Minimally Multiplayer Gaming Adventures: Aviary Attorney, 80 Days, Life is Strange, and Firewatch

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In a departure from my usual gaming preferences, I’ve been playing a lot of non-MMOs recently. A cynic might attribute this to the disappointing nature of recent trends in MMO development, but I’m choosing to take the high road instead. Whatever the cause, I’ve had a good time broadening my horizons.

I’m not looking to do analysis or in-depth reviews of anything outside of the MMO genre, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few notable examples of what’s been entertaining me over the past few months while I wait on titles like Crowfall, Star Citizen, and Albion Online to mature. If this seems like a brazen attempt to knock out Steam reviews and blog posts at the same time, well… guilty.

Read on for some single player games that are worth a look.

Aviary Attorney

Aviary Attorney Banner

Sparrowson and Jayjay Falcon, the eponymous aviary attorneys, live in a version of 19th Century Paris populated by animals. The gameplay very much resembles Ace Attorney‘s, with the player taking control of the game’s protagonists to investigate crime scenes, interview witnesses, and gather evidence as they work their way towards a trial, where the player cross-examines witnesses using gathered evidence to bring the truth to light. While the core mechanics remain the same throughout the game’s story, the overarching narrative will take you beyond the courtroom and into the bowels of Paris where revolution is brewing.

The game’s visual style and sound are both fantastic, uniquely making use of actual artistic works from the period now available in the public domain. For those who have played Aviary Attorney, an image search of artist J. J. Grandville’s name will show a lot of familiar characters who have been faithfully represented within the game. The use of composer Camille Saint-Saëns’s works adds a congruity to the game’s sonic identity that greatly enhances the experience.

Solving the cases is mentally stimulating, and there are a few different endings for each case depending on the choices you make as you progress. The game’s plot is intriguing and features a satisfying amount of twists and turns that pulls you into the story. And of course, the game is just really damn funny. If you like terrible puns, I’d highly recommend giving Aviary Attorney a look.

80 Days

80 Days Banner

80 Days is essentially a choose your own adventure story inspired by the Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days and set in a steampunk Victorian world with mechanical automatons, airships, a walking city, and further fantastical marvels. The game places you in its narrative as the valet of Phileas Fogg, a gentleman adventurer propelled onward by a wager to circumnavigate the globe within the titular 80 day period. On this journey you will explore the world’s cities as you chart your own course to make it back to London before the clock runs out, balancing Fogg’s health and your monetary funds as you plot and trade your way across the world.

As 80 Days is basically a text-based game (though it is dressed up quite a bit with an attractive interface and travel graphics reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies), its success lives or dies on the quality of its writing – and it manages to live quite large. The story woven in your character’s journal is superbly written, and you’ll find yourself extremely engaged as you decide the course your character will take and the way they react to events while exploring the game’s cities and interacting with its characters.

It is a short game – easily playable in just a couple of hours depending on how well you do -, but features fantastic replayability. Though I’m not usually one to revisit a game like this, I’ll certainly be going on another journey soon, as there’s just so many different cities to visit; you could easily play the game many different times before repeating a single step of your journey. Adding to this is that the game’s parameters change as you play through on different starting seeds (there are 8, which you advance through in order with each subsequent playthrough), each slightly altering items available for trade, available travel routes and departure times, as well as introducing new elements to the game’s story.

It’s a cute little game that I thoroughly enjoyed – well worth the $10 price that it’s asking.

Life is Strange

Life is Strange Banner

Life is Strange is what Telltale’s games would have became if the company wasn’t so set on releasing the exact same gameplay in a different setting to a degree that would make even the team behind Assassin’s Creed flinch with embarrassment. Speaking purely about the engine and presentation, everything about Life is Strange blows Telltale out of the water.

For those of you who haven’t played a Telltale game yet, their titles are extremely cinematic choose-your-own adventure episodic stories with a heavy emphasis on choice and consequence. The experience is very much like playing a movie, though there is an element of exploration when you’re walking around and interacting with the world between the title’s interactive cut scenes.

In terms of the narrative, Life is Strange iterates on the Telltale model in a few important ways. The most important is the protagonist’s ability to use time travel, allowing the player to rewind time and see how different choices would play out. This compliments the choice and consequence system extremely well, as the player is able to experiment and agonize over which decision they want to move forward with in the timeline. In a sense, this turns every conversation into a puzzle (not to mention the actual puzzles in the game that you solve with the protagonist’s powers).

I have seen some people (particularly older males) express that they were unable to empathize with the personal struggles of the main character, a contemporary high school girl. I didn’t have this problem personally, but it might be worth considering whether or not you may have trouble connecting with the protagonist in a coming of age story.

There are a few shortcomings. A few plot threads didn’t get resolved in as satisfying a way as I would have liked, and one of the game’s two possible endings (the binary choice here is in itself disappointing) is terribly executed. Some have complained that they didn’t feel their choices mattered in the end, though this seems to be a complaint raised for literally every game that has a choice and consequence system. My criteria is whether or not I felt my choices mattered at the time. Did I deliberate? Did I care? Did I feel that choices were sometimes difficult? By that criteria, Life is Strange is an undeniable success.

Despite its shortcomings, I absolutely loved this game, and it would definitely find a place in my top 5 games of all time. If you’re into choose your own adventure style choice and consequence games, this is a must play.

Firewatch

Firewatch Landscape

Most of you are probably already familiar with Firewatch, the story-driven walking simulator set in a stunningly beautiful rendition of the Wyoming wilderness. The gameplay is extremely limited, and mostly revolves around and walking around and talking to your supervisor over a hand-held radio when you find interactable objects. While limited in scope, it works extremely well due largely in part to the game featuring some of the best voice acting and character dialogue ever implemented in a game.

Unfortunately, Firewatch is not without its issues. While I understand what they were going for, the revelation of the plot’s big mystery will come as something of a let down, and the game continues on just a little bit longer than it needs to after the main plot has been resolved. And though the game does feature a variety of dialogue options to choose from, these decisions are truly meaningless in terms of their ability to have any effect on the game’s plot. It’s great for immersion, but the decisions you make will have literally zero impact on the plot itself.

Firewatch is also a very short experience, and though the value of a game is something that’s extremely hard to tackle, I consider an average of 3-5 hours to complete to be underwhelming for a $20 title with zero replayability (due to the aforementioned lack of impact of choice). Ultimately, this may be one to wait on until a Steam sale dips it below $10.

Onward!

While not working on MMO related projects or binging Netflix shows, I’m still plowing through my lengthy backlog of single player games; I’ll probably continue to share my thoughts in my new and shiny Minimally Multiplayer Gaming section as I go through them. Next on the docket is to finish up Hatoful Boyfriend, then play Oxenfree and Sorcery! Parts 1 & 2.

Let me know if you have questions or recommendations in the comments below!

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