Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Checkpoints Roasting on a Backlog Fire

Video games are synonymous with my Christmas holiday. The vast majority of joyous, childhood memories involve waking up to a new console I had yearned for all year or big new release title that I watched the launch trailer for over and over again. Wish lists for the holidays are always easy to fill with triple A titles dropping in November or a game from my backlog that has recently dropped to a more affordable price. December becomes the month in which I plan which titles I will dedicate my time to going into the new year.

There have been a ton of happy Christmas memories, but a few of those times really stood out:

Ocarina of Time was teased throughout 1998 and it was getting to be one of the most anticipated games of the year. I made sure to place every hint known to man to my mother that she knew this was the biggest gift she could possibly give me. Sure enough, Christmas morning, there it was under the tree in all its golden splendor. I remember staying up late, running around in awe at the new 3D world, experiencing the fear when facing Gohma for the first time, and the joy of slicing chickens and running for my life. It made an already perfect game even more memorable.

Dramatic Re-Enactment of my Surprise/Joy (And classic internet video)
The Gamecube was Nintendo's latest achievement in 2001 and one I set my eye on after witnessing the slew of advertising. They even sent tiny promotional discs to my house to watch on the computer, and I remember replaying the videos of F-Zero and Mario over and over again, while marveling at the newly shrunken discs that would soon encapsulate some of my favorite games. The console itself was a blast, and releasing Smash Brothers Melee that December alongside the console just heightened the anticipation and payoff.

Even as recent as last year I was dying to get into the next generation of consoles. I jokingly mentioned the Xbox One to my then girlfriend, passing it off as something I would invest in with gift cards from Christmas. To my surprise, she took the initiative, purchasing the package with Assassin's Creed: Unity. It was a huge gift, that held a lot more meaning behind it than fulfilling a want in my life. That girlfriend is now my wife, and we constantly joke that she got me a next-gen console and I in turn got her an engagement ring.

Is my wife is trying to tell me to leave her alone for a few months...?

I could go on and on with the number of Christmas gifts that shaped my gaming library; Final Fantasy IX, Pokemon: Gold, Black Ops 2. There is an unmatched feeling when getting a gift like that from the holidays. Call it the spirit of Christmas, the general selflessness of giving, or the season's overall impact; but receiving a game as a gift holds a special feeling you just do not get from picking up a pre-order in the store...besides the obvious downsize in your bank account after making the purchase.

Every title was a distinct memory, every console a lasting appreciation, and no matter the gift it always brought a childish sense of bliss. As another Christmas passes, I find myself with three new big titles to complete, and a lot less time on my hands, but one thing remains; the giddy feeling of opening that rectangular shape of a present and knowing there is a new world to explore or challenge to complete is far from fleeting.

Which games or consoles do you remember begging for at Christmas and which ones really stuck with you?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Star Wars Games I Grew Up On

I have already given a list of the games I missed out on, but the games I have managed to get to greatly outweighs that list. Anything and everything Star Wars was popped into my consoles at will.

Super Star Wars Trilogy - SNES (1992-1994)
This was my first real introduction of Star Wars gaming, and it was phenomenal. The side scrolling action game blended the joy of shooting your way through minions, to the fun of swinging lightsabers at stormtroopers, to the intimidating challenge of gigantic bosses that would take up half the screen. There were even vehicle segments of the trench run and speeder bike chase to vary the encounters. With the ability to choose your character (Gonna pick Luke every time game, cmon, let's be real), there was so much fun to be had with this simple, yet satisfying title.

Shadows of the Empire - N64 (1996)
Few people know who Dash Rendar is except those that played this game when it released for the Nintendo 64. A Han Solo-esque renegade, this third person action shooter was intense. There were vehicle segments, firefights, and a one on one showdown with the baddest Bounty Hunter of them all; Boba Fett. It was challenging, intimidating, and incredibly fun.

Rogue Squadron - N64/Gamecube (1998)
The space battles and speeder encounters were never quite fleshed out in the forthcoming titles, but Rogue Squadron came along and focused on that with a finesse other games could rarely emulate. Hopping in the cockpit of an X-Wing was never more satisfying, as the famous battles above Endor and the Death Star were replicated to the tee. It was fast paced, insane fun as you took down star destroyers and tie fighters amidst asteroid fields or the clouds of Bespin.

Star Wars: Starfighter - PS2 (2001)
While Rouge Squadron would dominate recreating the infamous space battles, Starfighter would open up new ones. The tale of three would be hero pilots coming together during Episode 1's events would make for one oddly satisfying title. The follow up, Jedi Starfighter, would further that in opening up force powers in space battle. It was fast, insanely fun, and turned out to be one of those lesser known hits that I came to love.

Star Wars: Battlefront - Xbox/PC (2004/2005)
Before the most recent release, there was Battlefront, and it was glorious. Memorable battle vistas, the ability to choose from a multitude of units, the fearful masses as Yoda enters the Battlefield; this game had it all. I loved the ability to drop in as a Droideka, roll up, and mow down the opposition. When it expanded to PC with a second installment, I was caught up in the Hero servers watching icons duke it out on Tatooine. The only game that allowed me to watch Darth Maul fight with Princess Leia...

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - Xbox (2003)
A game to rule them all, I absolutely loved this title. The ability to create a character to drop into the Star Wars universe was a blast. It had a gripping and surprising story, strategic and well thought out combat, and the option to move to the dark or light side of the force based on your actions. It would be followed by a less than impressive sequel, but this game sticks with me to this day.

Republic Commando - Xbox (2005)
A first person squad shooter was the last thing I expected to enjoy from the Star Wars franchise, but Republic Commando took the concept and blew it out of the water. The enjoyable squad personalities, the ability to issue out commands on cover, and the slew of weapons you can choose from make this one of the surprise hits for the Xbox. It is a game that ended abruptly, and left me pining for a second installment. *cough* please *cough*.

The Force Unleashed - Xbox 360/PC/Playstation 3 (2008)
The tale of Vader's secret apprentice was a typical hack and slash, but one with so much flair that it became a joy to play. Be it Force throwing TIE Fighters or crushing AT STs with little thought, being a powerful force wielding user was satisfying. Though the main gameplay became predictable, the story and plethora of force powers to toy with made it an overall fun experience.

Star Wars: Kinect - Xbox 360 (2012)
Look...it was not the best. I will be first to admit the faults with Star Wars Kinect. That being said, for mindless fun it was one of those games that was so bad it was good. The rancor mode was a hilarious affair as you flail around and destroy everything around you. The lightsaber segments were satisfying at times and just fun to play. The podracing was oddly satisfying, and the dancing...well we don't talk about the dancing...

The Old Republic- PC (2011)
The most anticipated MMO turned out to be okay at launch, but has evolved into a powerhouse of a game. The multitude of classes and skill trees and the open ended nature of the game is a blast to play. I started with a Smuggler healer, and my journey involved fighting rancors, tearing through a terror from beyond, and going toe to toe with Sith in PvP. There was a lot to do, a lot to explore, and a lot of fun to be had. With the latest movie, I am tempted to hop back into the game.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Star Wars Games I Missed Out On

Everyone has their favorite Star Wars title, be it the decision filled Knights of the Old Republic or the dog fighting Rogue Squadron; there is one game that captured the feeling of Star Wars perfectly for you.  There are also a multitude of these games, and despite playing a ton of the greats, I missed out on a few of them. Instead of compiling a "here is my top Star Wars list" I thought I would assemble the games that intrigued me, but I never had the time or capability to play.

Star Wars: X-Wing/TIE fighter(1993/1994)
Developer: Lucasarts
Publisher: Lucasarts

Star Wars X-Wing and TIE Fighter were best sellers, and was one of the first games to faithfully capture the feel of being behind the iconic space crafts. Unfortunately, I still had no computer in my home at the time capable of running any amount of gaming. I found myself looking at screenshots and reading praise of the game in magazines.

The franchise offered a variety of missions in one of the first 3D environments; with escorting, dogfighting, and even recreating the iconic Death Star trench run. Eventually, later titles would offer multiplayer and improved targeting capabilities, along with a library of ships to choose from in each mission.

I would have to wait until Rogue Squadron to get that feeling, but X-Wing and TIE Fighter would remain king in the hearts of many, and it is still a game I have neglected to make time to play.

Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995)
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

First Person Shooters are not typically associated with Star Wars, and Republic Commando on Xbox was the first time I was able to experience that kind of action. Dark Forces, however, was one of the first games to brave that frontier.

It gained nothing but praise for its engaging first person action and diverse levels. You went across a slew of notable locales including Jabba's Space Yacht and Coruscant, shooting your way through hallways of stormtroopers utilizing thermal detonators, land mines, and an assortment of blasters.
A sequel would follow in 1997 that would gain just as much acclaim, opening up your options with Force powers and a lightsaber.

Advertising was everywhere for this game, but once again, I did not have the means to play without a Playstation. Sadly, this title would be left in the dust for other titles by the time a Playstation would make it into my home.

Star Wars: Galaxies (2003)
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: Lucasarts

The same team that worked on creating Everquest were excited to be behind the first ever MMO game for Star Wars. With ten different species and ten different specialties to choose from, the game was an open world for players to finally pick and choose their path in the Star Wars universe. With planets ranging from Tatooine, Hoth, and the forest moon of Endor you could go anywhere and be anything.

Expansions would add more to the experience including vehicles, events, planets, and a host of other content that kept players hooked into their Star Wars creations. It kept players going from launch all the way to its inevitable shut down on December 11th, of 2011.

So what kept me away? World of Warcraft. The following year, this game would hook the masses in, including myself. While the appeal of the Star Wars franchise was there, the combat and overall look of the game was not something that my wallet cried out to purchase. It would be Old Republic that would give me the experience I was yearning for in a Star Wars MMO.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast/Jedi Academy (2003)
Developer: Lucasarts
Publisher: LucasArts

Though technically part of the Dark Forces franchise line, Jedi Outcast and Academy were on a level all their own. Both placed a strong emphasis on lightsaber combat with multiple styles and combos, a variety of Force Powers, and a strong story to accompany both installments.

While Outcast focused primarily on the single player, it was the multiplayer on Academy that was highly praised. The chaotic modes like Capture the Flag or Power Dual unleashed some of the craziest matches as lightsabers flailed and force powers would send players flying across the screen.

Thought briefly delved into thanks to a Steam Sale, other big named titles have gotten in the way of fully completing this game.

With the excitement surround The Force Awakens, I know I want to delve back into the games that capture the thrill of the movies. Despite missing out on these few titles, I try to get into everything I can, since re-enacting scenes in Jedi robes out on your lawn is frowned upon by my wife. I will have to settle for a solid video game to handle that passion for reliving my favorite scenes.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Spotlight: Matterfall

Playstation 4
Developer: Housemarque
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: TBD

With just a trailer alone, Matterfall looks to be a game PS4 users should put on their watch list.

Not a lot is known at this point besides it being an arcade shooter. From Sony's official blog: [1]

MatterFall follows an unexpected hero fighting for survival on a ravished sci-fi world infected by a mysterious and deadly alien material known only as “Smart Matter”.

We can expect more information in the months to come, but Housemarque usually does pretty well with arcade titles like Resogun and Dead Nation. With them at the helm, you can bet it is in safe hands moving forward.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Destiny's SRL Sparrow Races - Initial Impressions

Destinys' sparrows have become a drastic afterthought. Blindly throwing up a sparrow to get from point A to point B is second nature. The latest update has begun efforts to make more of a change in utilizing these in the way most have yearned for since their inception; racing.

The SRL League features two races thus far: Mars and Venus. These two tracks feature six guardians racing against each other for bragging rights. Instead of just navigating the turns and twists of the maps, players gain boosts to speed by passing through gates littered across the track. The gates vary in size depending on your current place in the race; leading the pack makes them smaller and harder to hit and losing the lead gives them a wider span to help close the gap.

Handling sparrows, it turns out, is a lot harder than expected. Often you will slide past a gate or drift into a wall. Getting the handling takes time, but soon you will follow example and become adept at hitting gates and taking the lesser known paths. The sparrow is still subject to random crashes and flips, which can become fairly frustrating when you have a clear lead and the lift you take to cross the chasm decides it would like to flip you this time around...

The most disappointing facet of the event is the missed opportunity. This is an enjoyable new mode but is incredibly stripped down. Adding in powerups or weaponry could make the races more interesting, but the predictable placement of the gates and limited number of tracks produces the similar feeling of grinding for rep. The main quest line is over before it even begins in most cases, leaving you with three daily bounties to accomplish.

But in the end we are all playing this for a reason - the gear. You gain exclusive armor and shaders by racing and gaining reputation with the SRL faction. Upping your "license" is achieved through a main quest by racing efficiently, hitting gates, and placing in top three. You also have daily bounties that range from taking out enemies with your sparrow to keeping your sparrow in tact for an entire race. The bounties are finished relatively quickly, so expect to grab three of them every day.

So far the races are fun, but are already growing stagnant. I find myself caring little about victory after hitting Rank 3, grinding to get there in order to get the 320 helmets that can drop randomly. The shaders are nice, the event can be fun, but the limited tracks and variations in the races are sure to have you diving back into the raids.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Spotlight: XCom 2

XCom 2
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher:2K Games 
Release Date: February 5th, 2016

XCOM: Enemy Unknown became one of my favorite games from 2012. It offered in depth strategy action and big decisions in allocating resources; giving you the feel of being a general facing an invasion.

XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the events of the first game. New enemies, new factions, and new units will be at your disposal. Much like the previous game, you customize every person in your squad, and death is permanent for them if left behind, making their loss more personal.

The gameplay shows a much more cinematic, story focused experience than the first installment. The approach is similar, you are dropped into a dark zone, and must go from cover to cover to unveil the map and enemies, being careful about every move. You also have the ability to carry downed soldiers, possibly for revival?

There is a lot of potential with this title, and if it is as fun as the last title, we can expect to sink a lot of hours in stopping an alien menace.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

GCON - Convention with Heart

Comic Con, E3, PAX Prime, Dragon Con - there is a plethora of conventions you can attend if you have a passion for gaming or nerd culture in general. Halls flooded with cosplayers, booths littering the show floor, and demo stations for upcoming video games are a standard. Most of these you hear about in the headlines, but one popped up this morning that I had never known existed...in Saudi Arabia.

GCON is an annual convention focused on female gamers and game developers. [1] Female gamers were barred from an all male convention in 2011. Tasneem Salim and Felwa al-Swailem soon set out to form their own convention, persuading big names in gaming to back their convention. Playstation, Nintendo, Microsoft; they all hopped on board and in 2012 the first ever G Con was held.

This year marks the fourth annual event, and the crowd has been growing. Over 3,000 attended the con event that took place in November.

"This is not the Saudi Arabia most people know" Salim says. "It's definitely not. It's a side of Saudi Arabia that people rarely get to see, but it's real and it exists. And here we are."

Competitive tournaments in games like Black Ops III and FIFA, cosplaying attendees sporting their favorite characters; all the elements make this an open place of self-expression, something unheard of in the more conservative society of Saudi Arabia.

GCON is not just about gathering like-minded individuals, it also aims to encourage girls to pursue careers in science and engineering. Female college students in Saudi Arabia tend to outperform men in the tech related fields. They even encourage game development by holding competitions to nurture that growth further.

It is wonderful to see a convention that is not only bringing together female gamers, but takes small steps toward encouraging women to pursue their dreams and express themselves. For more information you can check out the full article from NPR [1] as well as the video interview posted above from Wamda. [2]

[1] - NPR - For Young Saudi Women Video Games Offer Self-Expression - http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/12/09/458806442/for-young-saudi-women-video-games-offer-self-expression

[2] - Wamda - Building a Gaming Community for Women in Saudi Arabia - http://www.wamda.com/2013/07/building-a-gamer-community-for-women-in-saudi-arabia-wamda-tv

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Child of Light Review - Retro Radiance

Score: 8.5 / 10
Child of Light
Xbox One - PS4 - Wii-U
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher - Ubisoft
Release Date -April 2014

  • One of the most captivating soundtracks for a game, start to finish
  • Visually stunning look compliments the storybook tale approach
  • Classic RPG combat tailored for new and veteran players altogether
  • Oculi system allows you to strengthen each character your preferred way
  • The rhyming scheme quickly goes from charming to annoying
  • Abrupt ending with little payoff
  • Characters added late to the roster get little use 
  • 2D segments lack the depth of the combat 

Charming. That is the first word that comes to mind with my experience in Child of Light. A storybook inspired tale told in rhyme, a varying cast of fantasy characters, and large scale creatures that stand in your way. Your journey with Aurora is a classic tale of a heroine that rises up to fight a great evil, trying to find her way home and restore order. This Wizard of Oz like tale has a few bumps along the way, but is so wonderfully crafted and light hearted you cannot help but be drawn in with wonder.

...still cannot find Mr. Tumnus

The most powerful aspect of Child of Light is not the gameplay, the visuals, or even the story. The part that sticks with you most is the soundtrack. Catchy, soft, and wonderfully crafted; it sets the tone for the entire game. The main theme's soft elegance is catchy and hooks you into the fantasy world, as a violin and piano carry forth an emotional tune that echos over the entirety of the campaign in varying intervals. At the same time, it is able to provide upbeat melodies for villages, and intense music for the decisive battles. It was so catchy and simple, that I often found myself humming the theme after playing.

Coupled with the soundtrack is a mythical world you slowly unravel. You take the role of Aurora, a princess who many think dead, but instead has become trapped in the world of Lemuria. This world, once ruled by a queen of light, is overtaken by a new evil queen and darkness has spread over the land. It is up to Aurora to gather the elements of light, and find a way home. The plot is nothing too deep, but works with the overall poetic tone of the game, appealing to the mother/daughter relationship that tugs at your heartstrings. The rhyming scheme is a simple touch, and although it gives the game more character, it often limits the dialogue to pure simplicity. The visual tones of light and dark intensify the setting as you dive into vast forests, bright villages, and brooding dungeons to uncover a way home.

Not an RPG without larger to scale spiders

Child of Light is primarily a turn-based RPG. A timeline bar is displayed on the bottom of the screen, and evolves the fight into a game of micromanagement. You can interrupt enemies by attacking them in a short window before they attack, and likewise, enemies can do the same to you. Constantly you are working to manage the enemies, defending big forthcoming attacks,and boosting your potential to attack first. You are limited to two party members at a time but the game does well in allowing you to swap party members on the fly, adapting to your enemies who may be weaker to more physical or magical damage. It is fast paced, challenging, and always keeps you on your toes to adapt. 

A classic leveling system is in place in addition to an Oculi system for equipment. Oculi gems have a specified color, which can be combined to create new colors or stronger gems. Three red gems can make a stronger red gem, or a red and blue gem can make a purple gym for new effects. These gems range from increased fire resistance to faster spell casting time. Each party member is proficient at some aspect be it Finn's proficiency in elemental magic or Robert's speedy physical attacks. You find yourself constantly switching characters to adapt to enemies' strengths. You acquire some members pretty late game, which gives little time to develop or work with these characters before the game's conclusion sneaks up on you.

 Matching shapes is what children excel at...

Though you are limited to a 2D side scroller, you still have a small amount of exploration you can do. Chests are scattered throughout the world, sometimes tucked away in corners of the map that you must truly explore to uncover. There are also a few puzzle segments, but these are limited in difficulty, often matching shapes or some similar task. This proves to be the most disappointing factor, as you are given the ability to fly right at the end of the first chapter, allowing you to avoid pretty much every enemy and taking away any real platforming element that could have been utilized to make traversal much more interesting. There are some sidequests to invest time into and fast travel to encourage revisiting older segments, but it can be easy to overlook.

The simplicity of Child of Light is both enticing and limiting. On the one hand, the simple turn based combat is easy to pick up and challenging enough to warrant thoughtful gameplay on the harder difficulty. On the other hand, the 2D side scrolling segments can be a lot less eventful and the simplicity of puzzles and lack of platforming have you breezing through the game. Despite the shortcomings, the game is still a wonderfully crafted title that will satisfy any classic RPG veteran.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Spotlight: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Xbox One - PC - PS4
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 2016

Human Revolution was a fantastic title in the Deus Ex franchise, offering combat and stealth with sandbox rooms to experiment with both approaches. Two years after the events of Human Revolution, Mankind Divided will bring back Adam Jensen with a slew of new features.

Not much is being revealed as of yet, but the 25 minute gameplay demo shows off some interesting features:
  • Swapping bullet types for each weapon, using EMP ammo to disable a camera for example
  • Multi-path options are approaches are still viable in this game, with branching corridors for your preferred approach.
  • Non lethal tesla gun arm - targets four enemies at the same time, allowing you to stealthily take out multiple targets
  • Icarus Dash - allows adam to traverse terrain out of reach, or rush enemies
  • The takedown animations are still as awesome as ever, going into third person for a flashy takedown
  • Remote hacking opens up pathways, takes over robots, or disables camera
  • Nano-blade is a long range projectile capable of sticking enemies to the wall
  • Combat has been reworked to be as fluid and enjoyable as the stealth approach 
  • Titan Shield has been added to allow Adam to become a human tank in facing enemy weapon fire
The game looks promising, and if it is as much fun as Human Revolution, it will be a must-play for next year.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Warlock Solos Oryx...Puts Shame to Us All for Messing Up Platforms

User The Great Gatsby has successfully done what many have been working toward, killing Oryx by himself. This six man encounter required a lot of coordination, and he is able to manipulate a few things to make it all happen. [1]

-Rounding up Light Eater Ogres by lowering their health to sliver then having them enrage and charge him to group up the bombs.

-Ignoring the Knight completely and instead relying on Radiance to revive. This negates even having to do platforms.

-Using an up close Super Good Advice to stun Oryx before he claps.

While the Radiance perk seems like a cheat, this is still insanely impressive and validates having a Warlock handy from now on...

[1] - Casually Soloing Oryx - The Great Gatsby - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eBhv4bP8fk

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

New Releases for December are Slim

The same pattern follows every year; November releases an insane amount of big name titles and December trickles in a few surprises. That is not to say December is void of game releases, but it certainly slowed.

You can check the New Releases tab to see the biggest games for the month. Or click here.