Category: Written reviews

vlcsnap-2014-02-12-07h37m15s233Splinter Cell has the kind of story, characters, and backdrop that remains with a person. That may be due to the fact that it was conceived in a time where the 3D game was just learning how to tell a story. It could be because it has at least ideological support from Tom Clancy. There’s also a possibility that’s it’s just one of the earlier games I played at a young age and that the main protagonist Sam Fischer reminds me of my father (he’s a U.S. Marine who served in the 80s at Guantanamo). But the truth is, Splinter Cell is one of those franchises that aged along with me, and the major plots of both the good games and not-so-good games stick with me and carry over to the plot of Black List nicely.

For those of you who don’t know what Splinter Cell is or what happened since the last time you played it, let me fill in the blanks. Splinter Cell is basically about a covert operation called Third Echelon that specialized in high risk missions where secrecy is of the utmost importance. The team always consists of little more then a commander, a hacker or two, plus one or more ninja commando decked out with high tech gadgets and a black suit that looks like Batman’s version of a Navy Seal uniform. That last role was filled in by Sam Fischer, a Veteran at Spec Ops who volunteered to be the first “Splinter Cell”.

The first three games followed this basic premise through a plot that Tom Clancy would be proud of. A lot of that went downhill with their fourth title, which basically tried to make the game more “Hardcore” by killing major characters off and making Sam a Double Agent for a terrorist cell. Splinter Cell: Double Agent wasn’t the worst game I played, but it wasn’t the best, and many gamers see that as the low point of the series. Long Story short, Splinter Cell: Conviction fixed the broken pieces of the plot line and turned the franchise from stealth simulators to action games, and Blacklist picks up where Conviction left off. And while it is the latest game in the franchise, it still is several months old, and it’s been collecting dust in my Gamefly envelopes along with Beyond Two Souls and Saints Row IV. I want to review them quick and dirty so I can rent me some Xbox One titles. With that said, lets move on to the review. Once again, we will be using the Seven Word Synopsis which will include

The Good

The Bad

And the Summary

In the same order and number of words that you see above. Let’s begin, shall we?

vlcsnap-2014-02-12-09h36m00s174

Streamlined, Customizable

One of the first things I noticed when I progressed past the tutorial level is that there are a surprising number of things you can buy and customize for good ol’ mister Fisher. From gun modifications and weapons to gear upgrades to cockpit improvements and the like for his airplane/headquarters to the material of his gloves all the way down to the color of those trademark three lights popping out of his night vision goggles. Said goggles can be made into a variety of colors from green to blue to red to-believe it or not-pink. Apparently Sam Fischer is reaching for his inner metro-sexual these days. Joking aside, the cash you make on missions translate into things you can buy to not only make Sam Fischer look good, but increases the three prime statistics of Armor, Stealth, and Weapon. I’m guess that Stealth makes you harder to spot, Armor makes you harder to kill, and Weapon makes it harder to miss. Simple enough. Plus it ties in well with the various ways you can get a high score. Also, since this uses every mechanic used in the previous game, this game gets the benefit of being fast, furious, and quick to pick up. Perfect for first timers, busy gamers, and busy game reviewers (hallelujah!), this is the kind of game that flows like the water in terms of gameplay. I often find myself cycling like clockwork through enemy soldiers with an ease that only true veterans of war can experience in real life. The Marker System still works pretty good, you get an update of the score you rack up with each kill/knockout/capture, and it’s pretty easy to adapt your strategy to different challenges. Just don’t expect to see anything brand new, though.

Linear, Rehashed

vlcsnap-2014-02-12-09h38m30s204 The problem with it’s streamlined mechanics is twofold; not only is it the same thing I experienced before, but it fails to deliver on replayabilty or even a subtle deviation from the sequence of events. Rarely did I feel like I was approaching challenges “My way”, since most of the leveled were funneling me through hallways and invisibles walls toward an almost idiotically obvious destination. Blacklist runs into the same problem it’s predecessor falls into, and for the same reasons; they just don’t trust their audience to be intelligent. Seriously, I think Sly Cooper had more complicated puzzles then this, and Splinter Cell is a game that’s supposed to target adults. Add that to the influx of backup weapons that literally arm Sam to the teeth, and you start to feel more and more like the game is pandering to you. Then again, I am an experience gamer who played this game on “Normal” mode, which is somewhere between Intermediate and Easy. If you are old enough to remember NES games like I am, and have been playing games fairly regularly since, I recommend playing this game on “Realistic” or “Perfectionist” if you want this game to challenge you. But what REALLY bothers me is that it’s not just the gameplay that is so unbelievably egg carton. The story is something I felt the need to touch down on, and since I was in “Marathon mode” I opted to just play the first few levels and then Google the ending. I think it took me 7 minutes to see what was happening, figure out what had happened, and how the plot turned out. I know video game endings tend to suck in general, but this feels like they weren’t even trying. If you want to play something that you haven’t before, despite playing a lot of games, don’t bother with this one. I think kids game for the PS1 took more risks then this Splinter Cell title.

Generic Action Adventure

vlcsnap-2014-02-12-09h40m54s80 I want to publish this article quick so I can get ready for my day job. To be clear, if you played an action/adventure game with a soldier on the front cover that involved stealth, you almost know exactly what to expect. If you played Splinter Cell: Conviction, you do know exactly what to expect. The sheer lack of anything innovative, original, or even remotely unorthodox is extremely disappointing to say the very least. It’s hard to believe that the same game company that pioneered masterpieces like Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed would be so afraid to test new waters with their other hit success franchise. Ubisoft, it’s okay to take a few risks. Remember the designer’s creed to fail faster, and give yourselves permission to be something besides an entertainment company once in a while. The gaming community would thank you for it.   So there you have it:

Price: $39.99(used)

Streamlined, Customizable

Linear, Rehashed

Generic Action Adventure

I was originally going to move right along to review Saints Row IV, but since that looks even more rehashed then this title, and I can’t bring my console to my work, I think I will show you a game built with ten times more imagination, took 100 times the risks, with less then a fraction of the cost and technology.

Ladies and Gentlemen… _PapersPleaseLogo

Beyond-Two-Souls-Promo-ArtIn and effort to both cover as many games as possible and save my hard earned dollars, I embarked to scour through my entire collection of Video Games from today and times before over the course of an entire month in what I like to call a Review Marathon. So far, my pace hasn’t seemed to earn that title justly. While I did write two reviews over the course of one day this week, the days since my last review stacked higher then I like to admit. Maybe because I heard from various sources that this game wasn’t exactly stellar. Maybe it was because I am not used to cranking out writings at such a hectic pace. Or maybe I was just feeling lazy these last couple days, and now I finally want something to show for it. Either way, the marathon continues, as does my reviews. Round 2; FIGHT!!!

_FIGHT!

 Video games have been trying to cross over into the movie business since the inception of the Sega CD back in the 90s. The fact of the matter was that it was less then successful, as the fact that movies had tricks, tropes, and entertainment strategies that just didn’t work once you applied them to games. One of the poor unfortunate souls to try an make the “interactive movie” dream come true was a man named David Cage, who now is founder and president of a studio known as Quantic Dream. The studio only produced three titles including this one, and they all had mixed reviews overall. Some like the idea of a story based game while others think all of David Cage’s work can be compared to fecal matter. I try not to read review of games before I can review them (for obvious reasons involving objectivity) and I couldn’t help but notice the headlines of other reviews. They weren’t positive. I tried to give this game the benefit of a doubt, but I can at least see where my fellow review monkeys are coming from. I was hoping Beyond Two Souls would surprise me with something, and so far it hasn’t.

But before we get to my take on it, let me once again remind any new readers out there how I review games. Mainly with the Seven Word Synopsis. It’s basically my answer to the usual 1 through 10 scale of most review sites. Its only a seven word review of the game compressed to dileniate

The Good

The Bad

And The Summary

With the exact same number of words that you see above. Let’s begin, shall we?

Unique

Pretty Unique

As in the game is both pretty to look at and its a breed of its own. One thing Cage manages to get right with his games is to craft a story that’s pretty original. His first game called Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy here in the US) was about a guy who is possessed by a shaman to take the fall for a murder. The second game called “Heavy Rain” was about the investigation of an abductor that leaves origami as his calling card. This one is basically about a girl named Jodie whose soul is tethered to a supernatural being that acts like your typical ghost.You know… is invisible to people, passes through walls, possesses people and controls their actions. Basically the same things that can be done by either a psychic character in a video game(Psy Ops, anyone?) or Casper the Ghost. Neither are the best reference for making a movie. Only true difference between the thing she calls “Aiden” is that it’s connected to a  little girl who looks like Ellen Page and can see through its eyes.

Fortunately, they seem to be aware of how corny this is, and work hard to define this thing as anything but. Fairly early in the game, she is placed into a meeting with a doctor who will serve as a father figure to her throughout the game. He asks her about  Aiden, and through his inquiries we learn about how her powers work. He asks if its a ghost, to which she replies no. It is just a creature from beyond (as the title suggests), and apparently not the only one Jodie encountered. This is what we in the writing business call “foreshadowing”, and in this scene in particular, Cage does his job and does his job well. Only thing is, I only used the words “fairly early” as the game takes a very long time to get going. More on that when we get to the bad stuff.

Another thing that makes David Cage’s work stand out, despite their lackluster results, is the sheer graphical quality inserted into each game. When it was first being “previewed” by review sites whose budget and spare time dwarf my own, it was nick named as project Kara, many reviewers were amazed at how “awesome” the graphics looked. I’m not that surprised myself, given the technology they had available at the time, but I must admit they couldn’t have tried hard to make things look more realistic. The models rival reality, the textures are smooth and detailed, and the color is spot on, even in dark shading. The lighting needs a bit more work, especially when the main character is working through dark places without a flashlight; something that happens a little too frequently. The first among many shortcomings this game and others like it have to offer.

Slow, Sloppy

QTE2

Beside being seeped in darkness at some points, Beyond Two Souls tends to fall into a trap both movies and video games fall into when they focus too much on “story”. I put that in quotations only because there is a big difference between focusing on “story” and actually delivering an enticing narrative. The high concept by itself is pretty solid; little girl is born with unusual imaginary friend that is both menacing but also helpful. She seeks help in controlling it and winds up becoming a secret agent. Now she must run from that agency before they kill her. Okay. Good enough plot in and of itself. Few holes pop up though; why are they trying to kill her? Did she run away? Why did she run away? Such things are missing from the game story thus far, and are kinda important to the story. While there is nothing wrong with keeping things mysterious, this once again falls into M. Night Shyamalan and JJ Abrams “Mystery Box” territory in the sense that mystery serves no purpose but to excite an audience before they enter the theatre. They usually wind up disappointed. While I cannot say that I was dissapointed, I did play the game for three hours and still can’t answer the questions above. The origin of “Aiden” is also a mystery, but I almost expect that to be the case only because the supernatural is a mysterious thing in and of itself. Why you became a secret agent and then desert is something that people don’t normally do without a good reason, and thus need some explaining. That and the fact that the intro to the game has NO interactivity and the game as a whole features cutscenes outnumber those of Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid creator; infamous for having way to many cutscenes). I could easily forgive this if the game had a sense of coherency in its plot. But the only things consistent are the heroine’s misery and the writing’s blandness. Nothing much to say on that.

William Defoe

I call it Sloppy for much the same reasons listed above, plus the issues I see with the modeling and with the cutscene execution. Cage makes it clear that he wants to make an interactive movie, and Beyond Two Souls has the Dual Star-power of Ellen Page as Jodie and William Defoe as the doctor who studies and befriends her. In case you don’t know who those people are by name, Ellen Page was the female lead in the movie Inception and William Defoe was the Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie. Chances are good that you have at least seen them and their stellar work, and the talent does shine through the voice acting. Simply hearing it sounds like a professional movie star being given a lackluster script, and the models themselves bear a striking resemblance to say the least. But the thing that doesn’t come through the game to the eyes of the viewer tends to be that thing most actors are known for. You know… what some people would call acting?! The animation of the models do nothing for the character’s expression, to the point where I almost mistaken Ellen Page for that crappy actress who played the female role in Twilight. Yeah. Her. Grand Theft Auto used little more then super-detailed cartoon characters and still made movements less stiff and more realistic. If these guys used the same motion capture technology that was used in LA Noire for recording faces, this game would have very easily gotten a better review. I guess David doesn’t talk to those guys.

Beyond Two Souls fails to deliver on the promise of interactive storytelling, proving once again that it takes way more then just mashing the rules of movie making was a slap dash game. Here’s what I mean.

Interactive B Movie

QTE

There was once a game known as “Dragon’s Lair” that frequented arcades at one point but then quickly fell into obscurity. To sum it up, it was a Disney cartoon where you had to press the right button to keep the main character from getting killed. On the whole, it was a pretty neat concept and probably seemed revolutionary to the team that was working on it. But in the end, it was merely a well drawn, poorly written cartoon that restarted itself every time you didn’t press the exact button. If real Disney cartoons did this, they wouldn’t survive to make the Little Mermaid, let alone fund Toy Story.

It did give rise to the often called “Quick Time Event” which basically does that same exact thing but with 3D model cutscenes. Beyond Two Souls is flooded with these, almost to the point where you wonder why. You often have to do pointless actions like getting up or sitting down or make choices in the game that are completely useless in determining anything that happens; and unlike The Walking Dead, Beyond Two Souls kinda makes it obvious. The game doesn’t punish you half as seriously as “Dragon’s Lair” did-thank the lord-but when it seems like you succeed even when you fail, the button pressing seems even more pointless. I’m sure that if you fail enough times, something bad happens, but we never seem to get a chance to fail too badly. I was driving on a motorcycle while being chased by a police helicopter (like we never saw that before) and not only were the turning controls unwieldily, but the game seemed to compensate by making it impossible to crash. C’mon! That’s like finding out the gutters are way to wide at your bowling alley and then fixing it by putting in permanent bumpers. If a interactive element doesn’t work, and you don’t have time to fix it, remove it! Game Design 101.

Aiden looking at Jodie

And speaking of design decisions, let me flex my own game design muscles that I have been working out since Global Game Jam and give you my two cents on what Cage should have done to prevent this thing from bombing; take out the parts where you play as Jodie. I’m serious. Between doing things as thrilling as sitting down and preventing a boy from touching her butt, it seems like my actions are completely unnecessary. The thing that carried the game barely halfway was the fact that it had high production values and you could control an angry ghost that can take revenge on evil teenagers. Stick with that. You could have easily dissected the game between me watch a movie played by the character models and me watching the same movie play out in 3D while I wandered around bound to the main character. Press Y; see Ellen Page act. Press Y again, go back to possessing people and blowing stuff up. That would have been a good experience, especially if you put the same effort you did in those “Quick Time Events” to improve the script and take better advantage of your star power. I seen both their work; Ellen Page and William Defoe are both stars actors that deserve to be stars. But you got Ellen Page saying nothing half the time between being awkward and being a badass, and you got William Defoe in the background more often then not. Lets have the stars shine in this picture, shall we?

Sad Jodie

Although to be perfectly honest, even Aiden’s controls were wonky, as I often had trouble finding something to click on and even looking at a card in someone’s hand. I’m sure if you spent less time and manpower on Jodie’s button prompts, you could have used the same programmers to develop a better control scheme for Aiden, and maybe add some new features. Or work with the animators for better acting.

That wraps up my review. I am sorry this review is so late; I really need to get into the flow of things here. Let’s finish off with a brief update on the Synopsis, and a quick link to where games are sold if you weren’t scared away from my review.

Beyond Two Souls

Price: $55

Pretty Unique

Slow, Sloppy

Interactive B Movie

Tommorow I will be reviewing

 

You might have gotten the feeling from my previous review of the Xbox One and the PS4 that I’m somewhat jaded by the state of gaming currently. I won’t lie; since the inception of the Xbox 360 and consoles like it, I have felt very little enthusiasm for new consoles period. Even the Wii and WiiU from Nintendo didn’t ship any games that I was excited about, and it seems like the industry is starting to jog in place. The reason for that is as simple as it is sad; consoles are bordering on obsolete these days. It’s not hard to see why when you observe the great content that comes out from everyday electronics like the Iphone App Store or Steam on the computer. Especially when games like this go into open beta for free.

Hearth Stone is the latest venture of Blizzard Entertainment, made in the same veil and indeed the same world of their World of Warcraft series. Unlike WoW, this is what the industry calls a collectible card game. Named as such because it is a basic card game where you collect and use different cards to make in your own deck. For those of you not in the know, Google “Magic the Gathering” for a good example of this.

I’m not surprised that something like this came into production; Blizzard seems to make it their mission in life to bulk up on cash by making games that are addictive and that you can and probably will dump a lot of money into. A fun CCG with addictive gameplay and micro transactions fit this bill like a glove. Thus, the only thing that does catch me off guard is the fact that they have a beta version of the game that is open to the public and free of charge. I guess it’s like the drug dealer always says; first time is always free.

I spent the last hour or so tasting that first sample for little more then a gig or two of hard drive space and some loading time. I came up with a good way to sum up the experience and will extrapolate it here.

As always, I will be using the Seven word synopsis to delineate

The Good

The Bad

And The Summary

as it is written above. Here is my review starting with the good.

Beautifully Designed

I won’t lie to you guys; I was blown away by the quality of this game. I always expect quality results from a big company like Blizzard, especially when they make a game that consists of little more then animated .png files. But these guys delivered, and the results made me laugh with such joy that I was wondering if I should be playing this at a Chinese restaurant. Luckily, there was no one there to look at me funny.

But the truth is that quality game design is hard to come by these days, even with a multi-billion dollar industry circling it in a vast ocean of online indie projects. This game has polish; voice acting was very funny and very well timed. The color schemes blended spectacularly, the intro cutscene caught my attention almost as much as the actual game, and the gameplay flows like the open water of Niagara falls. Genius mechanics like having a power act as a constant card in hand and utilizing the computer controlled rules to maintain constant fairness and balance make this worth the sixty dollars most triple A titles cost. And this was just a free beta.

Even the flaws I found with it almost seem like qualities you’d want in a game. Lets go to the bad.

Addictive, Unoriginal

Remember 3 paragraphs or so ago when I wrote about how if you didn’t know what a CCG is to Google “Magic the Gathering”? That was not only to inform readers who are still trying to figure out games, but also to strike a direct comparison in your head. To be certain, when you take away the Warcraft artwork, the computer generated mechanics, and the rules on the cards themselves, you have basically a blatant rip-off of Magic the Gathering by Wizards of the Coast. It was often considered THE first card game to include strategic deck building and fantasy artwork. While it certainly is the one you want to copy if you want to make a good card game, I can get the same experience if not better at a booster draft down by the board game shop; at a higher price, albeit. Had Hearthstone not used its digital assets to enhance the game so wonderfully, Blizzard might have actually faced a lawsuit by the folks at Wizards. It happens; just ask the guys who made Triple Town for the Iphone.

Also, as is the case with Blizzard IPs that don’t flop, the results can become highly addictive. Veterans, you all heard those horror stories of WoW junkies who play 24/7 for months on end, max leveling their characters on little more then microwave pizza and mountain dew. Like a gambler who needs to cash out his life savings, or a woman who can’t get off of Farmville, Hearth Stone players can and already have been binge playing the beta like a junkie having their fix. Like I said; first sample is free.

To be fair, this is not due to the lack of quality of the game. On the contrary, it is because they did such an awesome job making it fun and intuitive that will get you hooked. Add that to the fact that an RPG leveling system is in place, and by the time they start selling cards for money  you might not only lose precious time but find a hole in your pocket as well. You have been warned.

Update: I managed to play this game a few more times, and discovered two things. One; they provide 5 card Booster packs. Two; they also have a virtual currency called gold (true to Warcraft) that you can spend 100 of to buy a booster pack. Gold is earned through playing the game. Of course, there is also an option to buy up to 40 booster packs for 50 bucks-in real life. They do have the courtesy to warn you when you about to drop real cash, plus they reward two extra cards with each level you gain. So while it is very possible (easy, even) to play the game for free, Blizzard still can’t resist making Hearth Stone into yet another cash cow. Just remember to always be careful to watch what you click on in the store, and monitor the kids accounts. Or buy 50 bucks worth of Hearth Stone cards; your call, your money.

That’s the only things bad I can think of, so lets wrap things up here.

Card Strategy RPG

I could have easily summed this up as a Collectable Card Game. It is, but that doesn’t seem to justify or define the level of depth to be explored here in Hearth Stone: Heroes of Warcraft. As I said earlier, RPG elements are in the mix to make it more fun and to trap you in the quicksand that is the skinner box (look it up here). Plus it revolves around the idea of heroes fighting each other with minions, spells, and weapons, and you can change classes once you win them in fights. That, along with the fact that you gain free cards whenever you level, has as much in common with the original WowW as it does with MTG. So yeah, another reason to play again.

Just don’t delude yourself into thinking you’ll just be level grinding; this is a skill based game. The skills in question include tactics, timing, and playing the odds. Hearth Stone is as much about strategy as it is about playing and leveling a character or two, plus it has deck building and will more then likely include collecting and trading cards with either real money or optimum currency purchased with real money. Hope the booster packs are cheap.

Update:  Boosters are pretty easy to earn without actual currency. See the Update above.

So there you have it:

Hearth Stone: Heroes of Warcraft

Price:Free Beta

Beautifully Designed

Addictive, Unoriginal

Strategy Card RPG

That’s it. Next review I will be going over something that has been collecting dust in my library after I ordered it on Gamefly. It goes by the name of

Beyond-Two-Souls-Promo-Art

Yes... I have a Xbox One.

Yes… I have a Xbox One.

Got it for Christmas and posted it on Facebook. Would have opened and reviewed it a lot sooner if I hadn’t been so busy, and since I’m doing a Review Marathon now in the hopes of catching up with the rest of my fellow gamer folk, this is as good a place to start as any. In the interest of your time as well as mine, I will make this brief, and do my best not to state anything that hasn’t been repeated a million times. If you see something  you already knew anyway, my bad.

As always we will begin with our synopsis. For those of you who don’t know, the seven word synopsis is just a seven word review that incapsulates

The Good

The Bad

And The Summary

In the same order and number of words that you see here.

Let’s Start with the good.

Cutting Edge

To be fair, clear, and completely honest to fans of every preference, I will be the first to admit that the Xbox One is an awesome piece of technology. Even if the PS4 is technically cheaper and had a better review at last year’s E3 showing, the high price tags on both consoles are like that for a very good reason. With 500 GB of hard drive space, wireless internet with built in DVR capabilities, and the awesome Kinect toy included with the package, your paying about a dollar for every gig and a whole lot more. The Graphics are amazing, even if they aren’t as much of a leap as they used to be. Truth is, we already come so far as it is with graphical fidelity that we are treading the uncanny valley. Look it up; it’s a thing.

from Dead Rising 3: Not my photo, but matches my experience 🙂

 

The voice recognition on the Kinect isn’t anything new, but since it was always just a motion detector add on up until now this is the first time I actually used it. Made me feel like a Captain of the starship Enterprise just turning it on. Plus, it can sign my account in by recognizing my face and even detect my pulse by measuring my body heat like a thermal image camera. Orwell would be just as creeped out as I was. Fact remains that despite the major flaws that it’s presentation and hardware had (read below), Xbox One is something worth buying now, if not later. I would normally opt for later, since consoles like this always go for cheaper and have more games over time. But my darling mother wanted to get me something good for Christmas, and for the most part, she succeeded.

That was the good, now for the bad…

Unfinished, Unpredictable

It’s almost a running gag how far off the mark Microsoft has fallen in launching this thing. Log onto memebase.com and browse for a few minutes and you will see at least one snarky comment on either Xbox One’s hardware setbacks or Microsoft’s bad campaign on E3. I myself saw the photo meme you see here and shared it on Facebook just before Christmas. I wished I hadn’t up to the point where I started operating this thing. To sum up , I’m going to list some bullet points outlining my experience operating the Xbox One for the first time.

  • Turn on the console for the first time once internet was up. Feeling excited; like Christmas is back in February.
  • Put in a half hour while it asked me questions about my internet connection. Still wondering what the hack “TKIP” means.
  • wait an hour for it to load.
  • Connection fails; hit retry.
  • Load up again and is successful, so all is well.
  • Notice the striking similarities between the Xbox One UI and the Windows 8 UI everyone hates so much.
  • Bad UI or not, operating the console is pretty easy, and once I get the Kinect working, playing on it is kinda fun.
  • Try Xbox Fitness, Kinect stops working. I curse the screen
  • Try to go to settings, Xbox freezes. Try turning it on and then off. I curse the screen again.
  • Since Xbox One is “Always on” I turn it back on to another frozen screen and have to unplug it. Curse the screen yet again.
  • try to find my old Xbox 360 games, and find none. Remember that most of my games were on my old hard drive instead of a cloud. Curse the screen again.
  • Look up games at the store and realize that there are no browsing options. Only a search bar and recommendations.
  • Quickly realize why there’s no browsing options; I can count the number of games here with my fingers and toes.
  • Settle on a Dead Rising 3 demo, wait an hour for it to load.
  • Play the game and realize there is a time limit to the demo, and only two plays allowed. Curse the screen one last time.

As you can see here, there is a reason Sony fans are so smug about the whole thing. Overall, the system has some major flaws in both it’s hardware and its software, which hinders the experience despite being so advanced. I have yet to try the DVR and Twitch.tv features and will probably update this post here when I do. But the sad truth is, there was an easy answer to all of these flaws and any other flaws I can and probably will encounter with it.

They could have release the console next Christmas just as easily.

It would have given them more time to work out the bugs in the hardware, software, and game library, not to mention add some features like a cloud system for my Xbox 360 library. Yeah, some fanboys would complain, and probably already have at not releasing it with the Wii U. But we all paid the price for such impatience, and I personally would rather have for a good console with great features and games in one year then to have what I have now. Plus it would have saved the Microsoft execs from face, instead of irreparably ruining their first impression with it. Good thing about Christmas is that it comes once a year, unlike a good reputation.

That was the bad, now lets wrap things up.

Pivotal Entertainment Center

Numerous flaws aside, I am grateful for my Christmas present. Not only because I run a video game review site and it cost $500, but also due to the fact that it is more then just a console. It’s a DVR, HD recorder, fitness trainer, multi-media device, and even a cable adaptor. I been messing with this thing all week, and I still don’t know the extent of its power. Most due to the fact that it glitches constantly, but the fact that there is more still excites me. All the software flaws are easy for them to update, and I fixed hardware before on their previous console (with this video), so I’m not too concerned with the results as of yet. I still want to see what Xbox TV is like once i connect it to my FIOS box with an HDMI cable, and being able to upload my videos directly from the console will make my job a bit easier.

 

Good games like Evil Within and Watch Dogs are on the horizon, and the fact that they are taking their sweet time unlike the Microsoft boys almost assures me that their products are worth while (Don’t hold me to that; wait till I review them). Plus, with the Kinect fully functioning and the promise not only of new games but innovative software as well, the Xbox One might last a longer time then any console before it, especially since game development is moving away from simply boosting graphical fidelity. If Microsoft wises up and makes their own cloud server deal like PS4’s GenKai, it might be the last Xbox console they ever make. Unless the idiots up top continue to make stupid decisions like their “Trade in your PS3” deal. We are all holding our breath.

 

Anyway that’s it for the Xbox One review. Once I get my own PS4, you can expect a review of that too. But for now, the game review marathon continues and I leave you with these seven words that describe a flawed yet still workable system. Plus I’m adding a price system this time that connects direct to Amazon.com. See it in yellow below.

Xbox One

Price: $400-500

Cutting Edge

Unfinished, Unpredictable

Pivotal Entertainment Center

 

Thus begins the Marathon anew. Next on my list will be a Beta test on…

 

 

 I mentioned it before and I will mention it again so we’re clear; I am still going to make movies, but the content needs to come first. There is no way around it; no blog exists without content, and this is no exception. What you are about to read was originally a script written for a video review I wanted to make of the game Grand Theft Auto 5. I attempted to shoot, script, edit, star in, and add special effects to a five-minute movie that I was going to put on this website as well as my own youtube channel. It’s about as difficult as you might imagine, and has become my main reason (i.e. excuse) for not producing content for the past few weeks. This obviously can’t continue, and I know you would rather have a good article now then a great video later, so in service to all my readers here’s a long overdue written review of

GTA-logo

For those of you who know what Grand Theft Auto is, you probably remember it best for being the longest, edgiest, and most violent game you ever played and/or something controversial you saw on the news. To those of you who need a little more information, all you really need to know about the Grand Theft Auto series in general is that you play as a car jacker who climbs up the ladder of organized crime by stealing killing, and other unkindly deeds. Grand Theft Auto 5 is no exception.

Only this time you are running a crack team of robbers and instead of playing as just one central protagonist, you spend the game shuffling between three. The three main characters include…

MIchael-mugfinal

Michael: a retired middle-aged criminal mastermind with a miserable marriage and two ungrateful kids. He basically get out of his mid-life crisis by starting a new criminal career and recruiting…

Franklin-Mugfinal

Franklin: an illegitimate repo-man and occasional gang banger who is looking for better things. He eventually finds it after teaming up with Michael.

And of course, my personal favorite,

Trevor-mugshotfinal

Trevor: an out of control Trailer trash meth-dealer who used to be an air force pilot and a member of Michaels old team. He reunites with him after learning that Michael is not dead but in hiding.

Needless to say, they team up to commit planned heist after planned heist in between the normal missions you would expect in a Grand Theft Auto game; high end assassinations, stealing weapons from secure building, basically one crime after another to prepare for the big job. The local is the same setting as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and is basically Rockstar’s version of LA. For those of you unfamiliar with both, its a California city dubbed Los Santos; LS, for short.

That’s basically the game. Now lets get this review started.

The Seven Word Synopsis

It’s been a long time since I actually did a review, so a refresher on my review style is in order. If you read my previous articles, you might notice that the familiar 1 to 10 ratings scale is absent, and in its place is a short statement I call the Seven word Synopsis.

Basically, I don’t try to classify games based on quality alone. Just because a game is good doesn’t mean it’s for you. So I basically reduce my “rating” to a short sentence the describes the game in exactly seven words. In particular

GTA-7WS

much like you see here. Okay, let’s begin the review. First the good:

Gorgeous,-Inventive

Trevor-Jumpfinal

As a man who has actually been to LA for E3 2012, I gotta admit that it’s virtual cousin never looked so good. Between the blue skies, lush textures, smooth animations, and beautiful color shading, you will rarely want to take your eyes off the screen. Even when the action seems a bit cartoonish, the pure technology behind the game makes it look and feel as believable as can be. Plus, it seems like there is always something good for you to do, whether your playing a story mission, robbing a bank, skydiving, golfing, practicing at the firing range, or just blowing things up, this is the kind of game that you won’t get bored with for a very long time. Even the Characters feel different, as they have custom statistics you can improve over time and each have a unique special ability. Franklin can slow down time while driving, Michael can slow down time while walking and shooting, and Trevor gets a major damage boost to both his fists and his bullets. Somehow, the abilities seem appropriate.

That was the good, now for the bad.

Grisly,-Immature

TrevorBoomfinal

In case you didn’t read the ESRB rating or watch Fox News in the last six months, Grand Theft Auto 5 is not a game for children. Not only because it has excessive blood spilling violence or even more excessive f-bombing, but the fact that it has both as well as references to sex, drugs, and other activities that are edgy to say the very least. I will advocate against censorship of this game, of course, if only because their are movies, music, and TV shows that are just as bad if not worse; if the world can survive six seasons of the Sopranos, they can survive Trevor going on a rampage. That being said, I will also admit that Rockstar has a nasty habit of pushing the boundaries of good taste to the extreme, and GTA 5 continues this trend. You have been warned.

That being said, and as ironic as this may seem, this game still does not feel like a game deliberately aimed at mature adults (read;mature). It’s obvious that they at least try to touch up on deep and serious topics like Michael’s failure to bond with his family, the invasiveness of social media, and the challenges of growing up poor. Whenever they do, however, it’s either pushed away from the main story into the background or is treated more like a parody from Family Guy then something profound you would see in the Godfather-the movie, not that god awful game. It’s sad that after all these years of astronomical sales figures and all the time, money, and effort poured into this game and the franchise as a whole that it still wouldn’t shake some of the bad habits it had back in 2001. This is unfortunately what you can expect from a franchise that originated in the 90s, broke sales records with their third installment, and have continued to break sales records with the same formula since. As any game publisher will tell you; if it sells, don’t fix it.

 That was the bad. Time to wrap things up here.

Expansive-Crime-Narrativecityfinale

The Staple of every Grand Theft Auto game up to and including this one is the sheer scale of the game’s environment. Even if you consider the few games that simulate a bigger Los Angeles (Just Cause 2), once you see how many intricate elements there are per square virtual mile, your jaw will continue to drop to the floor. Like I said earlier, There is always something good for you to do. If I were to try and list those things, they would be longer then your whole body. Add that to the millions of customization options and RPG elements that are mixed in with the arsenal of weapons, and you’ve got a game that will keep you occupied for weeks.

While the acting or the writing by itself isn’t going to win anybody an oscar, its still professional and entertaining. Despite being burdened and plastered with gregarious sex and violence, the story holds a less somber and more lighthearted tone that balances out the heavy-handed “Quest for Vengence” story from Grand Theft Auto 4. The surplus of characters and more fluid visual context makes the narrative seem both more involving and more varied, especially since it has a clever way of keeping the three character’s stories interconnected through a single gameplay session. Switching between them is easy and intuitive, even when the characters switching are on the other side of the city. The BIIIIIG city. With the breath of the possibilties this game has, especially on next generation hardware, it’s kinda odd that they would limit the main mechanic to simple bank heists with almost binary choices-until you remember that PayDay 2 came out before it was even released. You can’t blame Rockstar for keeping up with the joneses, as they definitely made a game worth buying. As usual, Grand Theft Auto knocks it out of the park with a great game that lets you keep on gaming.

so there you have it.

Grand Theft Auto V

Gorgeous,-InventiveGrisly,-ImmatureExpansive-Crime-NarrativeSeven  choice words for one choice game.

Okay, now to work something a little more recent…

Hello all you happy people. This is Timothy Ryan Scully, now blogger for both Ryan’s Video Game Reviews and Tech Circuit. Please call me Ryan. 

Since Ian is such an awesome guy (and because I haven’t posted anything in either site the last few days) I think now is a good time for a video game review for both sites. Today I am going to look at a quirky little indie game that is currently available in the steam library for 2013-04-13_00002$11.99(with the current Steam discount).

It’s called Don’t Starve, and the goal of the game is as plain as day. The premise is simple; you wake up in the middle of a weird wilderness thanks to a helpful guy named Maxwell. As far as I can tell, his only role is to awaken your hapless protagonist and remind him to eat something before it gets dark. You then spend the rest of the game collecting food and resources. It gets dark eventually as you play, and if you don’t have some source of light by the time night comes, you will die at the hands of unseen horrors. Simple enough.

For those of you who never read one of my game reviews, this is the spot where I write my signature

Seven Word Synopsis.

Most video game reviewers give a game a number between one and ten. Others might use the five star system or give separate ratings to separate parts.  I think this does a disservice to you, the reader, as it implies that their opinion is the end all, be all of opinions. But in the real world, your 7 might be his 5, and your 5 might be his 9. No one plays games for the same reasons, and even the best games aren’t for everybody.

Therefore, in each review I describe my experience in the game in exactly seven words;  two words why it’s good, two words why its bad, three words about the experience as a whole.

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SUMMARY.

Seven Word Synopsis. 7WS, for short.

Now, since this game is only in beta as of yet, the only mode of this game I can comment on is the Survival mode; the full game will be release April 23rd. I will make a more detailed review then.

Anyway, the 7WS for the survival mode of Don’t Starve is…

HAUNTINGLY CHARMING, TEDIOUSLY OVERWHELMING, WILDERNESS SURVIVAL HORROR .

That’s the 7WS; read on to find out what it means.

HAUNTINGLY CHARMING

2013-04-13_00071On the good side of things, this game delivers in its artistic appeal and design. The very nature of both its gameplay and its graphics can only be described as Lovecraftian. For those of you not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft, it basically means that it is a game where you face horrific things you can’t quite explain, and your sanity drops as a result. This game pretty much measures both with it’s emphasis on avoiding dark places (if it ever becomes completely dark, you die.) and trying to get a good nights sleep. The weird character models and the terrain that shifts randomly between green pastures, dry deserts, and black marsh (among others) are reminiscent of a children’s story book-if it was written and drawn by the local goth chick. You will find yourself giggling and smiling at the cute things your character has to say about the world, as well as those said by your only civilized neighbors; the pig men. Then once your sanity goes down due to a lack of sleep (it only goes down at night), you begin to remember that this is a horror game, as you begin to see translucent shadows that depict things you’d rather not describe that seem to blend with both the darkness and the now-warping 2013-04-13_00135surroundings. The only remedies that work against this horror is building a fire, getting a good nights sleep, and maybe a pretty corset of flower pedals. Not kidding. You also get to unlock up to seven characters who are both cute and disturbing, complete with a mustached strongman, a pyromaniac, and a sweet little girl with nightly visits by her dead twin sister. Such details make this game engaging in a way that convinces you that you are in a weird bygone era in a hostile, supernatural wilderness from a child’s nightmares.  Not too bad.

That was the good; now on to the bad.

TEDIOUSLY OVERWHELMING

2013-04-13_00056Two things you as a consumer must know about this game. One thing is that it is by all accounts a kind of Real Time Strategy game in which you gather resources and build things to help you progress toward your goals. The only difference between this game and games like StarCraft and Brutal Legend (halfway) is that instead of using resources to build armies and war machines, your building campfires and cooking food. You can eventually build what’s called a science machine, and “Prototype” creations, which means you make them near the machine and now have them in your inventory. This is where the design breaks down a bit; while I understand that a game called “Don’t Starve” makes a survival mode for a pretty obvious reason, they tend to skip over how the game actually works. While I understand that it is best for the player to learn without being told explicitly, the trail and error process must also be facilitated. this game does neither; It instead drops you in the middle of nowhere and expects you to know the interface and controls, and expects you to explore them intricately. It’s not the worst punishment in the world, but it doesn’t seem balanced at times. While I do appreciate the fact that I can build a wood cutter’s axe right off the bat, very little is done to show or even tell the player that you must build a campfire before dark; let alone how. If you don’t explore the right parts at the right time, you will more then likely did what I did; wander into the pitch blackness and die unexpectedly. If the death scene itself wasn’t appealing enough, I would have been frustrated. In retrospective, I probably should have been. Now I know almost the entire resource menu by2013-04-13_00132 heart, and I am more then a little bored with it. Which is weird, because when I first even realized there was a building menu (even that’s not specifically introduced), I was a little intimidated by its complexity. Now I feel I know what to expect all too well. I hope that in the finished project, they do a better job of at least teaching you how the game works. If we’re lucky, they will do it without using obvious expose’ or even typical tutorial dialogue (“press a to jump!”). If that happens, I will be glad I spent my money ahead of time.

There you have it; worst thing I could find is a lack of tutorial and a complex interface. Moving on.

WILDERNESS SURVIVAL HORROR

If you have been paying attention to the gaming scene lately, you might have noticed how the term “Survival Horror” is applied even to action pack titles like Resident Evil 6 and/or Dead Space. While they are both games with horror style themes, most veteran players agree that the genre title is better suited to games like Slenderman. But even that title doesn’t hold a bar to the game Don’t Starve. It’s the only game I played that actually incorporates the title literally. Most games, even the ones who deserve the genre title, usually use the term “survival” as the idea that the game is less about combat and more about horror and mystery. Don’t Starve has that too (almost too much mystery, if you ask me!), and adds actual SURVIVAL mechanics that include not just your overall health, but your sanity(which represents fear and fatigue) and hunger meter. You need to eat to stave off hunger, and sleep to stave off insanity, thus 2013-04-13_00081making a horror experience that has as much in common with a Survivor-man TV special as it does in a HORROR game. The only difference it has from the more typical “explore the haunted house” routine of its distant cousins is the fact that it takes place in the WILDERNESS. And the fact that this WILDERNESS is so scary is hostile actually makes a lot of sense. Most of our scariest stories talk of a lone traveler in the wilderness, and the scariest monster tales often come from Myths about heroes wandering the wilderness. The fear of the wild is a primal part of all of us, and this game captures it nicely and in a way that is still kinda cute.

So if you have some money to burn, and want something different to play, buy this game while its in beta. It’s good for the natural explorer in all of us, and gives us the catharsis of appreciating our nice home.

One more thing before I end this; Yes, the survival mode is a LOT like the same game mode in Minecraft. I would almost say that this game as a whole was most likely inspired by that game mode.

That being said; it stands just fine on its own. The art and craft of this games makes that VERY evident.

I will end this review now.

Ah, the 90s; the Era of laser tag, grunge music, dail-up internet connections,  Playstation the first, and Nintendo 64. 3D gaming was budding for the first time, and amongst the most talked about games on the Playstation was Final Fantasy 7, Mario 64, and Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider II (PC)

I always had mixed feelings about Tomb Raider. On one hand, a lot of people liked it, and it was drawing attention to the games I loved from the friends and family I loved more. On the other hand, that was usually due to the fact that it’s main protagonist, Lara Croft, had two huge guns that were only outweighed by her chest. In fact, the only time I saw the old-school game being played was by two guys I know. I won’t name them, only because most of the comments they made were that of young men with nothing better to do then ogle Lara Crofts figure and make jokes about it. You know, the kind of jokes that get most boys in trouble at school. The vulgar kind of comments that decorate dumpsters and bathroom stalls that have been vandalized. And yes; I do mean sex jokes. Lara Croft was a popular game that always seemed to be popular for all the wrong reasons.

I have nothing against showing off a beautiful woman’s body on television; be it game, movie, TV show, or porn flick. And the truth is, video games don’t get as much respect as most other mediums (with the possible exception of porn flicks). Too many people thinkthey are made by immature people, for immature people. They got even less respect back in Lara Croft’s hay-day, and the fact that she usually was portrayed primarily as a sex symbol made it hard for the game industry to break away from the classic “games are just for kids” stereotype that shackles them.

I’ll get off my soap box now before this becomes a nasty rant by saying this; apparently, the designers at Square Enix must have felt the same way, because since those days she had a major breast reduction, and they bend over backwards to prove how mature their game is. The game I am about to review is their latest game in the franchise. And let me tell you; it’s not kids stuff.

title

That is not even a cutscene, by the way.
This is live gameplay footage .

The main plot of the game’s story is that you are, of course, young archaeology graduate Lara Croft, who is on an expedition to find the lost tomb of Himiko; Legendary Japanese Warrior Queen and distant ancestor of her best friend Sam.  To make a long story short, Sam gets captured by crazy cultists, no one can leave the island because of magical storms, and Lara Croft needs to us all of her skills and trust her instincts to unravel the mystery behind Queen Himiko, and the cultist that worship her.

Before we begin, allow me to bring any new readers up to speed by reiterating on the Seven Word Synopsis (7WS for short). In a nutshell, its a seven wood description of the game that is organized as follows; THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SUMMARY. Once that’s divulged, the rest of the review explains what that means.

Okay; now that you are all in the know, lets get to the review. (*clears throat*), the Tomb Raider reboot by Sqaure Enix is a:

CLASSIC, ADVENTUROUS,

GRISLY, PREDICTABLE,

 ADULT NARRATIVE RENTAL.

That’s the 7WS, here’s the review…

CLASSIC, ADVENTUROUS:

Lara Croft with a bowThere is no denying why a game like this was made; the Tomb Raider franchise needed to break into the next generation. I remember seeing previews of this exact game at least half a decade ago, and apparently they want to take it back to the beginning. Thus the game is as much a prequel to the series as a whole as it is an origin story for the video game icon that is Lara Croft. It’s easy to see its roots when you start getting into the meat of the game itself. Though I speak as an experienced gamer who played the first Playstation console; the experience for newer players may vary. Nonetheless, those of you who knew Lara Croft back when she was your schoolmate’s favorite sex joke will see the past influence of the franchise with somewhat satisfying results. It’s almost like seeing a movie being made that has familiar elements of your favorite comic book.

You have everything that made the Tomb Raider series a game and not just a pin-up display; everything from secret tombs with mind bending puzzles to the classic slaying of wolves. Wolf slaying has become akin to Tomb Raider the same way jumping on turtles and mushrooms have become akin to Mario games and/or shooting zombies have become to pretty much any game where you use firearms. It’s a piece of the franchise, and something fans expect to be able to do in the game. Much the same, slaying wolves feels satisfying and surprising unlike animal cruelty, only because the wolves are obvious and believable antagonists. Like hunting dogs, they attack Lara when she’s caught in a bear trap. Immobile and helpless,you get a nice scene Wolf hunting!where you get to shoot them with a bow and arrow. The scene is complete with the realistic howling of wolves, the rustling of trees before the strike, the well timed thunder and lightning that makes the fangs shine on the expertly crafted and animated wolf models, and the chance to line up a shot with your bow and arrow while watching an amazing wolf pounce in in Matrix-movie-style slow motion (Or Max Payne style, for those who know your video games). This was a good way to make the game franchise’s staple mechanic stand out. You can’t even give the wolves the “They’re just hunting to survive”  excuse either; they attack one of the main characters and steal his backpack with medical supplies, and turn out to be specially bred to be aggressive by the bad guys.  More on them later.

If those of you who are wolf lovers like me get brushed the wrong way, keep in mind that one of the story’s main motifs is that of survival. And one of the main conflicts of the story is what one must do to survive. Don’t think of these creatures as wild wolves. Think of them as what they are supposed to be; vicious attack dogs that have been let loose on a hostile island, and a natural hazard with fangs. They are meant to be a recognizable threat to Lara and nothing more. I can say with good confidence that none of the guys and/or women who made this support the pouching of wolves. They just expect someone who is attacked by wolves to do what is natural. The only time Lara goes after the wolves is to recover a bag that a wolf dragged away (most likely by orders of its master) and that’s only to get a radio for help and morphine for her unconscious friend Roth. She even apologies to the wolf after offing the poor beast. Nothing personal.

Another thing that makes this both a CLASSIC and ADVENTUROUS is it’s little resurrection of another staple not just to Tomb Raider games, but many games from 1995 and beyond; i.e. collectible finds. For those of you who never played this kind of game, Tomb Raider sets up a sort of scavenger hunt that you can partake in, if you please. Its not a requirement of the game; I beat this game over the weekend without completing a single “hunt”, but it is something that adds some replay value and gives you a chance to earn some trophies and achievements. Games like Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon had tons of these kinds of “scavenger hunts” for things like stars and magic orbs. For this game, the “collectibles” are usually things like journal entries, natural mushrooms, burnable effigies, and of course hidden treasures. This combined with an intuitive and user friendly upgrade system for Lara’s skills and tools gives the game a rather exploratory feel despite being almost completely linear.

That was some of the good, now for some of the bad.

GRISLY, PREDICTABLE:

Before I even start to comment on why I chose the word GRISLY, let me make a few points clear; I do not support the brutalization of women. By the same token that video games are no longer kids toys, I vouch against committing the violent acts presented in this game in real life to anyone, let alone a young girl. I assume this is the same for any sane person, and am hopefully stating this in vain. Public disclaimer; better to have and not need then to need and not have.

Alright, now that we have that piece of controversy settled, let me illustrate why this game is rated M for mature with one picture, and one sentance

Penetrated...

That’s a metal spike she’s landing on. In case you were wondering.

I saw this happen after playing for 3 minutes, and she does not miss.

This is one thing that bothers me about this game; it seems to go out of it’s way to brutalize the main character. It seems that every time she dies and/or every time the bad guys get the upper hand with her, she get the bloody crap beaten out of her. I just showed this to my mom, and when she put her glasses on, her main concern was that it was desensitizing people to violating women. I had a hard time arguing with her about that. But she did relent that they treat her the same way most games would treat a male antagonist. After all, if you put your post-feminist notions of women’s rights aside, see if any of you game veterans can think of another action/adventure game where the main protagonist is lost in the wilderness and gets beaten half to death. This image should give you a hint.

Yep, the main protagonist from that “other” Indiana-Jones style game does the same thing Lara Croft does; hunts treasure, fights bad guys, and get the ever loving crap beaten out of him. Both games are only guilty of having half-decent writers who follow the old story tellers maxim; chase your hero up a tree and throw rocks at him. Creative writing 101. Course, Square Enix would have been well advised to be told the difference between tossing rocks at poor Lara, and dropping her on a metal spike. Keep that in mind before buying this game for your kids.

Yuck!Also, if you are the kind of player who likes to wrack you fevered mind around complex platform puzzles, you might be disappointed. Like many “upgraded” games over the past few years, Tomb Raider has had it’s more challenging elements streamlined and simplified for public consumption. While there are “secret tombs” that do have puzzles for you to solve that are relatively more complex then the puzzles in the main story, you might find that they don’t challenge you the way previous Lara Croft adventures might. In fact, much of the game is less then challenging; from the enemies who seem to almost stand around waiting for you to line up a shot (without slow motion) to the all too linear and simplistic platforming challenges. It feels like all I have to do half the time is burn down the next barrier and climb over it. That’s what I mean by PREDICTABLE.

But what’s even more PREDICTABLE is most of the characterizations. The most developed character in the game’s story is by far the young Lara Croft; that’s a good thing. My only gripe there is that they went even further down that road, to the point where we can practically read her thoughts. This is her game. Second best character is the ship captain and her personal mentor Roth. He seems like what you would get if you crossed the traditional Lara Croft with Sean Connery. They did a good job of investing in his character and the family bond he has with Lara. There’s even a scene where you get his sniper support while evading bad guys; you feel and trust Roth, and trust is an important theme in the game.

But the rest of Lara’s friends? Cookie cutter stereotypes! The brave and stubborn Scottish galley cook, the lovable fat man who keeps the group together, the sassy black woman who isn’t afraid of a fight, the nerd with back luck but heart to spare, and Sam; the best girlfriend who basically plays damsel inProfessor Douche surrendering distress. Even the Arch villain Lethyis (please don’t check my spelling), while set up for a good betrayal scene and having some good lines, becomes a carbon copy of just about every video game you have or have not played; you gain nothing from knowing him. Well, nothing except something to shoot at in the end.  Spoilerz. Course, the worst character is the one who gets a cameo in the image on the left. I don’t know his real name, nor do I care. I call him Professor Douche, and that sums him up quite nicely. All you need to know about him is that he’s a greedy expert on anthropology and media flaunting whose two  doctorates and supposed 30+ years of experience do nothing to prevent him from being a complete idiot. He basically ends up betraying the group to work with the island cultist, and to no surprise winds up being killed. How he does is the one thing I won’t spoil, but for some reason they censor it. Tell me, Square Enix; why is showing a young woman barely old enough to drink being impaled by metal less taboo then a grown man and annoying character getting the butchering we all seen coming? I would have paid sixty bucks just to see him croak! He’s that bad of a cliche, and is a more annoying character then Raiden and Navi combined. Google them each if you don’t know what I’m talking about; their a thing.

That’s the bad; now for the summary

 ADULT NARRATIVE RENTAL;

Yuck!This is not your daddy’s Tomb Raider. This is the kind of game that could give your child nightmares. Heck, if you don’t play long enough to see Lara Croft triumph over everything that brutalizes her, you might get nightmares. The only reason I can think of that even justifies some of the brutalities you see the main character go though is the motif of survival. She does survive, she does triumph, and the bad guys get theirs. Just don’t expect anyone in the game to go easy on her because she’s a woman; they don’t. At all. This is an ADULT game.

Course if your not the squeamish type and aren’t afraid of blood, there is a nice story that the NARRATIVE as a whole leans on, for better or for worse. You read the plot; almost sounds like something you would read on the back of a movie DVD doesn’t it? That’s definitely what this game is; a kind of popcorn movie that skipped Hollywood and made itself a video game. Seriously; a lot of plot elements seem to follow the Hollywood blockbuster tropes ten times better then anything conventional for a video game save for the damsel in distress (which kinda works for both mediums, if you think about it).  This is a good thing; it means that the industry is starting to take its subject seriously. Perhaps too seriously.

Your probably wondering what the guys who made this game were thinking, putting a young woman like Lara Croft through such turmoil. Well, if you allow me to be the devil’s advocate for a second here, take this premonition into account. One, the guys who worked on this probably knew Lara Croft to be tough as nails and saw no reason not to prove her so. Two, they wanted their medium, their work, and the franchise to be taken seriously despite the fact that most of its demographic aged over ten years and mostly graduated college. All this violence and mayhem and horror is the medium’s equivalent to a fourteen year old boy smoking, drinking, and cursing non-stop to try and be “mature”. And like the strategies of that teenager, they fail miserably. Game designers need to remember amongst the fires of production and development that it is not just the offensiveness or the lewdness of the content that makes a game “mature”; its the meaning behind it, and how it is relevant to real adults. Tomb Raider almost reached that mark, but not in time for development, apparently.Bloody Lara

I call this a RENTAL because I rented it-and beat it over the weekend. Even with its exploratory elements and customization,  I wouldn’t recommend keeping this game for more then a week or two. And If your an experienced player like me, try it on hard first; its a really easy game to beat.

That just about wrap things up. Not a game for kids, but a fun game to play and a start to the next chapter of the Tomb Raider Franchise. Lets just hope that Square Enix gives Lara a bit more slack in the future.

Like many great things that get ground through the gears of big business, video games have a way of jading an experience player.

Much the same way Hollywood movies have their archetypal templates that are often riddled with cliche’s, the video game industry has made a very bad habit of churning out much of the same kind of content over and over. Examples include the typical FPS (Halo, Call of uty series, Rainbow Six, Team Fortress 2), Western RPG(Elder Scrolls series, Fallout series, Mass Effect), MMORPG( World of War Craft, Star Wars the Old Republic) , and the bazillion games whose main heroines guns are only outweighed by their chest. The system has gotten so bland that games like Spec Ops: the Line can take advantage of that to twist your expectations. If only that happened more often.

Fairly recently, however, the indie game market made headway to change this. As if to admit how bad things had gotten, Valve had released the online platform Steam, which continues to this day to feature not only the games that they created with a multi-million dollar studio, but also the unique games talent game designers can build over a weekend. Just ask the guys who participate in the Global Game Jam; they can tell you all about the indie scene. Not surprisingly, Sony and Microsoft saw the raw talent engine that Steam was starting to become, and made both the Playstation Network (PSN) and Xbox Live Arcade respectively.

For those systems, this rare little gem was released a few years ago

I_MAED_A_GAM3_W1TH_Z0MB1ES!!!1_cover

Don’t let the 4-bit pixel graphics and the bad spelling fool you; I had this on my Xbox 360 for years, and I can tell you its one of the best games I ever bought.

And I bought it on Xbox live for a whopping 80 Microsoft points

That translates into a single dollar in the real world.

Yes, I bough this game with zero expectations and no real feedback beyond the simple five star system Xbox Live had for its games. This game made it to the front page for the day, and only got four stars. To me it seemed more like another distraction; one of those horrible half-made flash games you might find in the corner of a website that doesn’t even show up on Google. Its not. There is a reason I will recommend this game, and a reason why you most likely never heard of it.

Before we get into either, however, let’s break down our Seven Word Synopsis and extrapolate on that. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Seven Word Synopsis is basically a seven word description of the game meant to inform you before buying, renting, and/or playing the game. It describes THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SUMMARY, with the the same number of words for this description exactly.

Zombie Game

Okay, here is the review; “I Made A Game With Zombies In It” is a…

BEAUTIFULLY AFFORDABLE

SORELY UNNOTICED

 MUSICAL ARCADE EXPERIENCE.

That’s the synopsis, so let’s break it down.

Gaem Angry!

BEAUTIFULLY AFFORDABLE

As I explained earlier, this game was a whopping one dollars and zero cents to purchase. It has multiplayer functionality which basically means you can play it with three of your friends at once. It  is probably one of the best games you can buy online, cost less then most top production titles stuck in Gamestop’s bargain bin, and probably was made with a single computer that predates the one you are using to read this post.

Put those facts in perspective, ladies and gents.

 And with that, creates an experience that many games that cost tens of millions of dollars to produce and more then sixty dollars to play could only hope to achieve. Utilizing controls that a two year old could pick up (move left stick to move and right stick to shoot in any direction.) and a music score that is timed perfectly with enemy and weapon spawn points as well as the dazzling visual effects that change the entire game space over time, the pacing of this game is something between what you might feel in your favorite rock bands mash pit and/or playing your favorite arcade machine in the 1980s while being sucked into a music video of the same era-with better graphics!

I almost wish I could say I was exaggerating, with all the hours of toil and turmoil invested in the making of almost every game you can find sold in stores. I’m not; this is the rare game that shows how easy it is to make a truly memorable experience with a very limited set of tools and almost no budget.

To be fair, though; the game would seem rather bland if not for several well placed things.

First, the elephant in the room; the music. The music used for this game is such a breakaway from anything traditional now or then, and fans of the game requested a single be released for the soundtrack. Whoever made this song could have easily done that without even attaching it to a game, selling the song (or something like it) on iTunes or making a Youtube video for it. The man who made it decided instead to put his musical talents into making a twelve minute long song that has the same chorus as the title of the game. Whether the title or the song chorus came first is a question of chicken and egg. What is unquestionable is that Ska Studios did an excellent job of communicating with each other. Only because each aspect is coordinated with care, wit, and aim to please.

Even the Final Fantasy Studios have trouble communicating sometimes; if they didn’t, we wouldn’t get scenes like these.

Second; the background scenes. If the game took place as is without any type of scenery shift or color distortion, the game would become very bland, very quickly. It destroys any possibility of this simply by making the background change color and the enemies match the artistic style of the background. The pacing becomes simply brilliant when the mood of the background and the speed and difficulty of the game mesh together into a smooth ride that goes up and down like your favorite roller coaster.

diamonds

Third; is the timing everything in the game has. From enemy and weapon spawns to the type of enemy to spawn in each part of the song to the way that the game ends when the song ends and how the very mood changes with the songs tempo, the background animation, and the type and the sheer number of enemies-one of which explodes. The song is all too eager to explain that. The ending chorus feels like a concert climax, and makes every time you play seem worthwhile. The high score at the end becomes redundant, only because the game would be complete without one. The only reasons I can think for even having one is to either bring an “old-school retro” feeling to the game and/or spark some competition between multiple players. (example; I beat your high score!)

All this, after only spending a dollar. And to think I bought Alone in the Dark for more then fifty bucks on the Wii. Hint hint; don’t buy Alone in the Dark for the Wii.

Anyway, that is all the good stuff. Lets look at some of the bad.

Sequence 01.Still005

SORELY UNNOTICED

Go ahead; put the name of this game in Google. I’ll wait.

Done? Okay good. Now Google Halo, Mass Effect, Call of Duty, and Bioshock.

Notice the difference between those searches and the one for this game? If not, I will give you a hint; the game I’m reviewing had very little public representation.

Most of the games at Gamestop, from the latest Call of Duty with two dozen copies behind the counter to the forgotten favorites in the bargain bin, they almost always have a Public Relations Campaign. It’s easy to think that most of the game industry is made up of dedicated nerd fans who eat code for breakfast and spew designs of glory after dessert. That’s only the dev team, I’m afraid; the rest of the studio is marketeers, PR men, and producers looking to outshine the competition, no matter how much of a piece of trash their representative game actually is. They are the ones you see in big game shows like E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo, for all you non-gaming folks out there) and PAX (another expo, but from the guys who made Penny Arcade) are usually either high budget games like Alien Colonial Marines or Metal Gear Rising (former bombed; later wasn’t so bad) or Xbox Live games that rank high on the radar and star in movies like Indie Game. Not that I have anything against the movie or it’s subjects; it’s my favorite on Netflix.

The point is, unless your reading about it on an internet review like this one or had it referred from a friend, chances are you never heard of a great game like this. Deep within the halls of companies like Activision and Epic Games, shipping the game to a receptive audience takes priority over artistic license in most cases, and nothing makes an audience receptive like a good PR campaign. This is why the game industry is continuing to crank out Call of Duty clones and crappy MMOs; they sell, they have a working formula to develop with, and thy look good to the press. The Indie scene remedies this only by allowing bootstrapping studios like Ska to make the games they want cheaply and with limited tools. Just don’t expect their booth at E3 (assuming they ever have one) to be bigger or more noticeable then the EA section; when I went to E3, Black Ops 2 was shown on a TV screen at least two stories tall and five stories wide! I’m still not sure if any indie games were even showcased; if they were, they were probably part of that big GREE mobile platform.

I’m not really making this review to simply warn you or recommend it; this is to give it the kind of press it deserves! If you have an internet connection with service like Steam or Xbox Live, or know someone who does, take the same dollar you would spend on a pack of gum and give the masterminds at Ska Studios some well deserved credit for their hard work.

That’s the only really bad part; now to wrap things up.

Ska Studios Scene

 MUSICAL ARCADE EXPERIENCE

The concept of the game “I made a Game with Zombies In It” is to take the treatment given to a live concert and put it in a cheap arcade game. They did just that, and it works really well.

If you are a fan of rock music, I highly recommend either buying this game and/or downloading  the soundtrack Ska Studios generously gave for free; either one would make your ears smile and perk up to the radical sound of guitar riffs, drum solos, and heavy metal bass. The game give you a terrific light show and a fun game to play too; for only a dollar more then the soundtrack. It’s a long song, only because it was made for a game that most people would play for ten minutes or more. The length does not diminish the quality in any way, shape, or form, making the game a festival to the sense, especially for the sense you hear with.

If you are looking for a good game to play, I must warn you that it is not so much a deep game as it is a very well presented and executed one. The fun isn’t in what the game is, but how the game was made. I can sum up the game experience in two sentences. Here I go; You are a guy who shoots zombies, weird snake things, and other monsters. You move with the left joystick, shoot with the right, and can pick up one of five weapons to upgrade your arsenal. That’s it. That’s the whole game. If you want deep customization or a better variety of weapons and armor and the like, you need to look for something like Minecraft or a triple A title. Even “Army of Two” has some interesting weapon customization mechanics that will keep you satisfied. If you like simple games like this and have a tight budget, then quit wasting time reading this blog post and buy this sucker! What else are you going to do with a dollar? Buy some gum? Get half a candy bar? Get four quarters at a real arcade? Good luck finding one that isn’t out of business. I recommend staying at home and playing this with three of your friends.

angry cat!

That just about covers the review. “I Made A Game With Zombies In It!”; long title, great music. Best game you never heard of.

So go ahead.

Spend that hard earned dollar.

I know you won’t miss it.

Hi everyone.

A lot has happened in the last day or so, so lets get started.

First off, I would like to announce that I have finally FIXED MY XBOX 360!!!

JOY TO THE F***ING UNIVERSE!!!

Now that all of my technical issues and faux pas hae been dealt with, I will continue to make reviews of your favorite Xbox 360 Games, starting with my promised Far Cry 3 video review and the Black Ops 2 Mulitiplayer and Zombie mode in the following weeks. Bout freaking time if you ask me.

Next on the agenda, you know Sergey Titov? The executive producer behind The War Z who I told to get his head out of his ass? Well, he must’ve either gotten a splash of cold water that morning or taken my advice, because he did exactly that a few days after I tweeted him the review.

He made an open letter that listed both his apology and plans to reorganize his staff and implement a new policy. One of the things he admitted to the most was his failure to communicate. I applaud him for this, as admitting fault is one of the bravest, and therefore hardest, things someone in his position can do.

I wrote him a letter right back thanking him and promising a 7WS that will congratulate him properly. While it is unclear weather or not he will keep his promises, I will give him this much for his humble apology.

To Sergey Titov:

Thank You

Very Much

For Being Honest 🙂

Even Albert Einstein was wrong sometimes. And like Titiov, he made himself great by admitting it. Play your cards right, Sergey old boy, and you just might make history.
Okay, now for the third and final thing before we get to the review, and that is a small disclaimer about the game I will make this review about.
Warning: The following game, despite not being rated by the ESRB, is an extremely violent and contains graphic material. Of which includes harsh language, disturbing amounts of blood and gore, and objectionable content in general. Do not let your children buy this game if you cannot accept this kind of content.

There; the public service announcement is done with. Now lets get to reviewing
Don’t let the shiny blue sky and pink palm trees fool you; this is not a game for the meek. It’s basically a game about a man who wears a mask while committing violent home invasions against miami vice gangsters. the object of each level is to kill every person in the building. How you do this is up to you. Tactics that work include ambushing them, sneaking up behind them, slamming the door in their face and killing them before they get up, and of course blowing head off with a firearm. Real kids stuff. The only real difference between you and the bad guys is that you have both the element of surprise and a real creepy rubber mask. You get new masks with each level, and each mask is a different animal, with a different and sinister sounding name, each one modifying your abilities and experience.
For today’s 7WS, we are going to try something a little different. Instead of making each part of the Synopsis an independent remark, we will combine them as an adjective for the game. 
You see, in the video game industry, we have what are called Game Design Documents, which are basically huge technical documents that serve as an instructions book for those actually making the game. One of the first things written in the GDD is what’s called a High Concept. Basically, you describe the game your making in a brief sentence spanning about 20 words or less. Example; Science Fiction action game starring a cyborg soldier warring against evil aliens on a strange ring shaped homeworld.(Halo).  You get the idea.
The 7WS for this review will work the same way, but instead of 20 words or less, I will boil it down to just seven. It will still detail what’s good, what’s bad, and what you should do about it. Now it also serves simply as an adjective to describe the gameplay experience. Here we go.
Hotline Miami is a:

Fantastic Sounding

Pixilated Looking

Adult Recommended Game.

Now we have both a descriptive text, complete with the good, the bad, and the proper action.
Let’s dissect our synopsis.

Fantastic Sounding

I labeled the game Fantastic Sounding only because it combine truly captivating and atmospheric music with frighteningly realistic sound effects. The gunshots sound like true live firearms, the gushing blood and snapping of necks puts you on edge if the creepy music doesn’t, and the urban mixes that make up most of the story based scenes and the theme music sounds like something they would play in a club in Miami. Very nice, very stylistic, and very, very engaging. Makes you feel like you are both having a psychological breakdown and living in downtown Miami Florida. The bad side of that city…
Also a good thing about this game; while it can be hard to get used to, the controls are extremely tight and responsive, which makes it easier to deal with the multiple challenges and the fact that it only takes one good hit to do you in. The high difficulty of this game helps make it mature, and the controls turn potential frustration into an interesting challenge. 
Pixilated Looking

This game could almost be called an 8-bit GTA 1 mod made to feel like an acid trip. Because that is what it looks like between the seizure-inducing color flashes and barely discernible visuals. What were supposed to be thugs in milk white suits look like circus clowns at first glance. And if you didn’t have that creepy animal mask on, you would basically look like a green, slightly altered version of the bad guys. Plus most of the characters you meet in between missions look like carbon copies of each other. All the bums look the same, as do the people behind the desks. The only pictures that look distinctive are the weapon close-ups in the upgrade screen and the masks, both up close and in game. Makes you wonder if adding a mask was originally just a design decision…

Note to those with epilepsy; this is a game that has a lot of bright, blinking lights and psychedelic visuals that can make you dizzy. Wouldn’t recommend it to you. 

If epileptic seizures aren’t an issue, however, this might be the closest thing you get to actually dropping acid without ingesting tablets of LSD. It was obviously intentional, as the game tries hard (and succeeds, somewhat) in being deeply psychological. You literally start the game talking to people in masks who explain your missing identity. Yes; it follows the cliche’ amnesia story structure. Go figure.


Adult Recommended Game.

Self explanatory, really. Don’t let your kids play this game. Or your friends with seizures. If you have a kid with epilepsy, get off this review post right now and clear your history. And uninstall Steam. And make sure they are taking their prescription.
If you are among the 18-35 male majority of gamers who don’t have epilepsy or problems with violence, this is something worth an Alexander Hamilton. He’s the guy on the ten dollar bill, in case you were wondering. Just remember; you are the one with the mask, and the clowns in white are your prey. Good luck!
That’s it for the  Hotline:Miami review. Tomorrow I will give video reviews another shot. I have a new camera, a new microphone, and will make sure the format doesn’t do anything weird. Crossing my fingers this time. See you then!





Now that the holidays are officially over, I will now proceed to fill your broadband space with content concerning the interactive medium we call video games!

Since my comment repellant is still in full effect, I still didn’t get a response to my request for recommendations.

Since none of you guys gave a particular request, it looks like I get to pick one for you; here’s a review of the game
Never heard of it? Neither have I until I got a hold of this handy little video called “Games you might not have tried”, courtesy of the guys and gals at Extra Credits.
Check it out here

Copyright disclaimer: I in no way own any part of this webseries. I just happen to be one of their fans and was inspired to write reviews because of them. 
to Allison, Dan, James, and Kate, take this for what it is; a tribute and a citation.
Okay, now that the legal jargon and proper praise is in order, let’s start off this review right.
7WS: Seven Word Synopsis

Greatly Engaging

Minecraft Wannabe

Buy This Game

Okay, now that I put seven words towards the experience, now it is time to break down what I mean.
If you are satisfied with this, come back tomorrow as we delve into the gritty world of
If not, read on for a brief but in depth analysis for each aspect of the 7WS. Here we go.
Greatly Engaging

To be brief on what Terraria actually is, it is basically a 2D adventure game that, like Minecraft, takes place in a world in which you can add and remove blocks that make up the surrounding terrain. You break trees with an ax to gather wood blocks, you chip away stone with a pick ax to get stone blocks, etc. The idea is to survive and explore as long as possible as monsters attack you during the night. Unlike Minecraft, however, the game Terraria features items, weapons, and quests that make it feel like something more then just a virtual lego pile.
Nothing sparks the interest of the public like something that is built exclusively to engage you. Terraria succeeds where Minecraft can often fail only because of a few select design choices that makes the game even more fun then its predecessor that started it all.
You start with tools

You might notice in the interface that you always begin with three things; a sword, a pick ax, and a regular ax. They are weak as you grandma’s gall bladder, of course, but they do work, and they can be exactly what you need in a pinch. The pressure is off as far as building a house is concerned, only because you don’t need to worry about arming yourself through your crafting skills. You can fight monsters almost instantly, and when you do, you can gather items and coins from their dead bodies. The coins can be traded with certin NPCs for more tools, which allows you to build you inventory over time.
More Tools, weapons, and enemies.

Simply the fact that you can fight right away is a game changer. Mix that with the fact that it not only allows you, but sets you up with enemies (primarily, the jumping green slime) makes it feel more like a traditional platform adventrue game with block building elements rather then just a 2-D Minecraft mod. With wildly radical items like Boomerangs, shurikens, blowguns, and flaming arrows, you begin to get that nostalgic feeling you might get from playing one of those really good Mickey Mouse platformer games, where you were given different costumes that did different things. 
With this kind of “traditional gameplay” mixed in with crafting and building mechanics, I began to realize that this game had just as much in common with The Legend of Zelda 2: the adventure of Link (shown on right) as it did with Minecraft. You have an open world quest, side scrolling action, and special adventures and bosses. Really makes the experience it’s own world. Literally
Simplified Recipies
Who hasn’t been to the Minecraft wiki? I have, and it usually is because I can’t figure out how to build something I need. If I have one block in the wrong place, I will not be able to build anything.
Not so with Terraria; building is streamlined, only because it is simple as having both ingredient A , B, C, etc.
No grid to get you mixed up!
The Depth is Amazing!
No getting bored of this game once you discover every monster; the details I have witnessed only scratch the surface of the game. Both figuratively and literally. There are countless quests, items, and features that become more and more available as you continue on. Reading the Wiki alone is an awe inspiring experience, and you will pee you pants in excitement as you learn just a few things you can do in this game.
Okay, that is the positive aspect of this game. Now lets move on to the negative.
Minecraft Wannabe

You may have noticed that I have been comparing this game to Minecraft a lot. You want to know why? because Terraria is to Minecraft what Eminem is to Vanilla Ice and the Iphone is to the first Blackberry smartphone; a well marketed variation of the same exact idea. Terraria is a great game, but part of what makes it so great is that it does the exact same thing Minecraft did and added it to an action platformer from the 1990s. Harsh, but true. 

Every core mechanic beyond the traditional, from the building and crafting to the day and night system, is borrowed if not downright copied from Minecraft. Even up and coming features of Minecraft, like the experience system and the enchanting of weapons and tools, seem to creep its way into the game like a vile, corrupting snake. While the game stands on its own feet really well, I wish I could see things that it did original that wasn’t from circa 1995 and/or Mohang’s masterpiece. I often feel that I can get just as much out of my existing copy of Minecraft and my virtual console on Wii that I get from Terraria. This shouldn’t be a problem for casual players, who might not even know what I am talking about. But if you don’t have a fresh look on adventure platformer games and/or Minecraft experiences, this game might seem like something you already have.


That’s the negative. Now Here’s what I recommend you do about it. 

Buy This Game
It’s only ten dollars; five dollars, if you catch the holiday special. Do yourself a favor; Download Steam if you haven’t already, go to their store, search for Terraria, and click buy. It is worth the small amount of money.
That’s it for today. Tommorrow we will go over Hot Miami, as mentioned before.
Also remember; I do requests, so feel free to request a review of any video game you like in the comments section below. 
Have a good one, and enjoy playing your Christmas Presents!