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[ 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?

[ Game Theory ] The Last of Us: Ellie and the Infected Revisited

Last summer I posted this article talking about this game called The Last of Us for the PlayStation 3 and one of its greater mysteries: the infection and why Ellie was immune. In order to understand what was going on I looked at the inspiration for the infection, ophiocordyceps unilateralis, more commonly referenced in the game as cordyceps, hoping to grasp how it worked and why it did what it did. I understood the concept but that was based on a misunderstanding of what a fungus really was and how it worked in the context of the game. This misunderstanding was cleared up thanks to a correction I’d gotten from a reader on my previous post, something I should have known if I’d done my research just a little more thoroughly: that fungi are no longer classified as plants and haven’t been for many decades, based on the fact that they have no chlorophyll; in addition, due to that, they cannot perform photosynthesis.

I'm about to bust some serious science chops, here, folks, so hold on tight.
I’m actually surprised that good ol’ Nye here didn’t personally slap me for that one.

It was rather shameful because I based all of this on old knowledge and I really shouldn’t have assumed. I know better, now, though, and decided to revisit the topics; this time, though, with a renewed focus on what the infection in the game really is and why Ellie is immune. I think that the two go hand in hand – while the question of “Why is Ellie immune?” is more intriguing to me, you can’t understand one without understanding the other.

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What is The Infection?

According to the game, the infection, which receives no formal name, originated in South American crops. It’s strongly implied that this fungus was a mutation of the fungal infection we currently know as ophiocordyceps unilateralis. While the reasoning for this mutation is not quite clarified, I believe the mutation was evolutionary; the ants that the infection formerly spread through adapted and found a way to create immunity to the infection, giving the fungus an ultimatum: evolve or die. This infection made the easiest and simplest choice: spread through the most dominant species in the planet that shares the most common characteristics with other species. I also don’t believe that the infection, as the population knows it, didn’t originate in South America but rather the first instance of human infection was noted there.

Protecting yourself from infection through the game is primarily done through two methods: covering one’s face with a gas mask to protect one from exposure to spores and keeping yourself from being bitten by one of the infected. Given the infected, driven only by instinct, attack by brutalizing and/or biting the victims; this makes one wonder if skin contact with the spores are exactly how the infection is spread. Given that the infection needs to take root in the brain in order to perform any kind of manipulation, this makes one wonder where it starts and how it gets there: my theory is that the infection is primarily transmitted through the blood. If one were to leave their face uncovered that exposes two methods of infection via spores: through the eyes, nostrils and mouth; the latter two through ingestion and absorption into the blood via the small intestine or through the eyes, giving the spores direct access to the brain almost immediately. If one were bitten then the spores given off by an infected would have instant access into the bloodstream. From the blood they would take root in the spinal fluid and then, from there, into the brain stem and take root into the brain from there. Most of the time spent from bite to infection is spent by the body metabolizing the infection and moving it from the location of the exposure to the brain – once it takes root in the brain the changes in character and function take place almost immediately, turning the person into a vehicle for infection.

This is similar to the Rage virus from the film 28 Days Later, a point I made in the last article regarding this topic, in that the infected turn into vectors for the infection whose sole purpose is infection through the bloodstream; I might say, though, in that movie, the results are a little more dramatic as the infected could throw up blood creating the possibility of infection through mere contact with the infected’s blood. Another similarity is how the Rage virus also bolsters the infected; in the context of The Last of Usthis way the infected are able to continue on actively spreading the infection without fear of damage or destruction. With regards to The Last of Us’ infected, this happens in many different ways: the first and perhaps most noticeable are the growths that can be seen on the body as the infection spreads through it, creating a kind of armoring against physical damage, happening first around the head and facial areas where the infection is more severe and focused, at first, and then affecting the body as time goes on; the more immediate way is biologically, how it bolsters the senses, causing blindness almost immediately and probably affecting the nerves to eliminate pain sensations, bolstering and chemically affecting muscle tissue for optimal strength, agility, and tenacity, and generally alters the host to make it the most powerful, deadly, and invincible it can possibly be; and then the least noticeable, in how it handles itself when the infection is sensing weakness or oncoming death in the host by moving itself to an area, if possible, that’s extremely humid and dark, allowing for the death of the host, sprouting stems, and spreading spores even after complete cell death of the host.

What type of infected you see tells you how long the host has been infected for: much like a tree’s rings, the sizes of the growths, the strength and types of its abilities, and its overall strength and appearance can tell you a great deal. Many don’t reach its final stage – Joel calls them “bloaters” – for a variety of reasons but the fact remains that if the infected is allowed to live for a certain period of time, they reach this stage with almost certainty. This final stage is able to actually launch projectiles containing spores at their victims, also able to take extreme amounts of damage due to the growths all over their bodies.

Now that we understand what the infection actually does, why it does it and how it does it, we’re left with one very important question that was asked by Sam when discussing things with Ellie: in the primary stages of infection, is there any humanity left in the infected?

Good question. There’s no explanation that I can give as there’s no straightforward evidence that could explain this: the people in The Last of Us justify their actions against the infected like many would in their situation; because they cannot understand the infected and they cannot cure the infected – by means that anyone’s aware of at the start of the main story, anyway – they defend themselves using any methods possible, usually using lethal means to ensure their safety. However, when observing infected hosts known as “Runners” and “Stalkers,” they exhibit qualities that do not directly affect their ability to spread their spores: they are often seen moaning, acting erratically, screeching, and sometimes appearing aloof in their motions. This has always led me to assume that the infected, up until a certain point – this point being when they become what’s known as “Clickers” – the host is actively fighting the infection, suffering through the process and trying to remove it from the body the best way it knows how. I believe that while the infection starts affecting thought processes and motor skills almost immediately after taking root in the brain the brain still initially retains some of its more functions that aren’t necessary to the spore’s spread and therefore is in constant combat that it’s bound to lose because the infection, by that point, controls most important functions of the brain, leaving the rest to follow until the infection needs to do away with those functions to increase efficiency. Is there a person still left in there? I believe so but they are forever and irreversibly changed. Once infected, they are best to be put out of their misery.

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 Why is Ellie Immune?

That leaves us with the grand-daddy of all the questions in the game and the question that the game’s storyline pretty much hinges on: why on Earth is Ellie immune to the infection? In order to explore this I would have to warn that there are some pretty heavy and juicy spoilers so, please, if you haven’t played the game yet, don’t go any further; better yet, if you haven’t played the game, why are you even reading this article?

Moving along, we know two things from the game that vaguely hint at the reasoning that Ellie may be immune: when Joel and Ellie reach the laboratory where the Fireflies are able to find a cure through Ellie, they have to perform surgery on her brain; secondly, everyone on the planet has been, at least, exposed to a minor amount of spores as spores are airborne and will travel some ways before dying off. It would be hard to believe that the human population hasn’t mildly been exposed, at some point, to the spores. The solution, after doing my research and writing this article, would lie in her blood and her brain: my theory suggested, at first, that the ants the cordyceps initially infected evolved to adapt to the infection, rendering the infection useless against those ants and leaving the infection to also adapt to their situation. I would think that it’s safe to assume that due to humanity’s obviously more complex biology in comparison to ants and to the mild exposure to the spores over the years have caused an immunity to be built over time in Ellie. If this is true, one can only assume that others have built up an immunity as well, especially in children born after the pandemic took place.

This leaves some hope for the world of The Last of Us after its rather sad ending; witnessing Joel’s collapse into an emotional meltdown left a lot of us thinking that Joel could be responsible for the eventual death of humanity as a whole… but, hopefully, this theory holds up in the context of the game… leaving hope for humanity, after all.

If the theory doesn’t hold up, the only other suggestion could be that some kind of neural or brain condition created an anomaly in the human brain that caused the spores to be introduced into a host but cause the infection to pass up the host; this still allows for the possibility for others who are immune but when Joel broke down, he may have ended up killing the only ones who were able to isolate and promote a cure, effectively dooming everyone still. Here’s to hoping that there’s still hope to be held out for the world of The Last of Us and judging from talks about making a sequel and a movie based on the world of the game, I’m going to hold out for hope. How about you?

[ Blog ] It’s On

Now that the first phase of the beta testing for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn on my PlayStation 4  is done, I have only one thing to say in response to playing it as thoroughly as I could: I’m going to be pre-ordering the Collector’s Edition, if possible. I’m so completely satisfied with the experience, even in its beta form; it fills in gaps that I felt were left open in other MMORPGs, including Final Fantasy XI, and fixes things that I felt needed fixing. Given, the HUD and some of the GUI things need changing in order to make it more playable, it doesn’t detract from the experience enough to keep me from wanting in. It makes me anxious to try on The Elder Scrolls Online. I’m expecting less of a cinematic and story-driven experience but if it’s anything like Skyrim and Oblivion, before it, were, I would like to get in on that as well.

That being said, if you read my last post, you can probably guess exactly where I’m going with this, now:

Oh, yes. It's time.
Oh, yes. It’s time.

It’s time to do what I’ve been meaning to do for a while; I’d been distracted by other titles. Now that the beta test is over and I’ve been annoyed to tears with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, I can return to Tales of Xillia and finish this bitch off. I played it a few times since my last post and I must say that things have gotten bumpy since my last encounter with the game. Before I go too far into where I’m at and why that is, I should probably tell you a bit about my experience with the game so far.

I kind of picked the game up on a lark, really; I’d been an off-and-on fan of Tales since its first incarnation and expected to see much of the same kinds of things from this title: tons of Japanese anime tropes, fan service, Star Ocean-style combat, decent voice acting, and a few out-of-the-blue hair-pulling experiences. Of course, I’d expected a few plot twists, every role playing game has them and, arguably, it’s how creative writing goes, these days, because you can’t have the reader getting bored; you know that having an engrossing story with interesting characters isn’t enough, these days (yeah, I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder on that one but that’s a story for a different day).

For just over half of the game, that’s exactly what I got – while, like I said before, I found the shop system to be frustrating, unnecessary, and very bothersome – it wasn’t until you reached a certain point where things start seeming like a huge plot twist was on its way, it gives you not just one plot twist, but many, one being larger than the one previous. By that point, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was committed to completing this game – which was increased by the fact that, by this point, I thought I was closer to the end of the game than I thought I actually was – I probably would have put it down but I’m glad I stuck it out because now that I’ve finally grasped the concepts needed to succeed well at this game I’ve been able to see the interesting parts of the story that has pushed me past the game’s shortcomings.

Now that I’m returning to the game I find that I have a confidence I didn’t earlier have – I now no longer have an expectation in regards to the length, plot, or difficulty of the game and am fully prepared to take on anything; maybe even moreso than I need to be. I’m ready to rock this joint. Any more of this twisty plot-twist-for-the-sake-of-grabbing-my-attention bullshit and I’m out, though.

And stay down, bitch.
And stay down, bitch.

After this, I’ll probably get back to playing Tales of Graces f and maybe try to tackle Lightning Returns, as retarded as the timing issue is on the latter. I’m out, guys; thanks for reading!

[ Review ] Beyond: Two Souls

Are any of you old enough to remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I used to read those things by the case load. I loved the ability to read a book but have direct control over what happened to the characters and how those choices affected the situations. Most of the endings were, more or less, different variations of the same things but the real beauty were the few books that took this idea and made the endings wildly different but still in context. This is primarily why I fell in love with Quantic Dream’s work: they gave me a brilliant story that, while outlandish and unorthodox most times, handed me control over how events were going to go forward. They gave you the ability to make certain choices, choices that had real and lasting consequences – not in the Mass Effect sense where it changed the world around you but in the sense that it made your character develop and change in certain ways – and held you accountable for those choices later on so that your challenges were more personal.

Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit in certain other countries) started it out for me but I didn’t really start following Quantic Dream until I heard about Heavy Rain and got to complete it for myself. Unraveling the case of the Origami Killer has got to be one of the best told tales in gaming to this date – the only problem here was that I have a hard time calling it a video game. While this kind of video game was right up my alley, it felt way more like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I was mentioning before; you’re on one path of many but you’re still moving towards the same ends. Add into the mixture that that means you’re spending more time watching what’s going on than taking part in what’s going on and you have something that’s more of an interactive movie than a video game.

What you have here with Beyond: Two Souls is something along the same lines: they tried a few new things and it works to some degrees. It works against the game somewhat but when you consider the context of the game and the story as a whole it makes a lot of sense. When taking in everything about this game, you have to wonder a couple of things: a lot of people are terribly judgmental about this game for its being so damn erratic and throwing gameplay elements at you without really showcasing them but is this really because this game’s potential wasn’t fully realized or that this was done on purpose to immerse you in exactly the way Quantic Dream wanted for the player? That’s a tough one to figure out, I think, without directly asking the creators…

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The Gameplay

There isn’t a whole lot to this game in terms of gameplay – it seems like a big point of contention with this game right now and it seems people were expecting way more than what they got. When you’re actually offered more direct control over the game, you’re doing one of four things: you’re in a slow-motion segment where you have to push the right stick in the direction that Jodie’s momentum – which, I’ll tell you now, isn’t always obvious – is moving towards, you’re making a decision or conversation, you’re moving around the playing field, or you’re pressing a combination of buttons in order to progress Jodie’s actions. Jodie’s success or failure seems to depend on how well you can do those things – whether you succeed or fail, though, doesn’t stop your progress, apparently. Never have I failed a sequence and have that land me in a “Game Over” sequence. Everything just kept trucking along, my failed decisions, actions, or choices being chained to me like a large weight, whose consequence would be apparent to me later. While this is an interesting way to go about it, that certainly removes any sense of urgency or motivation when you get the feeling that you just can’t lose, especially if you’re not attached to the characters.

As a game, my primary beef is that the game – like so many people before me have probably stated – could have been so much more in terms of what you can actually do to affect the story and its characters. Not every choice can be as drastic as whether or not you jump off a ledge to your doom but, rather, during some of the action sequences, I want to control, with greater influence, how I go about the situation, much like in games like Metal Gear Solid 4; if I fail, then the enemy captures me instead of killing me, throwing me into a brand new circumstance to get myself out of. If I get knocked out during a fight, then I get back up after being robbed or scolded or whatever and would have to live with that judgment. They didn’t necessarily have to sacrifice interactivity to preserve their concept, yet they did. Can’t say that I like that, too much.

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The Story

This is the game’s raison d’etre: to tell a brilliant and layered story. The story of this game revolves around the character, Jodie Holmes, through three main points of her life. Jodie’s quirk is that she was born with a gift; she is spiritually bound to an invisible entity she calls “Aiden” and Aiden can manipulate the world around them to suit their needs. This manifests in a way that the world around them isn’t ready for and that sets Jodie on her way through the journey of her life, which takes her all the way from a scientific testing facility, to a course with the CIA, all the way to the Department of National Defense.

I’m going to go no further into it so that way I’m not spoiling anything for anyone but there are two things about this plot that I really enjoy and it actually has nothing to do with the super-epic main plot arc. First, there’s a lot of seemingly insignificant moments in the plot that are deceptively consequential and incredibly human; second, the ending ties up nearly everything that’s come to pass neatly and leaves a lot wide open for interpretation and discussion without confusing people. While this story isn’t exactly told in a neat fashion – going back and forth between three integral phases of her life in an erratic way won’t exactly win many fans – the nonlinearity isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory; Christopher Nolan’s Momento is an example of a movie that was presented in a very similar way. It was all over the place until the very end where everything came together and the reasons for everything, including the way the movie was told, are explained. Some of the explanations in Beyond are kind of a stretch but they do serve to tie things up nicely if you think about it in just the right way.

Aside from that, let’s talk a moment about the star acting in this one – not all of the supporting characters are on their top notch game, here, but the performance Willem Dafoe, Ellen Page, and Kadeem Hardison give (as Nathan, Jodie, and Cole, respectively) are among some of the best acting performances I’ve seen in gaming hands down. Given, this isn’t always saying a whole lot but this is still an incredible performance and Ellen Page is often found stealing the show and carrying the narrative along on her back alone. Given the scope of the game’s plot and the demands it makes of her, personally, her performance here is astonishing and just admirable.

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The Lighter Side

Emotion is the core that drives much of the narrative in this game and, for that, it actually seemed to really grab the attention of my wife-to-be, Daisy, when I was playing it; you have to keep in mind that Daisy isn’t much of a gamer, so that means a lot when a guy like me when she actually gets in the zone with me and gets involved, so I asked her to write something for my article to show what she, the casual gamer, thought of the game:

Warning, some spoilers ahead!

I occasionally look up from Facebook and wedding planning to check out the game Kenny is currently playing; having just felt the loss of the awesome music from Grand Theft Auto V, I noticed he was playing something different, a game with a sweet-faced little girl with some sort of troubling issues of a presence that seemed to protect her/control her. At first, I was like “Well, this is some weird shit” but then I slowly pushed my laptop aside so I could actually see what was going on. I don’t game, I only watch sometimes. I have only ever really watched through Mass Effect and The Last of Us (which was entirely too creepy and gory for me). I was so into what I was seeing, this poor little girl, being tested and not having much of a life outside this facility she was in and this “presence”. It kept shifting: one time she would be a little girl; the next, she was at an awkward party where I relived every awkward shy girl party moment I have ever experienced; the next, she was grown up again, fighting off war lords..(can this girl not catch a break?)

This game doesn’t go in order so I was even more intrigued (and upset for people with OCD) to find out why. I kept asking him questions and if I missed anything when I had to get up for something. I started to really like this girl, she was strong and always fighting this constant battle to be who she wanted to and just be a normal girl. I liked the characters (well, most of them). As we were bounced around through her life I became emotionally attached to her, I wanted her to live and find out what this presence was all about. This game REALLY has a great story, it’s not “just a game.” I felt like I was watching a movie the whole time and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Parts of it reminded me of The Last of Us, even I thought she looked a little bit like the girl from that game but it’s very different.

– That was an awesome call on her part because Ellie from The Last of Us actually looks a lot like Page, a likeness that has often led some to believe she was originally created to be portrayed by Page but that didn’t work out.

I looked it up and found out Jodie Holmes was actually Ellen Page, which is funny because I had no clue but I kinda thought that was who she looked like. She did an excellent job and was a very strong female character. I’m not one of those feminist types by any means at all but this is a kick ass game with a strong female main character. Which I think, sometimes, us girls need to be reminded of. She stands up for herself, she pushes limits, etc. Even goes through different looks and phases; that part was very real to me: the partying, the dating stuff that we all go through and you are basically watching her do that. In one scene, she is so excited a guy is coming over she apparently forgets to order pizza or find her phone, she even goes through the “what should I wear” routine.

– That scene is when Ryan comes over for an impromptu date – you have to compete with Aiden’s jealousy and the fact that getting everything together for the occasion is way harder in this game than it should be. Why does a portable phone have to be so damn small? Seriously, hasn’t everyone used cell phones for the last ten or so years?

To sum it up, as a gamer wife to be, I see a lot of games, some I look up and don’t care much about; this one was amazing, I almost want to play it myself, I hope there is a second one or a movie. And come on now, you can give her the option to “kiss” which I remember screaming out ..”now kiss, kisss” then “why didnt you make them kiss, God come on” and you can relive all your awkward teenage moments! This game is a 10 for me and I didn’t even play it! I was shocked to find out in the end who/what the presence was: the game is entirely worth it for that, I had came up with various theories throughout and none were true. However, I would like to see it played again now knowing more stuff to see if the connections make more sense! I’m kind of really sad it’s over now. Guess its back to wedding planning for this girl!

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The Final Verdict

One would buy this game for the same reason one would buy a movie; not so it would consume every moment of your free time that you could spend watching movies, but rather so you could revisit a great tale that you enjoyed, at your convenience; which is exactly how I would recommend any of Quantic Dream’s games. You should experience it at least once but don’t hold onto it if you don’t plan on checking out all the story branches and getting all the trophies.

Just keep in mind that the game is, above all else, an interactive drama; you’re not going to get much actual replay value from it. If it hasn’t interested you, yet, and nothing I’ve said has sparked interest in you, nothing in this game will and, in buying it, you’ll have wasted your cash. This is one of those “once in a while” games that you’ll keep around to kick back with, play it differently, and see if anything different happens.

Great experience but the whole gaming part falls kind of short.

[ Game Music ] Mass Effect 3: An End Once and For All

Not only am I a great fan of game music I also love arranging and mixing some of the best stuff I’ve listened to in an effort to put my own spin on it. I think there’s a saying that goes “imitation is the greatest form of flattery” and I think these covers and mixes that I make are the greatest tribute I can offer to the composers and performers of the pieces I love.

This one is one of my favorite pieces in recent memory, from one of the greater franchises in recent memory: “An End Once and For All” from Mass Effect 3, by Cris Valesco. When listening to it, I feel the song is kind of thin but I can see it working extremely well as a piano-only piece, for dramatic effect. I think that by adding a layer to the sound really adds more to it and the synthetic feeling of it really tells of the themes behind the series, as a whole.

I hope you guys enjoy it! There will be more to come soon!

[ First Impressions ] Tales of Xillia

If you know me as a gamer at all, you know that traditionally Japanese-style role-playing games have a special place in my gaming heart and you would also know that I have played a great number of them, most of them in the 90s and early 2000s. I was always willing to give a lot of other western releases a chance but, in all honesty, I showed a huge amount of bias, even if it wasn’t always backed with the know-how, back then.

would you believe i actually thought this game was american-made when i first got to it shortly after release?
would you believe i actually thought this game was American-made when i first got to it shortly after its release?

With that in mind, I got back into the Tales of… series again after seeing a few videos for a new entry for the Playstation 3 entitled Tales of Xillia that actually received a proper sequel before actually seeing a North American release. I was rather hesitant because, it would seem, that games that come straight out of Japan with only the most vital localization done cater to a much different audience than when I was into them; it’s shown in everything from Persona to Final Fantasy. Let’s face it – those of us who got into gaming early on in the industry’s life are of a way different class than those who got into gaming during the PlayStation and XBOX era. Seeing another Tales entry get a lot of hype got my hopes up – I hadn’t played a lot of any Tales game since the SNES titles. I played a lot of them afterward but never got in the same kind of replay as I did from the SNES games – can’t quite explain why because a lot of my initial creative writing inspiration that still sticks with me today came from the PlayStation entries, among other games from that era – when I hear about another Tales, the nostalgia kicks in and I’m hoping I can get a lot of the same kind of experience I got from my past with the franchise.

Did I get that? Well, yes and no – the franchise feels as though it’s grown up a lot since I was really into it; not in the sense that it’s matured but in the sense that it’s changed. Is this good or bad? Well, yes and no – that depends on which side of the weeaboo fence you sit on: if you’re the kind of person that obsesses over animé, manga, Japanese culture in general and get all the jokes and quirks that come with it, this kind of thing will be right at home with you. However, when I was into that stuff, I was into the deeper end of the storytelling market in Japanese animation; stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Perfect Blue where the themes were not limited by culture or language and those themes were extremely thought-provoking and mature, at times.

gaming - proving less is more since 1983.
gaming – proving less is more since 1983.

I can’t really say I don’t know how much progress I’ve made in the game, so far, though I would assume that I haven’t gotten very far because there’s been no huge reveals in the story quite yet and I always consider myself about halfway when I get a better idea of the scope and scale of the story. Everything has been given a very thinly-used cel-shaded look so that everything from the characters to the scenery still has that distinct Japanese animated look to it without having to drop to cutscenes in order to do some story progression. Of course, that’s not to say those animated cutscenes don’t exist but they’re minimal. While everything is quite beautiful, with this in mind, the arenas are quite cramped – I’m assuming that they did this in this way to save on loading times – leading to a somewhat claustrophobic feeling: being able to see wide-open spaces and areas that feels like you should be able to traverse over a lot more space than you’re offered. You don’t get that corridor feeling that a lot of people complain about in some games, nowadays, but it certainly feels like I’m being forced and you’re being cramped.

This pretty much explain, long-winded-like, how I feel about the game to this point – I’ve been doing a lot of battling, a lot of talking, a lot of walking around, a lot of escaping and a lot of implication but I don’t feel like I’ve really accomplished a whole lot. There’s been a whole lot of hand-holding in regards to tutorials but I don’t feel it’s actually helped in a way that actually produces results. It feels as though the game is saying, to me: “you know, this is a JRPG, guy – you know what to do.” Battling, leveling, movement, extrapolation feels as though it’s modeled to give you a lot of freedom but it’s strictly for appearances as it also feels as there’s only one real way to succeed.

The best example of this is the Lilium Orb: a device that is used to allow character leveling customization. It works kind of like a simplified Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. When you gain enough experience points, you get points that you can put towards activating parts of the Orb, which add stats to your characters. Activating certain sequences of these parts adds skills or abilities and sometimes expands the Orb as a whole. While you get a great deal of freedom in how you get to build your characters, there’s clearly a role each character plays and that role suggests that you have to take a specific path in order to have greater success in battle. You can do it however you want but you probably shouldn’t.

not everyone's cup of tea, i hear.
not everyone’s cup of tea, i hear.

Am I saying that Xillia is a bad game? No. Am I saying that this is a boring game? No. Xillia is a game that feels like I’m being led along in the great big world I’m presented while on a leash. This is still to say that Xillia is a great experience – battling is intense, at times, everything looks great, the voice-acting isn’t killing me, the music feels appropriate and catchy, the characters show some anti-stereotypical behavior and things seem very progressive for the genre but I still feel like I’m being led along and that gives me the impression that there’s so much potential here that can be tapped into and it just isn’t tapped into, yet.

That might be part of the situation, too – I feel I’m still early on in the game and perhaps the game takes that leash off. I’m really hoping that that’s the case because if they don’t start making some serious story-related revelations soon I think I’m going to start pulling my hair out. As great as this game is it also feels a little long-winded and repetitive at times.

Tales of Xillia is a great game so far – I just expect way more, having played this much, and I want to see more from this game. This is, literally, the only reason I’m continuing, at this point, as I’m running into small snags in the gameplay more and more that serve only to aggravate me. I like this game and I want to find more to like instead of feeling restricted and aggravated.

[ Quickie Review ] Three-Way Quickie

Like I promised, here’s some quick reviews – games I’ve either breezed through, don’t feel deserve or need a full review, or games that have already been done a million times and I feel I don’t need to extrapolate further on – for the games I’d mentioned before: Remember Me, Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection, and Two Worlds II.

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Remember Me

Playstation 3, XBOX 360

Pros

This game is extremely straightforward and easy to get into. There’s a lot to see and hear here and it’s often a treat to take in a lot of the sounds and sights. The developers have made it clear there is a message here that they want to portray and they don’t pull any punches with it.

Cons

While the game is presented well, it’s executed poorly. Also, the game’s thematic messages come off a little strongly and a bit vengeful. While it’s appropriate in certain contexts, I feel that, in this case, I’m the guy watching some guy burst a blood vessel over something insignificant.

I wouldn’t call Remember Mebad game, by any measure of the imagination, I just wouldn’t call it great, either. It’s a case of a game that got way too big for its britches and feels weighed down by its themes of oversharing, propaganda, and government in control. I know this isn’t the first time that these themes have been approached in a game and I know they can be done well – but a good game has to be built around these themes and this game just comes across as a simple button-mashing third-person action title. It almost feels as though the developers made this game as accessible on purpose so that way they could push their thematic message to a much greater audience but instead of feeling like I’m being talked to in a way I can understand, I feel as though the developers are talking down to me, as though to say: “You’re an idiot that would never think these things, so we’re here to think them for you, to present them to you in an easy-to-digest game because an idiot like you would never really understand if we just told you them.”

That said, if you completely removed the story and themes from the game you would have a fairly stripped down melee combat game in the same vein as Dyansty Warriors. Is that cool? As much as it can be, I guess, when you add in arbitrary features like combat-based healing (normally, this comes in the form of enemies dropping stuff that heals you but this game actually insists you use certain combos in order to heal yourself) and corridor movement… it feels as though this game could have been much better instead of feeling like a vehicle for someone’s bitter message.

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Metal Gear Solid

The Legacy Collection

Playstation 3

Pros

This is a must-have collection for two types of people: the collectors and the people who have been itching to get into Metal Gear Solid but haven’t had a good reason to, yet.

Cons

This collection isn’t really all that much extra for those of us that already own all of the HD versions of these masterpieces. It’s a really friendly price for newcomers and collectors but there’s just not enough here to justify spending extra money on something you, essentially, already have.

This game compiles most of the canon content that’s ever been released in the Metal Gear saga, focusing mostly on the Metal Gear Solid series, especially the HD renditions of said games. There’s not a whole lot more to be said, really: great for collectors and newcomers, not that great for existing owners. Also included in the package is an art book – it’s less than I was expecting, honestly. While there is art inside, it’s only snaps of promotional material and posters for the games contained within the package. It’s really kind of disappointing to me – I was hoping for actual art from the series artist, Yoji Shinkawa. If it wasn’t priced at such a friendly point, I would certainly take issue with this; however, I have something I didn’t shell out a lot of money for, relatively, so I’m actually pretty thankful.

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Two Worlds II

Playstation 3, XBOX 360

Pros

Truly a “poor man’s Oblivion”, meaning that there’s a lot to be seen and done in this game. There’s a ton of characters and everything looks great. This game has great ambition and it’s apparently a huge improvement over the last.

Cons

Truly a “poor man’s Oblivion”, trying to do a whole lot but falling short just about everywhere. Most spots aren’t incredibly terrible and it’s still playable but there’s just about as many annoyances as there are things to do.

You notice that I put the same thing twice for both rows, there: it’s true in the sense that being a “poor man’s Oblivion” is its greatest strength but also its greatest weakness as well; the thing about this game is that it’s extremely ambitious. There’s a lot of content to be had but the motivation to seek it all out just isn’t there. The story reeks of your typical epic and all the puzzle pieces are there to make a great game but it just falls short on every aspect. However, even though the title feels ambitious, the title also gives me a feeling that I shouldn’t really expect triple-A quality out of this one and the fact that it has fallen short doesn’t really disappoint me that much. I mean, there’s some things that just wouldn’t make sense in a triple-A title: having to draw your weapon manually, an excruciating prologue laced with tutorials, maps and other side information actually put on the face buttons instead of halfway buried in the interface, clumsy controls and, finally, really bad graphical cover-ups. I just feel good for the developers to have come this far and to have their story enjoyed by some in the North American market, instead of feeling the need to bash them – this feels like stuff that has been borne from inexperience and not incompetence. You tell me.

Finding it in a bargain bin was exactly where I was expecting to find it but you can still find copies going for full price and that’s the only real shame here – I spent fifteen dollars on my copy in the USA and I wouldn’t spend a dime more. That was a great deal, I realize, but that’s all I feel it’s worth and if the localization team wants anything more than that, they can kiss my ass.

[ Review ] The Last of Us

This one doesn’t need much introduction; unless you’ve been hiding underneath a large rock in the gaming world for the last year, you’ve heard of this one. In case you haven’t heard, it’s also doing really well among critics and fans. If this, still, isn’t enough to convince you, many are already making game of the year predictions – myself included – and the ending is disturbing a lot of people’s shit and causing a general ruckus. That’s usually how you can tell a seriously high-quality game apart from the rest, these days – see how much dramatics it’s causing and you can almost gauge how good it is by how many people are fighting over it. Seemed to work for Mass Effect 3.

I shouldn’t have to say this but this review won’t be spoiler-free. You have officially been warned and normally I try to be as neutral as possible when talking about a game that not everyone was able to get their hands on for a while, I feel I’ve waited long enough to write this review that everyone that intends to buy this game has already played at least a little of it, so here goes, my review for The Last of Us:

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The Game

Once you first boot up the game, you’re not initially treated to anything incredibly unique: The Last of Us is a cover-based, third-person shooter with a strong emphasis on scavenging and melee combat. As you progress, though, things begin to change – you find that there’s many ways to progress through the game and how prepared you are for every combat situation can drastically change how – or even if – you progress further.

The best way to explain how combat goes down in The Last of Us is to demonstrate it: you’re in what used to be an office cubicle farm, stationed in a building that’s almost toppled over, leaning on another skyscraper. Lights are down and the area is positively filled with these things called clickers – if you haven’t read my article about the infected in this game you definitely should now – and you’re already faced with a few options: there’s about ten clickers in the office, meaning that if you make any amount of loud noise, you’re going to be swarmed and, unless you have a good plan, you won’t be able to get the clickers off of you. Your one-hit melee weapons and your shivs are the only things capable of taking out the clickers at close range once they’re closing in on you and once they grab you, the only thing that can save you are shivs. Even then, the shivs only get them off of you and you need to spend points towards the ability to do just that. I try to keep my shivs and modified melee weapons aside for emergencies. If you used a long-range weapon, in this situation, you will immediately alert them all to your presence, demanding that have at least two shots per clicker for even your high-powered weapons, if they’re not upgraded. You could sneak by them, find alternate routes, but even that is absolutely fraught with danger – one slip-up and you’re gutted. This is where the survival and scavenger instincts come into play and turn this usual cover-based game into something special: when you start, if you take one path, you find a lead pipe lying there at your feet, which is the best melee weapon you can pick up from the ground. You can also find ammunition lying around on the person of many infected. Factor in that you can makeshift a kind of proximity bomb and Molotov cocktails – which send shrapnel firing off in many directions once triggered and sets an area of the ground on fire on impact, respectively – and you have a great deal of options. What I did, personally, in that particular situation was this: I threw a Molotov cocktail at a couple of the clickers that were close enough together where I could hit them both and after the fire died down and enough of them came around to investigate the noise and burning, I threw a proximity bomb and the shrapnel took out the stragglers. This strategy, though, wasn’t perfect and I still had to defend myself against a couple others that were walking around elsewhere.

This is a great example of the beauty of why combat works in this game and doesn’t feel stapled on. It compliments the setting of the game and the story that goes along with it all. You’re not some high-powered mercenary fighting off gun-toting thugs on a aircraft carrier, you’re a goods smuggler fighting off what appear to be plant zombie things in the shattered and broken remains of what’s left of the planet – which, I might add, seems like there’s not much of it left to speak for. Of course, things change when you introduce the human element and, yes, you will be fighting various human varieties of enemies, too. How you have to approach each combat situation is changed centrally around how much attention you’ve been paying to the world around you and how many resources you’ve gathered in the meantime. 

Everything else is just your basic exploration-type gameplay between combat segments, really: something already familiar to Naughty Dog veterans like myself but a fresh change of pace in how it’s handled. There’s a lot of extrapolation through dialogue between characters and you get a real feeling for how much of an impact that exploration is actually making for your party. It’s another thing that feels more organic, even if it’s less integral than the combat and story segments. Everything feels incredibly organic and it flows very nicely with everything else in the game.

With that in mind, though, the game is not without basic flaws: you have path-finding problems with the non-player characters, periodically, and sometimes the environments don’t respond the way they should. These are all things that can be fixed with time with patches but they shouldn’t really have left the factory with some of the periodical glitchiness that does come up. While this could be excused by trying to stay in context of the game’s story and environment, I was really unimpressed with the unstable difficulty level. It could be completely tense for a time, keeping you on the edge of your seat, and then for no reason at all, the area becomes a complete death zone. I’m not going to spoil it for you but there’s a spot where you’re just exploring a building, trying to get through, which is tense enough because things are too quiet, but you drop through the floor into a literal hotplate for the infected, complete with runners, stalkers, clickers, and a couple bloaters. Did I mention that the only way to proceed further out of that section is to start a gas generator, guaranteeing you alert each and every one of them? It’s that kind of difficulty spike that’s really unnecessary, to me, but it can be explained away in the context of the setting and plot and that’s the only reason I’m not cursing it.

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The Story

This is the big one, folks: the one game of the year that will blow your socks off. While Bioshock Infinite gave you Shyamalan-style twists that were fantastic and otherworldly, The Last of Us presents us with a very realistic, scary, and terrible circumstance: a pandemic washes over humanity that expands so quickly that humanity has no time to react in kind. This pandemic comes in the form of a fungal plague that actually exists in reality but only for a select type of ants; this fungal plague mutates so that it is able to perform its functions on humanity, effectively turning those infected into shambling shells of their former selves, resembling zombies. We gain control of our main character, Joel, who lost his daughter as a direct result of the panic caused by this pandemic, and has not been able to cope with his loss since. Fast-forward twenty years and you start to see Mother Nature taking her planet back and the infected are sporadic all throughout the world, or so it seems. All have their stake in the shaken world around them but there are two main factions known to Joel and the citizens left in the world – the governments, as broken as they are, and the Fireflies, who are basically rebels against the government faction: the government is trying to get everything in order and reestablish the control they once had while the Fireflies appear more concerned with humanity and its recovery from this pandemic and also its freedom from governmental control.

Joel makes a living – or what resembles a living in this climate – being a goods smuggler, a kind of modern-day Robin Hood, taking from government supplies that are stocked but not given to those in need, and distributing it among those in his community. Joel also takes contracts, it would seem, so he seems to be a jack of all trades. After settling up a feud with a personal enemy of his, him and a personal friend – there seems to be a romantic tension there that’s never really addressed – receive a contract to smuggle a young girl out of government control and to a hand-off point where a Firefly agent would receive her and transport her further. The contract starts out as one in trade for guns and ammunition but, as the escort goes on, things complicate further.

There’s a lot that happens after but there’s a lot of heart-wrenching and mind-blowing that goes on here that any post-apocalyptic tale-done-right will wave around – society has crumbled, people are showing their true colors, there’s no room for tact or professionalism, and some have turned into psychotic bandits. You’re faced with humankind at its worst and you’re merely just trying to find your way through without losing Ellie, Joel’s escort.

Ah, Ellie: the raison d’etre, as it were: I’m going to get a little spoiler-heavy, here, because the relationship between Joel and Ellie is a big part of this game and a lot of the plot is involved in Ellie, so… just skip it if you don’t want to be spoiled, I guess. Ellie is Joel’s contract from the head of the Fireflies and you learn early on that Ellie appears to be immune to the infect as she’s harboring a bite and she hasn’t turned over. After the transport to the Fireflies goes awry a couple of times and Joel losing his partner-in-crime, Tess, Joel takes it upon himself to transport her to the Fireflies, much to his dismay. What you see is a serious internal confrontation going on – Joel lost his daughter and seriously blames himself for not being able to protect her. He’s had this boiling in the back of his mind for twenty years and he’s not exactly apt to let that bitterness go anytime soon. Ellie, not knowing this, tries to get him to open up but she’s got some personal wounds of her own to deal with, not to mention the weight of the fact that she may be humanity’s only hope in overcoming the pandemic. As you’d guess, they don’t always meet eye-to-eye but then something happens: they realize that they’re perfect for one another – Joel is looking for someone to protect in his daughter’s stead, where he could actually help and feel like he actually has value; Ellie, on the other hand, is tired of being such a big deal and just wants to give in to the feeling of becoming a daddy’s girl. They start licking each other’s wounds and, after some time, come to rely strongly on one another.

That brings us to the controversial ending which, even though this is spoiler-rich, I’m not going to give away. Let’s just say that things happen as you should have expected and yet not, at the same time, leaving a lot of possibility open for DLC and any kinds of sequels, though talks of either have been limited. Naughty Dog has been adamant in saying that Joel and Ellie’s story has ended but I feel that they are kind of being dodgy about this; that they are choosing their words carefully so that way they can take certain paths and not run into the hellfire Bioware had to face a year and change ago. The way I see it, there will be some side-stories told in the form of DLC soon – could be a story of how Joel and Tess got together and their story explaining all the romantic tension, a story of the Fireflies and the government, a story of what happened shortly after the pandemic started, away from Joel, maybe telling it from the perspective of a drafted soldier. However, there does leave room for a sequel – what happens to just Ellie? The fact that Joel survived for as long as he did after being wounded bad and then not having proper antibiotic treatment is a miracle but he won’t be around forever: Ellie will have to launch out on her own and I think that will offer a different story altogether. Yes, Joel and Ellie’s story may be done – the one they had together – but Ellie’s story, alone, is not.

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The Final Verdict

This is a game you cannot miss, this year. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t at least try it – you can download a demo from the PlayStation Network and the demo also comes packed in a very decent game, God of War: Acension – so if you haven’t at least tried it, at this point, you’re avoiding it, and you’re missing out on one hell of an experience.

I’ll basically repeat to you something I said to a coworker of mine who was deciding on whether or not to purchase the game because he “had heard things from both sides, saying that it was equally bad and good” and wanted to, at least, check it out because he enjoyed the Uncharted games: I would pay three times the money I initially paid to buy this game. I almost feel like buying ten copies to support this kind of approach to game-making. I want more games like this: not games that take place in a post-apocalyptic zombie-not-zombie wasteland – no, that can get overdone really quickly. I want games that have this kind of in-depth storytelling, that have this much attention to detail, that have this kind of graphical prowess that accepts the weaknesses of the system but also plays to its strengths, that plays to what’s necessary to the narrative and not, particularly, everything the market demands – yes, it is a cover-based combat game but it doesn’t pander to all the standards demanded – a game that just makes all the extra efforts in all the right ways. Mass Effect 3 went from credible artistic integrity to trying to hard to keep everyone happy over time and, while that did work, for the most part, I did lose a little respect for Bioware, going forward from that, even if going with EA would have been a dual-edged blade to begin with. The Last of Us is a game that brings out the best in gaming while telling a story that stays true to its context. It’s a brilliant melding of mediums and I don’t think I’ve seen a game that has brought these together so well since Metal Gear Solid 4.

Buy it. Enjoy it. Complete it. Discuss it. That’s what I think.

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