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.
Bungie has a unique connection with the 2old2play community. Halo 2 was the centerpiece around which our community was formed, their games are some of the most heavily played and hotly contested on the site, and when Bungie decided to play Destiny online they chose 2o2p to show off their newest IP, in an exclusive livestream with Doodi and Hitman. We have a history together.
This relationship with Bungie, and the Halo series in particular, was the primary reason that there was no front page review for Halo 4 when it was released. It would have been difficult to compare 343’s continuation of Bungie’s work without being able to put the game into proper context: it would have been a lot of homework and whatever conclusion the writer would have drawn from the experience would have been wrong in the eyes of those who love, live, and breathe the games. I was not ready or willing to subject myself to that kind of scrutiny, so I left it alone. Destiny, however, is a brand new IP without the established mythos and history of the Halo franchise, and I am no longer apprehensive about having my dick stepped on by the community...so here we go, amigo.
Destiny begins near a defunct Russian cosmodrome in the future. A traveling ball of wonder, known as the Traveler, has driven the technological advancement of the human race on Earth, allowing their influence to spread and prosper to other planets in our solar system. However, the Traveler, an entity of light and benevolence, was trailed across the universe by many different enemies of light. The forces of darkness waged war against Earth and light, devouring our colonies, draining the light, and reducing our population to a single protected city, which is now under threat of annihilation.
Biomechanical ghosts have been sent in search of fallen Guardians to be resurrected and put to use by the forces of light against those who would destroy it. The player’s ghost, voiced by actor Peter Dinklage, resurrects the player, finds them a weapon, and the game is on.
Classes and Weapons
The player may choose from 3 different classes: Hunter, Titan, and Warlock. Hunters are the sharpshooters and blade dancers of the bunch, generally utilizing a one at a time approach to crowd control by quickly dispatching an enemy and moving on to the next. Titans are the tanks of the three, capable of destroying many enemies at once and providing protection for the rest of the team. Warlocks balance the two offensive styles with a mix of crowd pleasing and singular attacks, but may boost team mates later in the game and are able to resurrect themselves.
Weaponry is a mix of old school and futuristic: pistols, boomsticks, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, grenades, pulse rifles, etc. Warlocks can use magical attacks and Titans can take advantage of powerful mechanically assisted melee attacks.
Destiny is a good mix of FPS and RPG. Almost everything in Destiny can be upgraded: character abilities, weapons, armor, ships, and vehicles. Much like Diablo, I spent a great deal of time tweaking my gear to get the most punch out of my play style. I generally utilized a pulse rifle/boomstick of the future/rocket launcher offensive combination, for my Hunter, in conjunction with armor that provided the greatest protection while allowing me to carry more ammunition for my weapons. Loot drops are infrequent, but there may be a secret Russian cave to please the loot whores out there.
Bungie does several things very well, perhaps better than anyone else in the genre. First, the gunplay is exquisite and accessible. The controls are fresh and crisp, and even I had no trouble locking in on a single, moving opponent from a distance, putting him down, and quickly moving to the next.
Destiny’s story is presented organically. The player is able to progress the story on their own instead of having the plot force-fed to them by long-winded NPCs or lengthy cutscenes. Subtle narrative is a rarity in this business, and Bungie has put a lot of thought in getting the player into the action quickly and allowing the story to unfold one piece at a time.
There are very few lulls in the action. The game is a constant, persistent assault on the forces of evil, who are divided into four different, and often competing, factions: The Hive, The Fallen, The Vex, and The Cabal. Apparently the forces of darkness don’t do the whole unity thing.
My final accolade goes to the level design. Players will battle on the Moon, in the ruin-filled jungles of Venus, on alien ships, Martian cities and installations, abandoned and rotting structures of Earth, and more than a few caves on different planets. My favorite was an underground train station beneath the Martian surface which begins in pure darkness and finished strong in a maze of train cars and apparating Vex enemies.
Competitive multiplayer, known as Crucible matches, are probably the least unique part of the game. Although the games modes are very vanilla, the level design on the multiplayer maps are very interesting and make good use of players’ special abilities. However, they are, for the most part, devoid of the lanes and choke points that amp competitive gameplay. Another point of contention is that the weapons aren’t balanced very well, which means that almost everyone is packing the pulse rifle/boomstick combo. Noobs will be discouraged very quickly in the Crucible.
Vanguard allows players to take a fireteam on raids into enemy territory for some of the more exciting cooperative gameplay that can be found during the campaign. A good mix of character classes is recommended for survival, unless you’re out for the revival achievement.
You Knew It Was Coming
As good as Destiny is, there are a few things that I have a problem with. I do not like sharing my single player exploration with a world filled with random strangers. This always online bullshit can be problematic, especially when players cannot connect to Bungie’s servers...which happened on more than one occasion. Developers shouldn’t be following EA’s example.
Another disappointment was the blatant stupidity of the enemy AI. I have literally stood directly in front of enemies who were content to stand there and ignore me until I decided to knife them in the face. No single enemy was ever a true threat and only swarms of enemies stood a chance against even the most cross-eyed marksman. Most of these enemies are pure fodder and bullet sponges. If you want a true test of skill, you’ll have to enter the Crucible and endure Timmy and his pulse rifle.
No game is perfect, but Destiny comes pretty close. The campaign length is comparable to the Halo games, but the co-op is way more fun than it has a right to be. If you have a few friends on your list with Destiny, you will enjoy a great deal of replayability. If you have been waiting for the next great shooter for the 8th Gen, this may be your go-to game for a good, long while.
Although not as commercially successful as the Battlefield or Call of Duty series, Sniper Elite has carved out a niche in the shooter genre for the blatant and unrepentant camper crowd. Sniper Elite 3, developed by Rebellion Development and published by 505 Games, has brought the best parts of Sniper Elite V2 to the current generation of consoles.
In Sniper Elite 3, American sniper Karl Fairburne is sent to the besieged city of Tobruk to help repel Nazi forces, under the command of General Vahlen, during their North African campaign of 1942. The city ultimately falls to the overpowering offensive capabilities of the Germans, but Fairburne’s efforts get noticed by the British, who recruit the hawk-eyed sniper for a little recon and assassination mission. It is the player’s mission to uncover General Vahlen’s plans, disrupt whatever evil he is planning to unleash upon North Africa, and put a bullet in his bitch ass.
Tools of the Trade
Snipers are not armed like regular infantry. Karl’s starting loadout is comprised of a scoped M1 Garand, a Sten SMG, and a silenced Welrod pistol. These weapons can all be upgraded with different scopes, barrels, and stocks as the game progresses. Other weapons, like the Thompson SMG, MP-40, or Luger 9mm, can be substituted for the standard loadout, but I was happy with the starter set for most of the game.
Players are also able to make use of trip mines, land mine, AP mines, dynamite, grenades, and rocks. Camping snipers are generally big pussies in a firefight, so the smart ones set up traps to cover their six while they cowardly eliminate targets from a relatively safe distance. Bonus points are awarded for shooting from cover or from sniper nests, or by muffling their shots. Shots can be muffled by passing aircraft, noisy Ratte Factory machinery, or by sabotaging generators to sputter noisily,. This often requires that shooters synchronize their shots with the ambient noise spikes to effectively camouflage their shots. Some secondary weapons, like the Panzerschreck, can also be found in certain areas and are useful in taking out tanks, vehicles, and groups of unfriendlies.
The Trail of a Dangerous Man
General Vahlen is a very dangerous adversary who is up to some large scale shit. However, being a video game villain, he has left a trail of information for those who are willing to kill to get it. This trail winds through Nazi oasis camps, dusty canyons littered with destroyed vehicles and ancient ruins, occupied African cities and fortresses, and a super weapon factory built into the side of a mountain. The levels are mini-sandboxes, generally allowing the player to complete objectives in any order desired. The graphics are very good, but the landscape is mostly brown and drab: it is set in the desert, after all.
Karl will have to assassinate targets to obtain information from the bodies, track enemies, disable vehicles and howitzers, protect allies, rescue prisoners, and kill a mountain of Axis soldiers to get to Vahlen. Players can also collect items like playing cards and war journals for some extra XP.
Carving a Niche
The Second World War has been mined to death for game content. Stormed Normandy beach? Yep, done that. Parachuted into Nazi-occupied France? Been there. Tortured Nazi officers for information with a chainsaw before flying to the moon? You betcha. However, scoping in on a soldier, calculating for distance and elevation, and pulling off a perfect head shot was more rewarding than I expected it to be. Especially when that reward comes in the form of an X-ray slow motion close-up of the carnage. Why can’t this feature be in every shooter campaign? The money shot not only features head shots: I blew out intestines, punctured kidneys, perforated lungs, and even blasted the balls off of bad guys. Anatomy has never been this much fun.
Sniper Elite 3 is, by no means, a particularly fast-paced game, but that doesn’t make it slow or unexciting. If you do fuck up and get in a jam, the Sten will be effective enough for a group of three or so, but the player will need to relocate if he or she draws too much attention. Moving vehicles will have to be taken out by either sniping vital parts or with anti-vehicle weapons. Players can also take a stealthy approach with the Welrod or the knife...but they better make it count the first time.
Rebellion has conjured up several competitive multiplayer modes based on the sniper-centric theme of the SP campaign. Cooperative includes a protect the partner from a distance, tag and bag, and horde mode. Several single player challenges exist for those who have exhausted other play types, and there’s a global leaderboard to let players know where they stand in each challenge.
You Knew it Was Coming
No game is perfect, and Sniper Elite 3 is certainly no exception. Sometimes the vaulting/jumping mechanic doesn’t work correctly, often exposing the player to enemies at an inopportune time. Although Karl is a formidable sniper, the nature of his profession requires him to travel light and unarmored and as a result he dies very quickly in gunfights. Disappearing bodies can be problematic, especially if they are carrying the vital information that Karl needs to progress the level.
Most objects in the game cannot be interacted with, which means a folding canvas chair poses the same impenetrable quality as a wall. The AI, for the most part, is incredibly unbalanced. They are either infallible sharpshooters of the highest quality and keenest level of alertness, or they are nearsighted dolts who incompetently ignore grazing bullets and a completely visible opponent directly in their line of sight. The single player portion of the game is very short, less than 12 hours, but the multiplayer stuff can keep the magic alive a bit longer, if you’re into that kind of thing.
I had more fun with Sniper Elite 3 than I should have but, despite its relatively short campaign, I had enough by the time I had finished and had no desire to participate in a 4v4 sniper campfest. It’s a fun experience, but I would wait for a sale before adding Sniper Elite 3 to my game library.
Detective Ronan O’Connor is killed in the line of duty while investigating Salem’s Bell Killer. O’Connor, a widower, is unable to join his wife in the afterlife until he can take care of his unfinished business. Ronan now exists between two worlds: the living world and a ghost town full of souls who haven’t resolved their corporeal affairs. Ronan now must solve his own murder before the Bell Killer can strike again. Sounds like this ghost could use some help.
Ronan soon finds a reluctant ally in a local medium, named Joy, whose mother was helping the Salem police on the Bell Killer case. The killer has taken an interest in Joy and her mother, so the girl takes refuge at a nearby church while helping Ronan with material objects, like opening doors. O’Connor often finds opportunities to help other ghosts find the light by using his detective skills to find their bodies, solve their deaths, or remove whatever personal baggage is holding them to the material plane.
No Ghost Bullets For You
Murdered: Soul Suspect is not a shooter game, it’s a detective story. Much like Ryse, the game is driven almost completely by its narrative. The majority of the gameplay is spent doing detective work, exploring the world, interacting with ghosts, and a few quick time events. If you’re looking for some kind of spooky shooter or horror game, then keep looking. The only actual action in the game consists of taking down demons, which is a quick time event, or running around as a cat, which introduces some mild platforming elements to an otherwise action-free game.
It’s Kind of Like LA Noire
Those of us who have played LA Noire have some fond memories of collecting clues, pondering the evidence, interrogating suspects, and solving the case. Some of the elements have trickled into this game, but they have been dumbed down for a slower crowd. The clues in Murdered: Soul Suspect are impossible to miss, since they are usually marked by chalk, an evidence marker, or have a light shining directly on them to make them stand out: you’d have to be an idiot to miss them. Even if you are an idiot, there is no way to come to the wrong conclusion due to the “everyone’s a winner!” style of unerring deduction. Players are simply not allowed to be wrong. This would be fine if Murdered was being sold as a children’s game, but the profanity puts this on the adult shelf.
It’s Kind of Like Watching TV
The seemingly singular focus on the narrative almost eliminates the necessity for someone holding the controller. I play games because they’re interactive. The player should have some measure of control, or at least the illusion of control. There should be some sort of accountability for player error, and there should be a reason for a controller and a person holding it. When the most interactive part of your game is prowling around as a house cat, then there’s a problem with your game.
This is not a game: it’s an episode of the Twilight Zone. The game looks good, the voice acting is top-notch, and the story is one of the best on the new consoles, but Airtight focused so heavily on crafting a story that they left the player out. I can watch fucking ghost stories on Netflix.
The game is short enough to be conquered in a couple of evenings and offers no replayability. Consider this title a weekend rental only.
Is it Watch_Dogs, Watch Dogs, or Watch-Dogs? Does it live up to the hype or is it just another game that had a little too much to drink at last year’s E3 launch party and decided to send out a naughty tweet to the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance?
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC
THE WINDY CITY… WITH THE WIND KNOCKED OUT OF IT
Originally announced at E3 in 2012, to much fanfare, Watch Dogs was originally scheduled for launch in November 2013 but ultimately launched on May 27, 2014 to allow Ubisoft to add more polish to it. Set in a digital stand-in for Chicago, protagonist Aiden Pearce explores this sandbox world by hacking pretty much everyone and everything with his generic looking stand-in for a smartphone while trying to save his sister in between side missions of ridding the city of its criminal elements, avoiding or defeating rival hackers, and racing from point to point. A backdoor into Chicago’s central operating system or ctOS allows Aiden free reign over everything and no one is safe… especially those responsible murdering his niece and kidnapping his sister.
Eleven months earlier, after a failed robbery at the Merlaut Hotel that led to his niece’s murder instead of his, Aiden Pearce seeks revenge. Armed with l337 hacking skillz of prompting you to press X or Y and his Samsung Android/Apple iPhone wannabe smartphone Aiden is ready to don his baseball cap, a bandana, and his leather one-strap Trenchcoat of Holding (I don’t know what else to call it - It can magically hold an arsenal of shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and chemicals and electronic components to save the day without encumbering the wearer or interfering in the wearer’s movement). Aiden appears to take on a badass persona but never quite succeeds because the only one that takes Aiden’s badassedness seriously is Aiden and the game publishers. The audience is simply told in very indirect terms that “Aiden is a badass” without any actual proof… unless you consider hacking $6600 from a citizen that was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and then showing up to your nephew’s birthday party without a present as being a badass. In that case, he isn’t a badass, he’s just a dick and like the Windy City of Chicago that missing any actual wind in this game, Aiden’s the badass that’s missing the bad… ass.
GRAND THEFT WATCH_DOGS?
One of the biggest obstacles for Watch Dogs are the endless comparisons to Grand Theft Auto that it has had to endure. I don’t think this game was ever meant or marketed to be a GTA replacement. If it was, the person responsible for that marketing effort should be caned and canned because it isn’t GTA. Yes it’s a sandbox game just like GTA. Yes there are vehicles that, much like in GTA, you can jack from those driving them. Yes there are missions that involve you shooting up several enemies and blowing things up just like in GTA… but this is no GTA. It is a completely different game just as Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown, Infamous, etc. are all different games yet none of them were compared to GTA as harshly as Watch Dogs.
If you’ve played GTA though, you can’t but help make the comparison. Running and not being able to jump in Watch Dogs gets irritating. Not being able to freely melee any of the NPCs like you could in GTA gets annoying. Not being able to go to a strip club and use your mic on a live stream to verbally seduce a virtual stripper is a major hang up. Having the police on your tail and not being able to get rid of them like a bad case of herpes can ruin your day. Not being able to go to a strip club. Attacking an armored vehicle for $7G’s or mugging pedestrians for $10-$30 then running for your life can be a pain in the butt. Not being able to go to a strip club. Minor things like this might make or break a picky gamer’s day (and their ability to go to a strip club).
On the flip side though, if you’ve played GTA, playing Watch Dogs can be a pleasant break from Los Santos. The ability to run around and not accidentally jump to your death from atop a building is a welcome addition to accident prone players like myself! Not being able to go to a strip club and then have your wife or kids accidentally walk in on you telling your virtual stripper how much you like looking at their oddly shaped polygonal boobs is a Godsend.The ability to not accidentally melee a pedestrian for $2 and then having to run from police using deadly force is great. The ability to walk around and look at your phone while making thousands of dollars from hacking and not having to run for your life is so fulfilling. The ability to use certain elements in your environment such as overloaded utility boxes or underground steam pipes to take out enemies is awesome. The best ability in this game however is… being able to pull out your phone when someone in the game is talking to you and pretend like you are checking email or something important when all you want to do is ignore the other person just like in real life. BEST. FEATURE. EVAR!
HACK THE PLANET
Anyone watch the movie Hackers with a young Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller in it? That’s what this game kind of feels like. In the movie like all movies involving hacking, no real knowledge of actual hacking is required. In the movies or on TV, hacking is so easy that just about anyone with a MacBook Pro can do it. So long as an actor/actress can press buttons convincingly like the young Jonny Lee MIller or Angelina Jolie in the movie, they can hack just as you you can hack in Watch Dogs.
Since you can hack in this game, you might as well hack the whole planet, err, city and in order to do that, you won’t playing a lot of campaign. The real action isn’t in the main campaign. It’s in the side missions, walking the streets of virtual Chicago, hacking the people in the city, and mutliplayer contracts/races. The side missions are a combination of races, running after bad guys, or taking out entire street gangs while walking on the streets of Chicago and hacking people in the city is just that and is just that easy. Multiplayer, however, is a completely different story.
My first day with this game was spent just walking around the city hacking everyone and fulfilling all of my voyeuristic fantasies by reading their short little bios that appear on my phone. In between reading bios, I’d make stops to various ATMs to withdraw money from accounts that I had hacked. By the end of the night, I don’t know how many bank accounts I had compromised but I had a good $100 grand in the various pockets of my one-button/strapped trench coat. Don’t mind the fact that I took most of this money from just about everyone that was diagnosed with some sort of terminal illness. Making money illegally was never so easy!
When you get bored of making money (and you will get bored after you’ve purchased the limited inventory of collectibles and weapons in this game), you can tackle the side missions that either have you racing after a bad guy, have you taking out gangs, unlocking ctOS antennas around the city, etc. Just as you start to bore with these activities, a random online player/intruder jumps into your game and hacks your data. It’s not quite stated what data this intruder is hacking or stealing but this player is stealing your data nevertheless (maybe it’s the obese clown Real Doll porn that you have in a folder called “WORK STUFF,” who knows). You then have a limited amount of time to track this intruder down and put a stop to their hacking.
Finally, you can always just walk around the various parts of virtual Chicago and interact with the NPCs.
The multiplayer aspect of Watch Dogs can be a lot of fun with friends and or randoms. There are two ways to play multiplayer. The first is through the game itself by navigating to your map then hitting one of the bumper buttons to go online and the second is through the mobile phone ctOS app. The Online Multiplayer modes are:
1. Online Hacking has your character infiltrating another characters game with your objective being to locate the other player and install a backdoor into their network while remaining undiscovered. If you do to get profiled, the other player's objective is to find you and kill you.
2. Invasion happens when someone else invades your game. Your objective is to track down the intruding hacker, profile them and kill them before they can fully install a backdoor into your network.
3. Online Tailing is like an online game of cat and mouse where you take turns trying to follow each other without being detected. In the event of detection, the goal changes to the same goals above - find and kill the player tailing you.
4. Online Race is pretty simple. Drive as fast as you can from point A to point B while using ctOS to your advantage.
5. Online Decryption pits two teams or three individual players against each other. Each team or player face off to collect data by staying close enough to the source or by killing each other off. The team or player that collects 100% of the data wins the match.
6. The ctOS Mobile App on iOS and Android that allows you to take 5 minutes out of your day to challenge friends or random players in between meetings or while you are out and about ignoring the world.
STOP IN THE NAME OF THE LAW… OF PHYSICS!
Believe it or not, the Disrupt engine that Watch Dogs was built on was originally going to be used for a driving game. Thankfully Ubisoft decided against that as the physics in Watch Dogs would give any driving game enthusiast a permanent WTF look on their face. A couple of Forza friends commented on how they like the driving in this game and how it feels more realistic but this is a video game and although it may be realistic that you can’t take a turn at 100 mph in a beat up economy car in the game and in real life, when your in-game car takes a turn at reasonable speed, drifts onto oncoming traffic, kisses an oncoming truck head on, then causes the truck to fly back 20 feet while you still maintain most of your momentum, you’ve got to question the physics… or real life if this has ever happened to you in real life.
Another item that I’d like to bring to everyone’s attention is the law… The police. The police in this game are ruthless and will chase you with orders of shoot to kill for just about any offense, regardless of how serious the offense. They will pursue you to the ends of the city boundaries with reckless abandon and will not stop until you are dead, dying, or have somehow managed to successfully elude capture. If you drive onto the train tracks or somehow figure out a way to get your vehicle onto the El tracks, they will follow. If you drive from one end of this virtual Chicago to the other, they will follow. If you jump out of your vehicle, they will stay in theirs and run you the f-ck down. If you jump into the water and swim away from them, they, uh… they… uh… they cease pursuit and take a break for donuts. For some reason, they can’t seem to follow or track you in the water and then while you are in the water, your phone magically survives and you can take calls or hack nearby civilians.
As much as I like this game and am still having fun with it, I cannot recommend this game as a brand new purchase. There’s just a lack of polish even if Ubisoft took a few extra months to add it that really bothers me. The lack of shadows on just about everything, vehicles appearing as if they are floating on the street as they drive by, repeating dialog of NPC’s after you listen to them for a while (and when I say ‘a while,’ I really mean 2 seconds), etc. all add to my not being able to recommend this as a brand new purchase… instead, I can say get it used. It’s not quite the ‘next gen’ experience but it’s a fun game to play when you’re tired of the usual fare and if you get it used, you’ll save yourself a few bucks while still having a fun game to play on a rainy day.
Supergiant Games thrilled the gaming world with their first game, Bastion, during the Summer of 2011. Narrated by Logan Cunningham, Bastion quickly became an Indie mega-hit with many people wandering around their homes talking in his deep, throaty voice. Now, almost three years later, Supergiant once again tackles the Action RPG genre with their latest release, Transistor.
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Platform(s): PS4 and PC
In Transistor you play as Red, who is a famous singer in a city under siege by something called the Process. Red lost her voice during the initial attack but gained a sword companion instead. The sword, coincidentally named the Transistor, is voiced by the recognizable velvety tones of Logan Cunningham. Throughout the game, the Transistor helps and guides Red as they travel across the city of Cloudbank trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
It's all about the function
As you play through the game, you unlock additional skills called functions. Functions can be combined and strung together for a variety of battle move combinations. One of the keys to the game’s combat is being able to effectively plan out a few moves while at the same time avoiding damage from the robots. If you don’t plan properly, your functions can be overloaded and thus unusable for a time. If you lose all your functions in an area battle with the Process, you die and have to start that area all over again.
The majority of the game is played in the isometric view, with you on foot hauling around a big ass sword behind you. As you play through each area, you encounter different things that you can interact with, such as OVC Terminals and Access Points.
At OVC Terminals, you interact and learn news about what is happening to the city, as well as “speak” with the Transistor.
Access Points let you configure skills and function combos. They all have cool names like crash(), breach(), spark(), and jaunt(). These terminals also let you re-config functions to create new interesting functions with upgrades, such as load() + breach(). You can have four main functions equipped at a time, with what seems like endless combinations of secondary and passive skills. Players have a limited amount of memory slots to fill, so be strategic in what skills and combos you create.
At the Access Points, you can also add and remove a variety of Process Limiters. Limiters remind me of using skulls in Halo. It handicaps players in some way, but gives more bonuses at the end of each battle. For example, one limiter reduces the number of memory slots you have available. If you completely die, you get the option to remove these though as you try that area again.
“Limiters Make the Process Stronger.”
The gameplay was a little awkward for me at first: I am not used to playing a lot of games with the PS4 controller. With that aside, it did take a while for me to figure out how to configure combos and plan effective moves correctly to take down the enemy Process robots. Which then brings us to the Backdoor.
The Backdoor is a separate area of the game that is accessible from multiple places within Cloudbank. This is your home base: a tropical oasis of sorts, where you can relax in the sun, play some ball, listen to music and even practice honing some of your skills. Think of it as a dream-like world apart from the destruction and mayhem in the city.
I am greatly distracted by this area and end up wasting too much time here kicking around a beach ball. With witty comments from the Transistor such as “Take that ball!”, this area is fun and engaging.
This is just like Bastion, right?
Yes...and no. Transistor has the same feel of Bastion, with a strong narrative story and isometric camera views and they both have the traditional ARPG elements. However, while Transistor plays similar to Bastion, it really has its own sense of style and personality. On top of that, the music is enthralling and the story.
Transistor is just as engaging as Bastion was. Yet, it is in essence, its own beautiful beast. Transistor is the kind of game that shows you there is more to video games than shooting your friends across a desolate field of destruction. It transports you into a beautiful world with a compelling story and maintains that feeling throughout the entire time.
At its core, Transistor is truly delightful, quirky, and at times even breathtaking. For $20 USD, you should not pass this one up.
-- Tiffany "ElektraFi" Nolan