Supermassive Games are learning from their mistakes and taking what works best for their third installment of season one. The Dark Pictures anthology had explored various elements of horror, settling on some good old monsters in House of Ashes. Without further ado, let’s dive in (pun intended) and review! Please beware of spoilers ahead.
The story is set during the invasion of Iraq and starts with a CIA team who are mid-strategic planning. Eric Knight, the marshal of the operation, believes he has found a route to the biological weapons of their opponents. His estranged wife Rachel, who is having an affair with sergeant Nick Kay, leads said operation. Things go horribly wrong when the squad slips through the cracks quite literally and gets trapped underground. As if that isn’t bad enough, they’re hunted by monsters only vulnerable to sunlight. Too bad there’s none of it in the dungeons.
Overall, the story is definitely the most developed out of all three games. I myself find it a tad too ‘masculine’ for the lack of a better word. While the topic of war is always going to be challenging, the game handles it quite gracefully. The pacing is also well done, the suspense and action scenes are balanced out. The plot twist somehow doesn’t feel corny as it makes sense within the mythology of the feature.
I personally enjoyed the fact that the monsters were actually real, unlike the threats in both Man of Medan and Little Hope. I think it was more because Little Hope’s twist is one of the most hated tropes in the media that people wanted for the story to actually mean something and House of Ashes delivered in that aspect.
There is a lot of tension between the group from many different perspectives. The love triangle of Eric/Rachel/Nick is nuanced and offers multiple paths for each participant, including but not limited to who Rachel can end up with and Eric/Nick’s dynamic. It does a good job of humanizing these characters because Eric genuinely puts in the effort to try and make things work with Rachel, even if it doesn’t always work.
Jason’s and Salim’s friendship is without a doubt the highlight of the game and probably the best platonic dynamic of the series to date. Two men on opposite sides of the war who form a genuine bond in the face of danger are admirable and definitely elevate the two characters with great emotional impact.
The mechanics are more or less on the same level as Little Hope since Supermassive Games seem to have found a good formula for them and are sticking to it. The usual options of heart vs head during dialogue scenes, smoother walking controls, and character-changing mid-action sequences are even more polished.
Overall, it’s probably the most active game of the series as while it’s still no RPG, there are actually sequences where you need to sweat to hit all the QTEs correctly.
House of Ashes is without a doubt the best game of the series up until this point. The dialogue is only getting better, the relationships are complex and the action is thrilling. While I would have liked to have another playable female character, considering the setting of the story it makes sense. The installment also offers a fascinating take on vampire mythology with a great plot twist. If I was going to introduce anyone new to this series, I would choose this one to start with. (4.5 / 5)
Slay the Spire Downfall Review: A Masterclass in Fan Content
Slay the Spire Downfall, also known as Downfall, is a fan-made mod to Slay the Spire by Table 9 Studio. Table 9 is a small game studio that has primarily specialized in small projects but is soon to release its own original game, Tales & Tactics. Downfall is one of its first projects, and has been met with heavy support from the Slay the Spire development team and community. It has been so successful, it even has its own Steam page.
If you aren’t familiar with Slay the Spire, check out my review! Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the base game, let’s get into the expansion!
Downfall adds considerable content and new playing options to Slay the Spire. Generally, there are plenty of new cards, events, and relics. Additionally, there is a new hero, The Hermit, an undead gunslinger. Cards in their deck have increased abilities when played from the middle of a hand, creating better outcomes the more deliberate you play.
In addition to traditional Standard mode, the game’s meat and potatoes is Downfall mode. In Downfall mode, you can play as one of seven bosses from Slay the Spire. Instead of climbing up the tower, you work your way down defending it from the same heroes you’d play as in the base game. Each boss has its own unique playstyle and deck, resulting in even more varied play experiences.
The seven playable bosses are The Slime Boss, The Guardian, The Hexaghost, The Champ, The Automaton, The Gremlins, and The Snecko. All can be encountered as enemies during a Standard run. Their playstyles are as follows:
The Slime Boss
The Slime Boss’s special mechanic includes slime minions that can split from the Boss and have a variety of effects. Additionally, the Boss has cards that add Goop, increasing the damage of the next attack and causing additional effects when consumed.
The Guardian’s special mechanic is that they are able to phase between modes after taking a certain amount of damage. The cards also have gem slots, which allows gem cards to be combined with other cards to make them more powerful.
The Hexaghost’s special mechanic is that it has six Ghostflames that can be ignited by playing certain card type combinations. When ignited, a special effect occurs. A large portion of the cards in this deck are centered around end-of-combat buffs and cards that disappear if not played immediately.
The Champ’s special mechanic is that they change between Defensive or Berserker stance, giving them bonuses depending on which stance they are in. Their cards interact heavily with their stances.
The Automaton’s special ability is that they create functions, cards which are the stored combination of three already played cards. Their cards can cause compile errors when certain cards are used together, and the deck is focused on function synergy.
The Gremlins’ special ability is that you play as all five gremlins, each with their own health bar and buff effects. Cards have extra abilities depending on which gremlin is the main gremlin at the time.
The Snecko’s special ability is that they play cards of any class. This means they have access to hero and boss cards of all types throughout the run.
The new playable characters are a hit. They are so much fun to play and add an intriguing new dimension to the game. My favorite new characters are The Automaton and The Slime Boss, though every time I play any character a few times, I find a new favorite! Each character is refreshing and interesting in its own way.
Generally, the gameplay takes an already great game and gives it even more replayability. My biggest critique is that Downfall currently doesn’t work on the Steam Deck, unlike Slay the Spire. However, it’s an absolute blast to play either way. Because this is a fan expansion, it is free to download! But you do still need Slay the Spire in order to play.
I can’t recommend this game enough. It is enjoyable, has a high level of replayability, and a greatly executed concept. I only wish I could play it everywhere! (5 / 5)
Slay the Spire Review: Deckbuilding & Monsters
Slay the Spire is a roguelike, deckbuilding video game created by small indie studio Mega Crit Games. Released in 2017, Slay the Spire is the first and only game created by Mega Crit. However, the game has continued to see updates from the development team and fans alike since its release. In fact, a Slay the Spire Board Game just launched in November 2022 on Kickstarter to great success.
In Slay the Spire, you play as one of four characters as they battle their way through a magical tower filled with monsters, loot, and curses. The further up the spire you go, the harder and more lucrative your journey becomes. Will you defeat three of the many bosses awaiting you and receive your glory?
Within Slay the Spire, there are four characters (The Ironclad, Silent, Defect, and Watcher) each with their own deck and playstyle. You begin by choosing which one you will play as for the journey ahead. The Ironclad has a focus on healing and strong attacks, and is the simplest adventurer to play as. This makes sense, as they are the first character you have unlocked and introduces you to the mechanics of the game. Meanwhile, The Silent has a focus on many small attacks and poison. The Silent is very accessible in its mechanics just like The Ironclad, however is less forgiving to strategic mistakes. The Defect is more complicated and has a focus in channeling different elements to produce varied effects on the battlefield. Lastly, there is The Watcher, the complicated character, who has a focus on utilizing different combat forms to gain advantages. In addition to different playstyles through their unique decks, each adventurer also begins with a special ability and starting health.
After selecting your character, you journey deep into The Spire, choosing pathways filled with monsters, merchants, more relics, rest sites, and mystery events. Killing enemies provides rewards through gold, cards, single-use potions, and occasionally powerful relics which stay with you the whole run. Elite enemies provide better rewards, however, healing opportunities are usually few and far between. Fighting too many elite enemies may prove more dangerous than lucrative. At merchants cards, potions, relics, and the removal of a card from your deck can be purchased in order to improve your strength. Rest sites provide either healing or card upgrades, forcing you to choose between your precious health and the improvement of your build. There are three acts in a full run, with a boss at the end of each act. As the acts progress, the bosses become harder, testing the mettle of your improvements throughout the game.
I have absolutely adored my time playing Slay the Spire. The progression within a run is difficult but rewarding. There have been times when poor luck ended my run, however I still always had fun anyway. The diversity of characters and the resulting playstyles is great, even if I have found myself going back to The Ironclad time and time again. Additionally the game gives the player a significant amount of agency in the decisions on how to improve your deck and character. This creates replayability and a sense of ownership over a given run. The game also rewards and encourages taking chances, making it a blast to push your luck.
While I’ve had a great deal of fun, there are some areas for improvement. My biggest gripe is that there aren’t more unique characters, monsters, events, and bosses. I’d love to see more playstyles as well as see less repeats of bosses, monsters, and events. The system and gameplay is so robust, it just needs some more content to be a top tier game. That being said, there have been periodic content updates (including the addition of The Watcher in 2020) and the community has created an extensive content mod that even has its own Steam page. Also, despite my issue with the amount of content, I definitely will be putting at least 30 more hours into this game.
Overall, I love this game and highly recommend it, so much so, I cannot wait for more content. For $25 on Steam, this game is a must play if you enjoy rogue-likes and deck building games!(4.5 / 5)
The Last of Us: Episodes 8 and 9: The End
Sometimes life gets in the way. Maybe you watched the episodes the nights they came out, but then you got your stomach tattooed so you didn’t have the energy to type on your computer, and then you had to work nonstop for six days straight and housesit 20 miles out of town, and then you got into a hit-and-run car accident with your boyfriend (luckily you’re both okay but really very angry at the asshole that just drove away), etc. etc.. March has been a lot, but I finally rolled up my sleeves, made time for my computer and stopped procrastinating the job of writing my final review on HBO’s The Last of Us.
Here we will cover the final events of Joel and Ellie’s saga. Both episodes were directed by Ali Abassi and written by Craig Mazin and, in episode 9, Neil Druckmann. The adaptation continued to cover the story elements of the game, leaving out and/or changing most of the fighting and action scenes. This change is especially noticeable in episode 9, “Look for the Light,” but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s first do a recap of episode 8, “When We Are in Need.”
“When We Are in Need”
Ellie is on the hunt for food and comes across a deer, which she shoots down almost effortlessly. It is in this moment that she meets a preacher named David (Scott Shepherd) and his partner, James (Troy Baker, (Joel’s voice actor in the video games)). After a moment of hostility towards the stranger, Ellie agrees to give the deer to David in exchange for penicillin. Shortly after giving Joel the medication, Ellie has to leave again to deter David’s religious crew from hunting her and Joel. It turns out Joel killed a few of David’s men, and the preacher is out for revenge.
The religious group captures Ellie and puts her in a cell, where she discovers David has been feed them human remains. Meanwhile, Joel finally awakes and is stable enough to escape the house and search for Ellie. He tortures two men into disclosing her location, but he is almost too late. David places Ellie on a butcher block and is just about to chop her up when she narrowly escapes. The two fight until she finally has the advantage and takes him down, bludgeoning him to death with an insurmountable fury of vengeance.
“Look for the Light”
Episode 9 begins with a flashback of Ellie’s pregnant mother, Anna (Ashley Johnson, (Ellie’s voice actor in the video games). An infected bit Anna just moments before she gave birth to Ellie. Moments pass, and Marlene finds the two in a pool of blood. She is forced to take the baby and kill her friend. Fast forward 14 years, and Joel and Ellie are almost done with their journey. They finally made it to Utah. Ellie, still processing everything that happened with David, is sad and somber. Joel tries his best to cheer her up, but nothing seems to work.
Suddenly, the youth sees something and runs off to get a better look. Joel chases her until he stops and stares in awe. The camera pans from him to Ellie inches away from a giraffe. She is her old self again, cracking jokes and asking a myriad of questions. Later on, when Joel reveals that he tried to kill himself after Sarah’s death, Ellie provides him as much comfort as she can. But the fact that Joel can trust her enough to reveal such a secret means is a comfort on its own. He asks Ellie to read some puns to lighten the mood, but his moment is interrupted when a group of Fireflies knock them out.
Joel wakes up in a hospital to see Marleen, who informs him that the doctors are preparing Ellie for surgery to remove the part of her brain that makes her immune. This procedure, however, will result in Ellie’s death. No matter how hard Joel fights, Marlene won’t budge. She instead has two Firefly soldiers escort Joel out of the hospital, but he kills them and everyone else until he finds the surgery room, where he murders the doctor in cold blood. He escapes with an unconscious Ellie and makes it as far as the parking garage until Marlene stops them. The camera cuts to Joel driving a car with Ellie in the backseat.
Ellie wakes up and asks Joel what happens. While he lies to her that there is no cure, the camera flickers back to the parking garage scene with Marlene. He shoots her once. After listening to her begs and pleas, he kills her with a final shot.
The duo have to walk the last few miles to Tommy’s town. At the top of a waterfall, they get a spectacular view of their new home, their new futures. Before making the final trek, Ellie tells Joel about her past and how she saw her best friend die. This lead to watching Tess, Sam and Henry die because of the disease. The fact that they all had to go through such gruesome deaths, only for there not to be a cure, is too much for Ellie to handle. She makes Joel swear that he is telling the truth, and in a beat, he does.
HBO’s The Last of Us is a remarkable video game adaptation that deserves all the high praise it has received the past few months. From the set design and effects to the filming, screenwriting and acting, the show is a peak example of how to do an adaptation well. It is heart-throbbing and terrifying.
A few issues with HBO’s adaptation is how much they excluded the game play scenes. Despite the world being filled with infected, they were rarely on screen. This is disappointing, especially because it increases the stakes and so much of Joel and Ellie’s relationship builds in these fight scenes. The biggest disappointment was in episode 9, in which the show completely cut out the game’s highway scene. Furthermore, there are numerous creative weapons the show could have included to illustrate Joel and Ellie’s means of survival, from molotov cocktails and nail bombs to the beloved shotgun and its shorty companion.
Despite these small quibbles, the show is arguably one of the best American video game adaptations out there. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were the perfect casting choices for Joel and Ellie, as was the casting for all the other characters.
It will be exciting to see where Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin take The Last of Us 2. I hope they will include more gameplay (aka a little more violence), more screen time for infected, and some creative liberties with the original story while also sticking to the heart of it. We will just have to wait and see what they come up with. Until we meet again, don’t forgot to read about the other shows and games we’re loving here at HauntedMTL.
(4 / 5)