Killzone: Shadow Fall was the game I most looking forward to playing when the PS4 was finally released. Sadly, about half way through the campaign, I just wanted it to be over so I could write this review and be done with it. The single player campaign, while absolutely gorgeous, fails to fully develop what started out as a very intriguing story, and produced some of the most frustrating and tedious gameplay sequences I’ve experienced in recent years. The ending, similar to Killzone 3, is flat out bad. It’s a real shame that the Killzone franchise has been in a downward spiral since Killzone 2, with the exception of its multiplayer component, which remains quite fun.
A bit of backstory; Killzone: Shadow Fall jumps ahead 30 years from the events of Killzone 3. Helghan has been destroyed, and the remaining Helghast have been allowed to take refuge in a gated area of the planet Vekta, dubbed New Helghan. Tension remains high, as the Vektans anticipate a Helghan strike at any moment, which of course is inevitable, as we were shown at E3 2013. You play as a Shadow Marshall, which is a sort of tactical marine/spy; not your ordinary grunt, and tasked with various missions ranging from search and retrieve, to eliminate all hostiles, and even go under cover and infiltrate enemy fortifications. The story starts out very strong, with deep emotional roots that are basically snapped off about half way through. There are still some great moments later on in the campaign, but they’re spoiled by rotten gameplay sequences and the story, which falls flat on its face. By the end, I was left with a, “that’s it?” sort of feeling. Which is truly a shame.
There really isn’t much to say about the combat and gameplay mechanics. They’re all pretty standard fare when it comes to first person shooters. You can carry two weapons, but are only able to swap one of them, which is pretty frustrating. Weapons range from handguns, to automatic machine guns, to rocket launchers, and nearly everything in between. What sets Shadow Fall apart from its predecessors and most others shooters, is the added technology you’re packing. By holding right on the d-pad briefly, you can scan the area for enemies, allies, weapons, and collectibles. If you hold the button too long, you overcharge the radar, which emits a loud screeching sound, alerting nearby enemies of your position. Then there’s your trusty robot friend; a flying drone who can be directed to surpress enemies, stun them (effective against enemies with shields), deploy a one-way shield in front of you, or create a zipline for quick relocation.
There are two things that Killzone: Shadow Fall have going for it; audio and visuals. As you I expected, I was fully blown away by just how great the graphics are. It’s truly a next-gen game, in that sense. In fact, there isn’t anything else I need to say about this, have a look for yourself. The following screenshots were captured using the PS4′s Share Button by yours truly.
I’m not a huge multiplayer gamer, but I’ve always enjoyed playing Killzone online. Specifically Warzone, which is constantly shifting the objective and keeps players working together as a team, even if no one is using a headset. One thing Shadow Fall does differently than previous Killzone games, is that has done away with the experience system, and nearly everything is unlocked from the get-go. On one hand, this is great for new players, since you don’t feel like everyone has a huge advantage over you, but it leaves little incentive to keep playing as there isn’t much to strive toward. Killzone multiplayer is a lot of fun, so I’ll likely continue to play it myself, but I’m sure some people will be bummed that there’s no XP to be gained or rewards to unlock, with the exception of some grenade types and weapon scopes.
Killzone: Shadow Fall definitely has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, those downs are really bad moments in the campaign, which nearly forced me to throw in the towel a handful of times. I stuck it out to see how the story played out, which was a let down, to say the least. And the final-final (post credits) chapter was the worst of the bunch. Thankfully the multiplayer component remains strong, otherwise I wouldn’t even recommend this game as a rental.
The moment I’ve been eagerly anticipating since June is finally here; I have a PlayStation 4 in my living room! Having spent just over a week with it, I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying it immensely, and am quite pleased with my decision to side with Sony at launch for this new generation of video game consoles. In this review, I’ll cover many different aspects of the PlayStation 4, broken down into specific sections for easy reading.
The PS4 is surprisingly small. For whatever reason, I expected it to be bigger than the PS3, but it’s actually smaller than the slim model I currently own (second generation PS3). The slanted (or angular) design is super nice, and it looks very sharp sitting on my entertainment unit. It feels like a quality build and is very sturdy. There are no visible buttons on the front, but it does contain power and eject buttons which are the vertical lines between the two distinct panels. On the top of the console, between the shiny and matte panels, there’s a line of light which changes colour depending on the state the console is in. When it’s powering up, it’s blue. When it’s on and being used, it’s white. And while in standby mode, it remains lit, and a faint orange colour. The disc drive is on the front, along with two USB ports.
Overall, the console’s physical design is very sleek and it looks/feels high quality. It runs super quiet, even when installing games off a disc.
The most important console accessory, and the one that Sony completely failed with last generation; the controller. Thankfully, this time around they took some chances, and have produced what very well might be the best controller I’ve ever used. At this point, I have absolutely no beefs. It feels great in your hands; perfect weight, nice textures. The triggers are more like actual triggers now, with a concave shape that nicely cradle your fingers. The analog sticks are perhaps the best improvement, though. Spaced further apart to avoid thumb collisions, the surface is smaller, with a deep grove creating a nice ring around the edge. They have an almost sticky texture to them, which means your thumbs are less likely to slip off. The face buttons (X, Square, Triangle, Circle) are virtually unchanged, although they’re no longer pressure sensitive and feel snappier.
New additions to the controller are the share button, touchpad, and speaker. The share button is one of my favourite features of the PS4, and I’ll touch on this more later. It has replaced the Select button on the controller, and Options is now in place of the traditional Start button. There’s a large touchpad right in the centre of the controller, which also acts as a button. I haven’t seen many uses for it just yet, other than navigating map screens and acting as an additional d-pad, but I’m sure we’ll see developers toying with this down the road. Lastly, there’s a small speaker built into the controller. I’ve only noticed it being used in Killzone: Shadow Fall and Resogun so far. In Killzone, audio logs play through the controller speaker, while in Resogun, announcements are made via the controller.
While it isn’t advertised at all, the DualShock 4 still has the SIXAXIS accelerometer/gyroscope, so you can tilt the controller in any direction for use in games and the OS. I haven’t seen this used in any games yet, which is kind of surprising, but the one thing I have seen it used for is totally rad. And that’s the gyro keyboard. When you the keypad comes up on screen to type a message, you can click the right stick and it will change to gyro mode. This allows you to tilt the controller to make your way around the keyboard much quicker than you would using the d-pad. Message input has auto-complete, which is actually very well done, so text input using the controller is far less painful than it’s been in the past.
I actually do have one complaint with the DualShock 4, and that’s the battery life. It’s hard to say for sure, as I don’t typically play for extended periods, but I believe it only lasts 5-6 hours on a single charge. It’s simply a matter of plugging it into one of the PS4′s USB ports to charge it back up, which can also be done while you’re playing, but it’s still kind of annoying having to get up during session to charge it. I have two controllers, so I typically have one plugged in, and the other ready to go.
At first glance, you might think to yourself, “Yes! Cross Media Bar is a thing of the past!” And you’d be right, more or less. The PS4 OS still uses a horizontal icon navigation for the main sections, but it’s much more complex than PS3′s XMB.
One thing I was kind of dreading, was the mandatory full installation for games. But I’m completely blown away by how well PS4 handles this. No longer do you have to sit there and wait upwards of 15-20 minutes for a game to install. In most cases, we’re talking a matter of seconds before you’re able to jump in and start playing, and this is due to the way PS4 installs games. Instead of making you wait for the entire game to be copied to the hard drive, it installs the essentials first, which allows you to jump in almost immediately. The remainder of the game is installed in the background while you’re playing. To take this a step further, PS4 will check to see if a game has been installed once you pop the disc in, and will automatically start installing it if not.
Similarly, when a digital game has been purchased, it will download the essential components first, along with the first couple chapters of the game, then allow you to play while the rest continues to download in the background. In some cases, like with Killzone: Shadow Fall, you even have the opportunity to specify if you’d like the single player or multiplayer component downloaded first.
Another thing the PS4 does really well, is relating different bits of content. When you view a game’s details, you can see the DLC available for it, an activity feed that includes all of your friends’ activity, trophies, and more. You don’t need to hop onto the PlayStation store to see what’s new, it’s all right there at a glance, and in more detail with a single click.
Taking this a step further, in all of the social aspects, you have the ability to launch or buy the game you’re viewing content which is related to. For example, if I’m viewing a Twitch stream of someone playing Battlefield 4, if I have BF4 there’s a button that will say Start This Game. If I don’t have BF4, it will say Buy This Game. Same goes for viewing screenshots of videos shared by friends.
PS4′s operation system does a great job of keeping things close by for quick access. With a tap of the PS button, you can switch from the activity you’re doing, whether that be playing a game, using an app, or watching a movie, to the full PlayStation OS. Double tapping the PS button will instantly switch to the last activity you were doing. A good use for this, would be if you need to look up a walkthrough on YouTube. Normally I would do this on my phone or tablet, and have it sitting on the couch beside me. But now I can have a video playing in YouTube via the built-in web browser, and quickly switch back to my game with a double-tap of the PS button.
PS4 is built for this social era in which we live. The first thing you’ll see when the console boots up, is a What’s New feed similar to Facebook’s homepage. Showing what your friends have been up to lately, whether that’s simply playing games, rating games, earning trophies, broadcasting live via Twitch or Ustream, sharing screenshots and video, making new friends, etc. Each activity can be viewed in full, and you can like it to show your appreciation.
Players now have proper profiles, with their trophies, recent activity, personal info, and friends. All of which can be controlled via privacy settings similar to what social networks do. There’s an option to share your real name and corresponding photo with actual friends, so you can be more personal with those that you know, while leaving online acquaintances with your PlayStation persona.
A proper messaging system is now in place, which again mimics what you’d see on Facebook, Twitter, or your favourite messaging app. You can share screenshots and videos directly with friends here, as opposed to sharing to all.
Party chat has made its way to PlayStation, and I know a lot of people are excited about this. You can now chat with your friends outside of games, and each be playing completely different games, or none at all.
Easily one of my favourite features of the PS4, is the Share Button. I have it configured to take a screenshot with a single click, and pull up the Share screen when I hold it. Once the button has been held, a screenshot is taken, and a video clip of the last 15 minutes of gameplay recorded. Gameplay videos can be edited before they’re shared, so you can trim them down to just the awesome moment you want to brag to your friends about. Unfortunately, videos are saved at 720p and are pretty heavily compressed. So you’re not going to see any glorious 1080p videos, unless people are using their own capture devices. I’ve been uploading clips to YouTube, so feel free to check those out.
PS4 has built-in sharing functionality to Facebook and Twitter, via the Share Button. Videos and screenshots can be sent to Facebook, while only screenshots can be shared on Twitter. I’m hoping that down the road, more services will be added, like YouTube for videos. When anything is shared to these services, they also appear in the What’s New section for your PS4 friends to see.
The main reason I’m excited about the share functionality, is that I can use this content in my game reviews. I used to take my own screenshots and capture videos years ago, and I had a lot of fun doing that. But it became quite difficult to do when game consoles moved to HD and I jumped ship from PC to Mac. Now I’m able to capture screenshots and videos with the click of a button. I just wish there was a way I could easily move images and videos from the PS4 to my Mac. For now, I’m sharing to Facebook with privacy set to “Only Me“, then downloading and saving locally.
The PlayStation Store saw a huge overhaul a few months ago, and that interface has been carried over to the PS4. Actually, it’s probably the opposite. The new store was likely designed for the PS4, and rolled out to the PS3 when it was completed. This is a smart move, since the store is now exactly the same on PS3 and PS4. It’s big and clunky, but it runs super smooth on the PS4 and shows off the artwork nicely.
Sony released a PlayStation app for Android and iOS the week before the PS4′s North American debut, and it’s a great companion for the PS4. While I was at my daughter’s skating lesson this morning, I downloaded Sound Shapes from the app, and it was downloaded, installed, and ready to play by the time I got home. The app has loads of other great features, like allowing you to message friends, view What’s New, and even use your phone or tablet as a second screen. Before I discovered the gyro keyboard, I was using my phone to type messages on the PS4, which was super handy. I’ve seen this functionality with Apple’s Remote app, and I use it for typing on the Apple TV.
I know a lot of people are arguing that there really isn’t much to play on either of the next-gen consoles at launch, but I have more than enough to keep my busy for at least a few months. On day one, I picked up Killzone: Shadow Fall, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, and Need for Speed: Rivals. I downloaded the two PlayStation+ freebies (Resogun and Contrast) as well, and have also installed Flower and Sound Shapes, which I had previously purchased no the PS3, and was allowed to download for free on the PS4 thanks to Sony’s awesome Cross Buy feature. Leading up to the PS4′s release, I held off on playing any new releases so I’d have lots to play on the PS4. I’m the type of person who cares about graphics, physics, etc. So even if the difference isn’t huge from last-gen to next-gen, I’d still rather hold out and get that little bit of extra awesomeness. And so far, I’ve been totally happy with all of the games I’ve played. Reviews are forthcoming.
Next-gen is here! And from what I’ve seen and experienced in the first week alone, we’re in for a treat! Launch games are generally met with mixed reviews, and unfortunately this generation is no exception. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to play right now, as I mentioned previously, there certainly is. I honestly couldn’t be happier with my PS4, and I look forward to seeing it grow over the next few years. But most of all, I can’t wait to see developers push it to its limits and deliver some truly incredible experiences.
It’s no secret, that I have a bit of a weakness for the LEGO games. I was crazy excited for last year’s The Lord of the Rings adaptation, and was taken by surprise when it was announced that the next installment would feature a huge roster of characters from the Marvel universe. With the likes of The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Spider-Man, and dozens of other minor heroes coming together to fight a massive threat (quite literally), it’s quite cool to see how it all played out. If you’ve played and enjoyed any of the previous LEGO games, don’t hesitate to pick this one up. It’s definitely one of the best in the series.
Similar to LEGO The Lord of the Rings and LEGO Batman 2, LEGO Marvel Superheroes trades in the level hub for an open world environment, full of fetch quests, races, and other challenges to keep you busy long after the story has been completed. In fact, I finished the story at under 20% completion. That goes to show you how much additional content there truly is. And while there are a lot of minor side quests, there are 11 mini levels which new heroes and villains that didn’t appear in the story, which are unlocked upon completion. While there is no hub per-say, the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier sort of acts like one. This is where you spawn in each time the game loads, where you buy extras, create characters, and quickly access story and mini levels for replay. During the story, you often have to jump from the carrier and skydive down to New York City below. Some characters who can fly, like Iron Man, can fly to and from the carrier at any point.
Stan Lee makes a cameo in each of the 15 story levels, and the 11 mini levels. And rescuing him is one of the tasks you must complete in order to get 100% in each level. In most cases, you can’t save him during the first play through, as it often requires the power of a hero would isn’t currently active, so you’re guaranteed at least one additional play-through if you’re going for 100% game completion. Similar to other LEGO games, there are red bricks in the mini levels, a “True Believer” meter (stud collecting) in every level, and 10 minikits to be found in each of the story levels.
While other LEGO games have had characters with different abilities, Marvel Superheroes takes this about 10 steps further. Since each hero and villain has their own set of powers and abilities, nearly every one of them feels unique. Some characters have mannerisms snatched straight from recent films, which is just great. For example, you remember in The Avengers when Hawkeye jumped off the building, turned in the air, and shot an arrow? The way his body was contorted during that jump is how he jumps in the game. Similarly, Iron Man will do the fist to the ground slam, slow head raise when he lands hard. Little touches like this show that a lot of care was put into these beloved characters, even if they are in plastic minifigure form.
Visuals are pretty standard for a LEGO game. Things look plastic, and shiny when appropriate. The music is quite well done, in that there are quite a few themes that cater to specific characters. I don’t think there are any exact themes from the films, but they are definitely along the same line and totally recognizable.
I played the entire story split-screen co-op with my 5 year-old daughter, and we both had a blast! Even now, she gets upset if I play without her, so it looks like the two of us are in it for the long haul. I ended up getting all 1000 achievement points in LEGO The Lord of the Rings, and I might just go for it again with Marvel Superheroes.
As the dawn of the PS4 / Xbox One era approaches, I’d like to take a look back at the games that made an impression on me during the last generation of video game consoles. They aren’t necessarily the best games, or the most impressive, but these are the games that I have the most fond memories of, and will likely stick with me over the years. In alphabetical order…
- Assassin’s Creed II - PS3, Xbox 360
It took a while to get going, but was a huge improvement over the first game, which didn’t quite live up to its expectations.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum - PS3, Xbox 360
The first truly great Batman game.
- Batman: Arkham City - PS3, Xbox 360
Huge improvement over an already solid game.
- BioShock - Xbox 360, later PS3
The “Would you kindly…” reveal totally blew my mind!
- Call of Duty 2 - Xbox 360
Never grew tired of WWII games, and COD 2 is to this day, one of the best.
- Crackdown - Xbox 360
Agility orbs, get! Seriously, I don’t think I’ve every been so addicted to a game.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - PS3, Xbox 360
Not a huge RPG fan, but I fell prey to Skyrim, and loved every second of it.
- Far Cry 3 - PS3, Xbox 360
So. Much. Fun. Decent story with lots of twists, too.
- Forza Motorsport 2 - Xbox 360
Had such a hard time putting this game down.
- Gears of War - Xbox 360
- Gears of War 2 - Xbox 360
Shockingly emotional story, that was also insanely fun and satisfying from beginning to end.
- God of War III - PS3
Destroying the gods who wronged Kratos was just so great.
- Grand Theft Auto V - PS3, Xbox 360
So big, so much polish, and an absolute blast.
- Half-Life 2: Episode 2 - PS3, Xbox 360
So many great moments, on top of the usual level of awesomeness.
- Halo 3 - Xbox 360
One of the first big bundle games, including a single player campaign, online co-op, online multiplayer, and a sandbox mode.
- Halo 4 - Xbox 360
First Halo title not developed by Bungie, and it might actually be my favourite in the series.
- Heavy Rain - PS3
Fantastic story and unique gesture based gameplay.
- inFamous - PS3
Very cool comic inspired cut-scenes and narrative. Crazy fun gameplay.
- inFamous 2 - PS3
Quite possibly the best first 5 minutes to a game in this generation. Awesome ending, as well.
- Killzone 2 - PS3
Seriously impressive visuals, even now at the day of next-gen.
- L.A. Noire - PS3, Xbox 360
Loved everything about this game. Incredibly motion capture, excellent story, super suspenseful, great setting and atmosphere.
- The Last of Us - PS3
Incredible experience from beginning to end. Some truly heart wrenching scenes.
- LEGO The Lord of the Rings - PS3, Xbox 360
I’ve been a big fan of the LEGO games, and LoTR was just so much fun. First game I hunted all the achievements for in years.
- Limbo - Xbox 360, later PS3
Very unique side-scroller that left a huge impression on me.
- LittleBigPlanet - PS3
It’s literally impossible to play this game, or even watch someone else play, without smiling.
- Mass Effect - Xbox 360, later PS3
I’ve never felt so invested in a game. I spoke to every single person to find out every bit of backstory I possibly could.
- Mass Effect 2 - PS3, Xbox 360
Played this 20 hour campaign 3 times, and never grew tired of it. Plenty of awesome DLC was released as well.
- Portal - PS3, Xbox 360
It might have only lasted a few hours, but I’ll remember it for years.
- Rayman Origins - PS3, Xbox 360
Perfect throwback to the golden age of side-scrolling platformers.
- Red Dead Redemption - PS3, Xbox 360
One of the best endings in any video game, ever.
- Rock Band 2 - PS3, Xbox 360
The first Rock Band game changed rhythm games forever. The second pretty much perfected the genre.
- Skate 3 - PS3, Xbox 360
The series that buried Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was never quite perfected, but this is the closest it came.
- Tomb Raider - PS3, Xbox 360
Undoubtably the best in the series. Only complaint is that I would have enjoyed more tomb raiding.
- Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune - PS3
I was blown away by the sheer scope of the single player campaign, and how good the voice acting and motion capture were.
- Uncharted 2 - PS3
Perfection. An incredible action-packed adventure.
- The Walking Dead - PS3, Xbox 360
Superb storytelling and incredibly suspenseful.
What’s on your list? Let me know in the comments, or via Twitter.
Leading up to its release, I had very little interest in GTA V. Mostly due to the fact that I’ve never completed a GTA game, despite having played all of the previous titles. I always reached a point of endless frustration that nearly lead me to throw my controller at the TV. In GTA IV that was due to obscenely long missions with very few (or no) checkpoints. Thankfully, I had no such beefs with GTA V, and throughly enjoyed the 30+ hours it took me to get through the story.
In a word, Grand Theft Auto V is massive. Everything about it. The world itself, the amount of story missions (69), the amount of side quests, the amount of activities, etc. There is just so much content here, and it’s all top quality stuff. Nothing feels tacked on or incomplete, and the most impressive thing about it, is that it’s not overwhelming. I never once felt like I was being pulled in a million directions, or that I didn’t or wouldn’t have enough time to complete the things I wanted to. You’re free to move at your own pace, and there’s no one pushing or pulling you in directions you don’t want to go. Personally, I enjoy taking care of the main story first, and only embark on the odd side quest. This is how I approached GTA V, and now that I’ve completed the story, I’ve spent several hours exploring Los Santos and the surrounding areas and getting to know some of the locals.
Unlike previous GTA titles, you assume the role of three very different characters. Michael; a retired bank robber, living wealthy in the hills of Los Santos with his family, who pretty much hate him. Franklin; a gangbanger from the ghetto who spends his days repo’ing cars for a crooked sales man, small time drug deals, etc. And Trevor; a psychotic redneck asshole who’s into everything he can get his hands on, from running guns to Cuba, to cooking meth for the locals. Each character has their own missions, which cater to their specific lifestyles, and their paths cross in some very interesting ways. Eventually, they end up working together, more or less, to perform some larger scale criminal activities.
The biggest missions in the game, are heists which involve not only the cooperation of all three of the protagonists, but also a few hand-picked specialists. Before each heist, you’re given a couple choices; how you want to handle the heist (an A, B choice), and who makes up the team. There’s usually a few setup missions before you can embark on the heist, which really makes them feel much more significant than other story missions. The best part about the heists, is that they are multi-stage, and have you swapping between characters through-out. Usually in a dramatic or cinematic fashion, which make for some of the most memorable moments in the game.
The map is said to be bigger than San Andreas, GTA IV, and Red Dead Redemption combined, but it honestly didn’t feel that big. GTA IV’s Liberty City felt absolutely huge to me, with its three islands. None the less, it’s an impressive space to wreak havoc, and quite beautiful in spots. There’s plenty to explore, and good reason to go off the beaten paths. Even nearing 40 hours of game time, I still have some large holes on the map.
Gameplay wise, I felt quite at home with GTA V, which is more than I can say for its predecessors. The cover system is much improved over GTA IV, and everything else feels pretty effortless once you get the hang of the controls, which are fairly standard for a third person shooter. Each character has a special ability, which can tip the scales in your favour, depending on the situation you’re in. Michael has bullet time, Franklin has bullet time while driving, and Trevor has “rage”, which increases damage dealt to enemies.
The story itself isn’t spectacular, but it leaves you never really knowing who’s in control, and if things are going to go as planned. There are plenty of bumps in the road which steer the trio in different directions, and some history between Michael and Trevor that’s dug up later in the game. In the end, a player choice decides which of the three possible outcomes will occur before the credits roll.
Alongside the story, are countless side quests. Some specific to individual characters, others random events that anyone can stumble upon. These includes things like sky diving and base jumping with an adrenaline junky, helping out friends in need with their every day tasks, gun runs, hijacking vehicles, and so on. There are activities which can increase player skill levels, like foot and bicycle races, shooting ranges, flying lessons, etc. And finally, if you just want to hang out and have fun with some friends, you can pull out your phone and call any of your contacts and invite them. Golf, tennis, darts, yoga, watch television, go to a movie, drinks at the bar, lap dances at the strip club… there’s plenty to choose from.
Then there’s GTA Online, a completely separate entity that shipped with GTA V and is free to play. It launched a couple weeks after the release date, and had a pretty rough start, but I hear things have smoothed out now, and GTA Online is said to be a lot of fun with a group of friends. I haven’t played it myself.
In the end, I’m blown away by the quality and sheer size of GTA V. To me, it feels like it has more substance than any of the previous games, and the violence and coarse language doesn’t feel so forced. Or maybe I’m just used to it now? In any case, I’m certainly glad I gave into the hype and picked up this game. It’s definitely money well spent, and despite having already sunk close to 40 hours into it, I anticipate several more before I’m done with it.
One unexpected side effect to playing GTA V, is that it made me despise Assassin’s Creed III a little bit more than I already did. It proves that it’s possible to create an absolutely massive open world game, without having to sacrifice quality. I firmly believe ACIII suffered due to hitting the yearly release window, and hope Ubisoft doesn’t make the same mistake with ACIV, which is due out in a few short weeks.
I’m still blown away by the Rayman franchise reboot, and just how much I adore it now. Rayman Origins was one of my favourite games of 2011, and one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. Rayman Jungle Run for iOS, proved that it could work very well as a touch-based side-scrolling runner. And now Rayman Legends has polished every aspect of those previous games, and added some new mechanics that make it the best game in the rebooted series to date. If you enjoy platformers in any shape or form, play this game!
Similar to Origins, Legends is divided into several worlds, with their own set of levels. Each ending with a boss fight, and a rhythm based musical level. There isn’t much of a story, which is fine by me as I don’t think platformers really need one. The premise, is that “teensies” (little blue characters with huge noses) have been kidnapped, and it’s up to Rayman and his crew to rescue them. Each level has 10 teensies to save, with the exception of the boss and music levels which are just 3. Some are out in the open, while others are hidden behind secret passages. It’s no longer just about collecting lums (little floating yellow things), and you can ace a level without collecting every single one of them. Teensies are the main reason for exploring levels, which will make this game a bit more easy to put down for those with serious OCD.
Gameplay is virtually untouched from Origins, with the only new addition being the ability to occasionally shoot boxing gloves at enemies, and some sequences that were clearly designed for touch screens. The latter didn’t translate all that well to controller based platforms, and I found them to be the quite frustrating at times. I played Rayman Legends on a Wii U demo booth a few months back, and in these sequences, gameplay shifts from the TV to the screen on the controller, where the player is no longer controlling the main character, but cutting ropes, moving platforms, and generally assisting the lead character which is now AI controlled. On other platforms, the player never loses control of the lead character, and now also has to handle these other interactions by way of a single button press. In some cases, it’s no big deal, as you occasionally have to press a button to move forward. But in the more challenging levels, there are some intricate jumping sequences that require character movements timed with platform interactions, which can be quite difficult.
For those that look at replay value in games, there is a lot to keep you busy in Rayman Legends. Each level has you collecting 10 teensies, and typically 600 lums. Over time, timed challenge levels are unlocked, which are variations of levels you’ve previously completed. There are a number of remixed Rayman Origins levels, which are now loaded with teensies to save. And there is a challenge section, with daily and weekly challenges to keep you coming back. Challenge levels include running as far as you can, or reaching the bottom of a pit as fast as you can, and that sort of thing. Your score is compared to friends and others online at the end of each run, and you’re constantly being encouraged to better your score.
Rayman Legends impresses on every level. The gameplay is excellent, and incredibly fun. It’s just challenging enough to have you retrying a level over-and-over until you finish it, or master it, without wanting to throw your controller at the TV. The artwork is absolutely stunning, and the music is delightful, and often quite humorous. Legends is just bursting with charm, and I really hope it gets the attention it deserves.
Sam Fisher’s back, looking and sounding younger than ever. This is mostly due to the fact that Michael Ironside is no longer the voice of Sam, but he’s also been given a bit of a physical makeover as well. Given that Blacklist is a direct sequel to Conviction, and that Sam looks younger than he did in Double Agent, things feel a bit disjointed for long time fans of the series. But fear not, Blacklist is absolutely a game worthy of the Splinter Cell title, even if it feels like you’re cheating on Sam with a more dashing, less rugged version.
I’m not super interested in modern military shooters these days, but Blacklist’s story is quite intriguing. In short, there is a group known as The Engineers, who have demanded that the US remove all of their troops from foreign soil across the globe, and if they fail to do so, there will be an attack on the US every 7 days. The game starts out with Sam and his old friend Victor leaving an airforce base in Guam, when it’s attacked. This serves as a precursor to the Blacklist, and hits Sam on a personal level, as Victor is injured during the attack. Sam is now tasked with leading a small team of experts in various fields, to find out who The Engineers are, and how they can be stopped.
Mission briefings take place on a Paladin aircraft, which serves as the team’s headquarters. Various aspects of the Paladin can be upgraded, which provide different advantages; improved radar while on the ground, access to new tiers of weapons, etc. Between missions, Sam is free to roam around the Paladin, and engage in brief conversations with his teammates. At this time, he can also call his daughter Sarah to check in. I made sure to do this after each mission, as Sarah would often speak of how things are in the US while the threat of the Blacklist attacks loom.
Missions range from pure stealth, to a mixture of stealth and action, to “shit just hit the fan, get the fuck out of there!” Stealth is the primary game play style, as you would expect in a Splinter Cell game. But there are a few occasions when it’s unavoidable to be loud. There are 3 different play styles, and you earn points depending on your actions, which go toward an aggregated score at the end of each mission. Ghost is stealth, which will reward you for sneaking around enemies and using non-lethal force. Panther is for sneaky predators. And Assault is for those who prefer handle every situation with guns blazing. Each mission can be mastered in each of the play styles, so there’s plenty of replay value in the single player campaign if you want to master each. The campaign is a decent length, with 12 primary missions, each ranging from 45-60 minutes in length.
Before each mission, you’re given the opportunity to customize Sam’s loadout. There are dozens of weapons, gadgets, and suit components that can be changed to suit different play styles. I ended up with 2, one for stealth, and one for assault. Once you select a new mission to embark on, you’re given some tips as to what type of mission it will be, and recommended equipment to take with you. This provides as an excellent heads up as to what loadout you should use.
Aside from the primary missions, there are secondary missions presented by each of the members of Sam’s team. They’re entirely optional, and most require you to play co-op, either split-screen or with an online partner. I didn’t end up playing any of them, as I didn’t have any friends on PSN that were playing at the time, and I don’t like playing with shitheads. I’ve heard from a few people on Twitter, that the co-op missions are pretty solid, and worth playing. So that’s some added value for those that are into co-op game play.
The old Splinter Cell team based multiplayer mode, Spies vs Mercs is back in Blacklist, although I didn’t spend any time playing it. I remember it from years ago, though. Spies are equipped with equipment and weapons to aid them in stealing targets or hacking computers, and played in third person. Mercs are played in first person, with a focus on assault and defense. Their goal is to prevent the spies from completing their objective. Mercs don’t have the same physical maneuverability as spies, but their heavy weapon loadout helps level the playing field.
I quite enjoyed the single player campaign, and would definitely recommend it for any long term fans of the franchise. While there have been some changes to Sam himself, the Splinter Cell formula is in tact and just as strong as it’s ever been.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the top – I’ve never played an XCOM game, period. Going into The Bureau, I knew very little about the XCOM franchise, other than the original 1994 game (UFO: Enemy Unknown, X-COM: UFO Defense) is a beloved classic in the PC gaming community, and 2012′s XCOM: Enemy Unknown did quite well, averaging 9/10 on Metacritic. What caught my eye about the Bureau, was the visual style. It’s set in the 1960s, and involves an alien invasion. Sign me up! Retro-futuristic is one of my favourite art styles, and The Bureau gave me plenty for me to gush over. While it wasn’t the greatest game I played this year, or even in the top 5, it had some moments that I’ll likely remember for some time, and overall I enjoyed playing through the campaign.
As previously mentioned, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified takes place in the US, in the early 1960s. You assume the role of Agent Carter, an operative who’s seen some action, and many bottles of whiskey in his time. It’s revealed that he was once well respected, distinguished in his field, and high ranking, but fell on some hard times and turned to the drink, which saw him demoted several times over until he eventually landed behind a desk. Certain circumstances bring him back to the field, and it becomes apparent that despite his recent troubles, he’s the right man for the job.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is said to be a prequel to the XCOM franchise, but I’m really not sure how much of it ties into other games, since I haven’t played them. But it’s clear that this is the first direct contact humanity has had with alien beings, and things aren’t going so well. The aliens have attacked and are invading earth, for no apparent reason. Agent Carter is positioned to train and lead other XCOM operatives, while fending off the alien threat and determining what they want. It’s a decent premise, but things don’t always connect as well as they should.
It feels like The Bureau was meant to be a much bigger game than it is. Between missions you return to XCOM HQ, where you can walk around and speak with other agents, your superiors, and scientists. The area is quite large, and some times they have you going from one end of the other simply to engage in a bit of dialogue. Normally, I’m all for digging deeper into the story and finding out all of the details, but it felt quite tedious in The Bureau. That may have just been due to the time it took me to find the person I was looking for, or the sheer volume of conversations to be had. Regardless, I was far more interested in getting back out into the field, than I was drudging around HQ.
While missions take place in all different locations, they all felt pretty similar. There’s a bit of exploring to do, and you’re encouraged to venture off the beaten path to find weapons and backpack schematics, but missions are linear otherwise. Some of the set pieces, especially later on in the game, were quite neat and memorable.
When you head out into the field, you get to take two agents with you. And back at HQ, you can hand-pick the agents in your roster, train them in whatever abilities you’d like them to posses, and choose their weapon load-out. Agents can rank up to level 5, and this can be done either by having them fight by your side, or by sending them on missions of their own via the map in HQ. It only takes 2 or 3 missions for an agent to be fully ranked up, so you end up with a stacked roster quite quickly, which is good and all, but pretty much completely devalues an otherwise devastating aspect of campaign missions. And that’s that agents can die in the field. If they go down and you don’t get to them before they bleed out, they die, and they don’t come back… for the remainder of the game. This should have a huge impact on the player, but since it’s fairly easy and quick to rank agents up, swapping a fallen agent out for another that’s fully ranked up is basically just a matter of reaching the next checkpoint.
There are many aspects to The Bureau that I found directly comparable to Mass Effect. The fact that you take 2 agents into the field, and access their abilities via a circular menu that (nearly) pauses the action. The HQ, which serves as a hub to find out more information about colleagues and launch missions from a map screen. Even some of the abilities themselves are very similar – lift, push, squad heal, etc. The dialogue menu is pretty much exactly the same as Mass Effect’s. These aren’t bad things, just observations. They all work well in Mass Effect, so it’s not surprising to see other games “borrowing” them.
Of the four difficult levels, I played on the second (normal), and I still found it to be quite difficult at times. The Bureau is totally unforgivable, when it comes to acting without thinking. There’s no run-and-gun. You need to hunker down, assess the situation, form a battle plan, and deploy. I learned very quickly that any other way of playing results in death. Agents, especially early on, are incredibly weak, and even when you’re telling them to stay in cover will go down quite often. Having to revive them frequently becomes a burden, and as such, you have to make sure that you’re in good shape health-wise, as you end up having to leave cover to offer aid.
About half way through the game, it really started to become fun to play, and most of the burden of weak teammates was gone. I had several abilities I could use with both of my agents, and myself included. The really cool thing about how abilities are assigned, is that you can queue them up and agents will follow your directions accordingly. For example, you could tell one agent to go to a specific location, get behind cover, headshot a certain enemy, then deploy a rocket turret. At the same time, your other agent could be moving to a different location, deploy a protective shield on you, then fire on a specific enemy. All the while, you’ve deployed a medic drone, lifted an enemy out of cover, and healed your squad. It’s pretty awesome and totally fulfilling to see your actions carried out in succession, especially when they work and you win the battle.
The 10-12 hours I spent playing The Bureau: XCOM Declassified were mostly enjoyable, with the occasional difficulty spike and tedious agent babysitting scenarios that disrupted things. The story was interesting, and fairly well told, while the characters were stereotypical to the point of being laughable. I’d like to see a sequel to this game, with more focus on the things it does well, and removal of the things that weren’t fully fleshed out and only served as a distraction.
Disney Infinity is a different breed of game, similar to Activision’s über popular Skylanders franchise, it’s a video game with collectible figurines attached to it. These figures are placed on the Infinity Base, then magically come to life on screen. To some, it may seem like a cash grab, and that would be true if the game were utter garbage. But thankfully, that’s not the case. Disney Infinity is a charming romp through some of the most beloved fictional lands of the past several decades.
At its core, Disney Infinity is a sandbox (or toy box) game, with different themed adventures spanning 6-8 hours each. It can be a costly investment, and will set you back $75 for the starter pack, which includes the game, the Infinity Base, a play set, a power disc, and 3 characters; Mr. Incredible from The Incredibles, Sully from Monsters University, and (Captain) Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. The play set includes adventures from each of the corresponding films, so initially you’re looking at 18 – 24 hours of game play, and that’s without even touching The Toy Box (more on this later).
Each of the adventures in the starter pack are unique. In Monsters University, you set out to prove that MU is the superior school by pranking and competing with neighbouring students of Fear Tech. The Incredibles have to stop Syndrome and his giant robots from destroying Metroville. And Jack Sparrow sets sail to defeat Davy Jones, once again. I’ve only spent a couple hours playing by myself, the rest has been split-screen co-op with my 5 year-old daughter Addison, and we’ve both had a blast playing each of the starter pack adventures, although my favourite would definitely be Pirates. It allows you to scour islands for treasure, and explore the open ocean while battling other pirates and the British royal navy. The naval battles play surprising well, and reminded me greatly of those in Assassin’s Creed III. My daughter on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed playing as Randy and Mike Wazowski in Monsters University.
Items and gadgets are collected in the adventures, for use in the Toy Box. Some are purchased with the game’s currency, while others are found in prize bubbles scattered through-out. Stars are awarded for completing objectives, as well as levelling up characters, which then translate to a “spin” in the Toy Vault; a slot machine which unlocks even more Toy Box items.
So, what is the Toy Box? Essentially, it’s a blank slate for creation. The items that you unlock while playing the adventures can be used here, and the options are pretty quite vast. It’s not super complex and advanced like LittleBigPlanet. There are some short tutorials to show you the ropes, but it honestly only takes a few minutes to figure out what’s what. My daughter and I have spent several hours creating our own toy boxes, and experimenting with different things. Along with your own toy boxes, there are pre-made downloadable toy boxes which include items from other play sets that you might not otherwise have access to. While you can’t edit toy boxes that contain items you don’t own yourself, you are able to jump in and have fun with them. Addison was ecstatic when she stumbled upon a bunch of animals in one of the downloaded toy boxes, including several colour variations of Bullseye from Toy Story, which is ridable, as you would imagine. There’s even a race track toy box, where you can control some of the characters from the Cars films, without evening owning the figurines.
As I’m sure you noticed, I’ve already acquired more than the starter pack, which was actually necessary to play co-op with my daughter. You see, characters can only be used in their corresponding story. So, you can’t go bringing (Captain) Jack Sparrow into Metroville, for example. I actually needed to pick up 3 more characters so I could play with my daughter. Thankfully, there is a 3 pack available at a reduced cost (cheaper than buying 3 individuals), which include one character from each of the starter pack adventures. Honestly, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed when I discovered how this worked, as I had planned on picking up at least all of the Monsters University characters anyway.
The figurines, which retail for $12.99 each in North America, are very well made and would be a great addition to any geek’s shelf. The fact that many of them have unique abilities in the game, make it more difficult for someone like me to keep my wallet in my pocket. For example, while playing The Incredibles, I had a tough time fighting numerous robots at once as Mr. Incredible. Where as my daughter played as Syndrome, and was able to pick up any robot with his zero point energy beam and hurl them at others, destroying multiple robots in one go. All of the characters from The Incredibles possess the same powers in the game as they did in the movie. Providing further incentive to collect each of the figurines, there are chests scattered through-out Disney Infinity that can only be unlocked by a character portrayed on the front. In each adventure, there’s a large vault door which requires each character from the given franchise to activate before it will open and reveal a themed Toy Box. While there’s plenty of fun to be had playing Disney Infinity with the starter pack, you’re constantly being reminded that there are other characters to buy, and nudged in that direction.
I ended up buying Disney Infinity for PS3 for no other reason than it’s the console Addison uses the most. She’s huge into LittleBigPlanet, and I can see us hanging onto the PS3 long after the PS4 has been released so she can continue to play her favourite games. As far as I know, there are no differences between the different platforms, and figurines are cross-platform compatible.
Being into video games and having a couple of daughters, you would assume there would already be several Disney games in my collection, but that’s not the case. Disney video games, like movie tie-ins, are known for being mediocre at best. I really wasn’t holding much hope for Disney Infinity prior to launch, as I figured it would simply be another sub-par game that would cost a fortune in the long run. I had intentions on trying to keep this game out of sight from Addison, as I knew she would want the figures more than anything else. Thankfully, Disney Infinity has proven to be one of the rare stand-out Disney games, and with such a massive arsenal of franchises to tap into, this truly are seemingly endless possibilities.
It’s been a few weeks since I spent an evening with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and although it only took a few hours to get through the story, this game has crossed my mind several times since. There are several things that make Brothers a unique and worthwhile experience, despite its length. And I hope that by publishing a review of my experience, others will give it a shot or a second look, if they’ve already passed it by.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, is, you guessed it, a story of two boys who set out on a quest to find medicine for their sickly father. In the opening cinematic, their mother drowns while the youngest son looks on, helpless. Having lost one parent, the brothers will go to great lengths and put themselves in harm’s way to save their father.
Brothers is very much a dark fairytale, filled with mythical creatures and ever-changing landscapes. Each chapter has a different setting, with absolutely beautiful scenery. The brothers often find benches to rest on, which pans the camera across the landscape so you can get a good look at their surroundings. Sometimes showing where they’ve been, but more often where they’re headed.
The control scheme is what really sets this game apart. It’s a single player co-op experience, if you can imagine that. Each brother is controlled by a thumb-stick, with an action button assigned to each, and that’s the extent of it. It took a little while to get a firm grasp on the controls, and there were a few times I died trying to perform what would typical be mundane tasks, but I didn’t find this unique control scheme to be too much of a burden. The brothers have to work together to surpass obstacles and solve environmental puzzles, and since the controls can be a bit tricky, the reward for completion is high.
While it only takes a few hours to complete, Brothers is a game you will likely want to revisit at least a second time. There are some wonderful sequences that only occur once through-out the story, and replaying the game (or individual chapters) is the only way to experience them again. Achievements are another good reason for a second play-through, if you miss some the first time around. Most are for merely completing chapters, but there are some nice situational achievements that will have you interacting with every object and person you come across.
The soundtrack is quite beautiful, and I’ve been wanting to get my hands on it since I first sat down with this game. I’m hoping it will be released in time, but no official word just yet. Another unique aspect to Brothers is the dialogue, in that it’s gibberish. The brothers call each other by name quite often, but those are the only discernible words. It’s not easy to derive emotion from a story told by characters who don’t speak your language, but somehow Brothers pulls this off.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released on Xbox 360 as part of the 2013 Summer of Arcade, and is set to be released for PC and PlayStation 3 on September 3rd. Despite its length, Brothers is absolutely worth the price of admission, and a true delight from beginning to end.
First, a little about me and my current gaming habits - I’ve owned an Xbox 360 since March 2006 (it was released in November 2005). It’s definitely been a love-hate relationship, largely due to the hardware issues that have plagued Microsoft’s second console. But for the most part, I love my Xbox 360 and prefer it over the PS3 for many reasons. With the next generation of video game consoles on the horizon, I decided to side with one of them at launch. Before I looked forward, I had to take some time to look back, and also evaluate the current state of things.
Hardware Track Record
I’ve purchased 5 new Xbox 360 consoles and 1 used console in just over 7 years, and in that time, suffered over a dozen various hardware failures. The last 2 consoles I bought which I currently own, both slim models, haven’t had any issues, aside from the occasional freezing. But even then, they’ve locked up more times than I would have liked.
I’m honestly shocked that no one seems to be bringing up the Xbox 360′s 100% failure rate (prior to the slim model’s release), since the Xbox One’s announcement. I was hoping a reporter would ask Don Mattrick, “Hey, remember the RRoD? That’s not going to happen this time, right?” But no one seemed to, or perhaps I just missed it?
In recent years, the amount of time I’ve spent playing multiplayer games has dwindled significantly. Maybe once or twice a year, a games comes along that holds my interest for a few weeks or so, but that’s usually the extent of it. I much prefer a solid solo experience. Paying for an online service specifically for multiplayer is not something I would do. But I’ve retained my Xbox Live Gold membership for over 7 years now so I have access to other things like Netflix, which in my opinion, should be free to use anyway. If it wasn’t for family members using Xbox 360s in secondary rooms to watch TV shows and movies via Netflix, I wouldn’t have a Gold membership.
PlayStation Plus on the other hand, is absolutely fantastic, and well worth the $4/month. They constantly have sales, with exclusive pricing for members. But best of all; Instant Game Collection. At any given time, there are 8-12 full retail games members can download absolutely free of charge, and keep forever. If your subscription expires, you can no longer play the games, but once you renew, you regain that ability. Xbox Live introduced a similar tactic at E3 this year, offering Fable III (2010) for Gold members, with the promise of Halo 3 (2007) and Assassin’s Creed II (2009) down the road. At the time of writing, here’s what’s available for PlayStation Plus subscribers…
Notice, all of the PlayStation games were released in the last couple of years.
During the course of the last generation of consoles, both Microsoft and Sony have lost a fair amount of my trust. Microsoft, with their ever shifting focus away from games, and terrible hardware reliability. Sony, for how they handled the PSN outage back in 2011. But taking only the last few months into account, Sony definitely comes out on top. With a clear focus on games, and delivering an experience gamers want and have asked for, they’ve regained my trust entirely. Where as Microsoft have had to do an extensive amount of back-pedalling after failing to adequately educate the general public on some very delicate subjects; always-on internet connection and game licensing restrictions.
WTF? While I doubt this happened over night, I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Don Mattrick, the guy who has been the face of Xbox One, just left Microsoft for a company that laid off over 500 employees just a month ago. Maybe all of the negative press surrounding Xbox One’s debut got to him? Perhaps it’s shaken his faith in the product? Whatever the case, when the boss jumps ship before it sets sail, it’s generally not taken as a good sign. This goes right back to my point on trust. How can we trust in Xbox One when it appears the guy at the helm doesn’t?
Honestly, $500 for a new console is no big deal. It’s on par with previous generations, and exactly what I expected both consoles to come in at, initially. The fact that Sony came in at $100 lower, is a bonus. When the Xbox 360 was released, there were 2 versions priced $399 and $499. PlayStation 3 was a whopping $599 at release. Here we are 7-8 years later, and we’re at $399 and $499, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One respectively.
I feel that Sony is moving in the direction I want to see a console manufacturer headed, and are clearly trying to make up for some of their missteps during the PlayStation 3′s lifetime. PlayStation Plus is a much more enticing online service. And most importantly, Sony’s history when it comes to hardware reliability infinitely surpasses Microsoft’s. Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s $100 cheaper.
Will you be picking up a next-gen console at launch? If so, which one?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it hard to get excited about a post-apocalyptic zombie game these days. After all, they are the new WWII first-person shooter. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to get my hands on The Last of Us from the moment I first caught wind of it. Naughty Dog is responsible for some of my fondest video game memories in recent years, with their Uncharted franchise being on my top 10 all-time favourites list. So naturally, I was more than a little excited to see what they had in store for us with The Last of Us. It’s been a long wait, but one that feels fully justified having now completed the campaign. The Last of Us is easily the best looking game on the PS3, and likely of this console generation. Coupled with excellent gameplay and an incredibly intriguing story of survival and hope in a hopeless world, The Last of Us is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Warning – There are light spoilers ahead, specifically regarding the first 10-15 minutes of the game. Nothing major, I promise!
It all starts in a rural town in the southern States, when lead character Joel returns home from a long day of work. Through-out the night, people start acting “crazy” and things quickly spiral out of control. Joel, his daughter, and his brother try and escape the town which is now up in flames and being overrun by infected. Some significant events occur, then it jumps ahead 20 years, and everything has gone to shit. What remains of humanity is holed up in quarantine zones, and there’s little explanation as to what happened in between. The focus from here out is on the characters and their relationships, as opposed to the outbreak. All that’s really revealed, is that it’s some type of fungal disease that’s spread by airborne spores, or direct contact (scratches and bites). Infected aren’t dead, like typical zombies. They’re simply that; infected. There are 4 distinct stages of infection…
- Runners – Basically crazy humans. They mope around until something catches their attention, then freak out and start running in the direction of the source. They can be strangled, and you can fight them off if they grab you.
- Stalkers – The second stage of infection is a more aggressive Runner, with some of the creepiness of a Clicker mixed in.
- Clickers – In the words of Ellie, “Fucking scary!” They make this clicking sound, which gets louder and faster as they detect a human presence. If they get a hold of you, you’re dead. They can be taken down with a shiv, or firearms of course.
- Bloaters – The biggest, most deadly stage of infection. Bloaters are huge, and hurl explosive spores at you. They’re quite slow, so as long as you have room to maneuver, you can chip away at them from a distance. All it takes is coming into contact with them once for a quick death.
Thankfully, all infected ignore flashlights, so you can sneak around in the dark without alerting them. Much of the game relies on stealth tactics, as ammunition and health are always in short supply. My first encounter with a small horde resulted in half a dozen deaths, easy. But later on in the game, I was able to take on dozens of them with relative ease.
Back to the story – it turns out that Joel is a smuggler in this post-apocalyptic world, and you guessed it, one of the things he’s tasked with smuggling is a 14 year-old girl by the name of Ellie. They set out with the help of Joel’s lady-friend to reach point B, which turns into a trek across many state lines over the course of nearly a year. Through-out the campaign, many other characters come and go. Some acquaintances, old friends, and even family. It’s interesting to see how this fungal pandemic has affected people differently, and how they’ve been forced to adapt to this new way of living.
Since the story spans several months, the seasons roll by, and you get to experience some of the most beautiful scenery ever presented in a video game. I lost track of how many times I just stopped to pan the camera around to take in the view. Often, Ellie would say the words that were going through my head at that very moment, “You can’t beat that view, huh?” Seriously.
Similar to The Walking Dead, while the infected are a massive threat, at this point when civilization has fallen, the remaining humans are a much greater one. Everyone is desperate for food, clothing, shelter, and the means to protect themselves and their loved ones. And don’t forget, the story is set 20 years after the initial outbreak. Everything is scarce, and these people haven’t known civilized life for decades. Some of them, like Ellie, have been born into this world, which provides for some excellent dialogue through-out the campaign, as she’s oblivious to the way things were prior to the outbreak.
One of my favourite aspects of the game, is that it never really takes you out of the game, once you’re in. Joel wears a backpack, and anything that won’t fit in a hostler is carried inside it. Scrap is collected along the way, and certain objects can be crafted once you’ve obtained the required ingredients; med kits, shivs, molitovs, nail bombs, smoke bombs, etc. But the kicker, is that Joel has to bend down, pull out his backpack, and craft the items wherever he might be. If you’re in the middle of a fight and need health, there’s no quick button push that will restore it. If you have a med kit, Joel will pull it out and bandage himself up. If not, you’re going to have to craft one first, then use it. This can make for some pretty intense moments, when you find yourself surrounded and the screen is tinted red.
Character models, and specifically facial expressions are phenomenal. Ellie’s face at times, can be absolutely heartbreaking. You can’t help but feel bad for this young girl, who likely never had a real childhood, and is now forced to kill infected and humans alike, just to live another day. Although she clearly has a tough outer shell, she’s still very much a child, and lets out a bit of silliness here and there. One of the collectible items is a comic book series Ellie expresses interest in early on. Nearly every time Joel finds one, she gets all excited.
It should come as no surprise that the voice acting and motion capture is superb. As Naughty Dog did with the Uncharted franchise, they had the voice actors do the motion capture work for the characters they portrayed, which makes the characters’ mannerisms extremely natural, and perfectly in sync with their voices. And speaking of voices, there is quite the cast of actors here. I recognized a few myself, but some others I wasn’t able to place. Most notably, for me anyway…
- Joel is voiced by Troy Baker, who also played Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite, and several other smaller roles in video games and TV shows over the past few years.
- Ellie is voiced by the waitress from The Avengers (AKA Ashley Johnson) who’s saved (along with dozens of others) by Captain America.
- Marlene, leader of the militia group The Fireflies, is voiced by Merle Dandridge, who is known to me for her work as Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2. She also had a fairly prominent role in the last season of Sons of Anarchy.
- Paranoid survivalist Bill took me a while to place, but it turns out he (W. Earl Brown) played Dan in Deadwood, several years back.
As great a game as The Last of Us is, it’s not without a few faults. With every other aspect being of such high calibre, I was able to look past them fairly easily. The biggest complaint I have is with AI, both enemy and friendly. As I mentioned earlier, the game relies pretty heavily on stealth at times, but quite often enemies will be completely oblivious to allies being out in the open or making a lot of noise. I suppose this works in the player’s favour, as you don’t end up throwing the controller at your TV for an ally giving away your position repeatedly, but it takes away from the immersion. Similarly, human enemies will usually walk right by a freshly fallen comrade without a second look.
My final complaint is with the ending. And not specifically what happened, but the way it unfolded. It felt like, for a second, I had a decision to make. And I was really torn, until I realized that I didn’t really have a choice. I had to perform a single action that was put in front of me, that I really didn’t want to. Putting the choice in the hands of the player wouldn’t have really made sense, since there are no other scenarios like that in the game, but I would have rather seen things played out in a cut-scene.
While I’ve heard some good things about the multiplayer, I haven’t yet played it. I may at some point, but I feel like I got my fill out of the campaign, and will be starting round 2 in the near future.
It’s not often a game of this calibre comes along, and it truly is something special to experience. It’s moments like this that I wish everyone I know had a PS3, or that this was a cross-platform release, so more of my friends and family could experience it. Sony’s lucky to have Naughty Dog in their corner, and it’s one hell of a way to send the PS3 out.
While Microsoft’s presentation had me feeling a bit more optimistic about the Xbox One, it still left a lot to be desired. With the ever growing list of negative features and functionality, they really need to go above and beyond to make people want to buy this thing. At this point, I’m not convinced, but I do see myself owning one at some point, once there’s a solid foundation of exclusive titles to justify the purchase. In the meantime, my money is going to Sony and they’re PlayStation 4. In fact, I pre-ordered a PS4 shortly after Sony’s E3 presentation on June 10th.
Yes, I might have jumped the gun, but I have a really good feeling about the PS4 and am thrilled with the way Sony have been conducting business and treating their supporters as of late. While Microsoft is clearly on the defensive, Sony is embracing the gaming community with open arms and delivering exactly what we’ve been asking for. Or rather, avoiding the things we’ve been very vocal about not wanting. With several direct digs at Microsoft during the closing segment of their E3 presentation, Sony made it clear that they’ve been listening, that they care, and that they’re going to deliver the experience that we, the gaming community want.
Here’s are the highlights from Sony’s presentation…
I love that Jack Tretton is clearly having a hard time containing an ear-to-ear grin. He knows they’re on the right track, and the thunderous applause he received verified that. While I’m on the topic of the console itself, here’s what we know now about it and the changes coming to the PlayStation Network, and PlayStation Plus subscription…
- We finally got a look at the hardware, and I’m quite fond of it. It’s simple, but has a nice angular design. Mostly matte finished, with a shiny strip on the top left (when it’s laying down). Actually quite similar to the Xbox One, but looks like it would be smaller in size. No buttons, inputs, or the disc slot are visible on the front, which I absolutely love.
- No new restrictions on game licenses, meaning you can trade-in, sell privately, or lend any disc based games.
- Online connection is not required, and there is no online authentication.
- PlayStation Plus membership will carry over to PS4, and will remain active on other PlayStation devices (PS3 and Vita).
- PlayStation Plus membership required for multiplayer gaming. I assume the PlayStation Store will still be accessible with a free account.
- PlayStation Plus subscribers will continue to receive free games on the PS4, including several of the titles shown during the presentation. Driveclub will be available for free on day one for PS+ subscribers.
- PS4 will have some form of backwards compatibility via cloud based streaming which will be launching some time in 2014.
- Games will be region free, meaning you could import a game from anywhere in the world and it will work on your console.
- $399 price point at launch – $100 less than Xbox One.
As for the games shown…
- A couple of highly anticipated titles are still on the horizon for PS3, which were shown in trailer form; The Last of Us, and Beyond: Two Souls. The former is currently sitting at a staggering 96 on Metacritic with nearly 70 critic reviews.
- Killzone: Shadow Fall
A new trailer was shown, which was entirely game-play. It looked quite different from previous games; lots of lush foliage. This is the game I’m most looking forward to at launch. Killzone 2 and 3 are still the best looking first person shooters of the current generation, if you ask me. I want to be wowed when I fire up my next-gen console, and I know I won’t be disappointed by a new Killzone game.
Not a whole lot is known about Driveclub at the moment. It looks like a casual racing game with lots of social tie-ins.
- Gran Turismo 6
Another exclusive driving game, but for the simulation fans.
- Infamous: Second Son
New trailer, which reveals a bit more about the lead character, his abilities, and the world he lives in. The trailer isn’t overly exciting, but I know the game will be great. The first two Infamous titles are in my top 10 PS3 games. Looking at a Q1 2014 release.
- The Order: 1886
Announced on stage with a full-length trailer. Set in the Victorian era in London, it has a sort of futuristic (for the time period) steampunk feel to it. PS4 exclusive, but no release window mentioned.
- There was a great segment that focused on indie games where they had a number of developers on stage demoing their games back-to-back while they were announced. It was awesome to see Sony shine the spotlight on indie developers like that.
- Some other big multi-platform games were shown as well, including: Assassin’s Creed IV, Batman: Askham Origins, Watchdogs, and a first look at game-play in Bungie’s Destiny.
- Also, a recorded message from Square Enix which revealed Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy XV. As far as I know, both are multi-platform releases.
From where I’m sitting, the only real negative point is how the PlayStation Plus subscription currently works. And that’s that it’s tied to a single account, and would require multiple paid accounts on a single console in order for multiple people to be able to play online. Other features like free game downloads are available to sub-accounts. I wouldn’t be surprised if this changed before the PS4′s launch. Right now it’s not really a concern, as multiplayer gaming is free across the board on PS3.
Update: June 12th, 2013 at 11:35am
It’s been brought to my attention by Anthony in the comments that Sony’s President of World Wide Studios Shuhei Yoshida has confirmed via Twitter that only one PS+ account is required for online play on the PS4, by any number of accounts.
So, there you have it. Neither PS4 nor Xbox One have had their full list of launch titles announced, or even firm release dates set. But we have at least a couple confirmed exclusives for each at launch, with more early on in 2014.
Which side of the fence are you on? Or still perched atop, undecided?
And in case you’re interested in watching the entire presentation, here you go…
Microsoft and Sony have laid their cards on the table and delivered exciting presentations showcasing the new consoles and games we’ll be getting our hands on in the coming months, and in some cases, years.
In the months leading up to the big reveals, there have been several rumours circulating in regards to restrictions imposed on Microsoft’s new console, unfortunately they pretty much all turned out to be true. On the other hand, there really hasn’t been much speculation about Sony’s new baby, which had me a bit worried. No one seemed to be asking them about the important stuff that Microsoft had been under the microscope for. Would PS4 end up having the same types of game licensing restrictions as Xbox One in the end? Are we (the gaming community) screwed either way? Nope! It would seem that Sony is our saviour at the moment, with Xbox One’s main points of concern being directly addressed in Sony’s presentation, and received by thunderous applause. I, sitting alone in my living room, nearly leapt from my couch with excitement as Jack Tretton (President and CEO of SCEA) went down the list.
Heading into E3, I was very much on the fence with both parties. Xbox One has all of these shitty restrictions on games, sketchy business in regards to requiring the console to check-in once every 24 hours, and a mandatory Kinect sensor. But the hardware’s nice, and they will no doubt have games lined up for some of my most beloved franchises. We hadn’t even seen the actual PS4 console yet, and none of the concerns with Xbox One have even been discussed by Sony. But they have a Killzone game at launch, the new controller actually looks pretty sweet, and I loved how their announcement presentation was all about games, with little focus on other mediums like music, movies, and television services.
This is a two-part article, and I’m going to focus on Microsoft’s new console from here out.
Microsoft’s Xbox One Presentation
It kicked off with a lengthy Metal Gear Solid 5 announcement trailer, which I’m sure had a lot of people excited. But I’ve never been a fan of the series, and while the trailer for this new open world game did raise my eyebrows at least a couple of times, I probably won’t end up playing it once it’s released. So bummer, right off the bat. A slew of other trailers were shown, of which only a few really resonated with me. Of the exclusive titles…
- Forza Motorsport 5
I love me some Forza, but I’ve played so many racing games (and every single Forza title to date) over the years, and find it hard to get truly excited about them anymore. Launch title, but not a system seller for me.
- Quantum Break
Looks like it could be cool, but still very little is actually known about it. The supposed in-game footage they showed today didn’t look like actual game-play at all. Due out some time in 2014.
- Ryse: Sons of Rome
They did a proper stage demo for this game, and I was quite impressed. Some brutally violent hack-and-slash action, with cool squad based mechanics. This is a launch title I would probably pick-up.
- Dead Rising 3
Meh. I’m glad it’s going an entirely new direction, as Dead Rising 2 seemed extremely lazy, but when I heard the words “open world” and “zombies” in the same sentence, I groaned like a zombie myself.
This looks rad! It’s developed by a new studio formed by some of the founding members of Infinity Ward. Jetpacks, mechs that rain down from the sky, huge explosions, big battles. Totally looks like it would be a blast. Exclusive title, but not set to release until 2014.
- There were a few other exclusives shown, both in demo form and trailer, but none of them really hit home. Oh, and a new Halo game was teased, which is looking like it will see the light of day some time in 2014.
Some of the details pertaining to the console and Xbox Live…
- A new Xbox 360 was revealed, and in stores today. No idea why.
- Game licensing is very strict. Once purchased, physical discs can only be traded-in to approved retailers. If you want to give or sell a game to a friend, they have to have been on your Xbox Live friends list for 30 days, and games can only be transfered once. Lending games, renting games, and private sales (eBay, etc.) are not supported.
- Kinect (camera/microphone) ships with every console and must be plugged in for the console to work.
- Online connection is required, as the console must check-in once every 24 hours. If you’re playing on a friend’s console, it verifies your user account every hour.
- No more Microsoft Points! They’re doing away with them in favour of real currency. Thank you!
- Xbox Live account will carry over to Xbox One, and can be used on both Xbox One and Xbox 360 moving forward.
- From July 1st until Xbox One is released, Gold members will receive two free games per month. Examples of these free games include Fable III, Halo 3, and Assassin’s Creed II. While they’re all old games, they’re big titles and worth your time.
- Partnership with Twitch to allow real-time streaming from the console. This is a pretty cool feature, and something I can see myself using on this here blog.
- $499 at launch.
As you can see, there are plenty of positive points, but also a good amount of negative. At the moment, I’m not sold on Xbox One. Not at launch, anyway. I will no doubt pick one up at some point, as I can see it being my secondary console, where I only buy the exclusive titles for it. Funny, because the roles are reversed in my living at the moment, with Xbox 360 being my primary console, and PS3 only being used to play exclusives and Blu-ray movies. How times have changed!
What’s your stance now that everything is out in the open? Are you going to be pre-ordering a console or picking one up at launch? I’d love to hear what console you currently prefer, and which you’re most interested in for next-gen.
If you missed the press conference and want to watch it yourself, here you go…
The original BioShock is one of my favourite games of this console generation. When the subject of incredible moments in video games arises, BioShock’s “Would you kindly…” immediately comes to mind. I couldn’t bring myself to play BioShock 2, as I knew it wouldn’t meet my expectations. I was sold on BioShock Infinite however, right from the first trailer. The visual style and the concept of a city in the clouds, combined with what was sure to be a solid story, had me yearning for this game for quite literally, years.
BioShock Infinite is set in 1912, and you assume the role of a character named Booker DeWitt. From the beginning, it’s revealed the he has been sent to Columbia (the floating city) to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth, in order to pay off a debt. The opening scene is very similar to BioShock, in that Booker ends up at a lighthouse and is given a care package containing some necessary objects for his quest. Before long, Booker makes his way to Columbia, and it becomes immediately clear that it is a very different city. And not just that it’s floating high above the earth, most noticeably, its inhabitants worship its founder as if he were a god; Comstock, or The Prophet, as he’s known to most.
Having completed my first play-through nearly a month ago, it’s taken me this long to form a proper opinion and really wrap my head around the events of BioShock Infinite. Its story is deep and quite complex, and one that will likely resonate differently, depending on how much the player absorbs and comprehends. Having played BioShock, I went into Infinite fully expecting a twist at some point, and it felt as if Irrational knew this would be the case for many people, and took steps to ensure there would still be some shocking moments. It was clear to me, right from the opening scene, that things aren’t what they seem, and that a second play-through would likely reveal a fair amount of foreshadowing. I simply took in as much as I could, and put the pieces together along the way. Thankfully, just about everything was addressed and concluded by the time the credits rolled, although the last 15-20 minutes left me scratching my head initially.
Once the game opens up and allows the player freedom to explore the city, things quickly take a turn for the worse, and after a rather gruesome scene, the guns come out and Booker is in the crosshairs. As you would expect, Infinite sticks to the BioShock combo in terms of combat. The usual arsenal of guns are at your disposal, along with spells that range from shooting electricity bolts, to lobbing fire bombs, to possessing enemies and turrets, and more. The spells compliment the guns nicely, or maybe it’s the other way around? For instance, you can zap enemies with electricity, then shoot them and their heads will explode… every, single, time. There are achievements tied to weapon and spell use, so I found myself constantly changing up my go-to weapons in order to nab them. Surprisingly, I enjoyed using all of them, and didn’t feel hindered by constantly switching it up.
Elizabeth. It’s pretty clear that she’s at the centre of, well, everything. But it’s not clear what role she plays, or why she’s so important. All Booker knows, is that he has to leave Columbia with her. The moment when Booker and Elizabeth are first together, a text prompt appears letting the player know that Elizabeth can take care of herself, which was a huge relief. I really didn’t want to have to babysit this broad for the bulk of the game, and that certainly was not the case. In fact, Elizabeth is pretty damn useful! She can pick locks, open safes, find money for you, and even restock your ammo, health, and salts (used for powers) as they’re depleted in combat scenarios.
There isn’t much that needs to be said about the visuals. The environments are absolutely stunning, and character animation is very good. Especially as far as Elizabeth is concerned. Her face is very expressive, and can be utterly heartbreaking at times. The music sets the mood perfectly, and is quite different from what I’ve come to expect from blockbuster titles. There’s no full orchestral score here. Most songs are performed by only a handful of instruments, but they truly fit the era. There’s a little Easter egg about half way through the game, which was one of my favourite moments, where Booker stumbles upon a guitar propped up against a chair. Once the player interacts with it, Booker sits down and begins to play, while Elizabeth accompanies him. The song she sings is echoed through-out the game several times.
I likely spent 15 hours on my first play through, as I was keeping an eye out for the collectible items and scouring every corner for loot. Although I haven’t returned to it since completing the story a few weeks ago, I have no intentions on selling BioShock Infinite or trading it in. I will definitely be playing it again, and have a feeling I’ll enjoy it just as much, if not more the second time through. The bar that BioShock set back in 2007 has indeed been raised.
Over the years, I’ve spent a decent amount of time exploring exotic locales and raiding tombs with Lara Croft. Most of which was enjoyable, but in recent years the quality began to slip. With Lara herself constantly being re-envisioned, at least as far as her appearance was concerned, I was excited when I learned of this franchise reboot. Tomb Raider takes us back to where it all began – or at least, to where Lara transitioned from a n00b archeologist to an ass kicking heroine.
Tomb Raider wastes no time in getting down to business. With very little initial setup, Lara is shipwrecked on an island and finds herself fighting for survival. She appears weak and tired, and downright terrified early on. The player is eased into the game’s exploration and combat mechanics by directing you to waypoints, and teaching you how to use a bow on helpless forest animals. Lara’s goal is to rescue her friends and leave the island, but of course, that’s easier said than done. Along the way, Lara is put through the ringer, both physically and emotionally. She’s forced to make tough choices, face extreme conditions, and accept great loss while continuing to move forward, all in the name of survival.
Difficulty progresses quite smoothly, although it never gets overly challenging. Especially when it comes to solving some of the game’s few puzzles. Unlike previous Tomb Raider games, this time around you spend very little time actually exploring tombs and solving environmental puzzles. When you are faced with a challenge, Lara will is quick to point out the key to solving it. Thankfully, she doesn’t think out loud automatically. A press of the left bumper enables a view that highlights way-points, enemies, ammo, collectibles, and other things Lara can interact with. Combat is much more challenging. Just when I was thinking, “I really wish Lara had a melee attack.” A new ability opened up, and Lara was suddenly able to strike enemies with her hatchet. Things got a lot easier for a while, as I found myself rushing bad guys and pummelling them to death with 3 quick blows. But the game was quick to end my reign of hatchet terror by introducing heavily armoured baddies. This happened quite a bit through-out the game; just when I thought I had the upper-hand, the table turned, and vice versa.
It would seem that the game industry is still on a bow and arrow kick. Like 2/3 of the games that came out in the past year, Lara’s primary weapon, and the one she’s wielding on the box art, is a bow. Unlike many of these other games, I thoroughly enjoyed hunting and killing with the bow, and preferred using it even after acquiring the other standard load-out weapons; handgun, shotgun, and assault rifle. Landing a headshot on a dude at long range with the bow is immensely satisfying, and likely what kept me slinging arrows through the entire campaign. That, and the fact that I never seemed to run out.
I was surprised by the level of gore in this game. Specifically, when it came to Lara dying. There are quite a few quick-time event riddled action scenes, which if not perfected, would result in Lara dying in an extremely grizzly fashion. But I will admit, I definitely died a few times on purpose, just to see how brutal it would be.
Tomb Raider feels absolutely rich with content. Beautifully rendered cutscenes set the stage and tell the story, while documents (journal entries, letters, etc) which are read aloud by their author, fill in the back story. As you would expect, Lara can track down (and steal) relics left behind by ancient civilizations. In previous games, there were bronze, silver, and gold relics. This time, each relic is a fully rendered 3D object, which Lara audibly analyses once found. This is just one of the example of the exceptional level of detail that has gone into this game.
My only real gripe with Tomb Raider, is that although it did a great job of depicting the beautiful young Lara as a strong and able woman, it made me feel a bit dirty at times. Some scenes were setup with perfect angles for peeking down her shirt, or watching her ass move from side-to-side as she scaled a cliff. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m in my thirties and she’s supposed to be early twenties, or maybe because I have a couple daughters of my own, or perhaps because I am supposed to be Lara, but said scenes made me feel a little uncomfortable.
This particular reboot is one that I whole heartedly welcome, and applaud the developer for taking a chance on. It definitely nods to other games in the genre that have taken things to the next level over the years, like Uncharted, but does enough things differently on its own that it doesn’t feel like it’s ripping anything off. This is not only a great Tomb Raider game, it’s an excellent action adventure game, and one that will likely be on many “top games of 2013″ lists come December.
Similar to Dishonored, Far Cry 3 pretty much snuck right past me. I mean, I knew it was on the horizon and had heard lots of people mention it on Twitter and such, but hadn’t even watched so much as a trailer before its release. Once it was in the hands of gamers across the globe, the good word quickly spread, and Far Cry 3 was pushed to the top of my “do not miss” list.
Why wasn’t I paying attention to begin with? Well, that all comes down to my history with the franchise. I recall picking up the original Far Cry (or, FarCry as it was called back then) for PC on release day. I had played the demo countless times, and was anxiously awaiting the full game. I don’t remember exactly why, but at some point it flat out stopped being fun to play, and I threw in the towel. The same happened with Far Cry 2 just a few years back, and I know that was all to do with tedious travelling. So while I played the previous games, I reached a point where I no longer wanted to continue playing, and never completed them. Thankfully, the pattern was broken with Far Cry 3, and I enjoyed every single second of the campaign. Minus being mauled by a tiger, or two.
One of the neat things about the Far Cry games, is that they’re not a continuation of the previous game, in any sense. New location, new lead character, new story. One thing these games share in common though, is the beautifully rich jungle setting. It’s become a staple of the franchise, and the environment in Far Cry 3 is the most impressive yet.
There’s competitive multiplayer and 2-4 player co-op missions, but all I was interested in was the single player campaign, and it did not disappoint! It has one of the best intro sequences in a game that I’ve played in recent months. After a short scene, the stage is set and your thrown into a hostile environment, trying to stay alive. Without spoiling too much; you play a dude named Jason Brody, who is on this tropical island vacationing with his two brothers, girlfriend, and a couple others. They’re kidnapped for ransom, and of course, things go from bad to worse. Jason manages to escape, sets out to find his friends and get the fuck out of dodge. Along the way, he’s taken in by a tribe of natives who claim he is a warrior within, and brand him with their tattoos (or tatau, as they call them). His tattoo eventually turns into a half sleeve on his left arm, and with each new piece, a new ability is learned. Skill points are awarded as you progress, which are then spent on abilities (perks).
The island itself is huge, and similar to Assassin’s Creed, the map is revealed in segments as you capture radio towers. There are countless activities to keep you busy long after the campaign is complete, or along side the main story. Such as; liberating enemy outposts, running supplies in timed point-to-point races, hunting challenges, assassination contracts, and other miscellaneous tasks for the locals. As you would expect in an open world game, there are plenty of collectibles to be found as well. Relics, lost letters from fallen world war 2 soldiers, loot crates, and memory cards taken from enemy laptops.
The story itself is pretty interesting, and delivers some nice plot twists. Character models, particularly the eyes, are pretty incredible. The game is played entirely first person; even during cut-scenes, you are always viewing the events through the eyes of Jason Brody. When characters are speaking to you, they truly feel like they’re speaking to you. Full eye contact, lots of emotion in their facial expressions, and top notch voice acting really bring these characters to life.
While you can play however you’d like; guns blazing, up-close and personal stealth kills, or long-range sniper action, the game puts an emphasis on stealth, and it’s actually required on more than one occasion. Once I unlocked all four of the weapon carrying spots, I was typically packing an assault rifle, sniper rifle with a silencer attachment, flamethrower, and grenade launcher. You always have a knife at the ready for stealth kills, so that’s 5 weapons, plus explosives (grenades, molotovs, mines, and c4 with detonator).
In the jungle, you’d expect to find a wide range of plants and animals. And this is true in Far Cry 3. But they’re not just there to be observed. The tribe teaches you to craft items that will aid you along the way from them. For example, leaves from different plants can be used to craft syringes that will give you health, or enhance hunting and combat abilities for a short time. Animal skins can be used to make weapon holsters, wallets, pouches for carrying items, etc. Once I acquired a sniper rifle, I went on a hunting spree and upgraded my gear so I was able to carry loads of items and weapons.
I don’t have many beefs with Far Cry 3. If anything, there could have been more checkpoints during some of the longer missions. Dying, and having to replay a 3 or 4 part sequence was kind of a bummer. Load times are super long, and not just the initial load. Even when you’re retrying a mission after dying, it can feel like an eternity at times. But given that there is no intermittent loading once you’re on the island, it’s really nothing to complain about. I’m just looking for negatives now, and not finding much worth bringing up.
Of all the games I played over the past year, I’d say Far Cry 3 is near the top, if not at the top of my most favourite list. It’s technically impressive, delivers an entertaining and engaging story, and is simply a hell of a lot of fun to play!
Here we are, with the annual Call of Duty release. This being the ninth major title in the franchise (not counting early console off-shoots). I was likely one of the few who were excited by the futuristic aspect in Black Ops II, which was the main reason I wanted to get my hands on it. I actually hadn’t played the first Black Ops game until October 2012, nearly two years after its release. It simply didn’t interest me, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. It had the most engaging story of any game in the franchise since Call of Duty 2, so by the time Black Ops II was released, I was really looking forward to it. Once again, Treyarch has impressed the pants off me by teaching this old dog plenty of new tricks that breathe new life into an otherwise stale franchise.
First of all, remember when everyone (myself included) used to groan about the Treyarch developed CoD games? Those days are behind us, and they have definitely proven to be a worthy handler of the franchise. In fact, they’ve done more to push it forward than Infinity Ward, at least since the release of Modern Warfare back in 2007.
I always found the Modern Warfare titles to be a bit on the confusing side, as far as the story is concerned. They certainly weren’t easy to follow, with missions jumping between characters and factions, story arcs overlapping, and lots of enemies with foreign names I can’t pronounce, let alone remember. Granted, the Black Ops games still share some of these traits, but not to the same degree. It’s dumbed down to the point where it’s still fairly complex, but easier to follow and overall more interesting.
For most of the campaign, you play as David Mason, Alex Mason’s son. He reaches out to Frank Woods, who now spends his days sitting in a wheelchair in a retirement home, in hopes that Woods can shed some light on an enemy who threatens to unleash a cyber attack on the world. Present day is 2025, and most of the campaign jumps back and forth between then and events that took place in the 1980s, as Woods recounts some of his covert missions to fill in the blanks.
What pushes Black Ops II ahead of the rest, is the addition of choice in the single player campaign. At first, I didn’t even realize story changing decisions were being left up to me, until something happened and I was given a chance to redeem myself. Without spoiling anything; there’s a point where you’re sent to extract a target. The mission can end with you successfully extracting the target, or with the enemy escaping with the target. If the latter happens, a secondary (Strike Force) mission is opened up, which gives you a second chance (this is actually the name of the mission) to try and extract the target. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen something like this happen in a single player game, where you’re given an opportunity to correct a mistake, and the outcome affects the story progression. Very cool!
As the campaign plays out, several Strike Force missions become available, depending on your actions. You are given limited teams for use in these missions, and failing one will give the chance to try it again, but you end up with one less team for later missions. Thankfully, I completed all Strike Force missions on my first attempt. Each mission is completely different, and they range from extraction, to capture and hold, to straight up defense. The first mission is particularly different, in that you’re given multiple teams to command, which you can control from an overhead map, or assume the role of individual units. You can even jump between units with the press of a button; this totally reminded me of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. The Strike Force missions are only available for a set amount of campaign missions, and as I mentioned earlier, their completion affects the story, so they’re absolutely worth doing. Aside from that, they’re a lot of fun!
Since a good chunk of the campaign takes place in the future, there are plenty of new weapons and gadgets at the ready. Some of which, are a huge amount of fun to use. When replaying missions, future weapons can be used in the past (there’s actually an achievement for doing this), which means you can replay the entire campaign with your favourite future weapon, if you so desire. I believe this is the first CoD game where you can actually customize your load-out before each mission, even during the initial play-through.
There are five possible endings, which would require five full play-throughs to see. Or of course, you could find them on YouTube, but where’s the fun in that? To add a bit more incentive for additional play-throughs, there are achievements which are only possible to obtain by following a specific chain of events.
I haven’t bothered with the multiplayer or zombie modes. At this point, with so many other games on the table, it’s hard to find time for it, and this brand of multiplayer gaming isn’t my cup of tea.
I have to hand it to Treyarch. They really delivered this year, and have made Black Ops II a stand-out game in this long running series.
In the middle of 2012, I moved my family across the country and now reside in British Columbia (Canada). As you can imagine, this was no small feat, and since my attention was firmly focused on the move, many things slipped through my radar. Dishonored, being one of them. Closer to its release date, I started hearing people talk about how excited they were for it. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall many people raving about it once they were actually playing it, and having played it myself now, I understand why that was. While Dishonored brought some exciting new mechanics to the table, it fell short in many areas. When you factor in a very slow start, dumb or often unresponsive enemy AI, and a surprisingly short and obvious story, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed more than anything else when the credits rolled.
If you like going into a game knowing absolutely nothing about it, you’ll want to skip this paragraph. In the first 10 minutes of the game, you assume the role of The Empress’ personal guard Corvo, who has just returned from a couple months abroad. The Empress is assassinated, her daughter and heir to the throne kidnapped, and Corvo is framed for the murder. Days before his execution, he’s broken out of jail by a group of loyalists who set him on a path of redemption, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the current regime and reinstating Emily, the true heir. The city of Dunwall has been overrun by a plague spread by rats, which basically turns people into zombies. Streets are littered with linen wrapped deceased, waiting to be hauled away.
One of the things that really turned me off, was the mix of old world, high-tech, and fantasy. If scientists can make a weapon that can instantly vaporize multiple people, why are they still wielding swords and single-shot pistols? Surely they could craft better, more efficient weapons. It just doesn’t mesh, and makes the world of Dishonored a little harder to believe.
The city of Dunwall felt eerily familiar. It took me nearly the entire first play-through to put my finger one it, then A-HA! So much of the visual aesthetic, architecture, and even some of the characters reminded me of Half-Life 2.
The actual game play is where Dishonored truly shines. You’ve likely read elsewhere how there are many paths you can take to reach your goal, and this is true for the majority of the game. For example, in order to reach a point a few blocks down the street, you could do any of the following:
- Stick to the shadows and silently assassinate the guards, one by one.
- Head to the sewers and travel beneath the street. But watch out for swarms of rats and plague infected zombie-like humans.
- Hop up to the rooftops and stay out of sight completely.
- Possess a rat and sneak passed the guards.
This aspect of the game can be really neat, and the truly remarkable part is that any path you choose feels like the right one. If you’re stuck on a spot, there’s no sense in trying the same thing over-and-over. A simple tactic change will usually get you through it.
But all of this freedom isn’t without a fault. I was hoping for true freedom, in that I could run through guns blazing if I felt like it. And some times, I did. Opening fire on a slew of enemies resulted in death, every single time. Generally, health potions are in short supply, and it only takes two or three blows from a sword to take you out. There is an enemy weapon that yields magic powers useless, which makes combat scenarios even more difficult. I learned quickly that you basically want to avoid combat whenever possible, and it’s usually easier to flee a situation than to stand your ground and fight.
Speaking of magic powers; I had a lot of fun with these! Right off the bat, you’re given the “blink” ability. Which allows you to jump a short distance in an instant. It’s basically short range teleportation. You can use it to reach heights you otherwise couldn’t, or place yourself a foot in front (or behind) an enemy for a quick kill. Powers are purchased using runes, which are a collectible item found through-out the world. I spent my runes on extra health slots, upgrading blink, and “dark vision” at the beginning. Dark vision is essentially thermal (or heat) vision, which allows you to see enemies through walls. Even their line of sight is shown, so you can tell which way they’re facing. I’m sure a lot of people would rather play without these powers, as they greatly reduce the difficult and take a lot of the challenge out of situations where you need to remain unseen, but they made the game much more enjoyable for me.
Another thing that makes Dishonored stand out, are the decisions left up to the player. While browsing the achievements list, I was surprised to see achievements for completing the game without being detected, and without killing anyone except the main targets. Even then, many of the main targets could be spared, if you chose to. It was interesting to see people’s perspective of Corvo change as the body count climbed. As I mentioned earlier, I found remaining undetected pretty difficult, so ended up killing quite a few enemies. Although I did end up sparing some of the main targets, and finding other ways to deal with them by way of side-quests.
While there were some great moments, and I did enjoy a lot of the time spent traversing Dunwall, overall I didn’t enjoy Dishonored all that much. I pretty much only stuck with it because I bought it, and wanted to at least see it through. Its slow pace and obvious story left a lot to be desired.
At this point, with so many franchises given the LEGO treatment, it’s hard to imagine one that wouldn’t work so well. Initially, I believed The Lord of the Rings was one of the exceptions, until I watched the first trailer and heard dialogue from the films. But on the other hand, I wasn’t overly thrilled that for the first time, we’d hear more than grunts and giggles from the little plastic characters. Now, having played it through to the end, I can confirm that it was definitely the way to go with this game, in order for the story to be properly told. LEGO The Lord of the Rings is everything that I was expecting from a LEGO game, and much more. Dialogue from the films, open world exploration, fetch side-quests, and object forging, to name a few.
The core game is right in line with the others that have come before. So if you’re familiar with the LEGO games, you’ll feel right at home. At least for the first 30 minutes or so. Once the prologue and the first level has been completed, you are dropped into Middle-earth, where you’re free to roam about, or head directly to the next story level. There’s a constant trail of faint blue studs that leads the way to the next level, or a custom waypoint if you change it manually.
If you’re familiar with the films, you’ll no doubt get a kick out of this game. At least watching the cut-scenes will make you chuckle, as some of the more serious scenes are softened by childish humour. I was stoked to be able to introduce The Lord of the Rings to my 4 year-old daughter, and not have to worry about her having nightmares from visions of orcs and goblins.There was one point that she started to get a bit nervous, and that was in the mines or Moria, when the Balrog is approaching. His roar can be heard in the distance, and shadows created by his flames dance on the walls. But when he came crashing through the gate, he let out a monstrous belch, and my sweet little girl erupted with laughter. This was beautifully handled by TT Games.
One of my favourite things about these LEGO games, is seeing what TT Games focuses on, and what they omit. I watched a couple of developer interviews, and one of the things they said they loved about the films, was the scene where Gimli gives Aragon permission to toss him during the battle of Helm’s Deep. As such, there are spots in the game where you have to pick up Gimli and toss him to break objects in order to solve puzzles, and proceed through levels. Sam is actually the most useful character out of the Fellowship, in that he can dig, plant, light fires, and has the elven rope. Frodo has the Phial of Galadriel, which can light up dark areas, and the elven cloak of invisibility. Merry and Gollum can fish, while Pippin can collect water to extinguish fires. Legolas, like Sam, is quite useful and I spent a great deal of time in his shoes. The elves can jump higher than other characters, are acrobatic, and of course Legolas is an archer. Aragon is pretty useless, until he’s wielding Andúril, as there are certain objects that can only be destroyed by it, and he’s able to defeat the undead. And lastly, there’s Gandalf, the grey and white. There really isn’t a whole lot of use for Gandalf, and puzzles that require magic to solve are few and far between.
As with other LEGO games, The Lord of the Rings has its faults. And sadly, many of the same bugs and glitchy behaviour I’ve experienced in other titles are present here. Difficulty with platforming sections is increased by a stubborn camera, poor collision detection, and lack of shadows under characters while they’re jumping. Thankfully, the only real punishment you receive is a loss of studs when your character dies, and having to re-do whatever action you’re performing. Still, I found myself quite frustrated at least a few times.
Outside of the levels that make up the story of The Lord of the Rings, there’s plenty to do in Middle-earth…
There are 250 mithril (metal found in Middle-earth) bricks scattered throughout the land, which often require intricate platforming puzzles to be completed before obtaining the brick. Citizens of Middle-earth, and even some of the baddies, will ask for your assistance in locating a specific item, or for you to have the blacksmith forge something. Items are forged from mithril bricks, and some items require upwards of 16 bricks. So if you’re in it for the 100% completion achievement, you’ll be tracking down all 250 of those bricks. But before you can forge an item, you need the blacksmith design. These are mostly found within the levels themselves, but also in the free roam area.
Red bricks are still around, which grant you access to extras (cheats). Instead of having to find hidden red bricks in levels, we’re now tasked to complete a fetch quest, where the reward is a red brick. Of course, the red brick still has to be purchased once it’s been obtained, and they can cost upwards of 10,000,000 studs. In the end, the process of obtaining and purchasing a certain red brick can take quite a while, as you first have to locate or forge the item that’s required to obtain it. I hunted down the 2x, 4x, quest finder, mithril brick finder, and red brick finder bricks first, which made things quite a bit easier moving forward.
As with previous games, at the end of each level, new characters are unlocked and can be purchased for free play, and now free roam. Free roam of Middle-earth is only available once the campaign has been completed, so I didn’t bother buying any characters until I was done my first play-through. I believe the LEGO Pirates game was the first to require you to track down and defeat a character, before you can purchase them. I prefer the old method of going to a kiosk and flipping through all of the available characters, as it’s less time consuming. Also keeping in line with previous LEGO games, some characters have special abilities that are required for accessing certain areas, and completing puzzles.
It likely took a solid 15 hours to get through all of the levels, mind you, I was mostly playing co-op with my daughter. It’s probably more like a 10-12 first play-through, but as I’ve pointed out, there is plenty to keep you playing long after the campaign has been completed.
Simply put, I adore the LEGO games. More so, when I’m familiar with the context. In this case, I’ve watched the films a few times over, and found myself reciting lines along with the characters on screen while playing this game. As a one-time play-through, LEGO The Lord of the Rings is a fun-filled and extremely enjoyable experience. And for those that like collecting objects and solving puzzles, there are hours upon hours of additional content to keep you busy. At a budget price point, it’s hard to deny LEGO The Lord of the Rings.