When you enter this game, you are dumped unceremoniously into a star and cloud-filled void. You are given no context,no prompts, no direction. If you activate your thrusters and wander a bit, you find three glowing portals.
Through these portals, you find three abandoned alien worlds. The ultimate meaning and story of these worlds is entirely up to you.
Float through the nothingness or don’t, Elegy doesn’t care.
Elegy for a Dead World
Release Date: December 10, 2014
Elegy for a Dead World is an interactive series of writing prompts where you are the last survivor of a group exploring the beautiful, desolate tapestries of abandoned alien landscapes. You can choose to fill in the blanks within someone else’s writing, do grammar exercises where you correct statements that appear at certain points in the landscape, or go full blank slate and write whatever you want, wherever you want.
Between the three wormholes in space and the game’s bleak, almost philosophical tone, it’s hard to not draw parallels between it and the movie Interstellar. Every line I wrote, I heard in the voice of a pontificating Matthew McConaughey.
Use the game’s prompts to fill out its story or write your own.
An Experiment in Fiction Writing
Elegy is about words, and one word that I wouldn’t really use to describe it is “game.” Elegy is only a game in the sense that it’s an interactive digital experience. Defining the word “game” is a largely pointless and pretentious exercise, but many consumers of games look to that word with a certain set of expectations. If you’re looking for a “game” in the traditional sense, Elegy for a Dead World might not be for you.
There are no rules. There is no structure. There aren’t many instructions. You cannot win. You cannot lose. The only potential for achievement or accomplishment is from publishing your story to the Steam Workshop and hoping someone out in the world gives you a commendation. The ultimate result of the levels you play is an odd little storybook that takes snapshots from the locations you wrote stuff and adds your writing.
This page corresponds to the previous screenshot.
Some of the images the game provides for the books don’t look like much.
More Experimental, Less Fun
Reading the game’s Kickstarter page and various other materials released by the studio, I don’t know that I totally grasp what the experiment of this experimental game was supposed to be. You are given the freedom to write whatever you want, however you want on these three beautiful, desolate little worlds. And you can do that. It’s a morose, atmospheric Mad Libs in space.
Elegy does everything it set out to do in it’s various mission statements, but it didn’t really set out to do all that much. If this experimental game was testing whether or not writing stories about a lonely alien world was fun in a conventional sense, than I think it proved that no, it’s not. Not for me, anyway.
If the experiment was testing whether a standard creative writing assignment could be made more engaging by putting it in the framework of a game, then Elegy returned a positive result. Totally nailed it. This would be a great creative writing toolkit to spark anyone’s imagination.
Even if things end up a bit too heavy, we’ll all float on alright.
The entire game can be experienced in about an hour and there are some neat references to the works of John Keats and Percy Shelley. As a writer and former serious game developer, I can see tremendous value in Elegy as a potential homework assignment for a creative writing class. Students could each make their own little stories and come in the next day to share and see where the different prompts take them.
As a commercially-available PC game with a $15 price tag, this game makes slightly less sense to me. Elegy for a Dead World feels like it walks you in the direction of something fascinating, but quickly loses steam when you realize you’re doing all the heavy lifting and the only person likely to see your work is you.
When you really boil it down, Elegy is like someone drawing you a series of cool pictures and asking you to write them a story. That can be incredibly fun, but you really need someone to share it with.
Let me be clear: This game is not for everyone. If you aren’t interested in writing or are looking for a more conventional gameplay experience, don’t come anywhere near this game. It’s trying something different and, in true indie fashion, makes no attempts to be something it’s not.
If a pensive, artistic, creative outlet in a sci-fi setting sounds interesting to you, you’re not going to find anything else like Elegy for a Dead World. It scratches a weird itch that no other game could scratch. It’s a unique flavor in an environment full of safe bets.
If you’re a parent with a kid that has an interest in creative writing, you should waste no time getting this and playing with them. Elegy is the ultimate 2-player game where Player 1 is a kid that’s excited about writing and Player 2 is a parent to read whatever craziness is produced.
2014 has been a great year for lovers of video pinball. The Pinball Arcade had their Kickstarter for a virtual Addams Family replica funded (the most popular Pinball machine ever made, selling over 20,000 physical tables). Zen dropped a bunch of great licensed Marvel and Star Wars tables along with one based on the Walking Dead video game. How meta is that? A video game based on a physical machine, with a theme of a videogame based on a comic book?! Anywho, we’ve got two more new pinball video games to give you my spin on: Zen’s Marvel Venom and Phantom Compass’ Rollers of the Realm.
The bumper hits keep coming when Zen releases Marvel Venom December 10th or 11th (depending on your platform and its coming for pretty much all of them). I checked it out on PS4.
I’ve reviewed a lot of Zen’s tables this year and was wondering how this one would stack up. Full disclosure I’m not that up on my Spider-Man cannon. I watched whatever version of the cartoon was on Saturday mornings in the 80s and saw the Sam Raimi movies, but I’m only vaguely familiar with the Venom story and don’t recall seeing any Carnage. But usually for me the theme on a pin doesn’t necessarily matter so long as its fun to play.
That said, this theme I do think detracts from the gameplay here. I’m honestly not even certain which Spider-Man universe its based off of but the most common ball drain sound drove me crazy: “What’s a matter bro, spider sense didn’t tingle?” Since when did Spiderman involve bros? The music also didn’t work for me at all. What’s strange is it sounds like a song if I heard on the radio I’d enjoy but I was sick of it after about 2 minutes of gameplay. Between the tunes and character quotes I found I could play for longer with the mute button on.
Next up thoughts on the actual table. The layout contains a lot of my least favorite pinball elements. It has several different levels which consequently makes the center feel really tight and ramps (see what I did there?) up the difficulty trying to get into different areas. The real killer for me was my featuring my all time least favorite pin mechanic, the 2 flippers adjacent to each other. That just sets me up for too many drains of doom but at least these are in an upper playfield so you’re not losing your turn when you suck.
Major complaints out of the way that’s not to say this table is awful. It does have some cool modes when you start to learn your shots. The playfield isn’t all bad either. I like the circular ramp that goes around the drain area which I haven’t seen on a table before. Spidey and Venom swing around the table during gameplay is a nice touch, as well as venom bringing locked balls back into play with his giant creepy tongue. Its a nice overall city scape layout you’re rolling though complete with subway, sewers, and Statue of Liberty.
There are also Spider-Man character cameos out the wazoo if you can get into all the various modes and playfields like Doc Ock and She-Venom. And spoiler alert: if you can unlock Carnage, Spiderman and Venom team up to defeat him
Rollers of the Realm
A PAX East indie favorite, I was psyched my wait was finally over for this one and wondered if it would be as fun now that I could play for more than 20 minutes. It came out on Steam and PS4/Vita and I opted for PS4. The game seemed like a great mashup that showcased elements of both types of games prominently but how well does that actually hold together for gameplay fun?
The RPG mechanic has each ball you have in the game represented by a character with different abilities you can level up through playing. They are the traditional classes like rogue, knight and healer and multi-ball brings some animal friends into the mix. There’s a strong story element about a medieval band of misfits told through impressive voice acting as you progress through levels.
The first level of character skills are obvious as the balls differ in size and speed as you volley them around the playfield. They also have other special abilities you can use during play and you can even switch characters on the fly. This was cool in theory, but kind of a “knightmare” to deploy in practice. I had a lot of trouble trying to rotate the left stick to switch to my healer while having both hands on the bumpers trying not to drain. The game also suffers from a lack of help menu so I had to do a lot of fumbling around trying to remember which extra button did what and I’m still not really sure how to deploy some of my special abilities.
The gameplay is comprised of different level tables that look like buildings and villages your band is wandering through. Each level is more like a small section or mini-playfield of an actual pin and some levels will have multiple sections to complete before you finish.The environmental features double as flippers and spinners so the town really is the table. Neat mechanic, buta lot of times I would keep forgetting a door was a flipper till just after I rolled past it and I’d do that again and again before it finally stuck in my brain long enough for my reflexes to catch up and make the shot.
Not only are you working the physics of the environment but tables have bad guys you’ve got to beat up by repeatedly smashing into them with your balls. I really liked that element since they move around randomly somewhat leveling the playfield between noobs just flipper mashing and players who can accurately hit any shot they want. In later levels they’ll start doing things like shooting flaming arrows at you and blowing up your flippers which definitely keeps you on your toes.
I really wish I had an old school paper manual of moves and abilities that came with that game, or in the absence of that, a virtual help menu. I think more tutorials and some skill reminders and reinforcement could help the difficulty from ramping up way too quickly for novice pinball players. Another strike in the too hard too fast column is if you get stuck in a level and keep killing your party they don’t gain any skill points or money. I know that’s a common in RPGs element but going back and fighting randomly spawning monsters to gain skill makes more sense than having to go back and play the same tables you already mastered. Pinball is a game of skill so you really need to practice the specific shots you are sucking at so playing different tables doesn’t really help you advance past the one you’re stuck on.
The story in the game is intriguing and good voice acting and clever dialog make me want to find out what happens to the characters. The game is cute and cartoony and would be good to enjoy with kids about 10 and up so long as they can get by the difficulty. Heck I should probably rent a kid to get past the level I’m stuck at!
So on our 2old2play review scale what’s my final verdict on these titles? Also, can I cram in any more terrible pinball puns or obscure pop culture references into this article?!
Its not awful and if you are a Spiderman fan boy you’ll probably be happy with it. But I’m glad I got a review copy so I’m not feeling like a homicidal paperboy wondering “Where’s my two dollars.”
Rollers of the Realm
I still want to love this game as much as I thought I would. I’m not ready to abandon it just yet and hopefully if I throw a few more weekends at it and suck less I’ll get to find out where the story leads and unlock my Pinball Wizard (come on did you really think they could do a pinball RPG without a wizard?!). But right now its just too damn hard to be fun. It feels like I’m trying to play an RPG in the middle of a pinball game and I don’t have anywhere near the dexterity that’s going to require.
The Assassin’s Creed series has taken players to some amazing places during their most interesting times in history. We skulked across Renaissance Era Italy as Ezio Auditore, tracked targets in and around Colonial Boston as Connor Kenway, pirated our way across the Caribbean as Connor’s grandfather, Edward, and stomped through muddy shit holes as Altair..okay, so they weren’t all exotic locations. Arno Victor Dorian is Ubisoft’s newest cowled skulker and Revolutionary Paris is the setting. Vive le France!
Arno’s Assassin father is slain in the first few minutes of the game, leaving him to be raised by the Grand Master of the Templars and ignorant of his Assassin heritage. However, his caretaker, Mssr. de la Serre, is also slain during the first few minutes of the game, leaving our young protagonist with a mystery that needs to be solved. In the AC universe this generally means killing folks that have the answers and raping their memories as they die out on the cold floor.
Elise, de la Serre’s daughter, was naturally being groomed for Templar service, and her current occupation often puts her at odds with Arno’s Assassin career choice, but there is a great deal of love and admiration between the two. Arno is out to find de la Serre’s murderer, protect Elise, and become the Assassin that his father would have been proud of.
Paris is home to some of the most recognizable edifices and landmarks in the world. La Bastille, Notre Dame Cathedral and La Louvre are all present in the game, even the Eiffel Tower makes a brief appearance. However, Revolutionary Paris was no place for tourists, and for every amazing example of Parisian architecture there are half a million angry Parisians screaming to tear it down.
Arno has been appointed stewardship of a cafe theater in the Snootyville district, which he utilizes as his base of operations. Like other AC games, this property can be upgraded through improvements and special missions. The stewardship extends to several satellite cafes, with their own special missions
Weapons and Combat
Not a lot has changed since the last game. Swords and hidden blades are still the staple tools of the trade. Arno can shoot deadly Assassin blades or Berserk blades, which enrage targets into attacking anything that moves. Pistols and rifles are better ranged weapons than blades, but fall very short compared to modern day shooters. Assassin’s Creed is at its best when dispatching enemies from stealth or sword fighting in the streets.
One vast improvement from earlier entries is the downward parkour. Jumping down from higher ground is no longer the bone-breaking gamble that it once was. The Eagle Vision and leap of faith, utilized since the first game, are still very much a part of the game. Eagle Vision is used to mark and detect enemies and solve the Nostradamus riddles for a crack at some badass gear.
Here’s Where Shit Goes Downhill
Following up AC IV was never going to be easy, and AC Unity falls short of its buccaneer predecessor in many different ways. Ubisoft killed off Desmond Miles in AC3, and that should have been the last we saw of the immersion-destroying animus, but it’s back with a new name: The Helix...yeah, that’s real fucking original.
Some Assassin hacker named Bishop has to jump in and pull the player out of the game to help out with some modern bullshit agenda...by going back in and playing as Arno. What is the point of this? The Paris storyline and setting is more than ample to support an entire game without convoluting the plot with some bullshit hacker drama. Let me play the game!
The load times in AC Unity are obscene. The time it takes to load up Paris is equivalent to the load time in Skyrim, which was a much bigger game on an older console.
Ubisoft has taken a predatory cue from EA and made microtransactions the special du jour. Ubi is constantly breaking into the game to ask you to buy in game currency, join UPlay, download an app, visit the EStore, or join Initiates.Why didn’t they just stick a guy wearing a billboard that says “Play Watchdogs” or “Eat at Joe’s” on a street corner in the game? There’s a big difference between making players aware of extras and shoving down their throats like captive consumers. This literally churns my stomach and merits a special “Fuck You, Ubisoft” for this single practice alone.
AC Unity, following the rush to gold tactics of the unfinished and sadly disappointing Watchdogs, is chock full of bugs. Framerate stutters, synchronization issues, parkour issues, opponents that cannot be killed,moonwalkers, shitty hit detection, pedestrians wandering in and out of sword fights, and general massive QC oversight. I ran across two separate mission-impeding bugs in the same day. Incroyable!
AC Unity is my least favorite game in the series, in fact I hated it. When I pay sixty bucks for a game it should be free of commercials, microtransactions, bugs, and it needs to be out of the beta testing stage. I liked Arno, the setting is one of the most interesting cities in the world at its most notable period in time, and I am a fan of the series from the very first game...so much greater my disappointment. Not even the four player co-op can salvage this wreck. Cest la vie.
Don’t waste your money on a $60 commercial that doesn’t work.
I’m not much for war shooters. They all kinda blend together for me. Cartoonish villains, explodey set pieces, intensity, tropey setbacks: the works. They bank on the predictability of it all. Playing these games is like going to Cracker Barrel: you know what to expect. It’s nothing new, but it gets the job done. You might even really like it, but you keep that to yourself.
What drew my attention this go ‘round was the magnificence of a Mr. Kevin Spacey.
Whatever you say, President Underwood. Just tell me who to kill.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, 360, XB1
Spacey gloriously inhabits the role of evil corporate overlord, Jonathan Irons. Irons is the Lex Luthor that Spacey should have been in that terrible Superman movie. He’s affable, occasionally intense, and uses bad guy logic that is incomprehensible. Oh, and he always thinks he can turn everyone to his way of thinking, even when he’s just murdered friends and loved ones.
My biggest issue with Advanced Warfare is the fact that everything feels a little generic. Exo-armored soldiers fight terrorists, and then a paramilitary organization, and prevent a global genetically-engineered poison named “Manticore.” It’s a little bit Starship Troopers, a little bit Edge of Tomorrow, and a little bit G.I. Joe.
It’s occasionally hard to tell if it’s supposed to be 2024, 2054, or 2400 AD.
Every twist is obvious and every betrayal is telegraphed. Not much about this game’s story is unique. Very little personality, virtually no innovation and it’s pretty damn predictable.
...But Still Fun
Hot damn, is this a fun game. You know what to expect, but what you’re expecting is still pretty exciting. A bunch of gun-toting soldiers in cyborg armor shooting at swarms of robots and throwing grenades that can see through walls or fly around obstacles? Sign me up!
It gets right to the meat of what makes mindless blockbusters a success. The pacing of the action is perfect to keep you 100% engaged. The depth of the tactics and combat options are shallow enough to not bog you down with any big decisions but deep enough to trick you into thinking you have a lot of agency.
During actual gameplay, most enemies end up just glowing red silhouettes.
It’s a well-curated collection of near-future sci-fi tropes and blockbuster movie writing shortcuts that amount to one of the coolest shooting galleries you could hope for. The cinematics are largely fluff, but it’s got Kevin Spacey. What other game has Kevin Spacey?
His character is a bit dead-eyed, but it still rests on the other side of the Uncanney Valley. His badguyness is over-the-top, but I don’t know that nuance would really be an asset for this kind of game. Also…I mean, c’mon. It’s Kevin Spacey.
War shooters are usually sold on their multiplayer, but I think they backed off of that a bit for Advanced Warfare. There are some cool aspects to it: combat drones, mobility upgrades, customizable loadouts, etc - but it’s pretty much more of the same.
You basically get everything you’d expect from one of these games, and a tiny bit more. Weird grenades and gun mods can change the game up a bit, but most of the people I played with just used the best guns they could find to shoot each other. The added touches are probably too unwieldy to throw into a successful loadout, but they can be fun to mess around with until you ultimately get shot throwing high-tech nonsense at an enemy mid-shooting-you-in-the-face..
I got this one out of Redbox and beat the single-player campaign in a couple of nights. It’s fast-paced and straightforward, they don’t really give you time to linger. It’s a solid six hours or so of varied, action-packed gameplay that’s totally worth checking out, but not really worth holding on to.
The multiplayer is engaging, but the audience is currently split across 5 different platforms. There’s no way that community is going to stick around long enough to make it a rewarding purchase. Plus, the single player campaign is so linear and one-note, replay value is pretty low.
Xbox gamers have been deprived of more than a few Sony exclusives: Uncharted, God of War, The Last of Us, Heavenly Sword, and anything bearing the Insomniac badge of gaming goodness. One of those walls has crumbled down because I have just played through Insomniac’s newest game, Sunset Overdrive, on the Xbox One.
Fizzco’s newest energy drink, Overcharge XL, has exclusively debuted in Sunset City, at a massive party with virtually the entire city in attendance. Unfortunately, the giant orange can of energized goodness has an adverse effect on humans, turning them into Overcharge addicted monstrosities with a penchant for murdering humans. This event is referred to as Terror Night. Now Fizzco is trying to cover up their little chemical oversight by destroying the city and all of its inhabitants. Only the mighty Sarcasmo Jones (you can name your character something else if you really want to) can keep the survivors alive, grind rails, kick ass, and make Fizzco pay for ruining a perfectly good product launch.
Ridiculously Good Weapons
Insomniac has, once again, upped the arsenal in a big way. In addition to shooter staples like assault rifles and Dirty Harry magnums, players can use guns that shoot cds, teddy bear bombs, boomerangs, bowling balls, Fizzco ammo, sentinel turrets, freeze rays, fire...whatever. There is no shortage of crazy weaponry in this game.
Amps can be purchased or won during the game, and will provide your pixelated protagonist with cooler moves, deadlier attacks, and grindier ways of getting around town. Upgrades can be applied to weapons and ammo as well. Stylized combos build a style meter, which opens up opportunities for special moves and accelerated XP accumulation.
Player customization is also impressively deep. Want to be a hot, black chick in denim and heavy metal leather boots? Done. How about a huge bearded weirdo in an amusement park costume? Gotcha covered, amigo. How about a withered, old man dressed in a diaper? Stop it, you have issues. Like Dead Rising and Saint's Row, the player can choose their sex and body type, and then adorn that cartoon avatar any way they want to...but no diapers. I played as a hot chick for the entire game, but I was really just fishing for compliments in co-op.
Insomniac’s Game For Grown-Ups
Although Sunset Overdrive contains many elements used by “tamer” Insomniac entries like crazy, cartoony guns, rail grinding protagonist just this side of awesome, and Saturday morning style, this is definitely a game for adults. The game makes liberal use of F-Bombs, drug references, alcohol consumption, and murder. This approach is completely appropriate for the game’s intended “young adult” audience, which naturally makes it more attractive to younger players. All I’m saying is watch what your fucking kids are playing.
The Denizens of the Awesomepocalypse
There is no shortage of enemies in Sunset City, and everywhere the player travels he or she will have to fight their way there, and probably fight some more once they arrive at their destination. There are 3 basic enemy types in Sunset Overdrive: orange zomboids, armed dickheads, and fucking robots. The orange guys, plurally referred to as the OD, can be human sized on up to hulkster versions with backhoe bucket arms, known as Herkers, or a giant orange jerk that spawns fresh OD constantly and should be a priority target in a swarm situation. Some of the smaller OD possess projectile abilities and can be problematic if allowed to lob in damage from the sideline.
Scabs are territorial human survivors who have armed themselves to the teeth and claimed the city as their own. Apparently the awesomepocalypse has not affected everyone in a positive way. These bands of enemies favor rockets and assault rifles from a distance while their melee counterparts swarm in. Robots are Fizzco creations that become progressively tougher throughout the game. Weapon types and ammo are effective against some enemies but not others, so change things up if enemies aren’t taking damage.
The secondary characters in the game all have their own personalities and motivations, without becoming too stereotypical. There’s a gang of technophile remedial school reprobates holed up in a kiddie pizza joint, assassin latina cheerleaders have taken over the hospital, a group of scouts have holed up in a Japanese museum, and the gamer/role play nerds have staked out the amusement park.
In order to progress the story, you will have to do stuff for a group to get them to like you, and in turn they will provide the means to fulfill your current quest...then you’ll have to back and save them from OD, Scabs, or robots at some point. Yeah, it’s a little formulaic, and Insomniac knows this, but it works.
Photo booths scattered around the city allow players to join each other in a little competitive co-op action called Chaos Squad. This is generally four scored rounds with eight players voting on events. These could be area defense scenarios, assault missions, hacking missions, or a flat-out kill everything that moves mission. Gear and glory accrued in Chaos Squad will carry over to your single player game
The Shiny Parts
Insomniac has fleshed out an entire city, full of interesting and well-developed characters, and provided a storyline that is both fun and light-hearted in spite of the blood in the streets. The standouts of the games are the guns and the characters. Setting up an acid sprinkler in cartoon character form was more fun than it should have been, and the bigger and tougher the crowds, the bigger and better the guns became. The protagonist is a slick, witty, all American badass, regardless of sex, able to handle almost any OD shitstorm thrown their way, which gives a good sense of empowerment.
Despite the guns and attitude, Insomniac has had a lot of fun with the game and packed it full of irreverent humor, industry jabs, Wrestlemania-like character entrances for showdowns, and a whole slew of respawn animations that almost make it fun to die...almost.
You Knew it Was Coming
My first real problem with the game is the color: it’s very, very orange. Let the OD stream in, cut loose with the Ahab and, in short order, the tv screen looks like an obscene, pulsating brain in the last convulsions of Malarial fever. The grind and kill cycle got old fairly quickly: swoop around and kill a bunch of shit then grind somewhere else and do it again. Combat and traversal often felt like a repetitive chore and, in the end, even the coolest game loses traction when the combat becomes stale. Grinding to get around was pretty smooth, especially compared to the parkour systems in other current games, but we’ve been grinding rails in Insomniac games since the PS1 days of Ratchet and Clank, and it’s lost a chunk of the shiny that it once had. The eight-player chaos squad was a good idea in theory, but the execution doesn’t differentiate itself from the rest of the game, so it’s the exact same shit but with more people.
The game also contains more than a few glitches, some glaring, but not game-breaking. Once, tasked with clearing a building of robots to obtain a Fizzco executive’s fancy Katana, the game did not register that I had killed a sufficient number of automatons and they kept spawning for forty five minutes....twice! Third time was a charm and the game let me claim the prize, but only after withholding game progression for an hour and a half. Yeah, that kinda sucked.
Sunset Overdrive is a mixture of old-school Ratchet and Clank fun, Dead Rising's enemy volume, Saint’s Row irreverance and humor, and a whole lot of orange. I wouldn’t rush out and plunk down sixty bones for a new copy, but I would scoop it up once it hit the $40 range. It’s a good game, but I would attack it in small doses to keep it fresh because this one goes flat fast.
Tolkien’s legendary work on Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit has been inspirational to creators across many other types of media. There are a total of six Peter Jackson movies based on the two stories, as well as an animated tv version of The Hobbit. There was a tabletop game back during the glory days of D&D gaming that was set in Middle Earth, and it was pretty damn good. Even the mighty Led Zeppelin sang about Hobbits and Gollum. The video game market has been particularly saturated with attempts to capitalize on the success of Tolkien’s legacy. Some of these games are quite good, others are only faint memories of something awful, brown, and smelly. Enter the studio that ruined Rocksteady’s Batman franchise: Warner Bros.
The problem with the extant stories of Middle Earth is that they are too epic in scale for any developer, save Bethesda or Blizzard, to attempt to do justice to the source material. There are too many characters, diverging quests and plot lines for any single game to faithfully adapt.. Add a virtual army of affectionate and passionate Tolkien fans salivating to strike a blow against any deviation from the written word, and your Middle Earth cash grab goes down the Hobbit hole.
Shadow of Mordor is set between the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and focuses on a single Ranger of Gondor, named Tallion. In the many years since the defeat of Sauron, Gondor’s watchful eye on the land of Mordor has become complacent, and the Ranger garrison on the Black Gate has been reduced to a mere outpost. The Uruk Hai army, led by a man called The Hammer, swarms the gate and easily overcomes the skeletal opposition of only a few Rangers. Tallion’s son and wife are slain by The Hammer, and Tallion himself is cast into the place between worlds, deprived of both life and death. The Ranger finds himself bound to a wraith: the incorporeal spirit of renowned Elven smith named Celebrimbor, whose talents were sought in life by Sauron for a little jewelry project made famous in the Tolkien books.
Tallion is a formidable hero possessing the deadly martial abilities of a Ranger of Gondor and the spectral powers of a powerful wraith. He is able to take on multiple opponents at once, see through walls and detect enemies from a great distance,tame and ride dangerous creatures as epic mounts, kill silently from the shadows, and bend the will of his enemies. Free the slaves of the Uruks of Mordor, regain the wraith’s lost memories, destroy an army of Uruks, help an Elven queen, sever the Black Hand of Sauron and shove it straight up his ass. Not bad work, if you can get it.
Tallion carries a longsword, a bow, and his son’s broken sword, which he uses as a dagger for stealthy kills and finishing moves. The Ranger gains experience and currency through battle and exploration, which can be used to upgrade his abilities, weapons, and spectral powers. Runes can be added to weapons for an extra kick in battle. Stealth abilities can also be upgraded and allow Tallion to kill stealthily, to brutalize an enemy from stealth, which temporarily terrifies Uruks in the vicinity, or to dominate the will of an Uruk, thus creating an ally.
Celebrimbor is able to penetrate the minds of Uruks, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the Uruk Hai army elite. Tallion can then exploit these traits to his advantage, and will gain extra XP when it comes time to put the elite down. Uruks utilize a hierarchy system tenuously held together by fragile alliances, which can be worked against the target if his allies were to be eliminated or dominated.
Shadow of Mordor is presented in a third person view, and anyone who has played a Batman game in the last five years should automatically feel like a veteran orc killer from the start. The control scheme is nearly identical to the controls that WB and Rocksteady have used since Arkham Asylum. Tallion is capable of addressing multiple attacks simultaneously and dispatching crowds of unfriendlies in a short amount of time. However, the Uruks will call for reinforcements, given the opportunity, so a mix of stealth and outright confrontation works well. Break line of sight during swarm situations and the Uruks will soon lose your trail.
A Taste of Tolkien
Shadow of Mordor is a good fit into the mythos of Middle Earth because it avoids the epic scope of a Tolkien adaptation. It tells a compelling story within the familiar setting of Middle Earth that focuses on a different battle against a common enemy. It isn’t so pretentious that it attempts to retell The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, but it does provide an authentic, bite-sized Middle Earth adventure featuring a very dangerous protagonist.
You Knew It Was Coming
The story may be a compelling slice of Middle Earth lore, but the combat sometimes feels like Batman: Mordor Asylum. Although the presentation and approach made the combat system familiar, it also often felt stale...like I had already done this a thousand times. The fast travel mechanic has been borrowed from Batman: Arkham Origins, who borrowed it from Far Cry 3. Forging a tower anvil is the Middle Earth equivalent of unscrambling a tower in the last Batman game. Side quests frequently appear on the map and are frustratingly repetitive: stop an execution, stop an ambush, rescue some slaves...blah blah blah. There shouldn't be this much filler in a Middle Earth game. Players are given opportunities to avenge the death of a player on the friends list, which would have been innovative if Blizzard hadn’t done it first. The feeling that I have somehow played this before haunted me almost the entire game, effectively negating the joy of discovery. Shadow of Mordor never lost that same shit, different game feel.
Shadow of Mordor is a worthy addition to the story of the one ring. The characters are interesting, the story is compelling, the performances are convincing and appropriate, and there are absolutely no Hobbits and only one Dwarf. However, like Ryse, story is only one part of the interactive experience, and I spent too much time playing as a Ranger-skinned Batman and chasing orcs in an endless loop of side quests and filler content to give this game our highest rating. I played through the game and have no desire to pick up and go again. Shadow of Mordor is one and done.
Adapting video games from television has proven to be a hit or miss formula for success. Lost was not a great game, neither was Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazzard, CSI, The X-Files, or a hundred others. Earthworm Jim is the only show that I can think of that actually made a fun and successful game...but the sequel sucked. If your television program is not a game show, then it probably won’t make a great video game. Duck Dynasty is not a game show.
Welcome to Monroe, Louisiana
During the world’s lamest cut-scene, we discover that it is John Luke Robertson’s first day on the job at the Duck Commander family business. John Luke is primarily a silent protagonist, learning the ropes of work mixed with the Robertson family style of after hours entertainment. Cousin Beaux acts as John Lukes mentor, showing the young Robertson how to call ducks, shoot ducks, fish, and dig for Uncle Si’s buried treasures.
The problems with this game actually start before the game does. The physics, especially the hair, are laughably bad. I’m guessing that the Robertson’s did their own voice acting, which has resulted in some very embarrassing voice performances. How fucking hard is it to portray yourself in a video game? They should have hired professionals.
The premise of the game is also laid out for us in the introduction. John Luke is Willie’s son, so why doesn’t he know anything about Duck Commander or the Robertson way of life. Hasn’t he been a Robertson literally his entire life? If he isn’t familiar with what is going on in his own house you would think that he at least watches the television show. Nope, he’s a silent noob.
The Outdoor Type
Becoming a well-rounded Robertson has very little to do with genetics or making duck calls as the game’s emphasis is on outdoor sports, slacking at work, and pranking the boss.
The outdoor sports are either presented as overly simplistic or unrealistically exciting. The duck calling is a timed series of button presses. The shooting of ducks, beavers, squirrels, and golf balls are all auto aimed: just squeeze the trigger. Driving is an exercise in monotony. You have a 4WD truck or ATV but neither are able to leave the established roads in the game. Every once in a while the driving is broken up by stopping the vehicle to look at a sign...I wished that I had made that last part up, but it’s actually in the game.
The boats handle like shit, catching frogs is a lame single button press event, and at no time does anything in the game approach being a challenge, or fun. However, the fishing sequences have been ridiculously exaggerated, resulting in pixillated Perch putting up a fight that rivals any deep sea Marlin or Great White.
As bad as the core mechanics and gameplay are, it is the shitty writing and lame character performances that kill any potential that this game could have had. At one point, tired of Willie’s constant insistence that work needs to be done, John Luke, Si, and Jase pull a prank by stealing Willie’s surveillance-connected iPad. This stealth mission is comprised of a sneaking past Willie, timing your movements across broken glass, while he randomly toots on duck calls. Then John Luke and Si sneak up behind Willie again, this time disguised as cardboard boxes (affectionate nod or rip-off?) to steal the tablet and prank the day. Every joke falls flat, every character looks like a fucking hobo, and Phil’s wife sounds like she’s drunk. Now I’ve never seen the show and I don’t know these people, maybe Phil’s wife had a stroke or something, but she sounded drunk to me.
This is the part of the review where I try to say something nice about the game. This section is very short.
My Twitch channel was packed on the night that I streamed this game, and the game was unanimously hated by everyone in the chat room. The only possible reason a person would have to play this game would be a fan of the show who just can’t get enough Robertson in their life, and those people will hate it too. You would be better served buying a DVD of the show. Duck Dynasty is a flop of the highest order.
So, I am beginning to wonder if getting paid in free review copies of pinball tables is in fact a “salary” that I need to claim on my tax returns. This week 2old2play hooked me up with the latest South Park tables from Zen for the PS4 (Wooohoo, like the 3rd game I’ve played on my one year old “new” console).
Zen dropped a pack of two brand new tables on all the platforms including Sony cross buy for $4.99 (so long as you bought them first on PS3 or Vita and then exported to PS4). I missed all the press releases and marketing blitz for these and was assuming one was a virtual version of the actual 1999 Sega physical South Park pinball machine. Instead, this is two brand new virtual tables.
Sony is still the worst at shutting up and taking my money!
OK so not exactly since I did get these free, but getting things in the Sony store with codes is always a confusing odyssey through menus that seem to be designed by sociopaths.
Once I figured out where to put the codes, they downloaded fairly quickly, but then the Zen app also needed an update. So you know an hour later I was actually ready to play pinball! While I’m whining about first world problems, for a studio that calls themselves Zen damn their menu music is annoying!
Super Sweet Pinball
Super Sweet Pinball was the first table I checked out. While not the same as the physical table it seems like an updated homage to the original. The South Park crew of Cartman, Kenny, Stan, and Kyle are back along with other old favorites, like Mr. Hanky and Chef. There’s a lot of attention to detail with inside jokes and obscure details from the show throughout the playfield.
The table was a lot of fun and had all of my favorite features, like a double outlane on the right and lots of ramps,targets, and bumpers to keep things interesting. It also has excellent sound effects and cool modes, like one for Timmy, that played the Timmy, and the Lords of the Underworld song. The cabinet art was really well done and the environment around it was like it was plunked right down in the middle of downtown South Park, Colorado. The upper football game playfield that showcases Randy Marsh’s ill-fated attempt at being a football coach is a neat unique feature I haven’t seen before.
There’s a toilet skill shot as well as getting in Mr. Hanky mode that gives you 3 brown multiballs. I guess that’s better than Chef’s Chocolate Salty balls mode (which I wouldn’t be surprised if that was actually a thing I never unlocked). I’d say my one complaint with the tables is that multi-ball automatically switches you to a different view although I believe that happens on all of Zen’s tables. I should look around some more and see if that’s a setting.
In poking around the menus I did find a feature I never realized Zen had in all their tables: you can actually get to the Operator’s menus just like on a real pinball machine. It gives you access to all the tweaks like bookkeeping, tests, and all the feature individual settings. You can do all sorts of things to make the table harder or easier (though if you mess with the settings your scores won’t count on leaderboards). The really neat feature especially for licensed tables is you can go through and play all the sounds to hear the cool South Park quotes even for modes you’ll never actually make it into if you aren’t a Pinball Wizard.
Butters’ Very Own Pinball Game
This is a very apt title, since this table really feels like it came directly from Butter’s brain. It’s colorful, Saturday morning cartoony, and full of Butters banter. The sides of the cabinet look like they’re made out of cardboard and the background makes it look like its setup in Butters’ room.
The table has a lot of ramps and different rules modes. Bumper hits help you collect different outfits, which was a clever game mechanic. Some modes can get his alter-egos to show up on the side stage and let you relive different moments of classic Butters-centered episodes. The vortex on the left side is almost like a Turkish twist ride that spins your ball as well as moves up and down. There’s also cool Professor Chaos mini-playfield you can get yourself into. AWESOM-O. This table plays a little slower than Super Sweet: the way the ramps are centered and shorter so they both feel like really different games.
Buy it now?
Zen always does an great job on their tables and these are no exception. Their attention to detail is second to none, right down the the amazing reflections in the pinball itself. They do well by the South Park franchise and vary up the gameplay for pinball enthusiasts. These tables are definitely worth picking up ASAP!
I’ve been dying to slam this game since it was announced. The original Forza Horizon was mediocre and Forza 5 was a huge disappointment in almost every aspect of the game. That being said, Forza Horizon left a favorable impression on a majority of the folks who played it, and Forza Horizon 2 is one of the most highly anticipated racing games of the current generation. Have I been too harsh on Playground and Turn 10? I have put my prejudice aside and have given the newest Forza game a clean slate.
Unsurprisingly, Forza Horizon 2 starts off almost the same as the first game. The player arrives at the Horizon Festival, this time set in the Mediterranean instead of Colorado, and is greeted by Seth Green’s British twin. The drivers race to the festival hub, which serves as a free fast travel point, car lot, upgrade garage, and paint shop. The festival is tiered like the first game, with colored wristbands marking the player’s progression towards the finale.
Playground has progressed the Horizon series like it should be done: removed what doesn’t work, enhanced what was good with the original, and tried out some new things. Horizon 2 features several satellite hubs in different cities near the Mediterranean and has incorporated roadtrips between these cities as part of both the single player and multiplayer experiences. Drivers are given a time limit to travel between cities, which rewards XP if successful. Once at the satellite hub, the player participates in a four race championship in their choice of car types (hypercars, modern muscle, vintage racers, etc) with races scored on a point system. Whoever has the most points at the end of four races wins the championship and the cars race to the next city.
Once the player has won fifteen championships, he or she can participate in the finale: an epic point to point that traverses the map and nearly every type of terrain and weather in the game. The winner of the finale is crowned champion and goes at it again, this time with British Seth Green participating in the racing.
Slinging Some Dirt
The most welcome change and attractive part of Horizon 2 is the nearly unrestricted free roam. Drivers can bust off of any road and traverse nearly the entire map. River beds, vineyards, farm land, forests, gravel, dirt, and grass are all accessible at all times. No place is safe from the destructive will of Horizon participants.
A great deal of the racing is centered on off road events, but not necessarily restricted to rally or AWD monsters: if you participate in a championship with your priceless vintage Ferrari or Bugatti Veyron, you are just as likely to run that bitch in an off-road race as you are with a Subaru or Bowler.
A Little Something on the Side
Playground has preserved the idea of the showcase events: side events that pit the driver in a race against jets, trains, cargo planes, and even hot air balloons.
Another little side slice of fun are the bucket list events. These challenges range from hitting a certain speed in a McLaren or Koenigsegg through a speed trap, piloting a rally car through a forest at night, catching air in a GT-R or classic Dodge Hemi, racing the clock cross-country in a Bowler, and reaching a destination within a certain amount of time in a particular car. My favorite was racing a classic Ferrari 250 GTO down a winding Italian coastal road...the LaFerrari challenge was a close second.
Multiplayer games have returned and are part of the online multiplayer roadtrip. One of the four events in the road trip will be King (Keep The It) or Infection, etc. While these games aren’t necessarily new to Horizon, they have been incorporated brilliantly into the structured multiplayer part of the game.
The Nuts and Bolts
The most surprising part of Horizon 2 is the similarity to Forza 5. Nearly all of the upgrade and tuning options from Turn 10’s current gen offering are available in Horizon 2, making it the deepest arcade racer ever developed. That being said, the arcadey driving style and forgiving physics render tuning almost unnecessary, and cars with my Forza 5 tunes on them handled nearly identically to their untuned twins.
The list of cars is equally impressive, sporting as many cars as Forza 5 had at launch...just over 200. Most of these are copycats from Forza 5, but there are a few gems that are unique to this game.
Like Forza 5, Horizon 2 is populated with Drivatars. If you have a friend that has played either current Forza game, then they have a Drivatar somewhere in the game. You can challenge these Drivatars to races, and then post the results on YouTube. Good times.
You Knew It Was Coming
There are always drawbacks to an arcade style racing game, and Horizon 2 has not dodged every cone in it path. Every driver looks identical, which really kicks the creepy factor up several notches at the start of a race. The radio channels are numerous, but all of them play shit music geared for a much younger audience than the old man writing this review. Horizon 2 also has a limited shelf life: yeah, it’s fun to play and the racing is great, but it doesn’t have the longevity of a sim racer. However, the impressive multiplayer modes and side missions will give it a second life of sorts after the single player is complete, but most folks will not be playing it a year from now.
Horizon 2 is also chock full of embarrassing glitches, pop-up, and server issues.
Forza Horizon will never be the definitive racing game, but it was never meant to be. Horizon 2 delivers a visually stunning and accessible racing experience set in one of the most gorgeous corners of the planet in some fucking bad-ass automobiles. It’s better than TDU2, better than any NFS or Midnight Club, and better than Grid or Dirt. It kills me to say it, but Horizon 2 is better than Forza 5. This is probably the best arcade racer I have ever played. Forza Horizon 2 has earned our highest rating.
KickBeat - Special Edition is a rhythm fighting game that combines the frantic button presses of a rhythm game like Rock Band Blitz with the over the top fighting action of a Jackie Chan movie. If at this point in time you are asking yourself “Whaaaaaa?” then you are not alone. I had an idea as to what this might be, but I was not expecting what Zen Studios (Creators of gems like Pinball FX/FX2 and Castlestorm) has created here.
The Neverending Story
The story comes at in you in pieces during cutscenes. I really enjoyed the hand drawn, watercolor-esque minimalist animation in the cut scenes but the voice acting was…lacking. During these cutscenes you discover you are a young hormonal teenage male named “Lee” who spots a pretty young thing walking into a monastery. As these stories usually go, you get a job there as a janitor and, during a period of meditation by the resident monks, you are discovered to be the “chosen one”! (I totally didn’t see that coming…) As the chosen one, Lee is tasked with finding and retrieving all the world’s music after the Sphere was stolen right out from under the guardian monk’s noses. Enter your nemesis, Mr. Halisi, owner of Earth Entertainment and stand-in for all greedy music labels.
As the chosen one your quest is to retrieve the Sphere. You fight your way through 24 levels in 5 different locations around the world in an effort to locate and return this magical sphere to the monks. There is a mini boss at each location that you have to fight through until the final showdown with Mr. Halisi himself. Once Halisi is defeated and the story “complete” you can play through the exact…same…levels again as the PYT that you originally were chasing: Your Sensei’s granddaughter Mei. (Again…totally didn’t see that coming…) The levels are the same, the music the same, even the animations are exactly the same but the story branches off with Mei and her quest. The game and story know you have been to these levels before so all the bosses you fought as Lee look a little battle worn by the time you get to them as Mei.
The tutorial spells out all the major game play concepts. Hit the buttons or the D-Pad as the bad dudes stop in lit up circles for a split second waiting for you to pummel them with your fists or feet of fury. Miss your window and you get hit instead. Push that button way too early and you miss entirely. Points are scored for how close you come to perfectly timing your attacks. If you are a little off you are notified with a “Good” or “Great” and a + or – depending on if you were late or early. Hit it perfectly and you are rewarded with a “Perfect”.
Lee and Mei are equipped with 3 different attack styles. Single tap, double tap for the powerups, and hold down and release for the guys chained together. The Yin and Yang in the center of the screen are your health and chi meters. Health needs no explanation but the chi is used for releasing powerups you have gained over the course of the song.
The enemies encircle you on different circular platforms made from concentric circles, with a Yin and Yang symbol in the middle circle. As the bad guys close in on you from the outside, some are given multipliers, score increases, health, shields and other powerups floating above their heads. Some are chained together much like holding a note in Guitar Hero or Rock Band.
That’s it. That is all there is to it. You don’t move your character around, you don’t use the thumbsticks, you don’t have secret moves, Lee and Mei stand in the middle in martial arts poses waiting for you to hit the right button. When you hit that button at the right time they attack in a flourish! However, again KickBeat – Special Edition suffers from “sameness” as this mechanic is exactly the same for all 24 levels. The bad guys you fight may have different costumes but they act and react the same in each level. After the first couple levels I became relatively bored with the overall gameplay but was hoping the music would become more interesting.
Let’s talk about the music. Four of the 24 of the tracks were by bands I knew. That was fine as I was exposed to some great bands through games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band that I may never had come across. I was looking forward to discovering something new here but sadly that was not the case. Zen Studio’s sells it as a high energy playlist but you had better like Nu Metal, EDM and/or Industrial electro rap as that is what every single track in the game is. Even the Taiwanese rap sounded much like every other track (check blog.zenstudios.com for the artist and track list). After completing the first 23 levels in just under two hours I had had enough. I tried the final level with Mr. Halisi and after getting my ass handed to me and my ears assaulted with substandard Dub Step, I quit. Enough was enough. There was not enough diversity here in the gameplay or the music to make me want to even finish. On top of that, during the final battle my Xbox crashed within the last 30 seconds of the fight 3 times. In no other game has it ever crashed like that.
“You quit?!” Yes I quit. For four days I did other things like play Destiny and Defense Grid 2 until guilt got the best of me. I went back at it again for a few hours. I had the same crashes this time around in Lee’s story but I kept at it until I passed crash free. That was when Mei’s story became unlocked. I was hoping I may have unlocked some other tracks or different levels but as you have already read the game is exactly the same playing as her.
I wanted to like Kickbeat – Special Edition. I love Pinball FX2 and I came into this thinking this would be fun. I like music and music games. I like fighting games like Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Dead or Alive, etc. Admittedly the Hard setting in both those genres kick my ass but I still enjoy playing them. However I found there was not enough interesting new music, nor any interesting mechanics in KickBeat – Special Edition to hold my interest. Around the halfway point in Lee’s story I realized I would hard pressed to get through. When Mei’s story opened up, I sighed and pressed on. That being said, after beating Mei’s story I did try the Freeplay mode and a couple of the harder levels just to see if anything different appeared. However, same music, same levels…too much the same to make me want to continue.
Street Fighter - the Movie
You are probably expecting a “Skip” rating given my review. KickBeat - Special Edition is $10 as a digital download and think the amount of game you get is almost worth that price. That being said I can’t get past how bored I was, overall, with this game, but if it dropped to under $5 or ends up being free at some point in time it is worth picking up and playing.