Category Archives: 8.0

Games I Didn’t Review In 2016: Infinite Warfare

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My history with the Call of Duty series is an interesting one: I’m one of the few people who actually plays the series for its story as well as the frenetic multiplayer mayhem. I do enjoy a good if cliched tale from time to time and the Call of Duty series provides that as well as over the top thrills about one in every three titles or so. Although the series trend of pushing into the future is coming to at least a temporary halt with Sledgehammer Games’ turning back of the clock to World War II, I for one enjoyed the campaigns of both Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare immensely as well as the multiplayer of Black Ops III.

While the series has been largely hit or miss in terms of quality since 2011’s Modern Warfare 3- a game I immensely enjoyed yet recognized its handy amount of faults, it’s still a series I enjoy even if it has largely done the majority of things all shooters nowadays do. Black Ops II had a thrilling story and admittedly good multiplayer. Ghosts was a mess through and through and likely the lowest we’ve seen the series come thus far. Advanced Warfare was a brave and bold and satisfying push into the future. Black Ops III was a mess in terms of story but brought the fun factor back. And here we are, set to talk about Infinite Warfare- a game that received near standing ovations when the initial trailer was shown, only to be dissed and booed unceremoniously once it was revealed to be the next Call of Duty.

The fanbase constantly ceases to amaze or to let down whenever news is shown about upcoming games- often deriding the game all the way until release and then purchasing the title anyway. Despite my confusion over the antics of a fanbase largely comprised of prepubescent teens and then of shooter fans everywhere of every age, I can understand the mixed feeling over the most recent Call of Duty release. Infinite Warfare is the furthest from the series initial start that we’ve come and that we’re likely to see anytime soon but that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, I’d say that the game is best when it tries the least to be like any Call of Duty title we’ve yet experienced. The single player campaign is challenging and fantastic in its authorial intent- at its best when showcasing the horrors even of a future war, at its most sluggish when attempting to needlessly tie in old concepts or series staple gimmicks. The free-form-ish exploration and level design is in the vein of Black Ops III and some of the broadest and most open we’ve yet to see.

I cannot express my satisfaction for the single player campaign any more than I already have but the downsides to the game come in the other modes. While I will say that it is a fair assessment of Infinite Warfare to call it perhaps one of the most complete Call of Duty titles to date- offering Zombies, classic multiplayer, and a unique story mode, that does not say anything about the quality of each game mode. The multiplayer is largely what you would expect from the series with the added aspects largely present to some degree in this particular universe and story. It frustratingly places an emphasis on speed and mobility while restraining your movement and mobility at the same time, settling somewhere between Ghosts/Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III on the spectrum of such abilities. Infinity Ward obviously took notes from previous games in the aftermath of Ghosts and yet they still failed to hit the mark and honestly for one reason or another this has been the least satisfying multiplayer component outside of Ghosts to date.

On the subject of Zombies it’s much of the same story but things work a tad bit better than in the rest of the online component. The age old formula remains largely unchanged and the graphics and gimmicks are all well and good however the gameplay just falls a little flat at times and I never felt quite as into it as I have in the first two Black Ops titles. Over the past few titles (essentially since Advanced Warfare) I’ve found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the Zombies offering for one reason or another and I think I’ve finally pinned down as to why that is: I simply don’t enjoy future zombies or overused ideas anymore than I particularly enjoyed facing the Flood or The Library in Halo.

If I had to justify my commentary with a score of some sort and apply that to the game then I may sound harsher than the actual numerical value I’m likely to assign the title. In my mind even despite its flaws, Infinite Warfare should be no less than an eighty percent or 8/10 and no more than a ninety percent or 9/10. Anywhere in between there could be arguably applicable depending largely on what aspects you’re likely to focus on. The campaign, while replayable for sure is still possible to complete on higher difficulties at one hundred percent and then never be returned to. It’s more rewarding and more challenging than in the past which in turn makes it much more worthwhile and engaging however in its messages and character building. As for the rest of the package, there are some solid foundations and ideas but it’s been done much better before in the series and as such isn’t the most compelling example of Call of Duty heritage.

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Prey (2017) Review

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Arkane recently released their 1.02 Patch for Prey and with that decisive patch I’ve deemed it appropriate to finally present my review of the game in earnest. Prior to the patch the PC build of the game was virtually unplayable which was integral to my review considering I typically play through games on at least two of the three or four platforms they’re typically offered on so as to make sure there aren’t incredible differences in performance between one or another.

You’ve undoubtedly enthusiastically witnessed Prey’s opening several times by now and regardless of if you played the 2006 title of the same name and with a semi-similar setting, you’ll immediately notice that not everything is as it seems. Despite some of the similarities between both 2006 and 2017’s Prey iterations they are indeed two completely separate and intriguing games with intricate plots and fine-tuned combat mechanics. Prey (from here on out 2017) starts off slowly but gradually picks up speed and administers the steady drip drop of difficulty and balancing as you progress. In its infant stages the game is likely harder than it will ever seem due to a lack of available powerups (neuromods), so if you can make it through the first four hours or so then chances are you’ll enjoy the game.

Many of the initial revelations have been spoiled for most fans or enthusiasts I am sure however let it be known that there are at least two major revelations within Prey’s plot and I enjoyed both of them immensely. One comes only a few hours into the game and the other not until the very end of the experience. Although the ending could best be described as lukewarm at best regardless of the choices you’ve made- which, yes, are integral to the ending you receive in minuscule ways, it does do a good job of setting up the potential for a sequel assuming Bethesda signs off on that. Given the sales figures thus far however that may not be in the picture no matter how well-done Arkane has done of late with each title they’ve labored over.

Perhaps the most intriguing choice in design and gameplay is the ability to fully define who Morgan Yu (You, the player) is and just how that effectively ties into the plot as well. Throughout the game you not only determine Morgan’s gender and acquirable skills but also the moral code that he or she adheres to through choice and consequence, not through measly dialogue options or barebones plot development. This aspect of showing and not telling is ever-present throughout the game and I enjoyed the approach a lot more than inserting a bunch of useless and wasted dialogue into an otherwise perfectly ambiguous experience that is open in every sense of the word.

The set-up, if you don’t already know it, is quite straightforward from the onset: an alien lifeform known as Typhon has taken over the Talos-1 space station and you are its only hope. Whether or not you choose to destroy the Typhon, Talos-1, or even the few remaining humans on board is entirely up to you. I won’t ruin the numerous choices that you must make or abstain from making along the way but let it be known that for each and every action there is an opposite and not always expected reaction. In its opening moments Prey is less concerned with the eradication of the Typhon and more so with the survival of Morgan Yu and discovery of Talos-1 itself. Although it establishes itself as a survival horror shooter of sorts, these elements will largely fall by the wayside as Prey delves deeper into upgrades and it becomes less focused on survival and more on combat- albeit ammo and weapons still being quite scant.

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If you’ve played the PC version then you’ve undoubtedly grasped the scope and breadth of Talos-1 a little bit more than anyone else thanks to the handy function of ‘noclips’ commands. The space station seems and is rightfully represented as gigantic and titanic. Outside of cheating your way around borders and through walls the only way you can ever properly comprehend the scale of this open ended setting is by venturing outside the airlocks and floating through the cold vacuum of space in order to fast travel from certain points around the station. Talos-1 is both expansive and deep- it’s quite easy to become as invested in the architecture as it is in the characters you encounter along your journey. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is that it really feels like a human versus alien struggle.

Some of the horror aspects are also maintained by the enemies themselves with specific regard to their grotesque appearance and the nightmarish ability to undergo some sort of metamorphosis as well. Mimics will lead you to never trust a weapon or medical pack out in the open ever again for each time they leap out at your poor unsuspecting character, leading to a shout and a quick bash over the head with a wrench. The musical score itself will lead you into a frenzied sea of paranoid bashing of everyday objects as you hunt for that final remaining Mimic in the area so as to assuage the tension. More fearsome foes such as the Phantoms and horrendous Nightmares will easily soak up your bullets and spit them back out before devouring you.

Combat is where Prey both lives and dies by its sword so to speak. In the early moments of the game it is equally tense and devastating, yet due to the fact that stealth is oddly never quite flushed out you’re virtually forced into combat rather than trying to sneakily make your way across the station. There are certain benefits and drawbacks to the neuromod upgrades you receive over time however the absence of them until later on forces you to attempt to tackle the experience in a much more difficult and meaningful manner. As terrifying as enemies are perhaps even more scary is the ever-present health bar hovering over their heads that barely ticks down with each wasted bullet or wrench smack. Nightmares can especially soak up an extreme amount of damage from even the game’s strongest weapons and as such as foes to be avoided at all costs.

Only when the game balances a little more in your favor does combat become both meaningful and enjoyable in earnest. After the opening few hours and after acquiring a few mods or upgrades you can feel more at ease in openly wandering the halls of Talos-1 and engaging larger foes than Mimics in close quarters. Using mods to unlock Typhon-related powers is perhaps the most enjoyable Dishonored-like aspect of the game however it also carries an unexpected narrative risk as well. If you spend too much time unlocking these intuitive and useful powers then the automated turrets which once distinguished you from foes will fail to support you and eventually open fire on your Typhon-imbued DNA as well. Of course by that point you’re more than likely unstoppable as is.

Prey is every bit the sandbox experience that it has been marketed as and you’re free to choose how your character develops and progresses just as much as you are to choose how you play through the game as a whole. Using these alien powers such as transmutation of your physical form and telekinesis (now a staple in any game its seems) is both empowering and entertaining. I’d be lying if I said combat wasn’t saved by the abilities you’re able to spend your mods on and would otherwise bog the game down way too much with its repetitive nature instead.

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Prey offers an abundance of detail and choice and I am very appreciative of that despite the fact that it sometimes falls flat and the narrative dips into uncertain waters. The experience can take you anywhere from fifteen to thirty hours dependent largely upon how invested you choose to get in the missions and side missions, as well as whether or not you search out the available mods and upgrades along the way or backtrack through previously explored sections as you gain new methods of traversal and unlock new paths. The narrative itself was intriguing to me and couldn’t be ruined by the heavyhanded ending despite leaving me a little disappointed in the final moments of the game.

The majority of the kinks that initially needed to be worked out have been patched however there are still some baseline issues to be found with the game such as design choices made along the way that we’ll just have to live with. Enemies have been and will continue to be incredible bullet sponges and only grow easier to combat once you’re virtually overpowered and unencumbered by the shackles of survival horror tropes. For all of its tense moments- zero gravity sequences and every encounter with a Mimic, there will also be hiccups such as AI reaction and patrolling and the ability to literally walk around a corner and confuse the Nightmare that has been stalking you to the point where you can take potshots at it and disappear again to avoid its rage.

The highlight of the combat experience is ironically the two most useful gadgets outside of combat- the Gloo Gun and crossbow. Whoever came up with the near-troll of an idea to have what is essentially a nerf bolt shooting crossbow in the game deserves a medal because it is just loud enough to alert enemies and knock objects off of counters and just stealthy enough to be used in a variety of ways. As for the Gloo Gun, you’ve undoubtedly seen footage of people using it to hold larger enemies down or traverse to previously unreachable paths and areas as well. All I can say is use your ammo sparingly- especially in terms of the Gloo Gun and powerful shotgun. The silenced pistol isn’t too shabby for needing a quick weapon with an abundance of ammo, albeit not packing much of a punch.

Prey isn’t without its own series of flaws at times and yet for the most part it is a thoroughly enjoyable and unique experience. One can only hope that we get to experience more of its lore and setting in the future as well as a continuation of the choice driven narrative that was mostly well played. I’m happy that Arkane continues to be one of Bethesda’s brightest studios and has encountered success with two phenomenal Dishonored titles as well as the newly released Prey’s brand of science fiction.

Concept: Stopping an alien infestation from reaching Earth is nothing new and yet Prey offers such an interesting twist on the cliche that it can’t help but be enjoyed.

Graphics: The art style mimics something of Arkane’s previous works but the architecture of Talos-1 is varied and intriguing as are the enemy models and designs. The few humans that do appear all look mostly similar however.

Sound: Both the musical score and voice work are incredibly detailed and well-done. The soundtrack perfectly captures every scare and situation and the voice work is handily delivered throughout the experience when needed.

Playability: Although it can be complicated to grasp at times the game only proceeds to open up as the space station itself opens to you and you gradually progress deeper and deeper into the experience.

Entertainment: It’s at its finest in terms of horror in the opening hours however it is still immense fun when exploring later on and combating the vicious Typhon in close proximity with an array of intriguing powers and an arsenal of diverse weaponry.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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What Remains of Edith Finch Review

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What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that I have long awaited because it blends the talent at Giant Sparrow with the conceptual value of titles such as Gone Home and adds in a much more macabre element. After all, this is essentially a game where you relive the semi-black humor semi-horrible deaths of each and every one of your family members as you waltz around the nooks and crannies of a lively house. So that right there makes Edith Finch one of the indie darlings of the Play Station 4 this year and adds it to the growing collection of games featuring Inside and all things Playdead as well in terms of dark and engrossing narratives.

Edith Finch very much finds itself fixated with the prospect of death and yet it also proves that there is always something to live for. It is a very interesting and unique take on the human condition in more ways than one and even livens up the otherwise tried and tired concept of walking around a house or other mostly linear area and reveling in your exploration a la Gone Home and Firewatch. Rather than merely be a carbon copy of all things done in the past, E.F. makes its own strides work and pushes far beyond what we’ve seen thus far.

There is still the detailed way in which you must inevitably uncover clues and progress the plot, however the mere way the text is represented and narrated as you watch the words shift and fold onto the screen and on objects of interest makes things interesting enough. As you search the house and come across items belonging to lost relatives or objects of interest the creative ways in which the smoky text scrawl onto the screen and off of it when your perspective shifts are always engaging and imaginative. Although you are playing as the last Finch and the titular Edith, it’s also interesting to note that you’ll be literally living through the morbid ways in which your relatives bit the dust as well through reenactment and reading.

There is an attention to detail in both the narrative and housing situation that constantly wowed me in ways that the admittedly bland games that have come before have not. Edith Finch looks graphically amazing and it also adds a believable amount of clutter to its main setting in ways that Gone Home and Firewatch and other similar title have not managed to do. At its root it is essentially the same type of game and yet with its variety of established characters and rich story it feels radically different as well. Although you will find yourself listening to just as many narrations and dialogues as any other exploration game in the same vein, the way it dynamically draws players in is both admirable and thoroughly worth the investment of a few short hours.

What Remains of Edith Finch is both an experience grounded in reality and one that offers a sublime and surreal quality not before seen in the genre of late. Adventure games are very much making a comeback and in my mind Edith Finch is leading the charge as of right now. There is an ironic sense of childish fantasy overlapping with discussion of adult subjects and overall mortality and morality which is something that remains engaging throughout the morose and macabre environments you’ll explore. The game does a great job of balancing the lighter and darker elements and sometimes they’re quite difficult to distinguish from each other a well.

Although there is a degree of linearity particularly in how each segment where you “play” as another family member pans out, it’s interesting to note that there are still those little instances of openness and ambiguity offered to the player in how you approach situations that eventually lead to the same inevitable conclusion. In some ways it operates as the Telltale brand of interactive storytelling does, albeit without the same level of choice in terms of alteration to the overall narrative. The text-driven narration and the general environments themselves often mesh together in ways that draw your attention from one thing to the next and never leave you feeling out of the action or bored for a moment- something that even excellent AAA games could learn from lengthy audio tapes and collectibles.

There is a certain degree of ambiguity to the game’s eventual conclusion despite the premise being relatively straightforward and to simply ascertain what has lead to the demise of your relatives. That is your main goal and an easily accomplished one, however part way through the story it also becomes clear that something darker and more sinister is also afoot. Although there are hints as to how and why your relatives have been lead like lambs to the slaughter, it’s left ultimately up to players to mostly infer why and how. The saddest thing of all is that this information is purportedly available to you however circumstance dictates time and time again that you’re denied the full revelation and as such culminates in a slightly disappointing finish to an otherwise brilliant title.

At its basest level, Edith Finch is about ultimately exploring the theme of death and immortality and how they go hand in hand. Although each of her seemingly ill-fated and cursed family members has been struck down by death’s chilled hand, each has also been immortalized both in their writings and memories as well as Edith’s own characterizations and representations of them. You constantly learn more and more about the facets that make up each character and as such they are highly realized even if they never necessarily appear in the course of the game outside of their perspective and musings. It’s an interesting way to tell a story and certainly an intriguing method to convey one with such deeply disturbing and empathetic tones as this one.

Death truly is not always the end and life is such a beautiful thing and should not be taken for granted. What Remains of Edith Finch constantly hammers these points home in more ways than one and is better for it.

Concept: Explore your cluttered and memorable family home and discover the motivations behind several relatives and the choices that ultimately lead to their untimely demise.

Graphics: The game is artistic and beautiful and constantly shifts between realistic and surreal at the flick of a switch. It conveys the tone and the mood throughout the narrative and often reflects what is being said as well as what is being felt in a believable manner.

Sound: At times the voice-work can be quite mesmerizing and is certainly one of the higher points for the game. The sound work is also respectable and shifts to suit the tone of the moment being played out.

Playability: The games controls are easy to grasp and just as easy to handle. Understandably it works quite in part due to the large amount of talent involved with playtesting the game prior to its launch- featuring developers from famous studios and writers for upcoming games such as The Last of Us Part Two for example.

Entertainment: Although Edith Finch’s own dynamic story is at the forefront of the narrative, it’s just as interesting to look to the past and to what tragic ironies and calamities have befallen her relatives. It’s an expanding and shifting tale of changing perspectives and changing outlooks on life and all the more intriguing for it.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 8.0

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For Honor Review

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In the week since Ubisoft’s For Honor released, I’ve been either playing the game or reading and watching anything related to it. I’ve read and viewed other people’s reviews, talked to them about their thoughts, and tried to talk myself out of writing my own review as well. That last point is not for lack of positive reinforcement, nor is it for negative reasons in regard to the game itself. However, I feel like everything I am about to say is going to in some ways sound pretty redundant, and that irks me above all else. It’s a good thing in a way- if everyone who plays and reviews a game is largely in agreement, then you’re bound to be getting the best possible feedback on your product or as a gamer.

I played through the beta period with a friend not long before the game became openly available, and some things have changed since that time while others have remained the same for better or worse. For Honor is at its best when you completely ignore the story and focus on the combat itself. I am not saying to ignore story mode in its entirety, as it will definitely help you out where multiplayer is concerned and as far as gaining experience overall goes. However, do not get sucked into the narrative itself as you will only emerge confused as to what the ruckus is really all about and why samurai are fighting knights who are fighting vikings. It’s as bonkers as you’d think and as bonkers as it sounds and even more impressively, it’s probably less believable than the events of Resident Evil 7 and their impact (or lack thereof) on its protagonist.

Like pretty much every other reviewer has said to this point in time, For Honor knows what it does and it does it well. If it were a merchant it would be selling death sticks- yes, that’s a Star Wars reference and joke. To take it one step further, the combat is such a priority and so well played out and played up that if this were Star Wars, For Honor would be the severed arm laying on a cantina floor roundabouts Mos Eisley. Now, reeling our thoughts back in and not straying too far from the source material here… In case you didn’t get the memo, combat is an important and impressive thing within For Honor and it is implemented in a way somewhat similar to that of Nioh’s complex yet fluid mechanics. What I mean by this is combat can be boiled down to simple mechanics and yet the ways these mechanics mingle and interlock become complex to understand on a grander level.

Whether you choose to play as a samurai, knight, or viking- heck, even regardless of what heroic class or caste you choose within those three factions, the combat can be boiled down to virtually the same controls and mechanics. Now, one class and one faction may of course handle differently than another, but mechanically they are both stable and familiar once you’ve got the basics under control. You choose between one of three positions- essentially left, right, and high/up. These positions correspond with greater reactionary time given to defense, offense, and overall speed and agility as a result. Similar to Nioh in some respects and simpler/different in others, all three directional positions can be changed on the fly and at a whim by players, lending to breaking combos, counter attacks, parrying and ripostes, dodging, switching targets, and so much more. Simplicity is sound and beauty and even simple mechanics fluidly combine to form a complex melee mesh.

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In case that wasn’t enough for you, don’t forget that battle-ready warriors must also be strategists who account for stamina expended, area of effect items and attacks, enemy ballistics, the ebb and flow of massive skirmishes, and other visceral and intangible factors. Hopefully you’ve all played enough of the Souls series by now to recognize the importance of stamina and why button mashing doesn’t quite work as well in melee brawlers as it does in traditional fighting games. In terms of overall realism, I hope you aren’t considering that as a factor for purchase because you’ll be sorely disappointed- however, as it stands, For Honor offers a semi-realistic and authentic melee experience that more than competently gauges the experience and challenge as a whole. It’s a very psychological experience and should definitely be different player to player when you consider the immense skill and understanding curve from class to class, person to person, faction to faction.

No matter what modes you take part in the mechanics and game remain largely unchanged- even between single and cooperative play, 1v1, 2v2, and so forth. The gameplay is almost always tense in skirmishes whether it be at the start or the thrilling and blood-soaked conclusion. Rarely will you so incredibly outmatch or outpace an opponent or opposing team unless you managed to exploit mistakes or openings and double or triple team their only remaining player. The whole 1v1v1 kind of setup is truly entertaining and interesting to see played out and it helps that it works remarkably well in execution as well as conceptually. Don’t worry about getting left out to dry by incompetent teammates however, as most modes also account for leveling the odds against multiple attackers by gifting you the power of revenge (mode) and devastating combos.

Like most traditional fighters and even other online hack and slash brawlers, For Honor offers more than a handful of playable characters between its three factions. Unlike most other games however, it is not as simple as you would expect to switch between them. Although every character is virtually the same on a fundamental basis, each faction boasts several classes that are far from the same old class in the other factions’ offerings save for a cosmetic upgrade or change. Each class offers varied range, capabilities, combos, chains, and more. On top of that, you can actually customize this even further to a certain degree whereas finishers and coup de grace are concerned, among other items of interest. While story mode will act as somewhat of a tutorial for certain classes and help you to warm up to gameplay and the variance between factions and methodology whilst fighting, it’s still quite a jarring difference in reality and really forces you to learn not just your own character but your opposition’s as well.

As with many fighting titles, each character is very much a give and take sort of proposition- meaning while one class may offer plenty of strength and attack power, another may have them beat on light attacks and plenty of stamina. You must be tactical and strategic even in your choice of class within your faction, and that’s perhaps the most interesting thing to note about a game that otherwise looks like a simple and repetitive hack and slash multiplayer experience. In many ways, even if the story does not, For Honor digs very, very deep and maintains its focus without sacrificing vision or fluidity of design. Each character has their own potential for earning gear and upgrades to cosmetics, statistics, and prowess as a whole. It’s a pain to slog through match after match in search of hard to come by earnings, so I’d recommend playing through the story mode as well for some slightly easier currency pickups, as well as finding collectibles and performing side tasks. If you’re careful and pay attention to how you pursue certain upgrade paths and characters, you won’t have to suffer through the plethora of microtransactions that plague typical Ubisoft and online-heavy games.

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And now we come to the relatively minimal negative aspects of the game, save for the aforementioned microtransactions which are of course deplorable but thankfully (relatively) avoidable as well. For Honor is a visceral and gripping experience- certainly one of if not the best fighting/hack and slash/brawling game I’ve yet to play. And yet for a game that focuses so much of its real estate on the online infrastructure it is afforded, that online aspect can be such a bear to deal with. I know it has only been a week thus far, and yet I still had higher hopes for the servers and the matchmaking- especially seeing as that’s obviously the main focus of the entire project. Disconnects and network bumps or errors must be addressed in the future, and sooner rather than later. If they are remedied then I have no doubt it’ll improve the experience as a whole.

Concept: Vikings, knights, and samurai fight for a thousand years in a conflict that nobody really cares too much about because we’re all too busy watching this one guy get his head lopped off and his body lifelessly tumble off a bridge and into some beautifully rendered water.

Graphics: The environments are varied and textured to an amazing degree. Characters looks great even though they are all strikingly similar up until you’ve leveled enough of your gear to truly make a name for yourself and stand out from the pack. Every environment also features accompanying dynamic weather changes and patterns which look and feel believable and fantastic.

Sound: Although you’ll mostly hear cries of pain and anguish, metal on metal, and other sounds typically associated with combat or films, the soundtrack is a great, resonant accompaniment as well.

Playability: Like any good fighting game, For Honor is easy to grasp and difficult to truly master. The mechanics are simple and straight forward, the means to defeating all of your enemies are laid out in front of you, and yet the path towards your objective is sometimes blocked by an incredibly agile samurai warrior who claims your life time and time again.

Entertainment: For Honor is a semi-flawed experience in that its fun and atmosphere hinge upon a networking system which boasts many prevalent issues at the current time. However, the experience as a visceral fighting game and realistic depiction of combat and battlefield tactics is unparalleled and often well-realized. It is a fun experience if you can handle connectivity issues for the time being.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Resident Evil 7 Review

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I just want to say that, first of all I will do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I know that the latest chapter in Capcom’s zombie-fueled saga has only been out for not quite a month, and yet I feel like everywhere I’ve turned I’ve run afoul of spoilers and videos and all kinds of crazy stuff. So I’m going to discuss a lot of things in general terms when it comes to the story and the overall plot and setting, but I’ll be sure to dial it in and hone in on the important factors that should be touched upon in any respectable review as well. It’s been a short few weeks and yet we’ve already been treated to some arcade-style downloadable deals and add-ons, which is far from a bad thing either in this case.

In many ways, Resident Evil 7 is the reinvention that fans longed for and that the series needed, although once the outer layers are peeled away and the gentle facade of the beginning acts fades away you’ll soon come to see that it may be different, but the fundamentals are largely unchanged for better or worse. Resident Evil, for better or worse, has always had its viruses and its villains, and that aspect has not changed at all. You may be tempted to think there’s a lot going on in the Louisiana swamps that cannot be explained away as easily as the delights of Umbrella Corps have been in the past, but even with the twisted logic of the series’ past, these events can be explained in the present as well. Resident Evil 6 was a game that I thought was okay as it stood on its own and for what it offered, but when taken for the sum total of its plot and where it should stand in the larger RE universe it was just plain bonkers and had plenty of holes and lazy writing.

Resident Evil has always fallen victim to plot holes and whether or not players can get rid of their disbelief and just enjoy the games for what they are, so even with this reinvention, few things have changed there. Resident Evil started as a simple concept and its only become more and more convoluted from there on out. The first two main games are probably the most straight forward, but from then on with the successive third, fourth, fifth, and sixth entries things have only gotten grander and worse as far as plot can be concerned. I respect Capcom for largely toning it down with Biohazard and keeping things on a smaller scale, although still hinting that the title is a perfect fit in the semi-reimagined universe all the same. But that doesn’t change the fact that even some simple things such as procedural character damage magically healed and limbs magically reattached and VHS tapes still being used in 2017 and a seemingly omnipresent camera that is never shown onscreen or on characters just don’t ad up.

Like I’ve said- Resident Evil has always been about the experience first, the tense boss fights and survival-horror elements still present in the more action-oriented titles of the series in recent years. Once you’ve dispensed with pleasantries and mostly ignored the wild plots that are typically a mess anyway, you can settle into solid gameplay and fluid mechanics with relative ease. Capcom has done a wonderful job of crafting something seemingly new and yet deceptively archaic in its design and interpretation, making Resident Evil 7 a perfect fit for the series in that it expands into new directions in some ways with the plot and graphics and characters, and yet still retains the same brand name and doesn’t so drastically change the formula as Resident Evil 4 did once upon a time. If your main worry was that a first-person perspective could never work with a series such as Resident Evil, then worry no more because that is perhaps one of the brilliant strokes the game pulls off and never has much of an issue with outside of expected clippings and occasional environmental travesties.

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While I’ve got to give Resident Evil 7 points for originality in some cases, I’d also have to ding it for taking some credit where credit is not due- at least not to Resident Evil 7. Many of the plot elements may be new to Resident Evil, and yet they’ve already been done by other horror titles such as Silent Hill and F.E.A.R as well. In fact, the bulk of the story itself stems from essentially some mix of Silent Hill 2 and F.E.A.R 1 and 2’s own plot mechanics. And while this is totally acceptable even if it is not so original, it’s just a weird thing to notice if you’ve played those other titles and sense a mildly disappointing amount of deja-vu throughout Biohazard’s campaign. Resident Evil 7 treads new ground for the series in many ways and yet it follows the same cliched tropes of horror as a genre in general, and I suppose you have to take what victories you can, but that really rung hollow to me. An every-man searching a supposedly abandoned setting for his wife in what turns out to be a cunning trap and descent into veritable madness- it’s not quite the first time we’ve heard that line.

The largest criticism I have for this game, if you couldn’t tell from the paragraphs I’ve written on it already, is the plot. So now that I’ve pointed out that it’s bonkers and doesn’t ever quite add up, even mechanically in-game, let’s move on to some other critiques and praises. One last tidbit that’s semi-related though is that Ethan Winters as a playable character, while promising in exposition, is perhaps more boring and predictable than even Chris Redfield has become lately. He barely reacts to anything- bashing his missing wife’s face in with an axe, getting limbs severed, seeing a man whose entire body has been lit on fire and subsequently blown apart with a shotgun coming at him with pulsating brain matter showing through his destroyed skull, or even picking up the telephone every fifteen minutes when the omniscient NPC enemies and allies manage to pinpoint his exact location in the house and contact him. Getting over disbelief in a far-fetched plot is one thing, but things just not registering for the main character like they should is another annoyance altogether.

Thankfully, while Ethan is largely forgettable and the small array of side characters who aren’t trying to kill you are actively just as memorable, the antagonists- both actual and perceived, are the larger attraction where characterization is concerned. The Baker family- those crazies you’ve probably seen in the trailers over and over or played with in the few demos released, are the main draw in the beginning of the game especially (although they’re still memorable in the latter portions as well). Each has their own distinct personality, own distinct powers and abilities, and also their own distinct domain on their family lands. In many ways, they are there to herd players towards eventual endgame objectives, and yet the more you encounter them the more you come to wonder about their origins before you finally understand them later in the game. Resident Evil 7 is a lot of smoke and mirrors, but the crazy stuff and tragic details surrounding the Bakers is definitely not just a bunch of smoke blown needlessly your way.

Probably my largest bone to pick with Resident Evil 6 in retrospect is the fact that it so often and so boringly broke up combat and the tenseness of situations by presenting players over and over again with locked doors. To be fair, in many ways that is sort of an age-old Resident Evil thing, and yet Biohazard somehow avoided this mundane searching and backtracking by actually making it bearable. I think it may be largely due to the fact that the game features a much more organic and intriguing environment rather than the linear and forgettable monstrosities of the previous title. It’s not less confined or expansive, and yet suddenly backtracking to collect a key or disarm a booby trap or uncover some new evidence doesn’t seem altogether lackluster or painful. Naturally, expect your fair share of needless jump scares over and over again and expect them to be old after an hour or two- but such is the Capcom way sometimes.

In some ways Resident Evil 7 brings the series back down to earth and back to its roots, and yet in others it is even more fantastical than the last entry. Thankfully, one thing it does well is craft more believable and entertaining boss fights and encounters. Every enemy seems thought out rather than hastily thrown at you like Resident Evil 6 was wont to do. The Bakers and the other more powerful adversaries each come with their own specific methodology to battle, although a much more prepared player can potentially blitz their way through earlier encounters with sheer firepower and determination. Action is still a large part of the game, but it has taken a step towards being more cinematic so that the bulk of the experience can be returned to its horror roots. It makes for a better and overall more enjoyable and tenser experience to be sure. The gunplay and most melee moments are handled quite well although there are some unexpected hiccups here and there specifically where reactionary movement is concerned with special weapons. On the whole however, the first person perspective increases the enjoyability of the well-oiled combat both aesthetically and physically.

All things considered, Resident Evil 7 is the return to form that the series needed even if it ultimately doesn’t change things up quite as much as it probably could or should’ve. It is by no means Resident Evil 4, but then that isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. It stands largely on its own although there are still obvious and subtle connections to the rest of the series, making it a tad clearer than expected as to just how it fits in with the other titles. The expansion of the universe and video game lore is welcome and for a series that constantly retcons its own ideas and even who’s alive and who’s dead, it largely adds onto the Resident Evil fiction without taking anything else away in turn. Given the chance, whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a longstanding fan, you should give the game a chance- it’s as good a jumping on point as any, especially given the lack of need to know information considering past titles.

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Concept: Reinvent the Resident Evil series as we know it, adding a breath of freshness to a series that has otherwise begun to grow stale over the years. Introduce new characters, a new plot, and new gimmicks along the way.

Graphics: Particularly great animation and environmental work adds ambiance and aesthetic thrills to the tense adventure. Add in the fact that limbs are lopped off and gore is always present and you have a graphically sound and impressive piece of work.

Sound: There is often little to no sound and yet that works in a genre such as this. When there is something to be said or done, the voice acting is about on par with most triple-A titles and doesn’t disappoint. The minimalist soundtrack ratchets the tension at all the right times as well.

Playability: Exploration and tense combat are given their equal due and are the largest elements in play throughout the game. It handles well for the entirety of the campaign and is an incredibly well-played experience to boot.

Entertainment: Most of the entertainment can be derived from the expansion of the lore and in-game details strewn about the world. Making subtle and not-so subtle connections to the other games in the series is what Capcom often does best and it works here better than it probably ever has before. In an experience that could’ve been largely standalone, Capcom unites Resident Evil 7 with previous titles in thrilling and interesting ways.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Final Fantasy XV Review

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At first I ignorantly told myself that I would not do a review for Final Fantasy XV because it was simply too big of a game and by the time I’d probably seen enough, my review would be all but obsolete and unnecessary. Well, it turns out I’m a fool for a multitude of reasons and I am in fact here to deliver my verdict concerning the game. This is the first of two long-term projects that has reached completion in this November-December time this year, the second of which would be the eleven year journey that has been The Last Guardian. For a ten year old game, Final Fantasy XV certainly took note of the things Duke Nukem Forever utterly failed to do and sidestepped those issues swiftly. That’s not to say it doesn’t sport its own brand of incompetence at times.

In many ways, Final Fantasy XV playfully reminded me of other open world gems such as the first Xenoblade Chronicles title and Red Dead Redemption. Now, I know these are two entirely different games that share little save for an open format and plenty of side objectives, but it’ll maybe become a tad more apparent as to why I draw these comparisons later on. The trio of Final Fantasy XIII games (XIII, XIII-2, and Lightning Returns) each sought to change the malleable Final Fantasy formula in their own ways, however XV does so in an entirely new way and takes things from a different perspective as well. For such a large and expansive world, it truly is the little things that tend to set Final Fantasy XV apart, save for some of the more dynamic changes such as combat.

The narrative itself is as convoluted as the rest of the series can sometimes get as it stretches across multiple mediums and carries on after literal decades of real-life time. That’s not to say its themes fall flat or that it is terrible, merely that without consulting a fanpage or wiki, you are likely best going into the game as a blank slate and not thinking too much about that good old one-winged Sephiroth guy or anyone named after white fluffy sky pillows wielding larger than realistic swords. Like most of the other Final Fantasy titles, XV carries with it its own lore and themes and for the most part it can essentially be boiled down to a kingdom at the brink of war and friendship, brotherhood, and camaraderie.

Perhaps one of the realest sensations the game has to offer is the thoroughly tangible result of your interactions with your three brothers in arms and party members. Whereas you may encounter guest characters that fight by your side or otherwise advance the story along certain paths, the bulk of your adventure is spent within the confines of four named characters- Noctis, Ignis, Gladiolis, and Prompto. You’re essentially tasked with embarking upon the roadtrip of a lifetime, for lack of a better explanation and due to the fact you start off with a car. Yes, the car you’ve probably seen on all that promotional stuff. By the end of your journey though, let’s just say it gets a heavy duty upgrade and love letter from the auto shop. The brotherhood and camaraderie doesn’t start and stop with combat and side quests though- it extends to every aspect of your adventure as it permeates even the dullest of campfires and areas explored and camped in. No detour is too small, no task too much.

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The most important thing you should before anything else, if you’ve not already discovered it for yourself, is that Final Fantasy XV should not be constrained or defined by series traditions. It may unmistakably be a Final Fantasy title, but by the same token it is a new breed of beast. In many ways its faults and strengths play off of the same notes because travel and atmosphere are definite strengths whereas familiarity to borderline boredom and cheap sameness, lengthy ‘garbage time’ and unavoidable detours, and characteristic similarities detract from the overall experience.

For my mention of the impressively expansive world as well as its equally expansive lore, the one highlight of the complex story is that it keeps things simple and allows players to choose how much they would like to read into it. You’re perfect able and welcome to traipse through with the barest of details and to ignore or glean as much lore as you’d like. It’s there for you to find and the world is brimming with alternatives to main questlines if you’d like to go out and explore it, but by the same token this can sometimes seem a weighty task and nigh impossible due to travel time that is severely frustrating in the opening hours as you’re constantly hindered by an on-rails driving experience. Don’t try to travel from one edge of the world to the other unless you’d like to sit still for entirely too long and arrive somewhere between the doldrums and REM sleep.

I was immensely pleased that, although the narrative has other focuses that are definitely there, this is a story particularly focused on its main protagonists and not so much on the battles or politics of the land. While there are plenty of important moments and events, the time spent with your comrades and friends is balanced as equally if not more important and definitely has a positive impact throughout. For the most part, this is what the entirety of the Final Fantasy XIII timeline lacked- a sense of unity and camaraderie that felt earnest and believable as well as downright enviable. Character development is key in any role-playing adventure and it takes center stage as one of the most brilliant moves in gameplay/narrative design for Final Fantasy XV.

Without ruining their own redeemable and often laudable qualities for those of you who have yet to play the game, each of the four main party members definitely establishes their own distinctive attitude despite them all resembling some anime meets boyband crew. Don’t let their familiar garb and gear fool you- each of the four is their own individual character and story, and it’s entirely up to you to pursue that to your own ends and cultivate whatever relationships you can between the band for the duration of your adventures. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of all is the natural melding of gameplay and narrative characteristics as each character has their own special “hobby” of sorts that ties into side content such as photography, cooking, and other small yet aesthetically pleasing values and attributive qualities.

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For all the expansiveness of the world, there is sometimes the feeling that it is almost TOO big, which seems a bit ridiculous as far as complaints go, but is made true do to the lack of objectives or opportunities in the most barren of regions. Arguably, these regions are veritable deserts, so who would expect much in the way of enemy encounters or loot there anyway right? Still, it is made all the more frustrating by the fact that these regions often take the most time to traverse, even by vehicle. Trekking around on foot for any extreme length of time is all but completely out of the question as the world is truly gigantic. There are meaningful and interesting side missions to be found quite literally everywhere, loot and goodies in pretty much every nook and cranny, plenty of upgrades and unlockables, and side adventures that culminate in dungeon diving that is entirely missable if you hardly dare to adventure outside of the main quest series.

Combat is one of the biggest and most innovative changes for the series and in my mind one that has been made for the better, streamlining encounters into a rapid response of buttons and role-playing elements that in some ways remind me of Lost Odyssey’s (Mist Walker) ring combat and flourishes. Speed is valued over brute strength and strategy wins the day. You are able to cue up some teamwork-imbued linked attacks almost akin to Marvel Ultimate Alliance’s combo attacks that utilize the powers of two heroes as well. Stringing together successful hits is as much about countering and evasive maneuvers in the vein of the Batman Arkham titles as it is to outright attacking your foes. To make matters even better, each encounter is fairly balanced to your level and style of play with the exception of some of the more difficult boss fights of course.

Some other miscellaneous notes about the game are going to follow. Square very much took the size of the world into mind when crafting some of the enemy encounters and even when creating the special “summons” that each character can utilize here and there during combat once meeting the standard requirements and defending themselves well enough in combat. The world is expansive and as such is populated by particularly nasty and hulking behemoths in certain regions, so powerful and so large that it often takes literal hours of game time during events to defeat them, meaning you may have to come back later for encounters. Surprisingly, this isn’t as horrible an idea as it sounds because you’re not necessarily forced to fight that single battle for the entire time in one sitting anyway. Summons allow you to essentially square off with these larger than life foes in your own monstrous showdown as well, many of which can be seen in action in the gameplay videos available online.

While combat works well, stealth oriented elements fall completely flat in the game and this is put woefully on display towards the end when you are tasked with infiltrating particular areas of the world in the final few chapters of your adventure. The main story and gameplay meld at this point and your experience will be limited until after its completion which allows you back out into the world in its entirety- a strange decision but one that does not terribly affect or impact the game or gameplay otherwise. Enhancements and upgrades will stem from both the main and side paths, meaning there is a healthy balance to be found on and off the beaten path throughout. All in all, the experience is an interesting and worthwhile one even with its mistakes and few artistic missteps along the way.

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Concept: Create a hybridization of Final Fantasy elements both old and new without it feeling like a cheap adventure title with the name plastered on but not really holding onto elements dear to the series.

Graphics: The graphics are for the most part spectacular and the animations are impressive and detailed. Camera angles are odd at times especially when paused mid-combat, however the gameplay never suffers as a result.

Sound: The voice acting is superb and there is an available collection of classic melodies from Final Fantasies both old and new. Some of the Final Fantasy XV pieces themselves are less stellar than others, however the soundtrack is passable.

Playability: The locomotion in terms of vehicles is one of the worst elements of the game as it is such an integral part of gameplay at times. However, combat and overall control of the game handles well once you overcome a slight skill gap.

Entertainment: The world and players won’t lack for activities both main and side content related to dive into. While the experience takes a hit in its later narrative exploits and also in its ability to traverse the expansive world, the overall experience is an enjoyable and worthwhile one.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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A Rising Tide: Destiny and the Rise of Iron

[As Read on GIO.]

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Destiny’s latest expansion released nearly a month ago and now I’ve finally had a good enough taste of what it offers in order to give some of my own thoughts. This is a review of sorts but more importantly it is a discussion. Destiny has been and will undoubtedly continue to be a good game. The first two expansions were welcome if smaller additions, The Taken King was a very welcome and game-changing and much larger addition, and Rise of Iron falls in a happy medium between those two.

Rise of Iron changes a few things up, adds a few others, but for the most part tweaks the core experience you’ve come to recognize and enjoy. The fundamentals are unchanged however they have been given a facelift in terms of menu layout and inventory for example. You now have the ability to explore a whole new section of the Cosmodrone labeled as the ominous Plaguelands. While for the most part it is a nuclear winter reskin of the original areas, it offers some interesting new places to explore and missions delving into a cult-like mechanized and bioengineered Fallen guild.

Another much anticipated new addition to the gameplay is Felwinter Peak, Destiny’s newest social space and the second on Earth proper. Like any good update, Rise of Iron has its fair share of secrets, only a few of which I’m sure have actually even been discovered yet. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones’ House Stark, then you’ll enjoy Felwinter Peak’s plethora of scenic snowy vistas, wolves, and twisty trees a la a weirwood forest.

There is a main questline but also a pretty good number of side quests including exotic hunts and strike missions (as well as a game changing raid that I won’t spoil at all here with details). However the updates aren’t limited to the solo and fireteam aspect of things, as multiplayer has also been changed both in terms of being updated and in terms of adding accessibility and functionality. There is a new dedicated offline/online sort of private match building potential, several new game modes including (for comparison) a sort of Kill Confirmed (for CoD fans) crest stealing mode. Maps have been updated, added to, rotated about, and even new additions have been added.

This is only a small description of what the complete package has to offer but rest assured it is worth shelling out the extra money for if you are a Destiny fan. If you have yet to play the game but are interested, I encourage you to seek out Bungie’s complete edition as it includes every single expansion and is the same price as a normal retail game. Between The Taken King and Rise of Iron alone there is plenty of new content to explore as you seek to rid the galaxy of the Darkness and raise your light level to the new cap of 385. My one grievance of sorts is that they don’t seem to want to increase the actual level capacity to say 50, probably due to balancing purposes.

All in all, you really should heed the call. It may not be the call to duty, but it’s a call to go on a galaxy-spanning adventure of a lifetime and to combat ancient and evil threats along the way.

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Milly Schmidt

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