Short Stories: Sea of Solitude

During my second play through of Control a friend brought up the game, Sea of Solitude. I was getting a little worn down playing the AWE expansion in Control. An emotional story was exactly what I needed. Holy buckets did I get one heck of a dramatic experience, which kind of sparked some of the spirits of my past. Sea of Solitude touches on many subjects like family, bullying, and relationships.

Your character navigates a flooded town with nothing more than a boat, and the power to summon a bolt of light. This light will be key in the game and paving the ways forward. Something has corrupted this world and all of the people are gone. This can be tough to navigate as there’s no HUD of any sort except when finding collectibles. There’s seagulls to shush away, and messages in bottles that tell a little bit about those who are no longer there.

Sea of Solitude takes you through many stages of the protagonists life, reminiscent of a slice of life drama. As you play you start to see what the corruption is, and what needs to be done to deal with it. I’ll focus on what I felt was going on in the storyline. So from here on there’s major spoilers to this short game so be warned. I finished this game in about 2 days, less than 5 hours.

—– —- — — – MAJOR SPOILERS – — — —- —–

Once I realized the depth of the narrative in this game I had to write about it. The protagonist Kay is haunted by her past. The dark creatures in this game are actually her family and a past lover. When all of the pieces come together you learn that the game is about dealing with oneself and others. It touches on what it feels like to be bullied in school, and how easy it is to overlook these things. How easy it is to be selfish and forget about the feelings of those around us.

Kay’s brother was an easy target for bullies. He struggled to fit in and was the brunt of the bully mob mentality’s jokes. Kay spent time with her brother and her brother tried to explain what was happening to him, but she was too busy being enveloped with her boyfriend. So Kay’s brother is filled with grief and eventually becomes a monster in which Kay has to save.

Kay’s parents were struggling to keep the flame of their relationship going. Her father was consumed by work which the game isn’t 100% clear on but it’s implied that he’s unhappy with the relationship so he wants to leave. The mother constantly spends her energy on providing for the family and eventually purchases a home so her husband can work from home and be with the family. Can you imagine this in a game? It’s hard because the parents are horrific monsters filled with rage and grief.

Kay’s boyfriend is trying to work and deal with a relationship. He seems to struggle with depression from dealing with work stresses and maintaining the relationship with Kay. When he first appears as a beautiful majestic wolf, but when Kay embraces him, his fur shatters and the monster underneath is revealed. It’s not clear if Kay was in a toxic relationship, but it’s definite that her sister helps her cope with the breakup in the end. The ex boyfriend eventually breaks off the relationship to work on himself. Kay is torn and is enveloped in darkness.

Her sister was trying to help her throughout her entire journey. She wanted her to see that she was being selfish and only thinking of herself. This apparently caused a cataclysmic event where Kay’s emotions became total monsters when the whole time Kay’s shortcomings had been the problem all along. I could be entirely wrong about the characters but this is my interpretation of what I experienced.

Sea of Solitude Director’s Cut is now available for the Nintendo Switch with a re-written script, new voice acting cast, and other noteworthy changes.

The Medium – Xbox Series X

The Medium felt like a fairly short journey that left me feeling a bit lost in the end. I wanted to know more about this world but was left with an empty feeling. You play as a spirit Medium who helps the deceased find eternal rest, or so it seems. There’s a few unexpected twists that add a little depth to the game but don’t expect an action packed adventure like Resident Evil.

The Medium – Niwa Resort

First I’ll cover the technical issues I experienced. I noticed a lot of problems with rendering especially when entering new areas or when interacting with objects. It was a little annoying but eventually it became a mini game for me. I tried to take screenshots before the object or area could load. It wasn’t noticeable for me to stop playing so that’s a plus. There were some glitches when interacting with enemies which led to the game over screen when I felt like I had successfully escaped an encounter. It is what it is.

The Medium – Rendering Issues

The pace of the game edges far from survival horror. I recall 1 event that was actually scary to me, the rest was just dark and creepy. It has survival horror elements but I never felt danger. Just a bit flustered. The puzzles were easy which helped the story flow fairly well. There were some barriers that you needed a tool to cut through that I felt was the most bizarre thing I’ve had to do to continue forward. You do get some spiritual powers to fend off the dangers of the game. Nothing very exciting but it does add another layer of complexity to draw out the experience.

The Medium – Desk

My favorite experiences in Medium were the environments and the split screen visuals. I felt like I was in the Silent Hill universe in some ways and really wanted to explore more. The game is fairly linear so the option to explore is limited. I think this was intended to push the story forward to the dramatic conclusion in the end. The Medium felt like an older point and click adventure on a PC meshed with modern gaming technology. There’s also a few collectibles in the form of documents, post cards, and pictures. I do enjoy a good read and additional visuals.

The Medium – Exploration

In the end I felt like I was inside of a movie driving the characters and plot forward with no choice in the outcome. I did enjoy playing Medium and following along with the morbid ghosts from the past. I do feel like this game has earned support but note it’s intended for mature audiences and does merit trigger warnings as it explores content that can be troubling. I fully support the developers and would love to see a follow up to The Medium or another similar experience.

The Medium Trigger Warnings and Mature Content
The Medium – Split Screen Exploration
The Medium – Split Screen Cut Scene

Control: Ultimate Edition – Xbox Series X

Control Ultimate Edition Hotline

Control was one of my favorite and memorable experiences on the PlayStation 4. When I found out that there was going to be a polished version on the PS5 and Xbox Series X I quickly purchased another copy on the Xbox Series X. I doubt I’ll get a PS 5 until 2022 so the Xbox is home for now.

Control Plant Complaint

The PlayStation 4 version was clunky yet beautiful. There was lag when pulling up menus and the map. There were moments that the console couldn’t handle all of the particles on the screen so it would stutter. There were occasional issues with rendering as well. There weren’t enough bugs to keep me from finishing as the story drew me in deeper and deeper. Or maybe it was the Hiss.

The Ultimate Edition that released on February 2nd is was what I felt the game was intended to be from launch. A smooth experience that shows off Remedy Games talent and a budget well spent. Every problem I noticed when playing it in the past was no longer a thing. So far my game has only crashed once, and getting back on my feet just felt like a part of the experience of the game.

Control Dr. Underhill Threshold Specialist

Control: Ultimate Edition has finally reached the consoles it was intended to be played on without the need of a gaming PC. It’s incredible and truly utilizes the team’s talent that assembled this project. It can be difficult but as you play you’ll become more in sync with the abilities you gain to bring the Oldest House back under control. If you haven’t played Control yet I highly recommend it.

Xbox Series X

I had planned on investing in a Playstation 5. I’ve been bitter that Microsoft wouldn’t allow users to replace their own hard disks without risking an account ban for modding the Xbox. My PS 4 has been upgraded multiple times with larger SSDs as the cost has gone down over the past decade. If you’ve played Bloodborne you’d be quite familiar with how long load times can take. Maybe it would be more cost effective to build a PC and enhance the gaming experience instead of having to fumble with consoles. As for now the Xbox Series X has earned my attention.

From years of experience with the PS4 and Xbox One, the Series X is a welcome upgrade. Microsoft introduced the updated UI before launch and this update shines on the Series X. The Xbox interface feels similar to Windows 10. You can create custom Groups that you name, then add installed Apps and Games for ease of access on the Home Screen. It would be nice to be able to add custom categories with some AI to automatically add new content to them. I currently have 3 groups named Playing, Games, and Streaming. You can share media directly to your OneDrive for extra Cloud storage.

Everything loads much more quickly, and the image quality is much better even only running at 1080p at 60fps. I’m really impressed with the Quick Resume feature that will suspend games when the system is shut down. Not only does the system power on in a few seconds, but games resume from a suspended state almost as quickly as the system powers on. This feature does not apply to the Power Saving mode, so maybe it’s worth the extra watts.

Seagate has partnered with Xbox to produce a 1 TB Storage Expansion Card for the Xbox Series X. Seagate states that their product extends the capability of the Xbox Series X and Series S seamlessly using Xbox Velocity Architecture with “virtually no lag in power or speed when gaming from the expansion card”. I do plan on expanding my storage as I’ve already consumed about 70% of the SSD’s capacity. I do not need the additional storage but it will save me from possibly having to re-download a title and use my precious data plan.

Speaking of my Data Plan I’ve been playing around with the Xbox app and Remote Play. I’ve been using remote play features on the PS4 for quite a while now. Unfortunately the ISP I use throttles and has extremely low upload speeds so the experience is cloudy at best. I can say the Remote Play service is awesome but there are limitations over a cellular service or a corporate monopolized internet service provider.

Playstation still has my attention with their awesome launch lineup and list of titles in development. Unfortunately Xbox did not have anything noteworthy for their new Series X/S launch. This is probably the biggest disappointment but I hadn’t used my Xbox One in years so the lineup in Game Pass was the saving grace. I am missing out on the Windows 10 games available in Game Pass which is almost enticing enough to throw together some hardware to build a gaming machine. M1thinks these titles should be available on macOS!

My gaming highlight of December in Game Pass was Quantum Break suggested by a friend. This title alone made my holiday break quite enjoyable. The combination of a movie and video game was absolutely brilliant. The best storytelling experience I’ve had in years although I’m still a bit confused by it all. You could even say I’m left in AWE.

December: Gaming on Dusty Old Consoles

Ori and the Blind Forest on Xbox One

Tis the season for some shopping as capitalism ramps up for the Holidays. I’ve failed to secure a Playstation 5 or Xbox Series X and I’m totally OK with this. I’ve plugged in my Xbox One that launched dust particles from its previously dormant state. This haunted old console tends to turn itself on at random with the spooky sound of the boot chime. After a bit of research, I was able to bust the ghost in the Xbox One; there are some issues with the Energy Saving which is not worth using because disabling this feature provides a better experience. Games stay in a suspended state and the console fires up with much more effieciency. It will also download updates while in a sleep state.

Fractured Minds on XBox One

One of my friends turned me onto Xbox Live Ultimate Gold Edition (or whatever the subscription service is called), which is a something like a combination of Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass. I’m starting to feel like I’m signing up for a cable TV service. It was $1 for 3 months and $14.99/mo after the fact. Considering the library of gaming titles includes ALL of the Kingdom Hearts titles*, THEN WHAT… Fortunately, I won’t have to speak to a representative from Xbox or Microsoft to try and drive down the cost of this service, but I really am interested to see what is being offered and how well it works. So far, so good.

As I wait for the software packages to arrive on the slow rotational drive, I’m browsing with great curiosity and a spark of joy coming from the dry bones of the Playstation Plus subscription service which has honestly failed to deliver in comparison. I’ve reviewed my library of PS Plus games and was pretty let down. You get what you pay for, I suppose, and there is the PS Now service that isn’t half bad. I don’t think streaming services are compatiable with internet service providers with data caps and throttling so there’s room for growth there.

My library did have certain games I still had access to and an additional library which brings me to Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and thinking outside the box. This brillaint compilation of puzzles, fighting baddies, and drawing all over my TV with a magic marker had truly brought me back to the Xbox. I had been hooked on my PS4 playing titles like Nioh, The Last of Us II, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, Doom Eternal, Days Gone, Control, and Death Strainding in which some are now availble to play on Windows. This felt like the console wars! I stood on the fence beside Steam and the lack of Half Life 3 wanting the best gaming experience that could be offered at the most cost effective rate.

Max: The Curse of the Brotherhood on Xbox One

I’m re-visiting Max: The Curse of Brotherhood as I had left it in cold storage in my closet along with the Xbox One. It’s a fun tale where you use some magical marker to create platforms out of earth elements to progress through sidescrolling levels to reach the next area that are farily recognizable through color coding. The colors show you where to activate your special magic marker powers. The magic marker weapon is the most important mechanic in the game. For example, you can grow vines that can be cut off to form a platform to get Max over a slimey spike pit to collect a part of a medallion. What I’m getting at is this game will work your puzzle solving, timing, and achievement hunting gears all at once.

Carrion on Xbox One

So after a few levels I moved on to Carrion, an antagonist adventure as a bio-creature escaped from a lab to figure out why I’m escaping and why do I have such noodly apendages. It immediately reminds me of Super Metroid and I am taken in. By taken in, I mean I now have to adapt to another controller schematic to control this red Carrion thing. I quickly lose interest as I’m not a fan of the screaming and devouring of humans. Maybe I’ll come back to this one.

Carrion on Xbox One

Then I stumbled upon Ori and the Blind Forest to completion. What a beautiful and moving experience. The world is vibrant and colorful. Ori and the Blind Forest has truly satisified my Metroidvania craving by checking all the boxes for collecting new powers, to access areas that aren’t available at first. This ended up being a lot more challenging than I anticipated and a bit frustrating at times but I loved every second. Now I’m moving on to play through the sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps and write a blog post about it. I absolutely LOVE Ori.

Ori and the Blind Forest on Xbox One Tri-Force Easter Egg

There’s a lot to cover here so I’ll end with Super Lucky’s Tale which is lighthearted and not too morbid. It’s similar to games like Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon. Simple and fun. The Xbox is a clear winner with connectivity to other services provided by Microsoft. It’s been a wonderful experience dusting off my console and re-connecting with the cloud. That’s what is so great about Game Pass: there’s a lot of Indie and AAA games to play. I’m 100% sold on Microsoft’s services but I’m left to wonder is Microsoft the Empire? 

Super Lucky’s Tale on Xbox One

UPDATE: Monday I launched the Target app on my phone and managed to purchase an Xbox Series X. I thought there was no way there would be one available Christmas week, but Target had one just for me. I didn’t even have to go into the store to pick it up as Target offers a contactless pickup service scheduled through their Target app or In-store pickup and same day delivery are also available. Great options for minimizing contact during the pandemic.

*All titles are not included because there’s 100 Kingdom Hearts games.

Screen captures are my own content captured on Xbox One.