Monday, February 29, 2016

Fallout 4 Review - Wasteland Woes

Score: 8.75 / 10
Fallout 4
PC - Xbox One - Playstation 4
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: November 10th, 2015

  • Huge amount of content and customization to explore
  • World is alive with random encounters and varying experiences
  • The settlement builder holds huge potential and adds a personal touch to the wasteland
  • Variety of locations can be a joy to explore and feel much more diverse in appearance
  • High replay value
  • Menus are a drag to navigate
  • Majority of situations are clearing an area and moving on to the next
  • Framerate issues for console when action gets tense

Gunfire rings off in the distance as an explosion shakes the ground; a fight is surely intensifying. I wander into a local building infested with Feral Ghouls literally climbing out of the woodwork. I target their legs, and bottleneck them in a hallway as my companion finishes them off from a distance. After clearing the building, I find plenty of useful items and ammunition, including the material I have been seeking to complete a new scope on my rifle. I leave the newly scavenged location and set off toward the skirmish to put a close to the continuing battle, as a platoon of Brotherhood soldiers drop in from the sky to accomplish the same goal.

...when was the last time we showered?

This is Fallout in a nutshell; an open world of possibilities, an endless stream of dangers and loot. Newly discovered locations beg to be explored, and the precious commodities you obtain can be used for a number of crafting and building options. It is a lottery of sorts; every locked container or open bookshelf containing a possible power up or crafting material you have sought for hours. You never know what you could encounter on the way to your next objective, and it is a world filled with stories you are begging to share with fellow players.

Fallout can be whatever game you wish it to be, and that is what has made the franchise so popular. If you wish to be the stealthy rogue with a heart of gold, your perks and equipment can be tailored for that playstyle. If you wish to be the melee brute that takes joy in ignoring social interaction and mashing bandits to pieces, Fallout gives you the tools. If you simply wish to spend hours upon hours building the ultimate settlement, fulfill your dreams. Fallout 4 excels at giving the player a virtual world to explore, destroy, or follow at your leisure.

 So many bullets, so little limbs to shoot...

Despite the open nature of the world around you, the story will mostly stick to a similar script for all involved. Every player will begin by emerging from the vault in search of vengeance for their murdered spouse and the whereabouts of their son. The journey to your son is, unfortunately...dull. It is a series of errands and "you help me, I help you" bargaining. Luckily the cast of characters you meet along the way are interesting enough to motivate your continued involvement, especially Nick Valentine's slick detective persona. The turning point, however, comes late game and has you questioning your own loyalties to each faction you meet along the way. A final decision had me thinking what would be best for the world around me, and ultimately had me hesitating to pull the trigger. I would have hoped for a bit more branching in the journey to that decision, but the lore of the world and the factions you befriend will soon have you favoring sides to take.

If you have played a Bethesda game, you will know the RPG drill as little is done to change the core experience. Your character can be built up with a number of stats, making them heavy in whatever attribute you choose ranging from the charismatic conversationalist to the super strong brute. After picking a few stats, every action contributes to the experience pool in leveling. This allows you to obtain certain perks that can boost you further in certain areas; either increasing your ability in science to craft specialty items or the damage output your sneak attacks can provide. The vast amount of perks and skills offer plenty of replay value in creation of a variety of vault dwellers and adding a personal touch to the gameplay.

 Do I want to go pew, or pew pew pew? Hmm....

Combat has a few slight tweaks, but nothing of substantial impact. You still utilize the VATS system to slow down time and target specific body parts of enemies to focus your fire. Enemies are much more prone to cover this time around, and prove to be much more cautious than previous installments than just standing in the open as you plug away at their health bar. The problem lies in the failure of fluidity. The game automatically dips you into cover, but it felt clunky and unpolished as I scrambled to keep limbs from poking out. Despite the ability to aim down sights and multitude of minor polish, compared to modern shooting games the flow and nature of combat felt a tad sluggish in switching between weapons or getting to an item I wished to use on a standard controller.

When not fighting, you will be scrounging every item in the game as a glorified hoarder for materials. Everything from armor to trash can be broken down or used to craft weapon mods, armor mods, or building materials for your settlement. This is both a good and bad thing, as the multitude of items you collect are a chore to navigate, especially on consoles. The mods you create however are a nice additional touch to each gun you obtain. Throwing on desired scopes, stocks, and attachments can outfit your weapon to churn out damage however you see fit, while also giving your armor new resistances or upgrades. Homestead buildings also require materials, and soon you will find yourself scouring for parts as you throw up turrets, defense towers, and massive structures to house your settlers.

Do not get me wrong, I loved my time in Fallout 4, and still plan on returning to the game for another play through. The issue lies in a failure to really try anything different in terms of approach. Throughout the game you are tasked with going to an area, clearing said area, and returning for a reward. I found there are few branching approaches to the missions I experienced aside from the occasional negotiation outcome. Soon enough the standard clearing area and searching through containers begins to wear on you.

I still have a lot of Fallout 4 to explore, but the similar nature of approach is starting to get to me. I enjoy expanding my homestead, expanding my characters' capabilities, and becoming an unstoppable force in the wasteland. It just feels like a bit of a grind, but one where I can find little moments to get me by.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Eastshade

PC - Consoles Forthcoming
Developer: Eastshade Studios
Publisher: Eastshade Studios
Release Date: TBD

In a world of games with non-stop action and adrenaline, it is nice to stop and smell the roses once and a while. Eastshade is looking to do just that, by thrusting you into a gorgeous world as a painter.

The goal of Eastshade appears to be exploration of the world around you. The world is your canvas and the paintings you create can be used to influence the citizens. This can lead to new discoveries and secrets. You also have the ability to craft objects to place in your painting and get the perfect setup, interact with local villagers for new areas, and more.

There is a lot of potential in creating a very unique game with Eastshade, and the gorgeous visuals and concept are enough to catch your eye.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Killer Croft

Score: 9.25 / 10
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Ps4 - Xbox One - PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: November 10th, 2015

  • Visually stunning vistas and detail
  • Familiar and easy to grasp gameplay
  • Plenty of side content to explore
  • Slew of weaponry and upgrades to obtain
  • Tombs have more depth than before
  • Does not venture too far from established gameplay of the first
  • Stealth needs fine tuning to really work efficiently

From the opening moment, Lara Croft felt like a more seasoned adventurer, a stark contrast from the previous installment. I felt more capable of handling larger groups of enemies thanks to a plethora of tools at my disposal. I felt deadlier as I upgraded each tier of abilities, taking out three enemies at once with a single charged bow shot. I felt a sense of satisfaction at solving a tomb and finding the last hidden piece of  a collectible in an area. Despite sticking close to the formula of the first game, after playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, I felt like I was playing a Croft.

Bah, not a single Uber for miles...

Lara survived a traumatic experience on the island from the last game, and that is shown in this installment. We see a more headstrong, determined Croft, seeking answers and justification in clearing her father's name by searching for the key to immortality known as "The Divine Source". We see a more seasoned adventurer jumping headfirst to tackle impossible odds or escaping from dire situations with a more calm demeanor. We also see a character that has a lot to learn in her quest to find the Source, as she inadvertently leads the deadly group "Trinity" to her goal as well. Along the way you will meet a more distinct cast than the last installment, with a few surprise twists thrown in to mix things up. You could nitpick about aspects of the plot, but the overall story is a step up from the first game with more established companions and enemies with better purpose than just world domination.

Not only has Croft stepped it up as a character, but the developers have matured with her in crafting one amazing presentation. The step up in hardware has allowed Crystal Dynamics to create stunning locations with plenty of panoramic views that stop you in your tracks. Grandly presented vistas ranging from snowy mountainsides to lush green forests are enticing to explore,  finely detailed character models with stellar voice performances, and a heart racing soundtrack during intense firefights create an atmosphere of an adventure film. Camilla Ludington once again crafts a strong persona for Lara, and helps boost your vested interest in her outcome. Finer details like squeezing water out of her hair upon exiting water or shivering in the cold are the icing on the cake for one great looking game.

...I know it's grim but one of you has got to have ammo on you

Like the previous installment, it is all about exploration. You navigate from bonfire to bonfire along a linear path, with new areas opening up as you unlock near gear. Despite being linear, the world still has some open areas and plenty of off the beaten path segments to investigate. The game encourages you to investigate these areas, which can be a good and a bad thing. Side content is plentiful in terms of collectibles and tombs, but these are dangled in front of you with items shining or pop up tutorials reminding you there is a hidden tomb nearby. These are fun to collect and explore, but kill any sense of urgency within the campaign. I relate it to going to the store for milk but being distracted by the candy aisle on the way there.

Not only has Lara evolved as a person, but her experience is shown in her capabilities when engaged with her foes. Her approach can be as loud or as stealthy as you prefer, leaning your experience points toward one of three talent trees more heavily. The most significant aspect is the ability to craft items on the fly to use in both situations. Like a modern day Macgyver, Lara uses cans and bottles from the battlefield to craft molotov cocktails or plant bombs on bodies to lure enemies to investigate. The game provides a pretty open space considering the linear feel of the main story path, allowing you to pick off enemies one at a time or take them head on in a firefight. While both tend to work great, there are moments in stealth that tend to falter, such as leaving a radio bomb and despite being nowhere near the site, instantly being thrown into combat.

 So glad they cannot look up

The side content, despite being dangled in front of your nose, is enjoyable. Primarily, you will invest time in tackling the tombs. These smaller segments usually involve a physics puzzle of some sort to acquire loot as well as abilities that are unavailable by leveling. Tombs are much more fleshed out this time, instead of being small rooms with a simple solution and are much more established areas. I found myself pulling levers and shooting things until the final "ah ha" moment occurs. It is a satisfying experience, as many of the tombs have an interesting solution and are less straight forward.

No matter your action, you will gain a multitude of experience and materials to strengthen Lara. A leveling system allows you to invest points toward new abilities like softer footsteps while landing or more fortitude in taking bullets. You can strengthen Lara however you desire, leaning more towards your preferred approach in combat. You also gain a bunch of materials to craft items and upgrade equipment. These materials can be found or hunted from the active wildlife, improving bow damage or reload speed for a weapon. There are even coins scattered around that can be used to purchase unique items and weaponry.

Rise of the Tomb Raider sticks close to the first game's formula, but that did not lessen the thrill of the campaign. The story is more interesting, the gameplay more diverse, and the side content more alluring. There is even a score attack mode or expedition mode to vary up the gameplay. It is everything a sequel should be; bigger, better, prettier. It had me eager to see where the franchise was headed, because if Rise of the Tomb Raider is any indication, it will be a bright future indeed.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Gaming Romances that Stick With You

Valentine's Day. For some it is a time to reflect on their relationship, others indulge on a multitude of candy shaped hearts, and a lot more await the following day when the candy shaped hearts will be half off.

It has me thinking about the amount of romantic encounters or couples in the gaming world. Most games act out the classic tale of boy meets girl or hero saves princess; Mario and Peach, Link and Zelda, Earthworm Jim and Princess What's-Her-Name. Lately, however, you find much more complexity and realism thrown into the game's main story, and that makes for some memorable and sometimes heartbreaking romances. From open ended RPG romances to the established cookie cutter damsel in distress, these are the romances that come to mind.

The Blissful

Kairi and Sora - Kingdom Hearts Series

In a story all about dark and light's coexistence, Sora's constant fight for his friends is what keeps him going. Despite the close bond with his friend Riku, Kairi is the standout, especially in the first installment. His desire to unite his friends again has this underlying hint of unrequited love to it all. Kairi is the voice that calls him back after turning into a Heartless, basically being consumed by darkness. It was a huge moment in the franchise, and one that solidified this desire to see them end up happily ever after. She is the continual source of drive in his journey, and hopefully we will see more of their story evolve in the upcoming installment.

So...Netflix and Chill?

Elena and Nathan Drake - Uncharted Series
When you take a character as colorful and unique as Nathan Drake, you do not just set him up with an average girl. The key to the relationship between Elena and Nathan is how much she challenges him. She is far from helpless, and not only goes toe to toe with him in witty banter but stands at his side in a firefight. Their relationship's evolution from the first game to the third constantly has them at odds with each other, as if fighting their true feelings or unwilling to be vulnerable in any way. It is the lively, engaging banter that really helps them stand out. Even a brief separation could not keep them apart long, and Uncharted 3 solidified their dedication to each other.

Squall and Rinoa - Final Fantasy VIII
Most are all about Titus and Yuna, Cloud and Tifa, or Garnet and Zidane if you name a go-to Final Fantasy couple. For me, Final Fantasy VIII was a personal favorite entry to the series. The captivating world, the addicting card games, and the satisfaction of using a gunblade made it a standout for me. But primarily, it was the interaction of Rinoa and Squall that led me to add this above the others. Rinoa's constant bubbly personality clashing with Squall's reserved shell across four discs was an entertaining sight with some genuine moments. Eventually chipping away at him, he stands by her side throughout her possession, abandonment, and imprisonment.

The Tragic

Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong - Resident Evil Series
The rookie cop and the woman in the red dress with a hidden agenda; it was one to be remembered. In the midst of blood thirsty zombies, an unstoppable bioweapon, and dangerous humans attempting to cover up their mistakes; this was an environment that should not foster a love connection. Yet, Leon's agenda to protect the few living beings he encounters finds him going out of his way to protect Ada, even going so far as to take a bullet for her. At the time, Ada's true motives and ominous shadow in the final battle gave hope that we would see her again, and Resident Evil 4 paved the way for future meetups. They constantly bump into each other in installments after that, but separate agendas have them at odds. You never see the loving embrace, or house with picket fences; instead it seems they are cursed to never settle so long as the threat of Umbrella exists.

Hopefully nobody unplugs the router...

Cortana and Master Chief - Halo Series
An AI is not suppose to feel emotion, and events in Halo V could take this any direction (I will withhold that spoiler). Yet, throughout the series Cortana has been with Chief for much of his life. She has seen the battles he has waged, the friends he has lost, and guided him every step of the way. It is an unconventional relationship, but one that really tugged at your heartstrings in the fourth installment. With Cortana's impending rampancy, there is a moment with Master Chief that she has essentially longed to experience; a true one on one. There is a sadness that overtakes Chief, and knowing that this is a unique relationship that can never be only makes it a tragic one. Hopefully we will get some closure in the last installment, but Halo V solidifies his dedication and undeniable bond with Cortana.

Isaac Clarke and Nicole Brennan - Dead Space

Another survival horror love gone wrong. Isaac Clarke spends the main game of Dead Space in hopes that the horrors he encounters in the space station have not consumed the love of his life. After finding her in the station and communicating with her over the coms, there is a glimmer of hope in escaping together. His feelings end up being twisted by the Marker, and in a turn of events, the video he replayed over and over finally shows the ending - Nicole committing suicide as the outbreak intensified. The visions of Nicole would plague him in the following game as well, and the haunting talks he has with her really struck a chord. It is a tale about letting go, something that Isaac struggles with but ultimately accomplishes thanks in part to his newfound interest in fellow survivor Ellie.

The Personal

Bastila Shan - Knights of the Old Republic
When you first start your path of the Jedi, one character is there to guide you. She acts as your mentor and you, her padawan. During my playthrough there were multiple moments of discussion on the ship, battles fought together, and I felt unstoppable if she was also in my party. It flipped when she was captured and later turned to the dark side. It took me aback as she stood with Sith garments, telling me to join her in her quest for power. In a final battle, I was able to turn her back to the light using our relationship as the basis for the good I still saw in her. The thirty plus hours fighting by her side made the ability to turn her that much more memorable.

Let's be honest, I'm doing this to buy your house

Wife Villager - Fable II
This one was a little different, but one with impact. In Fable II you can take a wife, buy a home, and have a family. Funny thing was, I found myself returning to my home in the hills to visit my family on more than one occasion. My son would run out to meet me, my wife was quick to welcome me home as I stepped inside. It was subtle, it was endearing, it gave a break from the action. Watching this random NPC suddenly take shape into a character of interest was an interesting transition, and one that stuck with me as the credits rolled.

Triss Merigold - Witcher Series
The Witcher has a complicated story and features a classic love triangle.  I entered into the franchise with the second installment and the primary love interest automatically directs you to Triss Merigold. She was a loyal and trusted compatriot, siding with you when everyone else turned, and assisting Geralt when he awoke with amnesia. When my memory was restored, it was revealed that I was initially in love with a sorceress, Yennefer. I was torn. Stick with the initial love that was unbeknownst to me or continue with the love I knew. I chose to stick it out with Triss, but it was a decision and situation that did not come easy.

The Bizarre

Chell and Companion Cube - Portal
In a game where you are trapped underground in a twisted game to get to the surface, your most loyal companion ends up being a cube with a heart on its surface. Holding your buttons while you leap around, loyal to the core with an...unmoving personality. The companion cube slowly took shape through jests and chides as your most trusted compatriot. It was a relationship that fit well with the hilarious demeanor of GLaDOS, and you ended up giving some sense of empathy with the hollowed out block of plastic.


Yeto and Yetta - Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The Snow Cap Ruins was a memorable dungeon because it was so unconventional. You basically worked your way through someone's home. As you make your way through, the mirror fragment you seek in this dungeon has driven Yetta mad, and upon her defeat the couple reunites and fills the room with hearts. It was awkward, it made no sense physically, and it introduced the furry fetish in a game where I was part wolf...

There are plenty more to consider with this blog in each of these categories, but these were the personal standouts that stuck with me the most. As long as writers have unconventional characters, there will be a plethora of coming gaming couples that will have their share of bliss, tragedy, and oddity.

Have a romance or gaming couple that stuck with you?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Mirror's Edge Catalyst

Mirror's Edge Catalyst
PC - Xbox One - PS4
Developer: EA Dice
Publisher: EA
Release Date: May 24th, 2016

The first Mirror's Edge was a unique title; a parkour filled adventure of speed and action as you leap from rooftop to rooftop. The character of Faith and world she inhabited was captivating, and a sequel can only improve the first experience.

Similar to the first game, expect plenty of building leaping, death defying jumps and moves to weave your way through the stages. This is assisted by Faith's runner vision, highlighting the objects that assist in her navigation.

Unlike the first game, the world is now open in comparison to the linear levels. Expect plenty of hidden items, side objectives, races, and challenges. DICE has even promised no load times once the initial game is set, which will provide an uninterrupted experience.

Combat has also received an overhaul. No use of guns will be utilized, instead focusing on Faith's melee expertise and quick movements. Multiplayer will feature leaderboards as well as synchronous multiplayer in which your actions will affect the world of another player.

There is so much potential with this title, and the details released thus far are already fantastic. The look is astounding, and an open beta registration just went live today. You can register here, but be sure to keep this on your radar.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February Packed with a Ton of New Games

The new release page has been updated, and with games like Street Fighter V and Xcom 2, it is shaping up to be a crazy month of releases! You can see the rest of the releases here.