Matt Beaudette

My name is Matt Beaudette and I'm 23 years old from Massachusetts, USA. I've been gaming my whole life and I don't plan to ever stop. I've got an Xbox 360 (Gamertag: Il Exile lI), Playstation 3 (PSN ID: Il_Exile_lI) and PC (Steam ID: II_Exile_II). I play all types of games, but my favorite genres are Role Playing, Shooter, and Action Adventure.

Apr 092013
 

This year’s PAX East was a bit of a different affair for me than last year’s show. Last year there were a bunch of high profile games I was really excited to see in action, but there were far fewer games being shown this year that really had me interested. Of course there were a handful of games I just had to check out, but for the most part I was interested in going to panels this year. Now, with the new console generation being imminent and most of the big holiday games for those systems still unannounced, it makes sense that there weren’t as many exciting games on the show floor. I would have been disappointed by this, but it instead gave me the opportunity to attend significantly more panels than I did last year, many of which were quite fascinating. The following list will be my ten favorite things of the show. There will be some games on here, but for the most part the highlights of PAX East for me were the panels.

10. BattleBlock Theater

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BattleBlock Theater is the newest game from The Behemoth, the developers of Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid. The game has been in development for several years but is just now finally being released on Xbox Live Arcade. Since the game was so close to release, the version of the game that was playable at PAX East was presumably the release build, so it’s not surprising it was so slick. A simple deathmatch mode was what I played, and I had a good time with it. It was more than a little reminiscent of Super Smash Bros, being a 2D 4 player fighting game with platforming elements, but it has it’s own distinct style and that unique Behemoth feel. The gameplay is really simple, but I still found myself having a good time.

9. Rooster Teeth Panel

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In my experience over the past two years of attending PAX, I can say with certainty that the panels about a specific topic tend to much more interesting than the ones that simply feature a group or website basically putting on a show. With that said, the Rooster Teeth panel was pretty good, and offered up some laughs to go along with some exclusive video premieres. I’m sure the videos shown, such as a new trailer for Rooster Teeth’s completely original anime RWBY, are all available online now, but it was still a cool way to see that stuff for the first time. I don’t really follow Rooster Teeth much these days, but the panel was still entertaining.

8. Dungeon Defenders II

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I saw a good chunk of gameplay footage of the new MOBA-esque multiplayer mode in Dungeon Defenders II at PAX, and you can read my full impressions of that here.

7. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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Last year I was extremely excited for every new bit of info about Assassin’s Creed III. Even coming off the slightly disappointing AC: Revelations I was still really pumped about seeing the conclusion to Desmond’s story as well as the new setting in Assassin’s Creed III. After coming out of the 10 minute AC3 presentation at last year’s PAX, I was even more excited to play the game. When I finally did play Assassin’s Creed III I was a bit disappointed with the final product and felt it was a poor way to end Desmond’s story. I told myself I was done with the series as Ubisoft continued to show their determination to milk the franchise dry with the announcement of yet another yearly release with AC4. Despite being mostly disinterested in the direction of the series, I begrudgingly waited in line for an hour to see the AC4 presentation at PAX this year just so I could what they were doing with the game. After seeing the presentation, I can’t quite say I’m back on board, but I did think a lot of what I saw seemed pretty okay. They seem to be fully committing to the pirate lifestyle of the main character and the game could wind up feeling fresh with the removal of traditional Assassin’s Creed cities and world design. I’m still pretty cynical about the future of the series, but Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag could very well be the change of pace the series needs.

6. OverClocked ReMix Panel

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I love video game music, and I love remixes of video game music as well. If you like video game music and have never heard of Dwelling of Duels or OverClocked ReMix, you should go check them out. The OCRemix panel at PAX East had live music, the debut of trailers for upcoming OCR albums, and a live Shaq Fu tournament in which the winner was a guy wearing a horse mask. I dare you to find a similar combination of awesome activities anywhere else.

Apr 072013
 

Dungeon Defenders was a fun action/tower defense hybrid with some RPG elements and a focus on cooperative play. It was one of the first games I reviewed for Gaming Irresponsibly, back in October 2011, and I really enjoyed it. Developer Trendy Entertainment was showing the sequel at PAX East, and I had a chance to check it out. I didn’t get to actually play the game myself, but I watched a good 15+ minutes of the game being played.

ThereAreActuallyTowersInThisGameThe first game focused on taking the standard tower defense formula and infusing it with elements from role playing games, and it did it quite successfully. Like any tower defense game, the goal was to protect your base from wave after wave of enemy forces, but the game gave you many more options than simply building defenses. There were deep loot mechanics, a variety of character classes each with their own abilities, and a weapon upgrade system to go along with the standard RPG character progression. It was these elements, along with the excellent cooperative play, that set Dungeon Defenders apart from other tower defense games with an action twist. With Dungeon Defenders II, instead of fixing what isn’t broken, they are instead adding new modes to the game.

The big thing about Dungeon Defenders II that was being shown at PAX East was the competitive multiplayer mode. The first game did have a PVP Arena, but it mostly a throwaway feature, where as the competitive mode in Dungeon Defenders II will be a full fledged online offering. The first immediately apparent thing about this mode is that it is a MOBA, like Dota or League of Legends. Now, I can understand if that puts some people off, I know I was scratching my head when I learned that as well, but I think it has a chance to be great. It was made very clear that the cooperative tower defense mode of the original will absolutely be in the sequel in a bigger and better way, and that the MOBA-like competitive mode was only an addition. Knowing that, this seems like a really cool way to expand the game.

DrinksOnMeThe original game launched with only four different characters to choose from, while the sequel will have significantly more. Now, I admit, I don’t play much of League of Legends or any other MOBA games, but something about Dungeon Defenders II has got me interested. One thing that definitely seems a bit different from other games in the genre is the persistence. Your characters have a permanent level and inventory of weapons and equipment that will carry over from match to match, obviously adding a bit of the cooperative mode to the competitive. It’s really hard to say from the small amount of the game I saw just how the competitive mode will turn out, or how much of the spirit of the game be implemented in the MOBA style multiplayer, but I have tentatively high expectations.

There wasn’t anything shown of the co-op at PAX East, but given the quality of the first game, I have high expectations. If I’m being honest, the co-op is really the part of Dungeon Defenders II I’m looking forward to most, but I am more intrigued by the competitive play, mostly out of curiosity. Also worth noting is that the game will be free to play, which makes perfect sense for the competitive play, but makes me wonder how it will be implemented for the co-op. Dungeon Defenders II doesn’t have a release date yet, but the developers are going to be running various open and closed betas over the next year, and you can sign up on the game’s website.

Mar 282013
 

The Last of Us is my most anticipated game of the year, so when I saw that Sony had a thirty minute demo playable at PAX East, I was ecstatic. I was actually a little hesitant at first, wanting my first experience with the game to be when I finally get my hands on the final copy, but I ultimately succumbed to my hype for the game and decided to play it at PAX. Now before I get into my impressions, I want to make it clear that the show floor is not a very ideal place to play a game. It’s loud, there is usually lots of glare on the screen, you’re only playing a small (usually out of context) portion of the game, and you have to play standing up just inches away from the screen. The impressions I had of several games I played at PAX last year wound being way off once I was able to play the final games under normal circumstances, so keep that mind.

the-last-of-us-single-player-lengthWith all that said, after playing thirty minutes of The Last of Us, I remain just as excited for the final release as I was before playing. The biggest thing that stood out for me in the demo was the degree of challenge; the game is difficult. The thing that makes the difficulty so great is that it still feels fair. The demo starts off with Joel, Ellie, and Tess making their way through downtown Boston on their way to the Capital Building. It felt like this was very early in the game, likely the first time the three of them had been out together, and it didn’t seem like they had encountered the infected yet, but I could be wrong. You get a look at look at environments and do some light exploration and platforming before coming up to your first enemy encounter.

The game immediately makes it clear that often avoiding combat is just as valid as diving in headlong and gives you plenty of tools to facilitate this approach. The combat in the demo is limited to infected enemies, with two distinct types being present. The more advanced form of infected, called clickers, are completely blind, using sound to hunt you down. You can distract clickers by tossing bricks or bottles away from you to get them to investigate the sound. If you make too much noise they’ll be on you in no time, and the only way to kill them is either by stealth or with guns; your melee attacks are ineffective against clickers. Some of the most tense moments I experienced in the demo were having a clicker come charging at me with only one or two shots left in my gun. Once you miss, you are done for since there is no way to kill clickers in a head on encounter. I often died in these instances, but it felt fair because the reason for my death was my missed shots, not because the enemies were bullet sponges (one or two shots will take down every enemy in the demo).

originalThe other enemy type, runners, are in an earlier stage of infection and are more common (at least in this demo). They still have limited sight and rely more on that than sound to seek you out. Runners are faster than clickers and tended to be in larger groups, but are a bit easier to handle. You can dispatch runners much more easily, having the option of stealth take downs, guns, or melee attacks. With just your fists, it takes several hits to kill a runner (leaving you open to attacks by other runners or clickers), but if you have melee weapons such as a 2×4 or a brick, you can take them out much quicker. The combat in the demo felt really satisfying. It definitely felt like planning ahead and remaining undetected for as long possible was key to survival, and this game requires an element of strategy most modern action simply don’t, which is really refreshing.

As for the other aspects of the game, Naughty Dog’s production quality shines through in every second of the demo. The motion capture and voice work are unsurprisingly excellent, and the environments look fantastic. There was some weirdness with the image quality, but it seemed to me to be an issue with the TVs and not the game itself, though I can’t say for sure (though the fact that no gameplay footage shown thus far has had that issue, I lean toward it being the TV). My expectations for The Last of Us are as high as ever, and we only have to wait a few months. You can expect a review of the game from me when it hits stores this June.

Mar 192013
 

There is nothing more exciting than coming home from the store with your brand new video game console. That anticipation as you set it up, just waiting to see what kinds of experiences this new system can provide. For many systems, the first thing you see when finally boot it up is the start-up animation. Not all consoles have had them, but the ones that do become firmly engrained in our minds. This week’s list will be the ten console start-up sequences that I like the most. I don’t have any specific criteria for the list, some will be placed because of personal nostalgia while others will make the list simply because I think they look or sound cool. Because this list is more about the sound and visuals, I am not going to do write ups for each entry, just enjoy the videos.

10. Xbox 360

9. Gameboy Advance

8. Sega Dreamcast

7. Gameboy

6. Sega Saturn


Mar 122013
 

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday is the fourth installment of “This Year in Gaming”. This time I am taking a look at a year many people consider to be the best year in the history of gaming from a game release perspective; 1998. I’ve always heard people say this about 1998, and on the surface I’ve always understood why; 1998 has several games which could be named among the greatest of all time. However, in doing research for this list, I found that 1998 isn’t quite as deep as some other years in gaming, some of which I’ve already covered in the series. There’s no denying that 1998 has several games which could be argued among the greatest of all time, but it was a very top heavy year. I actually had a much easier time narrowing the list down to ten with five honorable mentions than I did with 2008, which was surprising. So, here are my picks for the best games of 1998.

Honorable Mentions:

Mega Man Legends (PS1), Grim Fandango (PC), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn) Resident Evil 2 (PS1), Unreal (PC)

10. F-Zero X (N64)

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F-Zero was an impressive futuristic racing game on the Super Nintendo that made use of the system’s mode-7 technology to create the illusion of 3D graphics. With F-Zero X, the N64 sequel, Nintendo utilized the power of their new console to render the game in actual 3D. With more characters, more tracks, and that same signature sense of speed, F-Zero X was a huge improvement over its predecessor.

9. Xenogears (PS1)

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While fans of JRPGs around the world were still smitten with Final Fantasy VII, Square released Xenogears, which would become a modest hit. Featuring a story centered around science, philosophy, religion, and giant robots, Xenogears went to areas most games at the time wouldn’t dare. The game stuck close to successful design elements of JRPGs at the time, such as active time battles, but was executed on extremely well. The developers went on to found Monolith Soft the next year, the studio responsible for the fantastic Xenoblade Chronicles.

 

8. Baldur’s Gate (PC)

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Baldur’s Gate marked the beginning of an RPG dynasty; it was Bioware’s first role playing game. Much about the game was improved upon with subsequent games from the studio, but at the time it was a masterpiece. Baldur’s Gate was the first game to use the Bioware’s Infinity Engine, which would go on to power many of the most popular top down PC role playing games of the next several years.

7. Thief: The Dark Project (PC)

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At a time when most first person shooters were still referred to as “Doom Clones”, Thief came along and shook things up. Hardly a first person shooter at all, Thief is a stealth action game that takes place from a first person perspective. On its surface, it certainly seemed like a first person shooter, but the game’s deep stealth mechanics and relative weakness of the player character forced players to be much more pragmatic with their approach to encounters.

6. Fallout 2 (PC)

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While not a huge departure from the original, Fallout 2 offered yet another engrossing RPG experience in post-apocalyptic America. Featuring another compelling, superbly well written story and a much expanded game world, Fallout 2 was another fine example of the booming PC RPG scene of the late ’90s. After developer Black Isle Studios was closed in 2003, many former employees went on to form Obsidian Entertainment, which developed 2010′s Fallout New Vegas.

Mar 082013
 

Almost exactly a year after the initial release, Bioware is wrapping up their post launch support of Mass Effect 3 with the third and final (not counting the day 1 content) single player addition to the game. The first piece of content, Leviathan, added some interesting lore and further expanded on some of the information originally presented in the ending, while offering a bit of a change of pace in regards to its mission structure. The second add on, Omega, consisted of largely unoriginal levels with some interesting character work and some unfortunate presentation issues. The final piece of DLC, Citadel, has been pitched as a way to say farewell to all of your favorite characters, and it delivers on this promise in an incredibly enjoyable way.

Citadel3The most immediately apparent thing about this DLC, and something that was quite unexpected for me having not watched trailers or read too much about it, is the drastic shift in tone from pretty much every Mass Effect experience of the past three games. The DLC is incredibly light in tone, with an abundance of humor, fourth wall breaking, and self parody. To put it bluntly, this is fan service pure and simple, but the strong writing, genuinely funny dialogue, and multitude of fantastic character moments keep that from being a negative. This content felt a lot to me like the 100 and 200 episode specials from Stargate SG-1; that being a completely self aware, canonically debatable piece of content that shows incredible reverence for both the fiction and the fans that love it.

The story content can be broken up into two distinct parts, the mission and the party. The DLC opens with the Normandy docking on the Citadel for repairs, giving the crew some shore leave. While having dinner at a fancy restaurant with Joker, Shepard finds himself the target of mysterious mercenaries and thus begins the mission to figure out who is after him. The mission is very character focused, with pretty much every main character from the game having a major role. The DLC does a great job of really making the crew of the Normandy feel like family, and if you have any investment in these characters you will undoubtedly find yourself with a permanent grin on your face for the majority of this mission, just as I did. The plot is pretty goofy, but it’s a lot fun, with plenty of hilarious moments for fans of the series.

After the two and half hour mission, you are then given some freedom to explore the new hub area on the Citadel as well as Shepard’s new apartment. During this sequence, there are many character moments taking place both in Shepard’s apartment and in the new hub. Every living squad-mate from all three games has at least one conversation or event, and they range from good to fantastic. This culminates in a party at Shepard’s apartment, with every living squad mate from the entire series along with most other major characters in attendance. The party is great, with these character we’ve gotten to know over the past 5 and half years just relaxing and having a good time. Even though it technically takes place before the end of the game, this feels like the perfect way to say goodbye to these characters that so many of us have grown attached to over the course of the series. These character moments range from silly and self parodying to serious and emotional, and it all works.

mass effect citadel dlc lasknWhile the majority of the story content is fantastic, there are a few blemishes. At times, the references to internet memes and running jokes among fans can get a little too much. The “calibrations” jokes in the main game was a little much as is, and I honestly didn’t need a rehash of that here. However, the real issue with the story is how it will it fits into the main game. There is no getting around it, the tone of this content is just about the polar opposite of the overall tone of Mass Effect 3, and I can’t really see this integrating well into a complete playthrough. I just can’t see Shepard and the crew spending this much time goofing around while the galaxy is burning. It is great as a stand alone experience taken as a fun piece of content, but start thinking too hard about how it fits into the story or try to force it to make sense canonically and things start to break down. I don’t know what the official word is on whether or not this is actually canon, but it’s best to just think about it as a stand alone experience anyway, even though you do play it with an active save.

The mission itself is split into four parts, and each has its own unique feel. Unlike Omega, each of the four “levels” has at least one unique aspect that you wouldn’t find in any mission as part of the main game. The first level has some light stealth elements, and has Shepard solo for a brief bit and without armor for the entire sequence. The second level is completely combat free, taking place at a high society charity ball at a crowded casino. The third level is the closest to standard Mass Effect level design, but it stands out for having your whole team (plus Wrex) taking part, split into three squads. The final level can’t really be described without spoiling things, but it’s safe to say it has some really cool unique elements.

As I said earlier, the actual mission part of the content took me about 2 and half hours of in-game time, but that is only the beginning of the content. The character interactions and party took me another 2 and a half hours, resulting in about 5 hours worth of story content for your $15. That’s not the end of the content though, there are also a handful of minigames at the casino and arcade in the new hub area, as well as a combat simulator. The combat simulator consists of wave based survival, similar to the multiplayer, but it has it’s own wrinkles and 8 original maps to set itself apart from the multiplayer. The combat simulator has a decent number of challenges and achievements, as well as the ability to use squad mates from past games that haven’t previously been selectable in ME3. By the time I unlocked the last achievement associated with this DLC, I had put in over 8 hours of playtime, making it by far the longest and most content rich piece of DLC in the series.

Gameplay is largely the same as what’s been in the game thus far, which isn’t at all surprising, but the combat remains fun and engaging. There are a handful of new enemy types in the main mission, but they are mostly just re-skins of typical Cerberus enemy types. The combat simulator however, has some interesting challenges and some devious new enemy types that present tough encounters. The combat simulator is by no means the highlight of the DLC, but if you’re looking for some interesting new combat encounters with a high degree of challenge, you should enjoy your time with the combat sim.

One of the big problems I had with the Omega DLC was the extremely unpolished feeling of the presentation, but luckily this isn’t an issue with Citadel. The environments are all new and up to the standards of the main game, and there are a handful of pre-rendered cutscenes that look great. The content runs at a steady clip and it doesn’t suffer from the missing sounds effects or glitched animations that Omega did. The only technical issue I had was that the game froze twice during play, but the autosaving was such that I never lost any progress. The best aspect of this DLC is without a doubt the audio presentation. Almost every major voice actor returns and they are all just as good as they have ever been. The DLC also makes excellent use of music, both original and familiar.

91

Mass Effect has had some great and some not so great pieces of DLC over the past 5 years, and Citadel is among the best in the series. If you have any sort of attachment to the series, and more specifically the characters, you are likely to love this DLC. It’s a big tonal shift from the rest of the series, but it’s a rare piece of content that had me smiling for 5 hours straight. This is 100% for fans of the series, and being a huge fan of Mass Effect from the very beginning, I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to these character I’ve grown so attached to over the past 5 years.

XBox 360

Graphics

90
 

Audio

100
 

Gameplay

90

Creativity

90
 

Execution

90
 

Offset

80
    

9

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

Pros:

  • Genuinely funny
  • Great character moments
  • Interesting mission design
  • Pretty much every character (and voice actor) returns
  • Great use of music
  • Combat simulator provides a nice challenge

Cons:

  • May not integrate well into a complete playthrough
  • Memes and running jokes go too far in spots

 

Mar 052013
 

This week marks the one year anniversary of the release of Mass Effect 3, and Bioware has chosen today to release the final piece of single player content for the game. Oddly enough, I also recently played through the game again for the first time in over 11 months, so I’ve got Mass Effect on the brain. This recent playthrough was the first time I had played through the game completely with the DLC and extended cut ending fully implemented into the game, and I have to say they definitely improved the overall experience, especially the infamous ending. Playing ME3 removed from the hype of its initial release, I still really enjoyed myself, and I stand by my praise of the game at the time of release. With the Mass Effect 3 saga coming to a close with this last piece of DLC, which I will review later this week, I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to see in the next Mass Effect game. With the core trilogy concluded, there are a million different places Bioware could take the next game in the series, and these are just some of my thoughts about what I’d like to see next.

10. Remove Arbitrary Party Limitations

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Even if it wound up being something a bit different as the series went along, the core idea of Mass Effect was rooted squarely in the concepts of party based RPGs, in particular things like Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Unfortunately, a major concept from that style of game that persisted throughout the series was the idea that your squad could only consist of a limited number of characters at a time. When you have a crew full of highly trained soldiers and experts in a variety of fields, it just felt out of place to leave the majority of the team twiddling their thumbs on the ship while only three of them took part in dangerous missions against dozens of enemies at a time. I understand this is a logistical decision born out of gameplay concerns, but it breaks immersion in a series that is all about narrative and believable universe building.

9. Implement Motion Capture

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I understand the reason that motion capture wasn’t used in any of the Mass Effect games; the financial and technical hurdles involved with implementing motion capture across a 30+ hour game with absurd amounts of dialogue are immense. However, understanding why it isn’t feasible doesn’t make me wish the series had it any less. The handful of canned animations that get used during conversations became more and more noticeable as the series went on, and it would be really great if this issue could be resolved. If they could find some way of implementing motion capture without going over budget or extending development time, the game would really benefit.

8. Better Sense of Scale

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This is an area where the fiction really clashes with the technical limitations of game design, and in some instances, writing to please fans. The galaxy is huge, filled with countless billions of individuals from over a dozen species spread out across thousands of inhabited planets. However, in the games themselves, the galaxy feels small. Hub areas on planets consist of a small map and a few dozen individuals and for some reason Shepard just keeps happening to run into the same people all over the galaxy. I want the galaxy to feel just as vast in the game as it does reading planet descriptions and codex entries, and hopefully with the near guarantee of the next Mass Effect being a next gen release, this is strong possibility.

7. No Need For Human Focus

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It makes sense for the trilogy to be told from the perspective of humans. When the series began, we didn’t know anything about any of the other races or the political situation of the Citadel and the galaxy as a whole, so it makes sense to introduce us to these things from a perspective every player is familiar with; humanity. However, three games and 90+ hours of gameplay into the series, fans now have a solid understanding of the these things, so the next game doesn’t need to revolve around humanity. I would love to see a game in this universe told from the perspective of one of the other races, allowing us an inside look at things we’ve only observed as outsiders thus far. Whether this means allowing the player to select the race they want to play as with different story ramifications like Dragon Age Origins or simply having the game star a predetermined alien character is fine by me; I’d love to see either of these scenarios.

6. No More Binary Moral Choice

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I think the paragon and renegade system was a step in the right direction as far as moral choices go, for the most part it avoided being straight up good vs. evil, but it was only marginally better than a good vs. evil system. The biggest problem with the system was the idea of earning paragon and renegade points for making choices. It forced you to make decisions based on alignment rather than based on your gut, which pretty much negates the whole idea of choice. I want the outcome of choices to be observed in the story or the world, not on a meter in the menus. Choice in games is the future of storytelling, but only if there is a real choice and not a “good” or “bad” option. To be fair, a lot of the choices presented throughout the trilogy would be really tough if not for the fact that most players just go with the one that matches the alignment of their character.

Mar 042013
 

A few months back, I took a look at the first single player DLC for Mass Effect 3, Leviathan. I quite enjoyed the content, though my main complaint was that it felt out of place as a stand alone experience after having already finished the main game. I recently played through Mass Effect 3 again in its entirety, and I can absolutely say that Leviathan is a much more fulfilling experience as part of a full playthrough rather than as a stand alone piece of content. In addition to Leviathan, I also played through the Omega DLC (released in November), but found it to be a bit disappointing.

Aria-TloakAs with most Mass Effect DLC, the main draw for me is the story, and Omega falls a bit short of past offerings in this respect. The plot of Omega was set up in the main game, and revolves around Aria T’Loak’s operation to take back Omega (the lawless city built into a mined out asteroid from Mass Effect 2) from Cerberus. Unsurprisingly, she seeks out Shepard’s assistance, and what follows is a three to three and a half hour journey consisting of four missions. The plot itself isn’t very involved, and largely just serves to give context for the missions. The story basically amounts to invading Omega, making your way through the station and disrupting Cerberus operations along the way, and then taking down the Cerberus operative left in charge of Omega by the Illusive Man. Where as Leviathan added a lot of meaningful back-story and lore to the series, Omega is a largely inconsequential experience with little lasting value to the fiction.

While the plot itself is inconsequential and frankly, uninteresting, there is some good character work to be found in this content. Aria has always been a fairly interesting character, and it’s nice to see her in very different scenario than what she’s been seen in before. While she is technically Shepard’s ally, it is very clear she is in this only for her own gain. She is a master manipulator, using others (including Shepard) as tools for her cause and nothing more. While Aria’s arc is interesting, the main standout character is Nyreen, the first female turian to be featured in the series thus far. She is the leader of the only remaining gang on Omega, the Talons, and has a romantic past with Aria. You get a few opportunities to get to know her better, and she is the clear high point of the DLC, though she is unfortunately only a part of your squad for about 50% of the content. When she is not in your squad, it is only Shepard and Aria, as this one of those add-ons that gives some contrivance as to why your regular squad mates cannot join you (obviously because they didn’t record any new voice work for these characters).

As I said before, a big problem I had with Leviathan was that is really only felt meaningful as part of the main story, and lost some of its weight when played after the fact. Omega doesn’t have this problem, though it does suffer a bit from the opposite. I played this DLC when it first came out as a stand alone experience and again recently as part of a full playthrough. It worked fine as a stand alone experience because it is largely removed from the reaper war and the events of main game. However, when played as part of the main game, it comes off feeling a bit meaningless in the grand scheme of the game. It actually worked against the main narrative of the game because I had a hard time believing Shepard would waste time helping Aria retake Omega while the entire galaxy is at war with the reapers, even if this is handwaved by Aria saying she will support the war effort with troops and element zero if Shepard helps her.

Gj9RGLeviathan tried some new things from a design perspective with regards to the main game, but Omega does not. The levels are pretty much the same linear environments with cover based firefights and cutscenes strewn throughout that you’ve experienced in the game proper. It’s not as though there’s anything wrong with this approach, it certainly served the main game well, but in my mind the best Mass Effect add-ons have at least one unique element, and Omega simply does not. The only real new aspect of this DLC is the squad members, Aria and Nyreen, and their new abilities which no other previous characters have had. After completing Omega, you will be able to have Shepard equip these abilities through advanced training, and there are also some weapons upgrades you’ll find over the course of the DLC. There are some new enemy types as well, but they don’t really force any new tactics on you or anything like that, they are simply different looking enemies with slightly different abilities.

Much like the design, the core gameplay in Omega doesn’t really do anything new or different compared to the main game, which is again not an inherently bad thing, just a bit uninteresting. The game’s combat is still excellent, and there are plenty of fun and frantic encounters to be had throughout the course of the DLC. The new abilities of the squad mates makes for some variations on the typical gameplay, but not many, meaning the combat encounters feel much like what you’ve already experienced. Again, the gameplay is still as solid as ever, it’s just disappointing that this new content doesn’t feel particularly new.

While the lack of any meaningful additions to the design or gameplay is a bit disappointing, it’s not entirely unexpected for add-on content. What is unexpected, and significantly more disappointing, is the huge disparity in the quality of the presentation between the main game and this piece of DLC. Visually, there are some decent environments and a great looking CGI space battle to open the content, but there are also an abundance of animation glitches and awkward transitions. The graphics look as good as the main game, but the presentation hiccups really hamper the overall experience.

While the visual issues are fairly minor, the audio is another story altogether. The audio presentation simply feels unfinished. There are many occasions where cutscenes seem way too quiet, with a complete lack of background and ambient noise. There are also lots of sound effects straight up missing, making action scenes feel really off. The music is new, and it’s fine, but it didn’t really live up to the main game’s soundtrack. Voice acting has always been a high point for the series, and it remains mostly good here, though again, not as good as the main game. The real disappointment on the voice over front is Carrie Anne Moss reprising her role as Aria T’Loak. I always thought she did a good job in the past, but her performance here feels really phoned in. I know she is capable of better than this, she was great in ME2 and the main game of ME3, but it really feels like she simply didn’t care, and it shows in her performance. The other voice actors are all solid, especially the always great Jennifer Hale as female Shepard, though none of the main cast return outside of male and female Shepard.

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As I said back in my review of the first Mass Effect 3 DLC, I had high hopes for Omega, and they were definitely not met. There is some decent character stuff in here, but it’s buried in a predictable and uninteresting story with by the numbers level design and gameplay. Despite the relative sameness of the gameplay, it still winds up being enjoyable because the framework it’s built off of still holds up well. Omega is an enjoyable 3+ hour experience, but it doesn’t reach the heights of the some better DLC in series, nor does it match the quality of the first add-on for Mass Effect 3. The final single player add-on for Mass Effect 3 is due out this week, and it promises to be an emotionally engaging experience featuring all your favorite characters, so hopefully that can send Mass Effect 3 out on a high note.

XBox 360

Graphics

80
 

Audio

60
 

Gameplay

90

Creativity

60
 

Execution

70
 

Offset

50
    

6.8

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

Pros:

  • Interesting character work
  • Gameplay remains great
  • Decent length at 3+ hours
  • Good looking environments
  • Excellent CGI space battle

Cons:

  • Unpolished visual presentation
  • Missing audio, too quiet
  • Uninteresting story
  • Uneven voice over quality
  • Adds little new to the basic Mass Effect 3 framework

 

Feb 262013
 

This past week, as everyone that follows games was expecting, Sony announced their next generation console; the Playstation 4. I am personally very excited about the PS4, and I can’t wait for the next generation to finally begin and to put the longest console generation in the industry’s history to bed at long last. I’ve seen many differing opinions on Sony’s press conference, some people think it was downright terrible and others think it is the best console announcement ever. I don’t fall into either of these camps, but I do feel like it was a largely successful press event and about as good as could have been expected from Sony. That’s not to say there weren’t aspects of it I had problems with though, so for these week’s edition of Top 10 Tuesdays I am going to count down what I consider the 5 worst and 5 best aspects of Sony’s PS4 announcement event. Let’s start off with the Worst aspects of the conference.

WORST

5. Blizzard

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I’ve personally never really been a huge fan of any Blizzard games, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them as one of the best and most successful developers making PC games. So, to have Blizzard walk out on stage at a console announcement event should have been a huge moment, but the excitement quickly dissipated when everyone realized they just announcing a port of a year old game. I have no problem with Blizzard porting Diablo III to consoles, but this was not the place the announce it. This to me felt just as insulting to the viewers as last E3′s Nintendo conference when they spent ages talking about Arkham City, another game most people had already played.

4. Lingering Questions

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This past week, as everyone that follows games was expecting, Sony announced their next generation console; the Playstation 4. I am personally very excited about the PS4, and I can’t wait for the next generation to finally begin and to put the longest console generation in the industry’s history to bed at long last. I’ve seen many differing opinions on Sony’s press conference, some people think it was downright terrible and others think it is the best console announcement ever. I don’t fall into either of these camps, but I do feel like it was a largely successful press event and about as good as could have been expected from Sony. That’s not to say there weren’t aspects of it I had problems with though, so for these week’s edition of Top 10 Tuesdays I am going to count down what I consider the 5 worst and 5 best aspects of Sony’s PS4 announcement event. Let’s start off with the Worst aspects of the conference.

3. Creepy Presenters

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On the whole, I felt like most presenters did a great job. Mark Cerny and Andrew House, the two main presenters, were both so good I almost didn’t care that there was no Jack Tretton, almost. However, there were two presenters in particular that came off as kind of creepy, and honestly made me a little uncomfortable. The presenter from Evolution Studios introducing Drive Club was fine at first, I liked his enthusiasm about the game his studio had been making, but it quickly began getting awkward when it became clear just how much he really loved cars. Maybe it’s because cars have never been more than a tool for getting around tor me that I just don’t get fetishistic car love, but nevertheless it came off as a little over the top. However, that paled in comparison to the guy from Sucker Punch who came out and was immediately talking about the time he was teargassed and putting forth a not-so-subtle anti-police message. The fact that he was clearly talking about his real world views and not the game came off as really out of place. I am watching to see the games, not be preached to about government spying and police brutality. Infamous: Second Son looks cool though…

2. Noncommittal Features

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Sony had a lot really cool idea to show about things they could implement using their new Gaikai technology, which was great. Unfortunately, a lot of the ideas they shared had of a lot troubling vocabulary attached to them like “we’d like”, “we may”, “someday”, “our goal”, and “possibly”. For as cool as a lot of these features sound, like streaming the entire catalog of previous generation systems, having a friend remotely take control of your game, or having the system predict what games you want to buy, I have to take them with a grain of salt considering they aren’t actually confirmed to be part of the system when it launches.

1. Square Enix

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I honestly don’t know why Sony even bothered having Square Enix on stage. They showed a lengthy tech demo, which would have been fine, if not for the fact that WE SAW THAT EXACT DEMO A YEAR AGO. I don’t know why they would devote time for Square Enix to show something we’ve already seen, it felt like a total waste of time. Aside from that, they just basically said “we are making a new Final Fantasy game”, which isn’t really news considering how damn obvious it is. They concluded their presentation by saying, “see you at E3!”, which is what they should have waited for to say anything rather than wasting time saying absolutely nothing.

Head to page 2 to check out the best aspects of the conference.

Feb 192013
 

Back in 2009, Kojima Productions showed off the next game in the Metal Gear series, then called Metal Gear Solid Rising. The game starred Raiden and had a huge focus on free form sword control and being able to cut anything in the environment. After an extended period of silence and an apparent cancellation, the game resurfaced in late 2011 now being developed by Platinum Games, the studio behind Bayonetta and Vanquish, under the new title Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

If there is one thing the Metal Gear Series is most known for, it is definitely the often crazy story. The series is notorious for its complex plots and bizarre twists, but Metal Gear Rising has a much more focused narrative than something like Metal Gear Solid 4. The game is set several years after the events of MGS4, and Raiden is now working for a PMC organization (they prefer the term private security firm) called Maverick. The game deals a bit with the aftermath of the fall of SOP and the War Economy, but for the most part this is a stand alone, more personal story for Raiden.

Metal-Gear-Rising-Revengeance-Demo-Out-on-December-13-for-PS3As with past games in the series, the story is centered around the American Military, but from a decidedly different perspective than you’d find in the majority of modern military games. As you would expect given the history of the series, this game does not feature a mindless pro America good vs. evil plot, and it actually has something to say about the state of American politics and the role it plays in the world at large. I have a feeling some more conservative Americans may take offense to a lot about the story in the game, especially coming from a Japanese developer, but I found it a welcome change of pace from the bland modern military games that seem to have nothing to say aside from “terrorists are bad”.

Of course, this is a Metal Gear game, so while I commend its willingness to explore deeper territory than most games, it does so in a less than subtle way. The dialogue is mostly good, but expect a fair amount cheese and over the top characters. Some people may dismiss a lot of the game’s commentary because of the presence of some of the series’ goofier elements like giant mechs and indestructible cyborgs, but it definitely makes some interesting points regardless. While the political elements are interesting in the way they presented, they are only a small portion of the overall plot; the majority being a personal journey for Raiden after encountering something that forces him relive his past as a child soldier. The titular “Revengeance”, or revenge with a vengeance, is the jumping off point for the story after Raiden loses a fight (and the man he was supposed to be protecting) to a mysterious cyborg during the game’s opening sequence, but revenge quickly becomes an afterthought once Raiden finds out what is really going on.

metal_gear_rising_revengeance_game_trailerIf you come into this game expecting 90 minute cutscenes and endless amounts of exposition, you will be likely be surprised. The running time for the cutscenes is probably longer than average for the genre, but not by a wide margin, and overall you will be playing far more than you are watching. I’m sure this will be a good thing for some, and a disappointment for others, but either way it fits the game well. This story has a much faster pace than a typical Metal Gear game, and much of the exposition is limited to the optional codec conversations. However, this results in the majority of the supporting cast feeling a bit underdeveloped if you choose not to engage in these optional conversations, especially considering Raiden is the only preexisting character in the game outside of a brief late game cameo.

Overall I really enjoyed the story in Metal Gear Rising. It focuses on telling a stand alone story in the Metal Gear universe rather than relying too heavily on the established fiction, which is quite a departure from what we’ve seen from the series in recent installments. Having a familiarity with Raiden’s past will certainly make the story feel more meaningful, but really anyone can enjoy the game’s story. I really liked the direction they take Raiden as a character. Before playing it I was worried about this game destroying Raiden’s ending in MGS4, but as the game progresses you understand why Raiden turned back to fighting when he seemingly had everything he ever wanted. You get the feeling that Raiden will never really get past his child soldier upbringing, and settling down with his wife and son is just something he will never be satisfied with, which is sad for sure, but it makes sense given everything this character has been through.

While the story in Metal Gear Rising is undeniably a Metal Gear game, most of the other aspects of it are a big departure for the series. Anytime an entry in a long running series switches to an entirely different genre, you never really know how things are going to turn out. Developers run the risk of losing the core essence of the franchise or alienating their fans, but luckily I don’t see either of these doomsday scenarios applying to Metal Gear Rising. I think the best thing that happened with the development of this game was Kojima productions realizing that their expertise just didn’t line up with this type of game and deciding to hand development over to Platinum Games. The end result is Platinum once again showing why they are one of the best developers of fast paced melee focused third person action games.

Metal_Gear_Rising__Revengeance_Screenshots_13423993596150If you’ve played games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, you should feel pretty familiar with the basic design of the game. You move through linear levels fighting enemies and occasionally doing some platforming, but mostly you are fighting enemies. The game features a pretty good variety of enemy types, ranging from standard unarmored cyborgs to various types of unmanned robots. The standard enemy encounters are always fun and engaging, but the real highlight of the game is without a doubt the outstanding boss battles. The game has quite a lot of boss fights, and I found every one of the them to supremely enjoyable. No two boss fights feel the same, and each will require careful thinking along with skillful command of the game’s combat systems.

Leading up to the game’s release, there has a been a lot of talk about the game’s length, and rightfully so. By the end of the game, most players will have a number of around 5 hours in their play counter. Now, what this really amounts to is around 8-9 hours once you add up deaths and cutscenes. If you decide to watch all the optional codec conversations, a first playthrough of over 10 hours isn’t out of the question. Now, while this isn’t as dire as the 5 hour number being thrown around prior to the game’s release, it is still a tough sell for many players, especially given the lack of multiplayer. However, in addition to the three standard difficulty levels, there are two unlockable difficulties, which are more substantial than tweaked damage values. These two highest difficulty rearrange encounters by adding more enemies and changing the types of enemies that appear in specific encounters.

metal-gear-solid-rising-xbox-360-screenshots-1-915The game also has VR Missions, unlockable skins and upgrades for your abilities and weapons. Unfortunately, the VR Missions are locked away behind hidden collectables, much like the combat challenges from the Arkham Games. I didn’t like it in those games and I don’t like it here. I have no problem with the idea of collectables, but I am not in favor of hiding actual content behind them, especially in a game that isn’t particularly long to begin with. Also a bit disappointing is the lack of online leaderboards, which is especially weird given that the game scores you on every encounter. I am sure an achievement or trophy or just personal pride will be enough to get some players to go for all S ranks, but being able to compare your scores with friends would have been nice as well. Now, all this supplementary content may be enough to justify a full price purchase for many people, but for those who just want to experience the game and its story once, the 8-10 hours may simply not be enough; though I personally think the game is more than good enough to warrant a purchase.

Feb 122013
 

Assassin’s Creed III released this past November to mostly positive critical reception and a bit of a mixed response from fans. Last July I did a top 10 list of the things about Assassin’s Creed III that had me excited to play, which you can read here. Coincidentally, just days after I finished Assassin’s Creed III it was revealed that Ubisoft would unsurprisingly be continuing the yearly release schedule with a new game this holiday. Having just finished the game and Assassin’s Creed being in the news, I figured this would be a good time to look back at those 10 reasons I couldn’t wait to play AC3 and give my thoughts about how they turned out in the final product. This won’t be a review, you can read Jay Malone’s review of the game if that’s what you’re looking for, this will just be my thoughts on some of the key aspects of the game after having played it. The order of this list will be dictated by the original list of 10 reasons to be excited for Assassin’s Creed III, and there will be minor spoilers.

10. Seasons/Weather

Assassins-Creed-3-Screenshot-Snow

This was one of the more minor entries on the list, obviously not all ten would be the most unbelievable additions to the series, but I found it’s implementation to be handled pretty well. The snow effects are pretty good, and moving through snow feels very different from running on dry land. However, the season changing felt a little weird. Passage of time has always been a bit odd in the Assassin’s Creed series because the games frequently jump months or years ahead without the world actually feeling much like anything has changed. The changing seasons brought the dissonance to the forefront, making the jumps forward that much more jarring.

9. Naval Combat

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I wasn’t sold on the naval combat before I played the game, but I put it on the list anyway because it was a new feature, and those are always welcome. In the grand scheme of the game, it wound up being about as important as the tower defense mini game in Revelations (meaning not very), but I thought it was a lot more enjoyable. The naval combat was pretty simple and not very challenging, but it was very cinematic and ultimately pretty cool. It’s just a shame that there were only a couple of main missions that had naval combat, with the rest of the content coming in the form of side missions.

8. New Combat Abilities

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The gameplay demo I saw at last year’s PAX East made the improvements to combat seem drastic, but in practice the combat is very much like what was featured in Brotherhood and Revelations. Connor has some new weapons at his disposal like the rope dart and the tomahawk, but ultimately the combat just felt like Assassin’s Creed, for better or for worse. There were some new abilities that were pretty cool like the dual counter kills, human shields, and running assassinations, but at the end of the day the combat can be boiled down to the same gameplay as the past games; enemies standing around waiting their turn to attack, countering as they attack, and then chaining kills to clear them out quickly.

7. Improved Traversal

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Once again, the gameplay demo I saw at PAX made the improvements to traversal seem much more extensive than they actually wound up being. The core of the traversal remains almost identical to past games, with some minor control alterations. The big addition is the rock and tree climbing, which were pretty cool. There were only very rare occasions where you have the opportunity to do the rock climbing, but trees play a major role in the game. The tree climbing animations look great, and moving through the forest without ever touching the ground is really cool. It falls apart a little when you realize there are only a handful of different tree types in the game, but you only really notice it when you’re looking for it.

6. More Familiar History

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I, like many people, am much more familiar with the American Revolution than I am with the Crusades or the Italian Renaissance, and that ultimately wound up being both a positive and a negative in regards to Assassin’s Creed III. On the one hand, I found a lot of the historical stuff in this game very interesting. Seeing historic moments like the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Battles of Lexington and Concord rendered in a game is really cool, but for every moment like that there was another that left me scratching my head. A lot about how the history was portrayed seemed a bit goofy, which isn’t exactly new for the series (Ezio was best buds with Leonardo Da Vinci after all) but it stuck out more here because I had more personal knowledge of the historical events in question. Having Connor be at so many pivotal events of the American Revolution just felt really silly, with the most egregious example being the re-interpretation of Paul Revere’s ride as Connor’s Ride with Paul Revere on the back of the horse.

Feb 072013
 

The original Planetside was an ambitious game for its time. Released back in 2003, a year before World of Warcraft brought the MMO genre to an unprecedented level of popularity, Planetside is largely credited as being the first true MMO first person shooter. With server sizes in the hundreds and a persistent world with a never ending conflict, Planetside offered something no other game at the time did, though with a required monthly fee. The MMO market has changed drastically since Planetside came out, and Sony Online Entertainment has adapted their approach for the sequel accordingly. Planetside 2 is an even more massive game than the original, with the potential for as many as 2000 players fighting simultaneously on the same map. SOE has also ditched the subscription model in favor of the now common free to play with micro transactions monetization method.

c7d318402d94258dc4240b134cb08c60437If you come into this game expecting strong fiction or in-depth lore, you may find yourself disappointed. There are three factions in the game, but the amount information about each presented in the game itself is limited to a single paragraph when you are choosing your faction during character creation. There does exist some decent lore for the game, expanding upon the backstory for these factions since humans left Earth, but unfortunately none of this is in the game itself. There is a brief intro video once you pick your faction, but if you want some of the deeper lore, you’re going to have to track that stuff down outside the game. Luckily, the lack of story isn’t really a big negative; this being a competitive focused game you won’t really miss the lack of context for the gameplay.

Pretty much every aspect of Planetside 2 revolves around the enormous scale of the game, and in this respect the game is unlike any other shooter available. Even something like Battlefield 3, which stands out from most shooters because of its large scale warfare and huge maps, is absolutely dwarfed by Planetside 2. Servers consist of 6000 players, with a maximum of 2000 simultaneous players on each of the three continents. The three continents are enormous, far bigger than multiplayer maps in even the largest scale shooters. The continents are basically big open worlds with dozens of areas that serve as the points of contention. With as many as 2000 players fighting simultaneously on a single map, there are typically several major battles and some smaller ones taking place at various locations on the continent. Even with all the players spread out across miles of in game territory, battles consisting of hundreds of players at once are common, and these are the moments where Planetside 2 really shines.

201111114ebdbeebcfe9eThere is just something so amazing about fighting in one of these enormous battles, knowing that every single one of the hundreds of characters taking part are being controlled by real people. Similar to Battlefield, but to an even greater degree, there are many insane moments that would be scripted in smaller games that just happen dynamically in Planetside 2, usually involving vehicles, explosions, and dozens of players. The game also makes it really easy to get right into the battle, allowing you to air drop anywhere a major battle is occurring once every 15 minutes. The only problem is you might not know how to do this right away because the game does a very poor job of explaining anything. It took my group and I a good while to grasp many of the games concepts and mechanics when we first started playing, and the tutorial text is inadequate at relaying this information.

As you would expect, the game puts a large emphasis on persistence, both in terms of the world and your individual character, and in this respect the game is a mixed bag. Having the world be persistent certainly feels cool at first, but after awhile issues become apparent.. Unlike most shooters, the game never ends; you never get dumped back to a lobby, there are no scores or matches and you are always just in the world fighting. Because of the way the world is structured, battles occur organically. The game is all about capturing territory, so at any given time specific locations on each continent will be under the control of one of the factions. If an enemy faction is pushing a territory your team owns, you will just naturally be in a defensive position. However, if the enemy captures your territory, you don’t lose, you will simply be pushed back. I’ve had instances where my team lost a territory and we immediately began pushing back for a counterattack, and others where we were forced to fall back to another territory, which the enemy proceeded to attack; the game is all about momentum.

Planetside 2 MapThe problem with the persistence comes from the very idea that there is no victory. You can spend hours playing with a large group of people and capture every single territory on a specific continent and come back the next day and find all your effort erased. If your team were to capture every territory, you would get bonus experience, but in the grand scheme of the game it is meaningless. The novelty of fighting a huge persistent battle wears off when you realize its a battle that is literally impossible to win. In this respect it’s not much different from ordinary match based shooters, but in those games at least you get credit for a win after every match, whereas in Planetside 2 the triumph of each minor victory is tarnished by the knowledge that the territory will likely be lost again once you stop playing. This is an issue that I really have no solution for, it’s just an unfortunate reality of the game.

Feb 052013
 

Naughty Dog shared some brand new info and gameplay footage for The Last of Us this week, and this reminded me of something; The Last of Us is going to be awesome. This game is far and away my most anticipated game of the year, and right up there with Mass Effect 3 and Skyrim as one of my most anticipated games of the past few years. The following ten things are just some of the aspects of The Last of Us that have me looking forward to it so much.

10. The Voice Cast

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Naughty Dog showed with the Uncharted series that they definitely value hiring a top tier voice cast for their games, and The Last of Us looks to be no different. The cast that has been confirmed thus far consists of both excellent voice actors and established Hollywood actors, and is led by the always outstanding Troy Baker as the main character Joel. If you don’t know who Troy Baker is, you should rectify that, because if you’ve played any games this generation you’ve likely played something with him in it. It’s going to be a great year for Troy Baker, since he is also voicing the main character in Bioshock Infinite.

9. Weapon Crafting

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A big difference in The Last of Us compared to the Uncharted games is the survival aspect, this of course being a post apocalyptic setting. Unlike Uncharted, The Last of Us has an inventory and item management system. The player will be able to combine items and weapons to create new effects as well as being able to improve existing weapons, which will also degrade from use. It’s hard to know exactly how this system will be implemented without having played the game, but it certainly has the possibility to be interesting.

8. The Setting

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Now, I know there have been an abundance of post apocalyptic games, especially this console generation, but there is just something about The Last of Us that feels unique. Maybe it has to do with the fact that, despite having zombie-like creatures, it doesn’t feel like a zombie game. Most of the footage we’ve seen so far has depicted combat against other humans, and the infected encounters look unique compared to most zombie games. I think the aspect of the setting that appeals most to me is the fact that the game seems to be more about surviving in general, whether that be against the elements, other people, or the infected; instead of simply being a zombie apocalypse.

7. Survival vs. Combat

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I enjoy a good combat system as much as anyone, but sometimes I get fed up with games that are just all combat, all the time. That’s the main reason I’ve turned away from the majority of shooters, I am sick of game design that seems afraid of the player getting bored for a single second which results in non-stop combat. Even in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games, which did feature lengthy non combat sequences of platforming and traversal, the combat sequences seemed to go on forever at times. This is a big reason why The Last of Us really appeals to me. From what we’ve seen of the game thus far, the focus seems to be more on simply surviving rather than killing enemies, which will be a nice change of pace.

6. Motion Capture

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With the increased use of motion capture in the past several years, the quality of animations and direction has increased immensely. There is a huge difference in animation quality that is immediately apparent between games that utilize motion capture and those that do not. Just compare things like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and the Uncharted series, which both use motion capture, to games that do not like The Walking Dead and the Mass Effect series; the difference in animation quality is enormous. Even though the latter two games have excellent writing and storytelling, they are really hurt by the lack of motion capture. Naughty Dog goes above and beyond what most studios that use mocap do, recording both the dialogue and motion capture at the same time, almost like a play with silly outfits. I look forward the same high quality motion capture animation that Uncharted featured being implemented in The Last of Us.

Jan 292013
 

As most people that follow the gaming industry are now no doubt aware, Toy Headquarters is no more. THQ, as most people knew them, spent most of their over 20 years in the game industry publishing mostly licensed games and kids games. However, over the past several years, THQ had made strong push towards putting out more high quality, core games, and in this respect they were mostly successful. If not for some tragic mismanagement, mostly involving the failed Udraw tablet, THQ could have been in for a strong run as a top publisher in the industry. Unfortunately that will never happen, but I can still look back at some of the best games THQ published, most of which came out during the current console generation.

10. MX vs. ATV Unleashed (Rainbow Studios, 2005)

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I’ll be honest, I am not very familiar with the MX vs. ATV series. I don’t really know if other entries in the series are better or worse than MX vs. ATV Unleashed, but that is the one game in the series I’ve played, and I really liked it. The game is a fun off-road racer that features both dirt bikes and ATVs. THQ released many games in this series, but like I said, this is the entry I have personal experience with.

9. Stacking (Double Fine, 2011)

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After releasing Brutal Legend in 2009, Double Fine shifted it’s focus to smaller downloadable games. Double Fine has released several of these smaller games in the time since to varying degrees of success. THQ wound up publishing two of Double Fine games, Costume Quest and Stacking, and of the two Stacking is the better game. You play as a Russian stacking doll and must puzzle your way through the game by going inside bigger dolls. The game has a fantastically well realized 1930′s style and the kind of charm Double Fine has become known for. Because Double Fine is an independent studio that works with many publishers, they will be unaffected THQ’s end.

8. Warhammer 40k: Space Marine (Relic Entertainment, 2011)

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After having success with the Warhammer 40k license developing the well regarding Dawn of War RTS series, Relic Entertainment decided to try their hand at a third person action game with Warhammer 40k: Space Marine. Despite what many claimed before the game came out, this game was in fact not a Gears of War clone, but a fairly unique game that blended third person shooting and melee combat into a single enjoyable whole. The game really captured the weighty feeling of being a Space Marine, who are basically walking tanks. With this entertaining 40k experience, Relic once again showed the love and reverence they have for the Warhammer 40k universe.

7. Supreme Commander (Gas Powered Games, 2007)

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Acclaimed developer Chris Taylor marked his return to the RTS genre in 2007 with Supreme Commander. Serving as a sort of spiritual successor to his famous game Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander is a science fiction real time strategy game. It is a very large scale game, with a focus on huge battles involving hundreds of units at a time on enormous maps. A single match can take an absurd amount of time to complete, making this an RTS that requires much more of a dedicated commitment than some of the more casual friendly real time strategy games being released. Supreme Commander and its expansion were Gas Powered Games only collaboration with THQ, with the sequel being published  by Square Enix, so they will continue unaffected by THQ’s downfall.

6. Metro 2033 (4A Games, 2010)

Metro-2033

Most people would not expect a Ukrainian developed first person shooter based on a Russian novel to be very good, but they would be wrong. 4A games unique FPS doesn’t hide from what it is. It takes place in Russia, and doesn’t try at all to pander to western audiences. Some of the best parts of the game are the parts where the game slows down and you get to see something most fans of fiction are familiar with, people surviving in a post apocalyptic setting, but from a much different perspective than most of us are familiar with. It also helps that game had excellent visuals with an amazing atmosphere and solid gameplay. In the THQ asset auction, the rights to the Metro franchise were bought by Koch Media, whose games division Deep Silver will handle the publishing for the upcoming Metro: Last Light. 4A Games however, remains an independent developer.

Jan 262013
 

With the success of their Trackmania series, Ubisoft has decided to take the core concepts of that game, user generated content and perfectly balanced competitive play, and create a whole series of games under the “Mania Planet” banner. Trackmania 2 Canyon kicked off the Mania Planet initiative in 2011, with the subject of this article, Shootmania Storm, currently in public beta and the still unseen RPG Questmania seemingly still a ways off.

images2For those who are unfamiliar with it, Trackmania is an online only racing series that puts a focus on user created tracks, completely balanced multiplayer achieved by having only a single handling and acceleration model (basically a single car) applied to every vehicle., and time trial based gameplay with no vehicle collision (making every other player essentially a ghost).The goal of the expanded Mania series was to take these concepts and apply to other genres. Obviously a competitive shooter has to have more direct competition than time trials, but the other two concepts are core to the Shootmania experience as well.

Starting off with the elements of Trackmania that work well in Shootmania, the content creation tools are excellent. I’ll never be the type of the person to really put in the time and effort to make a worthwhile map, but the tools are certainly there for those want to dig in and make something. The game has both a simple editor and an advanced editor, so you could conceivable cut your teeth on the simpler editor and work your way to creating more elaborate maps. If the community for Shootmania is anything like the Trackmania community, people will find the good maps and make sure they get out there for all to play.

images1While the concept of user generated content is pretty successfully adopted from Trackmania and implemented into Shootmania, the competitive balancing another story. They were entirely successful in the fact that Shootmania is a perfectly balanced game, the problem lies in the fact having everyone with the same gun in a shooter is not nearly the same as everyone having the same car in a racing game. This is a case of trying to shoehorn a concept that works in one genre into another without actually considering if it makes sense. Playing a shooter where everyone has but a single gun is simply not a very engaging experience.

Making matters worse is the fact that the gun is not very fun to shoot. It is a very slow firing projectile weapon that is limited to four shots before an overheat. Even worse is just how slow the projectile moves; you have to be either very close or lead your shot perfectly to hit anyone. This just makes the gun feel very imprecise, every time you hit someone it feels like luck. Now, I’m sure some people that have played this game far more than I have will say it just takes getting used to and that it is possible to get good with the gun. That may very well be true, but getting better with it would not make it any less imprecise or slow firing.

Now, the game does have other weapons, but this is not like most twitch shooters where you find them on the map and pick them up. There are designated areas where you can use certain weapons, such as a railgun, but as soon as you move from that area your gun turns back into the starting gun. Because of the fast paced nature of the game, I found it unwise to stay still for too long, so the notion of standing in one spot to use a rail gun doesn’t seem like a very effective strategy. There are also some other game types that have you start with different weapons, but the majority of them all have you using the main gun, which is a real shame considering how bad it is.

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Ubisoft has been courting the e-sports crowd with Shootmania, and its easy to see why. The nature of the game means it’s always balanced, which is an important factor for e-sports games. However, I still think they could have kept the game balanced without going as far they did, or at least make the starting weapon better. The game can have perfect balance and hundreds of amazing user created maps, but if it isn’t fun to shoot in a game called Shootmania, it really doesn’t matter. I feel like they could have kept the mania spirit intact by looking closer at how the core concepts of the series would translate into a first person shooter, rather than simply introducing concepts that work in a racer without even tweaking them. It’s still early, the game is still in beta, but I can’t say I really want to play much more of it as it exists now.

Jan 222013
 

This week’s edition of Top 10 Tuesdays is the third installment of “This Year in Gaming,” but this time I decided to go with a more recent year. The last two installments have been more than a decade ago, but with the current console generation coming to close, I decided to look back at one of the best release years for the current systems. Not only did I have trouble narrowing this list down to only 10 games, but I even had to make some tough cuts for the five honorable mentions, and when you can go over 15 slots deep and still find fantastic games, you know it was an amazing year. The consoles really started hitting their stride a couple years into the cycle, and both 2007 and 2008 had a staggering number of excellent games. 2007 may have a slight advantage in terms of both quality and quantity of quality, but 2008 was still a historically great year.

*”HD”denotes a release on PC, PS3, and 360.

Honorable Mentions:

Left 4 Dead (PC, 360), LittleBigPlanet (PS3), Dead Space (HD), Burnout Paradise (HD), Rock Band 2 (Wii, PS2, PS3, 360),

10. Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)

Both the original Playstation and the PS2 had huge libraries of Japanese Role Playing Games, consisting of many all time classics, but even two years after launch RPG fans were still waiting for that defining JRPG for the PS3. Valkyria Chronicles wasn’t exactly the traditional JRPG people were waiting for, but it was an excellent turn based strategy game with some RPG trappings. Valkyria Chronicles ditched the grid based format most strategy RPGs used in favor of more open environments and greater player control. Utilizing a behind the back camera and action game like controls, Valkyria Chronicles kept the deep strategy while making the actual gameplay much more engaging. This game is probably not one of the most remembered or highest profile games of 2008, but I really enjoyed it.

9. Battlefield Bad Company (PS3, 360)

Battlefield has traditionally been a multiplayer only PC franchise, so when DICE announced Battlefield: Bad Company, a console only entry in the series with a focus on single player, people were rightfully skeptical. However, against all odds, Bad Company turned out great. The trademark Battlefield multiplayer was still intact, albeit in a more console friendly form, but the real standout here was the single player. Standing in stark contrast to most first person shooters, Bad Company’s campaign featured enormous, wide open environments with all kinds of vehicles and innovative destructible environments. Unlike it’s competition, Bad Company had a very lighthearted tone and succeeded mostly on the strength of its likeable characters and surprisingly well done humor. It’s a shame DICE drifted slightly away from this tone with the sequel and shifted completely to a cliché FPS story for Battlefield 3.

8. Fable II (360)

Fable was a pretty good action adventure/role playing game for the original Xbox, but ultimately failed to live up to the extremely hyperbolic promises of its creator, Peter Molyneaux. The sequel aimed to deliver more on the initial promise of the original game, and while it was certainly a much better game than the first, it once again failed to live up to Molyneaux’s vision of “the greatest role playing game of all time.” Over-hyping aside, Fable II was a great game that I personally got dozens of hours of enjoyment from. The game featured satisfying combat, a beautiful and expansive world, and that uniquely British sense of humor Lionhead has become known for. I consider Fable II the best game in the trilogy and the number 8 game of 2008.

7. Gears of War 2 (360)

Gears of War was a fantastic game. It set the standard for current generation graphical fidelity, it basically created the cover based shooter genre, and it established another mega franchise for the Xbox to sit alongside Halo. So obviously a sequel was inevitable, but Gears 2 certainly had a lot to live up to. In my opinion it surpassed the original in almost every conceivable way, and while Gears of War 3 has since surpassed Gears 2 in almost every conceivable way, it doesn’t diminish its quality. Gears 2 took the solid gameplay and design framework of the original and expanded upon it. The game wound up being almost twice as long as the original, it really blew out the multiplayer, adding tons of new modes, and upped the ante with spectacle, featuring many over the top boss fights and some improved storytelling. The Gears series is one that has gotten significantly better with each release, and as such Gears 2 is the second best game in the series.

6. Lost Odyssey (360)

I may not have played Lost Odyssey in 2008, having played it for the time quite recently as a “Bargain Bin Review”, but I still really enjoyed this game. Lost Odyssey is very much a classic JRPG with a modern coat of paint, but it worked for me because most of its gameplay and design concepts are taken straight out of what I consider the golden age for JRPGs. Lost Odyssey has an excellent story with some memorable characters and fantastic writing. I never would have though I would enjoy reading short stories in a video game, but the “Thousand Years of Dreams” sequences are some of the best moments of the game. Most people wouldn’t expect one of the best JRPGs of the entire console generation to be an Xbox exclusive, but that is the case with Lost Odyssey, and its my number 6 game of 2008.

Jan 082013
 

Last week I counted down my Top 10 Most Anticipated games of 2013, but about a year ago I did a similar list; the games of 2012 I was most looking forward to playing. I am currently working on my overall Top 10 of 2012, which will be next week’s list, but first I wanted to look back at the 10 games I was anticipating most in 2012 and see what became of them. Some met or exceed expectation, some failed to live up to the hype, while others still were pushed into 2013. For the games that did come out, I won’t necessarily be giving my own in depth opinions, I’ll instead be looking at the game’s overall success with a brief outline of my personal experience. Just a note, the order of these games is the original order I placed them in; the games of 2012 I was most looking forward to one year ago.

 

10. Halo 4 (343 Industries, Microsoft Studios)

Halo 4 was undoubtedly Microsoft’s biggest exclusive game of the year. The original reason this game made the list was because I have always been a big Halo fan, but the reason it was only number 10 was because I was very skeptical of the change in developers. After it release, the general consensus seems to be that 343 has made an excellent Halo game. The game has received almost universal acclaim, with GiR’s Josh Knowles giving the game a 9.8 as well. However, for me personally, this is not the Halo game I wanted to play. Part of that is likely that I felt the series came to a meaningful conclusion with Halo 3, and I just don’t really need anything that takes place after that. I am also past the point where I have any desire to get absorbed in an online shooter again. Halo 4 is without a doubt an extremely well made game in almost every aspect, it just went in a direction that I have no desire to follow.

 

9. Skyrim DLC (Bethesda Game Studios, Bethesda Softworks)

This year saw the release of several pieces of downloadable content for Skyrim, my 2011 game of the year, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t played any of them. The general consensus seems to be that most of the content is quite good, but at this point I have had my fill of Skyrim for a while. When I originally listed Skyrim DLC as my number 9 most anticipated release of 2012, I was nowhere near done with the game. I had spent around 100 hour with the game at that point and was making why through the content on the disc. By the time any significant DLC was released I was well over the 150 hour mark, and while I still haven’t done everything in the game, I don’t see myself coming back for a while. Don’t take this to mean I like the game less or regret naming it my game of the year for 2011, it’s just there is only so much time you can spend in a game before getting burnt out. I fully intend to finish all the on disc content and eventually get around to playing the DLC, I just need some time to re-acquire that itch.

8. Counter Strike: Global Offensive (Valve)

Looking back it’s interesting that I placed Countersrtrike GO on this list, because I really haven’t played a whole lot of it. There isn’t much to say about this game. After being in beta for quite a while, it finally launched last summer to very little fanfare. The only thing you can really say about the game is that it is certainly Countstrike. There are some minor changes and improvements, but for the most part it is the same game it has been for over a decade, which is good for those that like some Counterstrike, it just makes the game a bit uninteresting.

7. Prey 2 (Human Head Studio, Bethesda Softworks)

This is one of the most unfortunate stories of 2012. Prey 2 was one of the most exciting potential release of the year, and every time it was shown I wanted to play it even more. The unfortunate part is that the game did not come out in 2012, and is currently in development hell. At this point we don’t even know if the game is canceled, postponed, delayed, or what’s going on. There isn’t really much concrete information, but there have been several explanations thrown around such as Bethesda being unhappy with the game’s quality, developer Human Head Studios being displeased with the terms of their contract with Bethesda, and members of the development team being laid off. At this point we can only hope that these issues have been resolved and Prey 2 is still in development.

6. Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar North, Rockstar Games)

The inclusion of GTA V was more of a hope that it would come out in 2012 than an expectation, but I can’t say I was too surprised it didn’t release last year. There is less doubt that the game will come out this year, and in fact it made number 2 on my most anticipated games of 2013 list.

Dec 182012
 

Ever since the technology first made including music in video games a possibility, music has been an integral part of games. Whether you’re talking about the iconic chip tunes of the ’80s and ’90s or the grand orchestral soundtracks of today, there has been tons of amazing music across the history of video games. With the sheer amount of fantastic music that exists in games, it would be impossible for anyone to create a definitive list of the best video game soundtracks of all time; so I decided to simply count down my ten favorite video games soundtracks with auditory evidence to support each of my picks. This list will be limited to one entry per series, but remember these aren’t meant to represent the best games or my favorite installments in a given series, just the games with the best soundtrack. So, here are my ten favorite video game soundtracks of all time.

10. God of War (2005)

The soundtrack to God of War just perfectly captures the grand and epic feeling of the game. The game is all about intense action on a huge scale, and the music helps set this tone. The soundtrack for God of War is very much like that of a film score, but it works well with the games story and style. The entire trilogy has excellent music, but I chose the original simply because all three games have very similar soundtracks, so I went with the first one.

9. Sonic and Knuckles (1994)

I usually consider Sonic and 3 Knuckles one game because of the lock on feature and the single story, but in terms of music, they each have their own unique feel; and I vastly prefer Sonic and Knuckles. Don’t get me wrong, Sonic 3 certainly has some great music, especially the tracks that Michael Jackson worked on, but Sonic and Knuckles captures more of the that Sonic vibe. Sonic and Knuckles has got some of my absolute favorite level tracks from the series, with standouts being Lava Reef and Flying Battery.

8. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)

The Mario series is full of iconic music, but Super Mario Galaxy moves beyond simple nostalgia with an amazing fully orchestrated soundtrack. The soundtrack consists of both entirely original sweeping orchestrated tracks as well some remixes of classic Mario music. The NES games may have more iconic music, but Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel have great music regardless of your personal attachment to the series, which puts it a step up from most Mario titles.

7. Chrono Trigger (1995)

If you’ve read my “Top 10 Super Nintendo Games” list, you already know that Chrono Trigger is my favorite game for that system, but is also has some of the best music you’ll hear on the SNES. Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu once again showed that he was one of the best when it came to creating a memorable score despite the limitations of pre-CD consoles.

6. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (2006)

Both Persona 3 and Persona 4 are fantastic games and they are very similar to each other in many ways, which has sparked a recurring debate among fans as to which game is best. Each game has aspects that it does better than the other, and in my opinion the soundtrack for Persona 3 is just a hair better than Persona 4. I still can’t decide which game is better, but I feel confident saying that the Persona 3 soundtrack is slightly better.

Dec 112012
 

This past week Spike TV once again put on their annual Video Game Award show in Los Angeles, and as per usual the focus of the show was centered squarely on trailers and exclusive reveals rather than awards. I’ve never been a huge fan of the show itself, but I am always interested in the announcements and trailers that come out of it, and this year was no exception, with things like Dark Souls 2 and the possible Metal Gear Solid 5 tease currently known as “The Phantom Pain” being announced. These trailers got me thinking about what my favorite video game trailers of all time would be, and that of course led the creation of this list. Simply because the production quality has gone up along with the increased prominence of trailers over the past several years, this list will consist mostly of newer games. Also, for this list I am going to simply let the trailers speak for themselves, it should be clear why each of these is awesome.

10. DC Universe Online

9. Fallout 3

8. Assassin’s Creed

7. God of War III

6. Halo 3

Dec 072012
 

Japanese Role Playing games are nowhere near as popular in the west as they were in the ’90s, but that doesn’t mean there are any less of them being made. The big franchises, like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, are really the only JRPGs that achieve any sort of mainstream recognition in the west, but there are still plenty of smaller niche games being released, like the Atelier series from developer GUST. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland is the latest entry in the series, and the final installment of the current generation “Arland Trilogy”, which includes Atelier Rorona and Atelier Totori. I hadn’t played any games in the series prior to playing Atelier Meruru, but even so I was able to have a pretty good time with the game.

Most role playing games, Japanese or otherwise, tend to focus heavily on story and character development, and while there is a story in Atelier Meruru, it is by no means the driving force of the game; the plot is paper thin. The game stars Princess Merurulince, Meruru for short, on her journey to become a full blown alchemist and help develop her small hometown Arls into a major metropolis. Instead of being driven forward by the plot, you are given gameplay centric goals with a time sensitive element to keep you moving through the game. Other than some set up very early in the game, the story takes a back seat to the gameplay and character interactions. While the actual plot doesn’t really develop much throughout the course of the game, there is a lot of dialogue, most of it serving no purpose other than to develop the characters.

I enjoy games with a heavy emphasis on characters, and I really did give the game a fair chance to win me over, but I quickly found myself not caring for any of the characters. The writing, for one, is just not very compelling, whether it’s the fault of the original writers or the localization I can’t really say. I’m sure some people will enjoy the character stuff, but I found the dialogue to be extremely annoying, and after many hours of giving it the chance to win me over I eventually found myself skipping most of it. It also doesn’t help that it always feels like conversations are getting in the way of the gameplay. The way the game is structured, you are constantly going back and forth between the town and the outlying areas with a task at hand. Because you are free to do things at your leisure, there is no set time or place for dialogue to occur, so the game prompts conversations pretty much whenever you come back to town. When all you want to do is go buy some items or turn in a quest, the constant interruptions for uninteresting dialogue can get really frustrating.

As I said, the game isn’t really driven by the story, instead using game mechanics to keep things moving forward. Early in the game you are given a long term goal of developing Arls into a major city in 5 years time. You are also given shorter term goals such as development and population milestones at yearly intervals. With these goals in mind, you are given relative freedom to develop how you like by completing various quests and tasks. This creates an easily identifiable game loop that doesn’t really change much over the course of the 25-30 hours you’ll spend playing the game. You first accept all the quests and development tasks that are available to you, go out exploring into the world to complete them, and then return to town and cash them all in for money and development points. When viewed from an outside point of few, it sounds very monotonous, but because you always have lots of simple and easily attainable short term goals, the compulsion to keep playing is strong.

When you leave town to go out and explore, you are first limited to the surrounding areas of Arls, but more areas open up as the game progresses. Even so, the game doesn’t have a whole lot of unique areas to explore, so you’ll be revisiting the same areas quite often throughout the game. The areas themselves leave something to be desired as well. Areas are very small, usually with only a handful of enemies or NPCs each. Further into the game you come across larger areas and even some that could be classified as dungeons, but I didn’t encounter the first complex dungeon until the 15 hour mark.

The crux of the game is development, which is how you grow your population and expand your city. Completed quests will net you money and “popularity” (which increases the rate at which your population increases), while development tasks grant you development points, which are used to build the city. You spend development points on buildings, which each grant their own special bonuses in addition to increasing the overall level of your city and raising your population. The game gives you milestones for development and population to reach at specific intervals, but I never had a problem reaching them. This focus on town building is unique, and gives the game a very different feel from most “save the world” type role playing games.

As I said, the game gives you a lot of freedom with how you want to tackle various tasks and quests, but the main limiting factor is the time passage mechanics. Everything you do takes time, and you can easily find yourself blowing a week a more with poor time management. The crafting system (which I’ll get to a little later) is particularly rough on time, with some potions or items taking multiple days to synthesize. Because all your long term goals are time sensitive, the passage of time is always at the front of your mind, and it can add a bit of frustration to the back and forth nature of the game. Things can especially frustrating when you make a two week journey to edge of the game world, only to find that you need something from town to go any further, meaning you need to make another two week journey to town, get what you need, and then another two week journey to get back. It’s instances such as this that really make the time mechanics seem frustrating.

Unless you make the absolute most of your in-game time, you will undoubtedly reach the end of the 5 year limit before you see all the content in the game. When the credits rolled for me, though I had met all the long term goals, I still had many active quests and even some areas I had yet to explore, which was disappointing. I felt like someone had come in and taken the controller from me and said “you can’t play anymore”. I’d like to have seen all the game has to offer, but I saw the credits, I finished the game. I’m not about to play for another 25 hours just get back to that point in the game. I understand that the design is rewarding you for making the best use of your time, but I don’t see how anyone other than veterans of the series will be able see all the content in the game on their first playthrough, and that’s just an unfortunate element of the game’s design.

Dec 042012
 

Persona 4 Golden recently came out on the Vita, which is a remake of one of the best JRPGs of all time, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. This release got me thinking about the nature of remakes and their place in the industry, which obviously led to this edition of Top 10 Tuesdays. Like with movies, as long as someone, somewhere in the world remembers a specific game fondly, there will be those that try to capitalize on those feelings by remaking and re-releasing the game. Like with most things, game remakes have the potential to be either genuinely great or a shameless cash grab. In my mind, the best remakes improve the original experience while also keeping intact the elements that made the game great in the first place. The following ten games are what I consider to be the best remakes of all time. Just a note, HD Collections are an altogether different beast, so to qualify for this list the game must have something new, whether that be new content, added functionality or shiny new graphics; as long as there is something new other than simply running in 720p, it qualifies. Also, Persona 4 Golden is too new to be on this list.

10. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES (2008, PS2)

Persona 3 is an excellent game, and Persona 3 FES made some key additions to make the experience even better. The biggest addition is the 30 hour epilogue that may as well be a full on sequel. While most fans agree the epilogue, called “The Answer”, is not quite as good as the core game, the fact that the length of the game (which was already in the 80-100 hour range) was increased by so much makes this one of the most expansive remakes on this list. Aside from the epilogue, FES also had new Personas and social links integrated into the main game. While Persona 3 Portable for the PSP did come out after FES and made some excellent improvements, most notably being able to directly control your party members, the limitations of the PSP hurt the experience. P3 Portable is missing all of the anime cutscenes and has far less freedom of movement, in addition to lacking “The Answer”. So, while P3P had some great improvements, FES is still the superior remake of Persona 3.

9. Metroid: Zero Mission (2004, GBA)

Metroid Zero Mission is a Game Boy Advance remake of the original NES classic; Metroid. The game tells the same story of the original game and takes place roughly in the same locations, but this is so much more than a simple re-skin. Zero Mission is more akin to film style remakes rather than the traditional improved graphics and added features of most video game remakes. What I mean by this is that Zero Mission is a re-telling of the original, but with a more modern production. It takes a lot of the gameplay and design concepts introduced in Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, rather than strictly adhering to the exact gameplay and design of the NES original. The result is a game that plays like a more modern 2D Metroid while still maintaining the feel of the original.

8. Perfect Dark (2010, XBLA)

The original Perfect Dark back on the N64 was without a doubt the best shooter available for that console, but it was still limited by the fact that it was on the N64. The remake released on Xbox Live Arcade took everything that was great about Perfect Dark and removed most the limitations imposed upon it by the nature of the N64. The biggest improvement was the presence of modern dual analog controls, but it had slick new HD visuals as well. Multiplayer was a huge component of the original, both with competitive and cooperative modes, and the 360 version brought all these modes onto Xbox Live. All these additions along with the now constant 60 frames per second made the XBLA version of Perfect Dark far better than the original.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (2011, 3DS)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest games of all time, and the remake for the 3DS showed just how well the game holds up today. The core game was largely unchanged from a gameplay perspective, with the real standout improvements being the visuals. The completely redone visuals instantly make the game look more modern, but there are more subtle changes as well. This version of the game includes “Master Quest” which is basically a new game plus mode where the dungeons are rearranged and the enemies are more difficult. Other than the visuals, not a whole lot was done to the game, but with a game this good, it isn’t really necessary.

6. Pokemon FireRed/ LeafGreen (2004, GBA)

The original Pokemon entries (Red and Blue) are some of my favorite games of all time, and the remakes on the GBA were a great addition to that legacy. FireRed and LeafGreen were fairly faithful remakes of the first generation of Pokemon games, but with some improvements. The visuals and music were obviously greatly improved over the originals, bringing them more in line with the other Pokemon games on the GBA. The game also included many features that were present in subsequent Pokemon games, such as double battles, and even added in new areas and Pokemon. The core game remained mostly the same, but the improved presentation and added featured brought these classic games into the then current generation.

Nov 272012
 

This being the first generation with high definition capable consoles, it also marks the beginning of a new trend in re-releasing old games; the HD Collection. Because they ran at much lower resolutions than modern games, rendering games from the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube era in high definition makes them look instantly better at a much cheaper development cost than doing a full remake. Sony has been leading the charge with HD Collections, but other publishers have gotten in on the action too, like Capcom, Namco Bandai, Ubisoft, and Konami. The results can be hit or miss, with some games playing and looking better than ever in HD, while others serve as a harsh reminder of the changing standards and design philosophies. The Zone of the Enders HD Collection, which includes both Zone of the Enders games, manages to simultaneously be both a hit and a miss, making it a great example of how smart improvements and changes can turn a good idea with flawed execution into a great sequel.

Just a note, I never played these games in their original form on the Playstation 2, so I am judging them primarily on their merits as games released in 2012, and to a lesser extent their quality as HD re-releases.

Now, having only a limited knowledge of the series prior to playing these updated versions, I had high hopes for the story. Any game with the name Kojima on it comes with certain expectations regarding the story and presentation, but both Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner come up short in this respect. In the first game, you play as Leo, a preteen boy who stumbles upon “Jehuty”, a cutting edge orbital frame (basically a giant flying mech with guns and a sword), and tries to escape the city sized space station where he lives as it is attacked by an enemy force. The story has the type of cinematic presentation you would expect from a Kojima game, but there are key aspects of the storytelling that really hold it back.

For one, the localization is very poor. Dialogue comes off as very stiff and unnatural sounding, which is done no favors by the terrible voice acting. I was really surprised by the bad voice work, given how good the voice performances are in the Metal Gear Solid games. I found myself frequently laughing at loud at the awful line readings, which is really a problem in a game that keeps a serious tone throughout. The sub-par voice performances combined with poor localization make the story very hard to get invested in, despite a few interesting plot elements. Even if you could get into some of the overall plot development, the annoying main character and lack of any real resolution make it less fulfilling than what you’d expect out a Kojima story.

In The 2nd Runner, you play as a new character, Dingo, who becomes Jehuty’s new pilot. The plot of the second game focuses more on the large scale conflict and universe building than the first game, making it instantly better from a story standpoint. Unfortunately, the same localization and voice acting issues of the first game plague the sequel as well. In fact, The 2nd Runner puts more emphasis on story than the original, so while the plot and characters are better, the unnatural dialogue and poor delivery become more prevalent. However, the story is still much better than the first, with a much clearer plot progression and a definite ending with a satisfying resolution. As a package, the story elements are really disappointing. Even more disappointing is the fact that with this re-release they had the opportunity to improve the localization and re-cast the voice actors, but decided that what was already there was good enough. For the story aspects of these games to be acceptable in 2012, they really should have gone the extra mile and improved the parts of it that they could.

While the story aspects of these two games are pretty much equally disappointing, almost every other aspect is much better in The 2nd Runner than the original game. The biggest failing of the first game is the level design. The whole game takes place on a domed city that orbits Jupiter, which results in almost no level variety. The game only has a handful of levels, which are almost all simply square shaped urban environments. The levels aren’t linear, instead being more like big arenas with the goal simply being to kill every enemy and then move to the next level. Some levels have objectives that require you find an object to proceed, but the objects you must find are usually on an unspecified previous level. This means you have to pick a level at random and then kill all the enemies, hoping you picked the right one. So, what the game boils down to are a handful of levels that you wind up playing 2 or more times each over the course of the game. The end result is a 5 hour game that is sorely lacking in content with far too much backtracking and padding.

Luckily, the level design was vastly improved for the second game. The 2nd Runner completely removes the ability to go back to previous levels, meaning the game is always moving forward; no more backtracking, no more padding and no more square arenas. The levels are much bigger, but the biggest improvement is the overall design of the levels and the more linear progression. Instead of square areas with a set number of enemies to kill, each level feels different, and there are even some big set pieces such as chasing a speeding train through a tunnel and a giant airship battle high in the sky. The second game also has a great deal more content than the first, clocking in at 7-9 hours. Basically, from a design standpoint, the original game is fraught with issues while the sequel is much better executed, still holding up well by today’s standards.

Even with its myriad design issues, I still found myself enjoying the first game, mostly because of the engaging combat. Jehuty is a very capable mech, with both long range and melee options as well as additional “sub weapons” that you gain as you progress through the game. When in combat, you automatically lock onto enemies, allowing you to strafe around and easily target them with ranged attacks. The lock on is helpful, but all too often the camera doesn’t want to cooperate. Switching to the specific enemy you want can be difficult and the camera often gives you bad angles and gets caught up on the environment. Despite the camera issues, both long range and melee combat are immediately satisfying, though not perfect. The main issue is the extreme lack of difficulty (on the normal setting). You can get through the entire game by simply dashing at and killing pretty much every enemy with your sword. The lack of challenge can make the game feel repetitive, especially because there isn’t really much variety in the encounter types. There are occasional boss fights, but they mostly just involve firing until the health bar hits zero, without much need for strategy.

The combat in The 2nd Runner is mostly unchanged from the first game, but there are some key improvements. The biggest improvement is the added element of challenge. AI behaviors are much more complex, making for a much more difficult overall experience, even on the normal setting. You can no longer simply rush every enemy, and knowing the specific tendencies and weaknesses of the various enemy types is key to moving forward. The game demands that you make skillful use of both melee and ranged combat, as well as knowing how to properly use your arsenal of sub weapons and having a solid grasp on the concepts of blocking and dashing. Bosses are also a big improvement in the second game. There are many more boss encounters, and each is unique and challenging. Pattern recognition and quick reflexes are key to defeating the bosses, and you will find yourself trying and failing with different techniques before you stumble upon the bosses weakness. The second game definitely has better combat, but all the camera issues from the first game are still present. Despite some issues, both games are vary enjoyable from a gameplay perspective, but once again The 2nd Runner is the clear winner in this respect.

As one would guess, the biggest area of improvement for most HD Collections is the presentation, specifically the visuals, and this is also the case with the Zone of the Enders HD Collection. In both games, Jehuty and the other mechs look great rendered in HD, but some other elements of the presentation don’t convert quite as well, particularly in the first game. In the first game, the particle effects (fire in particular) look really dated, and the skyboxes look low res. While also just more technically impressive, the sequel really benefits from slightly more stylized visuals. I always find that stylized graphics tend to hold up better over time than those with a more a realistic style, and The 2nd Runner is a perfect example. The graphics have a bit of cell shaded look to them, which makes the environments and effects look much better in comparison to the first game.

Both games utilize pre-rendered cinematics as well as in engine cutscenes, and once again The 2nd Runner is the better of the two. The first game uses CGI cutscenes, and they do not hold up very well. Unlike the in engine cutscenes, the CG cinematics don’t benefit from the HD conversion, which doesn’t do any favors to the already dated looking early 2000s CGI. The 2nd Runner ditched the CG in favor of anime cutscenes, which holds up much better than the CGI. The animated cutscenes aren’t HD either, but obviously anime is a more timeless form of animation than the ever improving nature of CGI. Performance wise, the game runs quite well. I’ve heard the PS3 version has some performance issues, but I can’t personally speak to that. I played the 360 version and the frame rate was almost always smooth during gameplay, though the in-engine cutscenes didn’t run as well for some reason.

Audio wise, both games are a mixed bag. I’ve already detailed the bad voice acting, which is equally bad in both games, but the other elements of the audio presentation fare much better. The music is a perfect fit for these games. They feature a lot electronic music with thumping bass and a fast tempo. The second game features some more low key tracks to accompany the cutscenes, but still has plenty of up tempo battle music. I liked most of the music, and it almost always fit the tone of the situation, which what a good game soundtrack should do.

If you’re a fan of the Zone of the Enders series, you’re likely to enjoy this HD re-release. At least on Xbox 360, this is a competently made update to two classic games. If you’ve never played the games before, I would absolutely recommend this collection if only for Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. The first game has it’s fair share of issues, but the sequel is absolutely worth playing. It’s unfortunate more wasn’t done to fix some of the problems with these games, but as is you’re getting one flawed but interesting game and one excellent game that everyone should play.

XBox 360

Graphics

80
 

Audio

55
 

Gameplay

90

Creativity

75
 

Execution

70
 

Offset

80
    

7.5

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

Pros:

  • Both games have engaging combat
  • Music in both games fits well
  • Visuals look great in HD, particularly those of The 2nd Runner
  • The 2nd Runner adds a welcome level of challenge
  • The 2nd Runner is a fun 7-9 hour experience

Cons:

  • Both games have bad voice acting
  • Both games have sub-par localization
  • Original game is rife with design issues
  • Original game is too easy

 

Nov 272012
 

It’s Tuesday, and this week I am going to be taking another look into the past with the second installment of “This Year in Gaming”. In each This Year in Gaming installment I pick a year at random and then run down what I consider to be the ten best games released in that year. The subject of this list is 1996. Overall, 1996 wasn’t quite as good as some years, and certainly not as good as 2001, the last entry of “This Year in Gaming”. 1996 saw the release of the Nintendo 64, the Playstation and Saturn entered their second year on the market, with the Playstation gaining popularity and the Saturn continuing to sputter. As games moved into 3 dimensions, many developers struggled translating 2D design concepts to 3D, making 1996 a year with some industry wide growing pains. Despite the challenges of the new consoles and paradigm shift in the fundamentals of gaming, 1996 still had some great games, and these are the best of them.

Honorable Mentions:

Crash Bandicoot (PS1), Metal Slug (Arcade, Neo Geo), Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (PS1), Duke Nukem 3D (PC), Twisted Metal 2 (PS1)

10. Mario Kart 64 (N64)

The original Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo was a fun arcade racing game that sported some impressive graphics for the console, but Mario Kart 64 really took the series to new heights. The biggest addition to Mario Kart 64 is the increase from 2 players to 4. The power of the N64 also allowed for much more elaborate and unique track designs. Mario Kart 64 took the blueprint of the original and simply improved upon it in almost every way.

9. Tomb Raider (Saturn, PS1)

At the time of its release, Tomb Raider was a very impressive game that really showed what the new CD based game consoles could do. The game mixed both platforming and gunplay to great affect, and was also one of the first games to go for a more realistic approach to platforming. Instead of jumping on floating platforms and such, the player had to traverse more natural environments by jumping and climbing. The game may not hold up very well by today’s standards, but it gave birth to Lara Croft, one of the most iconic video game characters of all time and also served as the inspiration for many games to come after it, notably the Uncharted series.

8. Command and Conquer: Red Alert (PC)

A spin off of the popular Command and Conquer series, Red Alert has it’s own style, which many fans actually prefer to the main series. Red Alert takes place in an alternate World War II where Hitler was killed before declaring war, so instead Russia invades Europe. Red Alert features the same style of live action cutscenes as the original Command and Conquer, but has a more humorous overall tone. The game features the same type of deep strategy and base building elements as the original C&C, but with entirely new factions.

7. Suikoden (PS1)

With the new generation of consoles, RPG fans were eagerly awaiting the next big game. Coming off the amazing Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI on the Super Nintendo, fans could not wait for the next great Squaresoft RPG. However, Final Fantasy VII wouldn’t hit the Playstation until early 1997, so the big Playstation RPG of 1996 was Konami’s Suikoden. The game is revered by fans for its interesting story, large cast of characters, and interesting use of both traditional turn based combat as well as large scale battles.

6. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (PC)

The Elder Scrolls series is one of the biggest RPG franchises in gaming today, but it didn’t garner any real mainstream recognition until The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in 2006, and to a lesser extent, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind in 2002. However, PC fans had loved the series years before it started getting real popular, and The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was an excellent game in 1996. Much of what people associate with the series today was present even back in 1996, and that is really what differentiated the series from other Computer RPGs of the time. Daggerfall had a ridiculously huge open world, unheard of levels of freedom, and action oriented first person combat.

Nov 202012
 

The Wii U is here, and what better time to look back at the best games the Wii had to offer. The Wii wound up being one of the most successful consoles of all time from a pure sales perspective, but most hardcore gamers agree it didn’t have as much to offer from a software perspective as some of the other most successful consoles like the PS2 or DS. While it didn’t have as many excellent games as it’s HD competitors, most of the Wii’s library were exclusive games, and the best the Wii had to offer was just as good as what you’d find on the PS3 or 360. So, here are what consider the ten best games for the Wii. Just one note, The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess was included on my “Best Gamecube Games” list, and since that is the better version, it won’t be on this list.

10. Sonic Colors (Sonic Team/Sega, 2010)

Judged from a purely objective perspective, Sonic Colors is not one of the ten best games on the Wii. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a good game, and one of the best Sonic games of the past 15 years, but it did have some issues, especially compared to the much improved Sonic Generations (which wasn’t released on the Wii). But, this is my list after all, and I quite enjoyed Sonic Colors. Sonic Unleashed laid the groundwork for this game, but Colors really refined the style and removed the awful Werehog stages. The main thing holding it back was the somewhat odd jumping controls, but other than that Sonic Colors was a big step forward for 3D Sonic games, setting things up for the excellent Sonic Generations a year later.

9. Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Good Feel/Nintendo, 2010)

While many were disappointed with its deviation from the typical Kirby style, Epic Yarn was simply a delightful game. The game wasn’t difficult or mechanically deep, but it’s total commitment to the visual style shines through in every aspect of the game. This game managed to be one of the best looking games of recent memory, even on the technically modest Wii. Epic Yarn isn’t about weaving some though provoking narrative or breaking the player’s will with extreme challenge; it’s a simply an amazing cute platformer with solid gameplay that takes place in a charming world with an unbelievable well realized aesthetic.

8. Wii Sports (Nintendo, 2006)

For much of the new audience the Wii introduced to gaming, Wii Sports was the Wii. While the main reason for this is the fact that grandparents and stay at home moms typically aren’t interested in things like Zelda or Metroid, it is also testament to how good Wii Sports turned out. As a means of showing what the makes the new console you just bough unique, Wii Sports was a complete success. It’s fun yet familiar mini games were perfect at introducing the concept of motion controls to both the new casual audience and more experience gamers picking up the new Nintendo console.

7. Donkey Kong Country Returns (Retro Studios/Nintendo, 2010)

After completing the Metroid Prime trilogy, Retro moved on to another long dormant Nintendo franchise, Donkey Kong. Ever since Rare was purchased by Microsoft there hadn’t been a proper Donkey Kong game, but Retro brought the series back to its 2D roots with Donkey Kong Country Returns. The game played just like the old SNES games, with fair but difficult challenge and clever level design. I look forward to seeing what Nintendo franchise Retro revives next, my hope is for Star Fox.

6. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Retro Studios/Nintendo, 2007)

I always find it both funny and disappointing whenever I hear someone say they didn’t like, or worse, didn’t even try any of the Meroid Prime games because “they turned Metroid into a first person shooter”. The Metroid Prime games are as close to being shooters as Skyrim or Oblivion. These games capture the essence and core design sensibilities of the classic Metroid, they just happen to take place from a first person perspective, and in that respect they are for more faithful to the originals than Other M. Now, Metroid Prime 3 is not the best the game in the series, but it is still an excellent experience from start to finish.

Nov 172012
 

When Zone of the Enders came out back in 2001 it was an instant hit, but not for the typical reasons. Many ran out day 1 to buy the game, but couldn’t care less about actually playing it. No, the real reason so many clamored for the release of Zone of the Enders was to play the exclusive Metal Gear Solid 2 demo that was included with the game. In keeping with tradition, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection comes with a demo for the forthcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which is currently not available on either PSN or Xbox Live.

Metal Gear Solid: Rising at E3 2010

Metal Gear Rising has gone through a very difficult development cycle. The game was originally known as Metal Gear Solid: Rising and was first announced at E3 2009. After presenting an interesting watermelon themed demo at E3 2010 to show off the game’s unique cutting mechanics, Kojima Productions found themselves struggling to build a full game that revolved around being able to cut anything. They eventually canceled the game, opting to instead hand off development to Platinum Games, the studio responsible for some of the most well received Japanese action games of the current generation including Bayonetta and Vanquish. That pedigree is certainly apparent in the short demo for Metal Gear Rising, and while I’m still not quite sure how the final game will turn out, I found the demo to be quite fun.

Being a third person melee action game, Rising obviously shares a lot in common with Bayonetta, but it definitely has a distinctly Metal Gear sensibility. Even in the short demo, there were plenty of cutscenes with lots of dialogue. While Kojima’s team may not be the ones developing the game, you can definitely feel his influence with the cutscenes and cinematic direction. The cutscenes aren’t afraid to run longer than the average, and the choreography and direction are exactly what you’d expect from a Metal Gear game. The game takes place after Metal Gear Solid 4, and while there are brief mentions of the fall of SOP and its effect on PMCs and the “War Economy”, you won’t be confusing this for Metal Gear Solid 5; this is absolutely a new story.

Gameplay wise, Metal Gear Rising seems very polished. If you go in expecting this be a God of War style game that you can just breeze through with the basic light, light, heavy combo; you’re in for a bit of a rude awakening. Unsurprisingly given the developer’s history, this game shares a lot more in common with games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta than more western styled melee combat games, and you can certainly expect some challenge. Raiden takes a fair bit of damage when struck and you’ll have to learn how to properly parry to have any success.

The free form cutting that was the core of the original concept is still present in this version of the game, and it adds some interesting gameplay wrinkles. You build up charge for “blade mode” as you kill enemies, which allows you slow down time and make precision sword strikes. These strikes are usually a one hit kill on regular enemies, allowing you to chop them in pieces of any shape or size. Against stronger enemies like Gekkos, blade mode will be nothing more than a regular attack unless you’ve weakened part of their body with regular strikes first, which will then result in the Gekko being cut into numerous pieces as you swing away at the weakened parts. Blade Mode may come off as nothing more than a gimmick, but I found myself enjoying it.

Platinum did take some steps to keep the gameplay feeling like a Metal Gear game, though mostly to the detriment of the experience. There are some light stealth elements at some points, but I found them to poorly executed and unnecessary. There aren’t really any stealth mechanics in the game, Raiden is always standing straight up and moving quickly, so the parts of the game that reward you for killing silently feel like the game is encouraging you to do something it wasn’t designed for. Another nod to the main series is the way inventory is handled, which works just fine. Being able to hold onto health items instead of using them right away is a feature that most games of this genre don’t include, and I found it quite useful.

Graphically, Metal Gear Rising is quite impressive, with the type of really polished looking cinematic effects we’ve come to expect from the series and some impressive character models and environments. A huge plus is the game’s performance, which runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. I’ve heard the PS3 version has some problems, though I can’t personally speak to that. I played the 360 version and it was constantly smooth and without issue. Voice acting seemed good, and I actually found myself really enjoying the music. It’s quite different from the very movie-like scores you’d find in the main series, but I felt like it fit the game well.

Ever since I heard about the shift to Platinum Games, I have had tentatively high expectations for Metal Gear Rising. Even though Metal Gear Solid 4 was by far the best playing game in the series, it wasn’t quite up to the standards of the best action games, and I still enjoyed the over-the-top craziness of the storyline and the cutscenes far more than the actual gameplay. Ideally, Metal Gear Rising will combine the plot insanity and cinematic prowess of the Metal Gear Solid series with the satisfying action gameplay Platinum is known for. While this demo did not fully convince me that this will be the reality of Metal Gear Rising, it didn’t convince me otherwise either, and I’m still looking forward to the full release with hopes of greatness.

Nov 132012
 

If there is one thing that tends to define any given match of a multiplayer game, it’s the map on which it is played. A good variety of maps is very important in the re-playability and overall longevity of multiplayer focused games, but sometimes all you need is one. The following 10 maps are what I consider to be the most memorable and iconic multiplayer maps in gaming history. These maps are synonymous with the games and series they’re from, and almost certainly dominate the online servers. This list is not limited to shooters, but shooters will make up the majority of the list.

10. Gridlock (Gears of War series)

This is the newest map on this list, making its debut in the original Gears of War back in 2006. Gridlock was the clear standout map from that original game, and has been present in ever Gears of War game to date. Like most Gears of War maps, Gridlock is symmetrical, with two key points of contention. Most of the fighting revolved around either the sniper rifle or the boomshot, with the grenade spawn sometimes producing heated battles as well. Gridlock was far and away the most played map in Gears of War and has remained the most map in the series.

9. Wake Island (Battlefield series)

Making it’s debut in the original Battlefield 1942, and appearing in almost every subsequent release in the series, Wake Island is Battlefield’s representative on this list. The horseshoe shape of the map combined with the spawn and objective locations is perfectly suited to create the type of encounters that only happen in Battlefield. Wake Island is the type of map that you’ll only find in a Battlefield game, with a huge total size, tons of vehicles of air, land, and sea variety, and one team spawning on an air craft carrier in the middle of the ocean.

8. The Longest Yard (Quake 3: Arena)

Appearing in the pre-release demo for Quake 3, Q3Test, the instant popularity of this map likely had a negative affect on the success of Quake 3. Fans took an immediate love to this map, so much so that many felt the existence of the demo with this map made a purchase of the full game completely unnecessary; they could already play on the game’s best map for free. The Longest Yard remained the most popular map in the full game, despite the variety of maps available, but even more remarkable is the fact that Q3Test continued to have a steady player base for years after the full game was released.

7. Defense of the Ancients (Warcraft 3, League of Legends, Dota 2)

The mod that created a genre, Defense of the Ancients has gone on to be featured in various games under different names, but the layout always remains almost identical. However, this is on a completely different level than the other entries on this list. Sure, Wake Island is probably the most played Battlefield map of all time, but an entire genre of games exists where the only map that anyone plays is this one.

6. Facility (Goldeneye, Perfect Dark)

When I played Goldeneye and Perfect Dark split screen with my friends and my brothers, we almost always played Facility exclusively, but I thought it was just us. Little did I know that pretty much everyone that played these games played almost exclusively on Facility. Now, obviously with the rather isolated nature of local only multiplayer, individual groups have their own preferences, but I was really surprised years later when I learned that a large percentage of people loved Facility as much as I did.

Nov 122012
 

Early on in this generation, Microsoft was putting quite a bit of effort into trying to get the Xbox 360 to catch on in Japan. While at this point the 360 is well and truly dead in Japan, it performed far better in the region than the original Xbox, even if it was still well behind the Wii and PS3. Any success the 360 did achieve in the land of the rising sun can be largely attributed to the several exclusive Japanese style role playing games Microsoft scooped up, like Blue Dragon, The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, and the subject of this Bargain Bin Review; Lost Odyssey. Lost Odyssey was developed by Feel Plus under the direction of Mistwalker and was released back in early 2008.

As one would expect from a JRPG, story is a main focus of Lost Odyssey. By now most people are aware of a lot the classic tropes and clichés that JRPG stories tend to rely on, and while there is some of that in Lost Odyssey, it manages to avoid common JRPG storytelling traps; for the most part. I actually found the story in Lost Odyssey to be the best part of the game, which isn’t to say other parts of the game aren’t good as well, the story is just excellent. You play as Kaim Argonar, and immortal that has lived for over a thousand years, though he can only remember the last few decades. As the game progresses he meets other immortals and eventually pieces together their connection to one another and the nature of their immortality. The characters are a major highlight of the story. Each of the game’s 9 characters feels unique, and they mostly avoid falling into the classic anime archetypes. You’ll find yourself actually caring about most of the characters by the end, even if some can be a bit annoying at times. The story takes several twists and turns along the way and remains interesting throughout, which is mostly a result of the great writing.

A lot of JRPGs can tend to be very cheesy, whether because of bad translation or just cultural differences, and while there is some of that in Lost Odyssey, for the most part the story keeps a serious tone and presents the situations that arise with the proper weight. The game deals with love, loss, betrayal, ambition, and war in very thought provoking ways and you can expect the game to elicit genuine emotion as you play. In addition to the excellent storytelling of the core narrative, the game also features some extremely well written, emotionally moving short stories in the form of dreams. At various points in the game, Kaim will remember something from the past thousand years, and the game will prompt one of these dream sequences. There are no graphics or voice over for these dreams, just text with music and ambient sound effects. The minimalist style works because the short stories are so interesting, usually illustrating a specific theme, often showing just how much immortality would color an individuals view of the world. If you play games at least in part for story, you’re likely to find a lot to like about Lost Odyssey.

While the story does a lot to avoid the common tropes of the genre, the design and gameplay is rooted squarely in the mold of classic JRPGs, which is at times both great and frustrating. Many modern JRPGs make misguided attempts to “modernize”, or even worse “westernize” the design or gameplay, but luckily Lost Odyssey knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to be something else. The game was directed and overseen by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the legendary creator of the Final Fantasy series, and it unsurprising shares a lot in common with Final Fantasy, particularly the PS1 era games. You move through the game in a linear but unrestricted fashion, with combat areas and dungeons being broken up by the occasional town. The game has a very traditional leveling system, meaning you level up quite often, but don’t any have any control over stat points. There are some unique elements though, mostly involving the immortal characters.

Of the 9 characters, 4 are immortal and the other 5 or mortals. Mortals gain skills like any JRPG, meaning skills are learned at predetermined levels. Immortals don’t learn skills naturally, instead learning them from the mortals. This basically means that your immortals can learn any skill in the game, as long as the skill is linked and the immortal fights alongside their benefactor long enough to gain the necessary skill points to learn it. Immortals have a limited number of skill slots, though more can be added as the game goes. While the system does give you great control over outfitting your immortals with the skills you want, it does necessitate a lot of grinding, first to level your mortals to learn new skills, and then to link them to your immortals. The need for grinding is somewhat alleviated by the fact that your party consists of 5 characters, allowing you to level more than half your total group at a time.

While it is great to see a current generation JRPG get back to the roots of what made the genre so popular in the ’90s, with the classic format also comes some of the classic issues. This game has random encounters, a rather frustrating design feature that was made obsolete all the way back in ’95 with Chrono Trigger. While the very fact that random encounters are present may be enough to turn some people off immediately, I must stress that they aren’t as bad here as in some of the older Final Fantasy games. The frequency that the random encounters occur is quite low; often enough so that you’re fighting an appropriate amount in dungeons but not enough so that you’re getting in fights every two steps. Another frustrating hold over from classic JRPGs is the fact that only the characters in your party level up, meaning you’ll need to grind with your bench to keep all the characters around the same level. I mentioned earlier that the skill link feature can involve some grinding,which is true, but overall the game doesn’t demand much grinding to progress. I wound up grinding a lot simply because I was a perfectionist with skill linking, but the difficulty increase is such that simply making your way through the game at a normal pace should keep you appropriately leveled without much need for grinding.

The main gameplay component of this type of game is obviously combat, and like most of the game, the combat in Lost Odyssey is very traditional. The combat is purely turn based, no active time and no action element. There is timing element involved in physical attacks to determine how much of an effect your weapon enhancements will have, but otherwise it’s a pretty standard turn based system. While I personally love a really well done turn based battle system, if you’re looking for some innovation here, you’ll be disappointed. The combat is very simple, with your basic attack, skill, magic, item system of commands. It’s got your typical weakness/resistance system governed by enemy type and elemental affinity, status ailments, and buffs/debuffs. A slightly unique feature is the notion of party formation, with back row characters taking less damage than front row characters. While the combat is very standard, it’s got enough nuance to require strategic thinking. I know when it comes to JRPGs I’ll always take a well done strategic turn based battle system over bad real time action, and Lost Odyssey certainly fits that bill.

Visually, there is a lot about Lost Odyssey that looks outdated, but 4 years of technical improvements notwithstanding, the presentation is a real high point. At the time this game was released, the graphics were quite impressive, and while they don’t look as cutting edge today, they are still pretty good. The cutscenes however, still hold up quite well. The game has a lot of really lavish CG cutscenes that look absolutely fantastic, but even the majority of the in-engine cutscenes have some nice animations and impressive direction. The visual presentation is overall very polished, especially for a 2008 game; the only negative being some minor and fairly uncommon frame rate drops.

The music was done by legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, a man who is responsible for some of the most memorable and iconic music in video game history, and the soundtrack in Lost Odyssey is up to his usual high standards. The music complements the fantastic writing and storytelling very well, keeping the presentation quality high. Voice acting is probably the presentation’s weakest aspect, though there are certainly some good performances here. The majority of the main cast is solid, with a only one or two exceptions. As is commonplace with the genre, there are some parts of the game, mostly side quests, that aren’t voiced at all, which is disappointing even if it’s to be expected.

Lost Odyssey is definitely a worthwhile experience. The story and writing are absolutely top notch, with some well rounded characters and some pretty moving emotional storytelling, both in game and in the form of short stories. The design and gameplay are fairly by the books for the genre, but are nevertheless well crafted. You can easily expect to get 50+ hours of enjoyment out of the game if you decide to tackle some of the side quests, which makes this game a great value as a bargain bin title. New copies of Lost Odyssey are actually pretty rare and expensive, but you should have no problem finding a used copy for around $10 at the typical online and brick and mortar retailers. I would absolutely recommend Lost Odyssey for full retail price, but at $10 it’s an absolute no-brainer for RPG fans.

XBox 360

Graphics

80
 

Audio

90
 

Gameplay

90

Creativity

60
 

Execution

95
 

Offset

100
    

8.6

  

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Pros:

  • Excellent Writing
  • Interesting Characters
  • Solid Combat
  • 50+ Hours Of Content
  • Captures What’s Great About The Genre

Cons:

  • Some Elements Of The Presentation Look Dated
  • Does Little To Push The Genre Forward