Horror Collection

Alan Wake: An Action Game (Video Review)

On the Summer Game Fest 2023 stage, Sam Lake said that Alan Wake II will be Remedy Entertainment’s “first survival horror”. So what is the first Alan Wake?

Video script

It’s best not to think of Alan Wake as a horror game or as a cinematic game, two categories it is closely associated with. It makes use of horror stylings and, as expected of a game by the creators of Max Payne, it has an effective, character driven story. But ultimately it is a linear action game, and will probably be best enjoyed by people who go into it with that expectation. 

Alan Wake can’t be a horror game because it is too predictable. This is best demonstrated in the build up to each battle. It certainly looks like a horror game: the air gets hazy and dark, there is a hiss with a rising tone, elevating the tension, and dark figures emerge (sometimes from behind you, though the camera always reveals where they are coming from). This happens every time. Almost every encounter is telegraphed in the same way, giving you a comforting warning of what is coming. Its consistency is antithetical to horror.

Alan Wake can’t be a cinematic game because it is too devoted to its combat encounters.  Though there are cutscenes at the start and end of each episode, and the occasional non-combat scenario, massive stretches of this game consist of only encounter after encounter with few unique actions or story driven sequences to break up the action.

But despite these apparent shortcomings, it’s okay: when you take Alan Wake for what it is, a linear action game, it comes out alright. The important thing in combat here is crowd control. I didn’t get that at first. Don’t keep the flashlight focused on enemies. Just focus quickly, with a button tap, to stagger them, then do the same to another enemy, and let your passive flashlight beam do most of the de-darking work. The game is pretty damn easy if you play like this.

The mistake I made was thinking I should focus light on one enemy until it was dead, but this drains your flashlight way too quickly, and meanwhile other enemies decide to flank you and throw knives and Alan just doesn’t have the moves to deal with that. I was tearing my hair out in the early fights until I realised I was playing it wrong. 

Now I think the combat is pretty fun, if simple. 

  • You can stagger any enemy with a trigger press.
  • A rising pitch signifies your light is weakening the enemy, until their shield vanishes in a flash of light.
  • When enemies die, they sizzle like the vampires in Blade. 
  • A flashbang bypasses the need to drain the enemy of their darkness, and has a wide range, but doesn’t harm you, making it one of the most effective grenades in the history of games.
  • The dodge has a huge timing window, and the game slows dramatically when you use it to avoid an attack.
  • When the last enemy dies, the game slows and brightens momentarily and you hear a rush of sound like metaphorical deflation of tension. It reminds me of getting the last hit in Kingdom Hearts. 

And these actions felt good from the start of the game to the end. Even if the frequency of encounters is a little high, and the variety a little low, the game feel is top notch. And you can add that to the exceptional environment design, and exceptional lighting effects, for a pretty damn fun experience even in 2023. As long as you have the right expectations.

Videogames JRPG Collection

How to get back into FFXIV after a break

Sounds like it would be tricky, right? Final Fantasy XIV is a big, complex, multiplayer game. Since you last played, they might have added an expansion with 100+ hours of new content. They might have added two or three expansions! Where do you even start. 

Actually, playing FFXIV after a break is easy. There are so many options to help you to get back into the flow of things. 

  • Training dummies
  • Low-level duties
  • Continuing the story
  • Asking for help

Let’s explain these in a bit more detail, with images.

Smack around a striking dummy

There is a reason these things are dotted around cities. Everyone needs to brush up on their rotations every now and again. Just be aware that the more advanced areas have higher-level training dummies, and you might end up missing attacks against those. There’s no other risk from them, but if in doubt return to La Noscea, Thanalan, or The Shroud to find an unintimidating, Lvl 1 wooden sparring partner.

A player about to hit a striking dummy in a free company house, Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Play some familiar, easier duties

You could even start with the easiest dungeons (Sastasha, The Tam-Tara Deepcroft) and trials (Ifrit in The Bowl of Embers, Titan in The Navel) and work your way up. Your level will be scaled down to something appropriate to the duty, but if you’ve played before these activities will still be a breeze, even if you don’t remember all the mechanics. After you’ve done a few, you’ll definitely be in the flow again.

Party completing the Tam-Tara Deepcroft duty in Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Just a quick reminder, you find duties with the duty finder:

The duty finder window in Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Join a group or ask a stranger

FFXIV is notoriously friendly as MMOs go. There are lots of methods of connecting with other players. Shouting for help in public is one way to go (use the command /shout in the chat box and nearby players will hear you) but don’t be too discouraged if you don’t get a response. Instead, try joining a friendly linkshell or a free company. Use the official Final Fantasy XIV community finder and find some new gaming friends to give you a confidence boost.

A group of friends sitting around a bench in Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Continue with the story

However long you have been absent from the Eorzea, you will always be greeted by a big main quest indicator at the top left of your screen (unless you’ve changed your UI) to tell you what you need to do to continue the story. Do a few of these quests to get your hotkey fingers warmed up.

A cutscene with Garduda flying above players, Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

This is what you’re looking for:

The Current Main Scenario Quest indicator in Final Fantasy XIV

Get on with it!

It’s all about building up momentum. Once you’ve done a bit of exploring, practiced with your keyboard, and crossed paths with a few other adventures, you’ll feel like you never left. 

All you need is the confidence to hit Play!

Online resources

Official guides:

Wikis (player created):

Patch notes:

How to get into other Final Fantasy games

If you’re already in love with XIV, maybe the other games in the series will also delight you. But if getting into XIV, which is only one game, is hard, where do you even start when it comes to the entire series?! We’ve written a guide to help with that exact question: how to start the Final Fantasy series.


100+ studies show action games improve perception, attention and multitasking

Instead of simply accepting video games, is it time we encouraged them?

A metastudy has been newly published by the journal of Technology, Mind and Behaviour that gives a very strong indication that playing action games strengthens some mental functions.

It was found that:

AVGP [action video-game players] were observed to have superior cognitive skills, on average, compared with individuals who engage less in video game play. 

Effects of Action Video Game Play on Cognitive Skills: A Meta-Analysis

The data used to reach this conclusion came from 104 studies that have been published over the last 20 years.

The types of cognitive skills tests where action game players had the biggest advantage were:

  • Perceptual (spot something accurately and quickly)
  • Top-down attentional (stick with a goal to find a target)
  • Spatial (such as mentally rotating objects)
  • Multitasking (switch between goals with less performance sacrifice)

Though it may seem intuitive that a session of playing games might “warm up” a brain, and mean better results in a test taken immediately afterwards, this study avoided looking at only short-term effects:

In line with our focus on long-term training effects (as opposed to acute physiological arousal effects), the training had to be equivalent in both experimental and control groups in terms of duration (minimum 8 hr) and number of sessions (minimum 8 days) and posttest performance measures had to be performed at least 24 hr after training.

Effects of Action Video Game Play on Cognitive Skills: A Meta-Analysis

As this research looked at many studies, there were many different methods for measuring the traits. To give an example of one, a method for measuring “top-down attention” is an object tracking test, which looks like this (try and follow the dot that starts green):

The authors looked at studies that took different experimental approaches: some observed existing players and non-players (cross-sectional study), others gave subjects action games to play and compared the results to a control group (intervention study). The positive relation between playing action games and performance in the cognitive tests was observed in both types of study

My thoughts

I was impressed with the breadth of this research, and the conscientiousness of the authors, who take pains to keep the data reliable and to avoid publication biases and outlier statistics.

There is more I would like to see studied in this area. Do videogames build resilience to failure? What skills do strategy and puzzle games improve? How does game difficulty (perceived and objective) affect the outcomes?

Naturally, I am also curious about what undesirable traits are increased by playing videogames, and where an ideal balance might lie.

What next

Some will read this, pat themselves on the back for their wise choices in gaming material, mouth “I told you so” to the world, then play another round in Dustbowl. But I don’t highlight this research so that gamers can bask in the glow of group superiority. 

Rather, it makes me curious about what roles games might play in benefitting society in the future.

The typical perception today is that games, while an acceptable use of leisure time, are still basically unproductive. This research suggests to me that an hour of videogames is sometimes better than an hour without videogames. 

We recognise the importance of reading and physical education in human development, and parents and schools make time for these activities. Is there room for the right games, deployed in the right way, in schools?

If that is taking things too far, instead of treating games purely as unproductive leisure, can we say that, sometimes, videogames are a form of exercise too? 

My mind is open to these possibilities, though I think it will be a long time before they are considered seriously.

If you’re interested in the positive outcomes of playing games, here is a recent podcast on the subject:

The surprising effects of video games with Ash Brandin (TED)


Prioritising Games

Fun fact: each of us is going to die before we get to play all the games that we want to! Here’s my way of dealing with that:

People talk about their “backlog” of 20,000 games and sometimes ask the internet the best way to “get through” them all.

Wait, what?

The sad fact is, you’ll never finish your backlog. Even if it only had three games on it, just while (and as a result of) playing these three you’ll discover new games that excite you and you just need to add to the list. And so on.

I hate the idea of a backlog and have always advised against thinking about games that way. However, I have started prioritising games.

Games I haven’t played that I think about regularly, or games that I might regret never getting around to, they go at the top of my list. When I’m choosing what to play next, I’ll ask myself which of those “High Priority” games I’m most excited to play. I have a chronological preference, so I tend to play an older game before a newer one, but I won’t let age supercede priority or excitement.

Yes, I have a spreadsheet.

I’ll never finish the whole list, but I feel satisfied that I’ll at least get to the games that feel most important to me because I’ve put them in order.

After all, if I was hit by a truck tomorrow, I would hate my last thought to be “But I never played Valkyria Chroni—” 💀

Oddworld Collection

Oddworld: Strangers Wrath Review

Stranger’s Wrath was too unusual for its own good. That’s probably why EA never advertised it. 2005 was the year of Call of Duty 2 and Indigo Prophecy. Stranger’s Wrath began in an Old West town of chicken-men called New Yolk City.

Stranger himself was weird, a mixture of man and ram and wildcat. Take some hits and he will amass a hide full of arrows — you recover his health by shaking them off like a cat shaking off water. He shoots as you might expect, in first person, but if you want to cover more ground you switch the perspective, Stranger drops onto all fours, and you prance around the lush wildlands at speed. I loved it. If you’re going to have a fantastical videogame, why not control someone that acts and animates like something not of this world.

There was one thing in the game that let me down: “live ammo”. From Stranger’s crossbow he shoots rodents and bugs instead of bullets. The shooting itself is fine, but the instructions describing collecting these as “hunting”. That sounded enticing. I imagined setting traps to catch boombats, and flinging the bats like bombs at the enemies, and the booms would disturb a habitat of stunkz (which are used as smelly smokebombs), which would escape into the level for you to catch. In practice, there’s really no difference between Stranger’s “live ammo” and ammo in any generic FPS — it’s just lying around.

After Stranger’s Wrath, Oddworld went on hiatas. A mere 16 years later, in April 2021, they released another original game (Soulstorm is ostensibly a remake, but there can be doubt it is a new entry into the series, unlike New N’ Tasty). With Oddworld alive again, can there be hope for a Stranger 2 that does it even better? I would certainly love to step back into Stranger’s boots.

Till next time, Stranger

Marvel Collection Movies

What Do You Need To Watch Before Doctor Strange 2

Many of the MCU movies and shows can be enjoyed without having seen any of the other MCU movies or shows. However, most of them are improved with some context gleamed from the other stories. Therefore, I would like to suggest which shows I think you should try and watch before going to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, if you have time.

Doctor Strange 2 is out on May 2. I am writing this in April. These are only predictions for what films and shows will be relevent to best enjoy the new Doctor Strange movie, based on having seen pretty much everything in the MCU myself.

This list is in release order:

Doctor Strange: It is very likely Multiverse of Madness will assume you have watched the movie that introduces Doctor Strange. If you watch the sequel first I’m confident you’ll be able to pick up the key points, but it’s still a good idea to have an introduction to the characters. Likelihood of being important: 4/5

Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame: Charcters from Doctor Strange had major roles in the two Thanos movies, but more than this, a large number of the stories released after Endgame have referred to the events of these movies in some way. Putting this on the list opens a can of worms, because if you want to watch Infinity War you really should really watch some of the other films first, but that’s just how the MCU is now. It’s only a guess that this will be relevant, though. Likelihood of being important: 2/5

WandaVision: This seems to be the story that directly preceeds Multiverse of Madness. Wanda is featured heavily in all the marketing materials for the new film, and WandaVision tells you how she got there. Likelihood of being important: 5/5

Loki: This films dives heavily into the multiverse aspect of the MCU. I don’t think there were any direct indications that Doctor Strange 2 will pick up threads from Loki, but it’s very easy to guess that it will, just based onthe fact that both stories centre around the multiverse, and Loki did leave some big ol’ threads lying around. It’s totally possible they won’t be touched until Loki Season 2, though, so this one is just a guess. Likelihood of being important: 2/5

Spider-Man: No Way Home: It was the last movie released inthe MCU and Doctor Strange had a starring role. The plot revolved around the multiverse. I would be surprised if this wasn’t referenced in some way. As with the Avengers movies mentioned above, you probably don’t want to watch this without seeing some of the other Spider-Man movies. Likelihood of being important: 3/5


What films do you need to watch before Doctor Strange 2?

The films most likely to have significance to the plot of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are the original Doctor Strange movie (for introducing the characters and rules of magic in the MCU) and WandaVision (as the direct prequel from Wanda’s perspective, and for introducing ideas that will likely make a return in this movie). Endgame and Loki could be significant as well.