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Here’s a genre of horror in gaming we haven’t touched upon yet – the interactive drama survival horror. Although, I’m not certain that it constitutes as its own genre as there are really only two games that come to mind, being 2015’s Until Dawn by Supermassive Games and Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. But if there are any more games of this design out there, please do let me know and I’ll get onto the genre police right away and have interactive drama survival horrors officially instated as an official genre with their minimum three title requirement. Either way, today we’ll be examining the PS4 exclusive Until Dawn and seeing what happens when the Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure books that I used to hide in the school library from the other kids are made digital,  injected with young adult horniness, and a lot of blood and gore.


The real challenge is trying not to kill off the annoying ones

It’s hard to talk about the story without talking about the gameplay as the nature of the genre (interactive dramas are a little more common than interactive drama survival horror e.g. Detroit: Become Human) is directly built around the branching narrative thread mechanics that is its main attraction. As such no two play throughs are ever the same, as the advertisements say, due to the game’s ‘butterfly effect’ system that swears even the tiniest decisions can greatly increase and decrease the character’s chances of survivability. With that said, the main premise of the game is that a group of friends are returning to a holiday lodge on a snowy and isolated mountain one year after the accidental death of their two friends at the same lodge through bullying by said group of friends. From the get go we’re not made to like any of the characters but as the game cleverly posits you in the shoes of each of the seven characters at one time or another (sadly Rami Malek is not playable). In doing so you get to see the inner workings of their mind and how they engage with the other characters, forcing relatability. Naturally players will feel more drawn to one character over another (I personally only liked Hayden Panettiere and Mike because he was hot) and wanting to keep each character alive as they all split apart in their own storylines can be challenging. As much as the game boasts the variety of narrative threads to follow, it is rather linear in where characters can go and what they can do, and is more about finding clues along the way to keep your characters from biting the dust while trying to say the right things to get them to bang while being chased by a creepy clown murderer. The story is quite stellar in its pacing though and keeps the mystery interesting and unfolding in an intriguing way, making sure that players are always engaged.


Quicktime events are not the same thing as fun

I loathe quicktime events, as do a lot of gamers. They’re a cheap way of forcing suspense and risk by making the player press a random button at the exact right time to keep them from dying or stumbling. Until Dawn is full of quicktime event sequences that have the player choose betweeen safe and treacherous paths while escaping danger ot trying to save someone. Too many stumbles in the quicktime events and your character fails, and choose too many safe paths your character fails. Outside of these sequences a chunk of the gameplay is made up of exploration and the aforementioned gathering of clues. But what Until Dawn really brings to the table to innovate the genre (easy to do when there’s only two titles in the genre) is its adaptive horror system. Acting as prologues to each story chapter is the appearance of Peter Stormare (Fargo) as a therapist for the actual player. His purpose is to recount the events of the game, judge the player for their actions, prod them with questions about their decisions, and most importantly to create a pyschological profile of the player. The therapist will ask the player to tell them which they find scarier, spiders or snakes, scarecrows or clowns, barns or caves, knives or guns, and will change certain aspects of the main story to enhance the horror value for the player. While this is certainly welcome and a fun experiment, it isn’t implemented in any meaningful way other than some graphic changes in certain scenes i.e. the killer chases you with an uzi instead of a letter opener.


When you can’t decide, choose everything

For a game so centred on making their players meditate on their choices and regret them later for not being careful enough, the developers certainly did not share the same philosophy in putting the game together. Don’t get me wrong they clearly love the game and love horror as a whole, but the game is a bit weird and unfocused when one considers the amount of tropes and directions they’ve thrown into the title. The beginning of the game sets up a stalker slash slasher kind of thing, but then there is also a scene with a ouija board (on which I have given my opinion.) which sets up a ghost story, but then there are torture dungeons which feel like Saw, and then things start to go supernatural, and then we go to a mental asylum for reasons, and there’s a cabin in the woods too. All the different directions, plus how keen it is to change things up via the adaptive horror mechanic, leaves the game feeling a bit unrefined. Although for lovers of horror they might take it as pure fun and as a love letter. Until Dawn does also boast some top notch graphics, production design, and aural atmospheres that certainly tie the horror elements neatly together.


Until Dawn is not at all an until yawn

I’ve played this game three times, once when I was 17, another when I was 19, and another when I was 20 which actually was me watching my non-gamer friends play it together for the first time. One of the greatest things about Until Dawn is its core cinematic experience which really lends itself to players not adept at gaming mechanics or keen on contesting with a gun, approaching enemies and a health bar. It really is a lot of fun to play and its story and characters drive the experience more than anything if you push through the quicktime sequences. My only other gripe with the game is its sort of variability in narrative – if characters die it’s more likely that they just won’t show up in following scenes rather than entire narrative threads ending which limits the stakes a bit. Actually, that reminds me, for all the sluething you do to keep your characters alive and all the careful dialogue choices you make to ensure good feelings between the cast, there are a few random choices and quicktime moments that can kill your character in an instant which felt horrendously unfair (see, the final chapter). But all in all I highly recommend playing this game and can’t fault its entertainment value enough. Three Cthulhus out of five. More to be read here. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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X-Men Under Siege Review: Vintage Comic Weird



“While the X-Men were away on a secret mission, Xavier’s Mansion was invaded by a host of Evil Mutants. The call is out. All X-Men must return to the mansion at once!” – pg 1, X-Men Under Siege Rulebook

X-Men Under Siege is a 1994 board game designed by Richard Borg. Richard is better known for games such as Memoir ‘44 and BattleLore, however, he has designed more than 130 games. X-Men Under Siege is the 12th overall game and 3rd X-Men game he worked on. 

I picked up this game while on vacation at the Louisville Book & Music Exchange. It was a delightful store with a lot of used niche hobbyist items. My spouse and I saw X-Men Under Siege (specifically the mouth-watering miniatures it comes with) and were hooked. While originally intending to just take the miniatures as a painting project, we decided to actually try playing the game. 

eighteen figurines from the X-Men Under Siege board game
A photo of the sweet miniatures that come with the X-Men Under Siege.


The board game is a competitive game for 2-4 players, in which you play as a squad of X-Men attempting to secure floors of the X-Mansion. There are six floors, all overrun with Evil Mutants to defeat. Your starting crew of two X-Men can grow to three as you play cards or rescue trapped heroes. 

The goal of the game is to collect more points than your fellow players. Clear rooms in the X-Mansion, defeat Evil Mutants, and deal damage to gain points. The contents of each room are random and can either contain a blank, Evil Mutant, or captured hero. The main mechanic in the game is fighting Evil Mutants when they are revealed during exploration by rolling dice equal to the attacking heroes’ Fighting Skill. The game ends when a certain point threshold is reached or the whole X-Mansion is cleared of tokens.

There are eighteen playable characters, each with their own special ability. Characters include; Archangel, Banshee, Beast, Bishop, Cable, Cyclops, Gambit, Havok, Iceman, Jean Grey, Jubilee, Longshot, Maverick, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, and Wolverine. However, the heroes are not equal. Each has a score for Fighting Skill, Durability, and Intelligence which changes the effectiveness of various actions. There are certain characters that have much higher scores than others, with the sum of scores being highly variable. Additionally, some of the heroes can only use their special ability when they are the leader, meaning they attack first in combat.

X-Men Under Siege game board
A picture of the board during our game.


This game feels as if it has a great game hidden somewhere within it. The X-Men theme is well done and hits the spot in terms of my X-Men nostalgia. As a kid, X-Men Legends for the Xbox was one of my favorite games. Playing X-Men Under Siege was reminiscent of that experience for me, almost solely from the strong visual and narrative X-Men themes. I was SO excited to play as some of my favorite characters. The eighteen miniatures of all the playable heroes are very enticing too. Also, it was rewarding to face off against familiar X-Men villains. However, nostalgia and the general premise are the only things this game has going for it. 

Before I get too critical, I acknowledge this game is for children and nostalgic adults. It is just disappointing to me that it falls flat because it is halfway to being a wonderfully enjoyable game.

Most egregiously, the core mechanics feel underbaked and confusing. How rooms are searched and moved to doesn’t make much sense and there are many edge cases that aren’t accounted for. Additionally, turn action allowances are also vague. From both of these, my spouse and I had to make up a lot of rules as we went just to keep consistency.

While fun to see X-Men villains in the Evil Mutant cards, they are flat. The only info on the cards is a name, picture, and strength number, which barely means anything. The hero characters were also a bit flat, especially since some of them seemed blatantly underpowered in comparison to others. Though, for better or worse, this game has hilarious names for game items. For example, X-tra Special Cards and Evil Mutant Blood Chips. 

Overall, X-Men Under Siege was enjoyable to mess around with. It was just engaging enough that my spouse and I finished our game (even though it took 2 hours). However, it requires a deep love of X-Men (or cool miniatures) to find it too enjoyable. Definitely an interesting collector’s item but not the game to play for those looking for a good gaming experience. 2.8 out of 5 stars (2.8 / 5)

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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!

A screenshot of me playing Downfall with The Slime Boss as my character fighting The Hermit Boss.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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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.

A screenshot of the map in one of my runs in Slay the Spire.


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. 

A screenshot of one of my runs as The Ironclad in Slay the Spire.

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 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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