The Walking Dead: Season Two- Episode Three: In Harm’s Way Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Putting Clem into the Frying Pan Yet Again…

Just in Time for a New Fire to Start.

Clementine’s very character is definitely one of the most enjoyable I’ve witnessed transition from stuttering and semi-meek (not weak though!) little child to stout and brave kid, and her life post-Lee is equally depressing and action-packed as ever. In the zombie apocalypse, action isn’t necessarily a good thing most of the time, but surprisingly (although always hinted at) the majority of the threats do not stem from the Walkers themselves- although they remain a large part of the background, but rather from the other humans roaming the now desolate world. As much as Season Two has been a coming of age story and a fight for survival between Clem’s crew and the scavengers, murderers, and other oddballs they’ve thus far encountered, it also has boiled down simply to actions versus words and whose speak loudest and clearest at the end of the day. You’d be surprised just what you may find yourself able to do at the end of the day, and what Telltale will allow Clem to do as a result…

There is the ever-present issue of mortality- how little of it makes its way into and through Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse of choice, as your allies constantly have the ‘opportunity’ to die on your watch right and left, although admittedly sometimes there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. One of last year’s most desperate and depressing factor’s and moments in gaming was definitely not being able to do anything but choose between one of two friends or companions- a la Kaidan/Ashley from Mass Effect 1, and as much as it killed me (and everyone else usually) it was a rush and definitely eye-opening. Telltale still doesn’t hold the punches back even now, having reach Season Two’s halfway mark, and there is still so much more to be seen of the dreadfully brilliant story and conflicts continuing to emerge. Sure, some actions and reactions available to a child no more than ten or so seem a bit on the ridiculous side, but after all it is a game revolving around the apocalypse, so some leeway is to be expected and given rationally. If you thought Season One’s ending was bleak enough, there have been many moments already in this one that put it to shame and up the ante in several ways, although I won’t ruin them now.

That all having been said, please also bear in mind that as dark as the road has already gotten and as twisted as things are, it is surely going to get worse- as it definitely does for the duration of this particular episode in terms of story and actions. I know there’s supposed to be a silver lining to most things and that nothing is ever truly impossible or insurmountable, but if it isn’t now it’s getting pretty damn near unbearable for Telltale’s cast, and it’s going to be all the more interesting to see who cracks next. The questionably sane Carver character makes an appearance of course yet again, with the plot definitely revolving for the most part around his Darwinistic and methodical approach to cruelty and ‘survival.’ Just like the ending episodes of Season Four of the television show counterpart in which the cannibalistic inhabitants of Terminus are obvious brainwashed into following the orders of their leaders, so too are Carver’s followers- pretty much mindlessly heeding his sadistic orders (although also probably out of fear for their own well-being and lives).

Survival is a theme that has run deeply throughout the series for good reason- it’s the apocalypse, and that theme definitely resurfaces here more-so than it has in the last two episodes, making Clem’s trials and tribulations for the sake of becoming or remaining strong all that much more real and scary. As scary as it is to see the girl battle with various demons that she shouldn’t have to deal with at such a young age, and scenarios she is placed in- often thanks to Carver’s pretty much evil ways, it would be so much scarier if she did indeed crack as others have and not only die, but worse- find herself indoctrinated into the ‘cult’ which the madman/villain runs. Constantly throughout the episode the gambling grows riskier and the stakes increase, only starting with dangling some things you (and as a result Clem) hold dear before you, so tantalizingly close, and ending up who knows where by the end of things… That is the scariest bit of all. Imprisonment and trials (or tribulations) are two major themes throughout the episode, as well as of course the hinted dangers always present- even mentioned in the title itself. Others react in a variety of believable ways to this imprisonment- if they’ve made it this far, and it is interesting to see how returning and new characters alike respond to the situations.

I think one of the most interesting factors about the episode is the further portrayal of the series’ characters, both newly introduced and already known or heard of. Some 400 Days characters make appearances- assuming they survived those events of course, as well as the other familiar and/or constant faces, alongside naturally, new and semi-intriguing specimens as well. Also naturally, some people seek escape above all else while others mull things over and actually think things through instead of simply cracking under pressure or the sadistic choices which Carver presents from time to time in return for ‘progression’ or even the tantalizing possibility of freedom. As aforementioned, Clem is far from unaffected- and although things could’ve been a lot worse by the end, I’m still reeling over the possibility that she is becoming more and more Carl-like every day and her scarily calm demeanor is fairly similar to the borderline sociopathic mentality that the other child of the Walking Dead possesses. Hopefully however, this is just something Telltale has done in order to preserve some semblance of reason in an insane world or to make things not so dreadful for Clem and players, but as with anything here…I’m not entirely sure, and that bothers me.

As with the majority of the second season’s formula, and that of the series thus far as a whole, the gameplay remains pretty much unchanged and works as well as it ever has. Choices, character to character relationships, and the tense, fragmented action sequences are all present in this episode in varying quantities and are also pulled off quite well. At times the story may seem rushed in order to cram as much as possible in, however the pacing still comes away as working correctly and never jams too much in your path- aside from times when this is purposely done in order to send signals and messages of overwhelming despair or insurmountable danger the player’s way. Something that is all-too scary and a valuable tactic in Telltale’s ever-evolving arsenal, it would seem. Many of the choices here are presented with little to no reaction time besides instinctual button presses and you may find yourself surprised as to the results in their turn as well, often for ill and rarely (never, honestly) for good or for another being’s good anyway. Sometimes it may be as ‘simple’ as saying the right or wrong thing to somebody at the right or wrong time whereas many other times it will be giving you the opportunity to possibly save a friend or frenemy, or not. Amdist the chaotic zombie apocalypse, these were by far some of the best (and most dastardly) choices yet presented in the season and series.

This next portion may seem petty in more ways than one, and very much so could be recognized as such, but please hear me out for now. Since Telltale’s last playable character was a grown man named Lee, and therefore a very different character from the child-like (in body and stature anyhow) Clementine, many things have changed throughout the game’s formula that make its believability more difficult to bear at times. For example, many action sequences are tougher because Clem can’t fight most of her enemies straight up and is often forced to simply evade them or outsmart them, sort of like Ellie in The Last of Us (at odds with Joel’s similarly Lee figure). I’m not complaining about this at all, but it does build up to a certain point I’m about to arrive at. What does annoy me is the fact that a child- even one as experienced as Clementine, would be asked to perform all of these different tasks by her companions. Sure, many are relatively believable, and naturally everyone must step up in such hard times, but some are downright sadistic in their own right- I mean, seriously! Sure, it’s for the sake of story progression and the game, but because Telltale couldn’t come up with many other ways to progress the story in the same directions, it sort of kills the mood and setting for me, and often Clem’s growth cycle as a character is nipped back a bit as well because of it. However, all in all, this is a very minor gripe in my mind as much else is handled excellently or at least better.

As is often the case, it hasn’t been desperation that has been the worst thing Telltale has crafted in their story thus far, but ironically rather it has been hope. Giving us that hope and then more often than not crushing it, yet still having us dogging along beside the equally dejected characters could be called sadistic if it weren’t a game, and probably still is, but I’m certainly ‘loving’ it- if that’s even that right, related word for matters such as this. I’m hardly enjoying myself or Clem’s trials and troubles, but you know what I mean, surely. As much as I don’t doubt that Telltale could or would kill Clem given the opportunity, I hardly think it would be at the end of this season- although we’ve been shocked before so anything could happen. That having been said, as much as I want to murder Carver and many of his cronies myself, or give the other NPCs a piece of my mind, or see Clem triumph in the end, I know that inevitably and sadly so, there is always going to be at least one human and one zombie out there, and that distinguishing which is the true monster in specific circumstances may be more difficult than anticipated as well. As Christopher Nolan’s Batman said… “Which is worse- being a hero or living long enough to see yourself become the villain?” After this particular episode, I’m drained, but I still remain hopeful against all odds and can’t wait to see into what dark, far reaches the series travels next…

Concept: Continue the desperate tale revolving around Clementine and her interactions with both enemies such as the dead walking and other human beings, as well as her so-called friends and companions- an unknown and unexpected variable or three being inserted along the way.

Graphics: As usual, the same visual scheme can be seen, however for what it is worth the animations did seem somewhat smoother this time around, so maybe there is at least some small improvement to be had thus far as well.

Sound: A dark tone is easily established thanks to the chilling and oftentimes haunting melodies utilized, and the characters’ voices all fit accordingly in with their very looks, actions, and general tones as well which is definitely a plus.

Playability: As with the rest of the series, the controls are never really an issue, although they do always take a little while to get a grasp on for newer players.

Entertainment: This episode definitely featured more fastballs and curveballs than any slow pitches, although it remains to be seen if Clem and Telltale have hit any homeruns just yet, despite getting what is undoubtedly a great start already as the story has progressed thus far.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.75

As a final note, which I do not often include in my reviews, I would like to say that thus far- especially apparent in my spate of reviews for this Season alone, the series has definitely continued to improve both in gameplay pacing and storyline. Simply put, look at the progression from Episode One to now- I gave the first an 8.0, the second and 8.5, and this one has elicited a very close series high (for me) of an 8.75. I’m excited to see if we can continue to reach new heights and what highest highs or lowest lows the story will dive or fly to. Until next time, I’ll leave this here review for you all to peruse.

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Temporary Hiatus

Upcoming: See Twitter for details. I may have some updates and blogs/reviews each weekend but otherwise will be traveling until mid-July.

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Watch Dogs Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Ubisoft has tried their hand at crafting their fair share of open-world romps within the past few years- most recently Far Cry 3 among them, and has performed fairly well. As you’ll soon gather from my review here, Watch Dogs isn’t the greatest game out there to do it, nor the best looking next-gen title, however it more than adequately gets the job done. We’ve seen more than our fair share of demo videos for the game since two E3s ago, and the final product lives up to some promises and falls down on others, a result often found in today’s industry as developers find themselves pressured more and more to get more done than they originally intended, and end up either axing content or crafting sub-par content in specific areas here and there. On the whole, Watch Dogs is a fairly impressive new IP as well as a potential future money-maker for Ubisoft should they get their act more together and craft a truly quality sequel worth of this new generation and the hardware it offers up. The delay of the game’s initial release- postponed until May 27th of this year, did not add or detract much from the game’s final product and ultimately skeptics may have been the more correct of the two areas of thought in the format of the released product, it being slightly worse for wear than what was initially showed off.

It should come as no surprise that players take up the trench coat, phone carrying cowl of hacker and disgruntled wayfarer Aiden Pearce in this particular Ubisoft revenge tale. In fact, despite the vast differences, there could be many parallels drawn between Watch Dogs’ and Assassin’s Creed II’s revenge stories. Utilizing the citywide operating system that Chicago now runs on, Pearce is able to systematically hijack and take down many digital systems in order to rid himself of pursuers, kill foes in innovative new ways, and generally cause mayhem in his quest for vengeance and retribution for his deceased niece. Of course, when all else fails, he’s more than able to pick up a gun and use that to his advantage as well, even in combination with his hacking expertise. The story itself may seem like something out of one of those movie cliches, as it deals with an obviously corrupt corporation with far-reaching powers and influence. Pearce is pitted against said company which apparently had his niece murdered, and after many twists and turns throughout the decent story, he finally comes out on top…well sort of I guess, but that’s for another day. Also, let’s talk for a minute about who thought it was a good idea to put the entire city on one operating system- that’s pretty outlandish, but of course completely created for the purpose of this particular story, as otherwise it would’ve been a lot harder for Pearce to accomplish all he does. That’s beside the point however.

Watch Dogs is a pretty well designed open-world romp, even if it doesn’t feature the best of stories or specific gameplay elements. It is very strong in some areas and particularly weak in others, but its too late to really avoid that right now of course. Your time is split locomotion wise pretty evenly between traversing the environment on foot and in the variety of vehicles available for hijacking- including cars, boats, and motorcycles. As Watch Dogs isn’t a racing game, the vehicle controls could be much better, but they are far from terrible. I particularly enjoy the cars in Rockstar titles such as GTA and LA Noire, but Watch Dogs’ work as well for what you’re given. The other good thing about the way that the vehicles do handle is the fact that you can smash through just about any breakable environmental object and not have to deal with getting thrown out of or off of whatever it is you’re driving- like in GTA (the infamous no-enter poles and beams) or other open-world titles such as Mercenaries. In this respect, one could easily compare the level of possible environmental destruction to something out of a car crushing game such as Burnout or Full Auto or something of a similar sort, which is never a bad thing in my book. Of course, bear in mind that your foes have similarly god-like abilities in vehicles and will definitely use this to their advantage. Also, unlike GTA, you cannot equip weapons whilst driving- you can however hack environmental objects to cause mayhem, which may be even more fun.

Now, if you choose to approach things from an on-foot perspective, which is completely viable in most instances, you’re privy to quite a few more enjoyable hacking features than you may encounter the use or need for in vehicular segments. Hacking, being an integral part of the game of course, is also integral in combat and general locomotion and encounters. You can watch foes on camera in order to get the drop on them or give them the slip. You can use your hacking abilities to activate environmental traps and cause mayhem and you can also change the environment as well- much like you can in vehicular chases, by raising or lowering items and performing other helpful tasks. Watch Dogs is by no means an FPS or TPS but the shooting mechanics shine when they are employed as well, although to anybody playing I would heartily recommend a more cautious, stealthy approach to combat if it can’t be avoided, as it feels much more meaningful and is more fun that way. Sort of like something out of FEAR, but not to that particular extent (but think BulletTime), you can temporarily slow time and use it to either avoid bad guys, hide, or line up the perfect shot and take out a few foes. Thus, combat feels satisfying and is quite effective both in all-out shootouts and stealth approaches in the game, making for a fun open-world experience as well as a down-to-earth shooter when the occasion calls.

Talking more about the matter of hacking in-game, there are plenty of opportunities to do so, as well as to implement the new hacking abilities and upgrades you are constantly learning as you advance through the game. The classic approaches as shown in the tutorial and demo videos are always viable and versatile options- from overloading steam pipes to raising guard posts, however there are also several other abilities to be learned such as changing traffic signals, hacking into characters’ phones, and causing citywide sirens and alarms to distract essential personnel and cause general chaos to cover an escape or infiltration. The city is your weapon, here more literally than in any other game that has promised it. Hacking during car chases works well, but it is much more limited than on-foot hacking in that you must actually pass the hackable objects and you must begin the hack as the game prompts you to, otherwise you’re liable to have to circle around and start over again. Also, as you must level up your hacks and learn new ways to hack into systems, not all of these objects will initially be open to you. This can be frustrating, however it also translates well into adding to the feeling of steady progression of skills throughout the game, and pays off well later.

I’ve given you a glimpse at some of the general gameplay of the title- focusing of course of hacking and hijacking systems and vehicles, but lets go to a broader, graphical glimpse of the game and see how it shapes up as well. Depending largely on what system you get it on, Watch Dogs can look pretty good or pretty average. Obviously it looks the best on the new-generation consoles, specifically the Play Station 4. However, it doesn’t look too terribly different on PC or the previous console generation. This having been said, don’t expect the visual hype at least to live up to the grand expectations presented several E3s ago, as the game looks good, but no better than a lot of titles we’ve already seen before. It has its moments and doesn’t look bad, but particular textures can be muddied and torn at times which is never a good sign. For this reason, it is easily noticeable that Watch Dogs is indeed a cross-generation title and not a truly next-generation one alone, because it was built to conform to current standards and not so much to utilize the entirety of the potential tech available on new platforms. On the bright side however, Chicago is represented as an excellent open-world hub, the interactions with the environment and new areas that you travel to are seamless about ninety-five percent of the time, and on the whole- despite some degrading moments, the game looks and feels great and flows well.

For the most part, Ubisoft does a great job of making interesting campaign missions and side activities, giving characters a variety of ways to complete tasks and to broaden their play styles as well. As with any open-world title, there are plenty of repetitive aspects to be found in Watch Dogs’ content, however there are also several unconventional missions and encounters that will stick with you- from busting up your enemies’ “parties” to guiding NPCs that actually, surprisingly take orders well and don’t completely screw things up every chance they get. All of these encounters come off as fast-paced and fresh thanks in most part also to your skills as a hacker, and not necessarily because of your shooting prowess, although that doesn’t hurt either. Don’t think you’ll blow through the game in one sitting however, because despite some of the repetitive action, there is plenty to be found in the way of collectibles and experienced a la side content similar to that of Grand Theft Auto V. Heck, Ubisoft even managed to incorporate some interesting multiplayer elements into the main game itself, as other players can spawn in-game and hack you, chase you around and terrorize you, or even sort of assist you from the shadows. Of course, it’s even more fun to turn the table on an unsuspecting victim of yours as well, and it certainly beats preying on the completely oblivious AI as well, so going after truly human targets is much more of a challenge and thrill ride.

I’ve talked (mostly) about what Watch Dogs does well or at least marginally well at, so now it is only fair that I talk some more about the areas that the game could realize use some work on- for one reason or another. As previously mentioned, repetitive mission structure is a large issue, and many times missions that start off interestingly boil down to the same chase scenes and hacking tutorials, which can really put a damper on the overall experience. There are several cheap opportunities to extend the gameplay so to speak which Ubisoft also takes, opting to produce foes with an insane amount of padding to make fights more drawn out, as well as scripted tailing and pursuing missions that generally just aren’t fun at all in most cases. Ubisoft also bounces around the board as far as a story goes and doesn’t really convey it as meaningfully as they could or should have, leaving me not really caring about many of the characters and simply wanting to enjoy the sandbox open-world moments presented- which is fine, thankfully in a game such as this. Aiden Pearce’s character doesn’t have the greatest set-up, but it works, as you’re able to really make what you want out of him and craft the experience as you wish- one of the finer points of the title, despite the general failings in the character department elsewhere. Talking more about the story, the vast majority of it- while not necessarily forgettable, is often stupid, sardonic, and crass to say the least. I get that other games like GTA do this as well, but at least they can pull it off and the tone fits- here, it just didn’t click quite as well as I would’ve liked.

Now, despite its numerous failings in both story and at times graphics and overall visuals, as well as its failure to deliver on several early promises, Watch Dogs is far from a bad game. It is a really enjoyable and replayable experience, even if it is a highly flawed one as well. As with many similarly flawed titles of its genre and caliber, the main attraction and the main thing that works the most in Watch Dogs is in fact its open-world setting and the relative freedom players are allowed in deciding what they want to do or where they want to go, as well as when and why or why not. Choice and hacking capabilities alone make this a worthwhile title to play, even if it isn’t quite the hit they were looking for. I for one certainly enjoyed my time with this game, as well as the fact that it retained similarities to their other recent titles- such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, without going overboard into those territories at all. If there’s one thing that can be said about it, it’s that Watch Dogs is certainly one of a kind- even if it isn’t because it’s sailed into uncharted territory, and is only because there hasn’t really yet been a game quite like it in conceptual terms. If they do choose to make it a series, which seems viable considering it sold pretty well, I’d be interested to see the hopefully improved sequel and to compare its rights and wrongs to those of this title as well.

Concept: Explore open-world Chicago as the revenge-seeking, trenchcoat and ballcap clad hacker Aiden Pearce. Enjoy some cheap thrills and spills, laugh at the mostly overdone story moments, and torment the people of the city with environmental chaos and hijacking of the citywide OS employed by a corrupt corporation.

Graphics: The game looks good on most consoles and devices, however there are times when it is visually muddied, and it doesn’t like up to the frame rate or overall graphical awareness originally promised as well.

Sound: There are several tunes in-game that work and several that don’t. The accompanying score works in most instances where the licensed content doesn’t.

Playability: With the exception of the odder than not vehicle controls, the other mechanics handle fantastically. Naturally, because of the vehicle controls, pretty much any of these mechanics being used during chases are more frustrating than not.

Entertainment: It’s in its own class and genre thanks to the exceptional hacking abilities afforded to your character, and overall it’s quite an enjoyable experience. Also, there are some doge jokes to be made about and in the game. I kid you not. Seriously.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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A Second Thought: Battlefield 4

[As Read on GIO.]

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done one of these blogs, which I only really ever do in order to talk a little bit more about things I’ve realized after completing my reviews, or to add in some additional, more opinionated content. To be precise, the last ‘Second Thoughts’ piece I wrote was on September 12, 2013 for Outlast- read it here. My review for Battlefield was written on the fourth of November of last year, and can also be found here. Some key notations to bear in mind while reading this blog: the single-player sucked once more to nobody’s great surprise, but was better than BF3′s by far; Battlefield 3 was in fact a better all-around package, although BF4 is close behind it; and BF4 didn’t have as many glitches at the time and sneaked a 9.0 score out of me, which I still stand by for that game, but would marginally change for what exists in its place now.


Point No. 1

Battlefield 4 has some truly impressive multiplayer modes, components, features, and content. Therefore, it is such a shame that very few people can experience all of this grand content and carnage without the plethora of issues still afflicting the game more than six months after its initial release. I, at first, did not share many of the server issues that others railed so heartily against, and enjoyed around three months of uninterrupted bliss with the game. However, when I finally downloaded the first update for the title, I too was struck down and my perception of the once glorified (shortly) title altered. Battlefield 4 is still a wonderful multiplayer game, however it is also an extremely flawed one. Unlike most other people who demonize the hardworking developers over at EA/DICE, I sympathize with them- as I recgonize just how hard it can be to keep up with patches and glitches when they afflict your games, and to control quality as well. I’m sure there is some more stuff they can be doing with the game and further supporting it and improving the experience, but bear in mind they also have to continue to make money- meaning they’ve got others working on new game ideas and churning out other content for older games. As disappointed as you are with what the game has evolved into now, it is still slowly improving back to where it began, and they have faithfully been giving us more content as well. I’m split 50/50 down the middle for support, as I can see both points of view from the development side of things and the gaming community’s side.

Point No. 2

At this point, after a very weak campaign in BF3 and a slightly better one in Battlefield 4 as single-player goes, I’m of the opinion that DICE should either batten down the hatches and just improve the damn experience as a whole or they should axe single-player altogether in favor of an improved cooperative and multiplayer experience. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the game either way. Fewer people player Battlefield for single-player content than do Call of Duty, which while equally short, usually at least has an intriguing basis for story and characters along the way. Never has a Battlefield single-player campaign enthralled me, aside from in the Bad Company series- but seeing as a Bad Company 3 is a longshot for whatever reason, I’m not pinning my hopes and dreams on that right now. But…if they did want to improve the single-player, that would be the way I’d go- release another Bad Company instead of another Battlefield for the time being. After all, BC2 was just as good a game as BF3 and a better one than BF4 for sure. So, the way I would try to go about things would be to craft Battlefield into an experience similar to Titanfall, as it relies already nearly completely on multiplayer anyway, and for added measure you could spend more time on refining the cooperative content to keep at least one campaign, without having to worry about a poor single-player one as well. Those are just some pointers I’d make based upon what I’ve observed as of these past few years.

Point No. 3

The one major good point I have to make out of this blog for Battlefield 4 is that it did definitely incorporate a healthy mixing of modes and a good amount of them as well. I definitely want to see this done in the future, presumably in Hardline I assume seeing as that is the next entry on the plate, and has the opportunity to change things for better or for worse for the series. I’m thinking a lot could work well with cops versus robbers that also works with opposing armies, and even more so- hostage crises, bombs, robberies, and much more. Just think of the possibilities we would have. Sure, it’s not like carrier assault or anything, but they’re all still promising ideas… I’d also love to see how this upcoming series title and the next Rainbow Six title shape up in comparison, as they have somewhat similar approaches it seems- despite one being an action-oriented title and the other a more tactics-based approach. The future truly is now, I guess, even though I would’ve rather let Battlefield have a break for another year or two before releasing yet another title. Oh well, we shall see if it pays off… And that’s my short little ‘second thought’ for the day folks. See you with my next review, sooner rather than later hopefully.

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Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Review

[As Read on GIO.]

It’s no new news that Blizzard has pretty much changed just about every aspect of Diablo 3′s original gameplay in favor of updated tweaks to the experience. No surprise then that more players are most likely going to be coming back into the fold after the release of the Reaper of Souls expansion, yet more tweaks to the finicky yet fun gameplay elements and getting rid of a lot of the unnecessary grinding required by some of the more “micro-transactiony” features. There was never any question about Diablo’s gameplay and actual combat or storyline, as though worked just as well or better than in the previous titles, however the majority of what brought the base content down was the auction house and related content. Thankfully, Reaper of Souls implements some similar content without reverting to its old, satanic ways.

Now there are a good number of things to say about the added incentive to band together with your fellow demonslayers and cash in on some significant upgrades and earn rewards for completion of various challenges. The expansion definitely adds onto the appeal of the original game’s content and is much more of a reinvigorating experience than the same old-same old. These elements aren’t the only thing (along with a higher rate of replayability) that have been added to the game’s experience, as there is an entirely new class to play as (Crusader) and fifth act to run through all the way up until the challenging final boss battle. The story doesn’t contribute very much throughout, as that of Diablo 3′s did (by comparison) however it works as is needed and the action of the content speaks for itself.

As Reaper of Souls is of course in all aspects an expansion, it does not take too terribly long to complete it, although there is plenty of content still available once you have done so and completed the entirety of the fifth and so far final act. This act is packed with content- from secret caches to optional hidden locations with plenty of customary loot. The final boss battle itself was actually a lot more challenging than I was expecting, and certainly not a pushover fight in the least- easily more difficult to master than facing Diablo himself.  All of these points however are barely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the content that Reaper of Souls brings along with it. Adventure mode alone brings more replayability to the title than ever before, and coupled with both the rifts added in- which I will soon explain, and the bounties collected, with the only prerequisite being completion of Act Five.

The coolest thing about the new Adventure mode is that it simply re-uses the content of the main title but doesn’t feel old or re-used in the slightest. Sure, things seem familiar as they rightly should, however they are presented in a new light and with new, better incentives to complete specific tasks and reach your goals. You unlock chests and caches upon completion of tasks which in turn eventually lead players to the areas known as rifts- literally tears into the underworld of sorts, rife with randomly spawned enemies and generated dungeons. For once, Diablo 3 caters to those of us who don’t always have hours upon hours to play it- allowing instead for players to hop in and take down bounties and rift related challenges for a few minutes or even a couple of hours. Reaper of Souls is a smart and calculating addition to the game and certainly a more worthwhile experience than the whole of the original campaign without it.

Now, if you’re thinking about venturing into rift areas on your own, you’ll want to be careful as they can quickly become more time-consuming than the rest of the expansion. With a decently leveled group of players, you can take down the giant mobs of enemies and the boss inside each of these spontaneously generated zones. Even better? This is Diablo, so you get plenty of gold, experience, and overall loot items from these bosses as well. While playing with groups, players can also swap around items they pick up- so if you get some duplication, fear not it can be traded for something you’ve got your eye on but weren’t able to pick up yourself. Even better than that, you can use one of the collected rift-opening items found in the expansion to get your entire group of warriors inside, so you don’t each need one for one run- cutting down the hassle of grinding.

Reaper of Souls isn’t the only reason that this expansion is pulled off as well- no, the rest of the success can easily be attributed to the changes in the loot system, paragons, and general refinement of class and ability skillsets. The best thing about the additional insight added by the paragon system is that even if you’ve met the cap for leveling with certain characters they can still evolve beyond that, similar almost to Skyrim’s legendary skills and perks system which resets things and adjusts them with the points you’ve earned as you wish. This does also really help as far as spotting legendary items and other rarities go- whereas you’d barely ever encounter them in the original game, in the expansion you’re more “lucky” and able to completely avoid former auction house woes and quick, impulsive cash-ins as well. Thank goodness for that.

Several other core elements of the gameplay have been changed or redone as well. Crafting and cooking up special recipes- legendary or otherwise, have really been revamped as well. All in all, Reaper of Souls is the expansion we all didn’t know that we wanted, or needed, to get the game back and kicking again. Now, once everything is out on consoles, we’ll have a chance to see how it transcribes to there.

Concept: New gameplay modes, new battles, and new, new ways to enjoy yourself in a demon and monster slaying romp through Hell and it’s outer corridors.

Graphics: The overall looks remain the same but most areas looks fresh and even the recycled ones aren’t too much of a killer thing to look at.

Sounds: All of the best, interesting soundwork from the core game makes a return here- whether you’re banging monstrous heads together or picking up a plethora of gold and loot lying around. It sounds good. It feels good. It is good.

Playability: The controls are fairly easy to grasp and the menus easy to glean information from in order to scatter attribute points and assign upgrades as necessary.

Entertainment: Oh yeah- it’s more good stuff. Enjoy it. Embrace it.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 9.25

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Hitman Go Review

[As Read on GIO.]

When I first heard the Hitman series and Agent 47 were coming to iOS devices, I was less than pleased. However, I did not expect it to appear in such a fashion as it did, and am glad that it worked out for the most part. Never in a long period of time would I have guessed that Square’s assassin would be able to work in a puzzle/strategy game format, but it nails some groundwork and base mechanics excellently. The only reason it doesn’t warrant a higher score here is the pure frustration some objectives can cause in their trial and error ways- not for lack of skills required. Obviously, I wouldn’t consider this mobile title as any canon of the series- it is essentially storyless and basically for fun and games only.

I particularly liked the style in which Agent 47′s exploits are detailed, shown as above to be a little board game set-up of sorts in actually beautiful detail for iOS devices as well. Not only do the crisp looks and models work well, but the base options and mechanics function properly the majority of the time as well, making it one of the best handled games in the series surprisingly. Of course, naturally things are a little more hectic and harder to control in an action title than a turn-based strategic one, but the control remains something of a certain degree of importance here as well, and it shows.

Each diorama shows enemies and other characters as models of various form- just as Agent 47 himself is represented here. The guards add to some of the strategic element as well in that there are multiple variations, each affecting strategy differently. You have multiple colors- blue, green, red, orange essentially, each representing a type of guard behavior to anticipate in the gameplay itself. Walking guards move in straight lines, blues are stationary, and others change directions almost at random every other turn. You can see the set paths so you aren’t entirely out of the loop when dealing with enemies, but that doesn’t make the game any less strategic or thought-provoking.

As simple as all of this might sound, and as simple as it really is in execution as well, it comes together in a complexity surprising for a mobile title. Everything about the game is simple save for the fact that you must avoid guards and nab your target, which on higher levels is a lot more difficult that even I anticipated. I know Agent 47 isn’t known for pushover challenges, and that he often faces difficult tasks, but some of these scenarios will really leave you scratching your head- and in this case, there’s no run and gun option viable for use. Which brings me to one of the disappointments of the game- the hints system. Like most mobile cash cows, you can buy hints for progression through difficult areas. Yep, you heard right.

Even a (semi-respected) company and developer such as Square wants to take your money even after getting a game of theirs. Classy- move aside EA and your micro-transactions. However, this is a minor gripe after all- if an annoying occurrence more and more commonly in games today, mobile or not. You of course are given the option of purchasing hints or not, and are otherwise not forced into purchasing anything outside of the title unless you choose to do so. Although that’s not to say the game doesn’t try to heavily persuade you into doing so sporadically throughout with suggestions…

The main element of strategy stems from deciding what to do during your one space move per turn, moving around carefully or making a beeline in between oblivious guards, hoping they won’t suddenly change directions in their patrol. In a set-up like this, it is obviously easier to actually see patrolling guard routes than a standard action game, and you don’t need to worry about visible weapons or any of that nonsense. Here, it’s as simple as being seen one space in front of a guard and you’re asked to restart because you’ve been caught. Come up behind a guard however and you can knock his piece off the board- effectively “killing” him.

I’ve heard several people compare the game to a simpler version of chess with noticeably less strict rules, and I concur. Although there are many differences between Go and the thinking man’s game, the base rules of movement (mostly) apply if you imagine Agent 47 as a king and the guards as pawns essentially, with the exception of the one space moving rule. It sometimes annoyed me that the larger boards were still limiting in their interconnected pathways, however this just added to the strategy and thought required of players so it wasn’t too much of a loss in most instances, although it would cause failure at times.

Don’t think the premise is simply to assassinate a target or to simply make it through heavily patrolled areas however, as there are several other elements in play beyond these basics. Later on in some levels there are extra items that can be used as distractions or better weapons, such as a sniper rifle or a brick or similar heavy object to throw. While these items change the pace a little bit, the rest of the action and gameplay remains mostly unchanged, for better or worse, despite the fact that Square does a good job of pacing throughout the title and constantly introducing new features.

There are some bonuses to be earned in this particular adventure as well, as 47 can get kudos for completing the level in a certain number of moves, being a pugilist or pacifist (depending), or even collecting special pick-up items. As with the challenges of the normal games, this adds replayability and more overall fun to the title, as well as some extra strategic options for players already breezing through the base content. It probably helps that in order to unlock certain level sets/packs, you’re tasked with completing specific objectives before you’re allowed to continue, so it won’t always warrant entire play-overs.

While there are a good number of levels and several very creative ideas that I would like to see more of, there are also several bland, almost basic tutorial levels spread throughout the package that bring the others down. All in all, it is a moderately strong package and deal despite this fact, and the frustration is kept to a minimum thanks to introduction of new enemies and items as you progress, keeping an otherwise old experience fresh.

Concept: Change the action-packed and stealth-oriented assassination games of Square and IO into a strategic puzzle game experience and turn-based mobile title.

Graphics: The unique board set-up and crisp object and model looks are something that I would definitely like to see more of in mobile titles, and that could be incorporated in many ways into other games.

Sound: It’s mostly comprised of basic board game sounds of moving pieces, but there are a few easter eggs from the main series to be found at certain points as well.

Playability: You’re your own worst nightmare if you can’t get used to the finger swiping mechanics required, but most everything is so basic that it handles perfectly fine on any iOS device you can get the title on.

Entertainment: A lot of the strategy hinges solely on trial and error gameplay which can be frustrating, but when you do put together a stellar run there’s no feeling of accomplishment in a mobile title like it.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.5

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Level Review: The Return of Captain Cameron (ElectroYoshi)

I was slightly skeptical about this particular level mainly because of its looks and overall screenshot. It is very hard to have a good screenshot representative of your level, and many designers struggle with plays mainly because of that factor. However, I decided to give Electro the benefit of the doubt and took the “job” so to speak of reviewing the level for feedback. I hope what follows is as helpful as the previous review proved to be and also does the level justice in what it does accomplish and expounds upon what could be worked on a little bit more. When the level starts, you can see pretty much every area (island) from the get-go, which is always neat because it really emphasizes the feeling of progress throughout the level, especially when you can look back and say, “I started all the way over there.”

Immediately upon starting you will also notice that you have little to no jumping capabilities, similar to the previously reviewed level, and that you have a whopping thirty minutes with which to complete the game as well. Allow me to say this, you’ll most likely need at least two-thirds of that time the first time you play through, so although it might seem like plenty, keep track of your time as you progress. Your goal is to find the five diamonds on each island, totaling for a hefty 3000 points worth of treasure, and then to secondarily make your way to the finish flag. What I liked the most about each individual island was that they each had their own theme, hazards, platforming styles, and secret areas or general secrets. I’d expected them to be different, but the degree to which Electro went to distinguish each area surprised me- which is good. However, although each individual area was aesthetically different, few of them where aesthetically pleasing to the eye- they weren’t terribly crafted or anything, they just came off as incredibly blocky and not very island-like. In the grand scheme of things however, this matters little at most. Probably the one object that threw me off the most and just clashed with the rest of the environment was the sandstorm hazard, since it pokes out a lot and crops weirdly with other blocks.

My favorite thing about the first island, the sand-themed one was the hazards by far. With the exception of the sandstorm block, there were only spike boxes used which doubled as hazards and methods of platforming to the next blocks. Whether it was the simplicity or the final room that did it for me, I enjoyed their usage here particularly. As for the second island area, I think it was my favorite overall merely because of looks alone. The fog went well with the brimstone colored blocks and the plant-life on the granite as well. I’d definitely play a level using entirely that set-up with some nice little puzzles as well, wink wink. What did turn me off of this particular section however was the massive spike balls falling down as never once did any of them hit me, and I really wasn’t paying any mind to them anyway. If they were just for show, that’s fine I guess, but as I assume they were placed in there for sport and challenge, you’ll want to be more aware of where the best places to locate devious trickery and traps are. Otherwise, you’ve done well thus far- I enjoyed this level more than I enjoyed the first Captain Cameron by a long shot, even if this one was ridiculously easy in comparison.

The third area probably has the best atmosphere out of all the island areas- dark and mysterious, which was pulled off without a hitch. However, it is easily the weakest area in the entire level as it has nothing else holding it together. The traps are much more easily dodged in this area than any other, the area itself is smaller than the rest, and the diamonds are all shoved into such close proximity as to not require much thinking of the player. Otherwise, it wasn’t overtly bad or even terrible- just weaker than the other segments. What I did however also like about the third area was the final little jump puzzle, intentional or not. It was neat that you had to wait for the spike box rather than just jump and immediately move onto the next area. It was good to see some more thought put into the area instead of it being bland and lifeless completely, and having no distinctive puzzle element of its own like the previous two had.

The fourth area is definitely the most different and distinctive of all of the islands because it is essentially a giant leafy sprout surrounded by a few clouds and fallen pieces floating about. Your goal is still to retrieve five diamonds, but it is more fun here than the other places because there is finally more of a vertical platforming element than before where there was really only a slight vertical ascent and major horizontal shifts. Getting to the teleporter this time was more fun than the others and made me continue to like the level even after section three’s relatively poorer showing. However, this segment isn’t without its problems either- although this time they aren’t so much the designer’s fault but the game elements’ themselves. Some of the blocks being shifted the way they are really hinders the progress of your timed sticky powerups and the comet powerups are virtually useless in several cases, making it harder than it has to be to get to certain areas without giving up and looking for an easier exploit. Something that was refreshing, especially for this particular area and also in some of the others I suppose, was the intended or unintended freedoms allowed in using various powerups in other ways to get the diamonds- whether going off the beaten path or on one of the many routes built into the level intentionally. I enjoyed the non-linear thinking that was encouraged.

The fifth area definitely looked the most professionally designed and traditional, and the spinning cogs of platforms a la a wheel were pretty interestingly designed even if their motions and animations couldn’t keep up, however this area still wasn’t quite my favorite. This was yet another one like the third where a player of virtually any skill level could easily speed through it with reckless abandon, losing a few lives- which is of no consequence as you have unlimited, and continue on their merry way. I mean, the two diamonds at the very end weren’t even really strategically placed or put far apart- they may as well have been adjacent for all it mattered! While that sort of screams laziness, I won’t complain too much about it as the other three in this area were well and evenly spaced apart- one in the cogs, one behind a lava filled pillar area, and the other behind the main platform.

And then comes the final area of the level, holding the last 500 points of treasure, five diamonds in total. As simple and barren as this area looks, it actually masks a decent array of gravity and jump powerup related puzzlement. While most of these I am sure can be easily cheated and mixed and matched, the intentions and thoughts behind the spacing were all well and good, so kudos to Electro for that. Now, I’m going to say this, very well knowing that I’ll probably be the only one in the room saying it but oh well- I would actually have recommended adding a set amount of lives to the level, as that would make it even more of a challenge that simply time alone, as good of a factor as it is. As easy as the level is, it is mainly so because you can simply drop off and grab diamonds without fear of doing poorly on the leaderboards, making it easier to progress without any caution whatsoever. I say, why not make it more difficult and a time-consuming task? If people want to progress and do well, they have to be better players about it. But those are just my two cents.

Okay, now talking overall, allow me to point out some of the more noticeable pros and cons I found with the level:

Pros: Simplicity of Design, Fun, Innovative Use and Re-Use of Items.

Cons: Tons of Exploits, Some Virtually Useless Blocks and Items or Hazards, Bland Looks.

Play Browser Score: 4 Stars, Beginner Challenge.

Official Rating: 6.5/10.0

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Level Review: Voipqo D’raquo (Baufritz)

Also called Voipqo D’raqo according to the play-browser of the Atmosphir client, Voipqo D’raquo is an intermediate puzzle and platforming level created by veteran design Baufritz, formerly Baufritz96. In this particular review, I will do things slightly different than normal as it is mainly a review for the purpose of feedback, not convincing people whether or not something is a worthwhile purchase- as the majority of my game reviews are here. I plan to establish a new archetype for my reviews- the level reviews specifically, and will not use the same conceptual template as I do for my normal game reviews. In this review I will go room by room and point out the things I liked and didn’t enjoy as much as I could have, give a few potential design tips or add in some things I may have done to alleviate glitchy surfaces, bugs, or whatever other issues, and I will also give an overall pro and con analysis of the level in full. Essentially, I plan to make these level reviews part-part-whole reviews, as I will break everything down by sections or segments before analyzing it in full and assigning a grade. Although Atmosphir offers a 5-star rating system and a 5-tier difficulty ranking, and I will include my personal rankings and ratings for levels according to that here as well, I will be assigning the levels grades out of 10 as I normally do based on the criteria set forth above.

Now, without further ado, allow me to begin this review in earnest, starting with the very first puzzle of the day and the first room it takes place within. Immediately upon starting up the level, players should be mindful that the designer has allowed for virtually no vertical platforming aside from the use of ladders as your character is unable to jump whatsoever. This interesting design choice goes beyond the low-jump puzzle levels we’re often playing and makes for an interesting experience for the duration of the otherwise medium length level, extending the time it takes to play through the entire thing. You’re going to want to constantly be mindful of hidden moving platforms and triggered platforms on stayed locations as well, mainly for the sake of progression through the level. There are two hidden wooden platforms to be found in the first room, a triggered one to start up a third platform allowing traversal to a more elevated perch, and two movable crates to use in order to make your way to the next area. Also, avoid the spiked owl trap and reversed falling spike trap as well, as these are the two traps most likely to kill you in the entire level- not because of difficulty but because of carelessness essentially.

Moving onto the next segment is as simple as triggered the necessary moving platforms and hopping onto the ladder out of the room and into a brief passageway before a locked door. It shouldn’t puzzle you too terribly much however, as the key is in the very antechamber you will find yourself currently stuck in without. Having opened the door you are greeted by the sight of a larger room with three branching openings into three separate rooms. The room directly across from you in front leads to the finish flag and final puzzle, and is currently blocked by a triggered moving platform. The rooms to your left and right are currently unreachable without finding the requisite two hidden moving platforms on the ground level of the room you reside within. Once more, these platforms aren’t too terribly complicated to find and won’t prove very difficult to locate and trigger. Be aware that there are two main traps in this room as well which can kill careless players once again if you aren’t mindful of their presence. The inverted ceiling trap that travels along the path of the wooden ramp directly underneath where you enter the room is probably the largest hazard in sight, as it will stab you in the back if you attempt to go up the ramp at the wrong time or are too slow in doing so.

Trigger the checkpoint just in case before you go anywhere else, should something unfortunate befall your character. Search the large pile of rocks to your left and you will encounter a triggered moving platform which will automatically dip into the ground and trigger something later on supposedly. It isn’t exactly clear if it actually does anything or not that makes it possible or impossible otherwise to complete the level, so trigger it just to be safe. Next, I would ascend the shell platforms to the connector bridges- after having located and triggered the two wooden platforms on the ground level. I recommend going to the right room first in order to go ahead and grab the bomb in the unlocked chest there, as well as the extra 200 points worth of precious gemstones. Either path is open to you at this point and both are equally easy to traverse, however the right side is much faster in terms of thought process required and getting through and back. Once you’ve grabbed the bomb, return to the middle chamber and look up towards the array of skeletal wooden blocks above you, intertwined within the branches of the tree and the palm ferns. Shoot the cracked block with the bomb in order to eject a movable crate with which you can position on the triggered platform up the ramp with the ceiling trap. Be aware of the ceiling trap’s pathway and pattern in your timing to avoid an untimely and unfortunate misstep and demise.

Once you’ve pushed the crate that far, you will have unlocked one of the triggered platforms necessary for unlocking and rotating the platform blocking access to the final chamber. Now, if you head down the left pathway into the elongated room filled with a seemingly impassible sea of spikes, you will see the final platform trigger. Glance at the far wall directly opposite of you for a subtle hint as to the safest path across the sea of impenetrable spike traps and make your way across. Once you’ve triggered the depressed platform be sure to carefully make your way back, doing just the opposite of what steps got you to the other side previously. Once in the middle chamber again you will be able to climb back up and make your way across the connector bridges to a moving platform that will carry you up and to the final chamber. The puzzle in this chamber is simple but potentially the most frustrating of the level. You can also see another precious gemstone to your right upon entering the room, which is easily collectable before finishing the level. As has grown to be custom, find the two hidden moving platforms in order to make the finish flag that is so tantalizingly close accessible.

Traipse along the blocks on the left side of the room, taking note of the cracked piece of wall and the bomb to your right as you go. The easiest way to grab the bomb on the central platform is to climb onto the triggered movable platforms and then drop down, grabbing the edge of the central block and hauling yourself up to retrieve the bomb. As with the other bomb, this one is on a respawn timer of roughly ten seconds, so grab two just to play it safe. Now, you’re going to want to make your way up to the second platform that you triggered, shortly before the currently unreachable one dangling one block above your head. Turn to face the cracked wall and shoot it, carefully controlling your shot and then falling to grip the edge of the now moving platform to your left. As the block respawns, you will be carried back up on the platform and can now finish the level. As far as I was able to tell, there are three gemstones worth 100 points each and your 4 starting lives, meaning the grand total of potential points should be somewhere around 430,000. If there were hidden secrets, I obviously was not a good enough player to discover them and bypassed them. However, as I am the only player to complete the level- at least since the play browser was updated to show results, this is the highest score thus far obtained.

Now, as I’ve offered a little bit of a walkthrough without spoiling everything in its entirety- only giving directions but not describing in vast detail exactly how to complete each challenge, I will proceed to explain some of the things I enjoyed about the level and some things I didn’t so much enjoy. In the first room, many players should recognize that it comes directly from the essential demo that the level known as Voipqo was and ties directly into the continuation of the level. That factor was cool in that it showed a brief glimpse at how the gameplay was going to handle and also provides an extension of a concept as well. The general environment blended together quite well and the props chosen worked with the stone blocks and wooden platforms. The only occasional glitch in the system was if a particular moving platform or prop encountered another block at an odd angle and gave off one of the glitchy looking shaky frames as the two intersected and were the exact same size, not masking the discontinuity as sometimes can happen instead. However, thankfully this was a rare occurrence and only really noticeable with the retracting of the final moving platform leading to the final room.

Having the first bomb on a respawn timer sort of made the second nonessential since it respawned as well, so I would have removed that one’s timer and left the second one as is- forcing players to use it instead of simply collecting ten bombs earlier and blowing through the final stage faster. It makes no difference in all honesty, but holds up better to do it this way. I particularly liked the small puzzles and environmental triggers incorporated into the level, and they were understandably its strongest point. Even without many traps the level’s difficulty stemmed from careful, calculated decisions and wise movement of the interacting objects as well. Rarely was it frustrating although one could make the mistake of accidentally pushing a box into a corner or onto some rocks, making the level impossible to finish in that particular runthrough. Other than this, there were no other factors except for loss of life I suppose should you have failed out due to that. There is no time limit so you are free to mull over things for as long as you’d like.

Now, allow me to lay out some of the main pros and cons I witnessed throughout the level in a shortlist of sorts right here:

Pros: Environment, Use of Space, Puzzles.

Cons: Some Glitchy Looks, Potential Exploits.

Play Browser Score: 4 Stars, Intermediate Challenge.

Official Rating: 8.0/10.0

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Monument Valley Review

[As Read on GIO.]

I played a game titled Monochrome or something similar thereto a few years back for PSP, and for all of its puzzles and looks, I’ve got to say that Monument Valley looks and feels very similar yet is definitely superior- if not in difficulty, in aesthetics and core gameplay. Essentially, Monument Valley is an adventure focused solely upon optical illusions and minor platforming elements melded into the uniquely fashioned levels. Each stage is relatively easy and most are short, however as the game progresses they gain more facets in design and you figure out new ways to keep old things fresh throughout, making smart use of the core elements and rehashes of established ones without growing stale. Each stage is essentially a puzzle although oftentimes there are multiple paths and similar solutions to the questions posed to players.

Make sure, whatever you do, that you don’t come into the game expecting our world’s laws to apply. Very much like Antichamber, the majority of those rules are left at the door and it takes a little while to get used to the new ballgame but it is well worth it once you do. All in all, the game isn’t too terribly difficult but the package is highly replayable due to both its polish and simplistic gameplay elements. Despite the fact that most so-called Indie titles look the part, Monument Valley could easily be mistaken for a more high-end title as it looks crisp, even if it is on mobile devices only at this point. The colors are surreal and mix well with the varied towers and palaces of the game’s princess-escape theme. Most gameplay takes on an isometric sort of viewpoint and the intermingled pathways overlap and further add to the ease with which you can traverse the seemingly complex stages- especially where switches are concerned.

Like something out of Hogwarts, staircases rotate, towers change directions they tilt, and different pathways open up as you progress further. The best thing about the game isn’t necessarily the puzzles themselves but the looks of the title, which really help to warp reality and bend your views of things. At most, the puzzles themselves- though the main function of the game, are of a medium difficulty. As much as this might seem like a problem however, I found it actually compelled me to dive further into the game, sort of like the mobile platformer Badlands- also a decently easy title to complete but a visually nice one to look at. New mechanics are introduced often enough that in combination with old ones, the gameplay doesn’t grow old- adding in new things such as movable objects to slide about and open up new areas.

There is a story, but I wouldn’t scratch my head over it too much, as it is pretty hard to grasp and very open to interpretation. Which actually works better for the game as well, considering it is very open to interpretation in more aspects than one- environment among them. I’m hoping there are expansions to the base content, as it is pretty slim, but thankfully the high replayability of the short story adds in more content, if some of the same. As mobile games go, this is definitely one you’ll want to check out and try your hand at. It might be confusing at first, but it shouldn’t puzzle you for too terribly long.

Concept: Optical illusions and princesses and palaces.

Graphics: Crisp and concise when it needs to be, the towers and environments are rendered with exquisite details.

Sound: The soundtrack complements the setting quite well in most aspects.

Playability: If you can move your fingers and click then you’re set.

Entertainment: It’s entertaining while it lasts, however it is very short- even if the game is quite replayable. You can only enjoy it so many times once however.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.5

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Gasping for Air, Yet Again…

In my mind, Spider-Man 2 for the original Xbox and for Game Cube will always be the best portrayal of the friendly neighborhood spider vigilante. Since then, we’ve had one good game (Shattered Dimensions) and several poor portrayals of the webslinger. Of these various incarnations however, the only good reviews for one that is truly open world have come from- wait for it… Spider-Man 2 (by Treyarch, by the way). Shattered Dimensions, Beenox’s first major excursion on their own with the creepy crawly in 2010 turned out to be quite an interesting game in terms of both story and gameplay, even if it traded open world cityscape for smaller more confined segments and levels. GI gave Dimensions an 8.5 out of 10, and I personally rated it 8/10- so it’s a pretty decent game and certainly better than Spider-Man 3 (both the movie and game combined, essentially) which at most deserves a 6.25 or so.

Then came 2011′s Spider-Man sequel, Edge of Time- an adventure now narrowed down to only two spider-men (2099′s Miguel Herrera and normal day Petey Pie). This particular game used mostly the same compartmentalized formulas as Dimensions, although a few noticeable changes were made- none of which sadly came away as improvements, as the game was ultimately worse than the former title. GI gave it a 6.5 out of 10 and I myself a 6.0 out of 10. Finally, Beenox decided to return to the more open-world genre with the first Amazing Spider-Man title, adding in new elements, familiar foes, and a new plot-line as well. This sort of worked, but they faced many of the issues they had encountered with Edge of Time, and the game’s story was abominable if it even existed, and on top of that it wasn’t really a true open-world title with likewise open mechanics- things were still compartmentalized even if the scope was larger.

For a moment however, before I get into more detail about the previous not-so Amazing Spider-Man title, let’s think back to 2009′s interesting but ultimately ill-fated Web of Shadows. Okay, now flash forward to 2012′s Amazing Spider-Man. Seeing the comparison? Yes, they both did poorly, both were pretty crappy overall, and both received similar scores from both GI and myself. GI’s Reeves gave Amazing Spider-Man a 6.75 out of 10 whereas I, the always pessimistic reviewer (well, sometimes you’d think so in comparison) gave it a 6.5 out of 10. By the way, Web of Shadows got a 6.5 from GI, but honestly I think it’s a better game- not graphically of course, but plot and mechanics wise totally. Now, with that extensive recap of Spidey’s horrible recent history, you may be wondering just what point I’m trying to get at here… if you said that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 blows then *ding ding ding we’ve got a winner!

By now you’ve more than likely read Reeves’ latest review concerning the game, yeah the one where he gave it a generous 5.5 out of 10. Why do I say generous? Because I know that’s more points than some people would give it. Including myself actually, as I am giving it a whopping 50%, 5 out of 10, and 50 out of 100 as scores go. Now, generally I review mostly decent games and the lowest you’ll see my scores dip are the occasional 6 or maybe a 4 or 5 (Colonial Marines). Today however is a sad day, as I had hoped this particular sequel would be better than the previous ‘Amazing’ and yet as I should’ve probably expected, even with such already low expectations, I was let down once again. It didn’t seem possible, but things got even worse for New York City.

Let’s start off with the fact that essentially every aspect of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes from other games and honestly what is ‘new” and “unique” to this title alone shouldn’t be associated with it, as it’s mostly the rubbish elements of it. The open world setting has been done numerous times already, and better before- well, with the exception of the first Amazing Spider-Man and Web of Shadows since they weren’t handled very well either. Hell, Spider-Man 3 did a better job of it! This version of New York City, like its predecessor, is bland and unimaginative, and makes me cringe honestly for the people of New York now associated with it and this game’s ‘failure to launch.’ Elements that should coincide hand in hand with open world themes- side missions and extras to collect and commiserate over, are there but at this point I’d rather they not be since they are equally as unimaginative and poorly designed as the main plot and settings are. With the exception of a few faces not as commonly seen in the video game iterations of the series (lately anyway, and basically Carnage), pretty much every enemy has been recycled repeatedly since 2004′s Spider-Man 2. Yes, this means you get a little bit of Kraven for the umpteenth time.

I’d tell you more about the story specifically, but I don’t even remember the key plot points! And trust me, that isn’t just because I wasn’t paying attention or went into some drug-induced daze because of how poorly constructed the game was- it is literally so forgettable that you may as well ignore the story and just swing around the city. At least that mechanic sort of works better in this sequel than it did previously with all the web to surface junk and no true free-swinging. What I do recall didn’t really impress me all that much, and I’m also pretty sure had essentially nothing whatsoever to do with the movie’s plot- in fact I’m pretty sure several major character were missing entirely from this game, except for villains of course (they squeezed in as many as possible, gah). Something about some bs excuse for getting what is essentially the Sinister Six together, hunting Spider-Man (shocker!), and Green Goblin being a jerk- not that I’d have it any other way of course. Thankfully, no Mary Jane thrill rides like Spider-Man 3…unless that’s a secret unlock.

What really threw me for a loop however was the fact that any of the characters that are actually in the movie don’t look like or sound remotely like their actors. So…um…this is still a movie tie-in game? Hmm…we need some more sacred cow barbecues to light- you could probably do one just for the last ten years worth of Spidey games honestly. Also, if you’ve noticed the trend of me pretty much spouting off all the bad things this game incorporates and how poorly executed it has been, expect for that to continue- as much of a review as this is, if you’d read it without knowing that you very well could mistake it for a full-on roast session. Harkening once more back to the ever-greater Spider-Man 2, Spidey gains experience and can use it to unlock new upgrades, combos, and suits- the only cool element of which is the suit selection, since Beenox at least prides themselves on having cool looking comic tie-ins and timeline references. As for the combos and general web and combat upgrades, you could virtually do without any of them- they’re so nonessential in the mediocre, borderline QTE (you can basically dodge-counter the entire time), combat that it is just horribly disappointing.

Once more, like Spider-Man 2, these upgrades include swing speeds- how fast Spidey can loop de loop and scurry around the city essentially, and also random aerial and ground attacks that are very pale (Edward Cullen pale) in comparison to Spidey 2′s good ol’ Pile Driver and Lampost Webbing- good times those two… *sniff Some of the upgrades will induce even more general loathing, as they are essentially upgrades for mundane tasks any ordinary human being can perform, much less a super human with super strength, agility, and reflexes- and yes, I am referring to requiring an upgrade to pick up objects (I kid you not) and toss them halfheartedly at your foes. Sorry if I was mistaken in believing that Spider-Man was supposed to not only be amazing but a superhero, not some slacker superzero.

As with many superhero related games of recent notoriety (not necessarily the good kind), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wants to defy all Marvel logic and be Batman- or rather utilize many combat mechanics made popular by the excellent Arkham brawler series. However, the action in Not-So Amazing Spidey 2 is so ridiculously insipid and easy that this isn’t even required, much less integrated well anyways. Beenox tries to throw in the whole sort of ‘strategic’ gameplay element of “remove this armor before attacking” and “stun this guy” but it comes too little too late in the game for it to be of any real challenge or consequence. Plus, if you have gotten any upgrades whatsoever, you’re probably so much of a tank anyway that you can web blast everyone to Oblivion and back. Basically however, you can easily get away with dodging and counter-attacking any enemies regardless of size, which you can of course in Arkham as well in most circumstances. It just happens to be more cumbersome in this case and more boring as that goes. I swear, even the boss fights weren’t tense or exciting- unless of course the game glitched and unexpected things and mayhem ensured, that’s always interesting in borderline broken and crappy games!

Essentially, there is one interesting gimmick that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has going for it: the hero or menace variable meter. Pretty much as it sounds, if you causes chaos and are a jerk towards most citizens- interpreted in game as not stopping enough crimes, you’re dubbed a menace in typical J. Jonah Jameson fashion. However, if you’re an angelic guardian and bust some criminal heads together, you’re a hero. Yay! Well, that’s basically that… Oh, and needless to say the side missions are even less imaginative than the main plot, and pretty much as bad and boring as those of Spider-Man 3 (which means pretty poorly thought out and thrown in numerous amounts of times). I hope you like rescuing people clinging to the side of buildings for whatever reason and stopping car hijackings, because you’ll be doing that dozens of times!

As my final piece of review point here, I want to talk a little bit about console generations and the varying versions of this game. As uninspiring as I’ve made the game sound, you’d think it would at least look decent graphically. Well, I guess decent is a broad term, so maybe it qualifies as that still… Needless to say, it looks virtually indistinguishable between consoles, with the usual exception of the expected ones looking slightly worse for wear and the “new gen” ones having slightly better framerates as well. So yeah, if you do for some reason decide to waste your money on this game, you may as well get it on whatever console you want, as they all look essentially the same and play the same as well- poorly.

Concept: Try to do everything that Spider-Man 2 did ten years ago, do it worse, shoe-in a bunch of extra villains for no real reason, say you’re a movie tie-in game, and call yourself Amazing. You’ve done it already probably as well.

Graphics: The textures are oftentimes muddy and bland, the city looks pretty barren and dull most of the time, and enemy types aren’t always that varied. Also, it looks about the same between generations.

Sound: The sound work is as uninspired and unimaginative as the rest of the game- poor voice acting or at best generic, none of the actual movie actors seem to make appearances, and there isn’t really a soundtrack unless you count Spidey’s insanely annoying one-liners (of such poor quality that Deadpool should take note).

Playability: The one “shining” part of the game- combat and action are easy to pick up and handle, but ultimately so repetitive that you’ll be bored to tears halfway through the game probably. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Entertainment: Haha- no really.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 5.0

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