Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Even the Fun parts can’t bring this Dead Experience Back…

Allow me to start by stating that, as far as Ninja Gaiden games go, this is a better game than the colossal messup called Ninja Gaiden 3 (thankfully remedied by Razor’ Edge, which was much more fun), however it is still one of the weakest entries in the series. The content here serves mainly to frustrate players on higher difficulties and to provide a fun yet insanely stupid and nonsensical romp through zombie infested waters on the easier difficulties. As with most Ninja Gaiden concepts, the story doesn’t really make that much sense, nor do many of the characters themselves- so for the sake of your mind, you should probably just ignore everything except the action. The experience is very fun and worthwhile to a certain extent, however it always has a canned, cheesy B-movie vibe about it that is unshakeable, and results in seeming more and more like some crappy 80′s Power Rangers movie than an actual good game. Then again, a Power Rangers movie with zombies, blood, gore, scantily clad characters, and cyborg ninjas might be a reboot worth watching- I don’t know…

I wouldn’t particularly include this as a truly canonical entry in the series lore, however the concept of taking the guise of a ninja other than Ryu or other known characters is interesting. The premise of the story itself isn’t all that terrible, however it later digresses and becomes sloppy and pretty uneventful and forgetful as you go. As much as Ryu can seem to be an anti-hero, he is still honorable and mostly in the right. Well, this time around you play as a true anti-heroic ninja named Yaiba, who gets in with the wrong clan and pays the price for their dishonor. Not wanting to fail to uphold his own twisted code of honor, he accepts a challenge from Ryu to single combat and is unsurprisingly shredded and cut into bite sized pieces. However, the story doesn’t stop here as one would rightfully think. No, instead Yaiba is pieced back together- part human ninja and part cyborg machine, built up by a wealthy businessman and bent on exacting his revenge against the man who struck him down. Right from the getgo, it’s pretty clear the path this revenge filled adventure is going to take, and rather than ruin much more, I’ll just say that- aside from the small fact that there is a zombie apocalypse going on, Yaiba, nbeing the big butthead he is still decides to relentlessly hunt down Ryu Hayabusa.

I could never really get that much into the story simply because I found myself totally at odds with it. We’ve been taught to idolize Ryu essentially since Ninja Gaiden one, and even in this particular game he is portrayed as a hero- making it that much more difficult to try to take him down. Plus, Yaiba has such a stupid personality and so many flaws that he’s pretty much full renegade all the time and overly annoying, constantly spewing filth and irksome one-liners, and basically being a big douchebag. When you can’t even grow to like your main character, things aren’t going real well for your game at all. If you don’t even like who you’re playing as, how can you enjoy the experience that much? Also, as a first adventure goes, Ninja Gaiden Z doesn’t show very strongly for Yaiba or for his chances of any future installments over Ryu, especially when you consider the fact that he is receiving many more worse scores than the other ninja has over a much larger period of time throughout his games. Ryu is a classic and has class, Yaiba is a pain in the ass.

The game is actually laid out quite simply. Although it can be frustrating on more difficult levels, especially as you progress further into the story, it is quite enjoyable overall and the gameplay despite its many flaws is easily the highlight of the mediocre adventure. Essentially you battle across multiple arenas, facing several growing waves of zombies and other enemies, and occasionally perform a few special platforming and puzzle solving speedbumps between each arena. These puzzle segments are few and far between and often annoying, cumbersome, and taxing on the overall enjoyment of the game and gameplay. However, the platforming works alright and the arenas themselves are decently laid out. For whatever reason, outside of the platforming segments and the occasional QTE or similar motion, you cannot explicitly jump during combat or any other time. Whatever prompted this design choice in a game revolving around ninjas and sword combat, I do not know, but it strikes me as quite odd indeed.

Yaiba’s other combat techniques however come as equally standard and interesting, as ninja related skills and blade-work go. There is a light, fast sword attack, heavy handed melee damage from his newly enhanced cybernetic fist, and a chain slash whip attack as well with which you can string together varying combos. Although combat is fun and sometimes intuitive, it is difficult at first to learn how to properly string together attacks and counters- the latter of which will often fall through or fail against particularly fast or strong enemies, for some unknown reason or another. However, Yaiba’s three main moves give him a welcome versatility that allows him to take on single foes or large groups with relative ease and dispatch them with some fancy footwork and strategic thinking and playing. There are plenty of minibosses to contend with as well, so learn to blend together finishers and crowd-thinning techniques becomes essentially in the first few hours. Each enemy type drops a special sort of loot or bonus for you to enhance Yaiba with- ranging from health orbs and stamina from grunts to special usable weapons from minibosses and powerhouses. Learning which enemies to take out in order to damage surrounding foes is essential as well, and using environmental factors such as fire, ice, or lightning are key as well.

Although combat is usually fun and fast-paced, as you progress it can become very tedious and slow down immensely. Because you have a relatively small health bar in comparison to most enemies, they can take a lot of damage whereas they will kill you in several explosive flurries. This boosts the typical difficulty level, meaning starting easier is nothing to be ashamed of as you’ll most likely end up one or two difficulty levels higher by the end by default essentially. However, this also makes the experience a lot more frustrating on higher difficulties, as it is hard enough on the normal ones. Especially against higher level enemies, it becomes really annoying that the counter system barely functions properly at all, and that you’re constantly forced to dodge and chip away at their massive health bars instead of actively being able to counterattack for larger damage strikes. Each arena progressively becomes larger and the waves of foes more challenging, further enhancing and simultaneously frustrating an otherwise decent experience. Visibility becomes an issue in these large crowds, as the close camera is too close and the distanced one too far away to really take in the action. The most annoying thing is dying thanks to the camera, coupled with the crappy checkpoint system that automatically restarts the entire arena at wave one- even if you had reached the final wave.

Nothing sucks more than a complete loss of progress, and that’s pretty much how I felt about the majority of my experience with the game. I was really looking forward to a fun experience, and although some of my wishes were met, I felt like I always took two steps back to every one forward. You’ll have more fun, especially the first time through, on lower difficulties and get more out of the experience. But there’s also really nothing that prompts a second playthrough, unless you’re a really hardcore fan I guess. The combat related glitches are less noticeable on easier difficulties, but they don’t go away. If you do feel like playing through again, at least rest easy in the fact that any and all of your upgrades and collected items carry across between playthroughs on each difficulty, so you can easily level up completely before attempting it again on a harder setting. There is also a small, side arcade mode that unlocks after playing through, and is an interesting diversion when you’ve become too frustrated with the main content- short though it is.

Concept: Zombie-killing cyborg ninja master! Being a jerk! I hate Ryu, apparently! Yeah, zombies! Did I mention zombie ninja pirate things? Just kidding- no pirates!

Graphics: Adopts a cartoonish style instead of the series specific, slightly more realistic one. Isn’t a bad look, but can make things hard to distinguish during fast-paced combat at times.

Sound: I wouldn’t say the voice acting sucks per se, but the lines the actors were given pretty much made me cringe the entire way through. You could mute the game and still have about the same or a better experience basically.

Playability: The controls normally work well, but will occasionally glitch up and get you killed- especially if you thought the counter system was actually going to work this time around…

Entertainment: It has its moments, however it also has a lot of extra crappy baggage on board as well. You’ve been warned.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 6.0

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Titanfall Review

[As Read on GIO.]

The stories are true. Titanfall really is a different beast, a new breed of classic mixed with advanced multiplayer combat and integrated story. There really is a somewhat seamlessly integrated campaign and multiplayer transition present within the game, which is certainly an interesting aside to delve into when you aren’t specifically pursuing straight up multiplayer objectives. Where Titanfall breaks molds however, it also flails under the whip of convention and repetition. Interestingly enough, though there is a story to be found amongst the framework established by the literal clash of titans and two private military corporations on alien worlds, it isn’t so much the narrative that is told that grips me and should enthrall other players, but that which isn’t expanded upon. Confused? I wouldn’t blame you for not understanding exactly what that seemingly paradoxical statement means. Although there is most definitely an established narrative threaded through Titanfall’s brief (nine missions or so to be exact) campaign of sorts, and a narrative similarly set for each of the two opposing forces, it is the backstory and the story of the powerful technology they now wield that interests me more. Sure, we don’t know all the details, yet this mystery actually makes it all the more intriguing to me, at the least.

Interestingly enough, as though they set each multiplayer match to have specific guidelines yet still seem to freely move about and morph for their duration, it is neat to see how the matches themselves draw upon classic mission and level setups in most conventional games, while still remaining true multiplayer matchups in their own right. There is of course a telltale beginning and ending to each match, as is common, but there is also a veritable climax and heightening of tensions normally around the middle of matches or at the final quarter, where things heat up once more before exploding into victory or ruin, dependent upon your compatriots and their actions. As a story-driven narrative, Titanfall fails, however as a truly frenetic and dramatic shooter and multiplayer destination for a new console, it succeeds beyond even my expectations, leaving me pleasantly surprised and interested to see what becomes of it as the year progresses. Asking all sorts of questions like “What kind of DLC support will it have?”, “What level of player feedback?”, etcetera etcetera.

The playing modes of Titanfall are actually pretty sparse, as is the brief collection of maps thus far available to consumers, however, coupled with the smaller number of players in matches this actually works quite well to press the game’s advantages and unique combat encounters. Each mode is significantly different, although they all focus around the core principles of varying degrees of teamwork (unless it is deathmatch, essentially) between pilots and mechanized titans. Your pilots drop in a la ODSTs or HALO jumpers and from here on the battle rages after defensive positions are taken up or sporadic charges are made towards enemy positions. Eventually, orbital silos deploy titans to the battlefield, both remotely called in and randomly generated, to wreak havoc through their ‘titanfall’ and through damage they deal afterwards. There is a certain air of strategy to some game modes and a reckless, action-packed abandon for kills and few deaths in others. Balancing between these two fine lines is one of the more well-handled aspects of each game mode, as with the exception of Pilot Hunter (essentially DM), most modes require objective-based combat and teamwork. The winning team can shift at any particular time, especially in close matches, and the randomness you will encounter on the battlefield simulates exactly what I would imagine a futuristic, large scale assault would.

By the end of the match, losing players will be rushing for their departing dropship in retreat, and your team- assuming you’re the winning one, can choose to press the advantage in an attempt to destroy your fleeing adversaries or pause and lick your wounds before the next match. The gameplay may be action-packed, but the ever-shifting core dynamics of each match and mode type ensure that it is just as strategic as a full-blown role-playing simulation strategy title as something like Star Craft or Civilizations, to a certain degree. One of the most well-done aspects of the game I mentioned has been balancing, and I can think of no greater example than the simple fact that titans are gigantic and pilots are tiny in comparison, and yet the maps work well catering to large and small scale assaults, and the gameplay never comes across as unfair towards either side. Pilots gracefully thrust across the map- double jumping and freerunning to their heart’s content, dodging the titanic mechs barbecuing their friends, and mostly relying on stealth and the element of surprise in encounters both against the larger foes and other pilots. You shouldn’t just focus on avoiding or taking out titans as a pilot however, as you’ll constantly be assaulted by powerful close quarters foes with the ever-annoying yet pretty epic hand cannon that auto-headshots pretty much anything (yet somehow doesn’t entirely ruin balancing) or a good old trusty shotgun.

Titans on the other hand make the player feel empowered and like a true machine of pure destruction with a small payload and ability to annihilate nearly any opposition, even other titan types. Crush your freerunning pilot adversaries, blast them out of the air, blow up strategic areas of the map, shoot other titans, or even using your falling titan called in moments ago as a satellite guided missile to destroy another hulking behemoth- it’s all at your fingertips, potentially. Somehow, Respawn has worked magic and made it possible to navigate maps quickly and efficiently as both small pilots in more vertical close quarters areas, and as hulking monstrosities in more laid out open expanses, and each approach is equally fun and a blast- sometimes quite literally. The action will stay fresh match after match, pretty much regardless of what game types you choose or which ones you enjoy the most, mainly because these dynamics keep them going and really keep players invested and interested- not only in the frantic and empowering yet not overpowering action, but also in the upgrade tree and systematic unlocks that go hand in hand with it.

At this point, you’re probably wondering about the player count and several other bold decisions Respawn made when approaching combat and online play, and only recently announced shortly before actually releasing the game from its Beta. Well, first I’d like to tell you to pretty much disregard whatever it is you’ve heard up until this point concerning these factors, and to read what is coming in the next section of this review, as it should clear most things up for you in a relatively concise manner. Yes, the matches are only six versus six, with the exception of additional non-playable characters who make up the rest of the impressive roster. However, were there to be any question of them not being energetic enough or large enough, I would scoff because these are easily some of the most action-packed matches I’ve played in any shooter and the fact that it offers more with literally less is quite astounding in all honesty. Despite the maps being on a larger scale, there isn’t a lack of close quarters combat or enemy encounters as there may be in really grand-scale maps such as in expansive shooters in the Battlefield series (I’m thinking Caspian Border here). There is only you and your titan, and the other players have the same tools or capabilities at their disposal, albeit with a few upgrades. Then of course you have a few non-playable extras with grunts, spectres, cannons, and the likes of other interesting weaponry.

It’s not too terribly difficult to maintain a good kills, deaths, and points ratio, as Respawn’s larger conflicts actually keep cautious or at least strategic players alive for longer times than you would at first think. If you pace yourself and work together, alternating between titan and pilot, and even helping out teammates, you’ll survive for several minutes- highly unlikely in most other, smaller scale shooters. The enemy AI isn’t always the greatest and could certainly use work, however it never really detracts too much from the experience as they are usually fodder for extra experience and kills, adding some breathing room in between encounters with living, breathing players. However, don’t scoff at the AI and brush it off as incompetent, or you’ll be sorely displeased when they take advantage or your not paying attention and kill your titan with you still in it with very low health.

I mentioned previously that there are only a few different match types and that they aren’t entirely customizable. Well, some of this has and will continue to be changed as DLC packs release I am sure, and with the announcement of customizable titan features I am sure that will only increase in magnitude. However, the major game modes available at this time are Attrition- large scale team based combat, Pilot Hunter- kill enemy pilots for team points a la TDM/DM, Hardpoint- grab and hold territories for points, CTF- pretty much traditionally ruled, and Last Titan Standing- try to kill the enemy titans while staying alive (everyone starts as a titan). Although there are only a few modes to play, the replayability factor maintains the freshness and action across a plethora of matches and means you’ll constantly be getting upgrades and enjoying yourself despite good or lackluster performances. However, what does kind of suck is the campaign’s unwillingness to move ahead past anything encountered throughout the normal multiplayer matches and a lack of truly different scenarios in the campaign to set it apart from the multiplayer. The only difference is that there are special intro and outro scenes for each of the battles and voice overs for some non-playable characters and speeches as well.

The progression system inevitably feels similar to Call of Duty- understandable considering many of the folks at Respawn came from Infinity Ward, and yet the progression also maintains a different feel as well. You’re constantly being offered more loadout slots for pilots and titans, new upgrade kits, new weaponry, mods, and other small arms. Whereas some mod additions are in short supply and are game changers, others are more commonly found and easier to unlock as well. Once you’ve unlocked everything and made it through fifty levels of experience, you are given the ability to essentially prestige and get to a Generation 2 pilot. Do the same thing again and you’ll make it to Generation 10 by the end, and be rewarded soundly for your efforts through experience and growth as a player and pilot. Unlike Call of Duty, there aren’t many unlocks after each generation, so you may be tempted to stay as a high level and not regenerate considering your only reward is essentially a few achievements. Burn cards serve as short use and rapid fire armaments and bonuses and are constantly piling up between matches, adding a little more unpredictability to the mix and making things more frantic than ever in upgrades.

Because Titanfall is only an online game, obviously that factor is very important to the overall presentation of the finished product and the quality it shows. So far, a little over a month in, I’ve been impressed by how it has held up and how well the server has done despite a few crashes and notable glitches in need of fixing. Respawn has thus far handily addressed most issues as of now and I can only imagine this will motivate other players to join the ongoing battle and cash in to buy the pretty good quality of game they’ve released. It’s been a massive risk to create such an online reliant product of a game, yet it has worked thus far and seems to be ready to for the foreseeable future. It’s good to finally see something equal parts unique and familiar on the market without an all too overbearing series name to put behind the tagline. Entertaining, quality, and new.

Concept: Titans and pilots alike battle it out over large scale maps that push equal parts vertical assault and expansive land battles, testing your wits and your ability to think fast and on your feet as you run through chaotic attacks.

Graphics: Especially for a multiplayer only title, the graphics look crisp and framerates run pretty well across all consoles (next gen and current). Sure, there are noticeable differences, yet they do not detract from the experience as a whole.

Sound: The voice work, where it is found, is professional and spot on in the moments. The ambiance is also excellently sounded out and soundtrack of accompanying noises of battle work fantastically as well.

Playability: The amount of control given to players is astounding and the fact that there are so many things to do and yet the controls still feel tight and not sloppily packed together is pretty amazing. Each button does a specific or even multiple tasks, and works well.

Entertainment: Definitely an entertaining experience on the whole, and a fun evolution of multiplayer combat- however slowly it may be reversing the directions we’ve had to constantly travel with well-known series.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.75

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Dark Souls II Review

[As Read on GIO.]

If you thought you were already prepared to die, then you’ve got a horrible surprise coming your way with the release and purchase of Dark Souls II. However, if you were also expecting another challenging yet rewarding adventure journey and deep role-playing mechanics, then you’re partially right and may just have a sporting chance at surviving without too many deaths- being relative of course, as you’ll still most likely die over two hundred times. From the original Demon’s Souls to the soul successor Dark Souls to the newly minted sequel to Dark Souls, players have faced stiff challenges, brutal foes, and unforgiving puzzles over the past five years. I can’t say it’s always been rainbows, kitties, and sunshine- never has in fact, unless you count Sun Bro that is….but still, what an experience we’ve had over this past generation until now. I look forward to future projects already, but then again I am probably getting ahead of myself here. This is after all a review, so I should be talking about more related mechanics and less topics of interest- at least in terms of major subjectivity, as ironic as that may be in an opinion piece such as this.

Even if you’ve never played Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls, you may still rest relatively easy in the fact that should you decide to purchase this highly anticipated sequel you won’t be disappointed by the challenge and also won’t feel entirely left out of the loop story-wise. It’s story is relatively standalone, though there are plenty of references to the events of Dark Souls to be found for the inquisitive and experienced dungeon divers and explorers among us. What is most likely known to you already is that said challenge is going to be extremely difficult, unless you’re a veritable tank of a player- in which case I commend you for your fabled skills and still wish you the best of luck, as the mighty will fall as often as the meek in this game- a la Boromir. This sequel introduces a few newer, more accessible methods of gameplay in order to open the title up to other players, however it is also more punishing and hardcore than it’s predecessor was. You’re still heavily penalized by dying, though you’ll see similar methods of regaining lost souls and depleted items or counters, as well as maintaining your solid status and damage impacts or effects- both positive and negative. Trust me, nothing sucks more than the infamous poisons of Dark Souls, which whittle your health down immensely over long periods of time, and pretty much leave you open to one or two hits from most enemies. Tough love, tough luck.

While these punishing tactics may scare certain players away, they’ve obviously attracted more who are looking for a challenge, as the game has been immensely popular thus far around the world and received mostly excellent reviews as well. There is definitely something to be said about the sense of utter accomplishment and triumph that one feels after having beaten a particularly difficult section of the game, a boss character, or even completed the title itself- and although you may be hesitant to dive back in for more, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will. Such is the way of the world, such is the way of Dark Souls, and such is the way of replayability- which this game has mountains upon mountains of content wise and scenario wise. In many ways, Dark Souls II is similar to its predecessor and yet in others it is an altered beast in all possible ways. For the most part the challenges and methods of play style remain closely related to the original game, yet the subtle and less subtle improvements to core mechanics, graphics, controls, and tweaks to just about every major function in-game really add to the experience and refine an already impressive level of control and handling power.

Whereas I gave the original Dark Souls a pretty hefty 9.25 out of ten possible points in my review (a long while ago), comparatively 0.5 points higher than Game Informer’s 8.75 at that time, I must say I am completely impressed by this next stage in the evolutionary process and would give this particular sequel an even higher score- one that will be mentioned at the close of this review, and that you can look up on GIO as well, should you wish to do so. Daniel Tack himself gave the game  a nearly perfect score, and is obviously a big fan of the series as well as this next iteration of the legendary saga- and fan or not (though I am most definitely a fan), I would pretty much agree with the vast majority of his points, so I will point you to his review as well. Dark Souls II, as I previously mentioned, is able to make itself more accessible to more types of players and one of the major ways it does this is by being a little more explicative in the control process without completely eliminating the process of having to figure out how little things work and what certain mechanics do. Even for an experienced player such as myself, I really enjoyed this aspect of the gameplay, and am sure others such as  newcomers to the series have as well.

Another brilliant addition to the game is a sense of life even amidst all the death, destruction, and chaos wrought in the main world and surrounding areas. Whereas there were occasional blacksmiths and vendors in the original, there are a multitude of non-playable characters to interact with in varying ways and to varying degrees within the overall hubworld and main area of the game. Combine this lively sense of being with several other minor yet majorly impacting adjustments to locomotion and clarification and you’ve already stepped up the game so much more than the original could- in about the first thirty minutes. You can now travel from discovered and lit or kindled bonfires with ease, cutting down on the frustration of traveling on foot everywhere in the world, without cutting back on the challenge or difficulty of exploration and unlocking new areas of the open world. Some other more accessible gameplay mechanisms include further detail involved in the joining of specific covenants, the simple amount of covenants (much more to be discovered than in the first title), and the clarity in explanation of the goals you must complete in order to join these guilds of sorts. There are also potentially more benefits to actually joining up with specific covenants this time around, and these are made known as you decide whether or not to join said covenant(s)- seeming more genuine and less like the afterthought they were in the first title.

Admittedly, while the story of the first Dark Souls was engrossing to me and actually pretty spot on in my opinion, it was one of the weaker elements- as the mechanics and gameplay themselves spoke up louder than any story moments did. However, this time around I didn’t feel like that was such as issue. Sure, the story could still use a little work, but it does a better job of seeming more engrossing without being shoved aside or placed directly in your face at times. It is paced much more believably as you progress and neither hindered or helped along faster or slower to accommodate players of varying skill levels overbearingly. The introduction is easily my favorite of the three titles technically in the Souls saga, and the incredible moments and feelings of woe, joy, triumph, and loss were woven excellently throughout the mainframe as well- holding together a wonderful tapestry of modern gaming in a unique, entertaining way without ever feeling forced upon you or unreal (in a bad sense).

For players of the previous title, the combat of Dark Souls II remains very true to its challenging premises, without sacrificing room for improvement to simplistic design and older ways of thinking. Improvements include, but are not limited to, addition of more combat related statistics for general use and leveling up, tweaks to the experience in terms of agility and evasive maneuvers- actually making them harder to abuse, yet somehow not making the experience any worse or much more frustrating at all, and refining blocking, parrying, and riposting. You’ll still remain much more reliant on your stamina bar and want to find an equal balance between it and your vitality, as these two key features are what keep you alive through otherwise impossible circumstances, and make Dark Souls such a strategic game as well as an action-packed one. In many respects, the game is as much a puzzle game as it is a true role-playing one, which is very true and very interesting indeed when you think about it. Unlike many other games, don’t just assume there are ways to abuse specific mechanics in order to “spam to win.” Dark Souls II is still victim to some mechanics and areas that can be used as such, however they are much fewer and farther between than its predecessor, and slowly being rooted out in updates as well- making the experience more challenging but equally or more rewarding as well.

New additions to gameplay such as vigor meters enhance the viability of stamina and agility related statistics, and encourages a further balancing of stats between vitality, endurance, and other important key attributes- making maintaining equilibrium in your powers and inventory all the more complicated yet refreshing as an experience. You still may want to go to certain guides in order to discover ways to get better at the game and some tips and tricks, but as there obviously aren’t too many out for the time being- considering the game released a month ago, you’re probably better off experimenting with classes and finding what works best for you personally rather than relying on others to dictate that to you. It certainly enriches the experience that way too. While your classes will vary as they did in the first Dark Souls, and stats will be slightly different to each- honestly it doesn’t matter where you start, and what truly matters is the starting gear you choose (like the master key and fireballs from Dark Souls I). Whichever class you ultimately choose, over the next few hours and level-ups you can completely change and revamp your character as you see fit anyway. If you feel like you have truly messed up, rather than starting over simply be on the lookout for the rare skill tree and soul respecs which, true to their names, allow you to virtually start over without fear of loss of stats or progress. These are handy but ultra rare in-game so don’t rely heavily on them- make each stat purchase wisely.

The graphics of the original game were pretty impressive, but these ones have come a long way since 2011 and look all the more visually stunning. Originally, having looked at some pre-release builds and trailers, I was not that impressed with a few particularly bland character models and odd textures, however I have been thoroughly impressed with the final build which looks excellent in most respects. Environments are varied and impressive in amount of detail as well as enemies you will encounter. The enemies and specific challenges of each area vary as well and prove to be distinctive and encompassing for players, adding a truly diverse array of settings and gameplay options that I didn’t really feel I had for the majority of the experience in the very similar settings of the first title. Even as you become better at conquering a specific area, you will undoubtedly move on into a new one and get smashed by more powerful and unexpected enemies and puzzles, which is still a large part of Dark Souls’ aesthetics and challenge. There is more emphasis on character choice in the open world, and although at some points you are essentially funneled in specific directions still, it occurs less often than in the first game where you were forced in pretty much one direction for the first five hours in order to have a chance at surviving any encounters until you had leveled up and found area specific items.

As in the first game, you can also summon cooperative partners to assist you in boss battles or particular challenges, as well as be invaded by enemy players in search of loot or otherwise there to cause misery and misfortune to befall you. These online modes can be disabled, which I would recommend if you are a fledgling character and not so strong in your abilities yet, but they also work much better even than in the previous game where they were more often abused and less often enjoyable. Cooperative mode is fine as ever, yet there are still a few minor tweaks that could probably be made to the invasion process- but nothing major enough to detract from the overall gameplay or from the score I would give the game, so therefore it isn’t much worth mentioning other than to say it’d involve some glitch fixes here and there and more stringent rules. I’d definitely recommend trying the single player experience itself before opening yourself up to possible attack and corruption of other players, however as you are your own human being you are free to do as you wish and play online or off.

A pretty large change that actually kind of surprised me is the fact that enemies no longer spawn continually upon restarting form checkpoints at bonfires or after resting up and leveling up. They still respawn plenty of times, however they will eventually stop spawning as frequently, leading to interesting trudging about through difficult sections should you be patient enough to give it a try and if you are positive you won’t be able to pass through otherwise. This serves a larger purpose however than making things “easier,” as it also eliminates endless mining of souls and exploitation on various levels, further enriching an already excellent experience. Time consuming as this may be, I am sure it will prove helpful to certain people in specific areas of the game that are particularly challenging, and although it won’t really do anything for boss battles, it may cut down on the number of minor foes attacking you during them at the least, which is always a good thing in this game. As many accessible features as they added in this sequel, it is no less or more challenging than the original- maintaining the same level of challenge although through a much more balanced and fair experience as gameplay mechanics go. However, if you do wish to make things harder on yourself (you masochistic people!) you can pick up certain hardcore items, join odd covenants, and even play through once more on a slightly more challenging New Game Plus mode- even retaining some important skills and items to boot.

All in all, truth be told it is the atmosphere and not specifically the difficulty and challenge that makes the title a blast to play- although I am sure those other factors rank highly up there as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the greater sense of freedom I was given in my approaches to combat and exploration, as well as the rare helping hands reaching out to help as well. We are only a third of the way through this year’s impressive games list, and yet I already feel as if Dark Souls II will maintain its large impact all the way through despite the stiff competition it will surely be facing. One thing is for certain: I’ll still be playing it come next March. After all, I’m still playing the original!

Concept: Explore a new yet familiar and similar setting- akin to the story and exploration of the first Dark Souls title, and embark upon a quest to rid the world of its misery and to gain power through it as you progress. Engage in challenging combat and experience an intriguing and engrossing story- experienced, not told.

Graphics: Impressively detailed and varied, both in environments and character models.

Sound: Between the epic scores for momentous occasions and stealthy segments to the general ambiance, the sound work is quite impressive and even the little creaks and tremors were impressively detailed in there fullness.

Playability: The challenges will be difficult, yet it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome through patience and a general grasping of the firm handling of the controls set before you. After you establish a solid foundation, you’ll progress slowly but surely regardless of overall skill. But that doesn’t make it any easier on you or your character, be warned.

Entertainment: This is not only a highly anticipated sequel but an amazing stand-alone title and it must be played to be enjoyed. Challenging yet fair, firm yet helpful at times. An impressively detailed and epic adventure in an expansive and deadly world.

Replay Value: Very High.

Overall Score: 9.5

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The Walking Dead: Season 2- Episode 2: A House Divided

[As Read on GIO.]

Continuing the Adventure

One Grim Step at a Time

Howdy folks. It’s been awhile since I reviewed the previous episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season Two, but you can still find that particular review here. Since before Season Two started, Telltale has also been working on several other projects- most notably Bill Willingham’s Fables episodic series as well, of which you can find reviews for episodes one and two on my reviews list. I will also be reviewing episode three here shortly, but that is mostly beside the point. You may have noticed that I actually gave episode one of Season Two (TWD) a lower score than some of my other reviews of the Season One episodes. As I explained, that was because it was good and demanded a decent score score, but also fell prey to some of the same issues as Season One- which I had been more lenient on, being the premiere season and all, but was not so this time around. With that little background check out of the way, I’ll deliver the final verdict on this most recent episode.

Things are starting to get really desperate again, and in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, that’s saying something. As in Season One’s second episode, people’s mental states are continually growing more harried and worse day by day, and though starvation isn’t the biggest factor this time around, past secrets surfacing and familiar faces turning up are. Clementine is now forced to grow up faster than she has been, and whether or not even that will ensure her survival remains unseen for the time being. As much as I would like to say Telltale wouldn’t kill the adorable yet tough little girl off in some way, I’m not entirely comfortable believing in that. After all, we’ve all come to see that in universes such as Game of Thrones and Walking Dead- morals are often the first things tossed out the window, especially in cases of weddings or the apocalypse.

If you thought the decision making forced upon you and simultaneously Clementine and her new group of compatriots was difficult to handle and keep pace with in the first episode of Season Two, then you’re going to be in for yet another series of unpleasant surprises. Expect more curveballs, more tension, and best of all- more tragic revelations. Throwing it back to several memorable moments of Season One, you’ll see the progress you’ve made thus far, and the lack of headway your group seems to be making for the duration of this particular episode as they come up against some strong adversaries- both within and without, and fall down…hard. It’s only just begun, as we’ve realized (or you will after completion of this episode, anyway), yet things look bleak once more for the future… As energetic, frenetic, and fast-paced as episode one was for the most part, two contains more action, more difficult choices, and more things that would even make Lee shiver and shudder and regret- all placed on the small shoulders of a tough little girl alone in a sea of zombies. She may not be literally alone, but at times she may as well be, and after all- who can you really trust out here? And who is really the walking dead- us “living” creatures, or the soulless husks roaming the countryside and cities?

Episode two follows much the same format as episode one and previous episodes in the series, picking up pretty much directly after a major decision you had to make at the last second in the first episode of this season- or close enough thereto the end of that decision, anyways. Group morale is decreasing daily- even hourly, trust and friendship are in low supply, and some people are literally breaking apart. What doesn’t help is the introduction of a new power as well as the need to relocate and find a new hide-hole to hunker down in for the foreseeable future. It is interesting to see some of the group dynamics still functioning to some extent- such as Clem’s deepening bond with certain characters, or the potential for that depending upon your choices in the previous episode(s). Whereas episode one’s main point was driving home the new dynamics in this group and Clem’s forced adjustment to the changes around her, this episode further explores that charted territory but also dives off into the deep end in some interesting new side activities and stray thoughts.

It’s neat to see the interactions with the character who you will inevitably be at odds with for the time being, and who seems to be evolving into the role of main antagonist- a person who is, maybe understandably, discontent and disillusioned, and scarily persuasive a la the Gov, but not quite to that extent from what we’ve thus far seen. It’s also a character who has an interesting name-drop connection to the comics, but was never really developed upon in that specific area as such. What’s also neat is the reemergence of previously seen faces and mentions of others, although we’ll have to wait to find out more on that whole thing in the next episode as well. The writing for characters and prompted actions really stands out in this episode in particular, and definitely brings me fully back into the fold moreso than episode one did. The plot developments feel more natural and less rushed, and they blend together otherwise contrasting themes and elements quite well in addition to that, which is definitely very impressive.

What is also particularly intriguing is the further allusion to some more backstory, which could be taken at face value or ignored, as it stems mainly from some interesting encounters with the main power in opposition to your little group. He sure has a history with them, that’s for sure- but whether that is actually good or not remains to be seen, though I’d wager it’s not and he isn’t walking the path of the righteous whatsoever. It is neat to see the occasional reference to actions from Season One, even if they aren’t fully acknowledged- though I am sure Telltale knew exactly what they were doing in doing things this way, subtly. In this vein, I’m truly interested in seeing how things progress and what Season Two’s giant impact will be, because surely there must be one, as in the first season… From the further refined conversation mechanics to the writing of the dialogue itself, the story firmly cements itself as the undoubtedly better portion of the episode(s), despite the frantic action also being well-done and especially great in this episode- better even than other frantic encounters in the later chapters of last season’s episodes three and four and even five.

Whereas most elements of the story are pretty believable- I mean, we’re talking about believable in a zombie apocalypse anyway, so that’s all pretty relative, there are some that are just too difficult and overbearing to ignore. One such major element would be the degree of influence and control Clem can assert when it steers the plot in a desirable direction, and the then one hundred and eighty degree turn her influence takes to the point where literally nobody trusts her to be able to get things done on her own, also when the plot demands it. As much as these episodes are well-paced even with this factor, it is too commonly employed to be ignored, and definitely the sacrificial lamb of the content in this episode in particular in many instances. I know she’s just as experienced as any adult in the apocalypse, but seriously- you’d rely on a little girl to do the heavy lifting? They don’t even rely on Carl to do most things in the comic or series (television), and look how much more he’s had to go through even than Clementine. Point made.

Although we could see the beginning of some heavy and impactful decisions being made in episode one, and saw a few returning tides from Season One, this episode in particular is where things really start to show strain and an emphasis on important decisions is made. There are definitely more choices in this episode than any of the previous ones- in action segments and in plot driven ones alike, you’re forced to make the tough choices nobody likes to be in charge of. No matter what you choose, you’ll most likely regret it- and not always because it was a wrong decision, but simply because you won’t know what may have happened had you not acted as you did. One can only imagine this boosts replayability tenfold, however, you’d have to replay things several times in very similar ways in order to be sure you’re creating the same catalysts and situations that should turn out in nearly the same fashion, or else things could spin off in an entirely new direction. Curses, Telltale, you intelligent devils!

One thing is certain in A House Divided, and this is that your consequences will change the very course of the game. Inevitably, some people are going to die- maybe now, maybe later, and you have somewhat of a say in that. Some people will be disillusioned with you and others impressed. Old and new allies alike will turn to you or against you. Such is the way of this world, it seems. Interestingly enough, you won’t just be dealing with the same old decisions from this episode and this particular season, but from the entire series as a whole- Season One and 400 Days included in varying degrees. Tough choices, tough choices… The connections you build- however shaky or however firm are definitely going to play a large, important role later, as I would imagine the people you form them with will to boot.

Concept: Continue the journey of an adorable little girl and her companions in the desolate, bleak world they now inhabit- fleeing both from the rotten dead and those walking in their path, the living come to kill them or otherwise harm them.

Graphics: These graphics aren’t anything you haven’t already seen seven times over up until this point, and I am sure will be something you will continue to see afterwards as well. However, it must be said that this and the previous episode have been two of the most varied color schemes- especially in comparison to the dreary shades of grey present for the majority of Season One. Don’t let that lift your spirits however- things are far from rosier in outlook…

Sound: Although many voices will seem familiar, they never seem entirely reused- though I am sure they have been. The musical accompaniment underscores the tense moments and action perfectly, and complements the cast work as well as the story itself.

Playability: Easy as ever to grasp, the controls have been refined well this season, and continue to handle good enough for me to thoroughly enjoy the experience beyond the story itself. It’s definitely taken some good cues from Wolf Among Us.

Entertainment: You might not enjoy the choices you’re given, but you can’t doubt the excitement and anticipation their immediate and not-so immediate results bring. Surely this sets the tone for some future episodes, and will be one to remember later as well…

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.5

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South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Bedlam Maybe… but far from Broke.

South Park has been around for awhile, yet the entire time it has been around, no good gaming titles using the source material come to my mind. I’m thinking that is because all of the titles associated with the series have sucked- until now. Thankfully, The Stick of Truth manages to deliver where others could never do so: an excellently crafted, genuinely fun experience packaged with the hilarity and maturity (or immaturity) of South Park. Now, I’ve been watching South Park for a long while- after all, it’s pretty much half as old as I am at this point, and it’s a fun show to get into. But i have never encountered an equally fun game to dive into, relating to the series, until now. Everything from the major (and even some non-major) characters to the trademark humor and shock value has been included in this particular game, and for that reason I cannot get enough of it. Coupled with the fact that the game plays out as a semi-traditional role-playing game, you’ve got yourself a real winning package.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone obviously had a huge level of involvement in this process, or the designers over at Obsidian are really good at emulating their work (which could be true with Obsidian, who often crafts sequels from other developers’ series) because the fine level of attention to detail and references from the series to the game really just blew me away at most points. There’s no doubt about it that this game is entirely unique and interesting in many ways. You’re able to start the game off in classic role-playing fashion: with character customization, specifically for a ‘new kid” in the sleepy mountain town we all love (or hate). It won’t be too long before you find yourself intermingling with the likes of Kenny, Butters, and Kyle- among other traditional characters, and it feels genuinely like something that could’ve come from the show. By the end of the game, you’ll have come across pretty much every major character you can count from the start of the series to its current point- which is pretty phenomenal considering that’s easily over four hundred characters or so.

As great as all of this background quality information is, I’m sure you’re wondering what the real meat of the experience is, if there is any at all. Well, as my score may tell you, there most certainly is. The gameplay is more than up to snuff and even shines brilliantly in most segments, maintaining a precarious balance between hilarity and enjoyability with ease. The Stick of Truth takes some of the better mechanics from modern RPGs and puts them to good use. Players and party members attack with a variety of ranged, melee, and magic attacks, each enhanced by quick button presses a la Final Fantasy of Lost Odyssey. The fights themselves are often pretty funny as well as serious, and even though you can “die” sometimes it’s just interesting to see what humor they add into the whole experience. Whereas there are poisons and draining attacks or moves in traditional games, South Park features attacks with similar outcomes, but entirely different methods of application- namely the farting, belching, and vomiting you’ll see.

There are four major classes (played best to figure out which suits you best) and each has their own QTE activation-based special perks or skills and attacks. These function mostly as they do in normal RPGs, but of course with a little bit of a South Park twist to everything as well. A warrior might initiate a baseball bat beatdown or an archer might shoot enemies full of suction cup arrows, it all just depends. As lighthearted as The Stick of Truth is however, and however childish it seems, make no mistake- it is about as kid-friendly as the show and series counterpart seems. Meaning of course that it also involves hefty amounts of sexual innuendo, profanity, and blood, blood, blood. Still, it is pretty light at times…before being usually more graphic and shocking afterwards. If there’s one thing to be said about the game in this regard, it is that it always has some unexpected turn of events or a surprise around the corner.

The leveling and experience systems go hand in hand and are pretty much the standard that has been established over the years, which isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think- after all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it in the first place? You can enhance and upgrade particular portions of abilities, such as damage done, enemies affected, and bonus abilities coupled together essentially. Interestingly enough, you also have a sideline system for permanent statistical changes and advantages which focuses upon how many Facebook friends you accumulate in your town. AS interesting as this is and a neat tie-in, it didn’t really strike me as too interesting and it is far from essential. Another somewhat unheard of thing that goes into the game with much more success is the humor itself, mainly because most of it is directed at the video game industry and includes some funny and enjoyable shoutouts- much in the same fashion as the show does to people in real life such as celebrities.

Maybe you’ll be going along when suddenly you encounter some audio logs and must collect them, or perhaps you’ll notice that there is some particularly familiar turn based strategy going on and the very structure of the game itself seems to be one large shoutout to a favorite medium of Parker/Stone. As lazy as certain design choices may seem, it’s pretty interesting that at least seemingly the main reason certain design elements were chosen is because they could be used to simultaneously mock and revere the industry and conventional gaming. Sort of breaks the fourth wall and seems like a paradox too doesn’t it? How unsurprisingly canny of them. There are of course plenty of jokes, references, and over the top moments that fill the game as well from moment to moment, so don’t expect too much downtime.

Expect ManBearPig and other excellent references to turn out to be more than just references, and for many a cameo and encounter as well. The game doesn’t wear out its welcome in both time to completion or in its humor, as it has a relatively short (by RPG standards only) run-time of fifteen hours, and always has new jokes hidden up the sleeve somewhere. The thematic situations, new areas, and entertaining vibes are never going to get old (at least anytime soon) for me, so I know the playtime won’t be stopping me from diving back in for more, or for another run through anyway. It’s definitely the first really enjoyable, replayable game for the series, which seems like a serious crime to me. However, if you do start to tire of particular elements, chances are they’ll shortly change things up on you anyway. Every time I got a little bored, the scenarios abruptly shifted and I was in the thick of it once more. So the pacing is pretty good, to say the least.

Honestly, there really aren’t too many issues to be found with this game, aside from maybe if you don’t enjoy the sense of humor it employs, or haven’t really paid too much attention to the show- which could mean you miss quite a few references. There are a few technical hiccups on consoles, but curiously many of them are absent on computers- so that would be the route I’d go, given the opportunity and for want of a better game experience. Skins may sometimes glitch out of existence, entire inventory objects may sometimes disappear, and entering areas could cause framerate drops- but never anything truly permanent came to pass. This was, note, all on the Xbox systems that I noticed issues, not the play Station ones or PC. All in all, the experience is grand, enjoyable, and the objectives are faithful and unique to say the least.

Concept: Make a good South Park game, and succeed, for the first time in nearly twenty years it seems. This is truly a milestone.

Graphics: Well, it really looks like a South Park episode, so that’s quite an accomplishment as well (as emulating style and design goes).

Sound: I’m glad they were able to get the voice work of series pros (Stone/Parker), as anything other that that would be noticeably fake I would think. As far as music itself goes, as with the show there isn’t much, but it does work well in the particular moments of drama and need.

Playability: It’s a really unique and well pieced together game full of traditional and not so conventional RPG elements that mesh together pretty well for the most part. All in all, a fun adventure and entirely playable experience.

Entertainment: Very funny, and therefore very entertaining- from both a game and humor perspective.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 9.0

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Strider (2014) Review

[As Read on GIO.]

If you go back through Capcom’s gaming history, you will surely find several interesting characters that haven’t seen the light of day in a long while- despite us always seeing the same old Resident Evil and Dead Rising announcements everywhere. After all, those games are the cash cows for Capcom, and you can hardly blame them for wanting to create more of what they at least know to be successful. However, Strider is not a new character- having debuted in the late eighties-early nineties, yet this makeover is well-deserved and much appreciated in my mind. It’s good to see a classic game thrown into the next evolution of consoles and especially good to see it performing well and having many a new trick shoved up it’s ninja sleeve as well. And that’s exactly what Strider does.

The controls are easily the best part of the experience, as they offer a sturdy, firm foundation for the gameplay and environments to build upon. Not only do the animations look well in response to the controls, but the likely things happen when you do something such as sprinting or rolling- dust stirs up and you’ll hear the occasional realistic ninja grunt or two as well. The boss battles are almost always fun, fast-paced, and never lacking for entertainment. The character models are well-crafted, from Strider’s scarf to the mechanized villains which he must cut down to size. All in all, this is a pretty solid next generation title- albeit not the most ambitious there could’ve been. It is quite a solid offering.

Although Strider is a fighting game, it is also very much a platforming one. It combines the best of old-school mechanics with new, unheard of platforming traits and skills to grand success. These sequences serve as breaks in the action of fighting and add a little extra challenge- of a different sort, into the mix as well. Lasers, hammers, and many classic video game death traps make appearances during platforming areas, and the fact that Strider can traverse the world on floors, walls, and ceilings only makes things more entertaining. At some points, I even found myself comparing the platforming and sliding around to Super Meat Boy- on some smaller level. Thankfully, Capcom/Double Helix’s generosity in new gameplay extends to their generosity in death, as should you fail Strider respawns at the nearest checkpoint (located pretty well in most instances) and only loses a little health.

Think of Strider’s new world as something out of a Metroidvania themed game. Instead of being one particularly large two dimensional area however, there are several medium sized areas that you can warp to as you delve further into the game. Keep in mind, most environments are going to be here simply because of the large variety of places Strider visits in his journey and pursuit, so don’t rule any old Soviet-era lab or futuristic city or jungle fortress out quite yet… For a mostly two dimensional experience, the attention to detail in the environments and character models is impressive to say the least, and definitely rendered the best on next generation consoles and computers.

Large, open-air areas really feel immense and tight, close-quarters indoor areas really feel constricting as you travel the world and fight your foes. A curious and inquisitive warrior will find plenty of secret passages, treasures, and upgrades along the way, there are plenty of reasons to backtrack to areas once you’ve received more upgrades, and even the most exploration-savvy of us may miss a few things. The game never really gets that frustrating, honestly no matter how you play it- more gung-ho or more cautious. It’s a grand experience and just as successful a reboot as it is a new game in its own right. Surprisingly, the game also takes almost ten hours to complete- assuming you’ve done a little bit of searching for treasures and surprises as well.

As you progress, you’ll continually be unlocking newer and faster-paced abilities to furnish your repertoire with, getting better at using old, solid attacks, and learning new combinations of flurries, strikes, and parries as well. The d-pad switches your plasma sword from one type of attack to another- fire, ice, etcetera etcetera essentially. There are four major types of attacks, and each is important in the strategic flow of combat. For example, you may have to use an explosive fire attack to knock some armor off of an enemy before following up with a normal strike to the undefended flesh underneath. Every enemy is susceptible to a different method of attack, further adding to the strategy in combat, and to the fine level of detail in this particular project.

Learning how to swap out attack types on the go is really a necessity for surviving any length of time in this environment. As with any game however, there are of course a few places that could use a little bit of extra work. Namely, the story is pretty generic (which is forgivable in this genre usually), there is only one major save file for your games, and although you can travel about with ease, there isn’t literally a warp system (though it is not that hard to backtrack as aforementioned). The story boils down to (without spoiling it much) tracking down enemy bosses to kill, and eliminating as much of their enemy populace in specific areas as is possible.

There aren’t truly that many complaints about the trappings of this game, which can mostly be attributed to the well-handled controls and aesthetics. Thankfully, those complaints that do surface stem mainly from some extra, non-control and non-graphical or technical areas of the game- such as story, warps, etcetera. Now for the final verdict:

Concept: Bring back Capcom’s lesser-known ninja hero, who has been trapped in limbo for far too long and needs to get a good dose of both nostalgia and the lime-light for his return. Also, for pure enjoyment and exploration of the new capabilities of consoles.

Graphics: Between the animation work and the impressive level of environmental and character detail, the game handles perfectly, runs pretty smoothly, and certainly looks impressive for a two dimensional title.

Sound: As with most of Capcom’s titles, the voice work is way over the top and crazy at best, and the soundtracks include some catchy synth beat tracks and futuristic melodies to enjoy as you make the customary romp around the world defeating as many enemies as you possibly can.

Playability: Never will a new ability go to waste in this game- you’ll be utilizing each and every one of them without remorse by the end. The timing of learning and upgrading is perfectly spaced out so as not to be too quickly implemented or too slowly either. The controls handle perfectly and are incredibly responsive, leading to further enjoyment in the animation, gameplay, and upgrade departments.

Entertainment: Not only a solid reboot, but a solid new game in general. There isn’t really that much to complain about outside of a few minor grievances I’ve found within the game, and that most others have already harped on.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.25

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Still Alive

Yes, there will be some more reviews on their way shortly and maybe a blog or two (such as the afore-promised Bioshock story analysis one).


To Be Posted:

1) Strider Review

2) Stick of Truth Review

3) TWD S2 E2 Review

4) Dark Souls 2 Review

5) Titanfall Review

6) Yaiba Review

7) Second Son Review

8) TWAU E3 Review

9) Bioshock Story Blog(s)

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Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two Review

[As Read on GIO.]

If you read my review of Episode One, which I published mid-November, then you should know that I enjoyed the added experience of the story content and gave it an 8.5- a pretty solid score. Well, here I am again, this time with the second portion of the duet up for review, and I find myself in the enjoyable position I was last time as well. I like the finisher here, I really do. And for that reason, I am giving it a solid score as well. Sure, the content is once again on the slim side, but after having already experienced that with the first half and still finding it to be enjoyable, I can hardly ding Irrational for their efforts once more- especially in light of recent events over there, and with what changes have come to town… Although this episode most definitely does incorporate some newer mechanics instead of relying on basic gimmicks as the previous was apt to do, I find once more that the tried and true mechanics from the base game are still its backbone and strongest component- which makes sense.

While we saw the freshly painted veneer of Rapture in the previous game, shortly before descending into the roiling madness below, in this particular chapter we find ourselves further entangled and embroiled in said madness, with notably less intrinsic “prettiness” around. I’ll try to say things here without spoiling much of what will be better experienced through your own playtime, should you choose to purchase the additional and worthwhile content here, but do allow me this one teensy thing: I previously said that this Booker and Elizabeth are different than the ones we’re familiar with, and this is quite true- however it stands to reason that they’re all interconnected in some way, correct? I shall speak no more on that, for now. Note, also if you would, that this review will be slightly on the short side of things, as most of what was said during my Episode One review still applies to gameplay and mechanics here, this time around.

Seeing how nearly everything ends up being interconnected in the Bioshock universe during the main events of Infinite amazed me, but witnessing them even more fully realized in Burial at Sea- especially in the end and in the little moments really assured me of Irrational’s genius. If they stop here with the series, I’ll actually be happier, because it makes such a perfect circle and roundabout cycle that I am content to no know more and forever wonder at its equivocal mystery and sense. If that didn’t make sense to you, play the damn game already. This episode picks up after the events of episode one, placing the perspective instead in Elizabeth’s control instead of Booker’s as in the last one. Finally getting to fully play as the longtime companion is overdue and works just as well as with Booker in mostly every aspect. There are of course some differences in combat to be picked up on- Elizabeth isn’t as strong and now doesn’t have a handy teammate with extra ammo and health packs to rely upon fully. Whereas the last episode focused on action, this one focuses on stealth- and even packages a neat 1998 Mode for those wanted to go the Deu Ex “no kill” route as well.

The main tool you’ll be using is a crossbow with darts that knock your opponents out with ease, and some wisely chosen knickknacks like fire crackers and gas- to round out your already hefty array of powers and gadgets. The stealth oriented gameplay is amplified by the ability to use an almost ‘detective vision’ type of sight and see your enemies through objects, as well as the ability to essentially turn invisible and lurk about in the shadows. As much as I loved the explosive action of the Bioshock titles in the past, it is neat to see another twist for a change- and stealth is as good as any I’ve thought of before, as twist mechanics go. The ending ends up being very apropos, and you’ll definitely love every bit of story this time around- making it much more interesting than part one was, and also a bit more bittersweetbitter. I loved every moment of this episode, even if I wasn’t willing to fully let go in the end.

Concept: Irrational’s final tribute to Rapture and the culmination of a trilogy’s worth of content in one brief, concise story that will continue the revelations we thought were already unveiled accordingly. Truly a masterful finish if there ever was any.

Graphics: Still utilizes the same system branch-off of Unreal Engine 3 that the main title and Episode One also utilized, with great success.

Sound: Remember all the voices we heard in Rapture and Columbia? Well, chances are most of them are back, or Irrational at least got excellent copycats to voice their slightly different characters here.

Playability: The controls are as tight and easy to handle as they were in the main title and the first downloadable story episode, and still manage to add in uses for new weapons and gadgets as well, on top of that fact.

Entertainment: It takes a different approach, especially during combat, but is no worse off for it. In fact, it’s actually more fun than I had in episode one.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

NOTE: I will most likely be doing a complete analysis of the entirety of Bioshock’s story as a saga and how it is all intertwined, so be on the lookout for that blog as it comes in several parts here shortly in the future…

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Who’s Who that Should be in Arkham Knight? Pt. 3

[Spoilers Abound!]

Hey look! More Villainous Foes!

Another day, another customary ‘Who’s Who?’ for my Arkham Knight series of speculation blogs. Again, I don’t plan on there having to be very much of an introduction here, so let’s go ahead and get this thing started then. As you’re probably expecting now, here are twelve more villains to marvel at that could really put on some whoop-butt for the Bat. Or at least a good side show. Obviously, not all of them would be cut out for the spotlight…yet…

Professor Pyg aka Lazlo Valentin: Several things are certain when the ‘Good Doctor’ is concerned- number one: there is nothing remotely good about this psychotic former chemist, two: he is one of the most truly insane characters in Batman’s large and crazy world, three: it’d be a terrible idea to blow this little piggy’s house down, especially since he’d butcher you for it. Professor Pyg is one of Batman’s newer and darker foes, as he is commonly known- infamously so, for butchering his victims and transforming them into lobotomized, genderless creatures fitted with fleshy masks and done over with odd hairdos. Needless to say, he runs a freakshow and adds to it whenever possible. Oh, and there masks- yeah, those get plastered onto their faces…permanently. Professor Pyg is also another member of the group notably referenced as the Circus of Strange, and although he is technically only a part of Doctor Hurt’s cabal, he is much more outlandish and gruesome than that particular fiendish doctor. Interestingly, which could potentially fit into Arkham Knight’s plot quite well, both Scarecrow and Bane confront Pyg at a later date and effectively force him to join their cause(s) in crime. Interesting and insane thought, no?

Firefly aka Garfield Lynns: A truly intriguing character and a relative newcomer to the Arkham-verse as well, Firefly actually made a recent appearance in Arkham Origins here not quite a year ago. Although that particular battle was relatively short-lived, as Firefly’s jetpack joyride was taken care of with ease from the Bat, I imagine this fight not being so easy and the backstory and build-up this time around being more interesting as well. Ultimately, of course, this will just be one more side battle, as I don’t ever see Firefly being a major villain at all, however, it could make for an interesting side-track path say with arson missions or bombs spread around Gotham to defuse and whatnot. Firefly isn’t too bright at times, however he does have some neat tools and splodey-s at his disposal- namely a large rocket launcher and some flaming grenades. Can’t argue that he’s at least prepared in his homicidal and arsonistic tendencies.

Death Rattle aka Erasmus Rayne: Death Rattle may not be entirely well known at all, however as both a cultist (and a leader of cults) and a serial killer, he has been quite well known indeed. He’s so psychotic that he actually decided to found his own religion and proclaim the amoral and absolutely insane as okay to peruse. Insanely, he also thought he could perform such amazing feats as talking with the dead and being psychic as well. Eventually however, these voices of the “dead” convinced him to murder over fifty members of his congregation of worshipers, and he was captured and sent to Arkham Asylum- coupled with the Great White, Warren White in a cell. What happened next is not very well chronicled, however, for the sake of the Arkham-verse and this particular sequel, we should assume he survived this trial and tribulation.

Doctor Death: Doctor Death is actually one of the very first major supervillains that Batman encountered, and therefore I think it would be quite fitting to incorporate some version of him into what is supposedly Rocksteady’s final bright light in the Arkham-verse main trilogy and overarching series of games. Although now quite a cliched character by today’s standards, Doctor Death is a mad scientist who develops lethal chemical gases and injections, threatens the wealthy and powerful of Gotham, and demands that people pay him tribute money or else suffer the consequences. He is essentially a mad crime boss with an affinity for powerful nerve gases- a dangerous enemy to have. He has even been cast as a black market biological weapons dealer, which could fit more with the plot of Arkham Knight potentially and in the so-called Nolan-verse or realistic side of things for the Bat.

Fright aka Linda Friitawa: Oh boy, this albino medical practitioner has done some pretty gruesome things over the years. In fact, I’d say she more than earns her spot on this particularly gruesome list of Batman villains. Ironically enough, while she was busy helping Scarecrow with some of his experiments she was actually working for the Penguin and plotting against Scarecrow, despite her kind attitude towards the masked maniac. She was supposed to be weakening his toxins instead of strengthening them as he intended, and also corrupting them so that they would turn the Scarecrow into a monstrosity known only as the Scarebeast- whether or not this succeeded varies with different interpretations…

Lock-Up aka Lyle Bolton:Lock-Up is an interesting anti-hero, vigilante turned villain by circumstances. All he ever wanted was to capture the super villains and punks of the world, or at least of Gotham City, but then he started beating the Bat as well. And we all know that’s a big no-no. Lock-Up is an expert at incarceration and torture methods, and is well-known for instilling fear in the villains he captures, as well as often murdering them in heinous ways before they can be freed. He was dismissed from the police academy and several security positions for being too “gung-ho” and abusive to those he was supposed to capture, not harm completely. At one point Batman actually allowed him to lord over Blackgate Penitentiary while the city would otherwise be overrun with mad villains thanks to an earth-shattering quake, but he soon rectified that when given the opportunity. At one time, Lock-Up held Two-Face, Nightwing, Robin, Charaxes, Allergent, Ventriloquist, and Killer Moth in check and imprisoned. Needless to say, he’s memorable for his ruthlessness and imprisoning techniques and cunning- he could be a semi-major player at some point in Arkham City, and an interesting foil to Commissioner Gordon as well.

Flamingo aka Eduardo Flamingo:Flamingo is as fearlessly weird as they come. His get-up would be almost comical and laughably stupid if he weren’t so insane and ruthlessly efficient in his killing of others. If you couldn’t guess, he dresses all in pink, has pink hair, and even rides a pink motorcycle- which he also uses to run people over before eating their faces off, after he murders them…sometimes. If that doesn’t sound bad enough and oddly intimidating, he also totes several different guns and a sword. A sword, yes. On top of the fact that he was lobotomized by the mob and honestly can’t think straight at all, he changes moods crazy fast and is so unpredictable that you never know when he’ll attack- now…or now. In one particular universe (of New Earth) and with one set of Batmen, he nearly killed the Red Hood, Robin, and Batman (Dick Grayson, in this case). I guess you could call him a rip-off artist, if ripping faces off is considered art in that universe… He”d certainly be a dark villain to include in Arkham Knight, and though I think the chances are slim- mainly because it’d be too gritty and a pink motorcycle wouldn’t fit in so well, it could still be done for all we know.

Jane Doe: Another intriguing and very dark persona, Jane is quite literally a cipher- even in her own explanations. She has no real reason to live, so she takes the lives, minds, and bodies of others in order to live their lives out for them. How kind of her! She will obsessively learn the patterns and mannerisms of her victims before killing them and taking their skin and essential body parts (for later use). Her guise is often so convincing that she herself even begins to think of herself as the person whose skin she has acquired, making her a veritable zealot whilst in ‘costume.’ Once, while imprisoned in Arkham Asylum, she took the guise of a psychiatrist and administered evaluations to other inmates there, before attempting to escape. She also tried to murder Warren White and take his flesh- resulting in his frozen features and new moniker as the Great White after a freezer incident.

Onomatopoeia: Little is known about this particular super-villain in terms of features and identity, which he has craftily and carefully concealed over the years in any encounters with the law or other human beings (that are still living, that is). However, what is well-known is that he is a master of mimicry and a serial murderer who commonly targets non-super powered vigilantes and heroes, though is not adverse to taking down the unwary villain as well on occasion. He can imitate any sound from gunshots to leaky faucets and often leads his prey into traps by sounding like friends or rescuers. He is obviously in tip-top shape as he is a martial arts master and expert marksman, carries a plethora of guns- from rifles to handguns, and a common commando knife for close quarters confrontations as well. He could be a really interesting foe in Arkham Knight as a side-boss, where almost like the Killer Croc chase in Asylum, he lures you about and you must stealthily avoid his traps. Rocksteady could also take some creative freedom with his character model as well, on the bright side.

Tally Man: Need I even say it any more? He’s a dark, taxing sort of guy- literally. As a boy he grew up with his family constantly being harassed by the “tally men” or debt collectors of the mob and other criminal undergrounds. After his father’s death, the continued to extort his family for cash, and when they had no more, the boy brutally murdered one debt collector- winding up in jail for his antics. After his release a long while later, he discovered his sister dead and his mother committing suicide, which broke him completely. After a lengthy hiatus, he returns ‘reborn’ as Tally Man- working for the mob to collect debts of human lives, not cash. He twice tried to “collect” on Batman’s debt- but faced down Azrael and Nightwing instead during their stints as the Bat, instead of the Dark Knight himself. Beaten both times and horrendously scarred after some events concerning Two-Face, he hasn’t been seen in some time…but maybe a gritty return in Arkham Knight is just what he needs…

The Wrath aka Elliott Caldwell:Essentially a copycat of Batman himself, this particular villain makes it his goal to take down cops, not villains as the Bat himself has deemed worthy. The Wrath’s parents were “gunned” down by a then young Commissioner Gordon, although he was actually acting in self-defense. It is this similar yet opposite start that makes the man’s story as well as his costume, sidekick, and motive quite similar yet still distorted from Bruce Wayne’s own methods and motives. Later, his sidekick (Elliott) becomes The Wrath, only after the first one dies unfortunately after his fight with Batman during their first major encounter and confrontation. I guess you could say it was just “bat luck” on his part though… Ironically, it is later revealed that The Wrath actually respected and admired Batman and created his costume to model him, seeing the “similarities” in origins they shared (having discovered he was Bruce Wayne). This did not, however, save him from his own folly and death. Imagine if Arkham Knight actually depicts Batman accidentally killing him- as he does in the comics, with a fire bomb deflected and a blast knocking him off the building they’re atop. Maybe we could work Firefly in here and Batman could battle to two villains, ultimately trying yet failing to rescue Wrath before his plummet… Interesting thought.

Zeiss aka Philo Zeiss:Zeiss also has a tragic backstory, as do many heroes and villains of Gotham’s universe and in DC’s universe as a whole. However, it is interestingly enough his current story that is the more intriguing of the two. He is just some normal guy- except for the fact that he has had various cybernetic implants and reflex amplifiers surgically placed in his body and wired to his brain, making him a very formidable combatant and foe for Batman. He totes goggles which can be used to analyze and adapt to any fighting style, has a strengthened spine and fists, and also is a martial arts master. He has been known to relentlessly pursue the Bat on occasion, completely forgetting what he was intending to do in order to fight the man who he has a large vendetta against. He has also been known to fight the Bat to a standstill several times, only losing because Batman has changed his tactics quickly enough to outwit his clever goggles- or even shattered them with batarangs. He’d certainly be a great hand to hand foe to face in a brawler such as Arkham Knight, and a pretty classic boss battle as well…

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Day One

[My Poetic Exploits Begin...Again...for this Month Anyway... ]


Hey there people, how do you all do?

I just finished watched The Walking Dead Season 4 yesterday, wow- like some cannibal zoo,

or something, I’m not really that sure at this point, but hey- this is a poem, so…

I don’t really know. Seriously I don’t know.


But that’s okay- this is like something from EE Cummings, or maybe a nightmare-

well, same thing really, I guess…prose too? Dang, how quaint, depressing, and… whoops, I need a word to rhyme this easy scheme…erm- Delaware?

Sure, that seems to fit, sure does, that’s it. Okay, now, onto some serious things…um…errr…

I just got a random chill, like some ghost’s in here or something, or my creativity is dying…brrr…


See what I did there? All shaky and messed up? How do you know I didn’t intend that? Hmm? Huh?

You don’t do you? But that’s okay… (Is it?) Maybe I’ll go easy on you today… I mean, duh

I’ve got to keep this up for another twenty-nine days or whatever, so yeah. This is a little daunting right now,

and I just don’t really know how I’m going to keep it all together… Really, how?


But anyway, this short little narrative thing has to come to a close eventually,

so why not give it a sonnet-like makeup? Cool idea, right? I knew you’d understand, I knew you’d see.

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Indie Hero

Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller

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