you will be overly pleased with what the game offers. I am a student of history, so I was predisposed to find it fascinating, but I just couldn’t do it. All the clicking and reading left me doing something and yet nothing at all. The game clearly has something to say and the way it goes about it is fascinating, but it feels more like late-generation Encarta than a game
I don’t want to sound overly negative because there’s so much the game does right. It is gorgeous and truly feels like living inside a medieval painting. The bits where the perspective switches to inside a storybook are marvelous in the early going. I have no doubt the character development is going to be fascinating and worth the wait. It is the perfect example of a game I wanted to like but couldn’t find a way to do so. I will absolutely watch a full playthrough on YouTube, but I won’t be returning to play the remains of the adventure.
As I was playing Hi-Fi Rush, I kept coming back to a statement I hear a lot these days: “This game has no right being this good”. I’ve not really understood the meaning until now, but it seems to apply to this game. Perhaps it is the fact it was shadow-dropped that makes it seem like the studio or publisher had no confidence in it. Or maybe that, coming from a well-known studio like Tango Gameworks but differing vastly from all their other PC/console games makes it seem like a side-project, a bit of filler between big titles. Regardless of the reasons, and whether it should be this good, the game is fantastic and more than lives up to the huge amount of praise it received.
Rhythm as a mechanic is becoming more common, with games like Metal Hellsinger and Bullets Per Minute using the mechanic in the FPS genre. As a 3rd-person melee-heavy action game, this one caught people off guard, but it just works. Pressing buttons to the beat is the same no matter the viewpoint, and seeing your swings timed to the beat (along with some visual indicators) is important to your success. The game feels responsive so you’re not frustrated that the proper timing is out of your control, and seeing your robotic foes reduced to piles of gears is rewarding.
The story is light and fun, setting you up for some baddie-smashing without having to think too much about why you're doing it. The graphics are fantastic, like you're actually controlling a cartoon, and the voice acting is similarly perfect and over the top in just the right way. The occasional switch to a 2D perspective was a great surprise too, a nice hit of nostalgia in the middle of a modern 3D smasher.
The design is really well done, giving a helping hand to players that might be new to rhythm-type games and having a bit of a hard time coming to grips with the mechanics. The first few hours are a steady drip-feed of new attacks, new systems, and new methods of traversal, feeling very natural and well-paced in a way that is important for a game that can be visually overwhelming at times.
On the better-than-it-ought-to-be track is the game world itself and the sheer amount of stuff to see and find. There are a ridiculous amount of collectibles and hidden secrets to find, from gears in clever places to statues of the bad guy that you can bash for even more gears. The world feels wide open and Tango has really done a great job making traversal and movement feel as good as the fighting. And then there's the hub world, which gives you a ton to do between missions and becomes even cooler the further you progress in the game. It's just a wonderful package that was completely unexpected by almost everyone.
My only gripe with the game is that the sound can be a bit overwhelming for actually hearing the beat you need to keep. While the on-screen indicators are very helpful, it makes the screen feel very chaotic and hard to comprehend at times. This could absolutely just be a "me" problem, but having played other games like this which had a clearer sound field, a different mix of effects and music could have been without having to minimize the volume of either. I also couldn't get controller support to work with the game, and though I was using a DualShock 4 and not an Xbox gamepad, it's the first game where that's happened on the service.
I will more than likely go back and play more of Hi-Fi Rush, as the visual style and action are a breath of fresh air from a lot of what is out there. The game certainly deserves more of my time, but with so much coming in 2023, other games may be the only thing that keeps me from revisiting soon. But for anyone wondering what to do with their gaming time, you don’t want to miss this one.
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