Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review: Gears of War: Judgment

Gears of War is a franchise that has been quite dear to me since the original launched in 2006. The combat of the series has always had a certain charm that has never been rivaled by other third person shooters of the age. Gears of War: Judgment  is one of those games nobody could be too sure about before it came out. Was it going to be a solid title that stands beside the Gears trilogy? Today I dive in to find out.

First and foremost, Judgment is strange. It’s definitely a production of People Can Fly, as its much more co-op oriented gameplay is very similar to Bulletstorm. It actually feels like Gears of War and Bulletstorm had a baby, and that was Gears: Judgment. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it definitely will turn a lot of Gears of War players off because they’re used to slower gameplay than what Judgment offers.

Well, now that I’ve covers the outlandishness of the game, let’s move onto the story. Judgment’s story revolves around Kilo Squad within the first few months after Emergence Day, the day the Locust attacked humanity. When the game opens, Lt. Damon Baird along with Pvt. Augustus Cole, Pvt. Garron Paduk and Pvt. Sofia Hendrick are on trial with Col. Ezra Loomis for treason. As it turns out, Baird and the rest of Kilo ignored orders and followed through with their own plan to fight the locust despite their superiors clearly telling them not too.

What’s really cool about this campaign is that every character tells their own testimony, which puts you in that individuals shoes during that chapter. This allows for a very interesting way for Epic and People Can Fly to tell a quite intricate story. Sadly, this was not the case.

The story is okay, but it lacks any real depth or concern that the other Gears of War games have offered. It’s essentially “Go here, listen to a bit of (oftentimes humorous) dialog, kill things, progress, repeat.” Now don’t get me wrong, I actually had quite a bit of fun playing the campaign with friends. It’s heavily designed for co-op, so make sure you bring some buds along! However, the story itself is lacking, and although it’s not really bad, it’s also not really good, and it could have been.

Let’s get a bit more in depth about the meta-game within campaign though. In the campaign, each chapter is split into “missions” which are anything from hold your ground to progressing just like in the normal Gears campaigns. Each mission has one COG tag to find and one “Declassified Mission” which modifies the gameplay in a certain way, e.g. sandstorms or giving everyone a sawed-off shotgun. This adds diversity to the gameplay and spices it up a bit, making it a more lasting experience. Along with this, you have a scoring system called stars. You can earn up to three stars on each mission, the better you do the more stars you earn and the more unlockables you unlock, which carry over to multiplayer.

The multiplayer in this game is good sometimes and bad most of the time. The new mode they added, OverRun, is probably the best team competitive mode in the game, with Free For All taking the cake as the best competitive altogether. Team Deathmatch, Domination and the newly added Execution feel very tacked on and remove everything I loved from the original Gears of War competitive experience (patience, strategy) and plugged in an exploding-cluster-fuck-a-palooza.

OverRun is basically Beast mode and Horde from Gears of War 3 combined. One team played Locust and the other COG, both of which have different classes to play with different roles in the fight. The Locust are attacking the COG in an attempt to open the emergence hole covers that the COG are fighting to protect. There are three rounds (assuming the Locust win) and then the roles switch between the teams. Whichever team either gets farther or does it faster, depending on how close the game was. This is my favorite competitive mode. There is also a co-op version of this mode where you play against Locust bots, this is called Survival and is essentially Horde with objectives.

Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Domination and Execution are pretty much what you’d expect from Gears of War, except a few key differences. In typical Deathmatch games, you spawn with one primary (Rifle or Shotgun of choice), a Snub Pistol and a Grenade of choice (Frag, Ink, Smoke, Spot, or Stim-Gas). The gameplay is much faster, you can jump to lower levels of the map, down-but-not-out is removed, stopping power is removed from the rifles, and run-and-gun is much more accepted in these modes. These differences are what bring this game down and make it feel like yet another fast-paced shooter that we have all played before. Also there’s only five maps. What the hell.

Unlockables are quite fun though. As you level up, kill enemies, and get ribbons in game, you’ll acquire prizeboxes. Each prizebox will give you a new character skin, weapon skin or a boost of experience. These are completely random and will net you some cool aesthetic gear for you to roll around in. Of course, in today’s market you should be expecting this next part.  Several of these skins are not obtainable via unlock and must be acquired through micro-transactions. Great.

Gears of War: Judgment is not what most Gears of War fans want. It doesn’t really FEEL like a Gears of War game and the multiplayer is decent at best. However, where Judgment does shine is in the cooperative fun you’ll have with your buddies playing through the story mode, struggling to fight off the horde in survival, or suicide bombing the COG in OverRun. The competitive multiplayer is quite lackluster and you’re better off playing Gears of War 3 (or even Gears of War 1 for that matter). If you’re a really big fan of the series, this is something you should play, but don’t go out of your way for it. It’s really not a big deal.

Badges:

*They Slipped Up

*Skippable

*Co-optimal

*Not much content

I give Gears of War: Judgment a 3/5.

PAX Business

Oh man. I broke my streak.

Last week was the first week I didn’t write a post since the beginning of August. I’ve just been so busy around PAX and Boston that I really haven’t had time for ANYTHING else. I barely even have time to eat.

Being a first time Enforcer has been a lot of fun, and I definitely want to do it again.

I’ll be back on my regular schedule next week, where you can expect a review for Gears of War: Judgment and then (hopefully) Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon the week to follow.

Thanks, everybody who had followed me from the start. It means a lot, and welcome to the newcomers too. If you met me at PAX, shoot me a message on facebook! (facebook.com/linkist)

Enjoy!

Review: God of War: Ascension

God of War: Ascension is the latest prequel to the series. Using the same technology they built God of War 3 on, Ascension looks and feels quite similar to God of War games of the past. However, the question is this: Does it stand next to the trilogy as a major installment, or lose its footing and stagger to the lower levels of the PSP side-games? I feel that Ascension will be one of those games with mixed conclusions, and you’ll probably understand why after reading.

God of War: Ascension takes place ten years before the events of the original God of War. Kratos is being hunted by the Furies who are corrupting his mind, causing him to forget the murder of his Wife and Daughter, as well as his bind to Ares. Kratos realizes that this is happening, however, and sets out to destroy the Furies. The setting jumps from two different time periods, one where Kratos is being held prisoner by the Furies, and one which is a few weeks earlier when he is being hunted. The plot is beautifully scripted and actually comes together very nicely. There are quite a few “wow” moments, and comes to a memorable conclusion.

The combat has been refined in this entry, bringing new play toys for Kratos to murder with. Instead of acquiring new weapons as before, Kratos now acquires different elements from the gods, Ares’ Fire, Poseidon’s Ice, Zeus’ Lightning, and Hades’ Souls. This is awesome, because each element brings you a slightly modified moveset, magic and accessible combos as well as changing enemy’s drops (Zeus Magic Orbs, Hades’ Health Orbs, Poseidon Exp Orbs and Ares Stuns Enemies.) I really like this new system, because it allows you to focus all of your resources on improving the Blades of Chaos, which are the weapon the majority of us use throughout our God of War sessions. It also inspires you to mix up which element you’re fighting with to string deeper combos or to accumulate health, magic, or experience orbs.

The environments are quite interesting in the later parts of the game, with some of the early ones lacking taste. After about a third of the game has past, the locations you visit really improve and give a good “Ancient Greece” essence and are much more fun to explore. The camera work is amazing in this game and gives a fantastic sense of scope to the areas you are traversing. On top of the aesthetics, the environment feature a lot more platforming. You’ll find yourself climbing and sliding around environments which really work side by side with the camera work to give you an even greater sense of scale.

The boss fights are few, but always satisfying. Kratos has some of his most brutal moments slicing and curb stomping villains, in what seem to be some of the most satisfying quick time events in gaming today. The game opens up with Kratos fighting a parasitically infected hand of a Hecatonchires, which is on par with the Poseidon boss fight opening of God of War III and rocks some of the best visuals in any Action/Adventure game. The wonderful graphics only work to enhance the already amazing looking visuals.

Truly the campaign for this game is only a smidgen below the trilogy we know and love. If it had more interesting and fun environments in the first third of the game and was a bit longer, I would honestly say it was just as good. The story dives into Krato’s as a human, and not as a god slayer which drives up some very interesting cutscenes giving insight to the character and who he was before he was the Ghost of Sparta.

The multiplayer was a confusing and not so welcomed addition for many of the fans, but I am pleased to say it’s pretty fun and is worth your time. It has a very clever tie-in to the story mode as well, so keep an eye out for that! After the introduction, you get to choose a God to represent in the arena. This essentially dictates your class. Ares is the Warrior class, Zeus is Battlemage, Hades is Assassin, and Poseidon is Support. They all feature different advantages and call for a different style of gameplay from the player.

Your champion can sport different armor and weapons which feature different stat modifiers to help to improve your specified class. The weapons you can choose from are Swords, Hammers and Spears. Swords are medium ranged slashers, Hammers are two handed powerhouses, and Spears are quick and long ranged. Your weapons and armor will also level up with you as you use them, so make sure you decide early to get the maximum level with the least amount of gameplay!

The stages are fun and feature some cool in-game modifiers. Each stage as a “gimmick” of its own, such as the Desert of Lost Souls which has a Titan who isn’t afraid to interfere in the background. Each stage is based on an iconic God of War location. An example would be Desert of Lost Souls from GoW or the Forum of Hercules from GoW 3. On top of that, each arena has many traps for players to activate and dreadfully fall for, often leading towards their imminent doom.

Expect your typical Deathmatch (Match of Champions), as well Capture the Flag, Trial of the Gods (Co-Op or Single Player Survival Mode) and Favor of the Gods (A fusion of Domination and Deathmatch) This is a healthy batch of equally fun game types to choose from, and although few, should serve to offer hours of Champion-Slaying fun. I’ve only played enough to get to level 5, but I am excited to find more time to pick the game back up and play it!

Overall, God of War: Ascension is not as good as any installment in the trilogy. However, I think it’s still better than the two PSP prequels before it. I have decided that it deserves to stand on the “Fourth Best Installment” pedestal and continue to please fans of the series with its fun multiplayer and entertaining (although short) single player. If this game was a bit longer, had more interesting early environments and got into Krato’s story just a bit more, I think it would have been on par with the trilogy. It’s cool though, since this is the end of a console generation… maybe the next installment will give the trilogy a run for its money.

Badges:

*Recommended

*Short and Sweet (Short story, but multiplayer is lasting)

*Fan-must-play

*Skippable (For those who like God of War but don’t LOVE God of War)

I give God of War: Ascension a 4/5.

Review: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is exactly what the franchise needed. A reboot. But not just your standard run-of-the-mill reboot, this one sets an example. All rebooted franchises should look at what Crystal Dynamics has brought us and take inspiration, because this is the true re-imagining Tomb Raider needed to live on. It’s amazing for fans and newbies alike and is definitely a must play game from this year. With only a few gripes to hold against it, Tomb Raider is one of the most delightful breaths of fresh air gaming offers right now.

Tomb Raider follows the story of Lara Croft, the familiar (although reimagined) veteran protagonist of the series. Lara and the crew of the ship, the Endurance are traveling in an attempt to discover the lost kingdom of Yamatai, the home of Himiko, the infamous Sun Queen who is said to hold mystical powers. The crew consists of Sam Nishimura (Himiko’s ancestor and good friend to Lara), Conrad Roth (Lara’s mentor), Dr. James Whitman (An Archeologist), as well as a few other minor characters consisting of Alex, Jonah, Grim, and Reyes. After some debate amongst the crew, they agree to search for the lost kingdom in the Dragon’s Triangle. As expected, tragedy befalls them, and Lara grows from innocent, scared girl to badass island survivor.

The story is fun, entertaining and perplexing at times with many twists and turns to help keep your attention. It’s fun watching Lara develop as a character as well as the changes that come to the other characters’ personalities and feelings towards her. There are many hidden journal entries written by the Endurance survivors, Lara herself and even people of the past like WWII Soldiers and members of the ancient Japanese kingdom. Lara’s journals initiate after reaching a major plot point in the story and resting at a campsite. This is a really cool way of summarizing while giving the character more depth, and giving you something to listen to while upgrading.

The game features several side tombs and collectables in each area to find and complete. These offer you material (salvage) to upgrade your weapons, as well as experience to buy in-game perks. As you search the island, you’ll acquire salvage to beef up your weapons to a god-like status. Some examples would be explosive arrow heads. Yeah, they’re pretty badass. You’ll also gather experience to allow Lara to buy perks which (obviously) powers her up. There are three tiers of perks that unlock as you buy from the predecessor tier, and three categories of perks. These categories are Survivor (Collection related perks), Hunter (Weapon related perks) and Brawler (Melee/Countering related perks). Survivor perks are invaluable for people who want to 100% the game ASAP, while Hunter and Brawler will help the player kick as much ass as possible in the shortest amount of time.

One complaint I do have about the game is the number of puzzle sequences there are. If you skip the side tombs (which you shouldn’t) you miss out on the majority of the game’s puzzle sequences. And even with those scenes, there still really aren’t that many. Although they do exist, the game definitely could have used some more with smaller gaps in between each one.

Tomb Raider offers a very familiar sense of control and flow. It plays similarly to the Uncharted series to an extent, but offers some diversity too. Every button feels right, the pacing is excellent and you’ll never fall behind in the plot. Lara feels real, the way she walks, jumps, hides, shoots, and falls. They all feel real. It’s really a great feeling that this game’s controls will entice within you.

The combat flows well and is quite fun at times. The only problem with the combat is how good the cover system is. You might say, “Wait, if the cover system is good, how is that a bad thing?” My answer to this question is simple. The cover system is so perfectly intertwined and seamless, that the AI isn’t good enough to fight you. It’s not that the AI is bad, it’s pretty standard, but it has a hard time getting around how well the cover system was injected into the real time combat. The way that enemies get around this is by having dedicated grenadiers when you don’t move, as in, guys who spam Molotov Cocktails and sticks of dynamite to force you to move from one cover to another. This isn’t bad, it makes sense, and overall doesn’t change how fun it usually is when fighting a mob of angry island dwellers.

The weapons you’ll find yourself using in combat can be categorized in four types. These are bow, pistol, rifle and shotgun. The bow rocks at mid – long distance and is the silent weapon of choice. The pistol is good for all ranges and is excellent for precision shooting. The rifle is a mid-close range killer and the shotgun is point-blank one hit kills galore. All of these weapons are a lot of fun to use and feel balanced. The upgrades add a lot of diversity to the weapons and you’ll definitely pick out which ones are your favorites to use in a short amount of time. I personally favored the bow and shotgun.

The game is a decent length; I finished in around 10 hours on hard mode with enough collectables and treasures still hidden to convince me to head back into the wilds for more adventure. I feel if Crystal Dynamics had put more emphasis on puzzles in more areas of the game they could have extended the playtime to around 12 hours. Sadly, the only replay value after I finish collecting everything (It will probably take me a while though, maybe 5-10 more hours) will be the multiplayer, which I actually plan on ignoring after my terrible experiences with it.

Yeah, the multiplayer is pretty tacked on. It’s boring, unbalanced and flat out unfair at times. It’s really not worth your time playing unless you’re already a high level and will kill everyone hundreds of times over until everyone except you realize how god awful it is and quit.

It’s seriously pretty bad, you should just ignore it. In fact, I am adding a new badge to the arsenal because of how bad it is.

Overall, Tomb Raider is as I said before; exactly what a reboot should be. It brought life back into a nearly dead series while taking it in a new direction and was executed amazingly. I can’t recommend Tomb Raider enough for fans and action/adventure players enough. Ignoring the multiplayer, this is one of the best games that has come out this year so far, and I think it will hold its own against some of the bigger titles launching in quarter four.

Badges:

*Recommended

*Evolution of a Franchise

*Fan-must-play

*Pretend the Multiplayer Doesn’t Exist

I give Tomb Raider a 4/5.
 

Excuse me while I go and collect the remaining treasures in my playthrough J

Opinion: Decisions in Games Part 1

More and more, video games are featuring decision mechanics, even in genres they’re not really needed in. Most modern RPGs like Mass Effect and Skyrim have decision making points for plot and character development. Adventure games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead demonstrate how heavy the consequences can feel. Even shooters are implementing choice with Spec Ops: The Line and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. With Dishonored and XCOM: Enemy Unknown added to that pool from last year, you can see how prominent decision-making in games is becoming. My question though, is how powerful are the decision-making mechanics on a player’s emotions? I’ve noticed that most of these decisions… aren’t really a big deal. They don’t carry weight.

Playing through Skyrim I came across many situations that invited a choice. Fight with the Stormcloaks or Imperials. Join the Dawnguard or the Vampires. Help the Blades or the Greybeards. Those are just a few examples of decisions in the giant world of Skyrim. But the problem with Skyrim‘s choices is the lack of true consequence. All of the decisions are completely black and white. You know what will happen when you side with one over the other. There really ISN’T any consequence. You side with the Imperials, the Empire reacquires control of the nation. You help the Vampires, you get cool vampire powers and beat the Dawnguard. You enjoy the company of Paarthurnax, the Blades won’t be so buddy-buddy to you.

Skyrim is an example of a game that has boring decisions, just for the sake of having them. There are other games out there that claim to have heavy “game influencing” decision-making sequences, but they often fall very short to those words. Dishonored is a game that also has this problem. Dishonored was advertised as a game completely driven by player choice, and while it is true in the gameplay, it’s not true for the story or the plot building. In Dishonored the only real decisions you make as the player is “how will I assassinate this guy” or “how will I avoid detection.” While the gameplay features strong choice in how the player interacts, the story is, once again, very black and white in the decision making. Kill the guard, be a bad guy, Dunwall will become corrupt. Avoid the guard, be a good guy, Dunwill will be cleansed.

The Walking Dead is a game that features heavy-hitting decisions… that don’t really matter. While playing through the game once, it really feels like your decisions are making an impact, but if you go back and play the game again, you realize they don’t. They don’t matter nearly at all. Telltale was very good at pacing the story to fit in with almost every decision, the only difference you’ll ever come across is which NPCs likes you and which ones don’t. The story is a magnificent tale, sure, but these weak decisions end up making your reevaluate the game and think “wow I really didn’t shape that story at all.”

The problem is that these decisions are boring and don’t have the depth they could. I understand it’s a game and is predetermined by default, but branching storylines could still exist. Right now the decisions are set up as follows: Choice, A or B? Either way, it leads to C with mildly altered dialog. There isn’t a difference between environments, characters outside of the decisions or even plot for the most part. This leads to them being boring and lacking a true feeling of choice.

If you’re looking for a game that offers an example of good decision-making mechanics on a gameplay level, look no further than XCOM: Enemy Unknown. While the game doesn’t specifically say “Hey, should we do this or that?” it does feature turn-based strategy combat filled with decisions for you to make. The most devastating moments in this game are when your favorite soldier, who is named after your brother, thrice decorated and seemingly immortal, gets shot and dies because of a bad decision on your part. This. Is. Heavy. I legitimately couldn’t play the game for a week because I was too upset over a soldier’s in-game death. You feel absolute guilt because of the loss.

Game developers need to learn from XCOM. They need to provide games where the plot builds off of your decisions, not the other way around. You need to feel guilt, anger, joy and sadness. I think the next generation will be where developers finally take that extra step towards deep and powerful decisions that will shape the games and how we play them. I am very excited for that day.