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WWE 2K16- Review

Over the past decade, Wrestling games and their fans have been stuck. Given that developers have tossed back and forth between the idea of simulation and arcade style games. Dating back all the way to WWF Wrestlefest, these games have been traditionally brawlers/fast paced games which didn’t feel well set for a 60 minute Iron Man Match. Past games let you brawl into WWF New York, and drop the People’s Elbow in Times Square. These matches would make you impatient if they went over 5-6 minutes and quickly become boring. More recently, with 2K’s acquisition of the WWE franchise rights, things have begun to change. 2K has brought the title more towards a stylized simulation and made this a real fan favorite for wrestling fans.

A Commitment to Excellence:

Starting with the Main Event. WWE 2K16 brings wrestling back to the table in all of its kayfabe glory. To compliment the largest roster the game has hosted, character models have been updated, and look stunning in their updated environments in 1080p at 60 frames per second. Given the last incarnation of WWE 2K was plagued with screen tears, match ending glitches and some inaccurate character models. Fans will also be delighted to know that Cody Rhodes (Star Dust) will not get jumbled in the ropes during his signature Disaster Kick. Another small thing you might not notice in this year’s title is updated and outdoor arenas.

Large Roster, Larger Community:

For me, the community is a huge part of WWE games. I love being able to sign on at any given time during the day and see that I can get matched up with an opponent. On top of improved online connectivity, 2K’s community creations have grown due to a major revamp on the Creative Mode side. Players are now able to utilize multiple different variations of gear thanks to new sections, and this in the long run makes for many characters easily created, which improves on the already MASSIVE roster. It is very easy to get carried away and create characters to actually replicate your ideal dream matches. Some of my favorites thus far have been:

  • Tommy Dreamer Vs. Raven
  • Ric Flair Vs. A.J Styles
  • Jason Voorhees Vs. Crystal Lake Camp Counselors (Handicap match)

*Editors Note: We made Randy the Ram, no Ram Jam though.

Another story told, another great showcase:

2K Showcase mode returns this year, and with it a new story. Stone Cold Steve Austin is the featured athlete of both cover and showcase this year. The story of the meteoric rise of “Stone Cold” is well told and historically accurate through excellent FMV, and video bumpers. The matches themselves are well chosen and some of the most important pieces of Stone Cold’s rise to fame. This mode beyond boasts great unlockable content and a high replay value.

What We Didn’t Like About WWE2K16

Cena Didn’t Kick Out At 2:

A great game doesn’t come without at least a small fault. WWE 2K16 suffers from a major setback in its technical aspects. Grapple and Submission are almost as hard to understand as that girl who you fell in love with in college, but could never get to say the worlds. I mean honestly, it’s a timed button mashing system that runs you in circles. This was a major problem last year. Given the games strategic mishaps, this will leave you frustrated and in need of a shot or two if your timing is off. Adding to that is a convoluted circular pin escape system that would even keep Cena down for the 3. This has been an issue plaguing the 2K series for more than a year. I can see this frustrating long time patrons of the series. It feels like a major learning curve. This is my opinion though. Many people do enjoy the new controller system.

Overall, WWE 2K16 is a major upgrade over its predecessor. 2K put in the work this year that was needed in last year’s incarnation. In a year of broken games, it’s good to see at least one annual title rise to its community’s demands, and fix the things we felt was wrong.

*WWE 2K16 was provided for review by 2K Games. This review is the independent publishing of The Structure Network, and has in no way been sponsored or provided.

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Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 1 Review

Telltale Games has had quite the busy year so far—they finished up their newest episodic story with Tales From The Borderlands while the upcoming season finale to Game of Thrones:A Telltale Games Series is coming this November. It seems that the team at Telltale is not done yet this year as we got the first of five episodes for Minecraft: Story Mode, which is their take on Mojang’s widely known and popular creative game. Unlike the previous games they have put out—which had characters, stories, and a world to use for source material—with Minecraft there is a free range to create a unique story with original characters we have never seen before.

Even so, Telltale definitely put themselves in a tough position when they picked up Minecraft to make an episodic game for. It’s tough to imagine how a game where you basically explore a world and build whatever you want to would transition into a five-part episodic story driven game where there aren’t any characters or places you can reference.

I will say that Minecraft: Story Mode does a good job with what it was trying to accomplish, the game features the iconic crafting table which allowed you to create items to help progress through the story, and while it wasn’t at the depth of crafting Minecraft itself has it was still nice to see it put in the game.

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Minecraft: Story Mode features Telltale’s bread and butter point and click gameplay while also including a good amount of quick time events and combat. The developer’s dialog and story options return as well, though this time around they are a bit more lighthearted. Minecraft: Story Mode is child friendly and without many decisions that might have you questioning yourself or getting too emotionally invested. The game’s simplistic gameplay allows anyone to jump in and enjoy the story and have fun which, at it’s core, is what Minecraft is about.

With that being said in Minecraft: Story Mode you take on the role of Jesse who, joined by with his friends and pet pig named Rueben, is trying to win the Endercon building competition with the hopes of meeting Gabriel the Warrior, a member of “The Order of the Stone.” Gabriel and his allies are the group of legendary heroes that defeated the Ender Dragon. Things go south and our ragtag group of unlikely heroes are on the quest of a lifetime to find the remaining members of The Order of the Stone so they can help save the world.

Minecraft: Story Mode also boasts a wealth of talented voice acting. If you picked a male character for Jesse the game’s lead voice actor is the hilarious Patton Oswalt while Catherine Taber voices the female version. With the supporting casting of comedian and actor Brian Posehn as Axel, I found myself enjoying any dialog sequences involving Patton and Brian. And just like in previous TT games there are, of course, various story related choices that can result in minor changes to the game’s outcome. From getting black eye to losing your stone sword and deciding who you team up with going into Episode 2, your choices matter. But, I’ll shy away from any details as to avoid spoilers for those of you who have yet to play the game yet.

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Review: The Bridge

With more and more Indy games showing up these past two gaming generations, it takes a lot for one to stand out. Even more so for those with abstract art direction and intriguing puzzles abound, which seem to be more common lately. With games like Limbo and Braid leading the helm, The Bridge is an interesting take on the puzzle genre, which adds an M.C. Escher art style to the mix. While The Bridge was originally released in 2013 on the Xbox 360 and Steam, it will make its way to the now current-gen consoles. At first glance, The Bridge seems like a rather simple game, but adding the M.S. Escher style adds an interesting new perspective to the genre. This forces players to skew how they view the environment, right from the first puzzle and it only gets more crazy as the game trudges on.

While the plot is extremely minimal in comparison to the gameplay, there is one to be found by those who look into every detail. Both the environment and the text that appears when you beat a chapter add to the mystery of an otherwise explanation-less world. At first, The Bridge just throws you right in with no sense of what’s going on, but the more levels you complete, the deeper the plot begins to dig into your brain. While it did throw me off at first, I found myself completing levels and puzzles to try to unravel the mystery of our unnamed protagonist and this strange world he inhabits.

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The Bridge features extremely simple gameplay, using only a few buttons throughout the course of the game. However, mastering all the tools at your disposal are key to beating the puzzles. With powers such as rewinding and tilting the world, they offer better mobility to an otherwise slow-moving protagonist. With how slow the character moves, it can be kind of infuriating when you’ve rewound a couple of times, trying to find the solution. Rather than outright dying, you’re given the ability to rewind from where you died, which proves to be helpful as the game can be a bit of a trial and error for certain puzzles. While it starts off fairly simplistic, the game can and will have a rather interesting difficulty spike.

The Bridge hosts a small amount of content, with only 24 levels for the base game. Once you beat those however, you do unlock Mirror versions of those levels and that’s where the game really gets started. The regular 24 levels offer good challenges, which can be frustrating at times when the solution is not so clear. The Mirror versions however, can be downright difficult in comparison. Some puzzles will take you at most 20 minutes, while some can be done in a matter of seconds, which in turn can be a bit disappointing. While the levels are incredibly well thought out, gorgeous to look at and downright fun, it will leave most gamers wanting more, especially when the game can be beaten in a matter of 4 hours.

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As stated earlier, the game was originally released in 2013 and now re-releases with no additional content. While that is a bit of a bummer for players who have already experienced The Bridge, releasing on the newer consoles allows more gamers to discover this abstract puzzle game. I would like to have seen extra puzzles to give returning players a great reason to try the game again. Even more disappointing, it shares the same achievement list as the Xbox 360 version, which can be completed rather easily. While it offers nothing new from its 2013 version, it’s still worth checking out for fans of the puzzle genre who haven’t played it before. The Bridge is an incredible addition to the puzzle genre and one that should not be missed.

The Bridge releases on Xbox One, August 14, 2015, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita on August 18th and Wii U on August 20th.
PG8_10

editors note: this game was reviewed on X-Box One
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Game of Thrones: Episode 2 – The Lost Lords Review

The game takes place in various locations Ironrath, Yunkai, Kings Landing and The Wall. If you are a fan of the show, the game offers comfort in the story style you are familiar with but has enough differences to stand on its own.

The episode starts you off in Yunkai, with Asher with his sidekick Beskha. In a quick opening scene Asher kills a couple of people who are trying to kill him. He is then informed by his uncle, who is there trying to raise a army to fight Roose Bolton in Ironrath, that his father and his two brothers, Rodrik and Ethan were dead.

We then see a wagon is approaching Ironrath with the bodies of the soldiers killed which included the bodies of Lord Forrester and Rodrik’s only to find out Rodrik is still alive as he forces himself off the wagon wounded. The Maester is called to help and the Forrester’s are notified that Rodrik is alive and in Ironrath. The Forresters’ struggle for control of the Ironwood intensifies, but their quest for allies to help wrestle it from the rival Lord Whitehill involves little in the way of intrigue.

Mira is helping Margery plan her wedding to King Joffrey, by writing out wedding invitations. While we see that Mira has the opportunity to betray Margery’s trust, is one of the toughest decisions in the game by far. It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make in the game so far while playing.

Garet Tuttle is introduced to the life of the Nights Watch that closely retreads Jon Snows story. I will tell you, just like any TellTale game, it is important to figure out who will be Garets’ enemy or friend from his two fellow recruits.

This part of the episode offers some quick training in archery and combat, although it doesn’t make it any easier. I really felt like the episode really started to drag on at this point and lose its momentum and even the quick appearance of familiar character doesn’t help pick up the pace.

Episode 2 in The Game of Thrones: The Lost Lords, takes about roughly 90 minutes long to play.

Overall, I am enjoying playing the game and I am looking forward to Episode 3.

PG9_10

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Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron from Ice Review

I will say this for those who have not watched the show from where the story starts off at, this game will be a major spoiler. So before playing the game I suggest watching the show before playing. The story takes place outside the palace where the Red Wedding takes place. While members of the Stark family are attending the wedding, their soldiers are outside of the castle in their tents, eating and so forth.
One of the main characters in the game is a Squire for Lord Forrester, whose name is Gared Tuttle. In the beginning of the game you will hear stories about the “King Slayer”, Jamie Lannister. After a speech from Lord Forrester, he wants to talk to Gared privately to empower him more than just a Squire.

While Gared is helping out another squire to get wine, he notices how the guards are fully armed. When approached Gared has a choice to run and warn Lord Forrester or save the squire. As Gared is escaping from the guards, he has to make some quick maneuvers to protect himself while heading to Lord Forrester. Once making it to Lord Forrester who is trying desperately to survive, they have a conversation and Gared promises to return to Ironrath with a message. He promises to keep Lord Forrester’s secret and only tell Gared’s uncle about “North Grove”. On his way back to the House of Forrester he comes across Lord Snow’s men killing his father on his family land and kills one of the men.

Once arriving to the House of Forrester Gared gives the news that Lord Forrester and his son were killed at the Red Wedding. Ethan was appointed Lord after the news came back that his father and his older brother were killed. One of the Forrester soldiers stole and now Lord Ethan has a decision to make out of three choices; they are 1-send the soldier to the wall, 2- cut his fingers off and 3- pardon him from the crime that he committed. Now that is your decision to make what Ethan will choose.
Mira Forrester receives the raven from her mother asking her to ask for help. You can see the letter as Mira walks over to her chest and letter is there for you to pick up and read. After that Ms. Tyrell comes in to inform Mira that the crown has concerns on having a handmaiden from the north. Knowing that she is a Forrester and her family is the banner man for the Starks they questioning where Mira’s loyalty stands. Ms. Tyrell’s also tells her while she is being questioned by the queen, she stresses that the importance is to say what is right and not how she feels. Margery has a concern that Mira doesn’t know how the politics work in Kings Landing. During this time Lady Forrester has sent a raven to Kings Landing where Mira Forrester is the handmaiden to Margery Tyrell who is set to marry King Joffrey Lannister.

As you are now playing the role of Mira, you will be heading into the Grand Hall to speak to Cersei and Tyrion. While Mira is there they are testing her to see where her loyalty lies with the crown or to the north with her family and the Starks. The queen will also ask you where your loyalty lies with the Roose Bolton the new Warden of the North. This is where Mira (you) can make that choice to say yes or no. Then Cersei brings up the importance of the Forrester land, the Ironwood. As they know Ironwood is the strongest wood in all the land. Ironwood is the hardest wood and it is also fire resistant. The northerner’s used it to build weapons, shields, boats and homes out of this wood. After being questioned by the queen, Cersei asks to speak to Ms. Tyrell alone and the two leave the Grand Hall and leaves Mira alone with Tyrion. At this very moment Tyrion will try to recruit Mira as an ally.

Mira will return to the maiden’s chambers where she is talking with another girl about the wedding plans and she is joking around at the same time. A few moments later Margery walks into the chambers and asks the two girls what they are doing with the seating arrangements for the wedding. Mira asks to speak to Margery alone and Margery said that whatever you need to say you can say it in front of the other girl. You have a choice at this moment to allow the other girl stay in the room or choose to have her leave the room. After you make your decision, Mira then asks Margery is she can speak to the king to see if he can help Ironrath from Roose Bolton. Margery said that she will try to see if she can convince the king to help out, but she doesn’t promise that it can be done.

At the same time Ethan who is the oldest at the moment at Forrester is named lord. He has a decision to make of retrieving his elder brother and also choosing a new Sentinel at the same time. Ethan had to choose between Roland who is in charge of the Forrester army and Duncan. Ethan can speak to Ryon, Roland, Malcom and his twin sister about this decision. Ethan will talk with each individual and listen to what each has to say about the two men who are up for Sentinel. In the end, only Ethan (you) can make that final decision on who Ethan wants as Sentinel. Beside that decision that has to be made, Ethan also has another decision to make on sending his uncle Malcom to Essos to bring back his older brother or keep him in Ironrath when Ramsey Snow arrives.
Now we are at the point with deciding if Ethan should meet Ramsey Snow in the Great Hall. If this is being asked that means Duncan is the Sentinel then Ramsey Snow will be in the Great Hall for the meeting with Ethan along with Duncan and Roose Bolton. While they are talking Lady Forrester enters the Great Hall with the youngest son and Ethan’s twin sister. While Ramsey Snow is talking to Ethan he asks Ethan will he kneel before him, which Ethan has a choice to kneel or not. Snow goes on talking about the Ironwood and how the Forrester’s will provide the wood to the king. Ethan has a choice to say its 1- always been on Forrester land, 2- Whitehall’s will ruin the land or 3- We are the true craftsmen. Ramsey snow turns and says that the Ironwood will be split 50/50 and Bolton starts to yell. Snow turns and says that we will see who will care for the Ironwood properly and who will make it last longer, since Ethan stated that would you like the wood to last you 50 years with the Whitehall’s caring for it or thousands of years in the Forrester’s hands.

Once Ramsey makes his decision with the Ironwood, he walks over to Talia, Ethan’s twin sister and tells them that he is taking her as a hostage. Ethan walks over and has a decision to make, 1- Take me instead, and 2- Let her go! Or 3- Grab Talia. Well let’s just say with either decision you make on this, Ethan will get a knife to his throat. Then we will walk over and take Ryon the youngest son as hostage.

Overall, I must say I enjoyed playing Episode 1 and looking forward to Episode 2. Even though I am not use to making such a quick decision and being time, I had fun.
PG8_10

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Final Fantasy X HD Review

When first released for the Playstation 2, Final Fantasy X was a drastic departure for the series.  The series was taken into many new directions.   Non-linearity was fundamental to the franchise, and it is partially the reason why so many gamers loved the early iterations, yet FFX is quite linear (For those that worry about linearity, don’t let FFXIII dissuade you from playing this gem).  Voice acting would also become one of FFX’s largest selling points.  Thirteen years, and four numbered titles later, the company has struggled to build upon FFX’s success.

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The story follows Tidus and his journey through a world where individuals named “summoners,” alongside their “guardians,” are tasked with defeating the world’s immortal enemy: Sin.  The plot seems simple enough at first, but the further you advance the story, the more you realize the grim nature of embarking on such a quest.  Twists and turns are in abundance, making it fun to squeeze every last detail from the mythology.

Despite having one of the most somber plots in the franchise, FFX is among the most visually stunning games of any generation (including the current one).  The artists, not content with reusing the more drab look of previous FF titles, decided to throw in every tropical color available.  Islands, which make up for about one-half of the environments, are reminiscent of the original Playstation’s Chrono Cross rather than more recent island based games: Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.

Characters have the distinction of having some of the most outlandish outfits in gaming.  Tidus, besides being a glorified water-polo player, is also an extravagant dresser.  Metal gloves, a bright yellow jacket, net inspired shorts, mixed with oversized boots, never looked better.   It’s safe to say that the character artists really went out on a limb with some of their outfits, but it fits extraordinarily well with the world of Spira.

The gameplay is largely the same, with the addition to the international version’s sphere grid.  Turn based gameplay is not for everyone, but if you were to pick one game to try and get used to the system, FFX is that game.  Swapping characters out on a whim keeps the action flowing nicely, while allowing for some interesting strategies on the players behalf.

Prior to the game being rereleased, many fans were nervous that S.E. messed up the whimsical soundtrack of the original game.  While they have remixed some of the tracks, they are mostly for the better.  Half of the time I was so caught up in the action, I hardly noticed the differences.

One of the more quaint upgrades to the game, trophy support has to be one of the best features implemented.  If you needed a reason to revisit Spira, the trophy list will keep you there a while.   Planning on beating the game while getting the platinum? Be advised that it will easily take you around 80 to 100 hours to do so.  Granted, it will be hours well spent.

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Thanks to the remaster, the game is better in almost every regard. Yet the acting and voice-overs still have issues.  Secondary characters are almost flawless, however, the problems lie in the main characters.  Tidus is annoyingly high-pitched when he gets excited, while Yuna sounds depressed, even at times of enjoyment.  Perhaps the former issues are me being nitpicky, but it goes without saying that the most glaring of faults is the poorly executed lip synching.  It plagued the original game, and it is even more obvious this time around.

Despite some minor flaws, Final Fantasy X is the best game the series has produced in over a decade.   You can look at this and scoff at Square Enix’s inability to replicate its success, or you can look at S.E. and admire how they have created a classic that still holds up today.  I undoubtedly fall into the latter.

 

Score:  10/10

 

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Dragon Dogma: Dark Arisen Review

During the nineties and the early two thousands, Capcom was one of the most prominent developers in the video game industry.  However, after their controversial DLC decisions, the complete destruction of the Resident Evil franchise, and a slew of bad hits, Capcom paled in comparison to its former self.  So when they put out a fantasy RPG just a couple of months after Skyrim released, I quickly looked over the game.  However, having beat Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, I regret not supporting the game at launch.

Dragon’s Dogma is an awesome game; however, if you are looking for an expansive story filled with a lot of lore, than you should probably look elsewhere.  The main premise of the game is that you take control of a created character, who upon battling a dragon, has their heart ripped from their body.  When a miracle occurs and you survive the attack, your quest begins to hunt down the dragon to get your heart back.  There isn’t much to the story beyond this point.  A couple of interesting ideas are brought up at the end of the game, but the rest are rather dull.

The reason that you will continue to play the game, even after you realize that the story is lackluster, is the amazing combat mechanics.  Part “Dark Souls” and part “Shadow of the Colossus,” the combat is easily the best aspect of the title.  You could mash some buttons and get through the beginning of the game, but if you are planning on surviving past the first two or three hours, you will have to adapt to the fighting styles of each type of enemy.

Mastering your characters abilities is key to success, especially when you find yourself caught in the wilderness at nighttime.  Although the enemy AI is not as brutal as  “Dark Souls,” you will be hard pressed to survive the night.  Especially given that the world of Gransys is ripe with otherworldly and mythological creatures, including Dragons, Harpies and Griffins.   At any given moment, these or the numerous other creatures can, and most likely, will kill you.

Although the game is devastatingly difficult at certain points, you are given all the power you need to fight back.  The mechanics allow you to climb the creature and attack weaker points, which are generally located at the head of the monster.  This is pivotal to winning against your hardest opponents, including the infamous “Ur-Dragon.”  But, just because you have the upper hand, doesn’t mean that you are completely safe.  Often times, the enemy will unleash its most powerful attack with you trying to climb it.

One way to survive in the game is to rely on your pawn, as well as other player’s pawns.  Pawns are non-playable characters that work alongside of you to help defeat monsters.  Throughout the game, you will come across waystones.  These devices will allow you to recruit pawns.  Some will require you to part with valuable currency, but, thankfully, most players will allow you to use their pawns for free.  Learning how to get the best out of the pawns in your party is one of the best ways to ensure victory.  Tired of being low on health? Go to one of the waystones and recruit a magic wielding pawn to keep your HP from dropping too low.

Still, one disappointing aspect of the pawn system is that other players cannot join your game.  If you can use their pawns similar to a cooperative mode, why couldn’t Capcom find a way for other players to join your game, whether as their pawns or their own main characters?  Perhaps if the game gets a sequel, Capcom can implement this feature.

Although there is a new game plus mode, you will find little in the way of challenge.  Enemies do not scale with your level, so most of the time; you will simply mow through them.  If trophy hunting is your thing, it is a good place to clean up some trophies that you may have missed your first time through the game.

The Dark Arisen expansion is the most rewarding experience that you will come across your second time through the game.  It adds a significant amount of enemies to fight, as well the best armor in the game.  Dark Arisen doesn’t drastically add to the story, but you more than likely won’t care at this point.

Expect to play in the 80+ hour range if you are looking to witness everything the game has to offer.

 

 

8.0

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Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

I have a long standing, love or hate, relationship with the Call of Duty franchise.  On one hand, I think that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of the most important and influential games in history.  Yet, every Call of Duty since has failed to capture anything similar.  Yes they get bigger with each entry, but this is one of those cases where bigger does not translate to better.

Players take control of Logan Walker, aka generic, voiceless, action hero.  Along with brother, David “Hesh” Walker, and father, Elias Walker, your character will attempt to stop a global terrorist organization and a rouge special agent.  If this all sounds familiar, it’s probably because you have watched/played/read this scenario many times before.

The detractors of the series always make the claim, “if you’ve played one Call of Duty, you have played them all,” and for the most part, I am inclined to agree with them.  The set pieces and characters have changed, yet everything still feels the same.  Each mission consists of you moving from point A to point B, and killing all of the enemies between.  Although levels range from the beautiful vistas of outer space and the ocean floor, it does little to help break up the monotony of doing the same thing over and over again.

The largest selling point, multiplayer, is as crisp as you could envision.  I’ve played a little over eighteen hours online and I never once lost connection to a game or sat for longer than a few seconds while searching for a match.  Surprisingly, while in game, I only experienced latency a handful of times.  This is a large upgrade from previous games, where I would experience lag frequently.

The multiplayer experience, at its core, hasn’t altered much over the years; which may or may not be a bad thing depending on your attitude.  It’s a good thing because the gameplay is as smooth as it has ever been, but a bad thing because it becomes boring within a few hours of playtime.  Thankfully, they scaled back the ridiculousness of some of the perks and killstreaks; which makes the game more satisfying.  Infinity Ward would be wise to bring the series back to its more barebones gameplay that gamers loved about the original Modern Warfare.  This would make players depend on skill based combat, versus running around with a handful of perks that make players annoyingly overpowered.

Invasion, the spiritual successor to “zombie mode,” offers a fun and satisfying release from the standard multiplayer experience.  Up to four players battle against waves of aliens, before attempting to escape that particular zone.  Although I don’t think that Invasion will sell copies of the game on its own, it certainly feels like Infinity Ward placed a lot of time into fleshing out the experience.

Overall I can understand why the developers do not want to take a lot of risks with its multiplayer feature, but they have to do something about the single player experience.  If nothing else, they could remove this component and focus solely on their bread and butter, the multiplayer.

 

7.0

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Mass Effect Review

Originally published for the Xbox 360 in 2007, five years later, Mass Effect finally arrived to the PlayStation 3 in December of 2012. During this span, it seemed like Microsoft would not abandon its stranglehold of the original game, even after the second and third iteration found its way onto Sony’s console.

Yet, after a long wait, PlayStation gamers can finally delve into the beautifully enchanting, non-linear, first third of the trilogy. Whether this is your first foray into the game, or if you are, like me, looking to enjoy the game on a different system, than welcome to one of the most fascinating and arguably deepest games of the generation.

Mass Effect starts off by introducing you to most of the series mainstays, most importantly Commander Shepard, who you will experience the game’s events with. Just like the other M.E. titles, customization is at the forefront of the game. From small-scale meetings with a Fan to important decisions that affect the outcome of future games, Mass Effect’s trademark choices are the most evident during this first game.

Although the series’ story is extremely deep and fleshed out, it is not all that difficult to understand. When a rouge agent, of what is essentially a future U.N., helps bring back a hostile and formidable race of aliens unto the unsuspecting universe, Commander Shepard must step up to the challenge of stopping the agent. However, there are a few problems that stand in front of Shepard. Saren, the rouge agent, is one of the universe’s most respected individuals, while Shepard, and the rest of Humanity is seen as unreliable and untrustworthy. It is from this moment forward that you will embark on one of gaming’s greatest stories.

If you have only played the second and third game, then Mass Effect may feel as foreign as the many planets you travel to. The series took a polarizing turn in regards to the combat mechanics; which became a lot tighter and action oriented in later games, character models appear a bit stiffer, and then there are also the notorious elevators that managed to find their way into this version of the game. Small tiffs aside, this game is engaging, thought provoking and sports the series deepest RPG mechanics.

Experience points are handed out for just about everything in the game. From reading a codex, to landing on an uncharted world, you will earn a load of points throughout the game. This is great, because throughout the game, you will continue to experience a large variety of enemies; which will require you to place a high level of experience in specific sub-categories of the leveling system. However, this does not mean you will max out a characters level in one play through; giving you plenty of reason to go back and experience the game a second and third time.

Your character’s class, which you pick in the beginning of the game, and your ally’s classes have various categories that you manually rank up each time you gain a level. Your class, as well as your ally’s class’, determines what kind of weapon and abilities the characters specialize in. Choose a soldier class, and your character will be a master at wielding various types of guns. Choose an Engineer and your character will yield the ability to hack robotic enemies, and sabotage their armor. While Adepts, the most “Sci-Fi” class in the game, can use biotic attacks to destroy enemies.

Its unfortunate, but most of Mass Effect’s original Xbox 360 issues are brought into this version of the game. Loading, especially at crucial moments, takes an extremely long time, the aforementioned elevator rides takes close to a minute to traverse between one level and the next, while framerate issues occur when entering buildings and during conversations. Also during conversations, the voice acting, although with great dialogue, hardly ever synchs up to the individual’s lips. Although none of these problems are a deal breaker, it would have been nice to see some changes to the blatant issues that occurred back in 2007. That being said, I wouldn’t have played and beat the game multiple times on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 if the rewarding experience of Mass Effect wasn’t so alluring.

PG9_10

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Batman Arkham Orgins Review

The Arkham series of Batman games has shown us a bunch of things. Batman can punch with a bomb on his fist without hurting his hand, Bane can withstand being pummeled by the Batmobile, A ripped up cape can still glide, and, most importantly, Batman games can actually be good. It pains me to say that Arkham Origins doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessors.

The story for this game is admittedly pretty good. You are two years into Bruce Wayne’s vigilante career, and you hear that Black Mask, a mob boss, is causing problems in Blackgate prison. Once he gets there and deals with Killer Croc, Batman learns that there is a price on his head with the world’s top assassins there to collect on it. This all swirls into one big connected story with the Joker making his debut as well as other familiar faces such as the Mad Hatter and the Penguin on one long crazy Christmas Eve.

The story of this game is definitely its high point. With early versions of characters, as well as a lot of interaction between Batman and Alfred, showing up in the story, it makes an entertaining and believable beginning story for Batman. The debut of the Joker was also awesome, without revealing spoilers. Speaking of the Joker, the voices, even though Mark Hamill was absent, were pretty spot on.

Unfortunately, the rest of the game lags behind. The area of the game is almost exactly the same as Arkham City. Most of the villains, gadgets, and henchmen styles are from the previous games as well. Very little of this game is novel to the series which is very disappointing, especially considering that the last two games brought such innovation with each release.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a rebirth of Batman games and showed that good games can be made off of Batman. The gliding, gadgets, and changing landscapes of Arkham Asylum were groundbreaking. Above all else though, the combat system was and is like nothing else. Building on to this, Arkham City brought even more change. A different, huge map, many new villains, gadgets with new abilities, and a grand plotline to fit in all these new things were what the second game in the series brought to the table.

Arkham Origins sadly lacks this originality. Many of the gadgets are the same or perform the same functions. Admittedly, Arkham Origins is a lot more difficult than the previous games. The combat and bosses definitely became more complicated; however there is nothing to Batman’s style to really say changes were made to his combat. New henchman and boss dynamics seem to really be the only changes when it comes to combat. Many of the animations of batman seem to be literally cut and copied from previous games. It just feels like you are playing an adaption or DLC for Arkham City rather than playing a new game.

In all, it seems like the Batman: Arkham Origins was just… lacking. I was afraid that this may happen when it was said that Rocksteady Studios were not developing this game and it appears I was right. It’s not a terrible game in itself, but it is a disappointment in comparison to the rest of the series.

PG7_10

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Playstation 3 PlayStation 3 Reviews

Beyond Two Souls Review

Quantic Dreams is at it again. The studio that brought you Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy developed another original story telling game called Beyond: Two Souls. As a fan of this developer’s previous titles, I regret to tell you that not only does Beyond not raise the bar; it almost lowers it.

In Beyond: Two Souls, you play the life of Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page) as she struggles to find her place in the world and the secrets of the next world. What makes this story stand out is Jodie’s spectral associate, known as Aiden, who is somehow linked to Jodie and causes more problems than solutions.

Throughout the gameplay, you have the ability to switch between Jodie and Aiden to solve puzzles, progress the storyline, and find out more information that Jodie can’t access on her own accord. This notion of gameplay promotes a new way of telling the story outside of the box, but Aiden’s gameplay is almost too easy. There is no real danger when playing with Aiden and all obstacles are almost too easy. Aiden’s easy play-through takes the fear and suspense out of the storyline and tends to eliminate the perils facing Jodie.

Speaking of playing through the game, the gameplay mechanics of Beyond seem watered down. In previous Quantic Dreams games (Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain) you had to press a series of different buttons in a required sequence giving you the urgency to get the right combo for proper story progression. The Beyond: Two Souls action sequence controls are changed to a simple control movement of the right analog stick. The function seems similar to a control scheme you would see in an iPhone/iPad game. Although this may cater to those mobile app gamers looking to get into console gaming, it leaves little challenge to gamers who enjoy a challenge.

With the newly action control mechanics, gamers may feel unsatisfied when running from dangers. If you’re not a fan of the new mechanics, you’re going to have a problem since the game is fluttered with action sequences in the majority of the game’s storytelling.

One thing to note about Beyond’s storytelling is the game plays like a Quentin Tarantino film. You play one chapter as Jodie in the CIA, the next chapter as Jodie as a little girl, then a teenage Jodie, and so on. It may provide great story telling, but it produces some annoying questions throughout certain scenes. You may look at a scene and ask, “Why did I see this now? This scene with the two characters doesn’t make sense from the previous scene.” It almost forces you to play the game twice in order to understand the plot of Beyond.

The plot has a tendency to feel linear. In Quantic Dreams’ previous title, failed events lead to a change in storyline and outcomes. Beyond: Two Souls focuses primarily on Jodie which means she is destined to go through certain unfortunate events. There was one chapter in which Jodie attended a birthday party and is locked into a closet. No matter how many ways you play the chapter, Jodie will always be locked in the closet. The only outcome you may have from this chapter is whether or not you want to walk away from these unpleasant party members (once you get out) or punish them for their actions. It is also important to note that neither of the decisions in the party chapter affects the storyline. This leads to little sense of accomplishment since the choice doesn’t really matter (unless you are a Trophy Whore and you want to Platinum the game ;-D).

The redeeming qualities of the game are performances by Ellen Page, William Dafoe and other actors/actresses involved. The storyline may lead to confusion in plot holes, but Ellen really brings Jodie to life and makes you feel sad for the character. You can’t help but feel tears coming on when you see her portray the hardships of Jodie. There are many scenes that will make you cry throughout the game the first time you see them.

The intense acting and gripping scenes may keep you involved in Beyond: Two Souls, but the other flaws will make you angry that you shoveled out $60 for this game. If you have never played Quantic Dreams’ previous games, Beyond is a decent game to try when it goes down in price. For those hardcore gamers, Beyond is a great game if you: receive it as a holiday gift, rent it, or buy it at a cheap price in the future.

My advice is to what until the game goes down in price. It is not worth getting today.

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Playstation 3 PlayStation 3 Reviews

The Last Of Us Review

The Last of Us has caused me to come to a conclusion which I have never been able to come to video game wise; The Last of Us is the best game I have ever played. This wasn’t an easy thing to decide on, but this game is a true masterpiece of gaming, and storytelling.
There is a real infection for ants, a fungus, that causes the ant to believe that every other ant it sees is hostile, causing the infected ones to become aggressive. The Last of Us asks the question; what would happen if this spread to humans?
You play as Joel, taking place 20 years after the initial outbreak. Martial law has kept society together, but barely. Through a series of events, you will be put in charge of taking care of a foul mouthed 14 year old girl. You must get her across the country to your destination. Along the way, you’ll come across plenty of infected, and not so pleasant, survivors.
If you’re smart, the gameplay revolves around stealth. In this game ammo is incredibly hard to come by, so you must take down your enemies in a more ‘hands on’ way. You’ll be able to sneak in the shadows and stealth-grab the target, either choking them out, or shanking them if you happen to have a shiv on you. You can either acquire shivs from exploring and scavenging, or making them yourself with materials that you can scavenge throughout your journey. Most games like this try to act like bullets are rare, but by the end of those games you’re armed to the teeth with weapons and ammo. The Last of Us does have a wide variety of weapons, but bullets are hard to come by. This is the main thing that makes stealth important. Yes, you could just run and gun every battle, but you’ll never have the resources to beat the game; if that makes enough sense.
I would love to go in-depth with the story, I really would; but the game’s plot is so amazing that I absolutely refuse to give away anything. I have never cared so much about fictional characters in my entire life. Let’s just say, I teared up a total of 4 times throughout this game, and I have no shame in saying that. If you’ve played this game, you understand why.
Graphics-wise, this is the most beautiful game I have ever laid my eyes on. So realistic looking, and the sound just goes along with the visuals to help complete this master piece. During the intense, dramatic moments, the realism of the characters’ appearance just added to the immersion.
This game is an absolute must-buy for any PS3 owners, and I would go as far to say that it’s worth buying a PS3 if you don’t own one. I am giving this game a high 11/10!

PG9_10

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Angry Birds Trilogy Review

My guess is that you don’t own the Angry Birds Trilogy, but that you have played most of the content before. This is just a re-release of the first 3 Angry Birds games, the original, Rio, and Seasons on consoles and select handhelds. The thing is, this game doesn’t belong on consoles. It started as a mobile game, and should stay a mobile game. The thing is it costs 1300% more than the mobile games, yes, this game costs 40$.

Angry Birds is a simple game. You launch birds at structures to knock them over and kill all of the pigs in the level. On mobile, you drag the birds back and let go to launch the birds. You can also tap the screen to activate the birds’ special powers. On the PS3, you aim the birds with the analog stick and launch with the x button. You also use X to activate powers. It kind of ruins the fun touch screen interactivity, and the controls feel gimmicky on console.

AB3

The entire reason Angry Birds got popular was because you could play it for only about 5 minutes and still enjoy yourself. That 5 minute aspect is gone with the console version. You can’t have that same short session experience that you can on an iPhone. You also can’t bring your progress on the go: you have to always be on the couch. Angry Birds is a mobile game, and should stay a mobile game.

The Ps3 version adds new levels: HD graphics, full animated cut-scenes, and awful Playstation Move controls. The extra levels are the exact same game though, and there are only about 15 “exclusive to console” levels. , I have to say, the graphics are beautiful, but they were good enough on mobile. The graphics are not a game changer. The cut-scenes are about 15 seconds long and not even very good anyways. The animation style is ugly, and they probably should have put more work into it.

AB2

Don’t even get me started on the Move controls. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be accurate, in a game where you absolutely must be accurate. The cursor is shaky, and has launched birds when I didn’t want it to. I always like to zoom out to see the whole stage to see everything I need to hit, but that’s really hard in the console version. You have to hold a button, and flick your wrist up like 10 times. It is ok but can get aggravating, because it resets when you restart a level.

Finally, if you enjoy extremely difficult trophies, and have way too much time on your hands, this game is good for you. There are easy ones, but then there is a trophy: the hardest, most time consuming trophy ever. If you have ever played an Angry Birds game, you know how hard getting 3 stars on one level is. Now try getting three stars on every level across every game. It will easily take over 150 hours, and probably much longer than that.

AB1

The Angry Birds games are fun, but not on console. With gimmicky controls, and a ridiculous price, I don’t think that the Angry Birds Trilogy is worth it, especially with all of the great games coming out in 2013. I think you should save your money for a better game that is actually a well-suited game for console, and not just a hopeless grab for money.

PG4_10

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Playstation 3 PlayStation 3 Reviews

Rotastic Review

Rotastic is really easy to like at first. It’s a simple puzzle game with a unique gameplay hook and a charming—though at this point generic—cartoony art style. But it doesn’t take long to realize Rotastic is boring you to tears. The one single mechanic that makes the game unique among a myriad of other indie puzzle games with a cartoony art style ends up being its most damning problem.

 

Rotastic builds its entire foundation upon its unique, and only, mechanic. The game is played by swinging from a set number of hook points on a stage, making sure not fall out of the level. You can either swing or change your direction while swinging, and that’s it. Levels are organized into worlds, with 9-10 stages in each world. The average objective in a stage ranges from jewel-collecting to brick-breaking in a set amount of time, with the degree of your success judged upon how long it took you and how many lives you lost.

 

R2

 

Stages have a nice variation, but they definitely begin to repeat from world to world. While most stages are merely tweaks upon jewel-collecting or brick-breaking, there are duel stages that pit you against other AI opponents. In those cases you must strategically swing in a way that will cut other enemies’ ropes and make them fall to their death. But while Rotastic’s stages are fun and varied, it’s mostly rendered moot by the lack of evolution and polish in the game’s swinging mechanics. The stage might change around you, but it never becomes more interesting or fun to swing around. I played through the game constantly seeing opportunities for the gameplay to improve. The simple addition of upgrades could have completely changed the game. What if I could buy the ability to climb and retract my rope to fine-tune my swings? What if there was an ability that makes aiming and transitioning hook points easier? It seemed so obvious to include some sort of progression mechanic, or anything to mix up the monotony and difficulty of swinging, but there just isn’t.

 

In addition to campaign levels, you’ll find Combat Mode—which essentially lets you form custom games with AI opponents or local play. This is pretty much what you would expect—you can set a match to your liking in the settings, but it’s nothing exciting or interesting. And other than that, you can go check out the leaderboards, which in a week after the game’s release has only a little more than 200 entries on it.

 

R3

 

Rotastic features a nice visual style, focusing on medieval times with a cartoony twist. The game even tries to set up small back stories for the four characters you can choose from on their website, even though all of them play exactly the same in practice. And the music, while limited, gives off a light-hearted vibe that fits the overall style.

 

VERDICT:

You can taste the unfulfilled potential in Rotastic. While there is fun to be had, swinging feels unnecessarily difficult and takes far too long to get the hang of. But for the low price of $10, you could definitely do worse. Rotastic can still be plenty fun to play in small chunks, and really feels the type of game that would benefit from coming to Vita. It’s a very simple and charming puzzle game that could be so much better, but is still pretty good as is. If you’re into competitive games you can play with your family, then you should definitely give Rotastic a chance.

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Big Sky Infinity Review

Fast-paced “Bullet-Hell” shooters rarely provide incentive to keep playing after you’ve claimed the top of your respective friend’s leaderboard. The fundamental design of them suggests that you’re going to die, and you’re going to die a lot, but the only way to improve is to learn enemy patterns and try to make it further the next time around. And while Big Sky Infinity does mostly follow this template, it adds extensive RPG elements and a wide variety of game modes to make sure there’s probably something you haven’t tried yet at any given time.

Big Sky Infinity absolutely nails the single most important aspect of a fast-paced scrolling shooter—the gameplay. Its dual-stick shooting and consistently great framerate are crucial to the experience. The instant you start playing, you feel a great sense of control that a super smooth 60fps can allow.

BSI4

Big Sky Infinity doesn’t follow any story, and doesn’t have an end to it’s game modes. In reality, it shares more DNA with something like Dark Souls than anything. You’ll be briefed with a short tutorial on learn controls, but after that, the game just doesn’t do much to explain itself. This forces players to play a multitude of times before you know how different elements of the world play out—the random black holes, slow-motion acid trips, and perplexing bosses that you’ll surely die from more than once before you know how to hurt them. And like Dark Souls, death often comes with a new lesson—and frustration. But that’s why Big Sky Infinity’s upgrade system exists. In Classic mode, you’ll be building up Starbits after every run that you can use to upgrade a number of aspects of your ship—like shot radius, shields, reload time on heavy laser, ship speed, and many others. The way you can simply dump thousands of points into upgrades at regular intervals is strangely satisfying.

But while these upgrades are addicting to obtain, it can often be hard to see how your improvements are helping your session when the game is as opaque as it is. You feel like you just sorta have to trust the constant point-dumping is actually helping. Bosses will appear randomly during a session, each one requiring a different strategy to defeat. And once defeated you continue on your run, so you’ll often run into more than one in the same game. While each boss is challenging and varied, there are only four of them, so expect to be see the same one many times. I eventually became so accustomed to the way each boss behaved, they ceased to be a challenge.

BSI5

But probably the best argument for Big Sky Infinity is it’s asynchronous multiplayer mode found in the Vita version of the game, which is essentially a classic game of HORSE. First, one players sets the rules of the game, sets his score in that mode, sends a message to the opponent, who then plays that mode and tries to beat that score. If you don’t beat the score, you get an H. If you do beat it, the other guy gets an H. But you don’t only have to play for score—I can set the mode to be Pacifism, so you can’t shoot and can only dodge. Then I can also set it to be a game of distance, kills, Starbits, and more. Score notifications work very well, because they’re handled through the Vita’s messaging app. The message received will take you directly into the game, ready to play. And since the message is reading minimal amounts of data, you can receive and accept challenges over 3G. It’s an intelligent system that makes excellent use of the Vita’s strengths. But unfortunately, this mode is completely absent from the PS3 version of the game. In the place of it, is a four-player local multiplayer mode. This is fine, but doesn’t compare in quality to the HORSE mode.

VERDICT

Big Sky Infinity is a salute to the bullet-hell shooters of old that melds its seizure-inducing visuals and kick*ss soundtrack exceptionally well. Even better is its myriad of game modes, each one evoking a different skill. Upgradable skills found in Classic mode assure that you won’t max them out quickly, though they don’t always seem to help with all of the randomness. While buying the PS3 version gives you the Vita version for free, the multiplayer HORSE mode found in the Vita version is the most enjoyable part of the game, and led me to almost exclusively playing that version. For ten bucks, it’s kinda hard to go wrong with Big Sky Infinity. 

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Hitman Absolution Review

Hitman: Absolution is a very different kind of game from its predecessor Blood Money, a game that I fell in love with just a few months ago, despite its release in 2006. Blood Money heavily emphasized the idea of stalking your pray in plain sight, planning a kill by exploring the intricately detailed sandbox around you, and watching your carefully constructed series of “accidental” events unfold around you. If you don’t want these, though, it can be about finding the perfect vantage point to snipe your targets, or bust down the door guns a’blazin, or whatever the heck you wanted it to be about. Hitman was basically its own genre, until now. Absolution never recreates the same kind of freedom of choice found in Blood Money, but it does provide a handful of options for getting from A to B or taking down a target. Absolution very clearly places presentation and storytelling over gameplay, and manages to do both pretty well.

 

Hitman: Absolution follows Agent 47 on a contract to kill his former handler Diana Burnwood, after her betrayal of the Agency. As you might expect, things don’t go as planned and 47 finds himself on the run from the Agency to protect a girl named Victoria from further genetic experiments. It isn’t a very intriguing story compared to its predecessor, especially given how much more effort Absolution puts into it. I was often unsure of exactly why I was doing what I was doing, having to go over the briefing again to fill myself in. It’s difficult to comprehend Agent 47’s motivations for protecting Victoria under the request of Diana when 47 himself is a stone-cold killer who refuses to express emotion. Up until now he’s been nothing but a vessel for the player’s decisions, but Absolution tries to throw a moral compass into his hands which, unfortunately, falls a bit flat.

 

Absolution’s pacing and level structure could be easily equated to October’s Dishonored or Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The game gives you an objective–“Kill Duder McSomeGuy”–and plenty of tools and opportunities to achieve that goal. For the majority of Absolution, though, objectives are more like “Walk through this door” or “Walk through this door that requires a keycard”. That’s where Absolution begins to feel the most like the previously mentioned games in that I’m simply trying to get across the room, not killing a specific target in unique ways. There are multiple ways to get across that room; you could subdue a guard and take his disguise, creep around and avoid sight, or take out your Silverballers and lay waste to all those with a pulse. I definitely had moments of magic experimenting with these different play-styles, though the changes made to the disguise system make it less practical and harder to manage. Those with the same disguise as yours will rapidly begin to see through your ruse and blow your cover. The only way to counter this is to blend in, which quickly burns your Instinct meter. This would be a good balanced system, if regaining Instinct wasn’t so valuable and hard to do. When the fastest way to regain Instinct is playing like a mass murderer, it directly contradicts the use of Instinct to stay stealthy.

 

Despite that issue with Instinct, it’s overall a very smart addition to Hitman. Its primary use is the “Detective Vision-like” mode that highlights enemy positions and movement paths through walls. It will also highlight points of interest that drop subtle hints at the possible things you could do with something. For instance, a notice on a guard’s coffee cup may pop up telling you that “he really likes his coffee”, then perhaps you find upon some sleeping pills that you would be perfect knocking him out. Whereas previous iterations left discovery completely up to you, Absolutions nudges you in the right direction, but still leaves plenty of room to feel satisfied at cleverly executing a kill. That sense of self-pride is important to Hetmans’ fundamental gameplay loop, so it’s even more important that it’s done well here.

 

All of these welcome additions and improvements to the Hitman formula are met with a bittersweet taste in the mouth. They only work well when applied to the classic sandbox levels you’d expect from Hitman, which are few and far between in Absolution. When my only objective is a linear run to a door, the need to use Instinct is reduced. Even when the game finally does provide a proper sandbox with which to experiment, it’s much smaller than those found in Blood Money. Absolution’s scoring system doesn’t help, either. There is a constant number in the right corner at the screen at any given point, rewarding or taking away points according to your play style. There are also a myriad of challenges to complete during a stage that greatly increase your final score, though trying to do all of them in one playthrough is impossible. All of this is in pursuit of a bigger final score, which is then added to the national and friends average. There is a very specific problem with the way the game scores players: It subtracts points. Losing a ton of points when I decide to shoot a random guard in the head directly contradicts the idea of playing the way you want. It’s one thing to grant bonus points when you perform difficult stealth tasks, but to take away points because I’m not the perfect assassin feels cheap, and sucks the joy one gets from tagging six dudes with Point Shooting and watching the rapid gore unfold.

 

The other half of Absolution’s package is Contracts mode, a surprisingly deep way to add some replay value. Contracts mode is essentially the custom challenge mode we’ve always invented in Hitman, now properly implemented. Creating a contract means entering any stage from the story and marking three targets for execution. Then you play out the situation whichever way you want, taking out the targets. The game will then analyze the different stipulations you performed like “Only Kill Targets”, “Hide All Bodies”, or “Kill this guy with this specific gun and disguise”. You can then name your contract, challenge friends to beat your score, and then send it off into the world for all the community to play. Though my previous problems with the game’s level structure bleeds over into Contracts, every stage is linear and small with very few exceptions, meaning you’re going to see a ton contracts on those few open levels and less on others. Regardless, Contracts is a very cool concept done pretty well here.

 

Hitman: Absolution is not an example of why I love Hitman, because it’s a very different kind of game. Nearly all of its improvements feel like IO Interactive still had Blood Money on the brain, when in reality they don’t work nearly as well when a stage is as linear. Still, Absolution left me jaw-dropped at its visuals and attention to detail–which are well-represented by the countless lines of incidental dialogue between the AI. Games like Deus Ex could learn plenty of things from the way Absolution handles its movement, cover, and shooting. Though it’s definitely not the Hitman sequel that I would have preferred, none can doubt how well put-together a game it is in the end and for that I salute thee, Agent 47.

Hitman: Absolution gets an 8/10

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FIFA 13 Review

Being a massive football fan, upon hearing I was given the chance to review FIFA 13, I quite literally jumped at the opportunity. Also, as the only guy who has a lot of knowledge on the subject of football I was a shoe in for the job.

 

FIFA 13 marks the 20th edition of EA’s best-selling football franchise. With this anniversary come some pretty gigantic changes. As should be with any sports title, the most obvious changes made were made to the game play itself. The most noticeable to me had to be the “first touch mode”. When implemented properly, first touch mode allows the player to control the ball on a dime. Admittedly, I am not very good at using the first touch system on a consistent basis. However, I have fallen prey to several players in the online seasons mode who use it consistently and it can prove to be a deadly weapon in a player’s arsenal.

 

The next feature I spent time learning about was the new and improved attacking AI. Attacking has gone from the clumsy system of hoping your opponent makes a defensive error to a fluid system where your AI counterparts will make intelligent runs of the ball; including but not limited to “dummy” runs that will pull defenders out of position to open up space for the player holding the ball. This new fluid attacking system creates a much more realistic footballing experience for fans of the game. Games now have a discernible ebb and flow, and scoring is more about creating opportunities than forcing your opponent to make mistakes.

 

The final new feature that I spent time exploring was the new Kinect voice recognition. With Kinect voice recognition compatibility, the player can command his AI players to pass, shoot or even place a ball through the defense into space for the player to run onto. The only real flaw with the voice recognition system is that the Kinect will pick up ambient noise in your home and will assume you are arguing a referee’s decision. I was punished by my manager with suspensions three times for having a simple conversation with my wife while playing career mode.

Visually, FIFA 13 is a bit of hit and miss. The Stadia, weather effects and players (in top leagues) are rendered realistically and with great detail. However, the lower league players look shoddy and generic; while the crowds at games are still inexplicably rendered in 2D. On the bright side, the menus are absolutely gorgeous and easy to navigate, making this game extremely user friendly.

 

Making a sports game that feels like a new iteration in the series and not just a glorified roster update can’t be very easy, but for the last several years EA has managed to make it look easy. This year they have outdone themselves again with what is obviously the most realistic football game on the market right now. EA deserves the praise the critics and I are heaping on them.

9/10

 

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Retro City Rampage Review

The word “retro” is thrown around a lot in this generation. By definition, Retro is typically an aged or outdated style, fashion, mode, etc. Anything from more than 15-20 years is typically considered “retro”. Sometimes ideas challenge that definition and present the question: Can a modern game with modern ideas and innovation be classified as “retro”?
Retro City Rampage is one of those games that stands up to the challenge. Does it succeed or does it fall flat like the sprites it emulates?

(Game Modes)
Retro City Rampage features a long and robust campaign mode that continuously hammers your memories with references from the 80s and 90s. Some of these references are hilarious while others are primarily designed to make you reminisce of not just video games, but pop-culture as well. I can’t count how many times I caught myself thinking about the times I first played the games that Retro City Rampage was copying.

In addition to those modes, Retro City Rampage also provides “rampage” side missions. I haven’t gone on one of these types of missions since they were last used in the Grand Theft Auto series: Vice City. Essentially, they are score chasers, which I have never been heavily into with any game. RCR, on the other hand, successfully captures what I liked with the GTA rampages. These challenges are the perfect excuse to bring your 8-bit chaos fantasies to fruition.

(Gameplay)

When you start up the game, the very first “retro” reference that you are shown is the presentation of the game. You play in a top down, over-head view similar to the original Grand Theft Auto. Occasionally the game will give you a different camera view similar to the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game (which is also referenced multiple times). Retro City Rampage constantly introduces new game play elements into the fray that can make the player confused. Having a brief tutorial would have been nice, considering the game tosses you into the frenzy and expects you to know what you are doing. This aspect could potentially put some gamers off of the game and that would be a shame.

Much like GTA, RCR has a wanted level system displayed by a meter where the color green means you are safe and the cops don’t care if you exist. However that meter will quickly climb as it seems that every little mistake you make (like bumping into another car when a cop is near) pushes you further towards the red, essentially meaning you are screwed. Luckily, there is a way to get rid of the wanted level. Scattered about the map (usually in alleys) are items called: “Stealth Coins” which, once you collect one, makes the police mysteriously blind to your actions for a limited time allowing you to make your escape.

Another issue that proved to be annoying was the lack of detail on the in-game map. The map places little color filled circles on places of interest on your map, but this is a little frustrating when you are cruising around or trying to find a specific shop. If you don’t remember the general location of that store, you could be forced to wander the streets until you stumble on it. I had this issue after I completed a mission that required you to wear a propeller hat. I couldn’t remember where the hat shop was, so I had no choice but to wander the streets.

When you decide to take a break from all the 8-bit violence, there is an in-game arcade that has several games waiting for you to play outside of RCR’s many mini-games. Of these arcade games, a plump, meaty, and for lack of a better word, “drippy” character makes an appearance in a game with Virtual Boy graphics. (You can draw your own conclusions from those hints)


(Sound & Visuals)

Compared to modern day titles, Retro City Rampage may not be something that spectacular, but it wouldn’t be fair to compare this game to anything other than a game from the generation that it mimics. Both the sound effects/music and visuals of RCR successfully recreate the presentation of the best games of yesteryear. The sound effects are the same that you would expect from the 8-bit era of gaming, just slightly enhanced to maintain the authenticity and to make sure that the game won’t drive you crazy from the bleeps and bloops.

One of the things that makes this game stand out is that it gives you the option to adjust graphic filters. You can apply an old time (80s’ish) TV that surrounds the screen with all of the glorious knobs that you had to turn to change the channel (unless you had one of those ugly slider cable boxes). You can select graphic filters that make the game look like it’s being played on the Gameboy’s green and black dot matrix LCD screen or you can set it up to display as classic VGA. There are a crap-ton of options that allow you to customize the game’s graphics to suit your nostalgic needs.

(Trophies)

Retro City Rampage has a total of 14 trophies and of those, you have your typical “Do this just because it’s possible” trophies: “Feeling Groggy” requires you to “get ‘sick’ off of milk.’” Not all of the trophies are that easy. You also have your collectables which consist of loot bags, pay phones and invisible walls. (I know, it sounds weird, but it works with the aesthetic.) There is a trophy called “Death Cam, No death” that requires you to complete a mission called “Death Cam VHS” without dying. The name of this mission may be stirring up some thoughts in your head right now and if you are wondering, “Death Cam VHS” is similar to the arcade classic “Smash TV”.

(Conclusion & Thoughts)

Retro City Rampage is Brian Provinciano’s open love letter to a long gone generation in our gaming history. With all of the content and constant references to the 80s and 90s, you can tell that Brian’s heart and mind belong to video games. Retro City Rampage proves that a modern game can be “retro” when it’s being developed with the creator’s love for a long gone generation as the constant focus. When you purchase Retro City Rampage from the PlayStation Network, you’ll see that Retro City Rampage is a part of the “cross-buy” program. So you get both the PlayStation 3 version AND the PlayStation Vita version all for the low price of $14.99.

 

SCORE:
9.0 out of 10
Very close to absolute perfection

PROS
The ultimate 8-bit nostalgic game available for home consoles
A ton of content and customization options
2 games for the price of one through the cross-buy program
Epic in-game arcade games

CONS
The controls can be a bit confusing at times. A brief tutorial to introduce new game play elements would have been nice
It can be difficult to find some of the shops without a map with a little more detail

Categories
Playstation 3 PlayStation 3 Reviews XBOX 360 Xbox 360 Reviews

Assassin’s Creed 3 Review

After five Assassin’s Creed games over the past five years, it’s surprising how little has changed in retrospect. The original AC was very methodical and repetitive, but it introduced a new kind third-person movement system and impressive tech. AC2 revamped the formula and addressed most of its glaring issues, making it one of the best games of 2009. AC took a coastal ride when it turned into a yearly franchise, churning out Brotherhood and Revelations. Both games were completely competent, and incrementally moved the series forward, but not enough to satisfy the bar set by the franchise. Assassin’s Creed 3 seems like the one that could finally break the cycle, with its three-year development period and exciting new setting in revolutionary-era America.

 

In many ways, Assassin’s Creed 3 is the Saving Grace we’ve been waiting for. Its Colonial setting is a breath of fresh air, the combat has finally hit a satisfying balance, and it has trimmed the fat from past AC games and only brought back systems that work; that is, for the most part. Assassin’s Creed 3 will not convert those who have never enjoyed the series. It still features the same one-button free-running system (though slightly improved), counter-heavy combat, and generic side missions. The thing is, for AC fans, it becomes easy to pick apart where Assassin’s Creed 3 triumphs and fumbles, and why it’s not the best entry in the series.

 

Assassin’s Creed 3 picks up quite literally where Revelations left off, wasting no time in quickly setting Desmond up with an Animus and throwing him into the 18th century in search of a “key” left by the first civilization. After a lengthy four-hour introduction, you’re thrown into the shoes of Connor, a half-British Indian pulled into the Assassin Brotherhood through unconventional means.

 

While Ezio’s motivations were very clearly wrought with revenge and leadership, Connor is much more of a blank slate, always wanting to do the honest and honorable thing. His youth and naivety result in a lot of Connor acting as an errand boy for nearly every revolutionary character. This feels like more of an excuse to include Connor in historical events more than anything. While experiencing these historical events first-hand that we’ve only read about in the past could be really interesting, it’s executed poorly in AC3. It really seems like Ubisoft became too concerned with making sure Connor was inserted into every mission, often causing them to forget to make those missions fun from a gameplay standpoint. Probably the largest offender of this issue is the Paul Revere mission, where you are quite literally taxiing Revere around on his historic ride to warn the militia of the coming British invasion at Lexington and Concord. The overall lunacy of the event aside, it’s a boring mission with no redeeming qualities. I found myself feeling this way about many missions, especially those heavy on the historic fiction. This makes the majority of AC3’s story a letdown.

 

I’ve always been way more interested in the paramount conflict between the Templars and Assassins and the different ways Ubisoft has inserted them into history thus far. There has always been a historical backdrop to AC’s worlds, but it always came down to Assassins versus Templars. AC3 is a lot less of Assassins versus Templars, and much more American versus British. This makes sense, given the setting, but it also makes for an overall less interesting tale. As the series moves even farther forward in history, it becomes even more obvious where the truth has been stretched, showing its historical inconsistencies. There are certainly high points in the story of AC3, one of the best being an excellent naval mission during the Battle of the Chesapeake.

 

The basis of Assassin’s Creed 3 gameplay is relatively unchanged, though there have been some important tweaks to free-running and combat. Gone is the difference between “jogging” and “sprinting”–now there is only one mode of running, having to only hold down R1 (RB) to run and climb. Holding down Circle or X while running makes the game assume that you want to stay on ground level, making you vault over small obstacles instead of climbing them. But if you’re normally running, the game will only ever let you jump if there is a safe handhold or platform on the other side–this eliminates the worry of Connor randomly choosing to jump to his death instead of the adjacent building. But the shining light in AC3’s movement enhancements is the addition of tree traversal. Connor can effortlessly leap and crawl across the trees of the Frontier; very useful when stalking animals or Redcoats. What you would think would be a clunky mess ends up being a fluid breeze and a blast to do. Sadly, not every facet of Assassin’s Creed’s classic clunkiness has been redeemed in AC3. You will still hop when you don’t want to, have a frustrating time trying to hop off of that ledge, and immediately exit the hiding place you meant to stay inside of. It’s a large improvement, but still not ideal.

 

The combat of Assassin’s Creed 3 feels like Ubisoft has finally hit a nice balance between the different iterations “stabbing dudes” has seen throughout the years. Pretty much every tool and weapon you’re going to have access to is given to you almost immediately, following suit with the past few games. Ubisoft has definitely trimmed the fat in the inventory, ridding you of weapons that had little practicality in past iterations–the poison blade and lethal bombs included. In place of these tools of old are tools of new, like the Rope Dart–you can literally throw this baby into a Redcoat’s neck and hang him by a tree. The combat takes a step backward when you go to the weapon selection screen. AC3’s weapon selection screen is sluggish at best, taking up the entire screen and often taking three seconds to load. Given how often I was switching weapons, this became a surprisingly large problem. The combo and counter-driven combat has once again been revamped yet feels familiar. Chaining instant kills together has been toned down a bit, adding some necessary challenge to the laughably easy killing of Brotherhood and Revelations. The choice of offensive and defensive fighting feels more possible than ever. You can still wait around for enemies to attack you and counter, but some attacks can’t just be countered. If you don’t follow up with an offensive attack quickly enough, heavy enemies will overpower you unless you disarm them and then pick up their weapon. Assassin’s Creed continues to impress with its incredibly brutal killing animations, with a special shout-out to the tomahawk. The addition of the tomahawk made that my go-to weapon. I literally never felt the need to purchase a sword.

 

The sprawling cities of Assassin’s Creed have always been about climbing unbelievably high Cathedrals. Ubisoft has always done a stellar job at making them feel like their own unique places. Rome from AC: Brotherhood did this better than any. Unfortunately, some of this has been lost with the locales in AC3. You’ll be spending the majority of your time in Boston and New York. By virtue of the game taking place in the time it does, the cities are naturally flatter than any we’ve seen before. Sure, you can climb church steeples and the occasional watchtower to get a bird’s-eye-view, but even the highest of highest New York points don’t come close to the vertical scale of Constantinople or Rome. It’s a reality of the time period and the relative infancy of these cities, not the lack of trying. A possible remedy to this problem could have been found in creating cool new incentives in its mid-height traversal. Perhaps Ubisoft’s crack at a solution was throwing in traditional fast travel that can be accessed at any time, but it ends up being much more of a shortcut than a solution.

 

Assassin’s Creed 3 gives you an immense amount of busy work for those who want to get away from throat-slicing for a short minute. Some of the side activities such as naval missions or hunting are surprisingly fun and well-executed; while some are just mindless side-missions or try emulate a SimCity game. This isn’t the first time these kinds of activities have been around in an AC game, but this time around I felt absolutely no incentive to do any of them. Money is virtually useless in AC3 because I never felt the need to buy anything. I could always find plenty of ammo or items by looting dead bodies, so general stores were never used. This also crippled any incentive to hunt in the Frontier, unless you’re determined to complete every hunting challenge. I never felt like I lacked any tool or weapon that could make me any more effective than I already was. Like I said before, I never even used a sword. Sure, those Liberation missions and Homestead upkeep are there for those who need to find an excuse to keep playing the game.

 

Playing on the PS3, the game often suffered a choppy frame rate and the occasional glaring bug. What’s odd about the frame rate is that it’s almost constantly below 30, but the nature of the game never makes it an issue while playing it. It’s much more of a constant annoyance. Never has any other AC game assumed that you’re a veteran player more than AC3, as it often does a very poor job of explaining many of its systems. Many things blatantly leave out tutorials totally. I can’t imagine jumping into this as a new player, as I would probably be lost for many hours.

 

I’m not going to try to convince you that I played a ton of the multiplayer in AC3, because it’s never been my thing. I’ve always appreciated how well they have implemented multiplayer into such a solitary game, but I have never been consumed by it. I never touched it in Revelations, so it was quite overwhelming to dive directly into it in AC3. The first thing I noticed is that it is way deeper than you would expect. So much so, that the game launches a custom multiplayer dashboard when launched. There are many more skills, abilities, characters, and game modes to choose from this time around. Like the single player game, I found many of the aspects of the multiplayer poorly explained–leaving me lost when playing the more untraditional game modes. That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had when you figure it out. Necessary tweaks are made to the gameplay in multiplayer, like moving the camera out a bit and keeping a constant aiming reticule on the screen. Though AC3’s multiplayer still didn’t pull me, it’s quite apparent that it is the best version of it thus far, and fans will be pleased.

 

Assassin’s Creed 3 had all of my attention, which is why it was all the more painful to come to the conclusion that it isn’t the best in the series. It takes more strides backwards than forward with its squandered story potential and middling city design. The combat and multiplayer have never been better, and AC faithfuls will be satisfied by what they get, but AC3 fails to hit the same high points found in past iterations. I never felt any incentive to do much more than the story missions. That along with the addition of fast travel directly limited the amount of time I spent in the game altogether. At least Americans finally get the chance to let loose on their secret hatred of British folk, *wink* *wink*.

Categories
Playstation 3 PlayStation 3 Reviews XBOX 360 Xbox 360 Reviews

The Walking Dead Episode 4 Review

It’s been a very long, painful journey for Lee (AKA myself), Clementine, and Kenny thus far. Kenny is still in an angry shock over the abrupt loss of his family just two days prior. Our group has a few new members–Omid and Christa–who seem to be fitting in well, even if Christa can be pretty demanding and hard to deal with at times. We’ve arrived in Savannah in hopes of finding a boat to get us out of this miserable place–somewhere safer.

With the array of different possibilities there are between mine and your story in The Walking Dead at this point, it’s hard to articulate my enjoyment of the episode to everybody, because things could be very different for you. Unlike past episodes, I decided not to play through this episode twice–I just don’t want to go through painful moments again.

To put my adventure thus far briefly; Carly was my girl, I helped kill Larry when he had his heart attack, I skewered one of the St. Clair brothers, Clementine and I are as tight as can be, I left Lilly to die when she murdered Carly, and I shot Duck for Kenny. I’m not proud of those decisions, and many others, but my irrational and in-the-moment actions blinded my reason. When the going got tough, I made decisions that seemed right at the time, but not always what was right in the long-term.

Around Every Corner is a departure from the pattern of this series thus far. Where Long Road Ahead spent a majority of its time delving deep into its existing characters–and slapping you in the face by killing off almost all of them–Around Every Corner feels much more like Episode 1 in many respects. Rather than introducing tense and deadly situations at every turn, a lot of time was spent providing context to Savannah and the new characters found in it. Some, if not most, of the new characters introduced in this episode feel shamelessly tacked on and unnecessary, and feel like they’re there purely for the sake of telling another sad back-story for no real reason.

Even though Around Every Corner doesn’t kick you in the tear ducts every time you take a breath, it still does an impeccable job of setting up the final chapter for Lee and Clementine. I say that because the game makes very clear all of the variation in who can still be with you up to this point–whether it’s because they’re dead or for other reasons.

I feel like a broken record at this point having to acknowledge The Walking Dead’s blaring technical issues running on PS3. As can be said subsequently for every episode, Around Every Corner features the most obvious and most intrusive bugs yet. Every episode has had freezing in between scenes, but Episode 4 has had the worst freezes yet. Apart from the normal freezing and frame rate problems, the post-episode display showing your decisions compared to the rest of the community was completely blank–it literally said “Choice 1” and “Choice 1 Decision” in place of the actual statistic or title. A patch has since been released, so hopefully these issues have been resolved.

Around Every Corner is not the season’s greatest stand-alone episode (that honor still belongs to Long Road Ahead) but it does a fantastic job setting up a finale with complicated situations that are sure to be worthy of a title like No Time Left. Around Every Corner puts context and setting before action, which is necessary for thoroughly building the city of Savannah in its current state. Don’t get me wrong, the action, tense situations, and reflex-summoning decisions you expect are definitely here, but are not the strongest we’ve seen in the past and are few-and-far-between. Around Every Corner is a solid two-hour long emotional ride. There’s only so much I can say without spoiling anything, but I will say there was more than one moment in this episode worthy of light tears. If you’ve invested as much as I have in this story so far, whether it is emotionally or physically, there’s no reason not to enjoy this episode; especially after the gut-wrenching ending that is sure to make for an excellent finale to this amazing series.

 

The Walking Dead Episode 4: Around Every Corner gets an 8/10