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