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 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