Category Archives: Play Station 3

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- Legendary Edition Review

[As Read on GIO.]

This comprehensive review is intended to serve as a sort of product ‘buying guide” as well as an actual review for the game and content in question. If you waited all this time, holding off on buying Bethesda’s epic title so that you could pick up the essentially Game of the Year version with all the side content included, then you’re in luck. The Legendary Edition is certainly for you. In this lengthy review, I will first review the main game itself, and then break the side content down into the three major downloadable packs it is split up across- Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. I will give you essentially four reviews in one, and show you just why I think this comprehensive title is so close to a perfect score in terms of quality and entertainment that it just kills me to only give it that 9.75 out of 10. However, as has been noted for the past two years since its initial release, the title is not without its occasional hiccups, so I’ve been more than fair with my appropriate scoring I believe. I hope you will enjoy this review, especially since I once tried to peddle my wares through my Hearthfire, and Dragonborn reviews that were never actually posted due to technical difficulties. If you were wondering, as stand alone content goes, I gave Dawnguard an 8.25, Hearthfire a 7.0, and Dragonborn an 8.5 out of 10. Without further delay, I will begin my main title overview and review.

♦♦♦

I, for one, still hold a dear place in my heart for The Elder Scrolls IV saga of side and main content, so it only makes sense that I would feel the same for its bigger, more ambitious brother as well. Skyrim is truly a modern role-playing game in its very essence and nature. From the now regenerating health to the graphics and massive world, it not only dwarfs Oblivion in nature and story at times, but it sheds the archaic RPG skin for a newer, shinier, and finer winter pelt. Skyrim keeps what works, ditches what little doesn’t, and evolves the formula beyond what my wildest dreams could’ve hoped for prior to its release. Do not be deterred by the fact that Skyrim’s beginning is eerily reminiscent of that of Oblivion’s- what with being a prisoner and escaping and all. Without ruining entirely too much, a large dose of irony tinging on the comical/dramatic mixes in with the beginning, as your character- the Dovahkiin, escapes thanks largely to his biggest enemy of all: the dragon(s). Ironic, no? One second, you’re a political prisoner of sorts, about to meet an unruly end, and the next you’re being chased by a fire-breathing behemoth through snaking, winding passages. Certainly an explosive introductory sequence if there ever was one.

The beginning of such a great game is heavily downplayed by various technical and graphical and narrative issues that mar the first few moments, but don’t let this stop you from heartily enjoying yourself for hundreds of hours to come. Once you take your first few baby steps, things get a lot better and improve tenfold easily. It is this conversion of sorts- this moment where you go from mundane prisoner to escapee, that makes your transition and adventure truly magnificent to marvel and look back upon later on in the game’s waning moments, when you’ve exhausted all content and wish to start anew. After these initial missteps, Skyrim really finds itself, just as you will, once you’ve experienced what it has to offer and “drank the kool aid” so to speak. I would definitely compare your emergence into Skyrim’s snowy peaks and beautiful world to your baptism in Bioshock Infinite, and that of a real baptism- were it to be as invigorating and magnificent in that exact moment as well. It’s just one of those amazing, epic moments in gaming that go beyond compare, truly. In this way, the surrounding environment and its character, allure, and facets, are just as big players in Skyrim’s story as any other characters are- lack of speaking parts aside.

Skyrim’s graphics and landscapes combine to create a mystifying sense that you simultaneously are and aren’t in some far off, fantastic land. Whereas Morrowind’s landscapes were for the most part clearly steeped in fantasy, and the nether realms of Oblivion’s namesake areas were demonic in origin, for the most part, Skyrim looks…well, normal (from a  wilderness perspective). This is not a complaint at all, but rather a compliment of the highest order. Skyrim balances its elements of fantasy and realism by crafting a truly immersing and beautiful environment, while filling it with mythical and fantastical creatures ranging from giant ice trolls to dragons and imps. Exploring this realm and the regions it is comprised of adds a sense of true discovery with each newfound location and secrets to be had at each turn. Whether you turn from the main quests to the side content to be had at each turn, or you first follow the main pathway to its completion- there is plenty of exploration and roaming to be done in the land of dragons, and it is completely worthwhile at each and every turn. You will occasionally encounter a glitch or two along the way, and while they may momentarily break your experience in terms of enrichment and realism- you will soon get over it and be on your merry way again, hacking and slashing away or sneaking about. Combined with the environment itself, another great selling point in Skyrim’s world is that it actually feels and looks alive- from the bustling settlements to the rich and varied wildlife to be found out and about.

Speaking of content, it is truly amazing how fast you can rack up an unsightly amount of quests to complete- side or main or otherwise, and how quickly you will become obsessed with trying to whittle them down to fewer in numbers, as each outdoes the last it seems. Try as you might to avoid opening new quests while your backlog is gigantic, you’re bound to accidentally talk to the right character and either progress further along your current quest or start a new one as well. Thankfully, this plethora of content keeps the game more than alive enough for even the most obsessive compulsive gamer who tries his or her hardest to complete the game to one hundred percent. When you truly do attain that lofty goal however, you should rest a little bit on your laurels before starting over again- it’s hard enough to get through once, after all. You can have over one hundred open quests going at one time, and still be discovering new areas of Skyrim, and being given new quests and goals as well. It’s truly astounding that not only the world, but the story is this large in breadth- easily dwarfing that of Oblivion’s, as many quests as it may have had as well. Just the diversity of quests here is astounding as well, as you have your expected fetch quests and combat trials, as well as several that I hadn’t really seen a quest akin to in other role-playing games. Bethesda’s really done well by players in this respect.

Delving into the backstory, side stories, and main story of Skyrim’s expansion of the Elder Scrolls universe is really something, and not something to be taken lightly- as time consumption goes anyway. Without ruining much, although I suspect it has already been more than ruined for those of you who haven’t yet played the game yourself, Skyrim’s main conflict is well thought out, and every book, non-playable character, and side story fleshes out and branches out from it as the story drives on. I was truly impressed by the sheer level of polish with the writing, and the amount of world history as well. Skyrim is much more unique and believable than the previous titles in the series, and definitely a testament of the power of imagination in role-playing games. It might not necessarily be my favorite game out there, or even my favorite or most revered RPG- but it’s certainly high up on that list for a good many reasons. From the new look at the Dark Brotherhood to the Grey Beards, each faction and guild or group of clandestine murderers is truly immersing and interesting to look at and complete quests for, across several playthroughs, or in one where you don’t choose too many over the others. Many story threads will lead you to new and more impressive places, or perhaps to lower and more hidden ones- showcasing the impressively varied dungeon designs of the game. The puzzles, the traps, and the numerous exits make an easily accessible and enjoyable dungeoneering format as well for players to experience without annoying backtracking and escaping- for the most part.

You may go into the game with a specific character skillset or build in mind, but trust me- you don’t really know what you’re going to want until you’ve experience a little bit of this and a little bit of that, from weapons focuses to spells ones. There are benefits to each of the major classes and ways to play the game, but the heavy focus on spells and variety of ‘schools’ for you to focus your abilities on make for a thoroughly impressive and addicting casting design. Whether your blasting lightning out of one palm or flames out of both, it feels empowering, awesome, and is definitely a strategic necessity against many tricky enemies. Your Dovahkiin isn’t just limited to casting spells however- they can learn new spoken shouts and words of power, which act in three parts to bring various explosive effects to rear against your foes. Simply yell, and you could send your enemy flying off of a cliff and to his death- it’s amazing, ridiculous, and totally needed in the next Fallout games as well (if that were possible to implement). Experimentation is strongly encouraged when deciding whether to wield a spell set and a weapon, or two spells in each palm, or some other dreaded combination of the two. Thanks to implemented perks, that have always worked well in the past for the Fallout series, you can experiment with more skill sets than you most likely have in the past- instead of feeling obligated to staying true to whatever class you chose at the beginning of the game. Unlike the often confusing menus of Oblivion and other role-playing games, Skyrim’s simplified and streamlined menus are user-friendly and handle weapon and spell and inventory management perfectly. Sure, it can be time-consuming and a pain sometimes, and you might find yourself short on funds or heavy on inventory with nobody to sell to, but it’s still worlds better than most other titles.

I wouldn’t say that Skyrim’s combat is revolutionary by any means, but it is definitely a well-thought out step above that of previous Elder Scrolls games in more ways than one. It is harder to exploit, making it much more of a challenge, but it is also much more realistic and enjoyable as well. Your shields are much more help and actually save you, unlike other role-playing games where they seem to be more of a hindrance than a help, and you can cast healing spells or attacking curses at the same time as you swing your sword or mace. It is in the small ways that the multitasking and combat required skill helps to make the experience invigorating and worth the exploration for experience. Skyrim also does a good job of balancing enemies with your current level as you progress through the game, slowly getting more difficult to conquer, but never really becoming impossible with the right equipment or tools. As terrifying as they are to behold when on rampage, dragons are relatively easy to strike down once you’ve gotten the hang of things, and the rush when doing so only dwindles when you’ve done it several hundred times later on. Don’t think taking out dragons will be easy forever though, because aptly named elder dragons and larger foes come along later on to rain on your parade, and make combat much more difficult than before- but not unbearable. Also, you can feel free to change the difficulty at any time as well, ranging from easy to insane, with no change in game experience or gains.

Skyrim’s most recognizable drawback and issue is simply its amount of bugs, which rival almost the size of its open world. It’s launch was a lot more glitchy than it currently is, with many patches under its belt now, but it still has more than its fair share of bugs- ranging from minor to slightly more major across consoles and computers. Some of these glitches are more comedic than annoying, which is a relief when thinking back upon some of Oblivion’s worst, most villainous glitches and their malicious effects. For the most part, these issues don’t really detract too much from the title’s allure or accomplishments, as the sales figures to date have shown. As much as you might not believe it, believe me when I say the game can truly be addicting and be the only game you will play for hundreds, nearly a thousand hours, if you really get into it. Sometimes, for several hours you won’t even really accomplish much in terms of quests, and simply roam the world- exploring and enjoying the experience. It’s a magnificent world to explore as well, which only adds to the enjoyment.

♦♦♦

Dawnguard

(As Written in My Previous Review…)

Although its already been firmly established for the most part, Dawnguard is pretty much a pack solely created to give players who’ve already exhausted every other venue of Skyrim’s features another chance to play the game, and some new missions and quests to go along with new weapons, armor, forms, etc. Is it really any wonder then why so many people decided to pick up either a copy of Skyrim because they hadn’t and wanted to see what the hype was all about, or Dawnguard for various reasons pertaining solely to Skyrim? No, it’s really not- as even for a DLC, which doesn’t require as fine a polish as the game it was created for, Dawnguard still shows its cards only when it is absolutely necessary- and keeps players enthralled unto the very end, and even past the threshold of death’s cloak and resurrection…

Similar to many RPG games, many of Bethesda’s own games, and a few plotlines within Skyrim itself- Dawnguard focuses mainly on two warring racing for the duration of the quest and its main subcategories. On one side of the battlefield, you have the olden Dawnguard- or the vampire slayers of their time. On the other, you have the undead who’s soulless entities unscupulously feed upon the warriors and weak of the land without any prejudice. Blood is blood, at least that much both sides can agree upon- for different matters. While the Dawnguard are trying to prevent the coming scourge, the vampires however, wish for eternal night- so as to feed whenever they wish, ina world where there is absolutely no escape from your doom.

From each side, you will learn new skills and gain access to both weaponry and talents, such as crossbows, summoning trolls to your side in your defense and to repel intruders, the powers of a vampire lord, or new and different transformations- whether you be a werewolf or a vampire, or some sort of sick hybrid somehow. Multiple plotlines, a few sidequests, and more details bound together only serve to magnify and multiply the outcomes and collateral that come along with your greater responsibilities, or lack thereof. If you are expecting completely different locales however, you’ll be a tad bit disappointed- as most of the gothic areas look about the same later on, and each more macabre than the  last.

While the perks and the associated skill trees that come with them are marvelous and innovative yet, and choosing whether to magnify your werewolf side or vampire side if you are one or the other- truthfully, even with all of the abilities provided to you at these levels, it is still a bit disappointing at times. This is mainly because of the same annoying camera angle for transforming makes an appearance here, which is even more annoying now due to the fact that your form changes often to monstrous sizes- making for an even worse time in a fight with tiny enemies in front of you. Third person playing has never been Bethesda’s strong suit in their games such as Skyrim, and it sorely shows here once more. It’s a shame they always want to try to stick it back in however, even though it’s far from game-breaking- it’s still quite a petty annoyance to have to deal with. The mechanics for transformation during battle kind of throw things off as well, as enemies slice away at you as you take seconds to fully transform- and you are unable to do anything but cringe away from them as they do so, until you can easily wreak havoc upon them when you are done. Locomotion gets a bit tedious in these forms as well, as you must constantly switch back and forth in order to proceed into various locations for optimized effects.

Aside from such minor issues however, the addition of new enemies- not simply limited to the vampiric type, new weapons, and new areas of all shapes and size make for a wonderful and mostly enjoyable time. Sure, on a full run-through, you could only eeke out about twelve hours worth of gameplay- but think of the numerous and striking choices facing you, the multiple quest endings, and more that could’ve played out differently. With this one DLC, Bethesda has all but ensured that you will play for at least another thirty hours or so if you enjoyed Dawnguard- mainly because you’ll want to see things from all of the offered perspectives, if nothing else… This is simply another grand quest to add to the smelting pot, and not a terrible one at that.”

♦♦♦

Hearthfire

This particular part of my comprehensive review will no doubt be the shortest, as it centers on the downloadable content with the least amount of true substance aside from its two major gimmicks and additions: adoption and architectural construction. Hearthfire allows you to purchase land, build your own houses, libraries, greenhouses, and castles upon it, and then to adopt your very own children as well. You can also glean a little bit more information about the world history that is everchanging and going on about you throughout Hearthfire, however, it is of much less consequence than the other downloadable content, and the weakest link in the trio unless you are just desperate for a few more quests and the ability to forge and craft your own place to live, that relatively encompasses all you’ve wanted thus far. Aside from that, and a well-thought out and actually quite good crafting process, Hearthfire is accurately priced on its own, and really doesn’t offer much more in the way of substance.

♦♦♦

Dragonborn

 

Dragonborn is undoubtedly the best of the three downloadable content additions to Skyrim’s already massive world, not just because it branches out and leaves for Morrowind’s coastal regions, but because it has the best story and dwarfs that of Dawnguard with its expansive upgrades and skills. New armor, weapons, foes, spells, shouts, skills, and the new world of Solstheim make for a new experience and a truly reinvigorating expansion for an otherwise old and possibly (by this point in) boring game. Round this off by introducing the very first dragonborn, and forcing you to fight him- all the while delving into the Daedric realms of Oblivion-like Apocrypha, and you’ve sure gotten yourself a pretty good deal for your money. Thankfully, all of this is included with the Legendary Edition free of extra charge. Lucky you.

Apocrypha boasts tentacled, slimy, floating creatures and a literally always-moving world to go with its demonic origins and wealth of knowledge to be found. The world reminds me of the movie Labrynth, as it continually pushes and pulls you deeper and deeper, and you begin to question if you are truly lost or just enjoying yourself. Apocrypha looks like something out of a Lovecraftian story, but Morrowind’s island known as Solstheim ranges from giant mushrooms to villages to snowy peaks (later, and back in Skyrim of course as well) in a greater, more diverse landscape. Diving into Apocrypha to battle or contend with Hermaeus Mora is not only eye opening, but quite interesting to behold as well. However, as bad as that Daedric Prince may seem, the real bad guy in the equation is Miraak- first of the dragonborn.

The story itself may lack in some areas, but these two characters alone more than make up for it with their overly shown personalities and vastly different views on the problems you face. Whereas you may be disgusted with the prince of knowledge and power, he is a much more appealing character than the power-hungry, ambitious Miraak. Your final battle with Miraak may seem like a little bit of a letdown at the time, but it is only truly because you’ve leveled up so far to this point that it is hard for him to deal with you- especially with your newfound powers to be used once you set foot in Solstheim. Several new shouts and weapons can be found in Solstheim such as the Dragon Aspect and Bend Will shouts, which allow you to take on the armor/power of a dragon for a day, and to tame dragons and ride them, respectively.

Dragon Aspect can only be used once per day, but it lasts for a long while, and is well worth it- especially since you have an accelerated clock anyway. It takes the form of a dragon-like armor, and increases your melee and shout damage bonuses over time. Playing the earlier moments of Skyrim with this invaluable shout make things a whole lot easier as well, if you choose to do so by completing or attempting Dragonborn partly through the game’s main quest.Bend Will’s tiered layout is also extremely helpful- working sort of like the classic Animal Friend perk from the Fallout series (current generation titles). With the first word, you can call animals to your aid and control them; with the second, you can hold mortal NPCs as your thralls and do much the same; and with the third you can tame and ride dragons. You don’t control the dragons, but you tell them where to pick you up and drop you off, which is cool enough.

Essentially, Bend Will makes you a Jedi Knight, and Dragon Aspect makes you feel like more of a Dragonborn than ever before. While dragon riding is an honorable attempt, it works rarely, and looks terrible in all its glitchy majesty on the screen. Thankfully you don’t have much need to use that part of the shout often. Overall, Dragonborn is pretty impressive as extra content goes, despite some flawed mechanics. The dungeons are even more inventive than those of the main game, the new adversaries are amazing to behold and battle, and the quest line is way too much fun to do- in addition to open exploration.

♦♦♦

Well, that’s that then. That’s my ultra-comprehensive review of Skyrim’s Legendary Edition. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and that the several reviews in one have been incredibly helpful, especially as the holiday season draws ever nearer. Now, I will give you the final, overall rundown of things…

Concept: Pack the best content that Skyrim has to offer in one, slightly down-priced package, rivaled only by the Elder Scrolls Anthology that just recently released for PC gamers to enjoy for the next seventy years.

Graphics: Despite occasional hiccups that often accompany large, expansive games, Skyrim has some of the best graphics out there, and is certainly the best that the Elder Scrolls series has yet to have seen to this day.

Sound: From the background noises such as dragon roars and wind, to the haunting melodies and soundtracks, Skyrim’s far reaches have plenty of music to accompany them, and boast a hearty offering in this category as well.

Playability: The game handles well in almost every scenario, with only a few minor inconveniences, mainly to be had in the Dragonborn downloadable content that is included, thanks to the semi-failed dragon riding gimmick that is present and hardly if ever works as intended or painlessly.

Entertainment: I cannot stress how entertaining this game is to play through again and again. In one playthorugh alone, you can rack up easily over five hundred hours and still not have found every location or completed every single quest. That is what is really impressive to me. If it was possible to get over three hundred hours in Oblivion and not find everything, then it is totally realistic to accumulate one thousand here and not have everything collected or discovered in your world.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 9.75

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Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One Review

[As Read on GIO.]

I’ll admit it outright- I enjoyed Bioshock Infinite’s first story-based downloadable content, although I recognized that it was pretty short, and I would’ve rather had the first of the two Burial at Sea episodes made into one DLC for a longer experience and a more worthwhile one. The second part has yet to release, so we’ve been left sort of hanging- hoping that it proves to be better than this first one, however, I’ve given this one a decent score as it does well what little it does new, and keeps the same refined tone and quality for what is old that it continues. The setting returns to Rapture for the third time, or the first- depending on how you view it I suppose, and brings the almost lighter artistic style of Infinite to the previously quick dark and gothic place under the sea. A fresh coat of paint however, like the beginning of Bioshock Infinite on Columbia, does not cover up the roiling and raging problems beneath- which soon overflow violently like the seas that surround them. The same could be said about this first episodic part of the story-driven Burial at Sea content.

This particular Booker and Elizabeth are obviously not the same Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth from the main portion of Infinite’s storyline- therefore immediately solidifying the theory of infinite realities. This Booker DeWitt has come to live in Rapture- the amazing city under the sea featured in the first two Bioshock games, and manages to witness the the city in all of its splendor before and during its fall. It has yet to be reclaimed by the hellish ocean surrounding it, and yet to be destroyed by genetically mutated scavengers and the civil war breaking out like it has been seen to do across the first and second Bioshock games. However, you will see some of this begin by the end of this episode. Plasmids are not used for battle, but instead make everyday tasks simpler for Rapture’s inhabitants. Big Daddies patrol the outer hallways, making sure everything is secure as needed. Much like the introduction to Bioshock Infinite, where we witnessed the splendor of Columbia, it is a shame that we ultimately know what is inevitably coming- yet we are powerless to stop it, and can only explore and enjoy things while they last. This time around, in a shoutout to the first and second Bioshock games, you can discover audio logs around Rapture in your introductory moments as well.

The now detective-like versions of Booker and Elizabeth- of which I actually enjoyed more than the main story’s versions, model-wise, though not narrative wise- are called together to investigate the disappearance of a specific little girl, thought to be found in a prison below the majority of Rapture’s populace. As to be expected with a story-based DLC, you should focus on finishing or playing the main story first if you haven’t yet done so, before attempting to play through this one. After all, it only makes sense cannon-wise that way, for the majority of things to be seen, both big and small here. This isn’t just a rehashing of the main game though- despite the characters being the same and similar, because they’ve all got significantly different motivations this time around. Although you will have to wait for the next episode to see how the story plays out, so far, that aspect at least, is well written and well done.

Once you manage to make it to the lower regions of Rapture, you begin to see that things really aren’t as idyllic and complacent as they are above, on the surface of the city. The prison area looks just like any other area of the previous two games, with rubble strewn everywhere and corpses dangling from more locations than you can count- making every Fallout raider proud of their splicer cousins no doubt. There’s not much more to peel away from the Rapture onion, as we’ve seen just about all of its layers by now- so this new setting doesn’t really come as a shock to players who’ve already experienced the entire series, although it might for gamers who’ve only played through Infinite prior to starting the DLC. Rapture is as enthralling as ever, but it comes off as a little more of the same instead of anything truly fresh, aside from the well-penned story.

Simultaneously one of the most and least changed aspects of the DLC is is the approach to combat encounters. Combat and action oriented encounters remain mostly the same as they are in Bioshock Infinite, with rail-riding, tear traveling, and plenty of cannon fodder to quench your thirst for blood. Some tweaking though, has managed to liven combat up a little more, and address some of the main concerns about the combat in the main story as well as add in some requested things from the previous games as well. You can have more than two equipped weapons, as the weapon wheel from previous games returns with an added focus on swapping and switching weapons on the fly and as you discover new areas and enemies. However, with this new found sense of swapping necessity, there is less ammunition to be found in the noir setting- meaning you are essentially forced to swap out weapons whether you want to or not, as you will likely die otherwise. You’ll finally appreciate Elizabeth finding resources and stuff for you, as you’ll need it much more this time around.A few other interesting tidbits have been added, such as a Radar Gun that turns your enemies into exploding meat packages, and a new plasmid called Old Man Winter- essentially the same as the wintery blasts from the first few Bioshock games.

Despite these new additions however, the experience comes off as a little hit and miss for the most part, as it seeks to take the best of both worlds- or in this case the first and most recent games, and combine them together. However, it doesn’t necessarily succeed in doing so, mainly because it provides you with too few resources while exacting a higher toll in return. Sure, you get a new gun and a new plasmid option, but you start off with fewer than the ones available to you in the main story content. Overall, the gameplay remains tense and the atmosphere is excellently crafted in this faithful return to Rapture after so long, however, some things just don’t add up and should really have been addressed differently in my opinion. As it is, this is DLC of a pretty fine quality, despite some misgivings I may have concerning it, and I’m glad they’ve decided to release it- all two parts. I find myself looking forward more and more to what comes next with part two, and seeing if this endeavor pays off or not…

Concept: The long-awaited triumphant return to Rapture- not as Jack or a Big Daddy, but as a newer version of Booker and Elizabeth- this time as a noir detective duo investigating the disappearance of a special little girl.

Graphics: It’s nice to finally see the underwater would-be utopia prospering, even if it is only a guise which it covers its flaws in, and it’s nice to see some new areas that aren’t simply the destroyed sections of the previous games made new. Sure, it’s all the same and you eventually find yourself trudging through areas scarily similar to those of the first game, but it’s nostalgic at least.

Sound: Expect the same voice acting quality and caliber work of the main game to be found here, as the respective actors of Booker and Elizabeth reprise their roles with much gusto.

Playability: It’s nice to see a little hint of the old combine with the new in terms of the addition of the weapons wheel, however, nothing else has changed so much as been tweaked slightly in terms of combat and any other needed skills. Some things are new, but the core controls are all the same.

Entertainment: The combat is more of the quality work depicted in the previous games and in Infinite’s main story, and the narrative that is to be found in this brief downloadable content is well written thus far, although you’ll have to wait until episode two to see how anything pans out and plays out. I’m interested to see what comes, and I hope it comes across as bigger than this beginning story rather than some cheap thrills and parlor tricks overall.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

[As Read on GIO.]

 

“A New Hope, but Continuing the Downward Trend…”

 

In quick succession over the past few years, there have been three titles in the “Black Ops” series and three in the “Modern Warfare” series respectively. Call of Duty: Ghosts looks to bridge the gap between the gameplay of each and start its own near-future story as well. No longer are the Russians solely the bad guys, nor indoctrinated black ops agents- this is a new breed, or at least it tries to be. I have reviewed Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3 in the past, and with each successive game, I have noticed a decrease in quality and an increase in retail sales. Interesting, no? Yes, the games up until this point have still been acceptable, but now the formula is really starting to show its wear and is in dire need of help and more than simple patchwork additions that Ghosts brought to the mix. Ghosts manages to keep the series afloat, but it is treading water just barely in the choppy sea of originality and polish- although you wouldn’t be able to tell from the massive sales it has already had. First off, I just want to revisit an old scoring guide I made myself for the Call of Duty series, showing the trend I’ve been noticing in recent years and reflecting it with my own personal scores:

 

Call of Duty | 8.0

 

Call of Duty 2 | 8.5

 

Call of Duty 3 | 8.0

 

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare | 9.75

 

Call of Duty: World at War | 8.75

 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | 9.75

 

Call of Duty: Black Ops | 9.25

 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 | 8.5

 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 | 8.0

 

Call of Duty: Ghosts | 7.5

 

In recent years, although my review scores have fluctuated from time to time, you’ll notice that they have decreased continually from Modern Warfare 2 on. The games have still been fine in most respects, but they have become more repetitive in what was once unquestionably successful, and haven’t done enough new quality work to keep from becoming both stale and less polished- take MW3 for example. I gave it a respectable score, and did the same with Black Ops 2, but they have many noticeable flaws between the two of them. Ghosts is the same, despite its newer coat of paint- it still has the same core mechanics for the most part unchanged underneath. I commend Infinity Ward for crafting a new cast of characters and an entirely new Call of Duty universe, as that took some real thought instead of churning out yet another selfsame sequel- however, was it too much to ask for some truly significant gameplay changes to be made to spruce things up a bit?

 

 

Although it may specify differently because I am writing my review from Dan’s PS4 article, I am in fact doing this review based upon current console versions only- so I’ll concede that some things may function a tad bit better at the higher levels, but most likely not enough to change my score drastically one way or the other. As fairly mentioned in Ryckert’s own article, and instantly noticeable by me after playing through a match of multiplayer and a few campaign missions, Ghosts is more of the same- and I mean this with all literalness, as there isn’t a single new major mechanic and the only real upgrade is in the graphics. Sure, there are some minor control gimmicks such as sliding, but really- would that be enough ‘new’ to carry an entire game? I don’t think so. Even Black Ops 2 offered some excellent multilayer hooks in the form of Pick 10 loadout customization, and the Modern Warfare trilogy defined killstreaks and buzzkills for modern multiplayer shooters. But what does Ghosts have to offer? A few gimmicks at best sadly.

 

What Ghosts does manage to get right resides, as usual, around multiplayer. The new modes, while old after awhile, don’t lack for ingenuity and creativity- something that Call of Duty has not lacked in recent years, but that it has been stingy with. For once, instead of purely realistic modes, we can have such fun-driven games as Cranked and Blitz- where the only goals respectively are to run to areas without getting killed (Blitz) and where you must kill as many people as you can before exploding (Cranked). While even some of these new modes, such as Grind and Search and Rescue are only reformations of classic modes, or piggyback off of other series’ multiplayer modes- they work well for the most part, and provide an exciting multiplayer experience yet again. However, as far as they go in terms of being groundbreaking, despite their originality, these modes have only tweaked the scoring- everything else stays much the same as always. But that’s okay, I guess I can live with that for now. It’s a start.

 

 

 

One thing that seems to be a reneged upon promise in my mind is the fact that Infinity Ward promised environmental destructibility a la Battlefield in the multiplayer maps, but- although there is some, it is very minimal and obviously set piece contained. Granted, there have always been little touches both in campaign and multiplayer, but I just want to be able to blow holes in walls for a change- after all, Battlefield allows me to do so! What destructibility is there is hardly game changing, and not nearly on the level of Battlefield 4’s ‘levolution’ so it isn’t as epic or on the same grand scale. Some walls might eventually blow out, or a gas station or building might cave in partially, but that’s about the extent of things aside from between matches on the pre-ordered ‘Free Fall’ map- where the falling skyscraper chunk will slide down a bit occasionally during matches. While the environment might not have received as many tweaks in multiplayer, one readily noticeable change is the slimming down of air-based killstreaks, of which there are much fewer. While this may cut out some raging and abuse of streaks and instant death upon respawning (the biggest frustration of the Modern Warfare series), it also leaves the gameplay significantly grounded. Sure, it works, but its a new change of pace, and a little too much too fast.

 

 

The mode I was was most skeptical about, and apparently with good reason, is the Squads, AI-driven multiplayer mode. It has a promising premise, but as i suspected, it doesn’t work nearly as well as it should, and in this respect it is essentially the strike-force mission mode for this particular Call of Duty game. It works sometimes, but never great, and isn’t very exciting or enjoyable at all. You can create and customize up to ten different soldiers, each with their own loadouts and traits, and enter them in a small variety of match types. In a twist of fate pretty much like a rehashing of Combat Training from Black Ops, albeit much less fun or helpful, Squads has some bot versus humans matches with one human on each ‘squad’ in addition to the selected soldier bots. For all of the rich customization it offers, Squads mode isn’t nearly as fun simply for the reason that you’re facing brain dead enemies instead of even the worst noobs in death matches. Now, when machines become as good as the Skynet Terminators, short of being pure aimbots, then I’d enjoy this match type a little more… Thankfully, there is at least a decent and interesting cooperative addition a la Zombies in the form of Extinction, which pits humans versus aliens and further makes things less about realism and more about fun. However, even this mode is killed by the fact that it is thus far limited to only one single map, albeit a decently sized one.

 

 

Now, we’ve done enough talking about multiplayer- let’s talk about the ‘story’ campaign of Ghosts short offering. While Black Ops 2’s campaign was anything but perfect, it was one of the first to really have a pretty gripping, if convoluted and branching story. Simply look at the ingenious number of different outcomes and other aspects that added to replayability if you doubt me. Rather than take the same risks as Treyarch did, Infinity Ward further embraces the old, tried and true format of one single, linear, and quite short story moving from explosion to explosion. For all intents and purposes it’s an even more near-future version of MW3’s campaign, except it’s shorter and you care less about when your companions die because you haven’t become attached to them over the course of a series. Pretty much all the characters have either the same personalities or have personalities so unbelievably over-the-top that they just can’t be taken seriously. All the usual characters make appearance, by which I mean the action is totally mundane and you can call things by a mile away. There are some awesome set piece moments spread out throughout the campaign, but they are the only real highlights between mindless exposition and completion of objectives. You can enjoy the story as short as it is, but it’s hard to get truly invested in it, as the characters that seem so interesting at first are never really explained of dug into any deeper during development. It suffers from the same cancerous campaign disease that Battlefield does, but is slightly better off in some ways.

 

 

 

I think the bottom line is simply that Ghosts could have been a real turning point from the downward spiral that the series is intently following, but it didn’t come through at many of the right moments. As happens when people become too complacent in there assurance of the same thing occurring every year, intentionally or otherwise, the quality of game has gone down as the sales have increased. It has a firm foundation set in stone already for it, but lacks the nerve to actually branch out any more than adding a few new interesting multiplayer modes- aside from that, nothing has changed despite the setting and characters being entirely new. It feels like the same game, which doesn’t earn any brownie points in my book. New isn’t always bad, but you can at least risk a little new here and there so that things don’t become old and boring. Sure, it’s not broken and so doesn’t have to be completely changed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change a single thing in the core gameplay. I did enjoy some of the minor details such as the new knife-wielding juggernaut killstreak and the intense matches of Cranked and S&R, but aside from that and a few fun and frenetic campaign moments, there wasn’t much else to peruse. I like it, but am far from impressed. While it might not do so in numbers, Battlefield 4, despite its own flaws, has won this bout in terms of quality and damage control.

 

 

Concept: The same old same old.

 

 

Graphics: Easily the highlight of my experience, the game does look a lot better than it has in the past few titles, which all looked respectable as well.

 

 

Sound: The firearms and explosions all sound swell as usual.

 

 

Playability: As smooth as ever, but with no new advancements or additions.

 

 

Entertainment: While it is fun and the multiplayer is polished and the campaign shines brightly for its special moments, it isn’t anything we haven’t already seen in most instances, and grows stale quicker than the previous games have.

 

 

Replay Value: Moderate.

 

 

Overall Score: 7.5

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

[As Read on GIO.]

“A Step Down, but in the Right Direction…”

Last year, almost exactly a year ago in fact, I reviewed Assassin’s Creed III- a game which I gave a pretty great score, unlike many people who condemned it for the glitches that every Assassin’s Creed game has had to date. However, despite that fact, I was able to have an excellent experience with the core game- DLC non-withstanding, and enjoyed myself immensely across the snowy plains and open fields of Boston, New York, and the Frontier. Connor’s quest, while lacking at times, was an interesting new evolution for the series in more ways than one. Therefore, although I was quite skeptically when I heard of Black Flag’s aim not too long ago, and of yet another now-yearly released title in the series trying to unsuccessfully out-compete Call of Duty, I was interested to see how the character of Edward Kenway would be manifested. Whereas some though Connor was a bland character, even he had a much deeper background than Kenway- one of his ancestors. I’ll admit, at first Kenway seems to be a very interesting character, however, I feel Ubisoft did a terrible wrong and did not flesh him, or many other characters in Assassin’s Creed IV out as much as they certainly could have- and for that reason, even many hours into the game, all we really know about Kenway is that he wants gold, and lots of it. Kenway isn’t nearly as ideological as Altair or as revenge-filled as the younger Ezio Auditore- he simply perfectly embodies what a pirate was during that time period: a murderer who plunders and kills for his own selfish gains. Now, that is interesting in terms of skillsets and gameplay and even a bit during the story, but it becomes really two-dimensional quite fast. Although it was a fun experience, and has been interesting so far, I feel more like I’ve played Pirate’s Creed: No Rules IV than a new Assassin’s Creed game. Sure, some of the similar elements are there, but hardly anything other than naval combat was fixed from AC3, and it feels like it is sailing into uncharted waters without first battening down the hatches.

Don’t get me wrong though after reading that first lengthy shanty of mine- Black Flag is a great game, it merely has its own set of flaws, as well as some old ones that have never quite been remedied. I am let down slightly by this sequel, as it had so much potential and branched out so much, but it simply did not make as much progress as it could have in the long run. I am interested to see where the series goes next, and have heard some interesting thoughts, but I just don’t know if- like Call of Duty, this downward spiral will persist, or if things will settle down for a while before getting better. I think what we really need with these annual series’ is a short break of at least two years so that the developers can harness some new ideas before resuming their conquest of sales numbers with sub-quality games and adventures. What we really need are fresh new ideas and better quality games that people will actually appreciate, but then again, I am sliding slightly off topic, so allow me to resume my original intentions here. In terms of actual core gameplay and missions, Black Flag is significantly shorter than III, despite having roughly the same number of chapters- a fact I am sure many who became bored with AC3 will appreciate. There is more freedom and side content than ever before, which sometimes ends up being more fun than the main adventure itself, interestingly enough- similar to Far Cry 3’s campaign.

It is increasingly apparent with each passing moment during the game that Black Flag is an entirely new chapter in the series, and not just some other subtitled adventure such as Brotherhood and Revelations were, despite them being okay in quality- well, except for Revelations maybe, which was shaky at best. Assassin’s Creed IV trades the towering renaissance structures of Italy and the frontier wilderness of colonial America for an even more expansive and tropical oceanic and island setting- persuading players to openly embrace the naval functions that lacked real interest in the previous game due to some of their mishaps and handling issues. Unsurprisingly, as Kenway is a pirate first and assassin next, you’ll often find yourself spending much more time on the high seas than setting foot on land- even going so far as to raid ships, sail out of storms, and hunt sea life down. The wealth of content to be found at sea alone easily dwarves that found on land in all the other games combined at this point, and offers some fine chances for upgraded items and loot as well. Add in some historical figures, events, and interesting Indies locales and further pirate-like interactions via Kenway’s personal flagship, the Jackdaw, makes for one memorable and exciting adventure. Dozens of hours in, you’ll still be finding new locations, hidden tombs and coves, and treasures to suit your piracy and self-serving attitude. Kenway is a character of ill-repute undoubtedly, but he isn’t without his own sort of code- despite the fact being that his code seems to involve throwing all other codes out the window.

Some of the game’s greatest moments come from some simple things sprinkled in the gameplay and combat activities, as well as throughout the sidequests and content. Leveling up your flagship by collecting various goods and plundering decimated ships is tedious at times, but well worth the efforts expended- especially if you do so earlier on in the game,as it pays off immensely much later in your adventures. The nearly endless supplies of money and more ways to obtain it than previous games makes for a great bargain-striker when deciding what new upgrades to pursue and what personal touches to collect, as you know you can always hunt down a  few more ships if you ever run low. Obviously, being a pirate has its benefits so long as you can avoid the noose for long enough. I, as well as everyone else who plays the game most likely, would definitely recommend boarding ships mid-combat in order to plunder them instead of outright destroying them if you have the opening, seeing as it is much easier to collect more supplies in doing so, and you don’t have to worry about your own ship being destroyed because combat sort of pauses when in the process of plundering ships via a boarding party. Plus, you can always recruit new crew members should you lose any, so it’s okay to lead an all-out attack at times. The only annoyance here is that boarding gets old after awhile, but becomes a necessary evil if you want to increase the spending capacity of your coffers and upgrade your ship faster before more difficult battles.

Ship navigation has really come a long way since AC3’s finicky controls and naval opportunities, and your offensive capabilities are much more advanced than before as well thanks to some minimal tweaking here and there to the controls. Naval combat still has its pitfalls, but it has been simplified enough that when you are only facing a few ships and not an entire armada, you can operate the controls well enough that you won’t find yourself being overwhelmed or frustrated. Firing your weapons is as easy and as complicated as facing in the direction you wish to aim, which is confusing often during large encounters, because you cannot look at another ship to see what they’re doing if you plan on attacking the one before you currently. Some fights can become quite a bit more annoying than they would otherwise be because of this, but thankfully the rest of naval combat and naval navigation as a whole is pretty well polished, or at least enough so that this is the only real standout problem I can see. Usually you’re just sailing between pit stops and particular locations, or simply hunting for easy raids and treasure troves, so you won’t have to deal with too much hardship until later on when you’ve amassed a much more sizable bounty upon your head, and must outrun the privateers and mercenaries after you.

Though you can undoubtedly spend much more time on water than on land, as is the name of the game, rest easy in knowing that Edward Kenway possesses most of the familiar traits of the trademark assassin, and can hold his own in personal combat as well as naval. Climbing, stabbing, and shooting your way through fights and chases works just as fine as usual, with the occasional bump and shuffle here and there simply because of a minimal glitch. Completing land-based side content often rewards you with special pouches, armors, and other upgrades- making the completionist in all of us simultaneously joyful and resentful of the sheer amount of choice in content before you. Although I have yet to complete everything to one hundred percent of course, in the days since the game’s release, I have managed to rack up about a good 75% of game completion, and that’s with over 800 gamerscore. So, trust me when I say there’s a lot to do, collect, and explore. A lot of new stuff makes appearances, but there is also the tried and tested elements of every other game, or at least in the last few as well. In terms of main story mission abundance and variety however, you are bound to be disappointed- as few missions have the impact or excitement as the side content does. If this game were merely a sandbox exploration game, it would probably have just as good a score as it does with the throwaway main missions, despite the fact that they add some further details to the story. Assassinations and other chases and contracts are still interesting, which is a plus, but the majority of main missions feature mundane tasks and assignments which makes for a drab overall impression in my mind.

I have no wish to ruin what little story there is in Black Flag, so I’ll be moderate with my musings on that portion of the review here, right now. As I mentioned earlier, I was somewhat disappointed that Kenway is never entirely fleshed out as much, scoundrel though it is clear he is, and that the only real supporting characters to be fleshed out at all are some of the famed pirate compatriots he consorts with such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. Almost as bad as in the very short misadventures of Ezio in Revelations, the plot of Black Flag is all over the place- even for an Assassin’s Creed game, and isn’t nearly as memorable as one would have thought it could have been. There isn’t ever really one true antagonist, and there isn’t really one big catalyst for Edward’s ascension to the rank of the Assassin brotherhood, mainly because he continues on just the same as he did before his joining, and it doesn’t really change him much as a man or as a pirate at all. All of this lack of information and true fleshing out of many characters or events makes for an ultimately apathetic feeling towards the majority of the story, and a steering more towards other ports of calling side content, which is really a shame for the people who devoted their time to crafting said story. I was really hoping, despite my semi-interest in the present day affairs, that Ubisoft would just drop the present day story from the game and let us have fun in these time periods alone, but alas that did not happen. Now you play as a nameless and faceless Abstergo cipher, wandering about and hacking data clusters and entertainment systems. Literally, when I thought the present day scheme couldn’t get worse than Revelations’ it did. I mean, after concluding Desmond’s story in AC3, I was kind of hoping they would bow out and just say “we’re going through leftover DNA sampling of ancestors of Desmond’s in the Animus”, but no- they wanted so badly to screw up the present day story and make it as boring as ever I guess.

The plethora of side activities such as Far Cry 3-like activities of hunting down and collecting the skins of animals, unveiling secreted away relics of ancient times, and then even plundering ships for their riches really makes for a high replayability and also for a nearly everlasting first playthrough, as hard as it is to find one hundred percent of everything everywhere. The graphics of sailing and just the general world look beautiful on the current generation consoles, so I can only imagine what they look like on next-gen ones. I was constantly impressed at nearly every turn by something or another, trivial detail or not. The game fixes a few old complaints and bugs, makes some controls a little more convenient for on-the-fly choices to be made during combat and locomotion, and makes better use of fast travel options in the much broader world. However, the continual appearance of much more annoying glitches than in past games, as well as some previously seen ones, and a thoroughly disappointing and even boring story make the game go down in both score and opinion on my part. What was truly an ambitious enterprise and voyage ultimately loses much of its appeal and luster hours in due to repetitive gameplay and tedium, but still remains a largely interesting experience on the whole. I’ve deigned not to speak about multiplayer because, aside from some minor adjustments, it is largely the same as it has been in the previous titles offering it- with the exception being changes in characters and locales. There are a few differences, but nothing major.

Concept: Live a pirate’s life one big raid at a time, and forget all about the main story- instead, opt for a plethora of side content and leisurely paced treasure hunts to engross players.

Graphics: Somewhat unstable framerate changes and drops occur from time to time, but the vistas and open seas look and react beautifully.

Sound: From the realistic ballistics and sheathing of swords to the sounds in the background and melodic sea shanties, all is fair on the high seas in terms of sound.

Playability: There are still a few issues with naval controls and encounters, but by the by everything has largely been improved or at least stayed relatively the same.

Entertainment: The side content is impressive in amount and fun to troll through, but having to go through the ropes with your core encounters is often boring and out of sync with the rest of your misadventures.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Battlefield 4 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

“Battlefield 4 wins the battle, but it remains unseen if it’ll win the War…”

You know, personally, despite some minor gripes with it, I enjoyed Battlefield 3’s single player and cooperative campaigns at least marginally so. While I don’t so much care for the campaign in Battlefield 4 and actually consider it to be one of the weaker ones in the series- a series, mind you, whose foundation lies solely in multiplayer anyway, Battlefield 4 is far from a terrible game. It’s campaign is not bad so much either, merely somewhat flawed in a few ways that add up to support particular grievances players might have with it. Now, of course, that is my opinion anyway. I honestly think Battlefield 3 was a better game at the time, but I cannot deny the fact that the evolved multiplayer here is much more balanced in the long run and has certainly learned from that game. It might be sooner than I expected, but I am pretty pleased with this particular project, even with its flaws. Battlefield 4 follows much the same or similar path as its predecessors, with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, and a more throwaway campaign- although it tries to mitigate that by injecting emotional moments into the pretty short campaign, without much effect overall.

I will talk about the campaign a little bit first, seeing as it is easily the more forgettable component of the game- although from the achievements, you would not think so, considering there are only a total of five multiplayer achievements of the forty-two total. The script itself reads like a classic B-movie action film, which is alright I suppose for a shooter with a heavy emphasis on actions versus words, but still somehow manages to fall flat between explosions and collapsing buildings that mark the exciting set piece moments scattered throughout the missions. Instead of focusing heavily on Russia as the bad guys, this particular Battlefield portrays factions of China and surrounding countries as the enemies. The story focuses heavily on a squad of American soldiers tasked with escorting some VIPs from Shanghai to an American fleet off the Chinese coast, however, pretty much everything goes to hell along the way, and you see various locales from prisons to mountain towns as you shoot your way across the country. The story is so short and lacks so much essence of what should make up a story that it truly does feel like an action film, and never really grabs your interest. Therefore, when you get to the three choice ending, you’ll probably just want to hurry up and get things over with, and not really care who lives or dies. I’ll give it it’s dues- it tries to make players feel emotionally invested, but is much to short to successfully accomplish that, clocking out at about six hours total.

The campaign is presented in more of a semi-sandbox style, and a less linear approach to combat opportunities, which is a thankful and welcome addition. However, the enemy (and even allied) AI is so abominable in most instances, that it’s easy to wipe them out entirely before too many shots are fired, and it doesn’t present too much of a challenge until you play on Hard mode, in which case they all become one hundred percent accurate aimbots, killing the challenge by going completely one hundred and eighty degrees the opposite way. This kills the single player experience, but actually helps to get players more invested in multiplayer, where the true meat of the experience lies, adn where this game earns the majority of its points in my opinion. Not only is multiplayer Battlefield 4’s one saving grace, but it offers up a substantial amount of content and time, even with its own flaws that are present and unfixed as of yet.

A little personal touch that I really liked about Battlefield 4’s multiplayer, although I myself did not need it, being the Battlefield vehicles guru that I am, was the addition of a training ground for vehicles and machinery for players to experiment around without fear of serious repercussions. I’ll admit, the first time you take off in a chopper or other air-based vehicle, you’ll probably crash it if you don’t have the proper guidance and knowledge. Rather than report to your local airfield to learn how to actually pilot the thing though, you can simply boot up the training ground and figure it out without fear of that lone rocket or rain of bullets taking the wind out of your coattails. The only truly notable drawback to this proving ground experience is the fact that one person at a time is present on the training ground range, meaning you cannot coordinate with others as you would during combat to practice countermeasures or maneuvers together.

Another well-thought out re-addition to the winning formula in Battlefield 4 is the return of Commander Mode, which allows you to make tactical decisions and suggestions to your fellow players during matches. Of course, you can only do as well as your teammates allow, but if you can get together a winning squad, you will truly be a force to reckon with- sending out drones, launching EMP attacks, and more. The best part about it is you don’t have to worry about spawning and dying, as you serve as a tactical overlord instead of a regular soldier on the field of battle. You can also utilize this particular mode with tablets and like devices as well, as is becoming increasingly popular with other console linked applications and modes. If your team does fairly well, then you can even earn killstreak-similar packages such as AC-130 gunship strikes and cruise missiles or bombing strafing runs.

The majority of Battlefield 4’s multiplayer operates much like the already existing groundwork laid by previous games in the series, with some subtly woven-in innovations in technology and ideas as well. Instead of having to completely rely on your headset, when others may not have one on them at all times, you can use PC-inspired button prompts via the right bumper to request aid and ammunition and other items. Even the points system has been revamped this time around, more in favor of team-based objectives than lone wolves or anything else. You get points over time instead of winner takes all or all or nothing versions during objective capturing game modes. For example, if you are battling for a certain command post station, and you get blown up shortly before you would have taken it over successfully, you still get some points for what you had already done instead of being so close and getting nothing for your team-based efforts. Not only does this work better for teamwork than ever before, but it further encourages backup and teamwork as well.

The map selection is pretty good and has some fairly sized to giant battlefields to peruse during combat as well. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the maps of Battlefield 3 without complaint, I do have a few concerning maps that simply don’t work with every game mode. But that’s really my only major complaint, as they all look and play beautifully for the most part during the majority of matches. The so-called ‘levolution’ moments where something explodes, crashes, blows other areas up, or otherwise changes the terrain are pretty neat feats of technology, but are pretty much only gimmicks and cool scenes in essence. Although I’ll admit seeing that building collapse for the first time, or that previously far off air craft carrier ride on shore is pretty intense and epic. These moments work great on most maps, but provide more difficulty and cause for bugs and glitches in others- namely Shanghai’s tower of doom and the elevator glitch of overly awesome death.

There are the same awesome modes as have been present since the previous Battlefield games, and then there are two major new ones as well, that change up gameplay a bit and also provide some equally thrilling new challenges. These game modes are predominately explosives related and reminded me a lot of Search and Destroy and Sabotage from Cal of Duty, albeit much more objectives based than those counterparts. The first is Oblieration, which gives you a neutral bomb and three enemy objectives to light up across the rounds/time limit. Not only must you defend your objectives, but you must constantly be ready to switch to the offensive as well and push forward into enemy territory. This is quite thrilling and requires a lot more teamwork than one lone player venturing into enemy territory as it often occurs in Call of Duty matches. The other new mode is Defuse(d), which operates somewhat the opposite of Obliteration, and more like Search and Destroy. Teams of five have one life per player and must either kill the enemy team or detonate their bomb to win. This is one of the quicker and much more punishing game modes, but also one of the tensest and most exciting as well, as to be expected.

Deathmatch and Domination and Rush and other modes are still present of course as well, but some (TDM and DOM mainly) just aren’t as exciting and don’t have very well supported maps for their sorties. In the game modes without vehicles especially, there is really no point in having any class other than an assault oriented one, as engineers are virtually useless at that point, and that ruins the core of what makes Battlefield so fun and intense- large, open, vehicle-using (suggested) maps. Thankfully, to go hand in hand with multiplayer, there is one of the deepest progression systems I’ve ever seen in a game, with players continually earning random and rank-related awards and unlocks. Camoflauge types, new knives and grips, sights, and much more attachments show up in hundreds of forms and colors. It is quite astounding, especially when coupled with the battlepack or random items given every two or three levels or so. Granted, since these are random, you could get anything from something you’ve already unlocked or something you don’t have access to, but it’s still pretty game changing when you get a great attachment for a gun you already have.

I think the bottom line is simply this: there are several improvements to be found in Battlefield 4’s multiplayer that make it a worthwhile experience and a step up from Battlefield 3, but it would’ve been much better if it had decided instead to focus solely on perfecting multiplayer and bypassing the single player campaign. If we’d have gone back to the Battlefield 1942 days, it could’ve been so much more revolutionary than the finished product. As it is, the technological capabilities are still quite impressive to behold, even on current-gen consoles and computers.

Concept: Enrich the multiplayer experience further, at the ultimate expense of the throwaway single player campaign.

Graphics: Beauty unparalleled as of yet in a shooter, only occasionally marred by muddied textures here and there.

Sound: Only in Battlefield.

Playability: Some controls have been simplified a little bit, but it remains largely similar to those of Battlefield 3 and classic Battlefield games, with a few new additions to the mix. It might be hard to pilot some vehicles at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Entertainment: You’ll certainly be spending your hours playing the addictive and impressive multiplayer component, and not the standalone single player one.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 9.0

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Batman: Arkham Origins Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Arkham Origins may be the weakest entry in the series in terms of score, however that is not to say the game is without its own strengths as well. In some areas, where Asylum and City fell down and scraped their knees, Origins stands tall. It is in others however, where Rocksteady had no problems, that Warner Bros. finds themselves desperately treading water to stay afloat in the frigid sea. Although this game chronologically takes place before Arkham Asylum, with a younger, less experienced Bruce Wayne as its focal point, and without the hardened badass of Arkham City- there is really no reason why Origins shouldn’t have succeeded or at least broken even with Asylum and City. After all, look at other prequels such as Halo Reach- which is one of the best selling Halo titles to date and received mostly excellent review scores. Of course, that is not to say review scores are everything- but they are of course often helpful to go by, and critical enough to catch most flaws- both stand out ones and more subtle ones. As with the Gotham City setting of this particular Arkham title, the crowd has been quiet thus far- with only a few voices of dissent crying out either for or against Batman and Warner Bros.’ particular vision for the caped crusader. Only time will tell if Rocksteady will be back on the scene to set things right once more, or if Warner will continue the downward spiral or lift the cowl once more into its proper place. As the snowy setting shows though, and as Catwoman famously said not too long ago, there is a storm coming- and it’s honing in on Bruce Wayne and Batman…

Not only have the setting, time period, and developer changed, but the voices we once knew as the Bat and Prince of Clowns have changed hands as well. As with the majority of the game however, this is not a bad thing- as they have done a fine job rolling with it, rather a new and slightly different thing- especially for longtime fans. You might not know the difference so much at first, but there are a few noticeable changes here and there that become increasingly difficult to ignore later on as the game progresses. Sometimes it’s just personalities, while others it’s combat. It just depends. And that’s actually kind of refreshing, even if it doesn’t always work. Mark Hamill finds himself retired in favor of Troy Baker in the persona of the clown prince- by Hamill’s choice on the former. Baker does a fine job staying true to the character that Hamill has essentially helped to create, while adding his own twist occasionally as well. The clown is as lifelike and energetic as usual- which is especially refreshing after his encounter with death in Arkham City. More on that later, if you haven’t played that fine gem of a game. Stepping into the shadow of the caped crusader is Roger Craig Smith as well, who replaces Kevin Conroy as the gravelly voice of the law. Again, he does a fine job interpreting things as his won- while still retaining the main elements of Conroy’s Batman as well. All in all- this origins story is a finely tuned one, and only misses a few beats in terms of story and gameplay, but not much else.

The setting is Christmas-time, the snowy backdrop of the beautiful yet slightly decaying, black skyline of Gotham city is lingering and looming overhead constantly. This simultaneously cheery and foreboding sense will permeate the entire game, in a semi-ironic nod to the Joker who later orchestrates the majority of what was at first Black Mask’s rodeo. This origins story is as much about the Joker and Batman’s first encounters with the man as it is about Batman’s survival and crusade against crime itself. Things start off right away with Batman after Black Mask, attempting to save the life of the current Police Commissioner, Gillian Loeb. You can imagine how this is going to go, seeing as you probably know a bit of Batman lore at least from the Nolan movies if not from the comics themselves. I mean, how do you think Gordon became Commissioner in the next games, eh? But anyway, enough on that. Batman arrives at Blackgate Penitentiary and soon realizes that Black Mask’s schemes extend to killing the Bat as well. In fact, wealthy as his crime network is, he’s willing to pay a sizable amount ($1 million or so) to issue a nice hit on the caped vigilante. Eight special assassins receive the invitation to the hunt a la LucasArt’s Jango Fett Bounty Hunter game, and they eagerly accept. You can guess how that goes.

Not to attempt to spoil things, but the eight assassins are as follows: Bane, who unsurprisingly appears for the third consecutive time; Deadshot, making a larger appearance than in Arkham City; Deathstroke, DC’s Deadpool, who is playable with pre-orders; Copperhead, who hasn’t been seen in an Arkham game until now; Firefly, who has a certain affinity for being true to his name; the little-known Electrocutioner; the crocodillian (made that up) Killer Croc; and martial artist Shiva. Sure, not all of them are actually assassins, but they’re all quite deadly in their own rights. Shiva and Deathstroke are of course the two biggest threats it would seem. Now, this is a slightly different approach than we’ve seen yet in the previous Arkham games- instead of Batman being the predator, he is taking his turn being the prey…at least for some time until he gets a handle on the situation. He doesn’t have to like it, just accept it.

The only sad part about this situation, which sounds pretty solid from a central storyline standpoint, is that it never really takes off as it should. There are so many side-missions and convoluted storyline points going on around town, that they can’t be pulled off or integrated into the main mission as well as they could in Arkham City’s campaign. This lack of focus sometimes is acceptable with the story, as it shows Batman frantically searching for who he should really be focusing on, but that focus doesn’t stick around long enough to really take any sizable root either. Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin gets involved, conflict with the Gotham PD a la Amazing Spider-Man arises, the infamous Falcone family strikes a few times, and a rioting gang called Anarky gets involved like Spider-Man 3’s Arsenic Candy and other street gangs. Short answer is, Batman has got a lot on his mind, and little time to really deal with any of it, as he’s constantly fending off attacks from the elusive eight and Black Mask. These storylines are all interesting, and I can’t fault them for being action-packed, it’s just they don’t budget their time as well as the plethora of side content in Arkham City did and aren’t nearly as standalone or able to complete at your leisure. Just when all seems lost however, the bright, shining smile of the Joker clears things up and gets the story moving on the rails again- which is good for us, and most certainly bad for the Bat. Batman will need all of his gadgets and wits and skills to keep this grinning maniac away from him, and thankfully he has many at his disposal still- even in this prequel.

In the combat realm, things remain mostly unchanged in terms of combos, moves, skills, and enemy types. Attacks, counters, cape swipes and strikes, gadgets, and timing are all key here, as in the other Arkham titles. Now, as before, it is possible to chain together massive combos as long as you can avoid being hit or leaping the wrong way and not being near enough to a foe. Knowing when to wuit and to start a new combo adds an air of strategy to the mix as well, instead of the whole game being a min-numbing brawl. The animations are steadily holding the bar of standards and look just as good and as painful as those of the famous neck punches and face smashes of the previous games, all the while sounding as satisfying as ever. You soar across Gotham City much as you do across Arkham City, utilziing your diving, soaring, and gliding techniques in combination with the Batclaw grapnel and thumb sticks. You even manage to through in some detective vision combat moments, pinpointing weaknesses, and highlighting weaker structures as well. Of course, you’re free to use it during detective segments and exploration for secrets as well.

While the gameplay is much the same, and some moments seem ripped in all but name from the other two titles, there are still some sizable thrills to be had and awestriking moments as well. You’ll find yourself abusing the cryptographic sequencer, the batclaw, and the line launcher more than ever for pulling down vents, breaking codes, and getting across convenient chasms. Some new gadgets are thrown in as well, but even these scream Arkham City, and are the same as their counterparts in that vast arsenal. For example- the glue grenade is an exact replica of the freeze grenade from that game, mimicking it in every gameplay aspect, and even going so far as to create waterproof rafts as well. Something tells me glue would fall apart in water, and not be quite as reliable as it is in this game, but science be damned I guess. You even get your hands, or claws, on some gauntlets that send out electrical shocks like the armored edition version of Arkham City provided. If that doesn’t make you feel like the Electrocutioner, I don’t know what will. However, as much of a godsend as these gauntlets are, they also break the normal flow of combat by beating down any type of enemy within a few swift blows, with complete disregard for the strategy earlier employed to take out shielded bad guys and other special foes.

To go with gameplay, although not pertaining so much to combat, Gotham City’s immensity makes for one heck of a vista to travel about and explore. Because it is larger even than the expansive Arkham City, Gotham City offers plenty of easy to grasp ledges and batclaw clamping locations, as well as several fast travel destinations for the batplane and Batman in each major district or area. The one slightly tedious area to travel across in order to get to other areas without using fast travel options is the gigantic Pioneer Bridge- which seemingly goes on forever, and has some hidden spots and nooks as well. Suffice it to say, the architectural feats here are impressive to say the least.

Arkham Origins might not always beat or live up to Arkham City’s standards, but it does try to and somewhat successfully one-up its predecessor in that it boasts a large roster of villains- both in leading, and supporting roles. Black Mask, Deathstroke, Shiva, Bane, Killer Croc, Firefly, Deadshot, Copperhead, Electrocutioner, Joker, Mad Hatter, Riddler, and more show up to rain on the Dark Knight’s parade more than a couple of times. And that’s just to get the party started. Some villains are area specific or moment specific, whereas others have overarching stories, or items for you to search for throughout the game. We even get to break down a few more crimes in rich detail, utilizing the vast array of fantastic gadgets the Bat has at his disposal, and the intuitive skills he possesses. I mean, almost all crime scene investigations are like the Deadshot side quest of Arkham City or better. Isn’t that something to be grateful for?

Not all activities are area specific as I mentioned above. Riddler returns, this time with so-called extortion files as well, scattered about the city for the Bat to find. Even the challenge modes are full to the brim with new medals and new adventures for Batman, and presumably later, for his accomplice Robin as well. Two hundred and eighty-eight gold medals alone, unlockable New Game Plus after having once completed the story, and unlockable I am the Night mode after completing that also await challenge-worthy players. Suffice it to say, the game is as full of content as any in the past, and then some, and then some. It doesn’t lack for trying, and it isn’t all simply based upon interpretation. While it might not break too much new ground, and continues Rocksteady’s trend of good work and gameplay, Origins is a true origins story and while the Bat takes some falls, he survives the others.

Another little highlighted portion of the game, in addition to the excellent challenge modes and the excellent story mode campaigns, is the multiplayer. While this is by far the weakest part of the game, and shows the most lack of polish in terms of controls and gameplay, it is also an interesting prototype for something that could be much more refined in future installments, assuming it isn’t completely scrapped. Sort of like a darker version of Gotham City Imposters, multiplayer offers up intriguing matchups of 2 v. 3 v. 3 with Batman and Robin pitted against two team of three henchman- one from Bane’s territory and the other within Joker’s jurisdiction. Batman and Robin play fine, as they are the center of the game anyway and can stealthily take down enemies with ease, however the henchman really mess things up with their shoddy gunplay and terrible maneuvering. This is rarely the player’s fault, but the fault of the skillsets they have been handed. Getting good enough to embody Joker or Bane themselves is fun and interesting, but playing as the henchmen until that point is demeaning and horrible at most times. Now, that’s not to say it is terrible and impossible to be redeemed, just that it needs some significant work.

The Portable Perspective

Not only is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate an entirely too large subtitled mouthful, but it is a repetitive and uninteresting experience for well over three quarters of its storyline. Slow moving plotlines mirrored by slow moving gameplay hold this game back from at least anything better than mundane or mediocre handheld gameplay. The prison is pretty detailed, but it could use some color change at least every now and then to break free of the grey and gloomy. The sounds and voicework are the highlight of the game, as they seem to be the only two facets not in need of dire help at most times. The gameplay is okay, but hard to get a handle on in the two point five dimensions allowed and the handheld setting. It works, but just barely in some instances. Also, you’ll spend more time scanning areas than actually thinning the ranks of your foes. Exploration is fruitless yet required to progress, and that is the entirety of the game summed up in a nutshell. Pointless, yet required at times. My final score for this version of the game would have to be somewhere between a 6.0 and 6.5 at most.

Now, with this incredibly lengthy and detailed review almost at a close, I believe it is time to give you my final thoughts and the final breakdown for the console and computer versions of Batman: Arkham Origins.

Concept: Provide a pretty thorough and gripping account of the Dark Knight’s first encounter with many of his enemies and his archenemy, the Joker. This is most definitely an origins story, and as with its hero, it is gradually learning from its mistakes as it goes.

Graphics: The attention to detail is impressive, and as with the other Akrham games, it does not disappoint in character animations and models during both set piece moments and normal tasks.

Sound: There isn’t much error to be found in the new voices of the Bat or clown prince, and for that, I am sure many people are thankful. It is new and refreshing, but not alien in the slightest.

Playability: Take Arkham City and its elements and you essentially have the majority of the gameplay here in Origins.

Entertainment: Whether you want to complete the challenges of challenge mode, play through the story to see how things unfold, suffer through multiplayer mayhem, or just beat on some relatively defenseless henchmen, this game proves to be very entertaining indeed. Some achievements might require you to play through the story at least three times and be quite annoying, but as i can attest, it’s all doable and all exciting in the long run.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.25

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The Wolf Among Us: Episode One- Faith Review

[As Read on GIO.]

I’ve got to say, as hard as I am to impress- which I’ll readily admit to just about anyone, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One has me fully enthralled, waiting for what happens next. Sure, I’ve read a few of the Fables comics before- being the literary and motion nerd I am, but not on the same level as my obsession with The Walking Dead saga courtesy of Robert Kirkman. As with TWD however, it is not the writing that grips me, rather the circumstances of the characters. Needless to say, Telltale has done it again and made lightning strike twice with TWAU thus far- making episode one just as explosive as that of their first season of TWD. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see them alternate seasons between these two universes for a few seasons or years at least. That way both worlds will remain fresh for us, and rife with content.

This goes way beyond your average twisted Grimm tale however, as TWAU shares a semblance to Telltale’s TWD not just in looks in some ways, but in desperation and setting as well. This tale might be even dark than cannibalism and zombies, if only just barely. And to think we tell our kids the bedtime stories this tale is essentially derived from- incredible. Speaking of curious resemblances between TWD and TWAU, it’s also intriguing to note that this particular adventure also begins with a car ride- though not one from the back of a police cruiser, notably.

The game is set within the gated (figuratively) community of Fabletown- deep within New York, where famous fairy tale characters conceal their identities with magical glamours and everybody has some deep, often dark, secret. These darker versions of the familiar fairy tales we mostly all know offer a more deeply riveting and gripping narrative that will undoubtedly absorb you from the offhand beginning to the intuitive end. From the literally explosive fighting in the beginning and carried on throughout, to the grim detective work of Bigby Wolf, to the fouler language of the credible heroes and hoodlums of fairy tale lore- TWAU breaks some social norms in order to achieve its ends. And I enjoyed it the better for it too, strangely enough. Heck, even Snow White drops her seven dwarves for the Big Bad Wolf, so it must be worthwhile enough. Sometimes, it’ll jerk you around so much (in a good way generally), that you might just think someone had stuck an axe in your head…

This particular story takes on a darker tone than previous Telltale exploits right from the offset- from disorderly conduct in the form of abuse to premature decapitation. As with Larry and Lilly from TWD, there will nevertheless be characters that irk you from the start- only to presumably redeem themselves or damn themselves even more later. I could certainly name at least one that really got to me this time around, and then surprised me further in the very same episode later on. Even the Woody Woodsman himself manages to shed a tear or too for some things it seems, despite his gruff demeanor.

One of the most intriguing and interesting conundrums facing characters (especially Bigby, of course) is the fact that the Wolf’s dark past firmly overshadows most of the good things he tries to do, and only promotes the darker aspects. I think that using force or being less gruff will go a long way towards the finale of the season, as some things did with TWD as well. Interestingly enough, your other problems manifest themselves in a  variety of ways other than simply changing your tune mid conversation as well. Choosing between prospective or actual crises is an interesting change of play- whether its something as simple as helping a friend or chasing a potential murderer down. You’re given a tiny bit of time to decide, but still marginally longer than TWD’s conversation only choices- which is a thankful and torturous addition simultaneously.

Regardless of your choice, yo can always be sure there will be some impact or unforeseen consequence later on. Not only does this fully encourage the player to replay things for different outcomes, but it essentially means that by the end of episode one alone, players could have experienced say ten or twelve endings. Now, just imagine how many there are over the course of a full season. Impressive- no?

As much as I enjoyed this particular aspect of the game, I actually enjoyed what action segments it had a little bit more, interestingly enough. I didn’t see fault with them for the most part in TWD, and definitely didn’t see any issues with the further honed brutality here. The QTE imput is the same- with the directional context, yet it feels a little more meaningful and even more brutal if possible. As with TWD, the action unfolds quite rapidly- often giving you little time to react well, making it more challenging as you go on throughout the story. I relished the increase in difficulty because of this, but do admit that it could prove frustrating in some instances if not carefully executed or paid attention to. However, the controls are as responsive as ever- cutting down on that frustration, whether you are doing the attacking with a club, or dodging blows from adversaries.

The not-so satisfying portion of the story however is the essentially wasted opportunity presented by the so-called ‘detective’ work. Far from that of the intensive collection of data in LA Noire, though following the same principles, this item collection and data fetching essentially only boils down to scanning the entire environment for clues like in some segments of TWD. While the point and click options are better integrated than in TWD for sure, I just felt as if Telltale could’ve done a little something more other than allowing you to catch lies from found data and objects- at least making it a little more intriguing and worthwhile overall.

Qualms with the linear gameplay aside, it remains true that the experience is highly enjoyable and also replayable multiple times over. Despite it’s grievances, it is an excellently written narrative experience first and foremost, although it does have some enjoyable and intense gameplay as well at times. The best part of the episode is easily the pretty unpredictable plot line, and the immersing world and culture it is based around. It opens strongly and closes subtly, but not before piquing your interest enough to leave you salivating for the second episode- Smoke and Mirrors.

Concept: Put the pen and paper of the Fables universe to a cinematic and enjoyable, playable experience- narrative revelations and quirky characters included.

Graphics: As with TWD, Teltale really has the cell shading and art stye here down pat. No complaints here, aside from the fact that it doesn’t run as smoothly on consoles as it does on computers- with notable differences in lag before fight sequences.

Sound: The voice work is well done and creative, and the background music and sounds really get that noir detective vibe across- even with the flamboyant and colorful cast.

Playability: While not necessarily the easiest controls to grasp at times, the contextual buttons are quite responsive to the touch amidst the action.

Entertainment: Certainly more exciting at times than TWD, TWAU is on par or more advanced than that particular project- though it does not yet have the feeling that Clementine and Lee elicited from players. Maybe with time, Snow and Bigby can persuade us to think otherwise…

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Milly Schmidt

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