The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth – Review

Developer: Edmund McMillen, Nicalis Inc

Publisher:  Nicalis Inc

Music: Ridiculon (Matthias Bossi, Jon Evans)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U, New Nintendo 3DS Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC (Windows, Mac, Linux), iOS

Released: 5 Nov 2014 (Afterbirth DLC: 30 October 2015, Afterbirth+ 3 January 2017, Repentance DLC 31 March 2021)

Genre: Shooter, Rogue-like

You are Isaac, a small naked boy.  

You enter a room.  It’s dark and the walls are made of flesh, there is a pile of poop on the ground in front of you and you cry on it.  The poop is destroyed and a coin pops out of it.  You will take that coin and use it to buy a jar of flies.  Later you will find a secret room where you can make a deal with the devil in exchange for severed parts of your dead cat which you will use to help you defeat a giant fetus.  

By crying on it.  

After defeating this foe you are rewarded with a placenta.  I’m pretty sure you eat it.  

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a shooter with rogue-like elements rendered in a pixel art style reminiscent of its flash game roots.  The game’s aesthetic draws heavily from Christian themes and iconography.  And poop.  So much poop. The game is like a bible study meets a third grader’s sense of humour.  

As the titular character Isaac you explore a maze of randomly generated rooms, picking up items and defeating monsters as you descend deeper into the basement and what lies beneath to escape from your religious mother who has been hearing the voice of god telling her to murder you to prove her faith.  

The game plays akin to a “bullet hell” shooter, you control Isaac and make sure to dodge enemies and their attacks while shooting back at them.  Well, crying at them.  Each floor of the run increases in difficulty as you go.  Each run of Binding of Isaac starts you afresh, and as you progress you can find various items that can help (or hinder) you.  Items can be either passive (which affects your stats or provides a certain effect like flight) or activated and fall into one of several categories.  

These can interact with each other to form synergies, giving each run a distinctly different feel depending on what items you found.  There are few things more satisfying than finding just the right combinations of items on a run that work so well that it feels like cheating, although on the flip side there are few things more frustrating than picking up an item that ruins your entire build.  

Whether you defeated the final boss or you died horribly, a new run is a fresh start: a new layout, new items and new possibilities.  But it doesn’t stop there!

No two runs are the same with new items, characters, levels, and challenges to unlock giving The Binding of Isaac pretty much endless replayability.  The game also has 3 DLCs available for it, each adding new modes, characters, items, enemies, achievements, rooms, and challenges. There is so much content available for this game.  

The music is an instrumental soundtrack with soft, chilling ambient music for each stage of the game which morphs into a more intense style for the boss fights. It really gives each level its own sense of place with the caves level having a damp and dingy vibe with its echoing splashes giving way to the feeling of empty and forgotten decomposition as you enter a secret room, the music shifting to give each type of special room its own theme.  

Whether you’re picking up a coin or a heart, crying onto a poop, or activating an item, The Binding of Isaac has a distinct sound effect for each. It is a beautiful, creepy, and at times disgusting-sounding game.  

I love this game.  The satisfaction of getting familiar enough with the item pools to know what item to pick and which one to skip, that manic glee when I get lucky and manage to create a build that is overpowered to the point where I can walk into a room and the enemies just die around me as I do nothing and the weird little pet things that I’ve picked up just obliterate them.  How it’s never too frustrating to die on a bad run because, “oh well, the next one will be different.” 

I can (and have) stayed up all night, lost in the ‘just one more run’ loop.  I have 1277 hours in this game as of writing this.  I’m going to go play it some more after I’m done here.  And I am fighting the urge to get The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth on Nintendo Switch so I can cry on poops while I myself poop.  

(Review provided by guest reviewer: Caroline Girdler)

Bright Memory: Infinite – Review

Developer: FYQD-Studio
Publisher: FYQD-Studio, PLAYISM
Music: Jeff Rona
Platforms: PC (Steam), iOS, Android, Xbox Series X
Released: March 25 2020
Genre: First Person Shooter, Hack and Slash

Have you ever wanted to work for a mysterious organisation with high-tech gear? Have you ever wished you could wield a futuristic laser sword? Do you want to sprint around, with pyrokinetic powers, a ridiculous amount of bullets, a bunch of guns (some of which can launch grenades, electric bullets, or just spray fire), while the world around you flies off into a black hole in the sky?

Are you ok with not really knowing what on earth is going on?

Then I got the game for you!

Bright Memory: Infinite is the expanded and complete version of Bright Memory: Episode 1. A first person shooter, with a lot of hacking and slashing, in a detailed and beautiful realistic world, Bright Memory is a fast-paced game that knows how to escalate, and escalate hard.

There’s a lot to this game, and yet, not that much at all. What I mean by that is that it’s pretty linear, you have a few weapons and abilities, and a handful of enemy types to face off against. However, there is a satisfying level of detail to the mechanics, from movement to the guns you use, and the environment you progress through.

 

So, your abilities? Well, you have a special sci-fi arm that lets you drag enemies towards you from far distances, and then you can just… explode that enemy with a flex of your hand. You also have a special sci-fi sword that can slice and dice your enemies like a hibachi chef demolishes a prawn. Your sword can also launch laser waves, making it a ranged weapon as well. You know, in case you want to switch up from your overpowered ridiculous guns.

You have an auto rifle initially, and eventually you unlock other guns, including an auto pistol that shoots electric bullets, and a sniper rifle. Each gun also has a secondary ability! So your sniper rifle can also shoot grenades. And your auto rifle shoots bigger bullets.

Bright Memory also gives you so many bullets all the time. And it is really satisfying switching between your weapons and just being this whirlwind of death and destruction. The audio and animation adds to this as well, so each attack and weapon feels weighty.

But that’s not all! You also have movement abilities, like double jumping, running along walls, telepor-I mean dodging attacks, blocking melee attacks and bullets with your sword. This game is going to throw enemies at you, and you’re just going to deal with all of them, darting all over the place, switching between grenades and shotguns and swords oh my. You can play frantically, recklessly, and with minimal thought. Sometimes you’ll have to be strategic, but there’s not much you can’t solve with a sword and a lot of bullets. And the ability to explode enemies with your mind.

 

All these abilities and weapons can be upgraded as you find relics throughout the world, encouraging you to do a bit of digging and crate-breaking.

 

And you’ll need those upgrades in order to face the storm ahead of you. Literally, you got called into this situation because there was an unusual storm happening. So of course you have to fly there with a futuristic plane with warp technology, which reveals the cause of the storm: an actual black hole in the sky. And of course we have to head right towards it because although we don’t really know what’s going on, General Lin and his army are there and apparently that means bad news.

Also, you get a car for one section of the game. It’s a really fancy car, and I felt bad driving it into tanks and stuff, but even driving through mud and bullets feels satisfying, and it’s only a 5 minute long portion of the game.

Have I mentioned this game knows how to escalate? You get called in to check out a storm, find a black hole, and you have to take out a bunch of regular baddies. But now there’s a… time rift I guess? And ancient soldiers are also fighting you. And sometimes giant statues, wild pigs, a guy who is on fire, and you’ll be fighting in the middle of flood waters, on the back of a plane flying directly into the blackhole, mountains, bridges, in a busted up cafe. I had to take a break, put down my controller, and just ground myself for a little bit.

 

I do have a few gripes. The game throws you into this wacky situation, and I just wish I knew more about it than the most bare-bones background information possible. Who is General Lin? Why is he here? What does he have to do with the black hole? How are we stopping a black hole? We keep going towards it like we know what we’re doing but the guy on coms is just like ‘we don’t know! Go check it out’. The game is pretty linear, it boxes you into one path and one path only. We have these movement abilities and a grappling hook, it would’ve been fun to do more with that and encourage a bit of exploration. The upgrade relics are right in the main path, so they’re not doing much exploration-wise.

The movement is also a bit janky. The wall climbs and jumps in particular. Most of the time it’s not something you’d really notice, but it does feel frustrating in some areas, especially when you have to pull off a slightly more challenging manoeuvre. It would slow me down a lot at times.

The sound adds a lot to this game, but only the environmental and action sounds. The thud thud thud of my gun shooting, combined with the recoil and screen shake is delicious. Hearing the rain and storm, the plane engines screaming is overwhelming. Straining to listen to the patrolling guards, so I can sneak up on them with a meat cleaver. It’s good! The voice acting? Dreadful. You have one of the bad guys laughing like a caricature, and not in a fun way. The other bad guy just sounds like he was told to mimic a James Bond villain, but he never actually watched a James Bond movie in his life. The only character with decent voice acting is Wake, and he has maybe 5 lines. I love him.

Now, here’s the main thing about this game, it’s actually really short. My first run was just over 2 hours long. My first run. Because this game encourages you to make multiple runs, not to explore different paths or outcomes or anything. Just to do the exact same journey, but with harder enemies, all your upgrades, and do it quicker this time. If you do, you might unlock some alternative costumes for Shelia! Like a, uhh, cheerleader outfit. Or a bikini. Would’ve been cool to have a skin that looks like the ancient warriors but ok.

But hey, it’s so satisfying to play that I do find myself thinking about making another run, see if I can improve my time. I just would’ve liked some variety, and the ending? Yawn. It was building up to something truly epic, and just as I was processing what was happening it… was over. And you’re supposed to just do it again. I do feel a bit cheated. I had a lot of fun, I’ll play it again, but it’s actually a lot of really awesome frosting on a pretty plain cake.

Take-Two Takes Zynga, Snorlax Hot Pursuit, E3 Goes Digital Again and Activision’s Legal (and LEGO) Troubles

This week in gaming news.

Take-Two Interactive to Acquire Mobile Developer Zynga for A$17.7 Billion
Take-Two Interactive, the company behind the Grand Theft Auto games, has issued a press release stating that they’ve reached a deal to acquire FarmVille developer Zynga for more than 17 billion Australian dollars. The deal would be the largest acquisition in the history of the video games sector and appears to follow a trend of major PC and console developers making large acquisitions of mobile games developers as a way of expanding into the mobile sector. The merger opens up the opportunity for Zynga to adapt classic Take-Two franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and NBA 2K for mobile platforms. The deal is expected to close in the first half of this year.

LAPD Officers Denied Appeal After Being Fired for Ignoring Robbery to Catch Snorlax
Two fired LAPD officers were denied reinstatement in a California court this week after being fired in 2017 for playing Pokemon Go on the job. The pair were dismissed after a dashcam recording showed them receiving a call for backup to a robbery at a nearby department store and choosing to ignore it to play the mobile game. They left the area and spent the next 20 minutes catching Pokemon, the two were even heard discussing a Snorlax they could see on the map and the best route to take to catch it. The officers appealed their dismissal on the grounds that dashcam recordings were not meant to be used to monitor officers’ conversations, but a California judge denied the appeal.

E3 2022 Show to Remain Online-Only for Second Year in A Row
The massive annual games industry trade show E3 will again be held as an online virtual conference this year as COVID-19 cases surge, it will be the second year in a row of online-only events for the conference in a show of caution from organisers. Last year’s E3 2021 was moved to an online-only event and the 2020 show was cancelled entirely due to COVID-19 related concerns, making 2022 the third year with no physical E3 event. Similar trade shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show and the Game Developers Conference have received some criticism over the decision to go ahead with in-person events this year despite the potential for spreading the virus during the current spike in cases.

Activision-Blizzard Legal Saga Continues and Overwatch 2 LEGO Set Delayed
Activision Blizzard’s legal troubles related to allegations of toxic workplace culture continue as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or DFEH has appealed a decision preventing it from intervening in the settlement of a federal lawsuit. The developer settled with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September with the creation of a compensation fund totalling 25 million Australian dollars. The California DFEH has attempted to intervene in the settlement over concerns it could release Activision-Blizzard from pending California lawsuits.

At the same time, LEGO has announced that they are reviewing their partnership with Activision-Blizzard due to the aforementioned allegations and pausing release of the upcoming Overwatch 2 Titan LEGO set which was due to hit shelves in February.

Now for some upcoming releases
4-player co-op shooter The Anacrusis is releasing to early access on PC, Xbox Series X and Xbox One today, January 13th, along with the Playstation and Xbox ports of Mushroom Wars 2. January 14 sees the critically-acclaimed God of War finally coming to PC.

That’s all this week in gaming news.

Virtual Reality Is Very Real (and so is Hacking)


Record VR Sales Across The Holidays

The 2021 holiday season was a big one in terms of virtual reality systems and games, with the Oculus app topping the Apple App Store on Christmas, beating TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.

Meta doesn’t release sales numbers for Quest headsets, so we can only piece together how popular it is through unofficial data points. So the Oculus app being at the top indicates a strong uptick in new headset usage. But that’s not all, Rec Room, a free social virtual reality experience has reported record numbers over the holidays, with over 1 million VR players logging in over a 60 hour period.

Apps such as Hand Physics Lab, Golf+, Eleven Table Tennis, and Loco Dojo Unleashed, have also reported a similar spike in new users.

 

PS5 Explains Their New VR2 System

PlayStation have announced the names for their new virtual reality system for the PlayStation 5 console. PlayStation VR2, and the new virtual reality controller, PlayStation V2 Sense controller.

PlayStation VR2 promises to take virtual reality gaming to a new level of presence and escapism, with new hardware features, greater depth of immersion, and new worlds being built. PS5 VR2 offers the following:

4K HDR 110-degree field of view, combined with an OLED display, means a display resolution of 2000×2040 per eye and smoother frame rates.

Inside-out tracking, with the player and their controller being tracked through cameras embedded in the VR headset, eliminating the need for an external camera.

Brand new sensory features, combining eye tracking, headset feedback, 3D audio, and the VR2 Sense controller to pull you deeper than ever into virtual reality. The most significant hardware feature being the motor in the VR headset that can vibrate to offer tactile feedback.

VR2 will detect the motion of your eyes, allowing the player to interact more intuitively with their environment.

PlayStation has announced that Horizon Call of the Mountain will be coming to the PlayStation VR2, making it one of the biggest franchises for the potential lineup available for the VR2.

Activision Sues Call of Duty Cheat Maker

Activision has asked a court to take action against EngineOwning, a cheat maker selling cheats to Call of Duty: Warzone players. This latest case is another battle in Activision’s war against hackers in their online battle royale, accusing EngineOwning for causing “irreparable damage to its goodwill and reputation”.

Activision alleges that the cheat maker has hurt sales through the distribution of aimbots, triggerbots, and other cheats. Other than allegedly ruining the online experience for thousands of players, Activision says that EngineOwning has infringed on their copyright, and violated its terms of service, and claims that “tens of thousands’ of players have been caught using EngineOwning’s tools over the past year.

And now for some upcoming game releases!

January 10:

  • Super Sami Roll (XSX)

January 12:

  • PUBG: Battlegrounds Free to Play (PC, PS4, XBO, Stadia)

January 13:

  • The Anacrusis (PC, XSX, XBO)
  • Mushroom Wars 2 (PS5, XSX, PS4, XBO)

Riot Settles, FFXVI Delayed, Steam Confusion and Tesla Troubles

Riot Games Settles Gender Discrimination Suit  

Riot Games has agreed to pay the equivalent of 138 million Australian dollars in a settlement with members of a class action lawsuit over cases of gender discrimination against women employees. The class action suit was first filed in 2018 by former employees Melanie McCracken and Jes Negrón after a Kotaku investigation into Riot’s sexist workplace culture, and includes all current and former full-time and temp employees in California. Riot also agreed to third-party monitoring of pay equity and internal reporting for the next three years. The plaintiffs’ counsel Genie Harrison released a statement saying “We appreciate Riot’s introspection and work since 2018 toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive company, its willingness to take responsibility for its past, and its commitment to continued fairness and equality in the future.”

Final Fantasy XVI Reveal Delayed

Final Fantasy XVI’s Producer Naoki Yoshida has issued a statement via the game’s official Twitter account apologising for pushing back the game’s “next big reveal” that was previously announced for this year. Yoshida wrote that “FINAL FANTASY XVI has amassed a sizeable team composed of talented creators from around the world. However, in an effort to offset the effects of COVID-19, we’ve had to decentralize that workforce … This has unfortunately hampered communication from the Tokyo office which, in turn, has led to delays in … asset deliveries.” He further stated that that “next big reveal” would come in Autumn next year for us in Australia.

Possible Steam ban in China

News outlets this week reported that some Chinese Steam users were unable to log into the global version of Valve’s digital game store Steam. Steam monitoring website SteamDB was quoted as saying that access to the service was cut off in a way consistent with the Chinese government’s efforts to block other websites, but users were still able to access Steam China, a restricted version of the platform with less features and a limited library of games which are approved by the government. Rumours have circulated on Twitter that some users in China were still able to access Steam without a VPN and some have speculated that the apparent block was the result of a DNS poisoning attack. Without official statements from the government or Valve the exact nature of the situation remains unclear.

Tesla Disables Passenger Play Under Regulatory Pressure

Finally we have an unsurprising update to the story about Tesla’s new in-car gaming feature known as Passenger Play. Tesla appears to have caved to regulatory pressure, confirming that an automatic update has rolled out to Tesla vehicles that forcibly disables Passenger Play while the car is in motion. The move came just one day after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a formal investigation into whether the feature would be a hazardous distraction to drivers. NHTSA has stated that they are working with Tesla but will continue the investigation into whether the manufacturer’s infotainment screens are a distraction hazard despite the changes.

Stalking NFTs, Winning Games, and Gaming Bytes

Stalking NFTs
With big brands like Nike and Adidas jumping on Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, it would seem like a mistake for game developers not to do the same. However, Ubisoft’s experimental NFT sales for Ghost Recon Breakpoint appear to have sold just 15 NFTs since their release on the 9th of December.
Jumping on this bandwagon, GSC Game World, developer of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl, announced on the 15th of December their intention to introduce NFTs via auction in January of 2022 and later. These NFTs would range from “genesis” collectables to the rights to be scanned using photogrammetry and inserted into the game as an NPC “metahuman”. Within 24 hours after the publication went live, GSC Game World was hit with community backlash and responded with a tweet saying, “Based on the feedback we received, we’ve made a decision to cancel anything NFT-related in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2.” but not before doubling down in a now deleted tweet attempting to reason with the community.
It must be noted that in the third quarter of 2021, NFT games such as Sky Mavis’ Axis Infinity reportedly generated about 2.32 billion US dollars in revenue, paving the way as further incentive for future developers to integrate NFTs into games.

Winning Games
In an unprecedented year for games, Hades now sits alongside Oscar-winning Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’s Colette for being the first game to win a prestigious industry award in 2021.
In this year’s Hugo Awards, the World Science Fiction Society used its bylaws to create the one-off 2021 Best Video Game award. Many games were nominated with Spiritfarer from Thunder Lotus Games and Animal Crossing: New Horizons from Nintendo coming runners-up to the award winner Hades from Super Giant Games. While Super Giant Games were unable to be there, Greg Kasavin, Creative Director and Writer of Hades had the following to say on twitter.

“We are incredibly honoured to be the first-ever recipient of a Hugo award in the category of best video game. We, myself included, grew up experiencing these classic works of science fiction and fantasy, from Ursula K. Le Guin to Philip K. Dick, what have you. That’s when we first came across the Hugo Awards name, of course, as kids.
“To have earned this distinction all this time later, especially alongside such an incredible slate of nominees, games of all shapes and sizes, from teams big and small, it really means the world.”

Keep an eye out in the future as there are rumours floating around online that this gaming category may become an annual Hugo event.


Now for some Gaming Bytes:

Finishing First
HowLongToBeat’s stat breakdown of game releases in  2021 show that Resident Evil Village is the most completed game this year with 2.6 thousand completions of the game so far narrowly beating Metroid Dread with 2.2 thousand completions.

CD Projekt Settles
CD Projekt has settled with suing investors over the release of Cyberpunk 2077 to the tune of 1.85 million US Dollars. The lawsuit accused CD Projekt of misleading investors over the release quality of the game and suing for damages incurred by this.

North America Unionises
North America finally has its first ever video game studio union, formed at the Vodeo Games Studio, developers of Beast Breaker that released for PC, Mac, and Switch this year. The Vodeo Workers United union formed to protect independent contracted workers and salaried staff to maintain a fair and equitable workforce and lock in some of the perks they love… like the 4-day work week they currently enjoy.

Sony Faceplates Finally
After exerting legal pressure to stop the creation of personalised faceplates for the PS5 late 2020 and more recently against dbrand in October of this year, Sony has finally released their own personalised faceplates with 5 different colour offerings of Midnight Black, Cosmic Red, Nova Pink, Starlight Blue, and Galactic Purple.

Now in upcoming games:
On the 23rd of December the 3D platformer puzzler Scarf released by Uprising Studios has you forming an unbreakable bond with your dragon who is also your scarf on PC and Stadia. Teratopia and Tunnel of Doom are releasing their Switch ports on the 23rd.
On the 24th Tunnel of Doom is also porting to the Xbox One and releasing on the 28th of December, the Switch port of Lacuna.