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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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Earth Defense Force 2025 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

NOTE: There is honestly not going to be that much that I can really say about this game, considering it comes from a series that relies more on insane action than any graphics, story, or mechanics in execution. That having been said, this particular review will most likely be one of the shortest ones I’ve yet written. So if you came in expecting to read the usual ten paragraphs or more from me, you’re going to be disappointed/elated (depending on if detail is your thing or not). Without further ado, let’s get down to some alien butt-kicking, bug crushing business.

♦♦♦

There have been plenty of Earth Defense Force games over the past five years or so, and as with many series there have been ups and downs in these games. Thankfully, what started off as a very rough yet arguably cult-classic formula for a game has evolved enough that it still retains the whole B-movie persona, but has upped the ante a little bit with each successive entry. Sure, some have bombed miserably, but EDF 2025 is definitely a high mark for the series, and in my personal opinion, the best game to date in the EDF catalog. To be sure, none of the games are perfect, or even great- however, they excel at what they promise to offer you: the chance to squash as many aliens bugs and machines as you wish.

Not much has changed since the original game (EDF 2017) or the main sequel it spawned not too long ago (Insect Armageddon), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything new at all to be found here. Bugs and robots have invaded Earth and all the story you need to know is that they must die in order to ensure the survival of the human race. Kill them. With extreme prejudice. Or without- either way, just kill them for the one hundred or so missions you must play. As bad as that sounds, you’ll easily slice and dice through the first twenty or so before things get too difficult, and the addiction will keep you coming back for more and more carnage and adrenaline rushes. In some ways, this reminds me of what the upcoming ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (formerly known as ‘All You Need is Kill’) movie seems to embody.

Each level/stage only lasts roughly fifteen minutes or so, dependent upon your skill level and the strength of your foes- both in numbers and in terms of formidable foes themselves. The simplicity of both design and gameplay are easily made up for in the action, even if all it is seems to be mindless shooting and continual movement around the expansive maps. Simplicity is beauty, right? For the first half of the missions, you can pretty much forgo any actual strategy, though later on you’ll have to pick and choose wisely when it comes to weapons and main classes- after all, it only takes one poor choice to get swarmed and absolutely annihilated by massive bug soldiers. There are four distinct classes- each catering to a different style of play, from more aggressive to more supportive, and there are also scattered weapons caches for you to upgrade your arsenal and discover entirely new weapons of mass obstruction (of the alien hordes).

The only true upgrades you’ll receive deal with essentially looted gear and health boosts, which you receive for spending time playing as the same class- and won’t carry over to each class unless you play pretty evenly with all four. There is a noticeable difference in certain arsenal weapons- some being flops and others being overpowered, but this only adds to the roster of things that employ strategy later on, and could mean the difference between survival and denial. So pay attention to the endless menu screens! And get rid of the crappy guns first. Obviously, what little strategy there is doesn’t require much more than a few tweaks to style here and there anyway, but it makes the game more enjoyable regardless.

You do have the option of playing cooperatively with other gamers as well, which can be great for some of the more supportive classes- however be prepared for the already choppy framerate to become even more abysmal. There are several technical issues with the game, however they won’t hinder the experience as much as you would expect, and only really detract from the action in the larger, harder battles later on- which are frustrating enough already. Again, though relatively unforgivable by today’s standards, I’m willing to let most animation and design related mistakes and issues slide by considering the low-budget B-movie, campy feeling this game was meant to and thoroughly does elicit. The game laughably throws the story out the window pretty much from the first minute, recognizes that the only thing we care about is shooting giant bugs, and then sets players free to do as they wish.

If you want a truly impressive science fiction shooter, go play something ambitious like Mass Effect. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a relatively large time-sink and something that is purely thrills that should pass an otherwise boring time, play this game.

Concept: Bugs, robots, and your gun or teammates’ gun(s). Prepare for battle, and a hilariously botched attempt at a story, coupled with some great campy moments. This is basically the Starship Troopers of gaming, with a lot more B-movie to it.

Graphics: They work, barely, but that’s fine. You won’t really focus too much on them anyway when the giant horde of bugs descends upon your position from all sides. It’s the little things in life- or in this case, the big things from space.

Sound: You’ll never know what exactly you should be expecting from the audio, as at any given time you could hear strange noises and words spewing from your cohorts. Also, the soundtrack is pretty minimal, as you wouldn’t want to pay too much attention to it and not the game…yeah, sure- that’s the reason…

Playability: EDF 2025 is a pretty open game as far as controls and overall experience go, and although it does have several separate classes, each of their main functions work the same so there isn’t much of a learning curve to be worried about. You’ll do just fine rookie.

Entertainment: Who could’ve thought taking on nearly infinite hordes of giant bugs and robots could be so fun? It certainly seemed a lot more grim in Crysis…. Hmm… Be sure to collect as many supplies as you can, from weapons to other content upgrades- you’ll need them almost positively later on…

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 7.0

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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

What was Loved in the First…

…Is most likely Overused in the Second.

As with many others who reviewed and played the original Lords of Shadow game when it released in 2010, I was impressed by the ambitious title, even going so far as to award it with a pretty good score of 9/10. However, also as with many people who played the previous title, I was initially pumped for the sequel, but also admittedly disappointed with the resulting game. Sure, I’m probably giving Lords of Shadow 2 an average score and a slightly better score than some reviewers, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the first game. There are many things the game does right- but it also has its flaws, which sadly bring down more things than the right concepts can keep standing.

Lords of Shadow 1 was a pretty bold three dimensional, action-packed reboot of the Castlevania franchise, and it told a pretty interesting and fresh story concerning old characters. However, though Lords of Shadow 2 continues in that same conceptual story, I just can’t find myself really getting into the story as much for various reasons. Though it is a continuation, it just doesn’t seem to grasp my attention as firmly as its predecessor did. I’ll admit, finally playing as Dracula (Gabe) again has been interesting, especially with his new vampiric powers, and combat is still pretty much as strong a component as ever- yet some things still don’t add up to the experience I received in the first game.

It’s neat to see the world open up even more so thanks to the psuedo-ancient and modern day combinations of settings and locales, however, sometimes the story seems to be tossed aside completely in favor of adding in new enemy types and places or revisiting old haunts for no true reason. I’m fine with seeing some of the same epic vistas, but at least make it feel like more than a complete retread and make it worth my time. For all the things the ending of Lords of Shadow 1 promised, this sequel falls short of the greatness I expected- it’s good, but far from the experience I was hoping for…

The story starts off benignly enough in terms of conceptual beginning- with Gabe vying for an end to immortality and a way to take down the evil Satan himself, along with his minions and the legions of Hell. However cliched that may sound, it works well in the opening moments. Sadly, after this point, the story train almost immediately veers off the beaten path and finds itself derailed amidst some unknown ruins littered with cliched cliches, useless characters, and pointless fetching. It still has a few highlights, but nothing like the first game at all- mooching off the first game doesn’t count either as ‘new’ plot points go.

As I mentioned briefly, while it is slightly mixed up this time around, combat is still probably the most sound aspect of the game- playing just as much like God of War as the original game did, which isn’t a bad thing when done right. Gabe’s understandably dropped his cross and whip in favor of some less holy and more dastardly tools and weapons- a blood-whip, ice sword, and fire claws among them. Each weapon offers entirely different skill trees, upgrades, and powerful attacks- making the otherwise monotonous gameplay slightly strategic in some instances. The only true downsides to combat have nothing to do with the combat itself, but everything to do with poor camera angles leading to combo breaking counters from enemies.

It’s neat that a few of the changes to the sequel’s format are actually steps up on its predecessor- such as the now open-world layout in lieu of the more compact yet still massive levels of the first title, and the changes to combat being another strong point. However, for each win there is ultimately a failure as well in the design- abominable stealth sections that strip you of your powerful attacks and abilities, a poorly recognized setting, and an even poorer crafted story complete the resume of doom here.

The reasons that the modern day setting doesn’t achieve the same level of overall foreboding and excitement as the settings of the previous Lords of Shadow game are simple yet numerous- mainly due to the lack of truly Gothic locales. While each environment looks good from a graphics perspective, none of them truly pique the interest of players, or truly pull you in as the awe-inspiring vistas of the first game did. However, there are a few grand expanses and moments revolving around the past and present moments of Lords of Shadows 2 that are almost to that point, yet still fall short.

Tying into both setting and story are the characters of Lords of Shadow 2 who- with the exception of Dracula himself, aren’t very fleshed out or really interesting at all. Most are downright useless and nonsensical, and the ones that should be intriguing just take up oxygen in most encounters. There are a few exceptions to this, which you will encounter at various points in the story (no spoilers!) but truly they are few and far between…although a specific toy creator does spark the imagination… Honestly, Resident Evil 5 and 6’s convoluted stories made more sense than many of the overlapping plot points in Lords of Shadow 2, which is quite an impressive feat- though not one to really be proud of as clarity goes.

Ironically enough, the story gets closer to Resident Evil’s than you would expect- boiling down to a modern day pharmaceutical company owned and operated by some of Satan’s lieutenants in human guise and form. Ironic, no? Poor as the story can be at points, I must give it credit for somehow managing to drag itself onward and toward the end for well over fifteen hours, and still having the gameplay throw some surprises at you and the environments remain fresh- as exploration goes. Interestingly, the poor story doesn’t affect those other elements so much as I expected it to.

With the modern day setting, the environments you traverse cannot possibly rival the epic expanses and Gothic churches and architectural marvels of Lords of Shadow 1- it just isn’t possible. You are instead mostly limited to underground sewers, alleyways, train yards, and mundane streets and courtyards for the majority of your adventure. Sure, occasionally you’ll run through a lab or factory or two hundred, but otherwise the only thing to break up the environmental monotony are a few flashbacks to older moments. You do explore a few older areas, but most are retreads from the first game- with the exception being two newer areas not previously played through, which are decently realized here.

While the environments mostly look decent enough, the same cannot be said for ordinary enemy units which have some pretty terrible models and animations during combat. Many of the bosses look quite interesting and different, however their minions are all seemingly similar in design and make it seem like I’m playing two totally different games in terms of design skill and prowess put into their quality. Even better (worse…), Gabe faces off against some modern and futuristic enemies that have no place in a game about vampires and Hell monsters- rocket launcher mechs and alien cyborgs! Or at least, that’s what they looked like…

A few more notes here and then I’ll be done with this whole egregious experience… For all the things that Lords of Shadow 2 tries to make bigger and better- though inevitably failing in many regards, it still has some abominable loading times as well, which are killer in open-world games where they entirely break up the experience into still tiny segments. This is a minor gripe, as several games do this from Fallout to Arkham, however it is somehow much more annoyingly compounded by this game’s plethora of other issues. For all the things the game doesn’t nail down correctly, it does still boast a strong (but different) soundtrack and some good voice work at the very least, to go with the good combat.

Exploring the open world is much more interesting and worthwhile than the entirety of the story, which sadly you’re forced to trudge through in order to even explore the world. The ultimate and final result is a game that is equally annoying and redeemable, yet which forces its annoying parts and “in your face” moments down your throat before allowing the soothing, redeemable and enjoyable qualities to slither in as well. Therefore, whereas its predecessor was a great game, Lords of Shadow 2 is understandably limited to mediocrity only, decent game or not. The experience can and most likely will be enjoyable for some, but not for as broad an audience as the first- despite this one being a much more casual experience on the whole.

Concept: Wail on and on about being cursed with immortality, and ultimately flail and rail about the nostalgic older days (Lords of Shadow 1) and sound like Napoleon’s uncle Rico dreaming about his old football days in Napoleon Dynamite. That is still a better story than Lords of Shadow 2’s botched one.

Graphics: Some environments, main characters, and bosses look excellent, but the rest of the characters and enemies and modern day setting really bring everything back down, so ultimately the graphics are average for the majority of the experience. There are some definite highlights, and there are some definite low points as well.

Sound: There are plenty of references in dialogue to older Castlevania games, which is some neat fan service, but no amount of fan service can save the mostly cheesy dialogue and conversations. Understandably, the voice acting itself is great as is the soundtrack, but sometimes the experience is brought down by focusing on stupid things and really running with them.

Playability: The combat is a blast though it can come down to trial and error at times when facing bosses. However, the stealth segments are laughably bad and strip you of all your powers- which makes no sense and makes for a terrible experience as well. So on the whole playability balances out, with one terrible part and one good part vying for control during the experience. Thankfully combat is more dominant and frequent than stealth segments at the least.

Entertainment: Whereas the first game was really fun, this is a poorly realized sequel, and just when things were really heating up as well. It’s a shame truly that it came out this way, and not like other great sequels such as the recently released Dark Souls 2 which is actually as good or better than its predecessor.

Replay Value: Moderately Low.

Overall Score: 7.0

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Milly Schmidt

The Cat's Write

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