Category Archives: Xbox 360

The Power of Three

r3-1

There’s something of a semi-fascination with certain numbers in specific cultures. It’s completely researched and documented as well- take morbid fascination in Chinese culture with the number four due to its closeness in pronunciation with the word for kill/death, as well as the more benign fascination with all things nine thanks to the belief that it brings good luck and good fortune. In the United States, people have a thing for sevens and thirteen for both good and bad luck’s sake. So what exactly is it with the number three, and what sort of mystical powers might it hold?

Books, films, and games so often find themselves caught in a series of trilogies. Even television shows often run for three seasons or series before deciding whether or not to continue the story- Supernatural was almost limited to only three seasons. But more importantly, I’m here to talk about games of course- specifically three titles that have each either peaked or regressed with their third entries depending on which authorities you ask. Two of these series have yet to produce a fourth game and the other has produced several over the years since its third title released, and yet is also currently on a bit of a hiatus while the developer publishes other works.

Many series seem to hit a high note at first that is never fully replicated over the subsequent titles. Still, many others manage that high or even the highest note in the first direct sequel and then can never accomplish such a feat again. And yet a few manage to perform such magic a third time, the first two attempts being good or bad notwithstanding. This blog seeks to discuss the allure, successes, and failures of Resistance 3, Dead Space 3, and Assassin’s Creed 3- three of my favorite titles and three that have been equally panned and praised. However, as a side-note where my first comment about magic striking once, twice, or three times is concerned, I’ve got a few other perfect candidates in mind as well.

Dead Space 1 is perhaps the most well-regarded in the franchise, even with the fact that the second and third games were handled great in their own different ways. However, there is no denying that with each new installment things have gone a tad bit downhill as well in general opinion. As each game became more focused on action and less horror-oriented, some part of the experience aged over time and wasn’t as well received. Dead Space has struck gold more than once, and yet the first title is undeniably the best, beating out even the second and third in small ways.

Another example not directly mentioned otherwise in this blog would be The Empire Strikes Back, if you don’t mind the abrupt shift in storytelling mediums. Perhaps even Aliens would fit in this category, if you’re more a James Cameron than George Lucas fan. The Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded as the best Star Wars film to date, especially where the original trilogy is concerned. Although it could never have been made without the magic that was A New Hope, it flashes lightyears ahead and encapsulates so much more than that first potentially stand-alone film would’ve and could’ve.

And my third and final example of such great things being part of three has to be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The first Witcher title was a well-done game to be sure but it has had many more issues than the subsequent titles and is definitely the least impressive of the bunch. Sans the console port that never happened, we are left with Assassins of Kings and Wild Hunt- two phenomenal titles with epic, world spanning stories. As impressive as the direct sequel was, The Witcher 3 is the best game in the series by a longshot. It turns the world into a truly open and exploitable place, introduces yet more locales and lore, brings old and new characters alike together, and features more content than some entire series have.

So those three titles in and of themselves are some of the best of the best for cases to be made about the power of three- in some cases regarding the first, second, and final parts of trilogies or series. Now let’s talk about the main focus of my blog post here as well as three more heavily debated games (with regard to their quality or overall greatness). In the long years since their release- being 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively, I’ve reviewed all three games and played them in-depth. I must say, I find myself in one of the rare parties that appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed each of the three titles as well. In previous reviews I’ve given both Dead Space 3 and Assassin’s Creed 3 a lofty 9.75/10 and I’ve also given Resistance 3 a commendable  8.5/10. There are probably just as many people who would rather torch these titles and give them somewhere in the 4-7 range as well.

I do not in any way think any title is perfect, even ones that I’ve awarded perfect scores (essentially only Wind Waker at this point) or ones that I’ve given nearly as high a mark. I recognize many of the missteps that these three titles have made and do not disagree that in many ways they are flawed, and yet they are still master-strokes for their respective series and a fluid evolution as such. Were there plenty of flaws in Assassin’s Creed 3? Was the story of Resistance 3 tragically bad just as it was tragically morbid? Was Dead Space 3 too heavily focused on action and transactions rather than the series roots and the success that predecessors found? Yes, yes, and yes. However, instead of raging against the machine and sticking it to the titles with a poor review score heavily influenced by one or two major missteps, I weighed the titles as a whole and decided how much I would allow any flaws to influence my final decisions. Did I still enjoy each of them overall? You bet I did.

Assassin’s Creed’s stories have always been hit or miss and Assassin’s Creed 2 will forever be the best in the series until proven otherwise. While it may seem like we can only hope to attain such highs in these three series as AC2, Resistance 2, and Dead Space 1 had to offer, the third entries are not losses nor do they suffer detrimentally from sins of their fathers. Dead Space 1 and 2 are about even with the exception of the first being the better horror title in the series as aforementioned and the second being the better action-horror title probably of the generation. The third offers the best complete package and well-oiled mechanics however, just as Resistance 3 does even if Fall of Man boasted the best story and Resistance 2 the best multiplayer. Assassin’s Creed 1 was jerky and weird when it began but when the sequel rolled around it was everything the series should strive to be. The third has been one of the most ambitious to date despite setbacks and flaws in the design at times and easily outranks scores of the subtitled adventures except for perhaps Brotherhood in overall scope and design.

I find that I am more readily available to discuss my likes and dislikes of titles across mediums with other people because I am never quick to condemn them (or other people) for their flaws and their opinions respectively. If you could support why you think Katamari Damacy is the best game of all time, then I’d accept that you thought that, my own thoughts notwithstanding. I enjoy reasoned and reasonable arguments and although people often associate debate and argument with negative connotations of such words, to me it is no more than mere discussion and the weighing of pros and cons in well-mannered and well-communicated discourse. For the exact same reasons, I enjoy games that others may criticize heavily to the point of near-ridiculousness, and I do not enjoy some games that have been lauded as the best ever. To each their own.

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 05DEC

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

After taking a brief break last week to write about some other topics as opposed to my traditional weekly deals, I’ve returned to give you the lowdown on some Xbox 360 and Xbox One steals. For the most part, if you missed my weekly blog post last week and think you may have missed a few deals, the majority of them are also up for grabs this week and in the future for the month.

Sleeping Dogs:Definitive Edition- FREE (Until 12/31/16)

I’m not sure what the words ‘definitive’ and ‘edition’ may mean to gamers anymore as we see so many special editions, limited editions, and deluxe editions of games nowadays. But let me tell you that this last gen remaster for current generation hardware is quite the steal. Not only is Sleeping Dogs somewhat of a cult classic open-world crime drama, but it is a wholeheartedly fun and enjoyable experience as well. It has its kinks but the overall gameplay and narrative is well worth the hassle. Plus, it’s free.

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour- 30% OFF

Not to be confused with the woefully received Duke Nukem reboot/sequel of sorts from a few years back, this title features Duke at his…Dukiest? It’s a classic game with a semi-remastered style and taste but still holds up for the most part regardless. If you’re into that kind of thing, then the 30% tag may grab your attention as well as your wallet.

Atari Flashback Classics Volumes 1 & 2- $10 (With Gold)

Alright, so maybe you’re not a fan of a bunch of arcadey old games, but for some reason a lot of people who never ever played the good old Atari gems enjoy the aesthetic. There are some familiar names and some more obscure titles in these collections, however each goes for a decent $10 when considered the original asking price for each respectively is $20. If you don’t have gold membership, it’ll cost you about two dollars more. Retro isn’t always the rage but these collections are a decent glimpse at gaming’s past.

Gears of War 4 Standard/Ultimate Edition- 33% OFF (Until 12/31/16)

Gears of Wars 4’s standard edition alone ships with every Gears game from Judgment through 3 in addition to Gears of War 4. This is a steal even if you own some of the titles because you can simply download the ones you don’t have or not download any of them if you already own them all. It doesn’t add anything to the initial price and the bonus for newcomers to the series is you can buy five games for less than the price of one until the end of this month. I can’t emphasize what a quality purchase that would be. And if you want the Ultimate Edition, it’s 33% off the asking price as well which makes it about as much as the Standard is originally.

Upcoming Gems to be Aware of:

Burnout Paradise- FREE (12/16-12/31)

One of the best racing games ever created and one of the best games in the infamous Burnout series is coming to you free and backwards compatible for those of you who have gold membership. This is quite a steal as well. If you enjoy racing games or would like a taste of the series, I’d recommend it for sure.

Outlast- FREE (12/16-1/15)

In the next few weeks, the first Outlast game will be coming to gold members free of charge as well. You’ll have nearly a month to decide whether or not it’s worth your time but if you like horror games and aesthetic adventures, you should definitely give it a whirl. Free is free after all in this case.

I hope these little tidbits will continue to be helpful and I hope that my fellow console players will enjoy the shoutouts and heads up as well. Keep playing games and enjoying yourselves and don’t be afraid to voice opinions and comments below as well.

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 21NOV

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

Last week I detailed some of the best Xbox deals with Gold and digital downloads. This week I will be highlighting some newer deals as well as timely Black Friday additions. Let’s go ahead and see what’s in store for the week then shall we?

Join Xbox Live Gold- $1 ON BLACK FRIDAY

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon- FREE (Until 11/30)

Did you like Far Cry 3? Do you like open world adventure games? Do you like gritty and nuanced science fiction adventures? Are you even human? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may want to check out the standalone downloadable Far Cry adventure that turns komodo dragons into giant laser dinosaurs and enemies into cybernetic juggernauts. I’m not even kidding. Go out there and have some fun wreaking havoc upon their poor souls.

Forza Horizon 2 / Bundle / Forza Motorsport 5- 60% OFF

Each of these three items- the Forza Horizon 2 10th Anniversary Edition, Forza Horizon 2 Bundle, and Forza Motorsport 5 are 60% off respectively. If you’re a fan of the series or racing games and sims in general, then this might be more than worthwhile to checkout. As an additional note, there is also a Forza Horizon 2 / Forza Motorsport 6 Bundle available at a 45% off discount. So there’s that option as well.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons- 75% / 80% OFF

Depending upon whether or not you purchase the Xbox One or 360 version, you could save an additional 5%on costs. The two are pretty comparable so if you’re looking to save money then don’t sweat it that much. Brothers is a couple of years old now but no less entertaining, vivid, and moving. It is a narrative and puzzle driven adventure game featuring two brothers as the title would suggest. Definitely an experience to have and appreciate if you enjoy adventure titles and good stories.

Bound By Flame- 75% OFF

Very much an almost Dark Souls RPG enthusiast, Bound By Flame is an entertaining role-playing adventure game that has several interestingly implemented elements. The studio behind it recently created the interesting if flawed Mars RPG called The Technomancer. So if you’re intrigued by the premise of most RPGs and want a heavily discounted adventure title that’s not too shabby, this is probably a game you should look into.

Terraria- 80% OFF

Very much akin to Minecraft in many ways, this adventure indie darling always pops up in the discounted deals section and is still insanely popular. Whether or not you ever tried the PC version, I implore you to at least give the Xbox versions a look. Both the Xbox One and 360 versions are the same discounted price. If you enjoy simulations or adventure and survival games then you should check it out.

I hope this short blog has given you some insight into a few of the best deals you can currently get on Xbox Live right now. If digital downloads aren’t your thing I urge you to reconsider your position, because even despite their pitfalls they can be pretty helpful at times as well. PlayStation Plus has a lot on sale right now and on offer so if you are a PlayStation kind of guy or gal you should head over there as well. And don’t forget to check Humble Bundle and Steam and everything else my fellow PC gaming friends.

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 14NOV

[As Originally Written on GIO.]

Last week I gave a general heads up to Microsoft console surveyors about Xbox Live -related content and free or discounted games. This week I’m aiming to do the same and to highlight some of the newer deals that have come on down the pipeline as well.

The Escapists- FREE (Until 11/15)

This is one of last month’s Games With Gold and it is still available for roughly another week or so. It may not seem too interesting compared to the newest Call of Duty or Civilizations VI, but this prison sim has its quirks and is truly an entertaining package especially if you invest in some of the downloadable content. Give it a try if you enjoy strategy games or indie tales with black humor involved.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon- FREE (Starting 11/16)

Did you like Far Cry 3? Do you like open world adventure games? Do you like gritty and nuanced science fiction adventures? Are you even human? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may want to check out the standalone downloadable Far Cry adventure that turns komodo dragons into giant laser dinosaurs and enemies into cybernetic juggernauts. I’m not even kidding. Go out there and have some fun wreaking havoc upon their poor souls.

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition- 50% OFF

If you’ve been a longtime fan of the series or you played the DMC reboot a few years ago, this might be an interesting title for you to pick up. As it is, if you enjoy action games or hack and slash adventures it may also be something worthwhile to enjoy. It’s not too heavy on the wallet and it also features the majority of any downloadable content that came with the Demon Hunter Bundle pack all those years ago as well. More content for a lower price is never really a bad thing.

Resident Evil Revelations 2: Deluxe Edition- 60% OFF

If you enjoyed the first game or you’ve enjoyed some of the Resident Evil titles in the past, or perhaps even this game itself, the Deluxe Edition may be for you. It should include the bulk of the episodes- including downloads and extra content as well. After all, it is the vaunted ‘Deluxe’ edition. Sixty percent off is virtually a steal for a game that is pretty damn good in terms of quality gameplay, storytelling, and atmosphere. As a side-note, the season pass for RER2 is also on sale for 60% off.

Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition- 67% OFF

Remember when Tomb Raider (2013) and a bunch of like-minded games all released so-called ‘Definitive Editions’ with the launch of the new console generation? Well this reboot took that approach as well and released the full game with downloads and all with a slight performance and graphics boost as well. And now it’s discounted to nearly one/third the original price. So if you thought it was a good buy to begin with, this is a complete and utter steal. Seriously, you should try the game if you’ve never played the series and you should try it if you want dry wit and mind-bending fun.

Dirt 3 and Dirt Showdown- 75% OFF

If you’re into racing games and racing games that have a plethora of modes then these two titles could be for you. Both are discounted to roughly the same price and both are originally Xbox 360 titles, meaning they’re available for virtual download from the marketplace. In my opinion, Dirt 3 offers the more complete package and Showdown is more of arcade afterthought, however they are both chock full of content and differing modes and it is entirely up to you which to buy or whether you would like both or not.

Darksiders II- 80% OFF

This is quite possibly one of the best deals I’ve seen in a long time, short of completely free titles of course. This game is not only a large and expansive quest but an entirely open and enjoyable world and narrative. The first Darksiders did many things well and the sequel truly only improved upon that formula and added so much more. If you’ve yet to play the game but like action-oriented RPGs and adventure games then you should definitely try it out. As a side-note the season pass is also discounted at an 80% rate.

I hope this short blog has given you some insight into a few of the best deals you can currently get on Xbox Live right now. If digital downloads aren’t your thing I urge you to reconsider your position, because even despite their pitfalls they can be pretty helpful at times as well. PlayStation Plus has a lot on sale right now and on offer so if you are a PlayStation kind of guy or gal you should head over there as well. And don’t forget to check Humble Bundle and Steam and everything else my fellow PC gaming friends.

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 07NOV

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

Being predominately an Xbox One gamer this generation (although I own plenty of other consoles and doohickies as well), I feel it is only fair I give back helpful information to those of you also gaming on the Microsoft system. Therefore, I will be doing a periodic little rundown of some of the best deals digitally available week to week and month to month on Microsoft’s premium live service, Xbox Gold. I will be including deals and Games With Gold titles as well.

FIFA 17, Madden NFL 17, and NHL 17- 35% OFF

If you are a sports fan and any of these three titles have been appealing to you but you’ve waited awhile to get a good deal on them then you should consider buying now. All three are quality titles and scored fairly well when reviewed here and other places. The order they are listed in is also how I would personally rank them if I were to be buying them right now as well in my honest opinion quality wise.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection- 60% OFF

This is definitely a steal. You can get both Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel in the bundle and all of the downloadable content for each game to boot. Not only are the games spectacular (2 more so than the Pre-Sequel) but they are also full of content and good games to dive into if they’ve been in your backlog for some time and you’re looking for a quality story and fun time.

Evolve- 60% OFF

If you’ve ever played Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2 and you enjoyed the cooperative mayhem then you shouldn’t pass up on giving this monster hunter a try. Although the game has made a push for free to play on other mediums, this is a good price for what content is still supported and has already been released. There’s a lot there and the base game is pretty fun as is even though the player count isn’t quite as high as it initially was.

Red Faction Guerrilla- 85% OFF

This is a last-generation gem and it’s still fun to play even today. It has some quirks at times but is better than the most recent Red Faction game and sequel, Armageddon. The destructibility and sheer size of the Martian world is what makes the game worthwhile and you’ll find it operates as some sort of “GTA in space” at times as well. Definitely give it a thought at this low of a price at least.

The Escapists- FREE

This is one of last month’s Games With Gold and it is still available for roughly another week or so. It may not seem too interesting compared to the newest Call of Duty or Civilizations VI, but this prison sim has its quirks and is truly an entertaining package especially if you invest in some of the downloadable content. Give it a try if you enjoy strategy games or indie tales with black humor involved.

I hope this short blog has given you some insight into a few of the best deals you can currently get on Xbox Live right now. If digital downloads aren’t your thing I urge you to reconsider your position, because even despite their pitfalls they can be pretty helpful at times as well. PlayStation Plus has a lot on sale right now and on offer so if you are a PlayStation kind of guy or gal you should head over there as well. And don’t forget to check Humble Bundle and Steam and everything else my fellow PC gaming friends.

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

[As Read on GIO.]

Putting Clem into the Frying Pan Yet Again…

Just in Time for a New Fire to Start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.75

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

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Watch Dogs Review

[As Read on GIO.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Gasping for Air, Yet Again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entertainment: Haha- no really.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 5.0

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Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review

[As Read on GIO.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 6.0

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Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two Review

[As Read on GIO.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

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

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millie schmidt writes... with cats

millie schmidt writes...

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