Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dishonored Review - Tread Lightly, and Carry Super Powers

Score : 8.75 / 10

PC - Xbox 360 - PS3
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 9th, 2012

  • Multitude of approaches for each mission
  • Powers and weaponry are diverse and work in conjunction with one another
  • Ability combinations open up multiple possibilities to dispatch an enemy
  • Lighting and shadows bring a sense of beauty to the dreary world
  • Rather short campaign
  • With hub world and missions - city feels closed off
  • Some character models and textures are a bit blurry

Dishonored is the epitome of a water cooler game, where discussing it with other players makes you appreciate it even more. Every choice and path you take can be substantially different than another player and there is no "correct" way to play. Want to be a relentless death machine that sounds alarms and sends troops flying with a wave of the hand? Perhaps you like to take the stealthy path, blinking between points without even so much as a single encounter to your target. Arkane Studios hands players the tools of destruction and leaves it to them on how to proceed, and it soon becomes an experience you will wish to play all over again.

Seriously, don't drink the water

The world itself is a captivating one. A steampunk inspired city of Dunwall is filled with dangerous thugs, a persistent plague, and an over bearing governing body. As you walk through each level you are subjected to loudspeaker announcements of obedience, run-ins with civilians berated by corrupt officers, and horrific crime scenes the plague has left in its wake. There is a sense of beauty within the madness, as lighting and environments bring the city to life, despite a few blurry textures and character models. Complete with a high end voice cast including Susan Sarandon (Granny Rags) and Lena Headey (Calista), Dishonored shapes a world that acts as a dreary reminder of your ultimate goal to restore order through death of those responsible.

You assume the role of Corvo Attano, bodyguard and personal friend of the beloved empress. Returning from seeking aid for the city's plague, you have a short blissful reunion before you are attacked. Framed for the murder of the empress and kidnapping of her daughter, Emily, you are placed under arrest and incarcerated for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After gaining help from an unknown source you escape and reunite with an underground resistance, where you act as their right hand - assassinating key targets to expose the true criminal and rescue the queen's daughter so she can rightfully claim the throne. The story became one of the less compelling attributes of the game, and many of the expected twists and turns played out and the targets you are assigned to kill were met so quickly that their importance barely had time to sink in. Still, the immediate bond between yourself and Emily and the instinctive nature to protect her gives a sense of purpose that hangs over your head through the course of the game.

Pistol beats sword! Who knew?

Once at the resistance headquarters, you begin your string of assassinations. A target is specified and you scurry off to an area of the city to gather information and find your method of approach. Optional sidequests or means of entry are discovered by listening in on conversations, stumbling upon characters of interest, or reading specific journal entries. There is never just one path to your target or means of assassination, and instead the game asks you to decide the best course of action. You can go in as loud or quiet as you want, because being caught in this game is not a game over. In one scenario I was required to enter a party at a mansion; in which I could scurry across rooftops to sneak through a window, steal a waiting couple's ticket to gain entry, possess a fish to swim through the sewers, etc. I could not help but compare it to Deus Ex: Human Revolution in its approach at letting the player decide the preferred path to take.

Choice not only affects how things currently play out, but the ripple effect of future missions. A "chaos" system is in place that echo your actions from previous missions. Sneaking in and remaining undetected puts the city at ease, and less guards or hindrances will be in your path. Going in loud, raising alarms, and killing civilians will add to the chaos in which patrols are stepped up and security is tighter. Even the litters of bodies you leave in your wake can attract substantially more rats in the area, adding another problem to overcome. It is an interesting cause and effect but in addition to the ghost bonus for never being seen at the end of the mission recap, the game tends to favor stealth more than brash combat. 

Getting to your target requires an arsenal, and Dishonored gives you a healthy supply of weaponry and abilities. Pistols are at hand for those hairy situations, or crossbows to quietly pick off enemies one by one. Near the beginning of the game Corvo is granted powers by an entity known as "The Outsider". These are tailored to give you the upper hand in any situation, opening multiple possibilities to how an encounter will play out. Coming across a patrol of guards can offer the ability to possess one to jump off of a cliff, summon a deadly swarm of rats to engage them both, Blink across rooftops right over their heads, or my personal favorite of using slow time and possession to have them shoot each other. With so many options, it is easy to see why Dishonored rarely gets stale. Even on the last mission of the campaign, I was still discovering new ways to dispatch enemies.

Wingardium Leviosa!

Upgrading and maintaining these powers requires the use of currency and collectibles. Items recovered in the field are instantly exchanged for a sum of money that can be brought back to the hub world to upgrade and maintain your arsenal; ranging from adding zoom range to your mask to upping the firing rate and effectiveness of your pistol. Your powers can also increase in their effectiveness by discovering runes and bone charms. Using an item in your inventory, you can scope out the position of the upgrade and must simply navigate to collect them. While runes upgrade a power, bone charms add an aspect of customization to your character. They assist specific actions like increased speed while carrying corpses or crossbow bolts that break less often. There is only a set amount you can equip, but it adds a further fine tuning of powers to work with your intended play style. 

Though your time spent is short, Dishonored is a game that begs another replay after the campaign's conclusion. The healthy mixture of powers, weapons, and mayhem opens up a lot of possibility. While I would have really liked open world exploration in comparison to the hub world, the missions are easy to hop into and open enough to beg little complaint. In the end Dunwall is a fantastic setting, and the playground of tools at your disposal keeps you constantly shuffling powers to see their potential. It is a healthy mix of FPS and stealth, and the path of vengeance turns out to be one incredibly fun experience. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Resident Evil 6 Review - Evil Never Dies

Score: 7.75 / 10
Resident Evil 6
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: October 2nd, 2012

  • Separate campaigns and multiple collectibles offer plenty of playtime
  • Stellar cast and voicework
  • Four player intersections are high points of the campaign...when they happen
  • Local split screen co-op
  • Game is naturally dark, and even with brightness up it's hard to see
  • Certain button prompts are too fast to respond in time, and too often
  • Weapon upgrade system replaced with lackluster skill loadout
  • Cover system is clunky and frustrating
Resident Evil is no longer the survival horror game it used to be...and that is perfectly alright. I have fond memories of the first few games with the hesitation of walking around the corner for fear of the next big scare. Yet, I still have the same excitement in my voice when discussing Resident Evil 4, the game that made the jump from fixed camera horror to over the shoulder shootouts. To put the fans' minds at ease, Capcom has brought in the heavy hitters for the sixth installment to compliment the more action oriented approach. Despite all the changes and implementations, Resident Evil 6 comes out as a decent entry in the franchise...if you let it.

Insult my hair again...I dare you

The plot is interwoven between four different campaigns as Neo Umbrella unleashes attacks all over the world: Leon Kennedy and Helena Harper stave off an infection in another city, Chris Redfield and Pierce work with the BSAA to fight off bio terrorist attacks, Sherry Birkin is tasked with bringing in Jake Muller to develop a cure for the disease using Jake's blood, and Ada Wong sets certain spoiler heavy events in motion. The campaigns intersect with each other on multiple occasions, and you can figure out most of the intended surprises for yourself, though experiencing the same events from multiple perspectives is enjoyable. The plot has tattered over the years since Raccoon City, and the unfortunate pattern of a known enemy turning into a giant bioweapon that you must fight over and over again has not changed. The story would fall flat if it were not for the stellar performances of the voice cast, and the newcomers provide some genuine scenes that bolster an otherwise typical plot. Be it the partner trust issues between the newly acquainted Leon and Helena or the broken mentor/mentee relationship between Chris and Pierce, the exchanges between your companions make up for the cheesy dialogue. 

You open the game as Leon, but soon after will choose from one of three available campaigns, unlocking a fourth upon completing the other three. Though each are similar in gameplay they all have a particular feel to them: Leon's campaign feels reminiscent of Resident Evil 2, reviving a bit of horror and suspense the series was known to bring. Chris's campaign feels like Modern Warfare, populated with squads of AI marines and loads of action. Jake focuses a bit more on stealth and escaping danger, though it always seems to find you. The varying encounters and objectives did their part in distinguishing the campaigns apart from each other, with a few chapters that impress and others that utterly frustrate. The newest feature is the ability to link up with another player's game and encounter a segment where two squads combine. It is unfortunate that it requires someone else to be at the exact same part in their chapter to link up, as it is sure to diminish in likelihood to occur as time goes on. Despite this requirement, is still tended to happen fairly often and became a high point of each chapter.

Three eyes make them thrice as accurate
There are a few slight tweaks to gameplay, but Resident Evil 6 sticks close to what comes natural. You and an AI or human counterpart progress through each campaign shooting your way through hordes of zombies, solving the occasional "puzzle" (term used loosely), and wrapping everything up with a rating of your performance. The shooting works well enough, and the ability to finally move and shoot at the same time or dodge roll out of incoming attacks melds well with the more aggressive enemies. Melee is much more emphasized and now comes with a stamina bar, allowing you to dish out combos at the expense of a few regenerative ticks of stamina. The most useful new feature was the Quick Shot, instantly stunning an enemy for a follow up combo to gain some room to breathe. Enemies fail to react to limb shots as much as they used to, and the failed reaction led me to quick shot combo most large crowds to gain distance. The biggest issue lies in the multitudes of quicktime events that interrupt the flow of the game. Some of these outstay their welcome, some are unclear on what they want you to do, and a vast majority of them pop up so fast that it is impossible to clear them without failing once. Luckily, the AI is not only more helpful in battle (being invincible doesn't hurt), but spot on in never missing a single prompt.

One impressive aspect of the campaign is the enemy variety. From the slow moving zombies of Leon's campaign to the intelligent snipers of Chris's endeavor, there are plenty of baddies to pelt with rounds. Like before, most of these can morph when shot, turning a once harmless peon into a rolling death machine. Enemies gain bullet shielding arms, elongated arms to snatch you from cover, or even morph into a flying torso to turn your attention to the skies. Each campaign has its own group to overcome, which becomes more difficult when the cover system is needed. To battle the gunwielding infected it is a good idea to take cover, but the clunky system often misreads when you intend to take cover, when you want to peek out, and when you simply want to shoot; resulting in skewed aiming and frustration.

I was always a fan of the inventory and weapon upgrade system RE4 and RE5 put in place...which has been dismissed completely. Now in lieu of playing tetris in a cache case, you are given a simple windowed list. I would be more annoyed with the new system but as I played I found it actually works well considering the change in pacing, as you are able to mix herbs and heal on the fly. The only issue is attempting to choose a specific weapon or item, and I often ended up frantically scrolling through the list more as I acquired an arsenal of weapons with each Chapter. Instead of weapon upgrades, the points earned during the campaign are spent on loadout bonuses such as a boost in crit chance or improved melee damage. These can be rather expensive as you go along, and despite equipping them I barely felt their impact.

High Five!

Two additional modes are tucked away in a "bonus content" section of the game. Agent Hunt puts you behind the role of an infected troop in someone else's campaign. You can be practically anything outside of the boss itself, this includes the winged undead and the heavy hitting lizards. It oftentimes felt unfair to the player in the short respawn timer I had, but was an interesting addition that I wished was expanded upon a bit more. Mercenaries faithfully makes its return, both losing and gaining nothing. The two man survival mode acts as a point driven frenzy to rack up kills and combos for a high score, unlocking more characters along the way. It may be as fun as it was before, but the potential for a four person mercenary mode or 2v2 would have captivated me much longer. Sidenote, there are only three maps to play on if you failed to preorder...yeah it gets old fast.

Being a fan of the series from the start, Resident Evil 6 ends up being one of the less enjoyable titles of franchise, but it was not so terrible that I left the game feeling the series was a lost cause. The four player intersects are an interesting idea, and the co-operative action still offers plenty of thrills. The game just felt dragged down by clunky controls, terrible lighting that not even maxed out brightness could fix, and an excessive amount of poorly executed QTEs and vehicle segments. If you can manage to accept what is given expect a decent experience, otherwise the issues of this game will act much like their zombie counterparts...they will only drag on.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Borderlands 2 Review - Looney Toons Reloaded

Score: 8.75 / 10
Borderlands 2
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: September 18th, 2012

  • Vast array of weaponry will entice you to explore every opportunity for loot
  • Improved story and cast give a bit more life to the world
  • Class trees can open up potential for hybrid playstyle
  • Witty, lively dialogue
  • Gameplay sticks a little too close to what it established in the first game
  • Many areas of lost potential (Vehicle combat, character customization, etc)
  • Multiplayer gear is a free-for-all that usually gets swiped fast
The entire time I was playing Borderlands 2, I felt the high anticipation I had at launch slowly begin to dwindle. I was not sure why; here was this sequel to a game I thoroughly enjoyed in 2009; improving upon the interface, expanding the weapon variety, and giving an overall solid finish. It was the same cartoonish world filled with anarchy, explosions, and slapstick humor. The genre blending gameplay was even sustained, seamlessly fusing elements of an RPG with an FPS. After its initial success this sequel was a no brainer to throw out there. I was having fun, but through all of my time with Borderlands 2, I could not shake the feeling that I was just playing more Borderlands.

Smug life!

That's not to say there were not improvements in some areas, primarily the story. There is a bit more direction than just seeking a vault and gathering the keys. The evil corporation Hyperion have been utilizing a mineral known as Eridium from the vault opened in the first game to power their influence over Pandora. Their expansion has been headed by Handsome Jack, a megalomaniac set on discovering the location of the newest vault for what every enemy seeks; more power. Jack continually chimes in to chastise your efforts and reinforce your negative assumptions of him. You do not need to play the first game to get a grasp on the sequel, but fans will be quick to recognize the original cast's return and other notables along the way. The story soon takes a turn into a more serious territory in the latter portion of the game that seems undermined by the overall comical ambiance of the rest of the game. You could poke holes in the concept all you like, but the improved purpose to the mayhem is a welcome one.

Borderlands 2 still plays on rewarding every action you perform in some way. Open a box? Ammo. Shoot an enemy in the head? Challenge Completed. Kill and enemy? Level Up. This continual showering of gifts and praise makes you feel like you are always accomplishing some sort of goal, and compels you to keep playing while simultaneously encouraging you to use variety in combat. It is not only the loot that shuffles, but the enemy diversity as well. Random mobs consisting of bandits can range from melee happy psychos to bruting "badass" enemies that take more than a few headshots to down. Adding to this is the random loot drops from enemies and chests, that continually have you shuffling your arsenal. It keeps you guessing, it keeps you interested, and it keeps the game from becoming too stale.

I'm going to destroy everyth....oooo waterfall pretty...

The promise of loot keeps you going, but the clever dialogue is what keeps you entertained. Personalities are rich in character and the casual delivery by the voice cast brings it all together. Such iconic meetings with players like the eccentric Tiny Tina and redneck Scooter will have you smiling while listening to your next objective. Going hand in hand with the stellar voicework is the return of the cel-shaded look. The lighting and textures featured in this game are outstanding, especially as you look out on the frozen tundra in the opening. The amount of detail in both the environment and weaponry is a reward all its own, and the fitting original soundtrack makes it all the sweeter.

Playing on your own does not divert too far from the first franchise. You start out on a set quest path, but soon after arriving at the hub world are offered plenty of sidequests as you fast travel from area to area. The sidequests prove more enjoyable than most of the main story based quests, as the game soon falls into a distinct pattern of moving to different bases, blasting through mobs of enemies, and retrieving an item or engaging a boss. Boss fights can be grand in scale, but disappointing in execution as little mechanics are required besides strafing and holding the trigger while aiming for their head. The enemy type for the main story soon becomes predictable, as Hyperion likes to stick to sending a seemingly infinite number of robots your way, ultimately resulting in keeping a Corrosive weapon adhered to my primary loadout. Despite the AI assistance in a a few scripted events, the solo experience maintains that lonely feeling, and often had me longing for an AI counterpart to trudge along the wastes with that would shout witty retorts upon my victories.

These guys again?

Weapon diversity was the strong point for the first game, and provides even more possibility for this installment. Every green item that comes your way has a distinction to it that sets it apart from a similar model. Some guns reload with two clips, some scopes use a red dot sight, some fire fully automatic and others in bursts. It is refreshing to join up with a group of three other players and always manage to see a weapon you have never seen before. Most come attached with elemental effects, with such impacts as burning unshielded enemies or corroding armored enemies. It helps to keep a healthy mix of these elements to bring out the best gun for the situation.

Being an RPG hybrid, leveling up is pretty much a standard amenity. With each level you gain the ability to drop a skill in a class tree of your choice. The possibilities for hybrid classes and stat priority on looted items allow you to become a danger from afar or a melee infused death machine, depending on how you are equipped. It keeps you from becoming a clone of another player you meet online and allows your own personal touch for how you prefer to play. Unfortunately it takes a while to get into your class tree, and the opening tutorial does not even give you your first power until level five, which took about an hour and a half of basic run and gun antics to unlock. Completing challenges such as accumulating a number of headshots or using a specific gun type will also unlock tokens that can further boost stats and carry over to future characters.

The single player serves its purpose, but this is a game made for cooperative play. Up to four players can quest together through the land of Pandora with better loot and stronger enemies. Despite there being only four classes and three trees per class, there is enough variety so that encountering a similar class in a game does not hurt the experience. Regardless, getting that four person variety with one of each role is still the most iconic and beneficial way to play. Unfortunately the multiplayer is turned competitive when it comes to loot. Your loot is not your own, meaning unless you are playing with four friends, it is a free for all rush to grab guns from a chest. This ultimately results in those heavenly purple items getting snatched before you can even read their names. This facet killed my desire to hop into quick match and opt to stick with friends, and baffles me in Gearbox's decision to throw competitive loot in a cooperative game.

Borderlands 2 plays it safe by sticking to what it did best, and there is little problem with that. I still had a blast searching through hundreds of crates, blasting through waves of bandits, and getting enjoyment when a rare item popped up. In the back of my mind I just felt there were areas of lost potential (expanded vehicle combat, further character customization, tracking multiple quests on the map for one area). Still with the huge amount of content offered and multiple playthroughs possible, it is hard to fault a system that works. Borderlands 2 will provide one great gaming experience, even if it is one that feels all too familiar.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October Gaming Releases - Take My Wallet, Please

Highlighted Release
Assassin's Creed III
PS3 - Xbox 360 - PC - WiiU
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: October 30th, 2012

It took E3 by storm this year, highlighting the changes necessary to make it a standout title. The gameplay and visuals shown thus far are equivalent to that jump from AC1 to AC2. Combat has been reworked, exploration and mission variety has been expanded, and the visual polish is undeniable. With so many great titles coming out this month, Assassin's Creed III is the one game that looks to grab everyone's attention and reel it in for the holiday season.

October 2nd

October 9th

October 16th

October 23rd

October 30th

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gaming is the Best Medicine

Fall is upon us, and while that means the release of highly awaited titles it also means half the population will be sick. Already at my place of work, runny noses and a chorus of coughing are lighting up the hallways. Though I do my best to avoid it, I have already been battling an internal struggle since July (not sinus related, but annoying nonetheless). Yet through the years of my life there has been one treatment I seek in addition to the piles of prescription medications...gaming.

I still remember the uncomfortable feeling as a child of waking up in agony. My throat would feel tight, my nasal passages completely blocked off, and the uncontrollable coughing fits that followed led me to believe I had finally contracted FoxDie and could sympathize with Solid Snake. It became an annual event for me to skip the day of school, stay home, and rest. I was far too uneasy to sleep with the consistent cough, and I needed a good distraction.

That is where my latest gaming system came into play.
I can't go to school today, Mom. I have the Titan Virus

Video games were a great way to take my mind off of the pain. Being absorbed into such games as Secret of Mana or Perfect Dark took most of my attention, easing the discomfort considerably. I even found that I was coughing less and much more relaxed. It was the one time I could forget all other responsibilities, and spend hours running through a game to explore every nook and cranny. For the small window of time, it helped me forget I was sick.

To most, video games and health have hardly been topics that meld together well. In fact, most studies show it linked to violent behavior, bad posture, and obesity. Some articles even state that every hour spent in front of the television actually doubles the likelihood of childhood obesity. While there may be some evidence for these accusations, there is still potential for the positive side of gaming.

Lately video games have been used in therapy, both physical and mental.

Motion gaming may make you roll your eyes at its mere mention, but the potential is not lost in its use for physical therapy. In the video above (if you can stomach the cheesy introductions), Fruit Ninja is used to assist in rehabilitation by getting patients to stretch their arms and react quickly. The greatest part is that Halfbrick Studios, the developer of Fruit Ninja, assisted in modifying the game to accommodate the necessary speeds for patients that could not react fast enough. A number of developers and organizations are creating their own games specifically calibrated to work in assisting the patient regardless of their ailment.

The number of patients that can benefit from this form of therapy seems to be growing. According to a Tech2 article, paralytic patients play certain games which will help improve flexibility, reach, and self confidence. It also helps those who suffered from paralysis and stroke, children suffering from autism, dyslexia, and serves as a distraction for recovering burn victims.

USC crafted game called Jewel Cave, stressing the necessity to reach

I have always seen the potential and experienced the benefit gaming can bring while sick. Borderlands 2 and Darksiders II have assisted me in coping with the latest round of physical discomfort. I have no doubt it will be prescription medications and doctor visits that prevail in the end of any major illness, but to cope with the stress and anxiety of it all gaming has been more than helpful.With future console generations coming, I remain hopeful that their uses in health and therapy will continue.

Now I wonder if Dark Souls has a future in anger management...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Darksiders II Review - A Sequel to Die For

Score: 9 / 10
Darksiders II
Xbox 360 - PC - PS3 - WiiU
Developer: Vigil Games
Publisher: THQ
Release Date:August 14th, 2012

  • A grand art style, with vibrant personality
  • Seamless, fluid platforming
  • Fantastic puzzle design and dungeons
  • High tempo combat keeps you engaged
  • Camera issues can hamper both platforming and combat
  • Lackluster final segment compared to other sequences in the game
  • No ability to toggle "lock on"
I only recently completed the original Darksiders, and found it hard to properly categorize the game. Several nods to other established franchises combined into one title; mixing God of War esque combat with puzzle style dungeons similar to Legend of Zelda. Darksiders felt like a hybrid game that was able to utilize these gameplay elements, while still maintaining its own identity with brilliant character design. After setting itself up for a sequel at its conclusion, Darksiders II continues to expand the established backstory of Earth's apocalypse instead of picking up right where the first game left off. Despite going back in time the game not only refines the initial formula, but provides a more expansive and addicting adventure.

Come at me bro

Darksiders II stays true in its previous pattern of melding together many different franchises, and it is hard not to draw comparisons when these cross your path. Hordes of zombies swarming your position at the sound of a howl like Left 4 Dead, scaling a large boss akin to Shadow of the Colossus, and even the dialogue wheels of Mass Effect make their appearance. Their adapted gameplay does not compell you to cry "copycat" but rather serve to bring variety to the overall experience. Despite the similarities the exceptional set pieces, unique character design, and memorable original soundtrack give Darksiders II its own personality.

Taking place during the incarceration of War for facing accusations of starting the apocalypse early, you assume the role of Death. Convinced of his brother's innocence, Death marches on for answers and a way to restore humanity. Though playing as Death does not have the fear-inducing effect you would expect when you enter a room, the cast of characters you encounter along the way keeps the story lively. While the quest to free War initially proves interesting its continual chain of collecting items to stave off corruption begins to wear thin, but it's the backstory of the Nephilim and haunting burden of their fate that becomes the most intriguing aspect of the plot.The story is given life through wonderfully crafted cinematic sequences, and top tier voice acting.

Two scythes are better than one

As Death you will constantly switch between a healthy mix of platforming and combat, both seamless in transitions and fluid in movement. Platforming consists of the expected wall running and grappling acrobatics, and thanks to Death's speedy movement it can become a joy to watch when everything comes together. Combat in the game is faster than before, as Death's speed and ferocity is much greater than his brother War. Established combos require only slight memorization, as experimenting with timing and mixing up variety between heavy and weak attacks can work out the abilities with the greatest impact. The controls work fine, except for the fact that there is no option to toggle the lock on ability, requiring you to continuously hold the Left Trigger/Shoulder. It would be no issue if I did not have to hit R1 to dodge and hold L1 in conjunction with the face buttons to use my special abilities, resulting in controller "Twister" sessions.

Beyond the combat and platforming you will also be working to solve the dungeon's various puzzles. These can be as simple as wall running to hit a switch or using something heavy to hold down a button. There will be a few puzzles that stop to make you scratch your head, especially on the later stages that involve splitting yourself in two pieces or utilizing portals in conjunction with platforming. The feeling of satisfaction when figuring out the solution is quite satisfying, and there are plenty of trial and error situations to give off that effect. While the puzzles are entertaining, you cannot get past Vigil's obsession with the number three. A majority of the time you will have to use three waterways to clear to the boss, or bring three souls to sacrifice to summon the boss; it was as though I knew where I was going, but not how I was going to get there.

RPG adaptation is becoming a common occurrence, and Darksiders II manages to incorporate it into the game both in and out if combat. Armor and weapons now drop off of enemies or are discovered in chests, littered with the expected stats like strength, resistance, or crit. While the menus can take a bit of time to load, the ease of slipping on a new piece of armor is immediate upon its drop allowing you to continue a dungeon with a new weapon or stash it away to sell later. Not only carrying stats, but aesthetic appeal warrants immediate gratification upon equipping a strong piece of armor or weaponry. These stats work in conjunction with a skill tree that you can upgrade with each level or milestone, to craft your character into a full fledged melee warrior or necromancer that bids undead minions to do the work for you.

All that grip training has paid off for Death

Darksiders II becomes a nightmare for completionists, as the game is littered with multiple collectibles and sidequests. The open world gives opportunity for many tucked away secrets including additional dungeons, labyrinth puzzles, and arena challenges. Where sidequests usually fall flat due to repetition, the consistency in puzzle design and combat does not lessen with these additional ventures. Upon completing a dungeon to recover a hammer for the blacksmith, I was able to complete a sort of "mini-dungeon" in addition to procuring a boosted list of available items to purchase.The promise of quick rewards and simplicity in fast traveling to a location through the map entice you to set aside your main goal for a grab at additional loot.

I walked away from Darksiders II eager to see more of the franchise. The subtle shadowy figures of Fury and Strife give teases at the possible futures offered (co-op play?). If the fantastic narrative and gameplay of Darksiders II is any indication, the series can only go up from here. Despite a lackluster final encounter, the game as a whole is a fantastic improvement upon the original and multiple difficulties including a nightmare difficulty where death is permanent is enough to keep you coming back for more punishment. The fine tuning and new additions to Darksiders II make it a high point for the franchise, and a subtle tease as to what could come...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review - Autobots, Roll Out!

Score: 8.75 / 10
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC
Developer: High Moon Studios
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: August 21st, 2012

  • Shuffle of characters keeps campaign compelling
  • Enjoyable competitive and cooperative multiplayer
  • Arsenal of weaponry, each as satisfying as the last
  • Character customization in multiplayer allows you to craft a unique transformer

  • Multiplayer is peer to peer, with issues of lag and host migration
  • Enemy AI is a bit dull and predictable

An explosive opening greets me as Decepticons rain into the Autobot ship. Allies charge into battle, some falling short of their intended targets as another explosion rocks the ship. A window is shattered, sucking the rooms' inhabitants out into space as I clutch to the ship until the room is contained. As a gripping soundtrack backs the intensity of the moment you stop and realize...you are playing a Transformers game. 

Despite playing as Optimus you are not invincible...but you feel like it

A few chapters in and the impact rarely lessens. You start the game in the role of Bumblebee, but in the next chapter you are put in control of Optimus Prime. Soon you are able to play in a multitude of roles, both Autobot and Decepticon. The characters all feel the same in respects to the run and gun combat with the exception of their special abilities and transformations. One chapter will have you charging in as Grimlock with huge sweeping strikes and stomps, another will put you behind Starscream as you jet across the map to an objective, and the other will have you assuming the role of Cliffjumper utilizing stealth to gain the upper hand. The consistent shuffle of special abilities and varying transformations will have you fighting using a multitude of tactics from heavy hitters to fast movers.

The game will be enjoyable to those who are fairly familiar with the license, but is a love letter to devoted fans of the cartoons. There does not need to be a fleshed out plot for a Transformers game, as the eternal struggle between Autobots and Decepticons is as acceptable as night and day. Still, the game follows the two factions as they struggle for control of resources, ultimately hoping to escape Cyberton for the mysterious portal in the sky. The energetic cast of characters is backed by the return of most of the original voice actors, matching the personalities fans have come to recognize. With wonderfully detailed textures and lighting, Fall of Cybertron does not skimp on aesthetic appeal.

Despite being able to label it as a "third person cover shooter" the charging close range enemies and barrage of enemy fire turn the game into a mobile shooting gallery. Your shield recharges at a steady enough rate to encourage you to get back into the action, but prevents you from charging in guns blazing. In contrast to what you may think, you will not be posted up against a wall very long in this game. It is still fun, but it questions the purpose of adding a sniper rifle to your arsenal (at least you can still move and shoot with it). Enemy variety ranges from beefier commandos to agile snipers, but tend to repeat themselves around the fifth chapter or so. It is a game that hits the ground running, only occasionally slowing to a light jog.

Wait, which laser is mine...

There is a plethora of weaponry at your disposal via a store at intermediate checkpoints. Credits earned during the game through hidden chests and dropped off of enemies can be spent on upgrading and purchasing new weaponry or perks. Blueprints found can unlock new weapons to purchase, and can yield such variety as tesla coils, thermal rockets, and long range sniper rifles. The variety carries over to each character, and can let you keep your favorite weapon combinations across every role. As an added touch a community rating system is in place on each weapon, letting you know the fan favorite to use. The arsenals are fun to play around with, but once you are completely upgraded the game can become a lot less challenging.

When the single player campaign has run its course there is also a cooperative Escalation Mode to share the action with some friends. A group of four players must hold off increasingly difficult waves of enemies, attaining cash and unlocking new areas to stem the tide. Every player has a bonus ability, be it healing or dropping a shield to refill ammunition, and it takes a team that works together to be truly successful. The mode can be quite enjoyable with three other team-oriented buddies, and the latter waves take true teamwork to overcome. While there are a handful of maps to participate in, the mode can soon grow stale in the predictable nature of the swarm.

Seems you have a bug problem
Surprisingly enough, the competitive multiplayer for the game warrants just as much attention as the single player. You are able to choose one of four classes and face off in varying modes like that of deathmatch or capture the flag. With a level progression system you can then customize your class of choice with a preset loadout and perks to boost your style of approach, ranging from the close quarters stealth bot or long ranged healer. The mode is fleshed out enough to appeal to all crowds, and the character alterations will allow you to craft a Transformer to your liking. It is a surprisingly robust amount of content to play around with, and the weapon upgrade system carried over from the campaign can provide incentive to reward your hard work.

Transformers does not necessarily do anything new, but it does provide the game that fans have been hoping for. The problems in War for Cybertron have been more than addressed, and the campaign does due justice with a satisfying final chapter (even if the final encounter feels a bit cut and dry). There is a mode for everyone in this title, and the character creator for multiplayer adds that level of customization to keep you coming back for more. Needless to say, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is more than meets the eye....sorry couldn't resist.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

September Gaming Releases - And so it begins...

Highlighted Release

Borderlands II
PS3 - Xbox 360 - PC
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: September 18th, 2012

The first Borderlands was a brilliant mashup of an RPG and a first person shooter. With loads of randomized equipment, it became a dream for looters with the endless combinations of weaponry. Sporting four new classes and even more new equipment, the sequel is setting itself up to be even better than before.With tweaks in gameplay and the refinement that second installments always bring, Borderlands 2 will be one game to keep your eye on.

September 11th

September 18th

September 25th

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dust: An Elysian Tail Review - Way of the Samurai

Score : 8.5 / 10
Dust: An Elysian Tail
Xbox 360 Arcade
Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: August 15th, 2012

  • Captivating art style
  • Simple, fast hitting gameplay
  • Plethora of collectibles and sidequests
  • Boss encounters feel lacking
  • Enemy variety grows stale until the latter half of the game

You cannot judge a book by its cover, but it never hurts to have an eye-catching one. With the slew of downloadable titles on the market, having a unique art style can go a long way in grabbing a consumer's attention. Games like LIMBO and Journey did just that, complimenting their simple gameplay with captivating visual appeal. Dust: An Elysian Tail's unique aesthetic brought it to the forefront of the Summer of Arcade, and the fast-paced side scrolling combat instantly caught my eye. Dust lives up the expectancy, providing a memorable journey with a distinctive personality.

"I wonder if the armpit is just as pretty"

Dust follows the tale of an unknown warrior who awakens in the forest with no memory of who he is or how he arrived there. He is quickly intercepted by a talking sword (can not make this up) and the sword's energetic guardian, Fidget. Following blindly to uncover his past, Dust is led by the Blade of Ahrah to piece together his identity. Story is heavily emphasized, an unusual move for a 2-D side scroller. Numerous conversations between the characters act as the bulk source of information, with the occasional rendered cinematic. The cast proves intriguing, and the light hearted banter and self-referential remarks keep the dialogue lively. It may start off slow, but soon the plot gains ground to keep you invested in the turnout.

The visual and audible brilliance of Dust is what draws players in and keeps them captivated to the very last chapter. The anime influence is obvious in all aspects of the game; ranging from character design to the beautifully crafted original soundtrack. Vibrant background elements and animation give the game a certain allure, enticing you to continue forward to see what else it has in store. Voicework accompanies every line of dialogue, and the spot on delivery by your companion Fidget never fails to entertain. Pieced together, Dust is a game that can catch your attention and keep it on screen.

"Of course, I have no water magic"

Side scrolling progression should be no stranger to many these days, and Dust sticks close to a pattern than works. There is an overworld to choose different areas, and you gradually unlock new abilities and regions with the continuation of the story. Boss fights usually cue up this unlock, but they are unfortunately bland in design and feel like much healthier base enemies. It is a steady pattern that does not overstay its welcome too long in one environment.

Assuming the role of a mysterious, samurai warrior leaves the expectancy of becoming an unstoppable machine; and in this respect Dust delivers. Combat is fast and fluid, as you ascend from simple four button combinations to juggling dozens of enemies in the air at one time. Encouraging players to work for triple digit combos, Dust has a slew of abilities to rack up his meter. In addition to the basic air grabs and parry counters, Dust Storm is the key to maintaining a high number of hits. Fidget has the ability to send out a spark of magic, that can be boosted further with Dust's assistance. The result is a flurry of attacks taking up the whole of the screen, and sending most enemies airborne. New powers are gained as you progress, and changing on the fly is as simple as a press of a button.

Fans of pursuing elements off the beaten path are healthily rewarded with multiple collectibles and sidequests. Villagers in local towns can offer up numerous tasks, mostly evolving into gathering materials or fetch quests. Every area has a platform out of reach or locked door, giving the game a Metroid-esque feel of continuing the main path or revisiting previous areas for additional experience and treasure. In addition to merchants offering the expected buying and selling of equipment, the biggest appeal remains in the item crafting. Blueprints can be found in chests or dropped off of enemies to yield more powerful armor, and the materials to craft them are dropped off of the multitude of bodies you leave in your wake. The elements entice you to explore every nook and cranny of an area to further your arsenal.

"If your feet touch the ground...you're doing it wrong."

The unique look and visual brilliance of Dust is what you will remember most in the end. The conventional gameplay holds its own, but the stunning animation and vibrant environments you explore are the heart of what makes the game memorable.There is enough content offered to justify the price tag, or at the very least a trial download considering the number of sidequests and multiple difficulties. In the end, Dust is a powerful tail that has more going for it than just stunning good looks.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good Vibrations

It is an all too familiar feeling in gaming these days. It remains the only amount of tangible feedback a player can get from the action unfolding on screen; the response to a weapon kickback, chaotic explosion, or hit from an enemy; your controller gives a sudden shake. Lasting through previous console generations and looking to continue in future additions, the controller vibration has become a standard in modern console gaming.

Yet, I find myself growing numb to the sensation. I cannot even name off the top of my head with absolute certainty the recent games that utilize the tech. Perhaps it's the years of playing games that has attributed to the oversight or the feature being used as a default setting, but I never really notice the controller reverberation nearly as much as I did when the tech was brought to light.

It makes me think back to when the technology first amazed me on the Nintendo 64, with the release of the Rumble Pack. I still remember the excitement I had in watching this video I received as part of my Nintendo Power subscription:

Packaged with Star Fox 64, this little device snapped into the back of the controller, giving off a sensation with each hit. Despite giving the controller an additional three pounds and hunting endlessly for triple A batteries (thanks for that, Nintendo), it was something interesting to experience at home. Here was this sudden jolt of the controller with each action on screen, something that I usually had to travel to an arcade to obtain. It added a small dose of realism to an unrealistic game, and as a kid it was a fantastic novelty to enhance my games.

Not far behind, the Dualshock put the same technology inside the actual controller itself, which continues to be the preferred method to this day. No longer relying on batteries (and saving so many remote controls in the process), it would give the feedback at no expense to size. Open up your current console controller, and you will find two small motors on the inside of the controller handles. The way it works is simple: the flywheel motor has a weight attached to one side, when the motor turns it throws it off balance and produces a wobble which in turns gives your controller a nice shake.

Needless to say, the technology took off and was adapted into a number of games to better immerse the player. Shooters had the noticeably larger impact, in allowing players to get a feel of a weapon they were wielding with each shot. Explosions and impacts had an immediate response with a more violent shake, better attuning players to the intensity of the moment. Even subtle vibrations would give way to signal notifications of important items nearby or tipping off the best time to dodge. There were numerous avenues possible, and video games were exploring them all.

The technology is simple to add into a game, but it's the titles that utilize it in the most effective manner that really help in that overall goal of immersing a player in the game. One of the more memorable moments has to be from Metal Gear Solid in the Psycho Mantis fight. His request to set the controller down and use of the vibrating tech to "move" it along floor was a great way to break the fourth wall, being as captivating as it was entertaining. In Halo, the slight rumble given when driving a Warthog across rough terrain adds to the immersion of being behind the wheel of the vehicle, and the sudden impact from hitting a tree due to my incredible driving skills were rewarded with a big jolt.

Several years later you have to wonder if the tech is being overused. I started drafting this blog in the middle of playing Darksiders, and despite playing it a mere five to ten minutes before writing up a general outline, I completely forgot if the controller rumbled at all during the game (for the record, it did). The excessive use is even part of an app on the Xbox Live Marketplace, with a Rumble Massage app for 80 Microsoft points to turn your controller into a massage device. There is even potential for it to become a hazard for the excessive gamer. In an ABC news story, a 15 year old British boy was diagnosed with HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) for his excessive seven hour a day play sessions, a problem usually reserved for construction workers familiar with a jackhammer.

Perhaps the fact that I have become jaded to the technology could be perceived in two different ways. Maybe games these days are utilizing the tech so subtly and well placed that I am completely immersed in the experience, with expectancy for the controller to shake. On the other hand the tech could be used so much that I have become numb to the sensation. Still, I feel like it adds that "je ne sais quoi" to a game, backing each movement to enhance the overall experience. While I remain hopeful that the tech will soon be better utilized, the question of what other physical responses could be pursued remains. The Kinect is already utilizing voice to illicit response in game, which means Smell-O-Vision must be right around the corner! Now I wonder what Mario smells like after traveling through all of those pipes....