Category: Articles

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I can safely say that the term “Reaper of Souls” for the new Diablo 3 expansion has got to be a Blizzard title. Between addictive pastimes liek World of Warcraft and it’s CCG HearthStone, I can safely say that even if the word “Diablo” and the number 3 didn’t precede it, I would call Reaper of Souls something that personifies Blizzard’s business model-to a tee. If you ever lost months of your life to leveling a WoW character you know what I am talking about. If you did not, congratulations on actually having a life. Either way, you might have heard of Diablo 3, as it came out a few years back. You might have also seen the trailer for Reaper of Souls splattered in front of your favorite internet video. You probably already know this, but to be clear as possible Reaper of Souls is not a new game by itself; it’s an expansion. If you don’t own Diablo 3, you won’t be able to play Reaper of Souls. It is what console gamers would call DLC, or downloadable content, and what DVD owners might call the extended version. You get more levels, more chances to advance your character, and a new class of character to play with to boot. I do not know why they won’t let you make a brand new 35th level “Crusader” class character instead of forcing you to begin the game anew to play with the new feature. Blizzard did it well with Death Knight. Why not the Crusader? More on that later.

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In the off chance the trailer didn’t make the plot clear, you basically beat Diablo in the end-spoilers! (Well… not really. What else was gonna happen?!) and his soul stone is basically bad news waiting to happen, so the ex-archangel Tyrael (real spoilers) takes his posse to seal it, but his brother the Grim Reaper kills everyone besides him and takes the soul stone for nefarious purposes, and you come back just in time to see him turning people into ghosts to make a private army. You need to solve the mystery of why he took the stone and what he plans to do. So yeah; instead of facing Diablo, you face an evil angel of Death. Who wants to raise an army of the dead. Play the game to find out why; I’ll update once I’m done.

The expansion leaves off where the original ended, and will set you back 40 dollars to play the game for longer. Question of course is, should you even bother? ‘

Here are a few reasons why you probably should.

 

Adrenaline Pumping

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Diablo is all about the hack and slash; period. It is what the industry would label a game that is built for abnigation; basically a way to fill time when your burnt out and don’t feel like doing anything challenging or complex. In the same way normal women knit and a normal man might whittle, gamers tend to grind levels as they kill monsters and collect loot. Diablo 3 was always a game that made this experience as easy as point and click. Diablo 3 was no exception, and the Reaper of Souls expansion does nothing to change this-at all. In fact, the only thing that remains and the thing Reaper of Souls is very true to is the Diablo 3 tradition of making each click create a dazzling animation that kills things in a show of blood. They even reinforce this idea of “Hack and Slash to the Extreme” by literally giving you small achievements whenever you do this especially well. Words like MASSACRE litter the screen if you kill enough enemies in a few seconds. This is obviously to make you feel empowered with every kill and with excessive use of the core mechanic of click, kill, and collect. Since the looting system has been vastly improved with the 2.0.1 patch, this means that you can spend less time trying to learn macroeconomics for online bidding and more time killing and looting monsters as well as stress. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls follows these core qualities in the same vein, and you hit the ground running by killing undead and rescuing civilians from undeath at the hands of evil reaper ghosts. You literally delve through dungeons loaded with huddled town guard and civilians and a boss battle even ends with you rescuing the women and children. This, and the heroic dialogue your character will give makes it a power fantasy as well as a mouse powered stress ball. If you loved the elements of Diablo 3 beforehand, your in for a treat.

Assuming you can handle the Bad

Linear System

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The ups of Diablo 3 are back, and so are the downs. The down that stuck out the most with this game was the simple fact that when it came to leveling your character, you have no options. None. No skill branches, no skill points, no nothing. This does not improve until you get the paragon system at level 60; this is the Reaper of Souls remedy for the infamous level cap syndrome that plagues all RPGs. Once you do, you actually have a pretty good selection of what you want to improve and why. I wasn’t able to test this system unfortunately, so until I can update this post,  I’ll have to settle for second hand research. I will share my experience once I get there.

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The Dungeons do very little to relieve this, as it basically amounts to little more then a narrow alley/catacomb/graveyard/pick a gloomy medieval backdrop where you hack through monsters like a machete through the reeds. Such straightforward gameplay enhances the “action” portion of the game, but does little to add depth or make an “adventure”.

Much needed improvement

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That being said, Reapers of Souls does make Diablo 3 a better game. While expansions do tend to have the same function as DLC most of the time, this expansion seems to actually expand the game mechanics. You get 100+ levels with the paragon system, you can remake weapons based on enchantment with the Mystic, and even add replay value to the game with a brand new class. This actually works for the game as a whole, and I would recommend this highly to people who played the game before and was disappointed. Where the auction house fell, the Reaper of Souls rise. And he saw that it was good.

Last two paragraphs were brief, but sometimes less is more. To recap:

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Diablo 3:Reaper of Souls

 

Adrenaline Pumping

 

Linear System 

 

Much Needed improvement

next up is…

qos-featured-image

 

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Every once in a while, a man who plays video games like Splinter Cell, Halo or Gears of War asks himself a very important question; if I really am a grown man, why am I still playing games where you just bad guys?! If you think about it, most M rated video games amount to little more then bloody, sex crazed interactive GI Joe cartoons. Splinter Cell is about a commando that fights enemies of the state (Michael Bay, anyone?), Halo is about a commando cyborg that fights aliens (similar to the movie, uh… Aliens) and Gears of War you pretty much face off against both at the same time. They rarely let the gameplay or the story of the game itself go any deeper then that, and even though the rating is technically for “ages 17 and up” the content seems to target a teenage middle school demographic. Fortunately, for every ten Halo and COD games, we get something like Papers, Please. The game takes place in the fictional communist country of Arstotzka. You just won the lottery for a job as a customs agent, and your basically the one who has to stamp the passports for people crossing the border into your country. You have to double check their passports, make sure all the rules are followed (they change daily) and support your family’s overall well being with whatever money you can scrape up on the job.

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It’s the kind of game that reminds us that “Mature” isn’t just a warning to protect little Johnny from shooting zombies and hookers. With less technology then a game from two decades ago, Papers Please delves into issues ranging from security vs. privacy to terrorism, socialism, and foreign policy. Words rarely used in the modern FPS. That’s not to say that this indie classic is not without its fair share of flaws. Papers Please is like any other piece of work; it has its ups and downs. While I would gladly recommend anyone buy it for the price tag alone ($9.99), I suggest you read the Seven Word Synopsis for not only an understanding of why you should buy this game, but why games like this earn an M rating far more then other so-called “Mature” titles like GTA and the like. Not that GTA was a bad game, of course; it just takes more then F-bombs and crude sex humor to be adult in the true sense.

As always, lets start with the good.

Sophistically Designed

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If you read a review on this game already, you already know that this is a different experience. Whereas most games commit to simply looking pretty while you kill things that are dubbed arbitrarily as evil henchmen to the boss you fight at the end, Papers Please takes a different approach to not only gameplay and story but morality in general. Not once, not twice, but almost every time I played this game, I come away with a sense of fear, guilt, uncertainty and wonder.

This game is not “fun” in the traditional sense. Much the same way the movie Schindler’s list wasn’t, or the novel Grapes of Wrath. Both of which are revered classics, despite their disturbing and provocative subject matter. Subjects like targeting ethnic groups for “random searches” and the weight of helping someone in desperate need versus loyalty to your job and country come into play very early. It only becomes darker, deeper, and more intricate as the game goes on. And every time the rabbit hole gets deeper, the game sends an important and powerful message that reflects not only the moral ambiguities of life an liberty, but the reality of how they affect you and what you can do about it. The fact is the game is made to intricately point out these themes not only with dialogue or backstory, but through the core mechanics. You collect wages for every passport you check, you need to use the wages to pay rent, heat, and food, and if you don’t pay heat or food your family will suffer until you catch up. Neglect it long enough, and your family will die one by one. Balancing that is the fact that every time you deny or approve a passport that you shouldn’t, you get a fine, and that doing the right thing often means denying or approving someone wrongfully. Plus the number of citations you get in general affect your advancement in the game differently, with ending for every outcome. Part of you will want to play this game again and again, and the other would rather think of something more pleasant. The game’s message hits home in the age of NSA domestic spying, terrorist threats, and heightened concerns for national security. Penny Arcade said it best – safety is an illusion, and we are all F’ed.

Meticulously Difficult

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I was thinking about knock on the games less then sophisticated graphics, but given the price and probable budget the team had to work with making it, it’s more fitting to leave that for the summary and point out a more serious price to pay while playing this game – attention to detail. Unlike many games where you can practically play on autopilot if the difficulty isn’t cranked too high, Papers Please demands that you pay attention, work quickly and efficiently, and be aware of what your doing constantly. I actually like this, only because it forces you to feel the tension of working as a public servant, but I wouldn’t list it as bad if it didn’t have serious drawbacks. For one thing, you need to read each document carefully and notice what every face looks like. Plus the rules for what passes and what doesn’t changes with every day that passes in the game, forcing you to waste precious time making money just figuring out what the new rules are. It’s easy to waste time just trying to understand how to play, making this game hard to pick up and play. If you want to devote some time and effort to experiencing Papers Please, do it during the evening you are alone and/or free, and learn the controls before you even select start. Make sure you know how to pause it, cuz time is money in this game. I think the difficulty is well placed and confirms my point of this being a game that actually is mature even more. After all, learning about new countries’ regulations on the fly while stamping passports and checking for terrorist contraband to select nationalities will keep out little Timmy better then stamping a white “M” on the bottom left hand corner. Hell, most punk teenaged boys look for that M rating. Just ask your clerk at GameStop. He’ll tell you how many kids buy GTA V on a daily basis. I bet none of them have even heard of Papers Please, for better or for worse. Design marks a games audience better then censorship any day of the week. This game only proves it.

Affordable Zeitgeist Critique

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Fancy words up there, huh Billy Bob? For those of you reading this and scratching their heads, let me save you guys the trouble of fetching a dictionary; zeitgeist is a word of german origin that means “spirit of the times”. Basically conveys what life and culture is like during a certain era (usually the current one) and what it says about humanity as a whole. My Grandkids will one day be playing this game, and I will be able to use it as an example of how terrorism shocked the nation and how drastic security measures were at the time. They will probably criticize my era for doing things like invading privacy and singling out minorities to prevent terrorism. Such things will reflect how we were and how they are now. That is zeitgeist; knowing who you are and what you are when. Papers Please paints a dark picture to that affect, but only because its true.

Critique is easier to define, and most of you probably know what it means. To be perfectly clear, a critique is different from a criticism in the fact that it doesn’t just review, commentate, or nitpick a work, a critique is more of a careful analysis. This analysis often borders on satire, and is meant to put the themes presented in a clearer light. I call this game a “zeitgeist critique” because it’s basically just that; a careful and educated analysis of our current state of affairs. Although it may not stay current for very long. It was release a few years ago, and while we haven’t completely ended our occupation of the middle east, regulations for terrorism are starting to relax, and the days when we regard the zeitgiest Papers Please is critiquing as past may come sooner then we think. That being said, you still can’t bring liquids on board an airliner, and I can easily remember a time this piece of pixelated art represents, and I’m not even 30 years old yet. So yeah; this game’s underlying themes are still relevant.

I won’t insult your intelligence by defining affordable, so I will only say this; even though this game is dirt cheap on the steam store, I wouldn’t recommend this game to anyone who is inexperienced and/or unfamiliar with electronic games in general. While it technically is a “point and click” game, what it is your pointing and click involves a great deal of multi-tasking and attention. You have been warned.

If that doesn’t scare you off, and the price is right for you, by all means go to your local Steam Store and buy Papers Please, please. It’s not as pretty as Halo, but the game behind the graphics is a breath of fresh air. The cloud it comes from sure is ominous, though…

Next game up for review is RUST. But before that, I got a surprise for you guys.

and gals.

Not sexist.

_PapersPleaseLogo

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?

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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…