The Devil has kidnapped the President of the United States to marry off his daughter, Jezebel, to in a shotgun wedding deep in the bowels of Hell. If there was an award for most creative game premise, then Gat Out of Hell would win hands down. Gat Out of Hell is a stand alone expansion to Saint’s Row IV: players need not have played SR4 to play the expansion, but where’s the fun in that?
The survivors from SR4 are aboard the ship celebrating Kinzie’s birthday. However, Matt’s choice as Ouija for a party game has unforeseen consequences as The Boss is sucked into hell by demonic forces. Johnny Gat and Kinzie force the Ouija board to open a second portal to hell, and the game is on.
Highway To Hell
Johnny and Kinzie hook up with Dane, the Ultor antagonist from SR2, who has spent his time in hell increasing his wealth and influence, as well as cementing alliances with some of Hell’s more notorious and powerful residents. Ultor serves as a safehouse and the place to switch between Johnny and Kinzie as the playable character. Similar to the loyalty missions in Saint’s Row IV, the player will receive upgrades and perks by performing missions for Dane and his colleagues: William Shakespeare, Kiki and Viola DeWynter, Vlad the Impaler, and Blackbeard.
Dane’s plan is to create enough chaos in hell to make Satan take notice, then capitalize on Satan’s distractedness. Johnny’s plan is to crash the wedding and shoot Satan in the face. Ultimately, both plans should be used, as the distraction missions allow the player to gain proficiency and upgrades for their hell powers, and at least one dissenter should be at the wedding: shooting the father of the bride in the face is a very clear objection to the union.
The game has no storyline to speak of and is instead presented as a interminable series of side missions. Johnny and Kinzie perform missions to gain the loyalty of Dane and his colleagues, to gain super-powers and weapons, upgrade weapons and abilities, and for spending money. These side missions are very similar to SR4, but with a Hell-themed twist. The Blazing activity from SR4 is now Hellblazing and requires the player to navigate an aerial obstacle course instead of super-speeding through a track in Steelport. There is a ragdoll equivalent to Fraud, some Hell-themed Mayhem activities, and a few infiltrate and capture the flag activities.
Arsenal From Hell
The biggest difference between SR4 and Gat Out of Hell, aside from the hellish environment, is the available weaponry. There are no dildo bats in Hell, nothing to jam up your victim’s ass and fire them off into the stratosphere, and no Dubstep Gun. Volition has provided some Hell-themed varieties of standard firearms with some supernatural effects. The best of the bunch are the Seven Deadly Weapons, each one based on one of the Deadly Sins.
While all of these felt unique and were fun to play around with, my favorites were the recliner that equipped with a gatling gun and missile launcher, and the sinister Gallows Dodger that would enter a mass murder mode once it was fed enough souls.
The vehicles, like in SR4, were only useful for the first 25% of the game: after that the player gains enough superpower proficiency to make land-crawlers obsolete. Most of the vehicles in Hell are pieces of shit anyway: battered taxis, ancient sedans, crap motorcycles, etc. There are a few nice vehicles, like limos and armored cars, but if you just have to have something to drive I would suggest that you take the Predaceptor for a spin: you won’t be disappointed.
There are a lot of similarities between Gat Out of Hell and Ubisoft’s little bite sized piece of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and that’s not a bad thing. Players get a decent amount of Saint’s Row content without the AAA price tag. This is an over the top take on a game franchise that has already gone over the top. I hazed demonic frat boys through floating rings, ran over as many shambling pedestrians that I could before being gunned down by the Five-O from hell, created devastation from a floating recliner, and punched Satan in the face. This is a series that hasn’t taken itself seriously in a long time.
Gat Out of Hell also features a cooperative mode that allows the player to assault Hell with a friend. Some of the missions can only be performed cooperatively, so completionists will need to make a friend to get their 100% cheevo rating.
You Knew it Was Coming
All the irreverent humor and crazy side missions cannot disguise the fact that the game has no structure. When Volition failed to include a main mission, this left me with no sense of game progression. Players can pretty much go to the tower at any point in the game and crash the wedding, thus ending the game. There are a lot of activities around town but, being variations of the same activities from SR4, they got old real quick.
Playing as Johnny Gat and Kinzie means that Volition’s excellent character creator goes unused for this game. This isn’t a deal breaker, but that player-character bond from the previous games has been compromised. Johnny Gat is a kick-ass personality, but he’s not The Boss.
Gat Out of Hell is the violently wacky conclusion to SR4 that both outdoes the main game and falls short at the same time. If you haven’t played SR4, then the Re-Elected bundle with all DLC, including Gat Out of Hell, would be the way to go. SR4 vets can rest assured that SR4: Re=Elected is identical to the last-gen entry and that rating still applies. Save your money and buy this DLC independently.
Pinball and PS4 codes? Guess its my turn for a review! Zen dropped their latest two pack of tables dubbed Iron & Steel which features two Zen originals. Its been 3 years since they did a non-franchised original table so I was excited to check these out. I think it gives designers more free reign to put in cool pinball features if they don’t have someone like Marvel or Disney breathing down their necks making sure everything stays cannon (or you know not, I’m still confused about Bro-spiderman from the Venom table).
Wild West Rampage
This table has a completely new wild west theme featuring a corrupt Sheriff and the bounty hunter who's ready to take him down. What’s not so wild west cannon is that instead of going with a mode to save a damsel in distress Zen made the bounty hunter female so kudos there. Although sadly I didn’t love here really grating hootenanny accent y’all! Its hard to have a western themed pin without conjuring thoughts of the very popular, very rare, very expensive Bally Williams table Cactus Canyon. Just like Cactus Canyon, Wild West Rampage (WWR) features a train and guns on the bumpers so there is definitely at least some homage going on there.
Cactus Canyon Playfield
Wild West Rampage Playfield
The graphics on WWR look fantastic on the PS4. The bounty hunter and sheriff look like they just stepped out of a next gen version of Red Dead Redemption. The train is really detailed and I love the spinning gun distraction effect every time you hit a bumper. Sizing of the playfield is spot on and perfect to leave in static mode and be able to see everywhere without straining your eyes to see tiny things at the top. The haptic feedback from the bumpers really feels dead on for this game and had me wondering if all PS4 Zen tables had that (they do but I never really noticed it playing other tables).
This game actually has a full on story mode if you are skilled enough to make it through. It shows how bounty hunter Cindy takes down the sheriff and even provides some back story on how she ended up in town. Yeah pinball with character development! There’s a ton of interesting stages to advance the story complete with explode barrels and breaking windows. One of my favs is there’s a train mode with three separate mini-playfields to progress through on top of different train cars. Another is Kaboom mode where you have to shoot down dynamite. I was of hoping an 8 bit guy in a prison sweater was going to make a cameo. There are a ton of modes and lots to master that will keep you playing for days. I give this table two guns up. Pew! Pew!
I had forgotten that Zen isn’t just a pinball house. CastleStorm is based on their popular action RPG our own Sarcasmo Jones reviewed a while back. In this table Sir Gareth is back to protect the kingdom from Vikings. For some reason this playfield really made me think of Smurfs. I’m not even 100% sure why, I guess the art style of the castles and the episodes where they were friends with Johan and Peewit (how’s that for a Smurf deep cut?).
Castelstorm Playfield overview
This is really solid table with lots of cool features and fun medieval cliches like a donkey kick ball launcher and an evil dragon. You can’t go wrong with a pin that has a Tap Keg mode! It is a little harder to follow the ball t in static mode than WWR was, but its still not too bad to play without the screen scrolling on. For the upper playfield, I did find the timing of switching to zoom view and when you need to hit the flipper overly difficult. You basically have to just hit the flipper before you can see the new view or you’ll drain back to the regular playfield.
CastleStorm has a little Rollers of the Realm type RPG action going with a mode that sends some Vikings out to pillage. You’ll need to vanquish them by rolling over them with the ball. There’s a wave in a separate mode that sends ghosts out after you and you have to knock them out as well. Another RGP type mechanic is there is a Arms Drill multiball where you are trying to hit specific shots before time runs out. Its a pretty cool “practice” mode that helps you learn shots and rack up points. My favorite mode for this one has you loading a ballista with sheep to catapult smash your enemies. Even with all this wackiness it still plays like a normal pinball game instead of something with weird game mechanics bolted on. The one thing that was a bit strange for a pin was I almost never hit the slingshots (the bumper things just before the flippers for the pinball illiterate). I actually had to play a few times and really aim for them to make sure they even bounced (they do). Overall a this is a solid table though Wild West Rampage was my clear favorite of the 2.
Should I pick them up?
These are both great tables and I hope Zen gets into a groove of doing non-licensed ones more often than every 3 years. Super double bonus points if they want to stick with cliche themes and the next one is Pirates! These are definitely a buy it new for me!
Do you like strategy games? Do you like turn based strategy games? Do you remember a game called “Battle Chess”? How about the game Civilization? Risk?
You don’t have to answer “Yes” to any of those to enjoy A Druid’s Duel. The first game by Thoughtshelter Games, based out of Minnesota, A Druid’s Duel is a casual yet engaging turn based strategy game available on Steam February 25th. Good news for you Mac or Linux gamers as A Druid’s Duel is available for you via Steam as well! Thoughtshelter Games pitches their game as deceptively simple to play yet difficult master. After playing I can tell you it was a bit challenging to pick up at first and difficult to master would be a severe understatement. In all fairness I do believe that had more to do with me than the game itself.
If This Then That
I think in this case it’s best to draw comparisons to other games to give you an idea how A Druid’s Duel plays. Like chess, you have different pieces with different moves and abilities that you have to move around the field. Like Battle Chess you get to watch your Druids attack the other team. Like Civilization or even Risk you could have multiple enemies all looking to grab as much land and territory as possible. Make sense? Then you have the overall gist of the game.
For full disclosure, I am terrible at strategy games and A Druid’s Duel was kicking my ass on the second level of the easiest playthrough. The sad thing was I felt like the game was deliberately taking it easy on me, akin to how I would let my kids “win” at a game. After my third or fourth attempt I clued in to what I needed to do!
Here is where I realized: I am an idiot. I go into every game balls out, guns a-blazing! That is the “strategy” I took here and it failed. I was trying to win by simply having the most Druids on the board. It didn’t work and I kept losing. My ego was beating. I had to suck back, reload and come up with a new plan.
I am going to let you in on a not so secret secret that is found in the “How to Play” section: The more land you can claim the more mana you accumulate. The more mana you have allows you to place more or stronger Druids on the board. As well each Druid has a unique ability and those abilities cost more mana. The base Druid’s (Guardian) ability is a wolf that can scout and capture up to four enemy territories. Use him early and often! To shape shift into the wolf costs 10 mana which thankfully I usually had at the beginning of the game. Running that wolf out and capturing territory early gained me the mana to continue strengthening my army and my position. I was able to push the enemy back and win!
Beyond unique abilities, each Druid type also has a unique move and attack pattern. Each can attack only in certain patterns or distances. I am still learning the nuances of that but much like chess you can set up guards or decoys to help protect your Druids or lure the enemy in.
Territories come into play as well. Not just in how many you control but more importantly what kind. There are six seasons in the aptly named Realm of the Six Seasons and they are represented on the tiles of the game board. Each season represented on the tiles provide different amounts of mana. This changes the game from one of quantity to quality. Capture and hold those that provide the most mana and you will be able to have your way across the board. To top it off, the most powerful Waywalker Druids can add or delete territory within their field of movement, providing tiles to capture or stealing them from under your enemies feet.
Where do they keep coming from?
I was grasping the concept of the abilities and the territories and I started to win handedly as I progressed through the campaign. I even contemplated moving up from the “Initiate” difficulty level to the next level named “Adept. I contemplated it but I swear I heard Han Solo whisper in my head “Great Kid! Don’t get cocky” and I backed off. I was glad I did.
The next level was a new chapter and instead of just one enemy to face now there were two. Again came failure after failure while feeling like the game was telling me “watch me and do what I do”. I swear I was but I just wasn’t doing something right. Like before I took a step back, came at it at with a different tactic and started to progress again through the campaign.
I have stated before that I love a game with a good story. While I can’t comment on the whole story as I didn’t have time to play through all 130 levels (nor do I believe I possess the skills to get much farther than what I already have). The part of the story I did manage to get through was unfortunately rather predictable and not that memorable. That being said, the story does serve as a bit of a prelude to each encounter so I learned to quickly read it prior to jumping in.
What A Druid’s Duel does fantastically is casual strategy. The game is not as deep as Civ or Alpha Centauri but it is faster paced and you can play a level in under 30 minutes for the most part. I managed to get through a few in the beginning in under 10 minutes. Those of you that are actually good at strategy games could improve on my times significantly. The gameplay is solid. The music is soothing, appropriate and well done. It does tend to get a little repetitive so I turned it down after a while. The levels themselves are well crafted and the graphics reminded me of older cartoons. By that I mean the tiles and Druids appears to be handdrawn characters with just enough detail to trick your mind into thinking there is actually more. While the levels do tend to feel similar to one another the initial placement of tiles, enemies and controlled land made each level I played more challenging and diverse.
I wish I had friends...
When I received the invitation to review A Druid’s Duel I was given the opportunity to play against the individual who provided the press kit and game codes. I thought I should learn the ropes in single player first before attempting online humiliation. After being trounced on the easiest difficulty setting in single player I decided in self interest not to take him up on the offer.
I did actually try to play the online multiplayer...just not against anyone who may have the remote possibility of knowing who I am. To enable online play in A Druid’s Duel, you must sign up for the games portal. This will give you access to the leaderboards, friends lists and news. I would say the portal would fall under the “nice to have” category and honestly most of what it does can be handled by Steam. Sadly though I was unable to find a match which, while good for my ego, was bad for the review. That being said, the game play would be relatively the same with the exception of added real human players, who would take no pity on me whatsoever.
All in all, A Druid’s Duel is a well crafted, engaging, quick, and most importantly, fun casual game experience. If you have ten dollars burning a hole in your pocket and are looking for a game you can easily jump in and out of I can highly recommend it. I can see this being a great game to play while on a commute and all the while I was playing I kept thinking that A Druid’s Duel would be a great game on a tablet...so long as that tablet supported Steam at the moment. (hint hint Thoughtshelter!)
Ubisoft is on the ropes in 2014. Last year, Ubi had two games that nearly made our GOTY list: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and AC IV: Black Flag. This year they have bungled the ever-loving shit out of Watchdogs, tried to sell us a $60 broken commercial in the form of an Assassin’s Creed game, and I can assure you that The Crew is not being considered for GOTY. That means there can be only one last shot for Ubisoft: Far Cry 4.
Ubisoft has taken the Far Cry franchise away from its familiar island setting and tucked it away in a fictional Himalayan country, named Kyrat. Although the President of Kyrat assures the world that his regime is a Democracy, it is instead a pure military dictatorship with all the trimmings: forced labor, sex slaves, a brisk drug trade, gladiator matches, and a heavy-handed disdain for the good old days. There are a few brave souls, called The Golden Path, who fight for freedom and tradition under the mighty heel of authoritarian oppression. If only they had a symbol to rally around...
Ajay Ghale, American raised son of Kyrat, is bringing his mother’s urn back to Kyrat to fulfill her dying wish. Things go very bad very quickly when Ajay is kidnapped by the President of Kyrat, the flamboyant Pagan Min, and forced to eat crab rangoon in a palace while his “plus one” is tortured for information. Terrorists, led by the traditionalist Sabal, soon storm the palace and liberate Ajay from his meal, but leave Ajay’s friend, Darpan, on the rack with electrodes on his nipples, with the assurance that he would understand.
Ajay eventually finds refuge in the hometown of the local resistance and is shocked to discover that his father founded the Golden Path before his murder at the hands of Pagan Min. The locals convince Ajay to fight for a land that isn’t his in the name of a father that he never knew. Okay, it’s a video game, not a Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s enough to get shit started.
A Tried and True Formula
Not much has changed in the way of gameplay from the last two Far Cry games. Players scale towers and put them out of commission to remove the fog of war and highlight points of interest on the map, as well as landmarks, animal hunting grounds, and the locations of helpful herbs.
Securing outposts from the opposition is another task that Far Cry veterans will immediately recognize. Each enemy outpost taken will provide another fast travel point on the map and open up side quests, like hunting, assassination missions, hostage rescues, and game hunts.
The new part of the outpost and tower formula is the fort. There are 4 fortresses to claim in Far Cry 4, one for each villain: De Pleur, Noore, Yuma, and Pagan Min. These are very heavily fortified with platoons of reinforcements at the ready, making these a very good opportunity to flex your co-op muscles. If you don’t have any friends, assassinate the fort leader to cripple the defenses, or hire a mercenary or two. Taking out the fortress will stop the attacks on all outposts in the area and net the player a nice chunk of change.
Pagan Min runs a robust policy of propagandization on his subjects. The local pirate DJ will reward the player with a sack full of attaboys for taking out Min’s propaganda centers with extreme prejudice. Removing any propaganda posters that litter Kyrat will also reward players with extra little goodies.
Tools of the Trade
Ubisoft has kept the weapon selection from the last couple of games: assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, grenade launchers, bows, rocket launchers, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, pistols, etc. Using the bow on hunts will double the usable hides for crafting. Players must craft their own holsters, wallets, grenade pouches, etc. Ajay is obviously a very inept and wasteful seamstress: it takes 5 Rhino hides to craft a single wallet. Who in the hell is going to use the world’s most gigantic and endangered wallet?
Besides the endangered Rhino, players will also hunt goats, deer, bears, tigers, leopards, and fish for crafting purposes. Oh yeah...don’t forget about the fucking Honey Badger.
All of the familiar travel options have returned: jet skis, four wheelers, gliders, shitty cars and trucks, gun trucks and boats. Ubis has added a crappy 3-wheeled taxi thing and a gyrocopter. Don’t expect any racing cars in this game, but expect to race anyway.
This Ain’t Rook Island
As expected, Far Cry 4 is a much better looking game than its predecessors.Ubisoft has taken the feedback from Far Cry 3 and have done their best to create another bad guy to be remembered. Pagan Min is stylish, well spoken, dignified, and deceptively violent. He has his foot on the throat of Kyrat and he’s having the time of his life. Pagan will occasionally contact Ajay, through the radio, just to let his personality shine.
The outpost and fortress sieges required a bit more of a tactical approach than before, and I liked the fact that bonuses are rewarded for being stealthy and not setting off alarms. If the player is not satisfied with the result of the assault, it can be replayed at anytime.
The wildlife is a bit more aggressive and deadly in this game. There were several times that I was attacked by animals while attempting to sneak up on an outpost. Tactics change very quickly when tigers are attacking, alarm bells are ringing, and reinforcements are en route. Since Kyrat is landlocked we did lose sharks, but we gained Eagles. Be wary traveler, death may come from any direction, even the sky itself.
You Knew it Was Coming
The biggest gripe I have about the game is its willingness to sacrifice suspension of disbelief over stupid shit. Ajay can fix trucks with smoking engines by welding the door handle. The Golden Path does not assist Ajay in taking an outpost, but they should be able to defend it, right? Nope, drive 100 feet from a newly liberated outpost and a panicky voice will come on the radio to inform you of an attack that they cannot repel on their own. How did these people get along before Ajay arrived?
This lack of self reliance permeates the entire game. Ajay continually has to break off from what he’s doing to help in a firefight, protect civilians and soldiers from animal attacks, and singlehandedly respond to any emergency that happens to occur in Kyrat. I’m kind of busy here, send one of those useless Golden Path guys to do it...but have him change into a red shirt first.
Keep in mind that this is not a kid’s game. The game slathers on the profanity and violence like butter on cornbread. There are multiple depictions of drug use and drug references. Kyrat’s entire agricultural industry is dependant the heroin and opium trade, so drugs are a perpetual and pervasive theme. There are also some wild naked titties.
Despite the contrived shooter genre plot devices, Far Cry 4 is a lot of fun to play. The gunplay is tight, the driving is bumpy but exciting, and I never got the feeling that any place was entirely safe. Co-op and multiplayer modes are icing on a familiar but favorite cake. If you liked Far Cry 3 or Blood Dragon, then this is likely more of what you like. Far Cry 4 is huge fun, and gets our highest rating and due consideration for GOTY.
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.