Tag Archives: ps3

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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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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Dark Souls II Review

[As Read on GIO.]

If you thought you were already prepared to die, then you’ve got a horrible surprise coming your way with the release and purchase of Dark Souls II. However, if you were also expecting another challenging yet rewarding adventure journey and deep role-playing mechanics, then you’re partially right and may just have a sporting chance at surviving without too many deaths- being relative of course, as you’ll still most likely die over two hundred times. From the original Demon’s Souls to the soul successor Dark Souls to the newly minted sequel to Dark Souls, players have faced stiff challenges, brutal foes, and unforgiving puzzles over the past five years. I can’t say it’s always been rainbows, kitties, and sunshine- never has in fact, unless you count Sun Bro that is….but still, what an experience we’ve had over this past generation until now. I look forward to future projects already, but then again I am probably getting ahead of myself here. This is after all a review, so I should be talking about more related mechanics and less topics of interest- at least in terms of major subjectivity, as ironic as that may be in an opinion piece such as this.

Even if you’ve never played Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls, you may still rest relatively easy in the fact that should you decide to purchase this highly anticipated sequel you won’t be disappointed by the challenge and also won’t feel entirely left out of the loop story-wise. It’s story is relatively standalone, though there are plenty of references to the events of Dark Souls to be found for the inquisitive and experienced dungeon divers and explorers among us. What is most likely known to you already is that said challenge is going to be extremely difficult, unless you’re a veritable tank of a player- in which case I commend you for your fabled skills and still wish you the best of luck, as the mighty will fall as often as the meek in this game- a la Boromir. This sequel introduces a few newer, more accessible methods of gameplay in order to open the title up to other players, however it is also more punishing and hardcore than it’s predecessor was. You’re still heavily penalized by dying, though you’ll see similar methods of regaining lost souls and depleted items or counters, as well as maintaining your solid status and damage impacts or effects- both positive and negative. Trust me, nothing sucks more than the infamous poisons of Dark Souls, which whittle your health down immensely over long periods of time, and pretty much leave you open to one or two hits from most enemies. Tough love, tough luck.

While these punishing tactics may scare certain players away, they’ve obviously attracted more who are looking for a challenge, as the game has been immensely popular thus far around the world and received mostly excellent reviews as well. There is definitely something to be said about the sense of utter accomplishment and triumph that one feels after having beaten a particularly difficult section of the game, a boss character, or even completed the title itself- and although you may be hesitant to dive back in for more, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will. Such is the way of the world, such is the way of Dark Souls, and such is the way of replayability- which this game has mountains upon mountains of content wise and scenario wise. In many ways, Dark Souls II is similar to its predecessor and yet in others it is an altered beast in all possible ways. For the most part the challenges and methods of play style remain closely related to the original game, yet the subtle and less subtle improvements to core mechanics, graphics, controls, and tweaks to just about every major function in-game really add to the experience and refine an already impressive level of control and handling power.

Whereas I gave the original Dark Souls a pretty hefty 9.25 out of ten possible points in my review (a long while ago), comparatively 0.5 points higher than Game Informer’s 8.75 at that time, I must say I am completely impressed by this next stage in the evolutionary process and would give this particular sequel an even higher score- one that will be mentioned at the close of this review, and that you can look up on GIO as well, should you wish to do so. Daniel Tack himself gave the game  a nearly perfect score, and is obviously a big fan of the series as well as this next iteration of the legendary saga- and fan or not (though I am most definitely a fan), I would pretty much agree with the vast majority of his points, so I will point you to his review as well. Dark Souls II, as I previously mentioned, is able to make itself more accessible to more types of players and one of the major ways it does this is by being a little more explicative in the control process without completely eliminating the process of having to figure out how little things work and what certain mechanics do. Even for an experienced player such as myself, I really enjoyed this aspect of the gameplay, and am sure others such as  newcomers to the series have as well.

Another brilliant addition to the game is a sense of life even amidst all the death, destruction, and chaos wrought in the main world and surrounding areas. Whereas there were occasional blacksmiths and vendors in the original, there are a multitude of non-playable characters to interact with in varying ways and to varying degrees within the overall hubworld and main area of the game. Combine this lively sense of being with several other minor yet majorly impacting adjustments to locomotion and clarification and you’ve already stepped up the game so much more than the original could- in about the first thirty minutes. You can now travel from discovered and lit or kindled bonfires with ease, cutting down on the frustration of traveling on foot everywhere in the world, without cutting back on the challenge or difficulty of exploration and unlocking new areas of the open world. Some other more accessible gameplay mechanisms include further detail involved in the joining of specific covenants, the simple amount of covenants (much more to be discovered than in the first title), and the clarity in explanation of the goals you must complete in order to join these guilds of sorts. There are also potentially more benefits to actually joining up with specific covenants this time around, and these are made known as you decide whether or not to join said covenant(s)- seeming more genuine and less like the afterthought they were in the first title.

Admittedly, while the story of the first Dark Souls was engrossing to me and actually pretty spot on in my opinion, it was one of the weaker elements- as the mechanics and gameplay themselves spoke up louder than any story moments did. However, this time around I didn’t feel like that was such as issue. Sure, the story could still use a little work, but it does a better job of seeming more engrossing without being shoved aside or placed directly in your face at times. It is paced much more believably as you progress and neither hindered or helped along faster or slower to accommodate players of varying skill levels overbearingly. The introduction is easily my favorite of the three titles technically in the Souls saga, and the incredible moments and feelings of woe, joy, triumph, and loss were woven excellently throughout the mainframe as well- holding together a wonderful tapestry of modern gaming in a unique, entertaining way without ever feeling forced upon you or unreal (in a bad sense).

For players of the previous title, the combat of Dark Souls II remains very true to its challenging premises, without sacrificing room for improvement to simplistic design and older ways of thinking. Improvements include, but are not limited to, addition of more combat related statistics for general use and leveling up, tweaks to the experience in terms of agility and evasive maneuvers- actually making them harder to abuse, yet somehow not making the experience any worse or much more frustrating at all, and refining blocking, parrying, and riposting. You’ll still remain much more reliant on your stamina bar and want to find an equal balance between it and your vitality, as these two key features are what keep you alive through otherwise impossible circumstances, and make Dark Souls such a strategic game as well as an action-packed one. In many respects, the game is as much a puzzle game as it is a true role-playing one, which is very true and very interesting indeed when you think about it. Unlike many other games, don’t just assume there are ways to abuse specific mechanics in order to “spam to win.” Dark Souls II is still victim to some mechanics and areas that can be used as such, however they are much fewer and farther between than its predecessor, and slowly being rooted out in updates as well- making the experience more challenging but equally or more rewarding as well.

New additions to gameplay such as vigor meters enhance the viability of stamina and agility related statistics, and encourages a further balancing of stats between vitality, endurance, and other important key attributes- making maintaining equilibrium in your powers and inventory all the more complicated yet refreshing as an experience. You still may want to go to certain guides in order to discover ways to get better at the game and some tips and tricks, but as there obviously aren’t too many out for the time being- considering the game released a month ago, you’re probably better off experimenting with classes and finding what works best for you personally rather than relying on others to dictate that to you. It certainly enriches the experience that way too. While your classes will vary as they did in the first Dark Souls, and stats will be slightly different to each- honestly it doesn’t matter where you start, and what truly matters is the starting gear you choose (like the master key and fireballs from Dark Souls I). Whichever class you ultimately choose, over the next few hours and level-ups you can completely change and revamp your character as you see fit anyway. If you feel like you have truly messed up, rather than starting over simply be on the lookout for the rare skill tree and soul respecs which, true to their names, allow you to virtually start over without fear of loss of stats or progress. These are handy but ultra rare in-game so don’t rely heavily on them- make each stat purchase wisely.

The graphics of the original game were pretty impressive, but these ones have come a long way since 2011 and look all the more visually stunning. Originally, having looked at some pre-release builds and trailers, I was not that impressed with a few particularly bland character models and odd textures, however I have been thoroughly impressed with the final build which looks excellent in most respects. Environments are varied and impressive in amount of detail as well as enemies you will encounter. The enemies and specific challenges of each area vary as well and prove to be distinctive and encompassing for players, adding a truly diverse array of settings and gameplay options that I didn’t really feel I had for the majority of the experience in the very similar settings of the first title. Even as you become better at conquering a specific area, you will undoubtedly move on into a new one and get smashed by more powerful and unexpected enemies and puzzles, which is still a large part of Dark Souls’ aesthetics and challenge. There is more emphasis on character choice in the open world, and although at some points you are essentially funneled in specific directions still, it occurs less often than in the first game where you were forced in pretty much one direction for the first five hours in order to have a chance at surviving any encounters until you had leveled up and found area specific items.

As in the first game, you can also summon cooperative partners to assist you in boss battles or particular challenges, as well as be invaded by enemy players in search of loot or otherwise there to cause misery and misfortune to befall you. These online modes can be disabled, which I would recommend if you are a fledgling character and not so strong in your abilities yet, but they also work much better even than in the previous game where they were more often abused and less often enjoyable. Cooperative mode is fine as ever, yet there are still a few minor tweaks that could probably be made to the invasion process- but nothing major enough to detract from the overall gameplay or from the score I would give the game, so therefore it isn’t much worth mentioning other than to say it’d involve some glitch fixes here and there and more stringent rules. I’d definitely recommend trying the single player experience itself before opening yourself up to possible attack and corruption of other players, however as you are your own human being you are free to do as you wish and play online or off.

A pretty large change that actually kind of surprised me is the fact that enemies no longer spawn continually upon restarting form checkpoints at bonfires or after resting up and leveling up. They still respawn plenty of times, however they will eventually stop spawning as frequently, leading to interesting trudging about through difficult sections should you be patient enough to give it a try and if you are positive you won’t be able to pass through otherwise. This serves a larger purpose however than making things “easier,” as it also eliminates endless mining of souls and exploitation on various levels, further enriching an already excellent experience. Time consuming as this may be, I am sure it will prove helpful to certain people in specific areas of the game that are particularly challenging, and although it won’t really do anything for boss battles, it may cut down on the number of minor foes attacking you during them at the least, which is always a good thing in this game. As many accessible features as they added in this sequel, it is no less or more challenging than the original- maintaining the same level of challenge although through a much more balanced and fair experience as gameplay mechanics go. However, if you do wish to make things harder on yourself (you masochistic people!) you can pick up certain hardcore items, join odd covenants, and even play through once more on a slightly more challenging New Game Plus mode- even retaining some important skills and items to boot.

All in all, truth be told it is the atmosphere and not specifically the difficulty and challenge that makes the title a blast to play- although I am sure those other factors rank highly up there as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the greater sense of freedom I was given in my approaches to combat and exploration, as well as the rare helping hands reaching out to help as well. We are only a third of the way through this year’s impressive games list, and yet I already feel as if Dark Souls II will maintain its large impact all the way through despite the stiff competition it will surely be facing. One thing is for certain: I’ll still be playing it come next March. After all, I’m still playing the original!

Concept: Explore a new yet familiar and similar setting- akin to the story and exploration of the first Dark Souls title, and embark upon a quest to rid the world of its misery and to gain power through it as you progress. Engage in challenging combat and experience an intriguing and engrossing story- experienced, not told.

Graphics: Impressively detailed and varied, both in environments and character models.

Sound: Between the epic scores for momentous occasions and stealthy segments to the general ambiance, the sound work is quite impressive and even the little creaks and tremors were impressively detailed in there fullness.

Playability: The challenges will be difficult, yet it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome through patience and a general grasping of the firm handling of the controls set before you. After you establish a solid foundation, you’ll progress slowly but surely regardless of overall skill. But that doesn’t make it any easier on you or your character, be warned.

Entertainment: This is not only a highly anticipated sequel but an amazing stand-alone title and it must be played to be enjoyed. Challenging yet fair, firm yet helpful at times. An impressively detailed and epic adventure in an expansive and deadly world.

Replay Value: Very High.

Overall Score: 9.5

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The Last of Us DLC: Left Behind Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Left Behind, but not Forgotten

My thoughts, and those of ninety percent of people I’ve talked with or heard comments from regarding their time with The Last of Us, have always been that last year’s jewel of a game was and is one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in a long while. Maybe it was the brutal gameplay, the survival driven narrative, or the flawed characters that sealed the deal for me- or maybe it was all of that and more. Regardless, Naughty Dog’s down and dirty adventure is a testament to their ever-growing skill as a developer of top tier games- from Uncharted to The Last of Us, in this last generation especially. Matt Helgeson’s thoughts mirror many of my own in his personal review of the game, which I have read and mostly agree with on many of the points as well- regarding both the original game and the newest addition to its fiction, the Left Behind Ellie-centric downloadable expansion content.

Upon finishing The Last of Us, I- and many others who made the treacherous trudge through enemy territory in order to finish the brutal game, was just plain astounded. The ending was perfect and then some. For all the complaints it has received- still marginally less than those regarding Mass Effect 3’s ending(s), the ambiguity was an excellent way to finish off a mysterious adventure in a mysterious way. And to make it even better, Naughty Dog has stated that they don’t feel the need to make any sequels, which I completely agree with. I’m perfectly fine with this game being a one-hit wonder, and any sequels- no matter how much greater, also have a fifty percent chance of being a letdown in light of the original’s stunning uniqueness and originality. It would lose some of the magic, and so would that ending. Therefore, ambiguity is king in my mind- and just as Breaking Bad ending semi-ambiguously (also perfectly), it works excellently in this case.

So, you can easily imagine my reaction to a downloadable addition to this excellent game possibly expanding upon this ending. A reaction which, unsurprisingly, was made up of equal parts horror and excitement. A prequel is excellent territory to travel, but anything after the open ending would just about kill me, or my standing with the game anyway. Same thing. Now we truly arrive at the crux of the matter, but it’s not actually so bad and terrible as I had thought it would be. While it is true that Left Behind is indeed a prequel to the original game’s story itself, it does have a short subplot rooted in what would I guess be considered the present, “lost chapter” of the game’s story. Though this content is new and mainly there to stimulate the prequel story and serve as a sort of “flashback” montage and catalyst, it’s still new nonetheless and that was kind of terrifying to me at first. Thankfully, having the ‘present time’ storyline in addition to the past one doesn’t involve the game’s ending, and therefore my ambiguity was intact, and I could go about enjoying Ellie’s dramatic hardships and plot.

Once more, the story of Left Behind is split between survival, combat, and dramatic moments and perils. Left Behind explores Riley and Ellie’s companionship, journey, and overall relationship prior to the events of The Last of Us where Ellie and Joel essentially ‘team up’ so to speak. Whereas Riley is shown to be just as naive about some things and vulnerable as Ellie is, or was, Joel is you know- Joel. Riley feels like a truly believable character in this expansion, and makes an excellent characteristic companion for Ellie, as well as an additional character in the grim universe of The Last of Us’ story. Similar to the original story itself, the most striking and bittersweet moments of this semi-short expansion are the simple, enjoyable ones. Sitting around, staring off into the distance, that sort of thing. In many ways, you could compare this portion of The Last of Us to Wander’s mission in Shadow of the Colossus, you know- minus the colossi and spirits and whatnot. But the solitude, goal, and companionship needs are roughly the same.

I think the most important moralistic point behind Left Behind’s plot is simply that life goes on, no matter how much of a cesspit the world has become, and what has become of its inhabitants. It’s bigger than us all, and sometimes we just need to accept that, sad as it is. The fact that Ellie and Riley are forced to grow up and survive (or not) on their own in that world is a downright travesty as well, but never once did we say the world was a fair caretaker or one to pad blows. Short though the experience is, Left Behind does an excellent job of conveying mixed emotions and feelings between the two companions, bonding the two further, and helping/hurting players by making them feel the pangs of loss when either of the two are hurt or separated. The writing and gameplay work hand in hand once more, and though the writing is still slightly superior to the mechanics that occasionally experience rare hiccups, the experience is superb all the way until to the very end.

You may think that, just because you’re in the shoes of kids, the combat would be toned down and the enemies not so merciless. Well, you’d be completely wrong. As is the case in The Walking Dead’s Season Two of episodic gameplay thus far, and Clem’s poor experiences in her apocalypse, not many people take pity on or go easy on young adversaries. Not many at all, especially for the soulless clickers. You will face many of the same enemies from the original game’s content- clickers, cannibalistic survivors, roving bandits, and other heavily armed or highly decomposed enemies. Again, you have limited ammunition of your own, makeshift weaponry, and your minds to lose or use against these merciless foes. If you enjoyed the original game’s mechanics, you’ll be pleased to find nothing has really strayed from that path in terms of combat or gameplay, even if the main characters have shifted a bit.

The action parts of Left Behind, fewer though they may be, are just as frantic and engaging as those of The Last of Us’ gameplay. Sometimes, you’ll even be unfortunate enough to be fighting clickers and human adversaries at the same time, but also fortunate enough to kill two birds with one stone (literally with one brick sometimes) occasionally when you can pit these enemies against each other as well. The only thing more satisfying and gratifying than taking down a clicker is to have it take out your human enemies in its blind rage, and then to sneak past it successfully without alerting it or its fellows. Whereas The Last of Us was an epic and longwinded adventure and survival tale spanning fifteen hours or more, with highly replayable content, Left Behind clocks in at around three and a half hours. And while it isn’t nearly as epic- simply because it doesn’t have the time to make that large of an impact, it adds a new flavor to Ellie’s character, introduces one more alluded to than anything else in the main game’s content, and is a journey down memory lane for one person, and a fresh beginning for another.

The Last of Us was an excellent game, and it did not need this DLC in the slightest, but I am still glad that this was created in order to add a little more to the story. If they do continue with a few more DLC packs, it would be interesting to see something prequel wise from several other supporting or main characters’ perspectives, but it is equally nonessential to making such an excellent title better. Left Behind is a worthwhile addition to the lore of The Last of Us’ universe without touching the ending, and that preservation of the ambiguity and mystery is why I enjoyed it the most. I enjoyed taking control of Ellie once more and seeing things through her originally more-innocent and naive perspective, sad though that was. That girl is gone now, but the story lives on.

Concept: Single-player additional content that is meant to expand upon the universe of The Last of Us, and adds more flavor into Ellie’s own backstory and personal life after the apocalypse and during it.

Graphics: The graphical beauty of the main game continues in this additional content, and though it is on a technically last generation console, it still plays better than some Play Station 4 titles do with the new capabilities of that console.

Sound: The characters may have been changed up slightly, but their voice acting and that of even routine encounters with strangers and adversaries is perfectly done and showcases Naughty Dog’s attention to detail and willingness to craft top-notch work.

Playability: The action is as gritty and memorable as any moments throughout The Last of Us, and the controls and moments blend together as well as any in the main content of the game. Definitely a memorable, if short experience.

Entertainment: The writing and story itself are well-written, even if they don’t have the time to reach such epic levels as the main story’s content. The characters are cohesive and believable. The universe works well with this prequel added in for the benefit of fleshing more characters out. And overall, it is a very enjoyable experience that- if a bit superfluous, is definitely to be enjoyed by fans of the game for a decent price (your emotions, mostly).

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.25

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The Walking Dead: Season 2- Episode 1: All that Remains

[As Read on GIO.]

Beginning Anew, Remembering the Old

Quality Continues with Clementine in the Lead

Hey there folks. It’s been a little while since I wrote an actual review here, so I’ll start with this one, an appropriate place to start as any on the first of a new year. I’ve had my time to play through the start of Telltale’s second season of their The Walking Dead series of episodic storytelling, and Clem manages to hold her own- which is great characteristically and for the title as well. It leaves me looking forward to a hopeful remainder of a second season of episodes, and to what else may come. We’ve dipped our toes in the water with season one, so Telltale is pulling even less punches this time around, as should be easily recognizable from the beginning episode of season two “All That Remains”. Seriously, no punches are pulled this time around- as if many were last time anyways. I was interested as to how they would manage to do it, but so far Telltale has, as far as I can see, managed to incorporate the “Clem will remember that” moments from last season’s antics, as well as any other people you encounter from that season here. So, the narrative continues, even if it is picking up where Lee’s tale left off, sad as that was (*spoiler!).

Now, I’m going to try to do this review without spoiling much, or anything- if at all possible, so try to cut me a little bit of slack if I seem to be getting vaguer and vaguer as we go through, as there is much to be discussed and hopefully not thoroughly spoiled for those of you who have not had the pleasure of experiencing and playing just yet. Though mainly due to procrastination I have not completely finished my anthology-ish review of the complete first season, as I have left off its episode five, my overall score for that season was a highly commendable 8.75 and I also gave the 400 Days epilogue/season bridge an 8.5 as well. This having been said, while you may think I am giving this first episode a relatively “weak” numerical score in comparison to the others of the strong first season and fine interlude, I have thoroughly enjoyed this episode and been harsher with my grade of the same problems that I was able to concede were “rookie” first season mistakes, that also appeared here in some instances. All in all, this is the Clementine roadshow now, and although she was a focal point and character of importance in the first season as well, she truly begins to spread her wings and fly this time around.

I suppose this particular episode could have very well been titled something ironic along the lines of “Growing Pains” as that would be true both in terms of Clementine’s bid for survival amongst her fellow companions and the zombie apocalypse, as well as her evolution as a young girl and character. Twisted ironies aside, the zombie apocalypse is no cake walk- particularly for a girl barely striking double digits. Clementine, as with but on a somewhat slower-paced and smaller scale than Carl (Chandler Riggs) from the television counterpart, is forced to grow up much faster than normal. “All That Remains” finally gives players the full reins of control over Clem in her fight for survival, and bold though that is, it works just as well to their advantage- if not more so, than Lee’s control ever did. No longer quite so naive and gullible as she once was, in no small part thanks to the horrors she has already witnessed- multiple zombies feasting, cannibalism, and much, much more, Clementine finally stands on her own, mostly without the support of a father-like figure, and fights for herself and her new-found companions. It’s good to see that she can be her own person, small though she may seem, and a larger than life character in her own right. I can only hope, in a paternal type of way, that Telltale doesn’t have the guts to kill her off in the near future as well, though sadly I wouldn’t put it past them…

Players who purchase this particular episode are finally able to see what we’ve all been speculating deliriously about since the ending of season one and the hints added by 400 Days: just what Clem’s been up to and where she is at as well as how she is faring on her own. New and returning faces make appearances (two guesses who, on the returning side, as I am sure it has already been spoiled for you here or elsewhere), and new problems arise because of these and other encounters. The characters remain similarly shaped to the archetypes of the first seasons’ but also allow for some more room to grow and some more multifaceted growth and change in the ways they will interact with different players’ choices as well along the way. This only improves an already gripping and replayable experience, even at the expense of starting off virtually the same as many characters from last season (Larry, Kenny, etc). The plot twists and turns in some great ways- bringing to mind some of the highlights and most questionable moments of season one, while retaining the sense of despair (not always overwhelmingly so, but close), and seeming brutally realistic and fresh at the same time.

Some of the new characters aren’t as accepting as others of Clem or other travelers and survivors they come across, but with time, that is made a little more clear- and may be made more so in the future as well. I did like that, while some seem to be cut from the same mold as characters from season one in more ways than one, they aren’t direct copies as there is a lot different and broader array of folks this time around- from pregnant women on. Ironically, instead of pitying this particular pregnant woman, I disliked her the most initially of the new group Clementine interacts with, hormones or not- her actions were just plain unacceptable at times, and cruel to boot. Most of the more action-packed moments are recycled from season one, though in different tropes and settings thanks to Clem’s journey made between seasons as well. Killing zombies, attacking survivors, talking to the more unstable members of the cast, and scavenging for supplies make up the bulk of the non-story related gameplay. Because of Clementine’s vulnerability and youth, she is both gifted with the ability to appeal to older folks more readily at times, and also at their mercy when it comes to being trusted with weapons and defending herself. Not that she’s as gung-ho about murdering folks as the borderline sociopath Carl is becoming, but you catch my drift I see…

There’s a little bit more riding on your (rather, Clem’s) shoulders this time around, as- instead of further developing Lee’s mysterious character, you are deciding just how Clementine is going to grow up, and whether she’s going to be a cold, calculating character, or a respectable survivor. It’s good to vary your tactics in speech however, and not follow one complete path, as Telltale realistically weaves a narrative where it is impossible to feel satisfied with every choice and to always choose one response type each time. No matter which direction you go- sassy or polite to your elders and peers, they will react mostly to your looks and age more so than your experience- though in the apocalypse, ironically enough you have the same or more so even than the adults in your group. Thankfully, one of the biggest sticking points of the first season has been improved, though not completely remedied and fixed- by which I am of course referring to the action sequences. These feel a little bit more fluid, and take their cues from the successful action of The Wolf Among Us this time around, instead of the first season’s brand of button pushing. As a small girl, it is unrealistic to be able to force your way out of situations, so most encounters are made more harrowing by the fact that you must constantly be on your guard and ready to flee from your attackers. Oh, and don’t think that just because Clem is a poor little girl in the apocalypse means the punches are pulled either, as you can get her killed just as easily- if not more so than Lee, and it is ten times worse to observe the pains she has to go through just to survive as well. At least she still has her hands for now though…

Aside from a few smaller moments that have obviously been remembered, Telltale is mostly tight lipped in this first episode in regards to your consequences and decisions carrying over from last season’s episodes, however, that only leaves more room for what comes later on in this season- so I’m not too disappointed as of yet. I’m more interested in seeing what the future holds for Clem and her companions than dwelling on the bloodstained past as it is. New obstacles and foes are on the horizon and are slowly being discovered, and I loved that thus far while many questions have been somewhat or totally answered, others are just now rearing their ugly little heads as well in classic The Walking Dead form. We may never know why the zombie apocalypse happened in the first place, but hey- some things just never change anyways… The biggest letdown and simultaneously interesting point is that the first episode of this second season relies a little too much on the foundations set by the successful first one, without having as much to spread its own wings as a result. However, it does usher in new faces and new content, and therefore is a success in my mind regardless of score due to this.

At the very least, being able to see things from a fresh, younger perspective keeps this otherwise overly similar moments more tense, exciting, and new- even if they are inevitably cut from virtually the same seasonal cloth as the first encounters. I’m loving that it’s still The Walking Dead, it’s still quite up in the air and unsure just who will live and die, and it’s still as tense as ever though. That’s all a fan can ask for. I am also equally eager to see and getting ready to cringe at just what is going to continue to happen to Clem especially in the coming episodes, and just how dark these days might get as well…

Concept: Take control of the darling Clementine this time around, with no Lee to save you or otherwise spare you from the horrible reality that is the zombie apocalypse from the mind of Robert Kirkman and the folks at Telltale weaving this new tale.

Graphics: The dark tone, yet comic look is much the same as the original season and the 400 Days episode without much change aside from some lighting and angled effects.

Sound: The tense and dreary tones continue to inspire and instill fear and anxiety in the hearts of even the most ready zombie apocalypse survivors.

Playability: The controls work a little bit better in action sequences, but are largely the same as their season one counterparts in handling and layout.

Entertainment: Although whether or not it is entertainment or moral torture is not clear, even now, the captivating world and continued cast of colorful characters astounds.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus Review

[As Read on GIO.]

In my mind, the last “true” Ratchet and Clank game was the 2009 or so release of Crack in Time, which was a really well thought out and intriguing story and game as a whole. Sure, there have been numerous release with the series’ trademark name on them, such as All 4 One, and Full Frontal Assault, however- these struck me as side stories more so than a true continuation of the saga. Thankfully, series creator Insomniac goes back to the original formula of blasting through vast alien hordes for this most recent installment in the generation spanning series, and while it is a little weaker than its brothers, it proves that some formulas just can’t be broken- I’m looking at you though Call of Duty, because you’ve way overdone that thought! As lighthearted as it is, and as the series has pretty much always been, Into the Nexus is yet another shining example of an action tale done right, and true to form. Who says it needs to include blood and guts to appeal to a broader audience?

Level and world design, and controls feel and look mostly the same as they have since the series’ inception, with a few minor tweaks and adjustments to be had here and there. Thankfully though, it is far from the same-old same-old, as there are many new gadgets and a broader inventory of alien weaponry to discover as well. If you thought you’d seen some insane weapons already, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at what Insomniac throws in the mix with this newest title. In fact, one particular weapon is so powerful that it tears a mighty rift in the space between dimensions and unleashes hordes of your own enemies upon those you are currently battling. If that wasn’t enough, you can also combine several weapons and gadgets for truly devastating attacks that simultaneously horrify and cripple your robotic and alien opponents.

Clank makes his presence known in almost as classy a way as he did in his tuxedo-wearing form known as Secret Agent Clank, or whatever his name was…by detaching from Ratchet’s back for his own two dimensional platforming segments that are strikingly similar in concept to Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV. Clank can switch gravity so that he latches onto the ceiling, floor, and other objects in order to navigate areas and successfully finish puzzles and dodge traps. These platforming segments are pretty well spread out across the game, and serve as a little reprieve from constant action, though they provide their own type of nail-biting action and require different skills as well. They are also slightly more challenging than the rest of the game’s elements, adding a nice puzzle and difficulty factor to the package.

Some people have complained about Into the Nexus’ length- citing that it is “too short” of a game. However, I think this is not entirely true, though they are of course well within their bounds by formulating their own personal opinions. While it is not nearly as lengthy as some of the other games in the series, Into the Nexus contains its own brand of storytelling and diverse settings and items to be found and explored. For this, I think there is plenty of replay value, and that more than makes up for the roughly twelve hour story or so, which has been called “too short” and “brief” on its own. Combine this with the fact that there is also a little side content in the form of The Arena and its battles, and you’ve gotten yourself a neat little adventure bundle to play around with.

There are four major planets to explore, each with new modes of exploration opened up, and a plethora of collectible items to discover as you progress. New gadgets and weaponry available to you will make weapons gurus and completionists alike salivate profusely, and while half or more of the worlds seem pretty straight forward and linear at times, there are also side missions to be found and perused as well. As I mentioned earlier, there is also the Arena mode, although it is truly on the short side- as a leveled up Ratchet and Clank can easily take on the best that the Arena has to throw at players. The whole experience takes roughly ten to twelve hours, depending upon your play style and the speed or ease with which you best the story- first in the normal mode, then in the more challenging Challenge mode, which unlocks more powerful tools and weapons. The story is witty as ever, even if it doesn’t have many unpredictable twists in it. Thankfully, it is all but assured that Ratchet and Clank will have a great future on the next generation of play Station consoles and handhelds, as the ending all but assures us that there will be sequels upon sequels, and some of the bigger events of the game ensure that the battlefield may be a little different as well.

Into the Nexus doesn’t change the formula up too much, but manages to stay fresh and fun, even without the changes in pace and with a slightly shorter, less challenging experience as a whole. There’s one thing for certain, and that’s that you are definitely going to enjoy your experience, and be impatient until the inevitable next-generation sequel drops sometime in the future as well…

Concept: Use the series’ strong points to craft another adventure, this time returning to the classic formula that made it all possible to begin with. Not the strongest in the series, but far from the worst it has to offer in terms of gameplay and story features. There are plenty of side missions and extras to find as well, increasing replay value across the board.

Graphics: The same graphical designs show up, and they look as great as ever. Some textures may seem a little muddy as the explosions increase, but the level of physical damage shown on screen balances this out and is quite impressive as ever.

Sound: From the humming of your arsenal of weapons and gadgets to the musical soundtrack, the game sounds fun and exciting throughout.

Playability: The controls are unchanged for the most part, largely because they have always been one of the strongest points of the game, and that remains the case in this instance as well. The exploration is fun and interesting, especially in Clank’s segments, and the combat is fast-paced and exciting as usual.

Entertainment: They could’ve maybe done a little bit more with the game in terms of story, but you can’t get much better than the action-heavy and puzzle-solving content that they’ve got to offer you this time around. It’s a well-rounded sequel all in all.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.5

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- Legendary Edition Review

[As Read on GIO.]

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

♦♦♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♦♦♦

Dawnguard

(As Written in My Previous Review…)

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

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

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

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

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

♦♦♦

Hearthfire

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

♦♦♦

Dragonborn

 

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

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

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

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

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

♦♦♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 9.75

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Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One Review

[As Read on GIO.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

[As Read on GIO.]

 

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

 

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

 

Call of Duty | 8.0

 

Call of Duty 2 | 8.5

 

Call of Duty 3 | 8.0

 

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare | 9.75

 

Call of Duty: World at War | 8.75

 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | 9.75

 

Call of Duty: Black Ops | 9.25

 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 | 8.5

 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 | 8.0

 

Call of Duty: Ghosts | 7.5

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Concept: The same old same old.

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Replay Value: Moderate.

 

 

Overall Score: 7.5

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millie schmidt writes... with cats

millie schmidt writes...

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