Somehow Max Payne and Alan Wake mated in the basement of Remedy's office and this is their love child. This is a game that deals in the paranormal like Alan Wake, but plays as Max Payne. Well at least mostly. TLDR version: Mary Sue walks into the FBC. What's the long version? I'm glad you asked.
The game starts in medias res, as Jesse (the protagonist) is walking into the Federal Bureau of Control, which is the organization resopnsible for dealing with paranormal activities. Yes in this universe there is a secret government agency for dealing with paranormal objects and events. I say objects, because the lore suggests that each paranormal event is linked to some "object of power" that are ordinary items, that somehow gain paranormal powers, like they become possessed or something.
The origin of these objects is never explained, similar to most concepts in the game. You are just presented with tons of things that you must accept at face value without explanation. You say it's not important to explain things? I say it is, because in order to understand this universe it has to have some rules. And by not establishing any the writers basically give themselves an anything goes card. They can literally change the rules at any time to suit the narrative. I don't like that very much.
It's hard to talk about the story without spoilers but the basics of it are these: You happen to be the person who needs to restore order in the bureau, after some evil force from another plane of existence has infested it, and possessed most of its people. This "hiss" as they are calling it can turn people into mindless drones that fight you.
The encounters are simple shoot em up style with some telekinetic abilities added later. That part of the game is pretty good. Strangely there is no difficulty setting. Therefore if someone wants a big challenge this is not a game for them, because with a few exceptions most encounters are pretty easy. There was only one in the main game that gave me some difficulty, where I had to try again numerous times, as I kept falling off the platform until I realized the enemy actually pokes holes in it during the fight, but you constantly have to look up at the enemy so I never noticed this so I kept falling off for seemingly no reason.
Speaking of platforms, there are a few segments where you have to jump around between various platforms, but this is not very pronounced in the main game. The foundation DLC however is entirely another thing.
But back to the gameplay. You can have various telekinetic abilities, you unlock these by "cleansing" various corrupted objects of power. How do you cleanse them? Don't ask. Just another thing the game never bothers to explain. Your character even says that you just can.
There are also a few puzzles in the game but these are also on the easy side. On a level from 1 to 10 where 10 is Portal, this is about a 4 max.
Now let's get into the issues of the game.
The whole story plays out inside the offices of the FDC so the scenery is not very varied. It becomes dull quickly. There are a few unique areas that you reach through dimensional doorways, but mostly you are in an office, and some maintenance facilities. Sure it's huge for an office, but don't expect any outside areas, not even streets.
My biggest issue however is that all of it is designed like a damn maze. It's completely nonsensical, and would never exist in reality, even in an alternate reality. This building would be condemned after the first fire inspection, as if there is a fire here everybody dies.
And with the maze like level design you get an useless map. It is 2D and doesn't show height differences. So you can't rely on it for getting to where you want to go.
I must have ran around aimlessly looking to get somewhere for hours in this game. Sure there is a fast travel system between save points, but often the point you think is closest to where you want to go ends up sending you a merry go around the corridors touching multiple other save points before you accidentally stumble upon the place you wanted to go to.
And it's not like save points are littered through the game, they are rare, very rare. Which means when you do accidentally die in the game, you are in for a lot of backtracking as there is no checkpoint system, if you die you re-spawn at the last save point you visited. Which in worst case scenarios can be on another level entirely and you have to walk for 5 minutes just to get back to where you were before.
And of course in the meantime you can encounter randomly spawning enemies. Because there are various areas in the game where enemies will spawn whenever you walk there. These random encounters are completely pointless. After a few I decided to simply run past them, because there is no point in wasting time on them. You can't run past normal encounters as you progress because you need to clear areas to be able to progress and explore. But in areas you already visited it's best to just avoid the fighting.
There is a skill upgrade system but it's self defeating as it seems enemies scale with you. I maxed out my health and the same type of enemy would still take the exact same % of my health with one hit.
Also there is a looter shooter element in the game. Enemies drop health and various mods that you can attach to your weapons (technically one weapon but it's as if you had multiple this is also something not explained) And on top of it you get points for kills, that you can spend on building random mods (basically a lootbox system it's just not called by its name - they thought we wouldn't notice? ) or upgrading / unlocking weapons.
And to top it off, there is kind of a battle royale element to it too. As during encounters all exits are closed by hiss forcefields. At least they are not shrinking.
The ending just as in Alan Wake is pretty underwhelming. There is no last big hooray, no bossfight, just a series of repetitive encounters with normal enemies. There are however a few bossfights during the game, but they are nothing special, no tactics are involved just wear down their health with regular attacks that's it.
The game also sets up characters so you expect something big from them only for it to completely forget about them later.
All in all I think the game is a big mess, that fails to evoke even intrigue let alone emotional investment from me. I never got any kind of attachment to the cause or the struggle of the main character. The narration sometimes becomes so spoon fed like they are explaining 1+1 to a five year old.
And lastly I must mention the game breking bug I encountered. Sometimes the game will just stop saving progress, and there is nothing you can do about it. You have to quit and restart from where it last saved, even if it was hours before. I lost an entire day of progress. I mean the entire progress I made in a calendar day not 24 hours, the entire game is not 24 hours. It can be finished in 12 hours approximately if you are not a completionist. If you rush you might be able to get it done in less than 10. And this is not unique to me lots of people complain about the same bug on steam.
The pros and the cons:
- Shooting is just like in Max Payne 2
- Combat is enjoyable the telekinetic abilities and the gun work well together
- Graphics is nice, not great, but good enough
- It can be addictive
- It's a mess, can't find it's voice or decide on it
- It failed to evoke any investment from me for the character or the struggle
- The enemy is completely faceless
- Pointless random encounters
- Save points are too far apart
- After dying you respawn at the last used save point, not even the closest one
- Maze like level design
- Useless map
- No navigational guidance, so you run around aimlessly before you find where you need to go, this must make up at least 1/3 of the game time.
- It has neither rhyme nor reason
- A game breaking bug, plus a non-game breaking but pretty annoying bug
- Lootbox mechanic for the crafting of mods
- Overbearing looter shooter elements
- Pointless skill upgrade system
Overall impression: 6/10
I'd recommend waiting for a sale. Pick it up under $30 that's what I'd say it's worth. It's not all bad, and the combat is fun, only the story and narrative feels discoherent and doesn't offer any catarsis or reward for your time.