Tag Archives: xbox 360

The Power of Three

r3-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 05DEC

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upcoming Gems to be Aware of:

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

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

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

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

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

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 21NOV

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

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

Join Xbox Live Gold- $1 ON BLACK FRIDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bound By Flame- 75% OFF

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

Terraria- 80% OFF

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

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

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 14NOV

[As Originally Written on GIO.]

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

The Escapists- FREE (Until 11/15)

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

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

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

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition- 50% OFF

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

Resident Evil Revelations 2: Deluxe Edition- 60% OFF

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

Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition- 67% OFF

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

Dirt 3 and Dirt Showdown- 75% OFF

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

Darksiders II- 80% OFF

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

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

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The Best Deals With Gold, Week of 07NOV

[As Originally Read on GIO.]

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

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

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

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection- 60% OFF

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

Evolve- 60% OFF

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

Red Faction Guerrilla- 85% OFF

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

The Escapists- FREE

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

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

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Saints Row IV Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Let me be clear- Saints Row: The Third was a game that I had thought did not require a sequel so relatively soon after its release, for more reasons than one. The first reason would be the sheer amount of content it already offered, and the premise that I’m sure much more could have been shoved into the already bustling and busting world. The second reason would be because of its witty and insanely comical storyline, dialogue, and antics- making for a very memorable and hard to top experience. And the third reason being that, with each iteration of the Saints series getting better and better, it only takes so many sequels before you inevitably fall down a notch in the process. Saints Row IV is a good game, but it is not a better game than Saints Row: The Third in many ways, although it might still top it in others. By no means does this mean that IV is not a worthy sequel, or that it is automatically to be trashed simply because it didn’t do as well as its predecessor. In fact, I’d still say that, in terms of the craziness and carnage we’ve come to expect from the Saints series, IV ranks second behind The Third, and is worlds better than SR2 and SR1. It is particularly interesting how Enter the Dominatrix became a full fledged title, and you’d expect that title to be a little barebones because of that, but it is surprisingly immersing instead. If you’re looking for a crazy, fast-paced, and exciting title, then this is definitely a game for you.

The extremely apparent reason for Saints Row IV being ten times more crazy than its predecessor lies in the fact that you are in a computer simulation, and therefore anything goes- from superpowers to supercars. The fact that these powers are given to players early on in the game is a double edged gameplay sword. On one hand, it is awesome to be able to be overpowered and already leap buildings in single bounds a la Crackdown, however, on the other, you never get to really appreciate your powers so much by building them up and enjoying their ins and outs also a la Crackdown. In fact, on a Crackdown note, Saints Row IV can be easily compared to the first title in that series (or the second,, if you think about it) in that you possess a special set of powers, you fight overwhelming odds often, and you also find yourself in an abnormally hilarious and over-the-top experience every step of the way. First things first though, before I draw many more parallels between games here- let’s get back to this review. You play as the President of the United States (or is it President of the United Saints? I’m really not sure…) and you have the power to veto bills or leap high buildings and run at dangerously fast speeds. Bear in mind, you can upgrade your skills and learn new ones, however, it is simply not as expansive and time consuming as it could be a la Crackdown, which is both good and bad. If you are looking for a more in-depth experience, it is a little disappointing, however, if you wish to level up fast and kick some booty, it is excellently paced.

One of the other double edged gameplay swords present here for and because of your super abilities, is the fact that your transportation methods are drastically affected. You’ll most likely only find yourselves utilizing cars or other forms of transportation in the missions that require them, whereas you would normally just fly, sprint, and glide around to your destinations otherwise. There are still some epic vehicles, and by all means you are welcome to take them for a ride, however, you are a lot less likely to when you’ve got the choice between flying and driving. It’s just a no-brainer. Now, going back to something I mentioned earlier about Enter the Dominatrix- the majority of the game is spent within said computer simulation, so expect even more shenanigans and hijinks than usual. The best thing about this is that those hijinks don’t just stop at gameplay and dialogue, but instead percolate into the entire world as well. There are several moments that parody entire scenes from well known movies, games, and books- such as, but not limited to, Tron, Matrix, MGS, and more. The humor that the series has become known for still elicits laughs here and there, but ultimately it is the over-the-top, insane gameplay that has you rolling on the floor, not the scripted sequences or fallback jokes.

Let’s talk about craziness and insanity for a moment here. No- not Vaas’ definition of insanity, although that is a very good one, both metaphorically and literally. No, what I am referring to are the innumerable moments where something insane happens in Saints Row IV, and you simply stop and marvel at them. From the dubstep gun to the inflate-o-ray to the lightsabers (yes, you heard me correctly) to the black holes and more, there isn’t a sane moment in this game. I mean, just take a gander at the picture above. That is the dubstep gun in action, and some of its finest work. Truly. Flying high above your enemies, descending upon them like a maelstrom, sucking them into a black hole, blowing them up with your mind, and much, much more is possible- and deadly fun(ny) as well. Some other craziness happens in the form of intentional (and unintentional) bugs or glitches. You might be walking (or flying) around, when suddenly the environment becomes all pixelated and wavy, or maybe you’re people start going crazy and walking into walls and stuff- it all depends. Then, of course, there are moments when you can’t tell whether or not the bug is intentional- such as one instance where I was flying around, landed near a bad guy, picked him up to give him a whooping, and he suddenly disappeared- or so I thought. Instead, he had teleported mysteriously to the top of the world’s sky, fallen for several minutes, bounced off of several hard objects, landed on the ground, sat there for two more minutes, and then gotten up and walked away like it was an everyday occurrence- which, in this game it very well may be. It’s the things like that that actually make the game all the more endearing, even if they are character flaws. The only true annoying glitches are ones regarding the usual freezing and loading issues games have every now and then, but aside from that- the game is solid.

For aesthetic gurus out there, be warned- the entire game takes place in a gloomy atmosphere, so don’t be expecting too much day to day changing world looks or locales. These night happening are made all the more interesting, but I could easily see how it could also irk people as it did our very own, beloved Dan Ryckert. Anyway, I for one, was not too miffed about it, seeing it merely as a design choice I would not have taken, but ultimately respect simply in the fact that it doesn’t in any way diminish the gameplay or graphics- merely the visual palette. Saints Row has always been a fun and crazy experience, and always had its few little glitches and issues, and on the whole, IV is not entirely too different, despite the change in ownership. It’s the same as the Metro sequel in many ways- from developer to the fact that some things have changed, whereas others have remained faithfully true. Solo, cooperative, or just time sinking are all viable options, and all with their respective personalities and gimmicks. Superpowers and superpowered enemies just make things all the more risky, fun, and insane, and I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to play with them for the world- or rather, for an animated Steelport simulation. The series has always been known for its customization abilities and upgrades, and those return in force this time around, with upgrades for everything from your techno weapons to your superpowers and looks. This might be the same old story as The Third, with controlling and protecting Steelport and your interests, but you can bet that it is far from the same experience as that of The Third- even if Johnny Gat does make a come back. (Sorry, had to spoil that- plus I’m sure you already knew anyway, and if not…oops.)

Concept: Simply put- Saints Row: The Third with more customization, more insanity, and more superpowers…well, actually HAVING superpowers, anyway.

Graphics: The graphics are slightly improved over The Third’s already pretty good looking graphical scheme, and the only slight inconvenience is the brightness or lack thereof present throughout your adventures. That is easily cured however by simply turning the settings and gamma up of course, so it is quite minor and not detracting from the experience.

Sound: The in-game radio stations and the soundtracks and scores themselves are as silly as the game is, and often quite fitting to the scenarios you find yourselves in. Sometimes the game tries to be dramatic, and it is usually all the more hilarious for it.

Playability: I wouldn’t have though there would be much more room in the controls for your super abilities and augmentations, but by golly, they sure managed to pack them in there anyway didn’t they? Now, not only can you curb stomp somebody, but you can inflate-o ray them, drop them off of a building, curb stomp them from fifteen feet in the air, AND toss them into a black hole for added measure.

Entertainment: Saints Row IV certainly shines in some moments, and it has quite a few solid times, but overall, it’s still just a close second to Saints Row: The Third, and seems too much like Saints Row 3.5 for me. But that’s just my opinion, and has nothing to do with the solid gameplay and tight controls.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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My Mass Effect Trilogy Completionist Runthrough: 100% Paragon Pt. One

[Written on GIO.]

***Major Plot Spoilers!***

For those of you who do not or did not know, I recently finished my month and a half long endeavor to complete the entirety of the Mass Effect trilogy (all DLC included) with a character ranging from the first to third game. My chosen representative for this sojourn was none other than Commander John Shepard, Sole Survivor and Earthborn soldier. Without further ado, allow me to start talking about the ways I conquered each difficult choice thrown at me in each of the three games and their downloadable components. I will begin with the first game.

♦♦♦

Part One: Making the Tough Calls

Mass Effect 1

Fans of the Mass Effect series know that no single decision has an easy consequence, or set of ramifying consequences, and the first game rammed that home even before the series was a big name on BioWare’s already prestigious games resume. This having been said, it should come as no surprise that right off the bat, your service history is thrown on the table- open to customization per your choice. Do you want to be an earthborn orphan? Or maybe a spaceborn civilian? Or maybe even a colonist on a remote colony decimated by slavers? And after you’ve chosen your origins, it’s time to pick your designated military background- ruthless mercenary, war hero of the Elysium, or sole survivor of a terrible thresher maw ambush. It’s been five minutes, but Mass Effect already has your mind thinking things over, weighing choices and opportunities, and unknowingly changing the course of the next three games to suit your background in question. That is what it’s like to become Commander Shepard. Now, with the introduction out of the way, let’s move on to the brief descriptions of the major decisions in ME1’s plot- and the outcomes I experienced in this playthrough.

Noveria Pt. One

There are several ways to be granted access to the garage level in order to make your way to the mountain peak housing one of Saren’s operational research centers. Instead of choosing any one method, I went for a mixture of two or three of them, with marginally different results. I took the Hanar merchant Opold up on his offer to smuggle goods to a Krogan, opting to trade it for a higher price with the Krogan and keeping the creds for myself. After this exchange, I met with a local businessman with some dirt on the corrupt Administrator withholding access to the garage levels, and retrieved some data of his thereby convincing him to go to court and file a suit against said Administrator. After this exchange, I uncovered an administrative assistant who was actually a private investigator also looking for dirt on the previously mentioned Admin. Needless to say, after a little cajoling and diplomacy, and hog tying the Admin- she gave me that garage pass and I was on my way.

Noveria Pt. Two

After arriving to Peak 15 and finally getting through the hordes of mutant Rachni and soldiers, and tying up loose ends where Liara’s matriarch mother is concerned- you have your first encounter with the Rachni Queen. This may or may not be your last, but you are presented with two options: let her live and go free to reign in her species and live out her life, or eradicate her and her children for the threats they present. I chose to let the Queen go, which may or may not have repercussions later on…

Feros

Arriving on Feros, it was suddenly clear enough that a lot more was wrong than Geth activity and attacks from spacefaring mercenaries. Something really fishy was going on. It only took a little bit of careful research and exploration to recognize that the insidious Exogeni Corporation had their hands in a lot of bags they weren’t supposed to be in- mind controlling plants and cloning being two of them. After making my way through the Geth hubs and fighting back to a pocket of safety where several survivors had taken up residence, the Exogeni team leader on Feros decided he wanted to purge the nearby colony they had been illegally experimenting on. So I, being the paragon and diplomat I am, talked him out of it of course. And then proceeded to waltz through the colonial encampment, knocking out enthralled colonists rather than killing them- saving them for later, and giving them a second chance. After destroying the evil influence of the so-called Thorian and its clones, I freed the strange Asari and sent her on her way- after gathering what information I could on Saren and his fleets of course. And that was Feros. Then it was off to Virmire…

Virmire Pt. One

Virmire will go down in the Mass Effect books as one of the most morally and physically challenging missions of Shepard’s career- meaning it was a difficult time and offered up several difficult choices. The first of which being Urdnot Wrex’s brush with death at the hands of Ashley and Kaidan, after his outburst about whether or not the cloned Krogan should be considered his own people, and whether or not they should willingly allow the Salarians and others to destroy the genophage cure Saren has concocted. I eventually, diplomatically as ever, resolved the situation and assured Wrex that I would do everything in my power to help his people, and that it was paramount that we destroy the cure for the time being so as to avoid Saren creating more soldiers and strengthening his fleets. Wrex then followed me into battle, however stubbornly afterwards.

Virmire Pt. Two

Here comes what is undeniably the hardest choice of the first Mass Effect game- a true do or die situation if there ever was one. Shepard’s crew plants a several megaton nuclear bomb, and selects a person to defend it, as well as one to travel in with the Salarian STG operators who provide covering fire for the infiltration team. I decided to send Kaidan with the Salarians and their brave captain, while Ashley came with me and Garrus and other crew members. After we made our way through the base, not knowing the situation on the other end, or if any of the Salarians or Kaidan had even survived, we successfully armed the warhead and fought off Saren’s assault. Then came the crunch time. Kaidan came across the comm as the last surviving member of the pinned down unit, and asked for assistance. However, Saren now had Ashley pinned down at the bombsite. Who did I choose? Kaidan urged me to go to Ashely’s aid, and I did. We fought off Saren as the Normandy arrived for a hot evac, but we had to leave one of our own behind. Sadly, that dreadful day on Virmire, we lost Kaidan in the resulting explosion that wracked the facility…

Citadel Pt. One

The Citadel has always been a big focus in Mass Effect lore, and is also a major hub of activities in all three games. It seems only right that the final confrontation of the first game should take place here then, with the Geth attackers being ousted by the Alliance fleets, and Sovereign destroyed by the Normandy and several other flagships. At one point, near the end of the fight, the Destiny Ascension- the Alliance ship bearing the council members of the Citadel, comes under heavy fire, and requests immediate help. You have the option to ignore their please for help and continue the fight right then, or to sacrifice a few ships for protection. I chose to save the council, which earned not only their gratification, but their support in the times to come. Even if I lost a few lives that day doing so.

Citadel Pt. Two

As you begin to shoot that final shot in order to finish off Saren’s indoctrinated self, a small little cutscene initiates. Saren and Sovereign realize that they are slowly being pushed back, and Sovereign begins to reassert its control more firmly. This gives the former Spectre a moment to break free of the indoctrinating mind control spell he has been under. He begs you to finish him off, or else he will be forced to kill you. Through careful negotiation and paragon usage however, I managed to convince him to take his own life, that being the only honorable way out of the situation he had created. And thus ended Saren’s reign of terror- well, at least until Sovereign reanimated his corpse and used its husk to fight me. But it’s okay, I blew them both up anyways.

Citadel Pt. Three

Ah, and now we near the final minutes of the first game…or at least the main story anyways. Seeing as the council members survived due to my aid, and are grateful for once that I was around, they offer humanity a seat on the council. The ever-conniving Udina begs that I choose him, the obviously most qualified person for the job. But I notice that Captain Anderson is in the room as well. So, in one of the acts that brings me dangerously close to breaking my 100% paragon challenge due to the spitefulness involved, I choose Anderson…of course. I mean, he deserves it more anyways. So, there you have it.

Bring Down the Sky

In many ways, sending an asteroid towards a fully colonized planet can easily get a Spectre to come after you, or even to want to kill you. But when you offer in a further morality check by rigging hostages to blow and then forcing that Spectre to let you walk free, yeah, you could say it’s really going to piss him off. This is just what the Batarian terrorist Balak does in the Bring Down the Sky DLC for Mass Effect 1, and it is an action that is sure to have repercussions later- as I made sure. Being the paragon I was, I swallowed my pride and kept my honor intact, vowing to catch Balak one day but letting him go free so long as the hostages’ lives were guaranteed. It hurt, sure- but it was the right thing to do.

♦♦♦

Part Two: The Journey Continues

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 1 may have had some tough morality checks, but you haven’t seen anything until you witness the many flagrant and varied decisions that you must make in the second game. Not only are the stakes much bigger and the adventure much more difficult and long, but you’ve got more hopes riding on you this time and more lives in your hands. You could say it’s somewhat of a dangerous and suicidal undertaking, and you’d certainly be right. It doesn’t get much worse than traveling through an unknown and uncharted relay into no man’s land. It most certainly does not…

Freedom’s Progress

The game starts the moral questions soon after control is given to players. This one is quite simple however: give Veetor, the Quarian, the chance to recover with the Migrant Fleet, or send him off like a cargo package to Cerberus and the Illusive Man for… “questioning”. I chose to take Tali at her word, based on our relations in the previous game, so I gave Veetor his life and sanity back. And the Quarians promised to give me some information that he had discovered on the Collectors, so heroism and honor didn’t lose out too terribly much.

Tuchanka

Mordin’s loyalty mission was an…interesting one, to say the least. Going into the Krogan homeworld with little to no data on what one of Mordin’s old friends was up to was quite an unsettling experience, and one I’d sooner not repeat given the chance. Maelon, it turns out, was actually experimenting on curing the genophage by torturing female Krogan with experiments that simply did not work as well as he had intended. When Mordin was well and ready enough to simply shoot Maelon however, I stopped him, and explained as to why we should at least salvage the data for later use. Which definitely helped during ME3, and saved a life or two as well- even if he didn’t deserve it.

Aeia

After receiving a distress call from the Alliance cruiser that his father had been serving on before h ultimately disappeared, Jacob and Shepard go down to the planet’s surface and investigate. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that not everything is as it seems, and that there was a splitting up of two factions in the ranks- the food hoarding officers, and the unruly crewmembers forced to survive on brain altering toxic plants. Once you finally confront Jacob’s father Ronald, you are given the option to kill him yourself, let the crew ultimately discover him and do the job for you, or convince him to come with you as an Alliance prisoner. The only true renegade decision is to kill him, but you can retain your paragon status whilst letting the crew take care of them as they see fit, so Jacob and I waltzed off, leaving him with a pistol placed conveniently close enough to look really appealing when faced with certain death and torture. He took that route, I’d say.

***Tune In Next Time for Parts 2 and 3***

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NCAA Football 14 Review

[Written on GIO.]

Hey there folks. I’m chiming in with my due dose of opinion, and just want to give you the biggest and best bang for your buck as always. If my reviews help you in any way to make a decision on whether or not to purchase a game, or if they at least amuse or otherwise entertain you- then I’ve accomplished my set job parameters. I’ve decided to pull out NCAA 14 for today’s review, and actually recall that I also reviewed last year’s NCAA 13- if you’re interested in comparing the two. I’ll talk a little about the previous year’s title as well as I go through the ins and outs of this ones’, mainly to show you how it has taken a step down this year. As is common with the EA Sports titles, some years are better than others and the formula changes too frequently to pin any one feature down and realize that “this is it, this is what makes the games awesome!” As with many of the other hit or miss franchise titles under EA’s belt, NCAA 14 is one of those so-called “off” years- shaping up worse in some ways than NCAA 13, and improving in a few others, slowly but surely. NCAA 13 wasn’t even as well created as 11 or 12, which have undoubtedly been the better titles of the previous several years, but 14 is definitely a remarkable step down for the time being.

If NCAA 14 had decided to become NCAA Manager 14, or the parallel of the Madden NFL Manager games, then I wouldn’t have been as displeased with it- mainly because it comes packaged with a better recruiting sim than football one. Many of the off-field gameplay options provide a more thrilling, strategic, and indulging experience than the actual gameday gameplay does, and that is kind of disheartening to know. This particular game utilizes the same engine as Madden NFL 13, as well as the previous NCAA title, and for that reason, hasn’t been upgraded at all visibly in the graphics department of things. There are still some minor pitfalls and inconsistencies here and there, but of course, there always has been and most likely always will be. Some of the plays that involve your other linemen and your running backs or wide outs are well coordinated and thought out, whereas others don’t work so well and ultimately you collide with your own men more often than not- resulting in buggy looks and impossible to avoid fumbles both technically and literally.

Whereas NCAA 13 took a step in a few right directions by fixing certain bugs and inconsistencies from the previous title and titles, NCAA 14 adds more problems than it solves- including poorly thought out AI and indecisive playmakers. It’s good that some things have been rendered less harmful or even harmless instead of becoming more detrimental, but when you fail to realize that new concepts could and should have been added as well, then it is still chocked up as a loss on the season’s schedule. Run and passblocking assignments are now handled smoother and more consistently and realistically, which is great news- when the AI can carry out their orders accordingly that is. For every step or two forwards however, NCAA 14 always seems to take one or two back- leveling things off, usually back where you started. As has always been a huge technical issue in the past, blockers and defenders often do not showcase accurate or acute awareness of balls coming towards them or inbound opposition. This leads to much more frustration and corny jokes than is probably healthy or worthwhile.

The gameplay itself is still in need of some major finetuning, and quite rough around the edges. However, that is not to say it isn’t still a working, functioning piece of machinery than can be fun at the same time, even if it is mostly a one trick pony performing the same tricks as last year. The option plays work as well or better as they have in the past, which is a welcome advance, and the newer addition of “combos” is an interesting and satisfying gimmick to indulge in once and awhile as well. Nothing game changing, but all things considered- quite interesting to tinker with. NCAA 14 isn’t a failure by any means, and it finds it hard to truly gain ground, but it doesn’t settle too far into mediocrity without putting up a good fight and offering some new advancements to the stalwart formula. It’s good to see anxiously awaited modes such as Ultimate Team and other dynastic and recruitment modes return or appear for the first time, and some changes in their formulas are welcomed as well- however, its almost a last hurrah and a farewell to this console generation than a valid and verified attempt at advancing the series in any way.

As previously mentioned, the newly anointed recruiting mode is a welcome addition, and is truly the only mode that can save this title from otherwise slipping completely into mediocrity. The strategic process of carefully recruiting and grooming potential candidates for collegiate and athletic stardom has been streamlined in many more ways than one, but it still rings truer than ever and remains an entertaining and fulfilling experience. Having several points systems in place seems like a fine way to balance coaching, teammates and camaraderie, skillsets, offseason workouts, and much more. It’s closely related to Madden’s superstar mode in more ways than one, but also maintains its own originality and sidesteps some of the pitfalls that its brother series has run into in the past. As a coach, you can choose a multitude of things to focus your views on- recruits and the recruiting process, on-field dynamics, and more. This makes it a process that feels more alive than before, and also more energetic than ever instead of simply being a boring old agenda. It’s interesting to see how certain choices affect how potential recruiting prospects view your school, and how badly they would like to go to it- such as their campus visits, your skill as a team, and the contracted dynamics as well. It really livens up what would otherwise be the same dead experience as other years’.

For the parting remarks and notes, you can take just about any offline mode’s recruitment process or dynasty online, and even vice versa to some extent. You can also create online dynasties only playable with yourself and limited to those others you would allow in to compete with your teams. However, there are several nuances with online dynasties, especially where advancement is concerned- so purchase a season ticket if you actually are serious about getting anything done. Just as a word of advice. Ultimately, NCAA 14 falls shy of the mark set by its predecessor, NCAA 13, but it is still a solid game, however flawed it may be.

Concept: Try to advance the series even more and regress instead of claiming progression and gains.

Graphics: The graphics look the exact same as NCAA 13’s which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but also isn’t an upgrade.

Sound: The soundtrack is varied enough as ever and meets with no problems, however, the commentary, which has always been very hit or miss, is quite frequently focused on random aspects of gameplay instead of what would be considered important normally.

Playability: The controls work fine, but there are occasional inconsistencies and mixups here and there, as has become expected and the norm for the series.

Entertainment: It’s still fun to plan out your dynasty or play it out on the field, despite the overbearing problems apparent at times.

Replay Value: Moderately High

Overall Score: 7.25

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E3 Retrospective: Microsoft’s Hard Bargain

After the events of this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), several factors for change in the gaming industry have become semi-clear to those of us willing and interested enough to delve further into them in terms of research and trend tracking. First of all, Sony and Microsoft have almost completely switched their target audiences up until this point, as well as the starting prices for their consoles- while neither being too expensive or over the top, both follow the previous trends of the Xbox 360 (this time the Play Station 4 steps into its shoes), and the Play Station 3 (this time the Xbox One antes up). Now, while for some apparent reason (inflation?) the simple one hundred dollar price difference between the two consoles (the One at $500 and the 4 at $400) seems to be the major selling point on paper, I believe that is not the case at all. Sure, everyone seems to be sounding off and harping about that measly one hundred dollars, but in reality I believe it is the finer points that have sold them, and they simply won’t admit to changing sides so easily. Namely: the ‘better’ deals that Sony has managed to secure, as well as the finer arts studios that are already paving the way with their sure to be hit titles for that console. Because of this, it seems as if Microsoft is at a deficit in terms of exclusivity and big, brand-name titles other than its ever stalwart grip on Halo and a few other key series’. However, it has been apparent that, no longer as it has in the past, can Halo alone carry the system- meaning other titles must step up their game in order to contribute. And now we come to the main point of this blog, in its retrospective look back at Microsoft’s E3 2013- the choices Microsoft has made or has had to make in order to translate everything to the ‘next generation’ of gaming. We’ve already talked about the consoles themselves in depth enough for a lifetime of information across the interwebs, and I’ve hit on the prices a bit myself (as has Ars Technica in this great article), but the games themeselves are what will inevitably and ultimately make or break the success of future systems, and those are what we will talk about today. The exclusives alone are what will set the Xbox One apart from its console counterpart(s), and with the wolves moving in, this launch lineup of exclusives may be more important than ever before.

The following games are Xbox One exclusive titles, followed by my rankings of how influential I believe these specific titles will be in wooing fans or adding shock and awe value to the console itself. I will be using my a so-called ‘H.E.A.T’ ranking for each (Red, Yellow, Blue, and White)- aka “How Epic a Title”. Here’s the list thus far:

Below-  HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, merely because of not being a long established series. Intriguing gameplay elements and promise though.

Crimson Dragon- HEAT: Red- Low Interest, and assumed to be a Panzer Dragoon clone.

D4- HEAT: Yellow- Medium interest, due to narrative familiarity with Deadly Premonition and artistic similarities to The Walking Dead.

Dead Rising 3- HEAT: Blue- High Interest, mainly because of the successes of the past Dead Rising titles and promise shown by the sandbox world of this one.

Forza Motorsport 5- HEAT: Blue- High Interest, despite some believing in GT6 more, FM5 has shown promising features thus far, and looks to continue the series’ quality.

Halo 5/Halo for Xbox One- HEAT: White- Very High Interest, even though the only real coverage has been a short trailer of The Chief.

Killer Instinct- HEAT: Red- Low Interest, mainly because, while many are eager to see the game return, the F2P formula Microsoft is utilizing seems to be doomed to fail.

Kinect Sports Rivals- HEAT: Red- Low Interest, mainly because of the implementation of Kinect not being entirely too popular in games.

LocoCycle- HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, because of some interesting gimmicks, but mainly skepticism about the final product.

Minecraft- HEAT: White- Very High Interest, because of the systematic updates coming to the new version, and the game’s popularity.

Quantum Break- HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, but mostly skepticism currently, until more details are made clear.

Project Spark- HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, but not much has been shown yet, so that is subject to change after the initial readings.

Rabbids Invasion- HEAT: Red- Low Interest, as this series has all but run its course, and never been one for quality these past years.

Ryse: Son of Rome- HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, as the gameplay and cinematic melding offered up by Crytek seems promising enough.

Sunset Overdrive- HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, despite many feeling it will go down the road of FUSE more than is healthy.

Titanfall- HEAT: Blue- High Interest, despite skepticism on how different it will actually be from Call of Duty.

Zumba Party Fitness- HEAT: Red- Low Interest, mainly because not many of the titles are ever sold successfully.

Zoo Tycoon- HEAT: Yellow- Medium Interest, due to the lack of console tycoon games, many are actually looking forward to a new game on the horizon.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare- HEAT: Blue- High Interest, mainly because a new PvZ game is way overdue in fans’ minds.

Fantasia: Music Evolved- HEAT: Red- Low Interest, mainly because the game looks to be pretty simplistic and average.

NOTE: The games on this list are either Xbox One exclusives, or may also be featured on the PC or other game systems other than the Play Station 4 itself. This just means that in comparison to the Wii U and PS4, it is an Xbox exclusive.

The following games are the most likely biggest sellers for the Xbox One, and the factors that may save it yet from the overwhelming support its adversaries have gained thus far in terms of fanbase and promise:

Dead Rising 3

Forza Motorsport 5

Halo 5

Minecraft

Titanfall

Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

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Xbox Quick Picks Day One

Hey there folks! Today’s little feature will be some quick picks and ratings as seen from the Xbox.com home games screen when you log on or peruse the games selections. Later this week, I will also do some quick picks for the other consoles, PC, and handheld/mobile devices, so stay tuned even if you aren’t a Microsoft fan.

“Critically Acclaimed” aka Popular Games

Black Ops 2 Avg. Rating- 4.1/5 My Rating- 3.8/5

Borderlands 2 Avg. Rating- 4.8/5 My Rating- 4.6/5

NBA 2K13 Avg. Rating- 4.1/5 My Rating- 4.2/5

Forza Horizon Avg. Rating- 4/5 My Rating- 4.2/5

Gears of War: Judgment Avg. Rating- 4.5/5 My Rating- 4.1/5

“Indie Titles” or Lesser Recognized Games

Terraria Avg. Rating- 4.5/5 My Rating- 4.3/5

BattleBlock Theater Avg. Rating- 4.8/5 My Rating- 4.5/5

Magic 2013 Avg. Rating- 4/5 My Rating- 3.6/5

The Impossible Game Avg. Rating- 4.1/5 My Rating- 4/5

CastleMiner Z Avg. Rating- 4.1/5 My Rating- 3.9/5

 

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