Bear With Me: Episode 3 (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 4.0/10

Click here for the Bear With Me: Episode 2 review.

I “beared” with this game for nearly ten hours spread out over a year. What we got for a third and final episode was underwhelming at best.  The last throws of the story went in a direction that took me by surprise — in a bad way.  Three banana cookies later, I’m completely in awe of the lack of gameplay Bear With Me: Episode 3 has and how much of the creative capital went towards the boring, sappy, and superficially contrived story.

The story could have gone in a lot of different directions, and perhaps I could have guessed where the story was heading, but we are left with something limp and illogical.  If it had to deal with subject matter that was going on, it might have actually been worthwhile.  I may have even been able to sweep issues with the story under the rug if there had been more gameplay; the entire episode is a cycle of ten minutes of gameplay and then thirty minutes of story, until the last act where it’s about half story and half lazily-designed puzzles and dialogue trees.  Why wasn’t it just a visual novel if they were so uninterested in having a game?  There weren’t as many puzzles or extra objects to click on compared to previous episodes and the jokes were almost completely excised — quite a departure from the “selling points” touted for the title. There are multiple endings, but none of the choices you made throughout really seemed to have mattered, or at least they didn’t make it obvious that something was affected in any particular way.

Most importantly, the conclusion to this long story needed to bring worthwhile closure.  There was no pay off from the creepy imagery portrayed in any of the three episodes.  The antagonist doesn’t get brought to justice.  Nothing really foreshadowed what the “point” of the story was until the last thirty minutes where you could instantly see where it was headed.  There was never anything smart or worthwhile happening.  The story hit a wall and since I couldn’t come to care for Amber’s character or the situation she is in due to the ridiculousness of the plot devices, I was left simply groaning.  Amber still remained as emotionally detached as ever except for a pivotal moment just before the end sequence — I was frankly surprised they even bothered animating something new for her.

In my experience, the audio was buggy and dialogue cut off at the last word often.  The time it took for the next line of dialogue was very short and didn’t sound natural (not exclusive to this episode, I might add).  Oddly, this episode was noticeably littered with weird typos or grammar issues, unlike the first two episodes.  The art is about equal to what has been seen before, and much of it re-used except for the new locales and a couple of new incidental characters.  Only a couple of characters show up more than one time, but the majority of the characters you’ve ever met through the entirety of the three episodes ended up being throwaways; their fates are of no concern because you’re never given a reason to care for them.

There’s really not much more to say about the game without completely spoiling it.

**SPOILERS**

**SPOILERS**

Basically, the story doesn’t matter.  The last thirty minutes of the game is the basis for the entire conflict, and we find the underlying reason we are in this mess is “banana cookies.”

Banana cookies??????????? Yes, that’s right folks.

Here’s the situation: if you are deathly allergic to bananas, yet your parents buy and bake cookies with them then only feed them to your brother, that is considered child endangerment.  Your parents are playing with literal fire keeping bananas in the house to begin with.  But these idiots are cooking them, having the fumes go everywhere, and also have to constantly worry how their ten-year old daughter might eat a banana product because she’s a dumb kid.  Not to mention, feeding supposedly-tasty banana cookies to her brother exclusively while only giving the daughter shitty cookies to eat instead… What the fuck did they think was going to happen?

So, why did banana cookies play a pivotal role in this story?  Amber eats a banana cookie, she’s about to die, choking on the floor, the parents call a cab to take her to the hospital, then decide its a good idea to leave their young son at home, alone, while they are dealing with this easily preventable, yet important issue.  It just so happens while the son is at home, a fire happens in the apartment below and then he dies of carbon monoxide poisoning.  …Banana cookies?????  WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON????  Why are they calling a cab to go to the hospital with a choking child?  CALL A DAMN AMBULANCE!  PUT THESE PARENTS IN JAIL, TAKE THEIR CHILDREN AWAY FROM THEM.  Why didn’t they just take their son with them???? I didn’t even know banana cookies existed until now!

So, the brother is dead; I could see that coming.  What I didn’t see is how little any of the story of Bear With Me actually had to do with this seemingly important story point, which they used as the linchpin for our emotion in feeling sorry for Amber.  However, that’s not what the story is about at all.  It’s about her relationship with her teddy bear.  Yet, there are also many other unexplained questions. Why is her imagined world rebelling against her?  Why does Amber forget things?  If this fire played such a big part in Amber’s life, why are fires used so sparingly in events throughout the story? Why does it seem like she has the pop culture knowledge of a 30-something year old?  Most of all, why is she seeing crazy shit?

If the game were brave, it would have addressed these issues in a more serious way.  I thought it was obvious this was all pointing towards some sort of serious domestic child abuse situation or a traumatic event that she actively witnessed which caused her imagination to show fucked up things to her, or something like that.  Instead, we got banana cookies and being told that the antagonist of the game was Amber all along. Whatever the fuck that means.  Also, why did Amber really even care about her brother?  We see and know nothing about their relationship to make us care that this brother even existed.  It would have been more interesting had he NEVER existed.  I suppose the brother being dead could count as the “traumatic event” that I asked for, but again, we don’t see how it could be since we know N-O-T-H-I-N-G about their relationship, not to mention no outright hints or foreshadowing to this fact.  Amber was the focus of the story throughout, and the brother was supposed to be a plot device, not the plot.  We never find out why Amber is looking for her dead brother in the attic, either, when she should have known her brother was dead; this leads back to the question of why she forget things.  There was never a concerted effort of actually finding the brother because we were too sidetracked with pop culture jokes.

The “red cloth” was supposed to be important, I guess, since it was actually colored red, as opposed to everything else that was in grayscale.  Across three episodes, it ended up only taking up inventory space and was barely ever used.  Of course this is an equally contrived plot device as it is ripped from a firefighter’s uniform by Amber on the day of the fire — first, how in the hell can a 10 year old girl rip a firefighter’s uniform, and second, I’ve never even heard of a red firefighter uniform, so that definitely shows a strange cultural divide despite supposedly taking place in America. It would seem to make sense since banana cookies must be more popular elsewhere in the world.  It must also be another cultural thing where you don’t call an ambulance, but call a taxi to take you to the hospital, because we all know those get to your house faster than an ambulance.

I remember they had planned for five episodes, but it seems they cut those plans and dumped the rest of whatever they had in mind into Episode 3.  The mystery fell flat after losing its way, and there was nothing that made me feel like it was worth the time investment when all was said and done.  What really gets me is the lack of gameplay sections and how everything is just so… misplaced.  The never-ending forest thing didn’t make much sense in its inclusion, nor did the trippy horror dungeon located within, since none of the horror-type imagery mattered.  There’s also “gaps” in the story where it felt like I missed an entire act and no one was going to clue me in on any of what happened.  It would seem important to have a complete story, but I guess I’m expecting too much.

So, I’m sad to see how this all ended up.  It took nearly a year to figure out Bear With Me is not worth the time investment.  The biggest pun of the game really was the title itself, after all.

 

Bear With Me: Episode 2 (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 7.0/10

Click here for the Bear With Me: Episode One review.

Approximately five months ago, the first episode of Bear With Me was released.  Setting the foundation with an interesting cast of characters and an intriguing storyline, Amber and Ted E. Bear sought out to solve the mystery of Amber’s missing brother by venturing into Paper City.  Like Amber’s House, Paper City is similarly full of interesting characters with a smattering of unique locales; however, it turns out to not be as “intimate” as the previous entry, and by the time you’re done with Episode 2 you’ll feel a bit bewildered as to what did and didn’t happen.

As stated earlier, Episode 2 is not as “intimate” as the previous entry.  Despite meeting a lot of characters, you’ll only see most of them one time and never need to again once they’ve served their purpose.  The same goes for the varied locales, and while it is exciting to visit a lot of different places trying to solve a mystery, the charm of venturing through a child’s house is somehow lost when entering a city constructed in her attic.  Paper City is for all intents and purposes an actual city, and suspension of disbelief is amped up to its extreme.  It wasn’t as cumbersome to visit different parts of the city due to a world map mechanic introduced with Episode 2, but perhaps part of the charm of the first episode came with being forced to walk to different parts of the house and not allowing the narrative to feel like it is getting broken up.

This leads into the length of the game — I would guess that they are approximately the same in game time, but depends on how well you are able to grasp the puzzle solving.  I spent a lot of extra time in the first fucking around trying to figure out several puzzles I hit a roadblock on, whereas this one had maybe half of the amount of puzzles in general, but almost every other puzzle became a severe issue for me.  The pacing of the story wasn’t bad, but it feels like there was a missing act here, and there was little to no interaction with the main antagonist of the story.  Other villain-types make a quick face turn with practically no catalyst, simply just “changing their minds” with no input from the characters themselves.  There also doesn’t seem to be any impetus to explore consequences to decisions you make in the first episode or the second for that matter.

The quality of the voice acting and art is kept up, which is a big plus.  While Amber is still as stoic as ever, they at least have her animating a laugh a couple of times, which gave a little more liveliness to the character.  The jokes have been reined in severely, and makes the game a lot more sincere and focused in its story-telling instead of making it all seem like a big joke.  There are still jokes, but they are more tastefully placed as part of the narrative and a bit more “hidden” as it were.  There are a few chuckles here and there.  The jokes are a lot more in tune with the story and didn’t feel out of place, though there are a couple odd ones left in, such as a tiny Salt n Pepa “homage” (a ten year old is supposed to know and like them why?).

Unfortunately, it felt like there were not nearly as many items to click on.  An important part of a point-and-click is the amount of things to actually click on and to get extra bits of story if you put the effort into it; the second episode simply lacked some of the detail the first had.  The puzzles are also a lot more frustrating than in the previous episode, a lot of logical leaps that were hard to grasp, and there are still no hints available if you are on the right track but just didn’t go through a step.  An example of an early puzzle was using a swiss army knife on a fishing pole to get the line which would then tie to a magnet — no explanation or hint as to why I can’t just use the fishing pole as is on the magnet; I just kept dragging the fishing pole to different elements of the puzzle and the game just kept telling me “no” with no help.  I was definitely on the right track, but the game wouldn’t throw me a bone.  This is the same issue I had with the last episode, and unfortunately they seemed to go further along the “strange logical leaps” route.  Explaining it plainly the way I did may make sense for the puzzle, but when in-game there are little to no hints and it can be frustrating if you think you’ve already tried something but didn’t.

Episode 2 is essentially a different game completely from the first episode.  There is no interoperability between the two, so the decisions you make in the first mean nothing.  There are maybe one or two decisions you make in this game that can result in a different story point, but they also won’t matter down the line either and never have an effect on the ending.  The episodes are treated as “DLC,” so while they are functionally different games, you’ll have to own at least the base game it seems, but since the games are not episodic and are meant to be a continuing series, there wouldn’t be much point in independently packaging them.

All in all, this episode feels very middling, no questions are really answered, and it simply feels like an extension of the introductory arc of the story.  Nothing too conclusive happens, and we are left with less direction as to where the next episode will take us than we did at the end of the first episode.  The story still holds my interest, so I remain optimistic that the next episode will pick up the slack left by the first two episodes.

Click here for the Bear With Me: Episode 3 review.

 

Bear With Me (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 7.5/10

Bear With Me is a horror fantasy Noire point-and-click game that puts you in control of 10-year-old girl Amber as she tries to find her missing brother.  Assisted by the gruff, retired private investigator Ted E. Bear, Amber also sets out to solve the mystery behind “The Red Man” and how it relates to her brother’s disappearance and other disturbances across Paper City.  You’ll have to inspect, have conversations, find items and combine them to solve puzzles to advance the story.

When it comes to point-and-click games, it can be hard to quantify the amount of “challenge” required to be enjoyable.  In general, the game isn’t very challenging as a lot of the puzzles are mostly logical and item-based (rather than clue-based).  You’ll sometimes acquire items through dialogue trees, but most come from the scenery, and by combining them in unique ways.  The puzzles require multiple steps and aren’t that quick to solve, so you will still need to experiment occasionally.  With all that said, the puzzles are still pretty enjoyable.  Most of the items in the scenery can be clicked on so you can hear Amber describe it with her tongue-in-cheek humor (more on that later).  Of course, being able to click on tons of things is very important to the genre and the detailed environments satisfy the impetus to click on everything you can.  Depending on certain choices or conversations you may actually affect things later on, and that may impact motivation to replay to see the different outcomes.  Since only one episode will be available on August 8th, your actions may not show much result until the game rounds out further with more episodes.

Art is an important part of how you enjoy Bear With Me.  The animation itself is nice and fluid, and while the color is primarily black and white (to fit its Noire motif), the color red is used in very particular ways.  While the game takes place primarily on the second floor of Amber’s house, the different rooms are diverse and full of elements you’d expect a house that was “lived in” to have.  You are more or less contained in one or two rooms at a time as you progress, and its always exciting to see what the next room will present itself as.  The art style reminds me of anime-influenced animation, but with a unique flare to it.

While most of what the game has to offer is of a very good quality, there are some serious problems with the story delivery.  The biggest of all is there is no visual emotional reaction from characters.  It loses a lot steam in the impact of the story to not see the characters visually distressed, yet their voices are conveying the correct inflection you would expect.  For the whole game, Amber has a stoic face no matter what she is saying and what scary thing might be happening.  Tongue-in-cheek humor is littered throughout the description of random items you click on, including “other game” references.  These jokes/references really pull you out of the mood of the story and feels like something that should have been left for an “Easter Egg” version of the game.  Not to mention the fact that the tongue-in-cheek jokes that a mid-20’s/early-30-year old would make are coming out of a 10-year-old.  Some of the most baffling things I encountered was a lamp that was referred to as a “sandwich” and a funny recording of a “developer of Bear With Me” asking for help as if he is in a basement torture chamber prison.  I get the joke that you are inspecting lamps and there isn’t much to say about them, but it feels like they are putting more effort into making these jokes than immersing you in the story.  Taking the jokes out of the context of the game, however, they are mostly clever and funny.  I would have just liked it for an “alternate” version of the game to play afterwards instead of during the first playthrough, or at least keep these jokes for something hidden.

The disjointed narrative also comes as you are thrust into the beginning of the game, with just a cryptic cold opening.  It was super weird to click on a living character and have it be referred to as “my toy Giraffe” — there is nothing introducing our suspension of disbelief to this world and why something that is obviously alive in the context of the game is being called a “toy.”  It throws the narrative off completely as you have to automatically make assumptions that the girl you are playing as might be insane or she’s making things up in her head and nothing is actually as it seems, which heartily cheapens the seriousness and experience you are supposedly supposed to build up due to the scenario presented.  A little less of a blunt admission that half of what is going on is make believe on the outset would have done a lot of favors to getting you into the world the game creates, even with the jokes.

The voice-work is above average.  Amber’s voice definitely grows on you, but at first doesn’t mesh with the fact that the girl is supposed to be a 10-year-old.  At first I assumed the girl was around 18 or 19 with her smart tongue-in-cheek quips about every odd thing in her room, not to mention there are a few references to “drinking” from Ted E. Bear, as well as some harsh language (not something you’d expect a 10-year-old to make-believe a Teddy Bear is saying to her).  The voices for many of the other characters are a lot better match and are pretty good, to boot.  The voice cast is important in delivering a pleasurable experience and seeing the story unfold.  The sound effects are also great and helps to enhance the atmosphere.

While Bear With Me isn’t at the forefront of the point-and-click genre, the foundation it has set for its characters, setting, and fantasy holds potential for a neat series.  As it will be an episodic game, the story will continue in parts.  If they rein it back on the tongue-in-cheek jokes everywhere, keep it a little more grounded in the fiction that is set up, it could be very enjoyable in the coming episodes and well worth playing the first.  It is definitely aimed at people in their mid 20s to early 30s with all of the references and script content.  Not to mention the horror elements, that are quite creepy would have given me nightmares if I was playing this game as a 10-year-old.

Click here for the Bear With Me: Episode 2 review.