PC Game Review: Starcraft II (Wings of Liberty)

Starcraft was a lot of firsts for me. It was the first encounter I’d had with PC gaming, and introduced me to a lot of things, that being the case. From that point on I’d think of Starcraft whenever I’d play another RTS or Blizzard game, and to this day it remains a favorite of mine. When Starcraft II came out (37 years after it was originally intended to) I was disappointed with their DRM, but last year I finally caved and subjected myself to it for the sake of gaming, and I have to say, despite the rather invasive DRM that’s present, it’s a great game, and a must-have for any RTS fan.

starcraft-ii-logo-pngpanoramica-sul-gioco----vasacast-----starcraft-2-caster-streaming-yfqawgccGameplay: Starcraft II is an RTS, a genre pretty much specific to the PC platform that involves the command of units and structures, and Blizzard has always had pretty much the monopoly on this particular genre (though Command & Conquer comes to mind as a close second). The gameplay is simple and confined to the mouse on the whole, though for the sake of rapidity, there are several hotkey commands built in to streamline your play. There are three races available for the play to choose from. First, the Terran, a human race originating from earth (hence Terran) that generally hits the middle ground as far as cost, speed, and damage are concerned. In Wings of Liberty, the first game in the trilogy being released under the Starcraft II moniker, the Terran are the central race. Next is the Protoss, an advanced alien race thriving on technology that plays much slower but is made up of more powerful units. Last is the Zerg, a brutish, insect-like race of aliens all operating under a hive mind whose units are cheap and quick to build but have to be in large numbers in order to really accomplish anything. The races have been expanded on and strengthened in the important areas, offering a great improvement over the last game. In addition, the campaign in Wings of Liberty adds new units exclusive to the story mode, with additional upgrades and technological advances for your units and structures that you gain access to based on special objectives or items you find during your missions. The mission structure of the campaign allows you to pick your battles, and in doing so you end up with different companions who influence the story later on. The multiplayer works really well over Blizzard’s platform, Battle.net, and allows you to have a friends list with whom to play as well as a laddered online multiplayer matching you up with players of similar skill. The gameplay itself is standard, and each race has several things in common. You start out with your main building, a base of sorts, that builds your workers. The workers gather resources, Vespene Gas and minerals, and build your buildings. The buildings either provide upgrades or build military units for you to use in battle. Production buildings (for the Terran) come with 2 attachments, but only one can be used at a time. In addition, the races have turret-type buildings and other race-specific buildings with extra abilities. Everything works well and is all balanced so that no one race has a distinct advantage over another, and other than that is pretty well done. 87.

Story: I was into the story of the original game pretty heavily, so much so that in the later, tougher levels I ended up having to use cheats the first time around so that I could see what happened (there is no cow level). Starcraft II is more immersing as far as the story goes, especially with the main character Jim Raynor, but at times it can feel a little forced. His relationships with the other characters seem to fluctuate a little too rapidly with your choices. My biggest issue is the fact that Raynor’s fatal flaw is supposed to be his alcoholism, and numerous times do we see him drinking and being chided by his colleagues about it, but it never affects him in the story. I dunno, it just seems a little odd. Overall, however, I enjoyed the story in Starcraft II, about as much as I did in the original, so it gets an 80.

Graphics: Starcraft II is a beautiful game, and probably the best RTS I’ve played to date. The cutscenes in the campaign look nice and the rest of the gameplay’s got nice effects and is well-rendered. I’ve got nothing else.  95.

Sound: The music’s great, and it’s a nice blast from the past as well, since most of the tunes are remixed versions of those from the first two games. The voice actors are all done very well (I especially liked Arnold Schwarzenegger’s work as the Thor), and the SFX are pretty much on par.  90.

Overall: Starcraft II is pretty much what I expected, DRM and all. The experience is just what one would look for in a Starcraft sequel: more of the same, with a few added improvements. That’s exactly what was delivered. 88%.

PS4 Game Review: inFamous Second Son

Behold, I’ve finally written a review for a PS4 game since buying it in November! Heh, yeah …

I loved inFamous on the PS3. It was one of the games that I knew I wanted upon buying the console, and seeing Second Son at E3 was one of the reasons I bought my PS4. In case you don’t feel like reading my whole review- it’s great. inFamous gave us a great taste of what it felt like to, well, have freakin’ awesome lightning superpowers, and mad parkour skill to boot. inFamous 2 refined those freakin’ awesome lightning powers to make them even more freakin’ awesome, and Second Son is even more … well, you get the point.

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Gameplay: Sony and Sucker Punch were very smart about the way they advertised Second Son. In all the trailers I saw, it looked like Second Son would be a single-superpower affair, like its predecessors. Well, (spoiler alert …?) it’s not, and it’s made all the more awesome because of it. Delsin Rowe, the game’s protagonist, has a whole slew of awesome abilities at his disposal, in addition to having the world’s dumbest name. Not only will you have access to the expected Smoke abilities, you’ll also gain access to Neon, Video, and finally Concrete powers as you play through, and beat, the game. All four of these elements sound weird on paper, quite frankly, but as I unlocked more and more neat abilities I was constantly impressed by the way these powers were implemented. I will make the complaint, however, that there aren’t nearly enough sources to draw power from, contrasting from the ever-present light, car, or generator in the previous two games.

That said, that’s only a minor blemish on what is an otherwise fantastic game. Having now played a few PS4 games, I can say wholeheartedly that the DualShock 4 is a great controller. Not only do the analog sticks, handles, touch pad, and triggers (which are finally, y’know, triggers) feel great, Second Son makes great use of the added control provided by both the triggers and the touchpad. While in ACIV (which is the only other big PS4 game I’ve played) the touchpad was almost entirely an optional button and wasn’t really that useful, Second Son implements it in clever ways that are interesting enough to feel cool and new, but also intuitive enough to not feel like a gimmick. The various tasks it completes in-game are present enough to make it feel like a control in its own right, but not so much that they seem to only be there to show off the new controller function. I don’t know why, but I was just really impressed by this.

Otherwise, Second Son is fairly normal inFamous fare. The open world of Seattle is chock full of new upgrades to find, sidequests to complete, and port-a-johns to destroy, and makes for an excellent backdrop. Though the karma system is fairly contrived, and admittedly is probably the worst in the series (it feels like it was tacked on only because it’s an inFamous game), there are really neat ways to experiment with the powers granted by both the good and evil sides of the spectrum. And while the climbing is surprisingly unpolished and, in some places, downright bad, each elemental ability increases your mobility exponentially, be it by zipping through ventilation shafts with Smoke, running straight up walls with Neon, satellite dish-hopping with Video, or creating a … tornado … of flying rocks with Concrete. That last one doesn’t make a ton of sense, but who cares? It’s awesome, anyway!

The huge map is accompanied by plenty of side missions to do and DUP structures to destroy, and the city of Seattle really feels alive- it’s probably one of the most well-realized open worlds I’ve seen to date. There’s a lot of area to explore, both horizontally and vertically, and pretty much everywhere you look there’s something cool to do. My main complaint here is that you can’t climb the Space Needle. Come on, you’re making an open-world, parkour-based game in Seattle, and you don’t even give us the ability to climb the Space Needle? Unforgivable. Apart from that, however, Second Son is just an astoundingly fun game to play. 90.

Story: I was pleasantly surprised by the characterization in Second Son. In the original two games, the characters were either so annoying that you wanted to punch them in the face (Zeke, Trish … basically everyone …) or so grumpy that you wanted to punch them in the face (Cole. Just … just Cole), in Second Son most, if not all of the characters are likeable or relatable. However, there are two that stand out as simply existing as plot devices who are hardly seen again after you’ve made your use of them. That said, the main character Delsin is much more likeable than his predecessor, owed in no small part to Troy Baker’s once again fantastic voice acting. His story is one we’ll actually care about, and while the karmic interactions with it are a bit arbitrary, they still make an impact on what kind of guy our Delsin is. The antagonist is legitimately hateable, though at the same time understandable in her motives. Overall, much better than the original, though it still feels tacked on in order to explain the fact that you get BADASS SUPER POWERZZZ. 80.

Video: Yeah. The PS4 is a wildly capable system, and Second Son definitely shows that off. There are little to no framerate or stuttering issues, and the game just looks gorgeous. The character models and power effects are especially notable as being lifelike and realistic (well, as realistic as shooting pixelated swords out of your face can be). Just really nice looking stuff. 95.

Audio: As I mentioned before, the voice acting in Second Son is spectacular. The aforementioned Troy Baker is a standout performance, but equally good is Travis Willingham (recent Sonic games, Fullmetal Alchemist) as his brother. The two have great chemistry as actors and their conversations are some of the highlights of the game. The music is neither here nor there, but the sound effects are good enough not to distract. 85.

Overall: inFamous Second Son is a really, really fun game with a lot to do and a gorgeous, massive world. That’s really all you need to know. If you’ve got a PS4, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing it. That’s all there is to it. 88%

PS3 Game Review: Ratchet & Clank

Note: Okay, I wrote this review over a year ago and have been waiting to get pictures from it to put in this review. Screw that. From now on I’m gonna post them when I’m done with them and add pictures at my discretion.

I’d never played any of these games before, for lack of owning a PS2, but when I got the PS3 I knew it was one of the games I wanted to pick up. I finally got around to it after a trailer for the movie kicked me into gear and finally enticed me to buy the Ratchet and Clank Collection, a compilation of the first three games in the series. I recently finished the first, and I’m impressed at the quality and length of this 11-year-old game.

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Gameplay: Ratchet & Clank’s a normal platformer, but beyond that it’s got a lot of little intricacies that make it unique. You’ve got access to a ton of weapons and gadgets, and more and more as the game progresses. You can choose what to buy and when to buy it, or not at all. Some weapons are really powerful, and some not so much, but they’ve all got their own situations in which they’re useful and by the end you’ll be acquainted with all of them. R&C also follows a Metroidvania approach to platforming, with the central game areas being about 10 planets, each of which you’ll return to two or three times once you’ve got new equipment that will allow you to explore the rest of the area. There are also bonus areas that are tough to access that provide you with special access to new weapons and gadgets, none of which are necessary to complete the game but most of which are useful. The controls are relatively simple, but I’ve got one qualm, and that is the button mapping. Everything is where you’d expect it to be (X to jump, Square to melee, O to shoot your weapon, etc.) except for the fact that to cancel out of a menu or otherwise say “no”, you press Triangle instead of O. While this seems harmless (and admittedly it generally is), it’s kind of off-putting each time you come back to play the game, especially if you’ve played another between. Other than that, the game works well, and gives you a surprising amount of freedom, allowing you to go wherever you want in between missions to pick up extra Bolts for buying new equipment, and there’s a lot of diversity in gameplay style. Sometimes you’ll be in an airplane or mech, and on occasion you play as Clank, who has his own specialized puzzle-themed levels. The interplay between these gameplay segments provides some variety, and is placed at just the right time to keep you from getting bored. 90.

 

Story: Ratchet and Clank makes several attempts at character development between the titular characters and Captain Qwark, but falls flat at every turn. Some of the decisions the characters made just made me want to outright punch them in the face, and the antagonist was bland and fairly recycled. However, there is some clever interaction between the main four characters, and for a game aimed at a younger audience you can’t count them off too much for one-dimensional story. 70.

 

Graphics: For a 2002 game (albeit “digitally remastered” for the collection), R&C looks surprisingly good. Not only are the models and environments polished and sharp, but the game is vibrant and detailed and all of the planets have their own distinct vibe and feel that provides a really refreshing contrast each time you have to visit a new area. 92.

 

Sound: The voice acting is well done on everyone’s part except for the main character, Ratchet, whose voice is strained, whiny, grating, and just irritating. He comes off as a 13-year-old WoW addict who recently discovered girls and is now trying to impress them by sounding cool, and it’s really just plain annoying. Other than that, the music is fun, and the SFX are fine. Plus, Neil Flynn‘s got a few voice roles in this game, so, yeah. 80.

 

Overall: Pretty much, Ratchet & Clank’s about what I expected, although how long it was was a pleasant surprise (about 10 hours). It’s a well-polished, light-hearted, and just plain fun platformer, and it’s plain to see why it’s gotten so much attention since its release and has spawned a widely popular series. 80%

New Game Review- Titanfall

Guess who’s not dead! No, not Sherlock. Well, I guess that’s still true, but that’s not what I’m talking about. In short, look! I’m back … again. Hopefully this’ll be a more permanent return. At any rate, I must admit that Titanfall (which Matt Lees has unfortunately caused me to dub Titanvil) wasn’t really on my radar until about a month ago. I saw it at E3 last year and thought, “eh, Call of Duty with Gundams”. Boy, was I wrong. Titanfall’s beta genuinely surprised me, in part because it was astoundingly fun, and in part because it was an effort made by EA that was astoundingly fun. Needless to say, I was pretty quick to hop on the bandwagon because, hey, if EA’s making something that isn’t crappy, they deserve to be supported for it! I guess!

titanvil logoGameplay: While “Call of Duty with Gundams” is actually a fairly apt moniker for Titanfall, it’s one that doesn’t come close to being able to do it justice. Titanfall mixes a little bit of everything from a lot of genres and comes up with something entirely unique, but familiar enough to be accessible. In Titanfall, you take on the role of a Pilot, which in and of itself is an exhilarating ride. Your pilot comes equipped with a jetpack and parkour abilities that would make Ezio or Faith blush. The movement mechanics in Titanfall are so smooth and streamlined that moving around the map feels less like running and jumping and more like … gliding, or something. It’s very easy to build up speed, and as soon as you’re a bit familiar with the nuances of wall-jumping, climbing, vaulting, and wall-running, you’ll be zipping across the map with the best of them. The ease with which the parkour can be handled makes it simple to get into, which is a major part of why Titanfall is so appealing.

vlcsnap-2014-03-19-20h04m36s23As I’ve often told the people I play with, I’m amazed by how good I am at this game. Part of the reason for that is because Titanfall lends itself perfectly to beginners and experts alike. While the veteran players may boast massive killstreaks and have awe-inspiring weapons at their disposal, the newer players will move just as quickly up the scoreboard. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, Titanfall has a system of unlocks and levels that allow you access to new weaponry, addons, and abilities that are added to the already formidable tools you have access to. Fairly soon a new player will have a custom class that fits their play style. For instance, a more reckless player may choose to have a powerful sprint as their ability and use a shotgun and automatic pistol, but a more stealth-oriented player may choose the cloak and Smart Pistol, a weapon that targets your enemies for you- so long as you don’t move the mouse. All players have access to these custom classes very early on, so you really get to tweak the way you play to suit you best.

vlcsnap-2014-03-19-20h15m38s240Titanfall also features what is probably the most intelligent use of AI in an all-online multiplayer shooter that I’ve ever seen. The use of computer-controlled Grunts and Spectres turns Titanfall into somewhat of a pseudo-MOBA, in that these units are constantly spawned for both teams and make their way across the map. Inexperienced players can use them to rack up points to spawn their Titan faster, and the more skilled players can ignore them fairly easily if they choose to do so. However, by far, the greatest asset that Titanfall has is present in its title – the Titans.

vlcsnap-2014-03-19-20h16m38s183Now, one might think that, in a game like this, the Titans are overpowered, endgame twists of the knife that are only available after 100 kills or something ridiculous like that. No, sir! Every player has access to a Titan, and killing enemies, players and AI alike, causes it to simply get there faster. While the Titans are certainly formidable and powerful, they aren’t so much to the point of being unfair. Every Pilot comes equipped with an Anti-Titan Weapon, and the Titan can also be grappled onto in order to harm it directly. The fact that both the Pilots and the Titans are so damn fun to play is a huge part of Titanfall. Both types of gameplay are equally fun, and they both have their benefits and their weaknesses. This balance of sheer awesome makes Titanfall feel like concentrated joy to play.

vlcsnap-2014-03-19-20h14m34s49There are several game modes, including a straight up kill-fest in Attrition, a Control Point-esque capture mode in Hardpoint, and Capture the Flag, among others. There’s also a campaign mode that adds a bit of narrative in between multiplayer matches, but the story’s not really Titanfall’s strong point. Perhaps the most fun part of Titanfall for me, strangely enough, is the ‘epilogue’ that happens at the end of certain game modes. The losing team no longer respawns (which normally happens without a wait time, by the way) and attempts to escape the map via dropship. The ship arrives at a certain point that’s marked on all players’ maps, and takes off after 10 seconds. The losing team tries to reach it and jump in before it takes off, and the winning team tries to kill the other team and/or destroy the dropship. Titans are still usable here, so some really fun chaos usually ensues, regardless of what team you’re on. All in all, Titanfall is just a blast to play, and is way more fun than it has any right to be. 95.

Graphics: If memory serves (which it generally tends to), Titanfall is the first new PC game I’ve bought this year, and it really makes me excited for what’s yet to come in 2014. Simply put, this game is beautiful. It’s really one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. The environments are quick to render and lovely to look at, and the Pilot models are varying enough to be unique but easy to identify from the AI, but where the graphics really shine are, of course, on the Titans themselves. The three different types of chassis are all really distinguishable, as well as the different addons one can apply for secondary weapons and various other abilities. It’s really just a gorgeous game, and that’s about all I can say. 95.

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Sound: Not a whole lot to write in this category, either. The music is great, and matches the tone of the game perfectly. The weapon sound effects are spot-on and unobtrusive, and the Titans are equally well done in the sound category, sounding properly hydraulic and, well, huge. The voice acting in the mediocre campaign leaves a fair amount to be desired, though, but the normal voices announcing various aspects of a multiplayer match work well enough. 80.

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Overall: Titanfall is simply an incredibly fun game. The campaign mode could be better, but it’s not what anyone came for, and fortunately the normal multiplayer game is much more fun, accessible, and just really, really good. Titanfall is an early contender for the game of the year spot, and I’m excited to see what further updates and DLC will bring. 90%

Cheddarface Messed Up! (Or, Full Games of the Year List)

Since I wrote up all of my games of the year, I realized there were three that I left out! Those three are Rogue Legacy, Monaco, and Shin Megami Tensei IV (which I didn’t really forget about, but I’ve been impressed with it since I got it for Christmas). Since I couldn’t stand to have any absences in my list, it’s now going to extend to thirteen. Here’s the full list, complete with write-ups and pretty pictures. The other posts about my games of the year will be going down after the time of this entry’s posting.

 

1. The Walking Dead- Survival Instinct

The-Walking-Dead-Survival-Instinct-LogoHahaha, no. Just kidding.

 

13. Injustice- Gods Among Us

Injustice was my first foray into the fighting genre, and still stands as one of my only titles in that category. Injustice has a very deep combo system, and that in addition to the fun roster of DC characters, dynamic stages, and great graphics makes it one of the best games of this year.

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In addition to Injustice’s fantastic couch multiplayer that’s great for playing with friends and family, it also has a well-done online multiplayer mode that’s usually quick to match players and create balanced fights. Add to that the surprisingly deep campaign and assortment of fun DLC, and Injustice just might be the best fighting game I’ve played (besides Brawl, of course).

 

12. Shin Megami Tensei IV

shin-megami-tensei-4-logoAdmittedly, I haven’t played much of this one, so it can’t be as high on this list as it probably deserves to be. That said, it’s a fantastic example of what a good JRPG is, and has a deep and fun customization system to keep the player coming back. Which is good, because the story doesn’t exactly do that.

 

11. Mario & Luigi Dream Team

The Mario & Luigi series stand as some of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. A staple on Nintendo handheld systems, Alphadream’s witty, rambunctious, and unique platformer/RPG hybrids are always a joy to play, and Dream Team is no different.

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Dream Team, while not my favorite in the Mario & Luigi series (Bowser’s Inside Story has that honor), maintains almost all of what makes the series so great. The transition to the 3DS was handled expertly, and the graphics and 3D effects are some of the best I’ve seen. The game itself boasts an expansive story mode, and relatively deep RPG customization elements that match the excellent puzzle-platforming overworld segments. Simply put- Dream Team was one of the best 3DS games I played this year.

 

10. Luigi’s Mansion- Dark Moon

Luigi’s Mansion (2001) was most definitely one of the best GameCube games of all time, in addition to being the first time we’ve seen everybody’s favorite second banana in the limelight. Luigi’s spooky venture through an enormous haunted manor was as enjoyable as it is memorable, and its unnecessary, but very welcome, sequel is just as good.

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Dark Moon plays more like a point-and-click adventure than its predecessor, but it balances it with the action-packed ghostbusting mayhem of the original in such a way that the two seamlessly intertwine, with Luigi’s trademark vacuum cleaner uncovering clues and solving puzzles almost as well as it devours poltergeists. The narrative surrounding Luigi’s journey, while relatively trite, brings back Elvin Gadd, one of the best characters created by mankind, so that’s a plus, too.

 

Best Demo: The Stanley Parable

Truth be told, I’m only adding this section into my 2013 games of the year so that I have a chance to include the fantastic-ness that is The Stanley Parable. I know what you’re thinking- Tim Allen would make a really weird, but strangely fitting, John McClane. But also wondering why I’m doing this, rather than adding the real game to the list.

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Well … the reason is that I haven’t actually played the game. Sorry! I will, I promise! But, I have played the demo. And the demo of The Stanley Parable is almost a game all on its own. It lasts a solid half hour, and is a completely standalone product from the game packed with hilarious narrations and thought-provoking choices, and the lack thereof.

 

9. Res0gun

When I bought my PS4, I knew full well in advance that I was really only going to have one game on it for quite some time (since Ubisoft delayed the other launch title I was planning on getting). Little did I know, though, and a PSN gem would also await me. Res0gun stands as one of my two favorite PS4 games (taking into account the fact that two are all I have).

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Res0gun is one of those games that’s beautiful in its simplicity. It’s also beautiful in its beauty- it’s one hell of a pretty game. What seems, at first, to be a simple Galaga-turned-sideways knockoff ends up being one of the most enjoyable and replayable games ever. I’ll be “saving the last humans” for years to come.

 

8. Rogue Legacy

Roguelike games have never been my forte. While they are enjoyable for a time, the frustration of permanent death always gets to me in the end. Rogue Legacy is the first one that’s really been able to captivate me, and it’s because of the numerous twists it puts into the formula.

roguelegacyWhether I was stumbling through the castle with an OCD dwarf crippled with vertigo, tynirg to fnid my wya tourhgh wtih a dlsxeiyc brarabain, or fabulously vanquishing my foes with a gay ninja, Rogue Legacy never ceased to amuse me. In addition, the leveling mechanics and variety of ways to keep getting better and better with each death kept me climbing the tower again and again.

 

7. Pokemon X/Y Version

Let me tell you a little story. It’s the story of my history with the Pokemon series. It started with Ruby Version, which stands to this date as my favorite in the series. It just couldn’t be better. Then, Diamond and Pearl came around, and were entirely forgettable. Luckily, Heart Gold and Soul Silver came around and gave the DS Pokemon games a good name. … And then Black and White arrived and gave them a bad name once again. I couldn’t even stand to purchase Black or White 2. And then something amazing happened.

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Pokemon X and Y fixed nearly everything that was wrong with the series, and brought back some of what made me love it to begin with. The graphics are top-notch; the 3D in particular is smartly handled in that you can only activate it in certain places. The battle dynamics are surprisingly improved upon with the additions of Mega Evolutions, the Fairy Type, horde battles, and more. Everything just … works. And it’s awesome.

 

6. BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite is an interesting beast. While it is one of the most enjoyable and nice-looking games I’ve ever played, it also challenges one to not only think outside the box, but also to ask in what dimensions the box may or may not exist. In this it both excels and fails, and the reasons why were brought on by my second playthrough of the game.

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While the gameplay, graphics, and voicework of BioShock Infinite were top-notch, the story is hard to tackle as being qualitatively good or bad. While the two lead characters of Booker and Elizabeth are deep and understandable, the central conceit of the plot is almost incomprehensible. Without spoiling anything, the ending and the events leading to it make the entire rest of the game seem nonsensical and unnecessary. It’s confusing, but at the same time makes sense with the hints dropped. The Lutece twins in particular stand out as characters that, in the end, seemed unnecessary and only added for the benefit of a shocking reveal (which there apparently had to be, since it’s a BioShock game). Really, a shocking reveal seemed to be what the whole point of the game was. I just wish it was a reveal that made enough sense not to taint the whole experience and make this game only number 6.

Also, BioShock Infinite holds the honor being the only game that’s caused me to scream, out loud. If you’ve played the game, you know exactly what part I’m talking about.

 

5. Tomb Raider

As I said in my review, this was the first game in this series I’d seriously played. While I wasn’t expecting too much initially, my time with it at IGN took away any reservations I’d had about buying it. And boy am I glad it did.

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Tomb Raider, in addition to being one of the most beautiful games of the year, is also one of the most fun. The pace never stops, and the marvelous narrative drives the player all across the gorgeous landscape and through a variety of buildings and military installations. While rife with gruesome death sequences, it’s also chock-full of rollicking, cinematic escapes and panoramas that would make Uncharted blush. I hope to see more of Lara in the future.

 

Best DLCs

Another interlude here, this time celebrating my three favorite pieces of downloadable content from the year. First up …

1369748237-borderlands-2-tiny-tinas-assault-on-dragons-keep      3. Anyone who’s seen my Twitter feed or watched me stream on Twitch knows that    Borderlands 2 is swiftly climbing the ranks as one of my favorite games of all time. If I had played it last year, it would have been number one on this list. One of the reasons I love it so much is because of its fantastic sense of humor, and Dragon Keep exemplifies everything great about it. It balances making fun of almost every medieval fantasy trope there is while at the same time delivering an enormous, fun, and deep alternative storyline that delivers some of the best one-liners (“It smells like hooome”), and some important closure to the titular character (and arguably the star) of this DLC. Plus, the final revelation of who the queen is is so fantastic that I won’t even write it with a spoiler alert, you just have to play it and see. Suffice to say, you won’t be expecting it.

2KGMKT_Civ_V_BNW_Logo_Final_on-white     2. Civilization V is one of the best strategy games I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy. However, it isn’t without flaw. Well, it wasn’t. Now, I’m not so sure. Simply put, Brave New World fixes every single thing that was wrong with Civ V. The end of a game is now as enjoyable as the beginning, and the cultural victories are more balanced and worth trying for. It may as well be Civ VI.

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     1. The reason Borderlands 2 is becoming one of my favorites is due in no small part to Krieg, the psychotic and utterly fantastic 6th playable character in Gearbox’s terrific RPG/FPS hybrid. Not only is he downright hilarious (“I’m the conductor of the poop train!”), he is brilliantly voiced, and simply the best character in the game, with abilities like throwing axes with dynamite strapped to them, and blowing himself up upon death (to bring himself back to life, to boot). Not to mention he has a skill tree entirely dedicated to setting himself on fire.. Yeah. Krieg is the best, and this was by far the best DLC of the year.

 

4. Monaco

Monaco is probably my favorite stealth game, even though it’s not really a stealth game. The best way I can describe it is as a heist game, which still doesn’t quite grasp it. What it is is an incredibly fun, goofy, and exciting way to spend time with friends, in the same room or online.

monacoTo give you a taste of how fun this game is, check out a not-so-short video of me playing with my buddy Cedric. Warning- view at your own discretion. Exposure to Monaco apparently leads to thinking one can emulate Freddie Mercury or use a British accent.

So, yeah. It’s awesome.

 

3. Assassin’s Creed IV- Black Flag

ACIV is the game I bought when I bought my PS4. While I loved ACIII (it was my game of the year last year) it was definitely not a perfect game. Rife with bugs and burdened by an incredibly long and dull tutorial sequence, ACIII suffered a lot of flak after release, and people wondered if ACIV would save the series. It did.

Assassins-Creed-4-Black-Flag-Trailer-Logo

Gone are the days of waiting for your cannons to load, falling through the ground, and wading through anti-revolution propaganda (okay, there wasn’t too much of that)! The swashbuckling age of pirates is perfectly encapsulated by the character of Edward Kenway (Radonhakatoowa… … uh, Connor’s grandfather). Edward is my favorite assassin to date because he’s not really an assassin for quite a while. He’s just a guy. A guy I’d probably like if I’d met him (despite the fact that he’d probably kill me and steal my stuff). He’s understandable, he’s got selfish motivations, and learns more about himself and becomes a more honorable person through his interactions with his memorable cast of friends (like Stede Bonnet, Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, James Kidd, Ben Hornigold, etc.). The gameplay is magnificent, and it all looks astoundingly beautiful on the PS4. It’s all just … great.

 

2. The Last of Us

It was incredibly difficult to decide between my final two games on this list. And while I can’t help but feel like I’m doing Naughty Dog’s gem a disservice by giving it any other position but number 1, and it’s one of the only games I’ve given a perfect score, I ultimately had to settle for second place. If I had it my way, it would be tied for first, but I don’t see that as a viable alternative either.

the last of us

Look- you don’t need me to tell you that The Last of Us is a great game. Just do a Google search of it. Really. Perfect scores across the board. Here, read my review of it. The only thing that needs explaining is why it’s in second, and not first, place.

 

It’s been a big year for gaming. From the exciting new pieces of hardware like the Oculus Rift, PS4, XBone, and Steam Machine to the hardware that was slightly … less so (I’m looking at you, OUYA); from the greatest of the great games, like The Last of Us and ACIV, to the utter disappointments (Colonial Marines, ahoy!); from the great developer choices, like Link Between Worlds and Super Mario 3D World, to the not-so-great (Don Mattrick … just, Don Mattrick), it was a huge year in gaming.

But, of course, we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about why The Last of Us wasn’t my game of the year. So, let the explaining begin.

In all my time as a gamer, there’s only ever been one game that caused me to buy a console. While that might not seem so great a feat, it really is. In the past, I’ve been able to wait, even in the case of my favorite series (Sonic Generations, for which I had to wait several months for a PC release).  The console in question was a console in which I previously was not interested in the slightest. To this day, this game is still my favorite on said console, I’ve played it through twice, with over 50 hours on both files. I’ve convinced 3 family members to buy it (or bought it for them), and they’ve all loved it too. This is probably the game into which I’ve become the most invested in the story and those of all the characters therein.

Enough beating around the bush. My game of the year is Fire Emblem Awakening.

1. Fire Emblem Awakening

fe logo

I have nothing bad to say about this game. It’s undoubtedly one of my favorite games. The story, the characters, the graphics, the gameplay, the difficulty, the voice acting, the music, the writing … everything is perfect. I could go on, but I won’t. But I could.

 

Well, that about wraps it. Agree? Disagree? What was your game of the year? Let me know!

PS3 Game Review: Injustice- Gods Among Us

Fighting games have never been my forte, and I think the only one I really ever dabbled in was Super Smash Bros., which doesn’t really count given its non-traditional nature. When I heard about Injustice last year I was excited, as the DC comics have been continuously misrepresented in the video game world but for the Batman Arkham games. I got it the day it came out, and both online and off, it’s a blast to play and is a good introductory game to the genre.

Gameplay: As I said, Injustice is a fighting game, so it revolves around combos between the buttons and the D-Pad (or left stick) of varying intensity. Triangle is your light attack, Square medium, and X heavy. They can be used in conjunction with each other and various directions on the D-Pad to create complicated combos to decimate your opponent. As you fight, a meter on the bottom left of the screen begins to fill up. It’s made up of four blocks. Each block can be spent by pressing R2 during a combo attack to raise its damage. In addition, when the meter is full, R2 and L2 can both be pressed at once to unleash a Super Move, which is identical to each character, and, if it hits, can be devastating to your opponent. These can be blocked in a number of ways, including pressing R2 and moving away from your opponent to guard. Holding R2 and moving toward your enemy while they’re in the midst of a combo will cause you to start a Clash, in which both players can bet however much of their power meter they wish, and whoever bets more wins the Clash and can gain one of several rewards including regained health. Other gimmicks include using R1 to interact with the environment, for example kicking your opponent into a fountain in the background or activating a mine to blow them up next time they pass, and holding away from them and X when near a side of the stage to initiate a powerful stage-changing move that will do a lot of damage to your opponent and change where you’re fighting on that particular stage. The single player mode is expansive as well, with a lengthy story mode and numerous modes for battling strings of intelligent computer opponents. The ranked multiplayer can sometimes fail to match you up with an opponent of equal skill, but this is hardly that much of an issue given the changing amounts of skill required depending on your style of play. Overall, it’s simple but elegant, and earns an 85.

Story: I’m told the story in the game is actually pretty good, but I’ve yet to play a single level in it, so I can’t rate this section anything but N/A.

Graphics: This is the first time I’ve seen a lot of these characters on a console before, and the transition from comic book to fully-rendered 3D model is handled incredibly well. The artistic difference between particular comic book characters is also moderated well for the sake of the game (for instance it’s difficult to make a serious-looking Superman what with the underpants-on-the-outside thing going on) and characters of varying size have been toned down to match the others a little better. The stages are also well-made. My only complaint is that Wonder Woman looks like a man. But I digress. 90.

Sound: The voice acting is hit-or-miss, with some characters being portrayed much more accurately than others. The SFX and music are on the mark, though, so 80.

Overall: I’m having a blast with Injustice, and it’s the first really solid offline multiplayer title I’ve found for the PS3. It’s great to see some of these characters on the video game market, and it’s fun to experience all the subtle gameplay choices the developers made to make them unique.

MAASOO Turns Two!

Yep, folks, it’s that time of year again. It’s not really any specific time of year, but what it is is the 2-year anniversary of the day I decided the internet needed to know my opinions about video games, when in reality, the internet didn’t care either way because it’s not a sentient being capable of thought or emotion and as such couldn’t have any feelings about it! However, to celebrate I’ve … pulled a really blurry picture of my new gaming computer from my Twitter account. Yeah. Well, anyway. New posts are coming down the pipe, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

3DS Game Review: Animal Crossing New Leaf

Animal Crossing on the GameCube was a surreal experience. My male self found the game to be somewhat dull, or at least bland as far as video games are concerned, but there was an undeniable and strange allure to selling cherries to that sardonic raccoon in order to make your house slightly bigger. A strange experience for sure, and not one I ever necessarily understood. I recently picked up a copy of New Leaf for my sister’s birthday, and decided to buy one for myself. Needless to say, Animal Crossing is still just as surreal of an experience as it was 12 years ago, and while I’m still a little unsure as to what the purpose of the experience is (and still a little pissed off at Tom Nook), it’s an undoubtedly enjoyable game.

Gameplay: There’s not much different about the way that New Leaf controls compared to the GameCube game, so it was relatively easy to jump in. The central idea behind all Animal Crossing games is that you are a newcomer to the town of your own design. Your goal is to … well, you don’t really have a goal. You can pay off your debt to get a bigger house, you can buy and sell decorations and furniture, you can run errands and form relationships with your fellow townspeople, you can … find furniture in trees, you can find … money … in rocks … or giant beetles … or fish … or … Well, you get the point. A lot of the things you do in New Leaf don’t really make sense, but it’s fun enough that you don’t really care.


Where New Leaf differs, and excels, is that it puts you as the mayor of your little town, and adds way more to the customization thereof (that said, I skipped over Wild World and City Folk entirely, so I don’t know which of the proceeding features have been around for longer than others). For one thing, when you start the game, you’re given the ability to pick the general layout of your town. The unfortunate thing is that, until you play it, you really don’t know where it’s useful to have anything. Thus, you may end up with your town center across a bend in the river that’s about as far away from the only bridge that you start with in your town. You may also build your house in a place that other villagers will decide to swarm their new houses around, preventing you from planting any trees nearby. Coincidentally, I did both of these things.

That being said, the great thing about New Leaf is, again, that you’re the mayor. That means that you have access to a great number of cool things that really make your town unique. For one, you can spend 20,000 bells (in-game currency) to enact a new Ordinance. These can be used to change certain aspects of your town, like how late the stores stay open or how much money you get for selling. You can also build Public Works, like new bridges, stores, or various decorations that make your city more pleasing to the eye. The problem with these is that, while the idea is to have your citizens donate to the cause, in reality you’ll only end up with 300 bells from them, and the rest (usually around 100K) has to be funded by you. This may seem a bit frustrating, but luckily, bells are actually pretty easy to obtain- if you feel like investing a few hours a day. A few stores will take pretty much anything off your hands for a handful of bells, and experienced bug hunters will be heavily rewarded for their efforts.

When it comes to multiplayer and online content, Nintendo went all out. Not only can you use wi-fi or local wireless connection to visit your friends’ towns, you can also use the Dream Suite to visit faraway cities, or use the Happy Home Showcase to see players’ homes with whom you’ve connected via StreetPass. From their homes, you can order most pieces of furniture that you like (some of the special Nintendo-themed items are unavailable), and have them at your house within a few hours. The multiplayer capabilities are fun to play with, and good for sharing items with your friends (or sisters), but apart from stealing their fruit to sell for more coin at your stores and convincing their villagers to move to your town, there’s not really a lot else worth doing. The good thing is that New Leaf doesn’t really demand much from you.


There’s a good balance present, in that if you want to spend hours on end in the game, there’s enough content there to keep you busy (or at least it seems to be so, considering the leaps and bounds my sister’s made over me having started the game a day later), but if you only want to play for around an hour a day, you won’t miss out on too much and can go through your schedule while still contributing to your Public Works and your house debt. Your citizens will be easygoing enough if you talk to them enough, and if you feel like earning some more cash, you can head to the game’s tropical island after dark and catch some preposterously large beetles. My biggest complaint, however, is that seemingly everything significant in the game will happen tomorrow. Finish an addition to your house? Fund a Public Works Project? Pay for a new Ordinance? Buy a new door? Wake up that damn alpaca? Wait until tomorrow to see the fruits of your labors. It tends to get a little tiresome. Overall, though, it’s a fun enough experience, if a bit of a dull one. 80.

Story: While there’s not a lot of plot here, there is a lot of good characterization. The game does, however, begin on a weird story note. You arrive in Herpton (or whatever you decide to name your town), and are immediately greeted by a cast of a few of the game’s expansive library of unique characters. They take you to be their new mayor, for some reason, and you are … okay … with this. I don’t really know why. To make matters worse, the next day you receive a letter from whomever the mayor was supposed to be, and he reassures you that it’s all good, anonymously. So, now I’m a little worried that the person whose job I unwittingly stole knows where I live … In any case, all of the characters have great personality, and while there are a few repeats in personae, overall, it’s a satisfying experience to get to know each one of them, and fun to see new arrivals. It is a little weird that you’re the only human in a town full of animals, but whatever. 85.

Graphics: I’m continually impressed by the graphical capabilities of the 3DS, and New Leaf doesn’t disappoint. The 3D function is subtle enough to be used for longer periods of time, but still adds some really cool depth to the game, which takes place on a cleverly-rendered pseudo-cylindrical world. The way they did this prevents the game from slowing down by only using around 3/4 of the screen when outdoors, but also allows you to really perceive the town as full and lifelike, and is a welcome addition to the series. The character models still have the same charm, but a lot more polygons, so they look about as realistic as cartoonish anthropomorphic animals can. Nothing much more to say here, other than that it’s simply really good looking. 95.

Sound: There’s not a lot to this part. The music is a collection of spot-on ditties that change each hour, and every jingle you hear in the game is some version of the town tune you have the ability to set. Each character you talk to will have their own version of that tune, with their own rhythm, key, and instrument, and it’s pretty cool. The voice acting is the same high-speed high-pitched gibberish present in the other titles, and it fits the setting perfectly. The SFX are light, but there’s not many times you hear them, so they’re pretty much on par. 85.

Overall: Animal Crossing New Leaf is pretty much exactly what I expected. The Animal Crossing games are not really my thing, but I still found New Leaf to be a content-rich, enjoyable experience for its price. There’s a lot I have left to do before I will consider myself finished with it, but I have a feeling that my list is a lot shorter than others’, only showing that the game is not necessarily for everybody, but if it’s for you, you’ll love it to death. Me? Well it’s definitely aptly named, because it’s a much better experience than the first one, and adds a slew of much-needed features to make it an overall better game. 86%

OUYA Review

The prospect of an Android gaming system is certainly an interesting one. While I’ve become rather fond of those types of mobile games on my iPad, the only real taste of playing them on the big screen has come through my Apple TV, and even then, it’s very restricted. I preordered the OUYA on a whim in April and didn’t know what to expect. That said, while the OUYA is not the best game console I’ve ever had, for the $100 dollar price tag, it’s not a bad expenditure. That is, if you can get past the DRM.

ouya

When we opened the box on Thursday night, I was struck by two things. One, the console is incredibly small. I had heard about its size before, but I was still surprised at its coffee cup-sized lack of girth. Two, the controller is by and large an uninspired mix between the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, matching the control stick placement of the Xbox and the shoulder button style of the Playstation.

What’s in the box:

  • OUYA console
  • OUYA controller
  • Power cord
  • HDMI cable

Upon startup, the user is immediately required to sign up for an account with an e-mail address and password. This required an instant connection to the internet, which, while a generally easy process for those of us with a home wireless connection (there’s an ethernet port if you don’t), still caused us to have some trepidation about the prospect of an always online console. Thereafter, before you can do anything with the console, you are required to put in your credit/debit card number. Yeah. We spent several minutes troubleshooting and seeing if we could get past this menu, but we could not access the console without doing this. The other option is to input an OUYA gift card code, which would be fine if those cards were available anywhere other than the back room of a GameStop after looking around for an hour. Eventually, though, we were able to find a gift card and get around this. For those of you considering buying the console, I suggest you buy a gift card along with it if you want to be able to do anything with it besides look at the shiny menus.

ouya

After putting this code in, the console opened itself up to a nice menu with a few options (Play, Discover, settings, etc.). The cool thing about the OUYA is that everything is free, to begin with. Every game and app comes with a lite version that you can queue up and download, and upgrade from inside the app if you decide you want to buy the full version. There are a multitude of games and a few apps, most of which are on the whole pretty neat. One of the apps we played the most with was Plex, a cool media-server type application that allows you to hook up your OUYA to your Plex account on your computer. From there you can use your computer to queue up videos you want to watch later, and they’ll show up on your OUYA. You can also access your music (which for us is about 4 or 5 million songs) if you’ve shared your libraries from other computers on the network, so that’s pretty neat. There’s also a Twitch app, which I played a bit with as well.

As far as games are concerned, there are a few that are pretty good, but most of them are basically ports of phone-quality games to the big screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing,  but I do hope to see some higher-quality games on the OUYA. I can’t complain too much, though, since I’ve yet to pay anything for anything on the OUYA. Another neat feature is the fact that you can easily connect your Playstation controllers and pair them up with it. This was useful for us since we only purchased one OUYA controller, and the PS3 controller is more responsive. The OUYA has a cool library of emulators, and with ease you can download ROMs of N64, DS, GBA, Mega Drive, and other games and transfer them to the console with a flash drive. They play pretty well and it’s a fun thing to use to play games for consoles you may not have.

Pros:

  • Tight UI
  • Cool touch screen on controller
  • Free apps
  • Fairly large game library
  • Easy to connect to TV
  • PS3 controller capabilities
  • Cheap

Cons:

  • Fairly low quality games
  • Clunky controller
  • Invasive DRM and required credit card use
  • Always online
  • Controller is hard to put batteries into

What needs to be added:

  • Netflix
  • More, better quality games
  • Gift cards with better availability

Overall, for a console in its infant stage trying to make its way at the end of a generation, the OUYA is not too bad. If you want a small, reasonably priced emulator and media server, and aren’t afraid of giving them your information, go for it. The OUYA is a fun, but flawed console that I would like to see improved with updates. If it gets these improvements, it has the capability to be a good system. 80%

 

Board Game Review: Pandemic

This weekend, my family and I played a whole slew of board games, and this in addition to the lull in my video game playing spurred me on to review one of them. This particular board game is one that we got for Christmas some 2 years ago, and we played the crap out of it for a few weeks before putting it back for a while. This weekend, we pulled it back out, and remembered why we loved it so much back then.

pandemic

Pandemic does something weird that most other board games don’t try, and in general with good reason. Pandemic, rather than pitting the two to four players against each other, is a cooperative game, which is enough cause for any board game enthusiast to be cautious. Cooperation in a board game is tricky and difficult to do well, for a number of reasons. Cooperation can be hard to manage when in conjunction with most of the facets of board gaming, and difficulty can be hard to produce when the players are essentially fighting the board. Pandemic does this extremely, and is really the only good co-op board game I’ve played. It has numerous ways to lose, and only one to win, which adds the proper amount of difficulty necessary to keep players coming back. As the name suggests, Pandemic puts the players as a team of researchers fighting the spread of four diseases across a real-world map. To do this, they must find four cures, one for each disease, by having the correct number of a certain color of card and being in the right place to use them. Each player takes on the role of a specific character, each that has its own ability. The Medic can treat all blocks of a disease in a particular city with just one action (of which he gets four per turn). Other players must spend an action for each block. The Dispatcher can move other players as if they were his own, and can also spend an action to bring any one player piece to another. The Researcher can give other players any card regardless of where they are, as long as both players participating are in the same city. Other players must both be in the city that matches the city represented on the card being transferred. The Scientist only needs four cards of a color to cure the disease of that color, other players all need five. Last, the Operations Expert only needs to spend an action to build a Research Facility in the city he’s on, while everyone else must have the card corresponding. Different strategies must be employed with different combinations of up to four of the five possible roles, creating an interesting dynamic.

pandemic

The general rules of play are as follows: The ultimate end of the game is to cure all the diseases. To do this, you must trade cards between your fellow players, or just hope to draw the correct colors when you draw at the end of your turn. Coordination is key, so that no two players are collecting the same color. Once all five cards are collected, you must get to a Research Facility, and discard all five, spending an action, and placing the cure marker on the board. At the end of every turn, the players must draw Infection Cards, signifying the spread of the diseases. The diseases are marked by colored cubes on the board, and for each city drawn from the Infection pile, a cube must be placed in that city. When there are three cubes in a city, and you must add another, an outbreak occurs, and a cube of that color is added to every surrounding city. This means that multiple outbreaks may occur from one card. Every time there is an outbreak, the outbreak marker moves up, and if it reaches 8, the game ends in defeat. Because of this, it’s important to keep the cubes in check, by moving around the cities and treating the cubes, one for each action. The exceptions to this are if you’re the Medic, or if the disease has been cured. If the cure has been found, then players may treat all cubes on a space with an action, and the Medic can treat them just by walking through. This can be used to a distinct advantage, as if the Dispatcher and the Medic are both in play, the Dispatcher may use the Medic to treat spaces and maximize his use, if it’s been cured. If all cubes of a color are taken off the board, and it’s been cured, the disease is now Eradicated, and no more cubes of that color can be added to the board. Conversely, if all cubes of a disease are placed on the board, the game ends in defeat. Each turn players may take four actions. They can move, fly to a city if they have the card for it, fly to any city if they have the card for the city they’re on, treat diseases, find cures, trade cards, or use any number of their special abilities as designated by their role cards.

Every so often, a player might draw an Epidemic card from the player card stack at the end of their turn. This, in essence, just serves to annoy the players, as it immediately adds three cubes to a random city, and immediately reshuffles the Infection discard pile back onto the top of the deck. This does a good job of representing real-world epidemics, as the cities that have already been stricken are the most likely to relapse. There are also a number of Special Event cards in the deck, that cost no actions and can be used at any point during the game, even on other players’ turns. They provide a plethora of useful abilities that can avert crises and buy time to cure diseases. If the player draw pile is empty, the game ends in defeat. There are a number of other rules to the game that add some extra difficulty, such as having more Epidemics in the deck at higher difficulties, being able only to have a maximum of seven cards in your hand at a time, and the requirement of adding 18 disease cubes systematically to the board at the start of every game. In some cases, this can bring a whole area of the board to its knees, or drastically reduce the amount of cubes of a certain color, even before the start of the game. Precise planning and cooperation between all the players is necessary, and in many cases the game will end in defeat for a number of reasons, some all at the same time. All of these factors add more reason to come back and play this game again, and even if you do win, you are still brought back by its enticing gameplay, well-made bits, and variety created by the randomization of roles at the start. 90%