Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July Releases: Football, Splosions, and Seduction

July 12th

NCAA Football 2012
Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: EA Tiburon, EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports

Ms. 'Splosion Man
Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

July 20th

Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive

July 26th

Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Publisher: Atlus

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Outland Review - It's a Jungle out There

Score: 9/10

Xbox 360 Arcade/PSN
Developer: Housemaque
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: April 26th, 2011

  • Unique look and style for a platformer
  • Challenging platforming requiring timing and determination
  • Hidden collectibles has you backtrack and explore
  • Memorable boss encounters
  • Difficulty spikes in the later game can take time to overcome
  • Online community oftentimes absent

Xbox Arcade and PSN host a slew of fun, engaging titles that is ever expanding. Among these recent releases is Outland, a new arcade platformer from Ubisoft. The unique look and overall presentation of the game hooked me in, and I decided to give it a peek.

Rumble in the Jungle

Outland's story acts as little concern. Your character is donned the "chosen" one of your tribe, gaining powers of your ancestors. It's forgettable and overlooked as the game lacks any dialogue besides a narrator. This actually works for the game, giving it the feeling of a classic folk tale.

It's the overall artistic style that caught my attention and kept it throughout. The game features shadowed figures with small spurts of color adorning their armor or extremities. The contrast between the vibrant colors and dark foreground really give the game a unique look. Artistic backdrops help to differentiate the worlds and breathe life into their setting.

Polar Opposites

Outland has you progress through a series of platforming and combat scenarios, unlocking more areas with each power. In most cases defeating a boss in one area, opens the path to a new one, much like that of a Metroid title.

The main element of Outland is the ability to switch between dark (red) and light (blue) powers on the fly. In dark mode, red beams/dots/etc will not harm you, but blue ones will and vice versa. What starts as a simple switch to dodge cannons soon becomes a frantic session of polarity shifts and running for your life.

Sounds simple until you throw in the combat. The combat in the game functions in the same manner as the platforming; only dark can hurt light, light can hurt dark (red hurts blue, blue hurts red). This means while you are dodging lasers you must also be in the appropriate form to damage the enemy in question.

The game does a fine job of slowly getting you accustomed to the system by introducing a new hurdle to overcome with each encounter. What starts as a simple fight between an enemy and dodging a laser, soon turns into a constant switch and strike to damage the enemy. Though the difficulty can get a bit crazy after a few hours, you are beaten into learning how to play and learning how to time the polarity switch.

Like a Boss

The bosses in the game prove to be the most memorable experiences. Not only in look and style, but in combat mechanics. Some start fairly straight forward, while others require much better timing and thinking. The final boss in the game felt like a final boss should, with it being the most challenging fight of the lot. Each battle was memorable, and stuck with me well after the encounter.

Besides the typical combat and bosses there are a few collectibles to be...well...collected. These are strewn about the level, usually off the beaten path and unlock concept art...yay? There are also upgrade stations to increase max health and power. Needless to say, it is usually worth your time to check out the corner in most rooms.

Buddy System

Another interesting addition to the game is co-op. These rooms are slowly unlocked as you progress through the main game, and usually require you to get to the end of a level before the time limit expires. It's fast paced and requires a ton of teamwork to make it work.

The mechanics are fine, but finding a person is not. Unfortunately, not enough marketing was really done for this game so the Xbox Live servers were blatantly absent. It's not like your typical game where you can hop in and find a dozen people on at three in the morning, so you'll have to play during typical hours.


Outland is a unique and enjoyable arcade title that any platformer enthusiast should enjoy. Despite the difficulty spike in a few areas, the overall world and combat is a joy to behold. It's a throwback to classic titles with a modern look and feel. Take the time to download the demo at the very least, because this is a game worth the purchase.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Morality in Gaming: Why I Always Pick the Good Path

Morality in gaming has become the norm. Developers give you the option to take the protagonist down the good or evil path. They give you the freedom to choose whether to become a savior to the people, or fearful tyrant.

Despite the ability to choose, I always end up picking the good path. Mass Effect, Fable, Infamous; in each of these titles, I can rarely bring myself to go down the evil path. Even when racking up additional trophies or achievements, it's never satisfying to be evil.

It is with Infamous 2's release that I had to ask myself why I did that. Why do I always take the righteous road to the endgame on most of these titles?

Part of it has to do with story. It seems like in all of these games, the canon and true story of the game is the heroic one. Nobody wants to see the story of the evil tyrant that drank his fill at the tavern, destroyed a city, and shot the pedestrian to send a message. Those are the kinds of people I want to see overcome, not the ones carrying the story forward. I always felt like the good path was the path the developers favored for a canon story, and the evil path was more of an additional "what if" scenario.

The darker choices in gaming these days are just too evil. I want to be the bad guy sometimes, but not the kind offered. There is just too much guilt in it, even for a video game. When completing a side mission in Fable or choosing to help a colonist on Mass Effect, the gratitude shown afterwards feels...good. It sounds awkward that a video game could induce such an emotion, but each time I completed a heroic deed and am thanked for it, there is a sense of satisfaction attached to that. The same occurs with an evil deed, as scripted sprites beg for their character model to be spared. Despite knowing there are at least 30 more clones of that same person running around the world to replace him/her, there is hesitation in swinging the sword.

When it comes down to it, the good choice is about sacrifice. Will you give up 30 gold to get information out of the informant or rough him up to get it for free? The problem is that the sacrifice is not taxing enough. While that amount of gold is a lot now, by the end of the game, I could buy a mansion with gold plated doors and a wall of shiny weapons. Sure it is inconvenient, but the good choice pays off just the same in the end for most scenarios.

There have been a few times that I have knowingly chosen the evil path for a better outcome, and one of those most recent choices was at the beginning of Fable III.  Though it would have been more intense at a later time in the game, you are given the choice on who will die; your supposed love interest (that you met not 5 minutes ago) or a group of innocents. The thought of this unique character dying so early on made me hesitant to follow the instruction that my Ethics class taught me in sacrificing the one for the many.

It is that pause that I am looking for in gaming. That moment when you weigh your options, that moment when you take a step back and examine the situation. Those are the kinds of choices where I actually stare at the screen and realize the appeal the evil path holds. The lesser of two evils scenario that rarely comes along. It is only with these choices would I ever consider the evil path.

Maybe it is the way morality is so cut and dry in video games. Perhaps if the typical "blue is good" and "red is evil" were grayed a bit, choices in video games would be tougher for me to make. Perhaps if the good choices offered much more sacrifice, I would be persuaded to be evil. Maybe it is just my own personality, and you have been reading this rolling your eyes at each of my reasonings. To that I say: more power to you.

It is the diversity of the experience that truly makes morality an interesting addition to gaming. It further personalizes the game for the player, giving you even more freedom in evolving the story on your own terms. As for me, I'll stick to saving the princess and stopping that whole "impending doom" scenario.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Infamous 2 Review - Twice as Bright

Score: 8.75/10

Infamous 2
Developer: Sucker Punch
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: June 7th, 2011

  • Improved melee combat makes close quarters battles much more enjoyable
  • Massive explosions and the "Vortex" power reinforce visuals that are stunning
  • User Creation tools leave infinite possibilities and replay value
  • Morality that shapes your powers as you progress 
  • On-the-fly Power switching to adapt to any situation
  • Morality is very straight forward, with rarely questionable decisions
  • User Creation is quite complex, and can take some time to figure out
  • Pedestrians get in the way more often than not
  • Camera sometimes works against you in close quarters

Infamous was that game on PS3 that everyone who owned the console needed to experience. It was the one game where I felt like a superhero; dropping off the tops of buildings 40 ft. in the air, tossing cars like they were rocks, and gliding in to send baddies running. It was a blast of a title, and a sequel was hinted at to continue the story. Infamous 2 takes the formula of the first and improves on it, making for a thrilling sequel to this PS3 exclusive.

New Town, New Start

Infamous 2 picks up right after the story of the first, in which Cole finds himself preparing for battle against a unknown entity of evil simply dubbed, "The Beast". After a brief confrontation, he realizes that he needs more powers in order to stop The Beast from continuing his rampage. To gain more powers he heads to the town of New Marais where upon arriving, he realizes that The Beast could be the least of his concerns. 

I had to go back and play a few rounds of the first game to realize the huge difference Infamous 2 brings. The most obvious being the visual look of the game. The city is much more vibrant and unique this time around, with bright colors and New Orleans inspired architecture to mix up the typical New York city square building layout. Character models are much more detailed, from Cole's buzz cut right down to the pedestrians facial expressions as they run in fear. The visual enhancement is most noticeable in the explosions and electricity used in combat, as they are always a satisfying sight to behold with flashes of bright color and smoke following your destruction.

Though the story lacked the big surprise of the first game, it did hold your attention. The first game was all about the mystery of identities and how Cole attained his power. With much of it answered already, it became a more simplistic storyline of just gaining more power because you have to kill The Beast. The ending did have one of the more interesting turns in morality, but the rest of the game is laid out in front of you in an expected manner.

Violence with Voltage

Traversing the city to get from place to place has been made easier. Cole moves quicker, climbs a bit faster, and even has a few powers specifically for getting to the rooftops. The Thrusters in particular give a bit more of a vertical push and carry you much farther. It's a small thing, but getting from place to place has become much less of an issue.

Missions have a bit more variety this time. Though some of the side content can repeat, there is enough difference between them to influence a few trips off-track to gain some additional experience. The main story missions offer the typical skirmishes with a few memorable boss encounters. Though nothing really stuck with me as a mission I wished I could replay immediately, they were engaging and entertaining enough to carry the story forward.

Enemies vary greatly from group to group, and actually require a change in strategy on the tougher difficulties. There are typical foot soldiers, melee monsters, big monsters that have a health bar, and even ice infused military troops. Each attacks differently, and requires you to do a bit of thinking before charging into the hail of bullets.

Cole's Powers feel the same with some added tweaks, but it's the melee combat that has truly taken a turn for the better. Cole now carries a tuning fork inspired melee weapon that he can bash thugs in the head with to build up a combo meter. When the meter hits a certain point, a "finisher" can be used to down the baddie for good. The end result is always satisfying, and offers incentive to get up close and personal.

"Ultimate" attacks have been altered to have their own expenses. Instead of draining all of your voltage they take a separate energy, which drops off of random baddies. This overabundance encourages you to use them at your leisure, and the result of a Vortex tossing bad guys and cars in midst of an explosion is the best part of the game.

The Angel/Devil on My Shoulder 

Like the previous installment, morality plays a part in story and powers. Decisions you make push you towards good or evil alignment, which in turn affect what you can do. The decisions are pretty straight forward, especially with your two new AI buddies whispering in your ear. Kuo influences the good decisions and Nix ends up backing most of the bad decisions. They even pop in to assist in combat, trapping baddies while you zap them for the desired effect. It was a welcome sight to have them along on a few missions, and keep some of the heat off of me for a moment.

Halfway through the game, your alignment will augment your current powers; ice for good and fire for evil. Each tree proves satisfying and one does not seem better than the other. It's a nice break from the typical electricity powers to gain a new element to try out. The ice/good path offers much more defensive abilities, with the fire/evil path offering some truly devastating explosive powers. Some of the powers feel like a missed opportunity, and a combination of elements would have been a nice touch.

You're in my World Now!

A new feature to the Infamous world is the User Generated Content. These are accessed in the world themselves, just like picking up a sidequest. You are thrown into anyone's newly created mission. These can range from Gang Wars to Races to Escort missions.

The possibilities are endless in what you can create. After diving into the mode, there is a huge library of enemies and objects to place in the world. You can modify how much Health Cole has, Script events like a cutscene playing out, or just throw a ton of bad guys next to explosives and title it "Have Fun".

Though a fun idea, the game lacks any tutorial or instruction on how to create your ideal mission. The only real way to learn is to edit existing missions or go into a blank template and play around yourself. I spent about a good 2-3 hours just dropping stuff in and playing around with it before I understood how it all worked. If you want to make a truly good mission, it will take quite a lot of time.


Infamous 2 is a vast improvement over the original, fine-tuning and refining the game to play out faster and easier. Controls feel smoothed out, the city is a delight to explore, and the game itself just feels like a fix of the original. I can already tell the User Generated levels will pile up like Little Big Planet, and cannot wait to explore what people create. It's a game that you finish, and immediately want to play again on the other alignment just to see what you missed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

E3: 2011 - Games to Watch

There were a slew of titles on display at this year's show, and there were plenty of them that I am sure will warrant a purchase. The lack of original IPs is a little disheartening, but there were still plenty of gems that stood out from the rest. Yeah, Uncharted 3 looks great and Elder Scrolls V is stunning, but here were the titles I felt deserved a bit more recognition and attention:

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
PC/PS3/Xbox 360/ Wii
Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Redstorm
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 2012

Co-op is taken to a whole new level with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Four players in a third person cover shooter must work together to complete objectives. You are assisted with some nifty tech by way of optic camouflage and UAV drones to hide and spot enemy locations. Shipping with Kinect capabilities, it will be interesting to see the end result, but the classic control scheme looks to make this just as enjoyable.

Kid Icarus: Uprising
Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 2011

If any title could sway me to purchase a 3DS, it's this one. Pit returns to battle a reborn Medusa in mixed gameplay of air and ground combat. The action looks fast and the visuals look stunning for a hand-held title.

Kingdoms of Amalur
Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Q1 - 2012

The lead designer of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has headed up this latest single-player RPG. Combat is single button action style with the occasional quicktime events. Though it is strongly emphasized, that this will require much more than button mashing to play. Being called a combination of God of War and Oblivion, it will be one to watch.

PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Insomniac Games
Release Date: TBA

Introducing a new Spy-Fi co-op franchise, Overstrike caught my attention with its cinematic trailer. With its colorful cast and over-the-top action, it is shaping up to be another must-play action shooter. Developers are promising a slew of weapons and gadgets that require teamwork to combine and use effectively.

Dragon's Dogma
Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Early 2012

One of the more underrated titles at this year's show, Dragon's Dogma is an upcoming action/adventure title. It looks to combine Shadow of the Colossus with the typical hack and slash game. Many of the games' creatures are giant in scale, and require you to climb them to attack efficiently. The visuals are simply amazing, and the detail put into the creatures you are fighting is top notch.

Friday, June 3, 2011

E3 Trailers - Pre-Conference

E3 is back! June 7th - June 9th will host the big developers showing what they got in store for the year in gaming. Instead of predictions/thoughts for pre-conference, I have decided to assemble the plethora of trailers instead. Here are the first batch of pre-E3 conference trailers worth your time:

Tomb Raider
PC/PS3/Xbox 360
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Q3 2012

Soul Calibur V
PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: March 12, 2012

PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: TBA

PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA
Release Date: January 2012

PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: September 13th, 2011