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.
Before I get into this, I need to get something off my chest; it’s totally silly that we have 2 games in the same console generation, both available on the Xbox 360, with the exact same title. NFS: Most Wanted 2012 is not an HD remake; after all, the original game was in HD to begin with. It’s not a remake at all, actually. It features a top 10 most wanted list, and the ultimate goal is to become the city’s most wanted driver, but that’s about all this game shares with the original. Well, aside from the whole driving exotic cars like a maniac through a bustling city while being chased by cops, thing. None the less, Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) is a better game than the original in every regard, and one of the few racing games I’ve seen through to completion in recent years. Not only did I become the most wanted in Fairhaven, I stuck around to hunt down some achievements, and take the top spot on as many leaderboards as possible.
Perhaps a more appropriate title for NFS: Most Wanted (2012) would have been Burnout Paradise 2, as it shares more with Burnout Paradise than it does with the original NFS: Most Wanted. This is the second Need For Speed reboot to be developed by Criterion; they handled 2010′s NFS: Hot Pursuit. And this time, they dipped into their own resources more than that of Need For Speed’s legacy. And don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing. I was just surprised to see so many similarities and things flat out taken from Burnout Paradise.
The single-player end of NFS: Most Wanted, is an open world driving/racing adventure, that allows you to wreak havoc on the fictional city of Fairhaven, and its surroundings. There’s a brief introduction in the form of a fly-over of the city and a voice over which once again reminded me of Burnout Paradise, then you’re off to the races, literally. From this point, you’re pretty much on your own, and left to play the game however you’d like. As previously stated, the end goal is to become the city’s most wanted, and to do that, you have to climb the ladder. But in order to challenge the top racers, you have to earn experience points. XP is earned by completing events, driving milestones, and getting into trouble with the law.
One thing that is drastically different from any other racing game out there, is how cars are unlocked. Instead of being awarded as you progress, you simply find “jack spots” through-out the city, which allow you to instantly hop in and drive. Each vehicle has its own set of events (5 total), and a series of upgrades which are unlocked by earning XP and completing milestones with the vehicle. This means you could find yourself driving a Lamborghini within the first few minutes of the game, instead of having to progress through hours of gameplay. This definitely negates any sense of fulfilment in terms of getting your hands on the hottest cars, but I think I prefer this approach. In fact I, for the most part, found myself driving exotic or high-end luxury cars. Once one of the top 10 have been beaten, you have a chance to “shut them down” and own their ride. As you would expect, these are some of the best cars in the game.
While I played Criterion’s NFS: Hot Pursuit, I didn’t complete it. The police chases became far too tedious, and a couple of glaring bugs totally shat on my parade. Thankfully, NFS: Most Wanted didn’t suffer the same fate. I actually found myself purposely getting into trouble and triggering pursuits, as I was having a lot of fun blowing through road blocks and slamming into cruisers. Granted, when you’re driving one of the game’s fastest cars, it can be pretty easy to escape by simply maxing out the throttle and hitting the nitrous button on a long stretch of highway.
It’s hard to estimate how long it would take to complete the main event, if that’s all you were going for. As I often found myself being side-tracked by a billboard spotted in the distance, or headlights while driving through an alley. Aside from billboards to smash and jack spots, there are also security gates to break through, and speed cameras to trigger. Each of these collectible elements have achievements tied to them, so people like me will spend hours tracking them down. I reached a point where I only had a few left of each, so I pulled up a map on my iPad and hunted down the remaining. Billboards and speed cameras have leaderboards, so you can see how you stack up against your friends. Speed cameras obviously track your speed as you blow passed them, while billboards keep tabs on the distance you jumped as you crashed through. Once a billboard has been smashed, it shows the name and avatar (or gamer picture) of the top player on your friends list. This was incentive enough for me to try and top my friends at every turn.
I’ve heard good things about the multiplayer end of NFS: Most Wanted, but I only spent a few minutes with it. I immediately felt like I was at the bottom of the barrel and had little chance against my opponents. Perhaps you level up quick and it’s not as unbalanced as it seemed, but I really didn’t have any fun during the few races I did online.
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by NFS: Most Wanted. After a disappointing run with NFS: Hot Pursuit a couple years ago, I wasn’t even planning on picking up NFS: Most Wanted until it was in the discount bin. After reading people raving about it on Twitter, I decided to pick it up, and I’m sure glad I did. My time spent with NFS: Most Wanted was thoroughly enjoyable, and I absolutely recommend this game for fans of the arcade racing genre. And of course, for anyone who had a lot of fun with Burnout Paradise.
2012 was a tough year for me, for many reasons. But one thing that continued to put a smile on my face and fuel my fire, was music. Refused made a comeback after 14 years of silence. Alexisonfire and Thrice embarked on world-wide farewell tours and went out with a bang, which of course was bittersweet. And there were a bunch of really solid albums released from some of my longest running favourites. Here’s a taste of what had me stoked in 2012…
Propagandhi – Status Update
Perhaps the greatest 1:03 to be recorded in 2012. Propagandhi’s latest album “Failed States” absolutely shreds from beginning to end.
Hot Water Music – Drag My Body
HWM made a triumphant return in 2012, with their first album in 8 years. “Exister” surpassed my expectations, and is easily one of my favourite HWM albums.
A Wilhelm Scream – Boat Builders
Simply put, A Wilhelm Scream are incapable of writing shitty music. They only released this single in 2012, but it’s enough to hold me over until their next full-length is released.
Pennywise – All Or Nothing
Another old favourite who returned in 2012, but this time with a new singer. It could have gone either way, but I absolutely love “All Or Nothing” and feel it’s the best Pennywise album in years.
The Gaslight Anthem – Too Much Blood
I’ve been listening to The Gaslight Anthem for a few years, and have always liked them, but never thought they were a great band. Good, but not great. That changed with “Handwritten”.
Lucero – Like Lightning
That piano! Lucero’s brand of southern rock and roll soothes the soul, and goes down smooth with whiskey neat.
Old Man Markley – Blood On My Hands
I have a hard time sitting still while listening to Old Man Markley. And I can’t say I ever thought I’d be stoked on a band with a banjo and a washboard.
Matt Skiba and The Sekrets – Voices
If you didn’t know better, you’d think this was Alkaline Trio, and that’s not a bad thing.
The Beatdown – Leave Me
I’m still pretty big into ska and reggae, and there’s still some great new bands coming out of Montreal. The Beatdown is one of them.
We Are The Union – Dead End
Even harder to come by than a good ska band, is a good ska-punk band. We Are The Union remind me of late 90s ska-punk, and I absolutely love how they go from straight ahead fast punk to ska a break-down in a matter of seconds.
No Doubt – Push and Shove
Admittedly, No Doubt is totally a guilty pleasure. I loved their earlier ska tunes, and when I saw a checkerboard on their new album’s cover, I decided to give it a listen, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s not all good, but the title track is pretty great.
Chuck Coles featuring Chuck Ragan – Bottom of a Well
Chuck Coles is an old friend of mine, and we played in a band together for several years. To see him accompanied by Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music totally hit home, and I couldn’t be more proud of the dude. I’ve always known Chuck to be an amazing songwriter, and it’s great seeing him getting recognized for his talent.
I suppose you could call this part 2 of my review of The Walking Dead, since I’ve previously covered episodes 1 and 2. I’ll skip over the basics – gameplay, graphics, sound, and anything else I’ve already touched on, since that stuff didn’t change from episode-to-episode. Aside from some technical issues that surfaced in episode 5; a bit of stuttering and spots where the frame rate suffered pretty bad. Aside from that, everything else was on par with the first 2 episodes. This review is spoiler free and I’ve kept things quite vague, so rest assured if you have yet to play this game.
While they may have missed their mark in terms of release dates, the last 3 episodes of The Walking Dead more than made up for it with a compelling story, interesting characters, and some of the most emotionally driven scenes I’ve witnessed in a video game in recent years. “Wow, I can’t believe they went there.” was something I said to myself a few times through-out the game. None of us have lived the horror that is a zombie apocalypse so it’s hard to say what would really happen. But one thing we know for sure, is that humans are generally greedy assholes, and will do whatever it takes to survive. On the flip side, there will always be the selfless few who sacrifice themselves and/or their well being for the benefit of others. We see both sides of the coin in The Walking Dead.
The greatest thing I took away from playing this game, is watching the relationship between Lee and Clementine evolve. Maybe it’s because I have a young daughter of my own, but I totally related to Lee and his desire to do whatever he could to keep Clementine safe. Many of the decisions I made were based on what was best for Clementine, which included keeping Lee close at all times. I only trusted a couple of the other characters through-out the 5 chapters, as just about everyone proved that they would put themselves first when push came to shove. Even Kenny, who grew quite close to Lee, didn’t seem like someone who would put Clementine before himself if it came down to it.
The Walking Dead packs quite a bit of variety in the scenery and the types of tasks you find yourself doing. It never felt repetitive or mundane, and the lengthy conversation drive scenes had my full attention. Not all of them require input, but some have you making split-second decisions that can mean life or death for members of the group. It’s hard to pull the trigger when you haven’t had a chance to process the consequences, but often enough you aren’t given that luxury.
Episodes 3 and 4 are a good length. Clocking in at somewhere between 2-3 hours, with episode 4 being the longest of the series. Or at least, it felt the longest, in that it covered the most ground. The finale, episode 5, felt incredibly short, taking only a little over an hour to complete. That was disappointing , without a doubt, and I could tell by how fast the achievements were popping that it would be over in no time. I would have liked to have seen things play out differently in the end, and one major plot twist felt like it was tacked on after the rest of the story had been written. But all in all, The Walking Dead is an excellent experience like no other.
Despite having been up against AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed III, Mass Effect 3, and Dishonored, The Walking Dead took home the Game of the Year award at the 2012 Spike TV VGAs. It also won Best Performance By a Human Female (Clementine) and Best Downloadable Game. It’s not my GoTY, but it’s definitely in the top 5. The Walking Dead from Telltale Games should not be missed.
I’ve played all of the Halo games to date, and enjoyed every one of them. But since Halo 4 was being developed by a studio other than Bungie (and a rookie studio at that), I was pretty skeptical and decided to observe from afar. Once the reviews started rolling out and I saw that Halo 4 was earning top marks, I paid a little closer attention. When the disappointment from Assassin’s Creed III washed over me, I started to get excited for its release, and end up picking it up on day one. There hasn’t been a day gone by, that I didn’t get the urge at some point to pick up my controller and jump back into the game. Halo 4 not only exceeded my expectations, but it might actually be the best game in the franchise to date.
Sights & Sounds
Since 343 Industries is now at the helm, everything looks, sounds, and feels a bit different, but at the same time very familiar. Master Chief and Cortana are voiced by the same actors, but that’s about it for familiar sounds. Weapons, grenade explosions, vehicle engines, jetpacks, etc., have all new sounds, and for the most part, are a nice change from the old. I was never a fan of the original sniper rifle, which kept a similar look and sound from the original game. It has been redesigned in Halo 4, and the loud crack it lets out when you squeeze the trigger is much more satisfying. Best of all, Halo 4 looks absolutely amazing! It is a definite step up in the visuals department, both with pre-rendered cinematics and in-game art work.
One thing I was curious about, was the original score. Martin O’Donnell has composed all of the previous Halo games (with the exception of Halo Wars), and the music plays such an important role, that it can often make or break a game. Thankfully, Halo 4′s composer Neil Davidge did a fantastic job! There are a hints of some of the prolific themes from previous Halo games, but most of it is entirely new and quite good. I found myself being reminded of Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect, and the recent Metroid games, which is not a bad thing. I hope to hear some of the themes from Halo 4 carried through the next iterations of the franchise.
As expected, Halo 4 is a complete package, and one that will keep us busy for months or even years to come. The campaign, which can be played solo or co-op with up to 4 players, is the main course. It starts off with an incredible cinematic that brings the player up to speed with previous events, and sets the stage for the adventure that is about to unfold. In it, we see multiple Spartans take up arms against the Covenant threat, and Dr. Halsey (creator of the Spartans, and Cortana) being interrogated by the military. Suddenly, Master Chief is woken from chiro sleep by Cortana after drifting in space for over 4 years, and the shit quickly hits the fan.
I started the campaign on Heroic, as this is the difficulty I typically play Halo games solo on, but rather quickly restarted the first chapter on normal. Ammo is extremely sparse, and with enemies dodging grenades and soaking up bullets, I ended up getting my ass handed to me over-and-over. This was the first noticeable difference between a 343i Halo game, and a Bungie Halo game. Bungie does extensive play testing, to ensure everything is well balanced and the player has the tools they require at their disposal to get the job done. The player should never have to leave a battle to go and find ammo, and I don’t recall ever having to do this in a Bungie Halo game. In Halo 4, this is a regular occurrence, and one that quickly wears on the nerves. I found that I eventually got in the habit of scavenging the area after a conflict, before moving on to the next. The ammo shortage makes UNSC weapons pretty much useless, as there are rarely weapon caches to refill ammo. There is a new alien threat, which brings a new line of weapons to the table. So instead of 2 or 3 new weapons, we have an entirely new arsenal to play with. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re shiny and new, or really are that good, but I found myself picking up these new weapons whenever they were available.
The story is much simpler than that of previous Halo games, and for the first time ever, shows a very human side of both Master Chief and Cortana. Not only them, but the military personnel they encounter as well. Master Chief has always been portrayed as a heroic killing machine, with little emotion and virtually no weaknesses. In Halo 4, we see him go through the ringer, on both emotional and physical sides. His relationship with Cortana is much more personal, and she too exhibits human behaviours and characteristics. At one point, she actually asks Chief to promise here that by the end, he figures out which one of them is human.
This brings me to Cortana herself. She’s been with us from the get-go, helping Chief unravel mysteries and find his way across the galaxy. She’s been his personal assistant in the form of an AI, and that’s been about the extent of it. In Halo 4, her role extends to that of a love interest, who shows genuine concern for the well being of the soldier who totes her around, and her fear of losing him is obviously apparent.
Also new to the Halo franchise, is the introduction of an arch-enemy. A single threat that Chief must face to ensure the safety of the human race. This threat completely out-ranks Master Chief in size, strength, knowledge, and ability. How he will be defeated is unclear until the final moments of the campaign, which left me with a feeling of despair right through until the end.
Mission types vary, which keeps things interesting as you play through the campaign. As with previous Halo games, Master Chief fights on foot, in land vehicles, and in the air. Each type of game play is very fun, and I didn’t find myself favouring one over the others, which is kind of remarkable. Each sequence seemed to be of perfect length, that when it was time to move on, I wasn’t disappointed and felt like I got my fill.
I clocked in at 6:59 during my first play through of the campaign on normal difficulty, playing solo. I definitely didn’t rush through, but playing on the harder difficulties would surely extend that time. There are a handful of mission based achievements to go after, and hidden terminals scattered through-out seven of the eight chapters. I will be replaying the campaign at least once more with my wife, on Heroic.
New to the franchise, is a co-operative mode called Spartan Ops. At first, I assumed it was simply a replacement for Firefight, but it’s much more than that. At launch, one episode of Spartan Ops was available, with 5 episodes in the chapter. A pre-rendered cinematic accompanies each episode, which drives the story. Each chapter is fairly short, taking anywhere from 5-15 minutes to complete co-operatively. Playing solo is quite difficult, even on easy.
Within a week of launch, the second episode has been released, and I enjoyed it even more than the first. I feel like it goes back to Bungie’s theory of “3 minutes of fun”, where each chapter is a quick dose of battle, that is fun and satisfying from beginning to end.
It’s been said that we can expect 10 full episodes (each with 5 chapters) of Spartan Ops to be released for 10 weeks following launch. This is pretty exciting, given how much fun this new mode is to play. One thing to keep in mind though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to use matchmaking to find public games of previous episodes, so if you’re planning to play through them, make sure you stay on top of the new episodes as they’re released. Otherwise, you’ll have to play them locally, or via custom games with friends.
War Games is simply the competitive multiplayer mode of Halo 4. One-on-one, and team based game modes that will be familiar to veteran Halo gamers, with some new twists on traditional modes. King of the Hill has been my favourite to play so far, as its objective based game play keeps the action frantic, and the grenades flying. Flood mode, is a new take on the previous Infected mode, where 2-3 players start off “infected”, and pass on the “disease” on to others by killing them, the slain player then re-spawns as Flood. The objective is to survive and beat the clock.
There are a few noticeable differences in the multiplayer department. First of all, there are virtually no announcements during gameplay, aside from objectives in modes like King of the Hill and Capture the Flag. Badges and commendations are still earned, but are much more subtle during the game. There is of course, the post game carnage report where you can get a good look at all of the badges you received during the match. Players are awarded ordinance drops of their choice after performing streaks. Typically, you can choose between offensive or defensive perks that are dropped instantly on the battlefield for the player to pick up. Another beneficial change, is that weapons are clearly marked on your HUD, along with their distance. This helps level the playing field, as those that have played the maps several times and know exactly where things are no longer have the advantage. At least when it comes to weapon locations.
Overall, my experience with Halo 4′s competitive multiplayer has been positive.
Unlockables and Customization
Similar to Halo 3, player customization options in the form of armour are unlocked by earning XP and levelling up. A single point is earned for each level you achieve while playing Spartan Ops and War Games, and points can be spent on unlocking weapons, abilities, and perks that can be used in custom load outs. Similar to other modern shooters, Halo 4 now allows the player to create custom load outs which can be used in Spartan Ops and War Games. Many of the load out options require you to reach a certain rank before you can even spend your hard earned points on them. This, along with the same type of rank and commendation requirements for unlocking armour, give the player quite a bit to strive for. Personally, I can’t wait to reach level 22, where some of the new alien weapons are unlocked.
Welcome Back, Chief
I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised by the stellar job that 343 Industries has done with this beloved franchise. The ammo shortage is the only real damper I found on this otherwise excellent and extremely well polished package. I would not only recommend Halo 4 to long-time fans of the franchise, but for those who perhaps weren’t fond of Halo games in the past. Halo 4 is definitely still a Halo game through-and-through, but 343i’s refinements have shaped it into something a bit more magical, and a heck of a lot more enjoyable.
Oh Ubisoft, what have have you done? 10 hours into Assassin’s Creed III, I’m throwing in the towel. A slow start, a few bugs here and there, some dull missions, sub-par voice acting, lack of polish… one or two of these flaws can be overlooked. But when you throw them all into the mix, you have a game that’s constantly tripping over itself, and an experience that’s nothing short of frustrating, and often infuriating. It pains me to admit, that one of my most anticipated games of 2012, Assassin’s Creed III, is a failure of epic proportions.
To date, I’ve played every console game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While I was skeptical if Ubisoft could maintain the level of quality once they started churning them out year-after-year, they managed to surprise me every time, and each game continued to be better than the last. That is, until this year. Assassin’s Creed III was supposed to be this grand experience. We were supposed to be blown away by its majesty. We have been let down, for AC III is so full of bugs, and is so unrefined, that it’s impossible to place it upon the pedestal that Ubisoft built for it.
Bugs, Loads of Bugs
I’ve experienced a whole slew of bugs, ranging from collision detection issues, to scripted AI follies, to events mis-firing or not firing at all. In most cases, I found myself shaking my head in disappointment. But that disappointment turned quickly to rage when I was forced to restart from the last checkpoint, for the third or fourth time. Sure, the game auto-saves often and no real damage was done, but that’s beside the point. This triple A title is at best an average C.
While roaming the frontier on horseback, I always attempted to assassinate a large animal (deer or elk). I just thought it would be funny; air assassinate a deer after jumping off a horse. Anyway, I finally pulled it off, and nearly jumped up from the couch and threw my hands in the air, when I notice that Connor was, well, gone. In his place, a large tree. It seemed that I somehow managed to leap into the tree, and had gotten stuck there. I confirmed this, by equipping my trusty hatchet, which I could see protruding from the large trunk. Try as I surely did, there was no escaping the tree. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’ve played all of the other games in the franchise, or that I was fully expecting to be playing as a native, since that’s all we’ve been shown in trailers and gameplay videos prior to release. In any case, I found the first 4-5 hours to be excruciating. I couldn’t have cared less about the British dude you play as initially, what he was up to, or who he was communicating with. I just wanted to play as the native assassin, Connor. It wasn’t until roughly 5 and a half hours of solid gameplay that I reached this point, and things did quickly turn around, but too little to late, it seems.
That Just Doesn’t Make Sense
During my time as the British dude, I picked up some letters from a guy who wanted me to deliver them through-out Boston. I handed out a couple to people that were near my main objectives, but forgot about the rest. When I returned to Boston as Connor, some 20 years later, those folks were still there, waiting for their letters, and I… Connor, had them. That, flat-out, doesn’t make sense. Along the same lines, there are pages from a torn book that a rather well-known fellow asks the British dude to collect. Connor continues this mission later on. What Ubisoft should have done here, is held these missions until you are playing as Connor.
Designed for n00bs
I recall in at least one of the previous Assassin’s Creed games, that the player was given the choice to run through basic gameplay tutorials or skip them entirely. Not only does AC III make you go through all of the rudimentary steps for the fifth time (AC III is the fifth full game in the franchise), it does so in a way that completely kills any momentum the game has picked up. There are no quick prompts or notes on screen. The action is halted, and instructions fill the middle of the viewing area. The player has to then perform the action before things resume, but there is a mandatory delay, so even if you perform the action quickly, you often still end up waiting for the game to resume.
The Devil’s in the Details
I’m sure my profession has a lot to do with this, but details matter. Big time! If the character is wearing a blue outfit and holding a sword, but then is shown wearing white and holding a hatchet in a cut-scene, that’s simply not acceptable. In previous games, you’ve been able to change the character’s appearance, and the cut-scenes also reflected the customizations, so I’m really unsure why the step backward in AC III.
One of the biggest annoyances I found, was starting and ending missions. There was one in particular, where a huge mob of hundreds had formed, and surrounded the area. As soon as the mission concluded and cut-scene ended, every single person was gone, as if nothing happened. I was actually really into it, and feeling a sense of liberation, then… nothing. Not even a high five from a passerby… because there was no one in sight.
I remember playing Oblivion years ago, and one of the things that really bugged me, was that there seemed to only be a few voice actors. So you would end up hearing the same voice coming out of multiple characters through-out the game. Surprisingly, AC III is horrible for this, as you hear the same voice and even the same recycled phrases over-and-over. To make matters worse, characters themselves are frequently reused. There was a mission where I had to go from house-to-house in different settlements and pass on a message. The same dude answered each door, and the exact same bit of dialogue was spit out. When this happens as frequently as it does in AC III, it makes it feel like you’re playing an unfinished game. Like they still have a bunch of placeholder content in place.
I’m Done, Next!
I tried to stick it out, and was actually starting to enjoy myself. But there have been too many glaring bugs and major issues for me to keep turning a blind eye. If this game came out during a drought in the new release cycle, then I would likely continue playing. But this is the time of year when games compete for our attention, and frankly, Assassin’s Creed III doesn’t deserve it. I’ll be trading in my copy, and picking up Halo 4.
The day Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was released, I hopped on a plane and moved across the country. It was a solid month before my belongings arrived, and among them, were my game consoles. Needless to say, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to play this long awaited game right away. But now that I’m settled in on the west coast, I’m getting back in habit of play video games, and my first purchase was Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Thankfully, it lived up to my expectations, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with the online multiplayer.
I was over the moon when Transformers: War for Cybertron, not to be confused with Fall of Cybertron, was released in 2010. It was an epic throwback to a cartoon that I immensely enjoyed as a child, and really hit home with this old school gamer. I thoroughly enjoyed the campaign, and was hooked on the multiplayer for quite a while. Naturally, I was hoping that Fall of Cybertron would scratch that same itch, and it most definitely has.
Since this is the second game in the series, I’ll skip over things like graphics and sound, since they’re all on par with the predecessor. Feel free to read my review of War for Cybertron if you’d like to catch up.
Gameplay is relatively the same, with some small changes. I recall having a couple different abilities in War for Cybertron, which has been reduced to a single ability per character. And for some reason, or maybe I missed it, you can’t throw grenades at all. Enemies throw them at you, and quite often. But you can’t even pick up a live grenade and lob it back. I found that really weird, as there were a few occasions that I couple have really used a grenade, or two. Granted, there are weapons laying around at every turn, and many of them are heavy weapons like grenade launchers and rocket launchers. So perhaps that was the trade-off? If this is the case, then grenades probably should have been removed entirely. It felt a bit cheap that enemies could flush you out of cover with grenades, but you couldn’t do the same to them.
Presumably, these games are aimed at a younger audience, so the story is dead simple and easy to follow. That doesn’t prevent it from being enjoyable, and there were definitely a couple plot twists that I didn’t see coming. It sets out with an event that takes place right near the end of the campaign, which acts as a nice setup that throws you straight into the action. Then time rolls back and you see how the Autobots and Decepticons ended up at each other’s throats, again. There’s some nice back-story that’s revealed through-out the campaign, which ties beautifully into the Transformers lore. It also sets the stage for events that are yet to come. As with War for Cybertron, Fall of Cybertron lets you play as both Autobots and Decepticons, and assume the role of different Transformers from each faction. This works well to introduce you to the various classes and their abilities, as you get to choose who you’d like to play as when it comes to multiplayer. There was virtually no need for exploration when it came time to play online, as I already knew what each class had to offer.
Speaking of online, I find myself quite engaged by the online multiplayer modes in Fall of Cybertron. Specifically, conquest mode, which has you securing and defending control points scattered across the map. There’s standard deathmatch, capture the flag, and head-hunter modes as well. New to Fall of Cybertron, is a horde mode called Escalation. For those unfamiliar with Gears of Wars’ horde mode, it’s a co-operative mode which pits players against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. I didn’t enjoy this as much as horde, or even Halo’s firefight, but it was fun enough. Mostly, I just wanted to get back to conquest mode while I was playing escalation.
The bottom line is this — playing as a giant robot who has the ability to transform into a vehicle is fucking awesome! Hands down, the whole concept is just great. The unfortunate thing with these games, is that you don’t really get a sense of just how big and devastating they are, since you’re on the robot home world, and everything is built to their scale. I was playing with my nephew, when he said something along the lines of, “If this was on earth, and you could see people running around at your feet, I would definitely buy this.” He’s totally right, and given where Fall of Cybertron concluded, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this in the next game.
2012 has brought much change to my life. I recently moved from a city in Ontario with a population of 155,000, to a small town in BC, just 15,000 strong. With only 2 traffic lights and 2 gas stations, it is indeed a small town. And as you might imagine, stores that were once a few minutes from my house in Ontario, are now a good 20-30 minutes away. I’ve only been here a few weeks, but I already see my buying habits changing. I’m typically the type of person who, when I want something, want it now. Rushing out and buying something on a whim simply isn’t an option, most of the time. Stores close earlier, and are further away. So, what’s a guy to do? Look for alternate ways of purchasing whatever I’m after, of course! Thankfully, the video game landscape seems to be changing, at just the right time.
I’ve been saying for years — I’m tired of having to swap out discs in my consoles. It’s tedious, and finding storage for the physical packaging is a growing challenge. Now that it’s harder for my to obtain physical copies of games, I’m even more interested in a digital distribution system. Not to mention, rental stores are almost entirely a thing of the past, so purchasing games out-right is the only way to go. But there’s one, rather large problem I have with purchasing games; the cost. At nearly $70 (including tax) per title, playing video games is an expensive hobby. To offset the cost of new games, I often trade-in or sell games I’m no longer actively playing. With digital games, that’s not an option. There’s no way to redeem some of my investment once I’m done with it. And without the ability to rent games, buying becomes a tougher decision.
I recently discovered that Sony is working in our favour to address both issues. It’s no secret that I favour Xbox 360 over PS3 — just take a look at my game review archive. But lately, I’ve been spending more time on my PS3, and here’s why…
One of the selling features of the PS3 is the “free” online service. With it, you can access their store to download and purchase content, play online multiplayer games, and use third party apps like Netflix and YouTube. A couple years ago, Sony introduced PlayStation Plus; a paid subscription that gives you additional features, such as cloud saved games and automatic software updates, and free content on a regular basis. Up until recently, I hadn’t even considered subscribing to PlayStation Plus. But with this locale change, I’ve been searching for other ways to obtain games, and PlayStation Plus takes many steps in the right direction.
Instant Game Collection
Subscribers have access to a collection of free games, and discounted DLC. At the moment, the following games are available for free to PlayStation Plus subscribers — Bloodrayne: Betrayal Borderlands, inFamous 2, LittleBigPlanet 2, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, Starhawk (single player campaign), Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team, Double Dragon Neon, NFL Blitz, Outland, Renegade Ops, and Scott Pilgrim. That’s about $200 worth of free games.
The only time I ever recall being offered for free on Xbox Live, was after an extended service outage, as an apology gesture. Unfortunately, I already owned the game that was given, so in the end, I received no compensation for the interruption in service.
60 Minute Full Game Trial
Demos are great and all, but some times they’re not enough to truly give you a solid impression of the full game. Another bonus of being a PlayStation Plus subscriber, is access to 60 minute full game trials. As the title suggests, you can download the full game and play from the beginning, for a full hour. If you’d like to continue, you can pay-up and unlock the full game.
Day 1 Digital
Perhaps the most exciting recent addition to the PSN, is Day 1 Digital. It, as you might expect, allows you to buy a digital version of the game on release day. Typically, if a game sees a digital release, it would be weeks or months after it’s initial release. At which point, it’s often discounted in stores, but remains at full price in the digital format. At least, this is the trend on Xbox Live Marketplace.
At first, I thought the idea of digital pre-orders was just plain silly. What, are they going to run out of bandwidth to distribute the games? Quick, pay now! While I’m still not in favour of pre-ordering, PlayStation Plus subscribers are given a 10% discount for the first week pre-orders are available. I can pre-order Assassin’s Creed III for $53.99 right now, as opposed to paying $59.99 when it’s released in November. That’s a win!
The Digital Gaming Revolution
Now, this is all well and good, but one of my concerns still hasn’t been fully addressed. And that’s the cost of new games. Even with a 10% discount, $60 (including tax) is still a lot to pay for a single game. More often than not, I’m only interested in the single player campaign, as I rarely play online multiplayer. So if a game has a short campaign, I’m less likely to buy it new and more likely to wait for a price drop, or buy it used. But wait, Sony might be sorting this out, as well…
You may have noticed that I mentioned Starhawk (single player campaign) among the current free offerings for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Sony has done something that I find quite appealing with Starhawk. And that’s offering the single player and multiplayer portions separately. The campaign is currently free, and the multiplayer can be purchased for $19.99. To top it off, PlayStation Plus subscribers can download every bit of multiplayer DLC for free. So, you’re essentially getting a Game of the Year edition, for $19.99. In stores, Starhawk is priced at $39.99, and that doesn’t include any DLC.
Personally, I love the idea of splitting up single player and multiplayer, and selling them as separate components. It not only makes games more affordable, but ensures that the consumer is only paying for what they actually want. This would also give publishers and developers more insight into how people are playing their games. Granted, it could mean the end of single player campaigns for some titles with much stronger multiplayer, but I’m okay with that.
When I saw Rayman’s stupid face pop-up in the featured box on the App Store, I quickly scrolled down to the screenshots, then immediately back up to the “buy” button. At a glance, it’s Rayman Origins for iOS, which was more than enough to warrant the purchase for me. Looking a little closer, it’s Rayman Origins for iOS, with refined controls that make it one of the best platformers on the mobile platform.
If you played Rayman Origins (one of my favourite games of 2011), you’ll feel right at home with Rayman Jungle Run. It borrows heavily from Origins; packed with the same beautifully drawn art, and music that will surely be stuck in your head for days on end.
As you would expect when comparing a console game to a mobile game, Jungle Run is slimmed down in content, but definitely still worth its $2.99 price tag. With forty challenging levels in total, it will keep you busy for at least a few hours.
Gameplay is nearly identical to Origins, in that the goal is to get from point A to point B in the quickest time, while collecting as many Lums as possible. Each level has one hundred Lums to collect, and you earn a red ruby tooth for a cute little skeleton dude when you nab them all. Earning five teeth in a given section opens up access to the “Land of the Dead”, where you’re faced with an extra challenging race. In these levels, there are no Lums to collect. The only objective is to survive, and that is more than enough of a challenge.
The game starts you out with only the ability to jump; running is automatic, unlike the console game. And after completing ten levels, a new skill is added. Once you’ve reached 75% completion, you’ll be running, jumping, hovering, and punching/kicking your way through each level. Given the gradual addition of each skill, it’s not overwhelming in the least.
It’s been a while since an iOS has really grabbed a hold of me, but I found myself picking up my iPad to play Rayman Jungle Run every chance I had over the past few days. It’s likely not for everyone, but if you grew up playing 2D side-scrolling platformers, you’ll likely get kick out of it.
- Added support for WP-PageNavi.
- Fixed a bug which affected icons in Chrome/Windows.
Conduit 1.1.3 is a free update for existing customers, and can be obtained from the downloads section of your profile on ThemeForest.
Although the Nintendo Entertainment System was the first console I ever owned, I was exposed to video games at a very young age. Currently at age 32, video games have been a part of my life for about 28 of those years. My first experience with a game console, was at the age of 4, when my parents took me along to visit some of their friends. Their son was playing Pitfall on an Atari 2600, and I remember being glued to the TV from the moment I entered the room. Before we left that day, I had tried my hand at Pitfall, Q-Bert, Asteroids, Centipede, and Breakout. Needless to say, it left quite an impression on me, given that I still remember it so well, 28 years later.
What I’m getting at here, is that video games have been with me nearly my entire life. Video games to me, are not just a hobby or something I do when I have nothing better to do. I doubt that I’ll ever grow out of them, or feel that I’m too old to continue playing. Like music, television, and film have found a permanent place in most of our lives; video games have and always will be in mine.
Indie Game: The Movie really hit home, as it tells the story of 3 independent game developers. All of which are right around my age, and also grew up playing what are now known as the classics. While I’m content with a controller in my hand, they decided to actually create their own games. Driven by a life-long passion for the medium, and a desire to express themselves through their art, they strive to release a game of their own, in a time when independent game development is nowhere near the fore-front of modern video games. Especially when the big three consoles are considered. It’s no easy task to have Microsoft or Sony release a game on their platform and give it the exposure it needs in order to succeed. But in the end, these developers managed to pull it off, despite quite literally almost working themselves to death.
Having watched the film, I now have an even greater appreciation for the work that goes into releasing a video game. And I’m not talking games that have hundreds or thousands of people working on them. Sure, the bigger developers als0 deserve a huge amount of respect, but the little guys who pour their heart and soul into their project, and basically put every other aspect of their life on hold to follow their dream, are the ones I truly admire.
Immediately following my first viewing of Indie Game: The Movie, I revisited each of the games featured. While I played Braid when it was initially released, I never got around to reviewing it. If I remember correctly, I called it quits when the time-bending puzzles gave me severe headaches, literally. I made sure I wrote about Super Meat Boy, even though it’s nearly been out for 2 years now. And jumped back into the world of Fez, and completed that journey. I recommend you check out these 3 games after watching the film, if you haven’t already. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to purchase them just to show your respect for the developers, and thank them for their efforts.
I suggest that everyone who plays video games in any capacity, views this film. But especially those who are into independent games, or grew up playing games in the 80s and early 90s.
Interestingly enough, a Kickstarter project surfaced shortly after I watched Indie Game: The Movie, which I backed within minutes of watching their demo. It’s an open source console called OUYA, and is set to release in March 2013. It’s running the Android OS, so many games will be easily ported to the console, which will have an app store like interface that we seen from Apple and Google, with a user interface similar to that of the Xbox 360. As much as I enjoy playing games on my iPhone and iPad, I prefer lounging on the couch playing games on the big screen. This is the philosophy behing OUYA, and the main reason I found it so easy to get behind. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked for March 2013!
- Adjusted review star sizes and alignment for mobile devices.
- Fixed a bug which prevented custom links in reviews from being displayed.
- Fixed broken images in Theme Options when using a child theme.
Conduit 1.1.2 is a free update for existing customers, and can be obtained from the downloads section of your profile on ThemeForest.
I rarely give film or TV show adaptations the time of day, given their typical awfulness. But having heard good things about the first couple episodes of The Walking Dead, I decided to give this one a shot. My wife and I quite enjoy the TV series. It’s slower pace and focus on human drama is what we find most attractive, and of course, the frantic zombie scenes are quite good as well. Even though Telltale Games’ video game is based on the comics, it has a very similar vibe to AMC’s television series, while meshing the art style of the comics.
Honestly, I’ve never played a point-and-click adventure game, so I can’t say if The Walking Dead follows the standard formula for this type of game. There are essentially three types of gameplay here…
- Exploration: You are given some tasks which involve tracking down objects in your surrounding area in order to move the plot along.
- Conversation: Important decisions are made during conversations with other characters. Response time is often limited, which can make conversations quite intense, especially when someone’s life is on the line.
- Combat: Unsurprisingly, the least amount of time is spent killing zombies, and this is perfectly fine, given how much fun the other aspects of the game are. Combat is another point-and-click affair, as opposed to freely running around mashing skulls.
You assume the role of a dude named Lee, who has a criminal past that he tries to keep under wraps. Given the nature of his crime and the press exposure it gained, he’s often recognized, which leads to some pretty tense moments. Early on, Lee takes an eight year-old girl under his wind, who becomes his sole responsibility through-out the game. Many tough decisions are made even more difficult when you factor the kid in. She may be watching your actions, or present when a life-altering decision is being made. You are even given the choice to use clean language or curse in front of her.
What makes The Walking Dead truly great, is that it’s a tailored experience based on your actions. Characters will often make reference to things you’ve told them, or decisions you’ve made. If you tell one person something, and another something different, their paths could cross and you find yourself in the crossfire. Being caught in a lie will cost you respect, just like in the real world. Often, after you’ve chosen a path to take, a visual cue will appear in the top-left corner of the screen, letting you know that your decision will influence the game later on.
One of the things I really love about The Walking Dead, is that zombies aren’t the only thing killing humans. Often, the uninfected can be even more deadly, and the video game also portrays this. Especially in episode 2; there is a strong emphasis on the danger surviving humans pose to the group, and how important it is to keep things locked down.
The art style is very similar to the comics, although it’s full colour. Voice acting is very well done, while lip-syncing leaves a lot to be desired. It’s actually the worst lip-syncing I’ve seen in years. After seeing how well this can be achieved by some of the big developers like Rockstar Games, it’s disappointing when you experience a game where a character’s dialogue doesn’t even come close to lining up with their mouth movements.
Episodes 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead are 400 points ($5) each, and provide 2-3 hours of gameplay each. While that may not seem like much, consider that all 5 episodes will end up costing you $25 for 10-15 hours of gameplay. I’ve played many full-priced retail games that provide half that time for $40 more.
Episodes 3 and 4 are slated for an August release, while the concluding episode is said to be coming out in September.
I recently reviewed Super Meat Boy, which had been released a couple years prior. It was one of the three games featured in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, along with Braid and Fez. While I purchased Fez on release day, and spent a few consecutive evenings with it, I gave up on it pretty quickly. I came to realize after watching the film, that I might have missed something, and decided to give it another shot. Sure enough, there is a lot more to Fez than beautiful 3D pixel art and basic platforming. What I failed to see at first, is the very thing that will sell the game for some, and make others throw in the towel.
The main focus of Fez is to collect cubes while traversing through gorgeous pixel art landscapes, that can be rotated on the y-axis to reveal four different sides. Just when you’ve climbed to the top of a vine and feel stuck, a quick tap of the right or left trigger will rotate the world 90 degrees, exposing new paths that were otherwise hidden. I assumed this was all Fez had to offer, and I was fine throwing my money at it for that.
Platforming puzzles seem like child’s play, when you see what Fez truly has to offer. Early on, you’ll start seeing symbols and shapes on statues, in paintings, on chalkboards in classrooms, etc. But it will take a while to put the pieces together and uncover what they really mean. Essentially, Fez has its own language. And while you could certainly decode it yourself, others have provided some nice reference charts that are easily obtained from message boards and FAQ sites. I took the easy route, and let someone else do the leg work, while I focused on deciphering. And even though I didn’t exactly figure them out on my own, there was still a nice sense of accomplishment and appreciation that accompanied the discovery of each of the anti-cubes.
The following video shows where to find the area which explains the language, which is absolutely brilliant.
I mentioned earlier that the goal of Fez is collect cubes; these cubes unlock doors in the main hub, which unlock other areas to be explored. You need 32 cubes to access the ending, but they don’t have to be all golden cubes. You can also use anti-cubes, which are blue cubes obtained by solving the game’s many puzzles.
When I first completed the game, I thought that perhaps I should have waited and collected all of the cubes, but quickly realized that would have been impossible. Completing the game grants the player a new ability that is absolutely necessary for solving some of the more difficult puzzles. Once you complete Fez, you can jump right back into the world and pick up where you left off, so don’t worry about having to start over.
For having been in development for over five years, you’d expect Fez to be polished to the max, but sadly that’s not the case. It has some serious performance issues which impede the gameplay in some areas. The game will often sputter and chug while loading new areas, and there are quite few spots where the frame rate drops significantly.
After watching Indie Game: The Movie, my appreciation for Fez was through the roof. But it wasn’t until I discovered the layer beneath the core game that I was truly blown away. I’m not sure if it’s genius, or madness, or maybe a bit of both. In any case, Fez has brought something to the table that I’ve never seen before in a video game, and it truly is something special.
Super Meat Boy has been out for nearly two years, at the time of writing. So why am I only getting around to reviewing it now, and why even bother? I asked myself these same questions, and while I found difficulty in answering the first, the second part is simple; because Super Meat Boy deserves it.
I recently watched Indie Game: The Movie, which is a documentary that chronicles three independent game developers. One of them being Team Meat; the duo behind Super Meat Boy. Also covered in the film, are Braid and Fez, which I already own and have spent a considerable amount of time playing. After seeing what these developers had gone through to ship their games, I felt like I owed it to them to at least try their games. So I promptly downloaded the trial for SMB, which resulted in an immediate purchase after completing the demo levels.
Super Meat Boy is catered to gamers like myself, who grew up playing video games in the late 80s – early 90s. It’s a throwback in its entirety, and feels extremely genuine. From the pixel art, to the music, and the references to popular games from the golden era that only someone who lived it would appreciated. It has won me over, time and time again.
Mind you, with these moments of sheer joy, have come moments of intense frustration. Super Meat Boy is hard! It may not make you start from the very beginning once you’ve used up all your lives (there are no lives, BTW), it does make you restart the level, which can be excruciating enough. Levels range from a few seconds, to at most 30. But you can easily spend 10, 20, 30 minutes on a single level, once you get a few worlds deep. Each level has a par time, and achieving it awards you an A+, and access to the even more difficult variation in the dark world. The premise is simple; get from point A to point B, while running, jumping, wall-jumping, and sliding on surfaces. Sounds simple enough, right? Don’t be fooled! As I stated earlier, SMB is one tough game.
There are collectable bandages in most levels, which often seem impossible to obtain, as you have to complete the level once a bandage is collected in order to keep it. Bandages unlock playable characters, and there must be 20 in total. Each with different abilities from Meat Boy’s, but all equally vulnerable. As I write this, I only have a few of them unlocked, and I doubt I’ll end up with much more. Typically, I wait until I’ve completed a game to review it, but I seriously doubt I will ever complete every level SMB has to offer. It’s that hard!
Super Meat Boy isn’t for everyone, but I’d recommend gamers of my generation stop what they’re doing, and give the trial a shot. If nothing else, it will warm your heart with its charm, then enrage you with its difficulty. It’s a game I love to hate, and while things haven’t gotten to the point of maddening difficulty, I’m not done with it yet.