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[ First Impressions Review ] The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

This game was played using a prepatched digital copy of the game for the PlayStation 4.

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The First Three Hours

It’s interesting, being on the other side of the hype train for once: normally, I’m the franchise fan that knows exactly what to expect and what to get excited about when it comes to a new entry in the franchise. Here I am, the fair weather fan who’s only heard and seen things from the franchise – mostly because I haven’t even owned most Microsoft consoles and I haven’t had a decent gaming computer in almost a decade – and I’m getting hyped about this new release strictly from an outsider’s point of view. That being said, the expectations weren’t entirely high but I was pretty excited to try it on.

After getting to finally sit down and play the game, I can see why there are so many fans of the franchise: this game is right up there with the Mass Effects and the Dragon Ages and the Elder Scrolls games out there in terms of scope, quality, and attention to detail. Everything looks beautiful and sounds beautiful. I can’t get over how everything looks and feels this early on in release. You can tell, much like these other franchises, that the series has come a long way since its inception. However, unfortunately, it feels like it has a long way to go before it feels right.

Wild Hunt impressed me with its storytelling, voice acting, music, and general presentation from the moment I started the game up; things were simple, easily laid out, straightforward. Tutorials weren’t exactly long in the tooth and they worked it into the narrative, which is always a good thing for me. However, once they handed the reigns over to me, I felt like someone who was told how to work a crane that’s half-broken for five minutes and then let me go at it. You see, the game’s downright beautiful, the story and characters compelling, and everything about it is wonderful but running around and attacking and micromanaging just separated me from the rest of everything that was going on. The moment I jumped somewhere, tried to dodge or roll, the moment I tried to use a ladder or dive into one of the menu systems mid-combat, it felt as though I was being taken away from the experience to perform a chore. The division of speed and control between walking and running is terrible and disorienting. Most games like this have three movement cycles: walk, jog, run. Sometimes characters can sprint. Our main character goes from a slow walk to sprinting with a tilt of the analog stick and it’s pretty sensitive about it at times, meaning you have to be on a hair trigger if you don’t want to be barreling everywhere with no sense of control. Jumping is completely and utterly ridiculous and reminds me of Super Mario Bros. 2. I shit you not, guys, the jump animation and cycle for this guy is just stupid. He floats on a perfect axis as if he was lifted and dropped by a wire. There’s no way in any world that any person jumps like that. That’s just lazy animation and it feels stupid to watch and it feels stupid to perform. Attacking feels like pretty much any action-based role-playing game, such as Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the dodging and rolling serve little to no purpose: due to the fact that collision detection is incredibly spotty, whether you’re dodging or rolling has no impact on whether you get hit, meaning you can exploit it endlessly if you get good at it or it just doesn’t work at all.

Another thing is that the difficulty, unlike other games like this, ramps up incredibly: I figured, since I had a lot of experience with games like this and that I’ve plodded through many of them rather well, I could take on the Blood and Broken Bones difficulty of this game and it would be a brutal challenge. I could not. I got into the game about an hour or so before I locked myself into a position where I couldn’t backtrack and grind out for more gear or levels. It wasn’t really difficult, in my mind, as it was ridiculous. I took it down a notch in the menus to the regular difficulty but by that time I should have been much better geared and I ended up having to start again. That was… disheartening. That doesn’t happen often in my life and I do not like when I have to do this. I suppose it’s my fault for making assumptions but on harder difficulties this game just does not give you a curve, it plops you in a situation where every battle is grueling, every situation dire, and every choice needs to be wise.

I don’t know if this is how the Witcher franchise has always been and if I’m just nitpicking but a lot of these things just irritate the piss out of me. It takes away from the immersion and I want to love this game through and through because everything else is so well done and polished.

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Where to Go From Here

There’s a lot of potential, here, and, thankfully, a lot of the things I have issues with can either be patched or eventually overlooked. There is a seriously high quality production here and I see a lot to enjoy and I don’t want to miss out on that based on the fact that the game’s made me a little pissy. Besides, this looks like it could be a serious Game of the Year contender and I want to know for sure if this game’s got the chops to stand up to take the title.

Will I continue to play this game? For sure, if only to fully develop the story and its characters, at the very least. Everything is so intriguing and wonderful that I want to learn as much as I can about it. This game, in its current form, is already amazing and I can only see it getting better. I want to stick around for that.

Will I do everything there is to do in this game? I’m not sure about that. I mean, there’s a lot of intrigue there but if these technical issues don’t get resolved soon my intention to do everything there is to do kind of dwindles. I might come back for the DLC content that’s to come but that’s a completely different story. At this point, I’m hoping they just polish this game up and hope it was something that kind of came with the territory when you take a game that was primarily an XBOX/PC franchise to the multiplatform market, especially since the original XBOX and XBOX 360 were, essentially, glorified gaming computers. Porting can always be troublesome.

I hope things only get better from here. I’ll be sticking it out until, at the very least, one completion; hopefully, many more to come, because I’m getting a serious Mass Effect / Dragon Age vibe from this game and I like that.

[ Retro Review ] Uncharted Waters: New Horizons

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Through the Nostalgia Filter

I picked this game up for the Super Nintendo way back when as a used title – it was one of my first purchased titles. Tecmo-Koei marketed this game a the ultimate role-playing game so it immediately caught my eye – as a lot of games did in that era that marketed themselves in the same way. In this naval exploration simulator, you choose one of six characters, one of which has ties to the previous title in the franchise. From there, you’re given a little background and a bit of advice to take with you on your travels. After that, you’re pretty much on your own – that’s where this game initially appealed to me: you had a roundabout mission but it was completely up to you on how to accomplish that. You had the entire world at your disposal.

This was a bit of a problem, however; unlike games like Pirates! that had give this type of game the treatment it deserved, this game attempted to simplify and refine that experience at the same time which, as you can imagine, was met with meager results. Playing this game, way back when I first got it, I can remember getting really excited in the first hour or so of play and then getting bored after about an hour of wandering and micromanaging; it was starting to feel like one of those educational games that really had no point but to force information and trivia down your throat that you would otherwise have not participated in.

It was just one of those games that I couldn’t commit to before I even entered my teens. It just didn’t feel exciting or engaging enough. Little did I know what I was missing out on by not giving it a proper chance…

Uncharted_Waters_-_New_Horizons_4Coming Back, After All These Years

I’ve got to say, I kind of wish I would have given this game more of a chance back when I first played it. While it is extremely slow to get going, the dialogue is paltry, the graphics are poor – even for that time – and the story is dry, there is a lot more to offer after plodding through the initial portion of the game. It’s a real shame, too, because I didn’t come back to this game until well after I’d found better, more popular games that did what this game does much, much better.

Got to hand it to this game, though, for it’s somewhat less about the “in the movies” version of sailing the seven seas and more about what I would imagine realistic sailing would have been in the era depicted in the game. Not everyone gets swept up in a journey of grandiose proportions within a matter of days like it seems a lot of games are – sometimes it takes days, weeks, months, even years in order to get anywhere and that’s what this game is about. Once it gets going and you’ve gotten a handle on trade, supplies, crew, ships, and so on and so forth, you get introduced to some of the more exciting aspects such as battle between ships and crew. By that time, the story for each character starts unfolding, too.

One of the larger things that brought me back to this game was its soundtrack: one of the shining moments of this game, written by none other than Yoko Kanno. You might not remember that name right off the hop but you might if I mention one of her more popular works – Cowboy Bebop. Yeah, you wouldn’t think it was one and the same but the quality in the music shows and it was at its best on the Super Nintendo version of this game. I had heard a tune somewhere that instantly reminded me of the overworld theme from this game; I had to give it another go, if only for nostalgia value alone.

I wouldn’t imagine many people remember this game and even fewer people have ever played it but I did enjoy it a little and it’s always good for a brief revisit.

 

[ Review ] PlayStation Now

Were you one of the unfortunate few that had to give up their PlayStation 3 in order to get the PlayStation 4? Have you ever thought “Hey, I’d like to play that game but the chances of me finding it, because it’s not that popular or it’s out of print, are kind of slim”? Have you ever wanted to try a game on but you weren’t sure if you wanted to buy it and, like many cities in North America, renting physical copies of video games have become a thing of the past? Well, hop aboard, guys, let me tell you all about my first experiences as a PlayStation Now subscriber.

psnow_trailer_logoPlayStation Now: The Service

Now, you’re probably wondering what this is all about – in talking about it with just my local circle of gamer friends, there still seems to be a tiny bit of confusion surrounding the service and what it’s all about. As you’ve probably heard, PlayStation Now is a cloud-based service that allows you to stream some of your favorite games to your console of choice. All you need to do is install the application for PlayStation Now, pay a subscription fee of 20$ per month or 45$ for three months, and browse to your heart’s content. You’ll have to pass a connection test once all that is done to make sure your connection speed is up to the task – and, trust me, if my connection can do it where I’m at and which internet provider I’m with, you can, too – you’re all set to go.

If you’re familiar with Netflix then you’re already familiar with how PlayStation Now is set up: based on varying categories, you’re lined up with a selection of games to choose from. You find one that you like, you select it, it takes you through the initialization process which, for me, never took more than about 30-40 seconds. There’s a few things to note, here, though: the start and select buttons are done in a different way if you’re doing this with a PlayStation 4 controller or on your PlayStation Vita but they show you the differences in control and make no qualms about getting you set up as quickly as possible.

One of the main complaints about this service was the initial approach to payment: each game was individually paid for on a rental basis and, even then, the rental prices were crazy. All things considered, some of the prices were reminiscent of what places like Blockbuster used to charge; they had reason, though, as they had overhead to worry about and employees to pay. That was somewhat fixed by changing things to subscription method: while the price is still a tad steep, 20$ a month is still cheap, comparatively, for the ability to choose from and play the entire selection of games.

Speaking of game selection, while it’s still, pretty much, limited to games that you could play on the PlayStation 3 in one form or another, Sony is planning on continually expanding this as licensing allows – some third party companies might not want to jump ship on titles they’re still making retail sales on. I’ve gotten my subscription today and I wouldn’t be wholly disappointed if the selection stopped right in its tracks. The fact that it’s going to grow only keeps me wanting to stick around.

It should also be noted that of the platforms I’ve tested it on – the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation TV – only the PlayStation 4 worked in the way I’ll be describing below. It wouldn’t work in the same way on PlayStation TV as it’s still running an outdated version of the app and has the per-game rental charges still as the only way you can pay for the services. I was also unable to try it via Remote Play from my PlayStation TV to my PlayStation 4 because it blocked me from being able to do so, much like trying to Remote Play Netflix, which is nothing but aggravating. I can’t imagine it being any different on my PlayStation Vita but I’ll admit I haven’t tried it there, yet. That’s bound to change, though, as they bring the rest of the brand out of beta and go into full release.


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PlayStation Now: The Experience

This is probably one of the most painless setups for an online streaming service that I’ve ever had: I literally took the time to add the funds to my account – the longest part of the process, I might add – and it wasn’t more than ten minutes after the service was paid for that I was well into the tutorial of the first game I brought up, Tokyo Jungle. Given, yes, I already had the app downloaded back from when I wanted to see the game selection for an article I was writing, at the time, but downloading it again for the PlayStation TV didn’t take more than three or four minutes so I can’t see that being much of a problem if you didn’t have the app prior.

Once you’re into a game, though, it feels just like the real deal, to be honest. I tested it for input lag and, sincerely, there’s very little, even on my shitty internet connection. Tokyo Jungle played very well and it was entirely a surprise right from start to finish. I felt, though, that Tokyo Jungle wasn’t exactly a demanding game, in terms of processing power and visual streaming so I opted to find something a little more so: that’s when I tried on Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2. Episode 2 was just as responsive and while there was a little visual stutter, it wasn’t unlike Remote Play between the Vita or PlayStation TV connecting to the PlayStation 4, where heavy network activity would cause that, sometimes, and at the times where I had a little stutter, there was some heavy network activity, so that explained that. Like I’d stated before, my current home network situation is not the best, so the fact that it ran as well as it did surpassed my expectations.

I’ll be honest: the day I tested all this was not one of my best days. I only tested a couple games because I wasn’t feeling entirely well but based on what I was able to try I’m actually excited to go back and play some more.

 

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PlayStation Now: Should You Get It?

If you can spare the cash, monthly, honestly, you should get it. Even if you can’t, you should fork up for at least one month to try it on. It’s really something else. When I felt like it was Netflix for PlayStation games, that was based only on suggestion from the information I’d been hearing about the service but now that I’ve gotten the pleasure of trying it for myself, it sincerely feels like that’s a label that is very appropriate.

That being said, though, I think there are two main groups that would jump onto this service in the near future: those that had to give up their PlayStation 3 in order to get a PlayStation 4 and those who are new to the PlayStation brand or those who just would like to try games without having to purchase them first. I know the physical rental racket isn’t very lucrative since Netflix came around and killed Blockbuster, pretty much, so this kind of thing seems quite awesome to those who don’t want to get roped into purchasing a used game just to try it out, later finding they didn’t like it and it was a waste of money.

I’m positive that outlets like GameStop and EB Games are going to have a lot to say about this as they make a lot of money from refurbishing games and peripherals; not that I particularly care, honestly, because those kinds of stores have been cutting corners and ripping us off for a very long time, all while hiring the lowest common idiot to work at most of their stores…

It’s pretty great and you get a lot of bang for your buck. That’s about as neutral of an opinion as you’ll get out of this guy.

 

[ First Impressions Review ] Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

This review was written using the Day One copy of the game for the PlayStation 4 that was unpatched.

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The First Three Hours

Where this game seems to be concerned, there are three types of fans coming into this: those, like myself, who are excited to play the game based on watching the Japanese version of the game for years, those are cautiously optimistic based on the fact that it doesn’t play like many previous games in the franchise, and those who don’t really know much about the game at all and simply want a look at the newest Final Fantasy title. Being one of those that knew a bit about the Japanese version of the game beforehand, I wasted no time before plopping down on my couch, opening an energy drink, and getting right into the game. Little did I know that it was going to waste just as little time getting right into me.

Type-0 is not one of those role-playing games that takes its time introducing its characters and setting but rather slips you right into the middle of things: there are four nations, each centered around a crystal that’s responsible for each nation’s military power, mentality, and belief structure; one of them, for whatever reasoning decides to begin a major invasion of one of the others. The attack is well-coordinated and sudden, leaving the defending nation without much chance to retort and is quickly routed. Things seem really desperate until Class Zero arrives, a group of children who are able, with your help, to repel the invasion and start fighting back against the invaders. As war, beliefs, and intrigue seem to be large motifs – at least, in the beginning – you’re looking at a game that borrows more than a few story elements from games like Tactics in how it’s emotionally harrowing and really jarring right from the get-go, setting a dark tone for the rest of my time playing the game, so far.

The same thing goes for the gameplay mechanics, too – it holds your hand for only long enough to throw you into the middle of the action. It wasn’t too difficult for me to grasp the basic concept of combat, in its different types, and it wasn’t too difficult to grasp the development concepts, either. It really kind of felt like some really well-fleshed-out cell phone games did: it provides a simple but deep experience that’s easy to grasp but hard to master. After the initial mess is over, you get set into your routine: you have a set amount of time between your main story-driven missions and each action you take, be it a side mission, dialogue with an NPC, or undertaking school lessons to increase stats or gain EXP, drains two hours from that time. When the time is up or you skip the time altogether – yeah, you have the option to do that, though I don’t know why you would – you get to participate in the next story-based mission.

The voice acting is fairly par for the course though some roles are based on really terrible archetypes and are overacted based on said archetypes. There’s one guy that won’t stop saying “yo” all the time and the first l’Cie you face will repeat the same phrase about ten times in about five minutes. It’s really irritating but it’s easy to get over. The music is about par for the course as far as a Final Fantasy game is concerned, too, as it’s well done, not too overbearing, and feels proper to the scene, most times. The graphics are where I’m most divided – the textures, spell effects, and particle effects all look really nice and you can tell where they did the most work in bringing this to the PlayStation 4 but you can still see a lot of the old system – the PlayStation Portable – in this game. I would have liked them to spend a little more time on the game and upgraded the models and, perhaps, fixed the camera focus so that way things that are out of focus don’t look like complete shit.

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What’s to Come

Honestly, I think I’ve dug my feet into this game enough to say that I’ve settled into its routine: day to day missions, evolving the story as I go. I like where it’s taken me so far and I don’t see things getting much different, really. I suppose only time will tell but my hopes are still very high for this one and I can’t wait to see what it brings! I’m hoping there’s plenty of surprises.

[ First Impressions Review ] Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

You remember that article I made regarding this latest entry into the Call of Duty franchise and what I think Activision could do to bring the series out of its currently stagnant state? You remember how I sounded cautiously optimistic regarding what the game could be like in order to make it truly revolutionize the genre, for a change? Yeah, well, let’s talk about how Activision completely ignored that concept while also making a totally competent first-person shooter.

Diving straight into the game takes you straight into urban warfare, taking you through an introductory mission to acclimate you to the controls in the midst of combat. Things really haven’t changed all that much when it comes to the actual gameplay but the idea of added mobility through special abilities is definitely a welcome change from the dreadful pace of most rail shooters. All that is more useful in the multiplayer, though, against real enemies, as the AI still feels as if there’s no real formation other than “hide, shoot wildly, hide, walk into bullets, rinse and repeat.” The framing around the level was the same kind of dudebro stuff the series is well known for and after completing the first mission, I kind of realized that this game is really going to be no different than any of the others.

After a lot of fluff that ended up introducing you to Kevin Spacey’s role in the game – which, as usual, he plays as well as he can – you get thrown into… yet another introductory mission, which serves as an exposition to get you introduced into the private military company you’ll be serving with and to refine the skills you learned in the previous mission. It feels really badly put together and honestly could have been done away with by turning it into a cutscene, or something. It felt incredibly boring and, altogether, a waste of time.

Your next mission finally stops holding your hand but the control reminders are still always flashing in your face, reminding you of the stuff that you’ve had ground into your skull for the last two missions. It’s still very basic stuff. Activision had a really big chance, here, to drop a bomb, so to speak, on the first-person shooter genre and it just seems to be more of the same kind of padded… crap.

However, though, if you’ve really enjoyed the series in the past, you’ll find that there’s still more to love, with this game. Advanced Warfare flexes its muscles really well and does what it has always done without really missing a beat. My qualms with this game and, for all intents and purposes, this franchise, are not based in the fact that I think they’re all bad games; no, rather, I feel my issue with everything is that the formula that they’ve been standing by for so long has been tiring and grating on the nerves, kind of like that song you used to like on the radio before the radio stations played it straight to hell.

After playing this game for a while, I can say that this game gets a grand old “meh” from me. It doesn’t really do anything new other than star Kevin Spacey – which… shamefully… I will be playing just to see what his role ends up developing into…

[ Retro Review ] Blades of Steel

Like a lot of successful games of its time, Blades of Steel started out in arcades as a smash hit that was ported to the NES in 1988. As one of the first hockey games that I had ever played – Ice Hockey being the first – and hockey being one of my all-time favorite things period, this game holds a near and dear place in my heart. I remember renting the game from a rental store that is no longer with us – gods rest its soul, as it was the place I endlessly rented Super Mario Bros. 3 and Final Fantasy from – and taking it home for the very first time and, like a lot of NES games, I spent the first twenty or so minutes sweating with frustration over how to work the game and getting crushed by its relentless flaws.  I also spent a lot of time cursing the lack of a Detroit team, even if the game was unlicensed by either the NHL or the NHLPA as that wouldn’t come into a hockey game for another five or so years.

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Where Ice Hockey held a more realistic approach to the sport, it was almost like Blades of Steel went in the other direction, glorifying hockey fights and playing a game style more akin to tabletop hockey that was more frantic and fast paced. Players were rewarded by hitting other players, winning fights, starting fights in front of the opposing nets – that earned you, as pictured above, a penalty shot – and shooting as frequently as possible. It was a game that could change at any time and, for a hockey game in that era, was a sorely needed injection of excitement to the sports simulation genre.

The NES version of the game was actually pretty nice, considering the standards of the year it was released; while not quite up to par with its arcade counterpart, you had a game the still retained a lot of the visual and audio flare that the arcade version did without losing a lot of the fast-paced action that made the game well-known, even to this day.

What do I think of the game now, having popped it in my Retron 2 after not playing it for almost two decades? I think it’s extremely gratifying, once you get the hang of it. I extremely dislike the goalie control and the lack of real control in shooting but that’s part of what makes it so fun: it’s not meant to be a simulation or a realistic take on hockey but rather an arcade style that focuses on chaos and completely slapstick competition.

[ First Impressions Review ] Destiny

Alright, I guess it’s time to put on my big boy pants and get this done. I should let you know that I’m not a huge fan of first person shooters, mostly because I’m not that great at them. I’m good enough to get through single player without too much trouble but when it comes to playing up against other people, I flat out bite the big one. I tend to approach MMOs with the same kind of apprehension for, basically, the same reason. I’m typically not the kind of person that is able to keep up with the learning curve that suddenly shows up in certain aspects of games like those. In comes talk of Destiny in my gaming world and things seem a little weird – I hear about a game where it plays like a single player first person shooter but integrates multiplayer features in such a way that you’re coming in and out of multiplayer areas without even knowing it and working together as opposed to against one another. While I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of games, I’ll admit, I was a little excited to try this one on. Not long ago I was given the chance to take part in the beta test phase for Destiny thanks to the wonderful local gaming community here where I live and I’m here to report my initial findings in having played this game for the PlayStation 4.

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The First 20 Minutes

Right from the moment you first boot the game up you’re treated to a download prompt, meaning if you’re playing the PlayStation 4 copy of the beta version of the game you’ll have to wait for a 10GB download. While I don’t mind the wait, myself, I know plenty of people that do and if they’re anything like me a long wait for a download when you thought the game was good to go can feel like forever.  Once that was done and I got into the game proper, I was able to see the MMO influence almost immediately: you’re prompted to customize your character into three different classifications that affect your play style and then aesthetically customize your character. From that point you’re driven into a good taste of the lore surrounding the game and shot right into the interface and gameplay without much more explanation other than “you’re being chased, get the hell out of here!” It does a pretty good job of setting the scene for you in a very classically Bungie way by giving you a little floating assistant to point you in the right direction and give you the scope of what you’re facing. I was able to complete the first mission without much trouble and after the mission completion – seriously, the mission is pretty simple: get away from bad guys, who flank and outnumber you anyway, forcing you to grab your nearest weapon, confront them, and then escape – I was whisked away to the “Tower”, which is a kind of safe area where players can congregate, shop, choose mission objectives, and the like. I was able to basically grasp a lot of the shops, how they work, and their locations without too much effort. I spent quite some time checking things out, though.

In the first twenty minutes of actually playing the game, I do have to say that the game looks and feels very good. I tend not to live and die by the graphical content of a game but I have to admit that this game looks very good. I haven’t witnessed any slowdown just yet and the effects are fairly simple without coming off as cheap. Scenery looks beautiful and that’s definitely to be expected from the guys that brought us Halo. In terms of the gameplay itself, it feels very much like Halo melded with Borderlands in that there’s a lot of shooter elements that are mixed with various RPG elements as well. By no means is it revolutionary; for what it is, though, it works well: it’s a good, solid experience that stays well within the context of its lore and environment. Enemy weapon projectiles moved slower than I thought they would in a shooter, oddly enough, I can’t complain about that, as it just makes it easier to survive, but I did find it rather unusual. This “Tower” place feels less like a respite and more like a hub town from some kind of MMORPG, really.

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Thoughts on What’s to Come

I’ve actually played another couple missions after my initial playing of the game and my thoughts on the game aren’t likely to change if they keep the base concept the same: I’ve played games like BorderlandsDust 514, and WarFrame and having done so pretty thoroughly, I feel I already know what’s to come: you have a game with a central hub system that divvies up all of your missions, equipment, and social interaction and a mission structure that serves to challenge you with gameplay and reward you with experience and loot as a result of how you played the mission. I know, you’re probably thinking “well, putting it that way, it sounds like a ton of games that I’ve played” and you’d be completely right. My thoughts on the game can be summed up like this: “this game isn’t quite meeting the hype but I’m okay with that.” I’m not even sure Bungie really planned to make a revolutionary game. Maybe I misinterpreted what they were advertising for when this game was getting press but I had the feeling that this game was going to change everything and it… really… didn’t.

That’s not to say that what’s here is bad. Actually, I’m saying just the opposite: this game is good, from what I can tell. I haven’t really dived into any additional competitive or social aspects of the game just yet but from what I have had the pleasure to try on is a game I would definitely not mind playing casually. There’s not really enough, just yet, to suck me in, constantly, but there’s enough to definitely keep me interested and there may just be enough to keep me in until the story content is completed, at least, as the lore is pretty interesting, so far, actually.

Will I buy the game? I’m going to have to see more to make that decision. I’m still kind of apprehensive, based on the fact that while it’s interesting in concept, it’s not really interesting enough to keep me locked in.

[ Laymen’s Quickie Review ] Murdered: Soul Suspect, Watch Dogs and Child of Light

It’s been a while, guys, I know, I’m sorry: life has a funny way of letting you know where your priorities should lie, whether you have them in line or not. Unfortunately, for the last little while, they did not lie here and, for that, I’ve been away for a bit. I’ve made attempts but since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, coming up with crap that panders doesn’t sit well with me and, therefore, I didn’t post it. I even dabbled in getting fancy with recording videos but, alas, life continued to wrangle me away from this.

"We really care about your life situation, Kenny." -no one on the internet
I know, I know. I’m getting to it.

Anyway, as thanks for your patience and in response to being a little more active in my gaming variety, lately – I’ll admit, I’ve taken myself away from Final Fantasy XIV only because patch 2.3 will be coming out soon – I figured I’d do another “quickie review” to spill my thoughts about the games I’ve played in the last few days. Weirdly enough, this one will also be a three-shot. The system I’ve played these on are all on the PlayStation 3 and I’m sure there’s slight differences between console releases so keep that in mind when reading through. To keep from dragging on, I’ll get started:

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Murdered: Soul Suspect

I wanted this game to rock. I wanted this game to be good so badly it almost hurt. The premise of the game wasn’t exactly ground breaking but it looked promising; very, very promising. It seemed well-written and all that needed to be done was code a good game around the story. That’s where things got really bad.

The Good

This game’s writing feels kind of cliché but in the context given, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Without spoiling too much that you won’t find out in the first fifteen minutes of the game, you get shoved into the shoes of a detective hot on the heels of a serial killer. You find him rummaging around an apartment only to have him overpower you and throw you out the window. That wasn’t enough to kill you all the way so the killer comes out and shoots you with your own gun. Seven times. In public. Pretty brutal, right? Well, now that you’re dead, you find yourself caught in a kind of state of purgatory, using the common explanation for ghosts being the souls of those who cannot pass on all the way because they have unfinished business – in this case, finding his killer and exposing why he was murdered. What this gives you is a kind of R.I.P.D spin on L.A. Noire, really: this is a mixed bag because it gives you both the good and bad of such a mix of elements. As a ghost, you wander around and you get to investigate a case in a way no ordinary human would, exposing clues that others wouldn’t be able to see and traveling to places you normally wouldn’t be permitted to see. You get to interact with people through possession and listening to conversations and influencing the events around you. It really works well as a concept and its execution exposes some seriously cliché elements in writing but it’s realistic in that way – stumbling into a room with a bitter married couple has them bickering over the wife’s insistent nosiness towards what’s going on outside and the woman reveals she does that because she feels neglected. It’s overused but it’s easily to relate to because it actually happens in real life. The story also paints a pretty solid story that gives you the chance to really immerse yourself in the narrative and its surrounding content. There’s a lot to see and hear and do in this world.

The Bad

That’s about where the good stops: while the story and writing is pretty compelling, the game that surrounds is makes the narrative feel disjointed, at times. When it succeeds, it feels forced; for example, when you’re investigating a crime scene, you’re pretty much left with nothing to go on. In one scenario, you’re asked where a target went off to and you’re dropped in the investigation zone with little to no idea of what to look for and among all of the stuff you find, most of it is purely circumstantial. It will paint a pretty obvious picture for you and if you find most of the evidence there’s a good chance you’ll know where it’s going but the game will pigeonhole you into highlighting only certain evidence that it finds directly relevant to a solution, breaking up the investigation into doing what you’re commanded without knowing what you’re commanded to do. Another thing that you’re exposed to early and feels extremely forced are the demons: they are exactly what you’d come to expect from such a title, serving only to impede your progress and can be disposed of easily but only through very particular means that specifically counts on your reaction time. They feel like moving traps whose purpose is only to break up the narrative so that way it doesn’t fall into the Beyond: Two Souls trap of not feeling like a video game and it does so very poorly. They provide very little challenge and when they do get the upper hand it’s literally because you had no way of knowing they were ahead of your path. It becomes frustrating because it’s really easy to understand that they’re only there as placeholders to keep you in the mindset that you’re playing a game. Considering navigation and investigation are two big parts of the gameplay it feels like an intriguing story that’s wrapped up in a terribly contrived and uninspired game.

The Ugly

What it succeeds in falls flat but it doesn’t stop there – some parts of the game are just flat out boring and glitchy and I’ve found myself glaring at the screen because this game doesn’t only feel uninspiring from a gameplay perspective but it also feels unfinished. This game feels as though it suffered underneath a restricting timeline and it seems like we may either get fixes in the way of DLC and updates or they may remain on the cutting room floor; that would be a shame, really, as this game could have been very good.

Long story short, this game was a great concept that was executed horribly. There needs to be more games like this; if only to prove that they sometimes need a little bit more time to polish out all the kinks and bad ideas. There’s no way some stuff wasn’t complained about in play testing that got left in anyway. I wouldn’t buy this game if I were you but I would certainly try it to see if it first, if the concept is worth the work, to you. It really wasn’t, for me, but that’s me and that’s why I’m here telling you this.

 

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Watch_Dogs

Speaking of games that could have been so much better than they were, we have Watch_Dogs. This game was hyped to the nth degree as the one game that was going to turn sandbox games on its ass and utterly change the genre into something completely different. What ended up happening instead was an uninspired copy of games like Grand Theft Auto as a stage for some really exciting concepts that fall flat because of the fact that the game just borrows elements from way too much and does a few key things poorly.

The Good

What this game gets absolutely right comes few and far between. While the story, for example, comes off as extremely cliché, it’s executed well and comes off as, at the very least, somewhat believable. You have this guy, Aiden, who worked as a hacker who had become so good at his job that he ended up becoming a target thanks to some very important people. Those who would hunt him end up doing a sloppy job of holding family hostage and you end up with a man who has the ability to hack into everything electronic in a city with a taste for vengeance. Pretty much every hostage action movie you’ve ever seen, right? Clichéd movies like that are supposed to let the plot take the back seat to the characters, the scripting, and the action; this is one of the things that the game gets right. Much like Grand Theft Auto, progression happens at the pace you choose and, while the story content is kind of heavy at times, it never becomes overly so. It feels kind of right given the kind of game that it is.

The best part about a game centered around hacking should be the part of the gameplay that features hacks, right? Well, this is one of the game’s main concepts and it pulls it off rather well without feeling too much like you’re playing a video game and not performing real life hacks. I mean, sure, Aiden is the poster child for a “script kiddie”, but he knows how to use what he has and he can get the job done. Using his cell phone and a great deal of hacking know-how, he’s able to do everything from unlock cars to snoop on people to set off explosives to… well… just about everything you can think of and then some. Some of them seem kind of weird – like setting off grenades that some guards carry or blowing a pipe main – that the game just brushes off, explaining them away as “everything has chips, these days”; apparently they all come with self-destruct mechanisms, too, but you won’t see me complaining. Hacking feels very fun and is one of the primary reasons I stuck it out with this game and is one of the only reasons I constantly come back to it.

The Bad

Oh, man… there’s a lot to say about what went wrong with this game. There are two primary things wrong with this game that aren’t game-breaking but bother the piss out of me: first, driving feels like you have a chest freezer half-loaded with meat in the trunk in the rain; secondly, there seems to be little to no police presence in the game unless you do something completely stupid or the story requires it. There’s a bunch of other things but let’s try to keep it down to a dull roar because there is a lot to go over, here.

Let’s talk about driving for a moment – you don’t need to be Gran Turismo or anything but you can, at the very least, create some kind of realism while driving. It feels as though the team who created the driving mechanics in this game were either rushed or have not driven a motor vehicle. Ever. Driving, in this game, was manageable, but it took a very long time to adjust to it and the next game that requires it, I’m going to drive as though I’m still playing Watch_Dogs. That is not a good thing.

This next complaint is probably just me being a terrible nag: I hate that the police presence in Chicago is nothing like I would picture it would be during a crisis like the ones faced by the city during the course of the game. I find that if you’re going to present situations in a semi-realistic way, at the very least, then you should try to streamline everything else in the game. If you’re going to create a morality system a la InFamous to reflect the public’s opinion of you, you shouldn’t be lazy in regards to the same aspects regarding the police and their reactions to you. It just feels like the police were kind of stapled on so that way they would be present in the required missions and to present the requisite chase scenes.

Among the small bothersome stuff: the music selection sucks, character development feels slow and dull at times, gunplay feels uninspired and should offer lock-on if it’s going to be so easy, objectives sometimes feel like disjointed fetch quests; beyond all that is one primary complaint that should be heard above all else: this game has a great concept stapled on top of a poor copy of Grand Theft Auto.

This is its greatest failing: it takes the best parts of what makes Grand Theft Auto a compelling and enjoyable experience and does nearly all of them poorly. What it fails hardest at is allowing this sandbox game to truly feel like a sandbox game; there’s no incentive to roam and if you cause too much chaos your reputation goes down and things start to suck after that. There’s no real advantage to doing whatever you like and there’s certainly no encouragement from the game itself to do whatever you like with the world that this game presents. Its environments are often bland and lifeless and presents itself only as a backdrop for the story and the idea of hacking. That’s a damned shame because this game could have done so much better than it did, especially considering all the hype Ubisoft built up for it.

The Ugly

Yet another game on this review that just feels like it could have done so much more. It’s not that this game is completely terrible; while it does have its many failings, most of those are borne from failed expectations. I really wanted this game to be as awesome as I expected and I ended up with yet another game that would force me to oversee things that really bother me in order to actually enjoy it.

This game would be recommended, also, as a try before you buy. There’s a lot to enjoy, here, but there’s also a lot to be annoyed by and there’s a lot to be dragged down by.

 

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Child of Light

I would most certainly save the best for last in this Quickie Review: Child of Light embraces what makes it like other games and decides, rather, to present it in such a way that makes it endearing and enchanting. Again, it might seem a little cliché, but it certainly does what it does right and is satisfied with that, which is perfectly fine by me.

The Good

One of the greatest things about this game is that it doesn’t suffer underneath the weight of its own ambition: it sets out to be a decently plotted turn-based RPG with side scrolling elements thrown in for good fun and it does both of those things very well. It’s simple and for that it can expand its depth and difficulty based on the simplicity without coming off as rushed or cheap. In its base you have a game that plays a lot like every traditional JPRG when battling and outside of battling it plays a lot like Trine; how it’s presented is where this game really shines.

Right from the time you boot the game up you’re treated to a beautiful score and art style that’s quite unlike a lot of what’s offered up in terms of 2D games, these days. Either you have something that’s pretty standard fare or you have an indie studio pandering to the “older is better” retro crowd, usually; this game does neither of those things, instead giving you presentation and design that’s really well thought out, creative, and engaging without being overbearing.

The gameplay doesn’t venture outside of the box too much but what it does do, it does well: it does exactly what it sets out to do without taking away from the story and the presentation and it’s the one thing that makes this a shining gem of a game.

The Bad

The same thing that makes this game unique and interesting is also the same thing that makes it feel kind of stale: beyond the art style and the great music, you don’t have anything with any real staying power at all. That doesn’t make it bad but aside from its mind-blowingly awesome presentation, there’s not a whole lot about this game that sets it apart from a lot of other games out there. That’s really all I can fault it for: not challenging itself a little, at the very least; for playing it safe.

The Ugly

When it boils down, this game’s success comes from the fact that the presentation gets to be the star and, for that, everyone gets to enjoy the wonderful art, music, and writing; in making the presentation the star, though, you realize it’s just a shiny wrapping for a game that is really kind of same-y. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that, really; if you’ve ever played an old-school traditional RPG or a platformer before and they were half decent, you know exactly what to expect from this game, from a gameplay standpoint.

If you’re asking whether or not you should buy this one, well… considering the price tag, you have a game that’s well-designed and competent and is well worth the price tag. It is great for a quick fix for traditional and competent gaming that’s awesome to listen to and look at.

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The Verdict

Let me clear the water, here: while I spend a lot of time analyzing what’s bad about a game, I also try to spend just as much time talking about what I like about a game, as well. Judgment goes both ways and I try to be equal in my evaluation about these games, which brings me to the general overall thought of these games… games that should have done a whole lot more or did what they were doing better. Sure, that would seem a little too harsh for games that, on the surface, were alright in their own right but the companies that published these games – Ubisoft and Square-Enix – have literally no excuse for not being able to run a game through a few more processes in order to make a game do more than just go through the motions to sell a certain amount of copies. I’m not chiding these games because they could do better but rather because they should have been better considering where they came from.

If anything, a game should be enjoyable – you shouldn’t have to overlook something in order to enjoy it. Either it should be completely enjoyable or completely objectionable but you should want to have to put aside what you think in order to look for something to make it all worth it. Gaming shouldn’t be that much effort, in my eyes, especially since the price tags for a lot of these games aren’t exactly cheap. If you have to dig that deep to find something you like about a game then it’s clear you didn’t get your money’s worth.

These games just make me wish that publishers and developers would take more time in making a game happen, that’s all. They’re good games but they could be awesome games and I feel they weren’t because of a lack of feeling they needed to in order to sell the games. Murdered could have had combat that didn’t feel tacked on, Watch_Dogs could have been less like an uninspired GTA clone, Child of Light could have done a little more with its gameplay instead of taking the safe route: all of these things would have been well within the developer’s scope of ability and I know that these games would have been better received if they’d just done what it took to make them awesome.

Especially in the case of Watch_Dogs. Which should have been awesome, if the advertising was to be believed.

Fucking Aiden.

[ First Impressions ] Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

It’s finally here. It’s finally freaking here. This is one of the games I’ve been waiting for, for so long. I finally got myself a copy of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for my PlayStation 3. Okay, I’ve had it for a while now and I’ve only played a few hours in but I can say one thing about it that is undeniable: it was well worth the wait.

Before I go any further, I should say something: I’m a huge Metal Gear fan. If you’ll believe it, I got my start playing Snake’s Revenge; I ended up thinking “well, okay, the original has to be better than this, every first game is”. I ended up playing Metal Gear for the first time, as a result and the rest, as they say, is history. I have a slight bias, as you might have guessed, and that bleeds into almost all of my experiences with the franchise – except for VR Missions. That game just shouldn’t have happened. Ever.

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Seriously, though: fuck you, VR Missions. Go to hell.

Since I haven’t played through the entire game proper – as I actually like to take my time and enjoy a game instead of concerning myself with its length – just yet, I’ve decided to address the two main issues that people have with this game instead of doing my normal “first impressions” review:

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“This Game is too Short!”

Perhaps the biggest qualm everyone has is in response to this video where a guy performed a speed run of Ground Zeroes where he skipped all cutscenes and knew exactly where to go and what to do and was able to complete the game in ten minutes. People had been complaining about the potential length of this game from the moment Kojima explained that it would be much shorter than Phantom Pain but since this video was uploaded the outcry has gotten louder and more heated.

Far as I can tell, this guy has been through the game a few times, which proves a point to me before this video even gets started: replay value is there. Some people do go through awful games just to prove they can be the best at something but most people that I know only go back through a game that they can, at the very least, tolerate.  That tells me that he’s put a lot more than just ten minutes into this game. That also tells me he’s tried many different methods, which brings to mind another point I’ll be addressing later. If you can make a debate about being able to complete it in ten minutes, I’d make just as valid a debate about the time you would need to put into the game in order to be able to complete it in ten minutes.

To expand on the replay value, this game takes a concept started in Metal Gear Solid 3 and expands on it infinitely; you are given a set number of missions related to the story and side missions to complete but you are also given an infinite number of ways to accomplish them. Grand Theft Auto is lauded the way it is for its typical mission structure – shoot this, escort that, blow this up, perform these favors – but rather for its open-endedness and rewards based on how much you screw with things. You’re basically dropped in an enemy camp with little more than your vague mission objectives, especially early on. You could sneak your way through, plow your way through, knock people out, save all the hostages on your own time; there’s a number of things you could do that are completely unrelated to the missions.

This game, yes, does give you the option to breeze right through it with reckless abandoned. By the time I finished this article I actually saw somebody complete this game in not 10 minutes but 7 minutes! It’s crazy the length some of these people will go to to prove a point but the proof is there: you can complete the game quickly. Does that mean you should? Not in a million years. Does that mean you will be able to without playing it thoroughly, at least, once? Probably not without help.

That brings me to my next point, which deals with the next huge point of contention everyone seems to have with this game:

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“Why is the Game so Expensive?”

Of course, this question is in direct correlation to its length, in most people’s minds. However, cost should be directly correlated to its value and a lot of gamers out there feel that a game isn’t worth a lot if you can’t drown yourself in it, in terms of hours played. Truth be told, though, the value of a game can’t be strictly about its length: a lot of people typically don’t feel this way, either, but it seems that people expected this entry to be longer as Metal Gear Solid, as a franchise, is well-known for convoluted plots, double-crosses, plot twists, and endless possibility in gameplay and storyline depth.

This game’s light on story, I’ll give you that; this game is used as a prologue to Phantom Pain – which, by the way, is going to be so awesome if this one is any indication at all – and its save data will likely be able to be used in conjunction with the game, directly, so the story here should be treated more as an introduction to the background of Phantom Pain, which is something that I think is going on. If you go through the cutscenes, extra recordings, background information, and listen to as much as possible, like most real fans of the series would and are usually used to doing by now, you would use way more than 10 minutes just in doing that alone. It’s very clear that this game is extremely deep, replayable, and has all kinds of production value that you would come to expect from Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions.

To directly answer this question: you’re paying for more than the game’s apparent length. You’re paying for way more than that. you’ve always been paying for more than the gameplay experience and that’s part of why the franchise is so beloved by so many. Kojima even brought the price down from its previous price point – probably seeing the ire that the price point would cause in the general public and was likely already creating.

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The Answer and The Rant

I didn’t even realize that headline could pose as ideas for new Metal Gear Solid villain names. You heard it here first! All kidding aside, though, the answer to every single complaint regarding this game’s expense and length can be summarized thusly: don’t buy the fucking game if you don’t think it’ll be worth your time and shut up enough to let the people who are enjoying it, to enjoy itYou would think that would be a simple concept to grasp but it’s been trending among casual gamers for the last five or so years to complain about video games that aren’t catering to their tastes. Listen up, and listen good: this game is, basically, extra content for those who would love to learn more about Phantom Pain and the era that game will portray. It is a more than friendly price for fans who have put a lot of time, effort, and care into this franchise and I think that this game gives anyone who loves Metal Gear plenty to do until the next entry comes out. This will open all kinds of doors into what Phantom Pain will bring us and I, for one, love what this game brings to me.

This is where I get kind of ranty, though: there are punks among the legions of “writers” and “journalists” out there who are hating on this game. There are plenty of people who call themselves professionals of the industry who think Kojima is milking this franchise but seem to forget that all kinds of companies have been doing this before, even, the 8-bit era came around. There are people hating this game that I could run logic circles around, for days, and someone decided to imply that they have better things to do than have a “Twitter debate” with me; coming from someone who also responds to tweets with the verbal equivalent of “dat tweet doe.” You can’t tell me you have better things to do when you spent a 5-10 tweet thread going over why a friend of yours on Facebook why they won’t let you access their wall. Come on. This guy writes for IGN

If you want to hate something, that’s fine. If you don’t want to buy something, that’s cool, too. If you want to rant and rave about how you don’t think something should be praised as you feel it’s going to be, that’s fine. Scream it from your rooftop, as loud as you can… but for crying out loud, I should be able to shut my door and shut you people out. I’m just trying to enjoy my games and, as a gaming journalist and enthusiast, you people are making it extremely hard to do so when you take every chance you get to nitpick on everything and complain about everything that doesn’t convene you. Ground Zeroes wasn’t meant to be long and if you thought it was you clearly haven’t followed its development. Get off my damn lawn and stop screaming about how I should agree with you!

One comment on an article on IGN probably sums it up best:

People buy some yearly franchises, maybe multiple ones, that are basically the same things re-skinned with new stories and a couple new features at full price every single year. Think of sports and the shooter series. Yet one series that has a passionate following that rarely releases games comes out with a prologue at half-price and the whole world explodes. Gamers make me sick.

For crying out loud, people. You’re just ridiculous. Companies have been doing this for eons. Why are you just noticing now?

Yes, before you say anything, I know my bitching about someone else’s bitching makes me a hypocrite but I really don’t care. Scream all you want and ruin your own experience but stop fucking with mine, alright?

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