Category Archives: Gaming

Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn

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via Amazon

Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)

PS4 / Rated T

RPG / Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Developer: Guerrilla Games


In the months leading up to Horizon: Zero Dawn’s release I thought it was just a unique third-person action game starring a very capable female machine hunter named Aloy roaming around a seemingly post-apocalyptic open world full of tribal inhabitants and bad-ass looking robotic dinosaurs…or whatever you want to call them.  It just looked like a cool third-person action game and I did not think twice about it.  It was an anticipated title of mine but I did not think it was going to blow me away like it did.  Like damn…this Guerrilla’s first foray into this genre of games really impressed me on almost every front.

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via US Gamer

Aloy’s tale begins during her days as an outsider, living off the land with her father Rost.  The two having been together for the better part of her formative years, until the day Aloy decides to put her skills to the test by participating in the trials, with the goal of joining the tribe that shunned her and her father years ago.  After a successful day at the trials (among other things that I will not spoil) she becomes a member of the tribe and soon begins to learn secrets about who she really is, and the deeper mystery that blankets the world of Horizon.  It is the looming mystery of this semi-familiar post-apocalyptic world that acted as the driving force that kept me playing through the game.  The game’s scope starts off small but as you begin to meet new characters and venture farther into the world, things start to open up and things get crazier as you begin to learn about the machines, why they exist, along with a host of other mysteries.  There are a lot of crazy ideas and concepts boiling under the game’s surface…more than you would initially imagine.

The best part of it all?  These crazy plot points that you encounter later in the game are extremely satisfying.  Any writer can throw together some hogwash that connects the dots and explains why things exist the way they do, but Horizon’s writers give some satisfying answers that are actually plausible…all things considering.  It is a fantastic bit of science fiction that comes to an end in a pleasing way.  I would be fine with the story ending the way it did, but I would be open to another iteration in the series, in whatever form that would take.  The game has done very well for Sony at this point, so I would not be surprised to see a sequel in the future.

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via Forbes

Now let’s talk about powerful and capable protagonists.  Aloy serves as the backbone for the entire story.  If there was no Aloy…the game’s story would only amount to a withering skeleton.  I was infatuated with her character, as she was tough but also smart.  Over the course of the game she unravels a whole bunch of eye-opening revelations that would make the average person nauseous.  The way in which Aloy interprets what she sees is what makes her character so fascinating.  She is a very well-written character that deserves utmost praise.  The rest of the game’s cast were also strong.  I was most intrigued by the game’s various social structures that they present to the player.  Maybe it was just me, but the ratio of women to men leaders far favored the women.  In fact, this is probably one of the most diverse games I have ever played in terms of its various characters.  That is not necessarily a selling point for me, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air from some of the other games out there.

Perhaps the game’s biggest draws at a surface level is its combat, specifically versus the hordes of deadly machines that you will come across in the world.  You fight a fair share of human enemies while overtaking bandit camps and other locations, but the lion share of combat involves those dope machines that you have seen from the trailers.  What makes these machines unique are the various components and weak points on their bodies.  It is a fool’s errand to rush into a fight, spraying and praying with your bow-and-arrow.  Each machine has a strategy that works best for taking them down.  Using Aloy’s focus ability, which is a scanner attached to her ear, you can analyze the machines and plan the most viable fight strategy.  Perhaps tripping a machine with a tripwire and then sending a barrage of arrows in its direction towards its weak point is the way to go.  Shooting a machine’s cannon of its back might be a better approach.  Nothing is more satisfying than giving a machine a dose of its own medicine.  There are many different strategies you can take, which is a sign of engaging gameplay.  I love these types of games where tactics are just as important as the weapons you bring into battle.  You can have the best weapons in the game, but could have your ass royally handed to you on a platter by one of the Behemoths if you do not know what you are doing.  Another aspect I adored about the game’s combat is its sense of scale.  The machines you fight in the beginning are small and manageable, but as you discover new monsters they begin to get bigger and more terrifying.  It makes taking them out on your own that much more rewarding.

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via Imgur

Horizon’s world is chock full of collectibles and side quests for Aloy to partake in.  However, this leads me to one of my minor gripes with the game, and that is its side quests.  I was never bored during my time with the game’s side quests, but a good bit of them fell short in the writing department.  Some quests are just your basic “go kill x number of x machines,” while some are a little more substantive and provide some interesting stories.  Unfortunately, a lot of these quests just fall a teeny bit short of greatness.  There was one quest in, for example, involving a father and his estranged daughter.  It starts off as a simple “find my daughter” quest, but then it evolves into something a little more distressing.  The game’s writers had something great on their hands, but did not do anything with it.  They set up a remarkable story, but then proceeded to swing and miss on its execution.  There were several ways the quest could have gone down, some more impactful and darker than the others, but the game’s writers took the easy way out wrapped the quest up prematurely.  This is just one single (and vague for fear of spoilers) example of some side quests that did not quite hit the mark.  This small shortcoming is what sets this game apart from games like the Witcher 3 and the Fallout series, where the side quest writing is stronger.

To no surprise, the game looks very beautiful.  I mean, they did not put a photo mode into the game for decoration.  There are a lot of different environments that you will explore, ranging from dense forests to arid desert plains.  Each of them look stunning at various times of the day.  I often found myself marveling at the incredible vistas that were a commonplace.  The character models looked just as beautiful, but I found that there seemed to be some technical issues during scenes of dialog.  There were some prominent lip-synching issues that were hard to not notice and the character animations during some of these scenes looked too robotic.  There were times were their upper-body movement did not seem natural and at times it felt like I was watching two animatronics at a Disney Theme Park.  Fortunately, aside from these issues, Horizon looks remarkable.

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via iDigital Times

All my expectations for Horizon: Zero Dawn were met and sometimes even exceeded.  It is one of those games where I will instantly recommend it to you if you own a PS4.  If you own a PS4 and have not played Horizon yet…I do not know what you are even doing with your life.  I do not think the game unseats Uncharted 4 as my favorite PS4 exclusive, but it sure does give Naughty Dog’s masterpiece a run for its money.  Bravo to Guerilla Games for delivering an absolute barnburner of a game.

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Review: Palmystery

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via Itch.io

Palmystery (2017)

PC / NR

Horror / Cartoon / Adventure

Publisher: Paloma Dawkins

Developer: Paloma Dawkins


It only takes a matter of seconds before Palmystery starts to get…puzzling.  The game, designed by Paloma Dawkins, is illustrated as a “surreal horror cartoon video game.”  It is cartoonish and there are some surreal moments…but it is not necessarily horrifying in anyway.  In fact, the game is more unsettling than scary…with brief moments of relaxation thrown in between.  Allow me to explain.

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Palmystery is littered with hands.  There are hands galore in all shapes and sizes.  There are big hands, small hands, foreboding hands, hands wagging their finger at you begging you to come closer, hands growing like grass, and hands that form all triangles, which act as the gateways between each colorful and outlandish scene.  According to Dawkins, the game features Palmistry, which is the foretelling of the future through the study of hands, more commonly referred to as “palm reading.”  There are sparse references to Palmistry, however, besides the introductory moments that have you walking through a castle corridor, with the various signs of Palmistry adorning its foreboding walls.

This is not an extensive experience, only taking about a half hour to play through.  You explore a host of colorful scenes that take you to a variety of surreal landscapes.  Some are more comical and lighthearted than others.  There are also some cartoon characters that you will meet along the way.  Dawkins’ little animated creatures are all in various states of panic…and some will be playful, only to get swept up into space the next.  There are a lot of tonal shifts that will most likely throw you for a loop, but it paints an intriguing portrait of Dawkins’ mind.

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Dawkins explains in a blog post that this game is a portrayal of her feelings after Trump got elected as president.  “It stirred within me a darker side to my cartoons that I want to explore,” she goes on to explain.  This explains the shifts in tone that are present in every scene that you explore.  There are a lot of conflicting emotions as you witness these scenes taking place in front of you.  It is unsettling…but can be relaxing as well.

Perhaps the most relaxing portion of the game is the game’s final scene, which places you in a purplish water world.  There is a cartoon deer that is prancing around in the water, dancing from diamond to diamond which float around in the landscape.  While this is taking place, hypnotist Andrea Young facilities a little session of meditation.  It was not the turn I was expecting the game to take, but I cannot really complain.  It was an unexpected way to unwind after a mysterious and confusing experience.

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I am not going to pretend to understand what was going on in Palmystery.  It is a genuinely weird experience that always keeps you thinking.  I believe that was the intention though.  You are not supposed to understand everything that is put in front of you.  It is supposed to be complex in a funny and bizarre way.  It makes perfect sense when described as a product of Dawkins’ mind, who might have been experiencing the same feelings after Trump’s election.  Palmystery is certainly not a game for everyone, but it will certainly leave you uncomfortable and chill at the same time.

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Review: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

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via Giant Bomb

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991)

PC / Rated E10+

Adventure

Publisher: LucasArts

Developer: LucasArts


Things were looking great for wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood at the end of The Secret of Monkey Island.  Guybrush defeated the notoriously evil pirate LeChuck and he won the heart of love interest Elaine Marley.  However, all is not well in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, the sequel from Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer at LucasArts.  Guybrush has fallen out of good grace with Elaine and thanks to his quest to find the treasure of Big Whoop, his arch-nemesis seems to have resurrected again as the evil zombie pirate LeChuck.  The sequel to the classic point-and-click adventure game manages to retain the charm of the original and continues to offer some of the best adventure gameplay out there.

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Monkey Island 2 is a classic.  The sequel picks up soon after the original, but Guybrush has had some back luck with Governor Elaine.  Despite these unfortunate circumstances, he goes on to carry out his next mission, which is the search for the grand and fabled treasure of Big Whoop.  This quest brings him to Scabb Island, which is one of three islands that you will adventure across over the course of the game.  The others consist of Booty Island, home of Elaine Marley, and Phatt Island, where Guybrush is currently wanted for a laundry list of crimes.  Things only get more treacherous for poor Guybrush when his quest to find Big Whoop’s treasure inadvertently resurrects LeChuck who has a thirst for revenge…and an unsettling fascination with voodoo.  In fact, everyone seems to have a weird fascination with voodoo this time around.  Finally, unlike its predecessor, Monkey Island 2’s ending offers a surprise twist that puts a nice cherry on top of a rather delicious sundae that is this game’s story.

Of course, point-and-click adventure games live or die depending on the strength of their writing and the crew at LucasArts manages to manufacture another charming story full of wry, smart, and sophisticated humor.  Monkey Island 2 is chock full of hilariously ridiculous and laugh-out-loud moments that still stand the test of time.  But the game’s strongest suit is the characters.  The characters this time around are well realized and each have their own quirks that make them all standouts.  There are a host of new characters as well as some series favorites, including Stan S. Stanman, the eccentric salesman from the first game, who is back and better than ever.  This time around he is trying to cut you a good deal on coffins and he still will not shut up.  Even though they did not do much to change the character, he still manages to be one of my favorites from the game.  You do not have to fix something that works like a charm.

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I should note that I played the Special Edition remastered version of the game, so the games mechanics have been modernized.  The original game uses the SCUMM engine, which was the staple for most adventure games back in the day.  The remaster streamlines a lot of the tedious aspects of the aged engine and makes gameplay a lot more convenient with fewer clicks necessary.  Your standard “look,” “pick up,” and “talk,” etc. actions are relegated to the right mouse button, which brings up an action wheel of sorts, allowing you to click on an object or person in the environment and then pick the action you want to perform on it.  The inventory button on the other hand allows for easy access to the items that you pick up along the way.  Monkey Island 2 is truly an adventure game that stands the test of time in terms of its playability.  I never found myself getting frustrated with the mechanics.  Everything works and runs well.

The puzzles are tough, but they are always creative.  Fans of wacky puzzles and bizarre item combinations will feel right at home with Monkey Island 2’s brand of puzzles.  I must give the game credit where credit is due, however, as none of the solutions felt too far-fetched or crazy.  I like to think of myself as a seasoned adventure game player so I am used to the train of thought that these games require, but I still had to look for hints at certain points.  Luckily, the remaster’s included hint system does the trick.  Unfortunately, you do not have to use every item that you acquire to complete the game.  There are some items, including my treasured portrait of Elvis Presley, that go unused and occupy your inventory the entire game, collecting dust.  I am not sure how my lovely portrait of Elvis would have come in handy, but I was sure hoping it would come to the rescue at some point.

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Since I was playing the special edition, the game’s presentation was much improved.  Additional features like HD graphics and presentation, audio, commentary, and concept art are all included in the final product.  The ability to switch between the modern and classic art styles remains my favorite part of the LucasArts remasters.  Although the modernized HD art is well done and true to the source material, I still tend to favor the charm of the old pixel art.  The audio commentary is another welcome addition, but I would have liked a little more.  It felt lacking compared to some of the other remasters of similar ilk and the fact that the audio commentary does not pause the game made me a little sour on it as well.  Gilbert, Grossman, and Schafer often have a lot of enlightening things to say, but you miss the scenes and the dialog that are happening in the background.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Monkey Island 2 from start to finish.  It is a nice and polished experience that was full of charm and humor.  It is also full of nostalgia, especially for those who are fans of the series.  The Secret of Monkey Island was a fantastic game and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge certainly lives up to its name.

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Review: Unravel

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via Wikipedia

Unravel (2016)

PS4 / Rated E

Puzzle / Platformer

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Coldwood Interactive


When this little indie game from Coldwood Interactive named Unravel was first announced at EA’s 2015 E3 press conference, it immediately caught my attention.  A very nervous Martin Sahlin, the game’s creator, came out on stage and proceeded to introduce us to the game, and its adorable little star, Yarny. (Seen below)  I remember being instantly intrigued with its mechanics and instantly charmed by the games irresistibly cute visual style.  It later went on to release in early 2016, but it seemed to be a game that largely flew under people’s radars…including mine.  After about a year I finally dipped my toes into what Unravel is all about and I was met with a very charming experience with some unique platforming elements that make it standout from some of its peers.

As I mentioned before, the game stars a small red, cat-looking creature named Yarny, who is made entirely of yarn.  Yarny is constantly in awe and wonderment as he explores the objects and environments around him.  The game starts you in a small house that includes pictures of different locations that are important to the homeowner’s life.  Yarny explores these environments and collects memories along the way, slowly telling the emotional and nostalgic stories of the homeowner and their family throughout the years.

It is a very gripping story structure that drives you through the game.  There no cut scenes and a scant amount of characters, but the whole story is told through pictures and mirages in the environments that you explore.  Some of these stories were a little tough to understand, but the game does a fantastic job at capturing the various moments and emotions that families experience, whether it is the happy moments or the sad moments.  It is harrowing at times and will most likely relate to your life in some way.  Unravel, despite its simple concept, has a way of resonating with players, making it a special experience.

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via Coldwood Interactive

The game is made up of twelve different levels spanning environments like forests, mountainous hilltops, and snowy valleys…to name a few.  These levels require you to use Yarny’s body made of yarn to get pasts its various obstacles and dangers.  Yarny can create rope to swing across gaps, make bridges, and maneuver objects.  If that was not enough, Yarny also unravels (insert title card) as you make your way through the level.  If you are overzealous with your yarn usage, you will eventually run out of yarn and Yarny will be stripped down to his basic frame.  To combat this, there are various “checkpoints” in the levels that allow you to re-spool, giving Yarny more yarn to work with.  I did not find myself running out of yarn too much, but it does add another layer of complexity to the levels and their thoughtful design.  In terms of overall difficulty, the game is not too challenging.  There are moments where the game will get you, but death is never really a burden given the generous checkpoint system.  You also can warp back to the latest checkpoint if you find yourself stuck.

One gripe I have with Unravel’s mechanics are the floaty controls that sometimes make tougher platforming sections a little frustrating.  There were some moments in the game were tighter controls would have been more helpful.  There is a trophy (on PS4) that requires you to go through each level without dying and I quickly found myself giving up because the controls were not as up-to-snuff as I would have liked them to be.  There is also the tiny issue of freshness when it comes to the game’s mechanics.  Unravel does a commendable job, for the most part, of giving you new challenges that change things up, but this evolution in gameplay starts to taper off when you get to the later levels.  Due to the game’s simplistic nature, it is tough to constantly give you new ways of using the mechanics at your disposal.

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via Coldwood Interactive

But let us talk about the game’s main attraction: just how darn cute the whole thing is.  There is an enormous amount of detail that went into the game’s visual style from the environments to Yarny himself.  Everything has a tactile feel to it and Yarny looks super realistic.  Coldwood Interactive most likely drew some inspiration from Nintendo’s games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Wooly World.  The game’s score is also well done, meshing perfectly with the game’s heartwarming story of family and nostalgia.

Despite the few issues I had with the game’s mechanics Unravel still manages to invoke tons of feeling, something you do not see too much from puzzle-platformers.  The game’s eye-popping adorability is what pulls you in but it is the gripping and emotional story that convinces you to stay.  It is a relatively short, but powerful, experience that manages to do some cool things with its yarn-based mechanics.  Unravel is worth your time.  It is worth it alone just to see Yarny’s curiosity of the world around him.

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Review: DOOM

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via Pinoy Tech Blog

DOOM (2016)

PC / Rated M

First-Person Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda, Zenimax Media

Developer: id Software, Certain Affinity, Escalation Studios


DOOM doesn’t waste any time before throwing you right into the action.  There’s a demonic invasion…and it’s your job to kill every single demon that falls in your path.  DOOM is a constant thrill ride from start to finish, turning the notch of intensity up with every level you play.  I’ve only played the game’s campaign, but that was all I needed out of this experience.  I just needed an excuse to kill a lot of demons…and DOOM delivered in every way.

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id Software has created a game with a hell of a lot of style.  (Pun certainly intended…yay for bad jokes!)  The game’s initial moments, which have you donning the iconic suit of the Doom Slayer, immediately set the mood and tone for the rest of the game.  As you make your way to an elevator, the main theme starts to play and we get the game’s title sequence.  Perhaps the best part of it all is the final beat of the song, which perfectly syncs up with your character cocking his gun, ready for the hell-bent mission awaiting him.  It’s the perfect introduction for the game, immediately putting you in the right mood.  It’s always important for a game to nail its initial moments, and DOOM’s first impression is outstanding and wild.

Understandably, the story tends to take the back seat for most of the game.  DOOM takes place on Mars where a UAC facility is being invaded by the evil and demonic forces of Hell.  You play a man who wakes up on an alter in the bowels of the UAC facility.  Upon freeing yourself from your chains, you quickly find your Praetor Suit, the suit that turns you into the Doom Slayer.  You then begin to realize that the facility’s demonic invasion has been enabled by Dr. Olivia Pierce, the game’s main antagonist.  With help from Dr. Samuel Hayden and the facilities’ VEGA system, your mission is to prepare yourself to stop Hell’s forces and end the demonic onslaught for good.  There’s nothing complex about the plot which mainly serves as an excuse for you to make your way through the Martian facility and eventually the pits of Hell.  It’s hard to knock the game because of its story since the game clearly knows what it is all about and why people are playing it.  You’re here to kill demons and DOOM clearly recognizes that, which is a good thing.

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via ONRPG

Besides the campaign’s objectives and waypoints, the other force that drives you through the game is the metal soundtrack that accompanies your every action.  Unlike most games where the soundtrack is mostly passive, DOOM’s soundtrack is an active soundtrack, one that really motivates you to kill the demons that step in your path.  The soundtrack, written and composed by Mick Gordon, is full of gritty and electronic metal.  It pairs with the game perfectly and does a great job at painting the game’s atmosphere.  There were many times where I was bobbing my head to the beat of the music while murdering hordes of demons onscreen.  It just felt right.  It made for some kick-ass moments.  It’s an example of a well-realized soundtrack that really jives with the game it’s accompanying.

When it comes to the actual act of demon slaying, this aspect of the game felt great as well.  The combat is extremely smooth and fast, which worked perfectly for this game’s style and feel.  The game runs nicely as well, which also enhanced the gameplay.  There’s a variety of guns that you unlock as you make your way through the game.  These guns all felt right and the upgrades that you acquire through skill points that you collect also make for more varied gunplay.  The shotgun and the heavy machine gun are your best friends, but weapons like the Gauss Cannon and the rocket launcher are a good way to go when battling tougher and beefier enemies.  I never felt like I was using the same weapon for too long.  I was constantly switching weapons to give myself the advantage when battling certain enemies, which is great from a game design standpoint.  There are also glory kills, which allow you to “finish off” enemies when they are low on health.  The advantage of performing a glory kill is that the enemy drops health when performed.  These kills were a novelty in the beginning, but they begin to grow old as you advance in the game.  The variety of these kills tapers off quickly and they become quite repetitive.  I never stopped performing these kills because of their benefits, but it’s a shame id Software didn’t do anything to change up the formula.

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via WCCF Tech

There’s no shortage of demons for you to kill in the game.  The game relentlessly throws demons your way left and right, which makes for a thrilling experience.  It’s non-stop action from start to finish with little bits of respite sprinkled throughout.  The enemy variety is great, starting you off with a couple of measly demons.  As you progress your way through the game, more enemy types are thrown into the mix, each with different strategies and move sets.  By the time the final level comes around, all the enemy types are joining forces to get a piece of you, making for some hectic late game firefights.  In addition, there are only a couple of boss fights in the game (three to be exact) which were a little underwhelming.  The three boss fights, including the final boss, were epic and grand in scale, and a lot of fun, but I would have liked to see a little more.  There were a good deal of open rooms with waves of demons coming your way.  It would have been nice if some of these rooms were actually boss fights, especially earlier on in the game.  This is only a minor complaint with the game however, as the action is still very relentless and a ton of fun.

I only played the campaign, so I can’t speak on the multiplayer modes or the Snapmap functionality, but the campaign alone is enough for me to recommend this game to anyone who hasn’t already taken the dive.  DOOM’s campaign is extremely polished and it has a ton of style which is established right from the get-go. The combat is great and only made better with the superb soundtrack that drives you through the experience.  At the end of the day, I came to DOOM because I wanted to kill endless scores of demons, and I can’t think of any other game that nails this experience better than DOOM.  Get ready to kill a lot of demons…Doom Slayer.

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Top 10 Games of 2016

Why hello there and welcome.  As Mr. 2016 starts to pack its bags and head for the door, it’s about that time to look back at my top ten games that really captured my attention over the past year.  2016 has been full of great gaming experiences that have varied across the board.  I’m not a machine, so there was physically no way to look at every game that was released this year.  Trust me, if I had the time (and the money) I would have delightfully gorged myself in every gaming experience I possibly could.  So, I’m going to focus on the games that I did play.  They will probably differ from yours but that’s okay.  Let’s take a round of applause for opinions!  Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at the games that really grabbed me this year.


A Game That I’m Going to Be Playing Within the Next Couple of Days, but Won’t Have Enough Time to Finish Before the End of the Year: DOOM

Yes…the unnecessarily long title was probably not needed for this category, but I wanted a place to quickly shout out DOOM.  This was a game that was perpetually on my backlog all year long.  I had the game in my Steam library, but I never bit the bullet and sat down to play it…until now.  I regret not getting around to this game sooner as so many people have been absolutely raving about this game.  However, since I’m a prime procrastinator, there’s never been a better time to sit down and finally play DOOM.  I have a feeling I am going to really like this game, but I probably not going to finish it before year’s end, which makes me uncomfortable with putting it on this list.  I figured a quick little shout out in the beginning would suffice.  This is a game you, like me, should absolutely play if you haven’t already.

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Best Game from A Previous Year: Her Story

Maybe it was just me, but I was really creeped out while playing this fantastic FMV-style detective game.  It was late at night and I had all the lights turned off.  I had my headphones in so I was totally zoned in on the experience in front of me.  Her Story sits you in front of an old 90’s police computer with a search feature and an archive of snipped videos from seven days of interviews of a woman.  There’s no guidance or handholding, which means it’s up to you to piece together who the woman is and why she’s being interviewed in the first place.  It’s a neat premise that is super effective at making you feel like a top-notch sleuth.  Viva Seifert does a marvelous job at portraying the emotions of the woman and really sells the part.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I was really creeped out because as you start to find the darker secrets hidden within the interview clips…silhouettes of an unknown person randomly appear on the computer screen as it flickers.  This messed with me at 2 AM in the morning.  Damn that game was effective.

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10 – Planet Coaster

Okay…so close your eyes and imagine Roller Coaster Tycoon.  Remember this game?  Yeah it was great.  One of the best games of my childhood.  Now…imagine it getting injected with an enormous number of steroids.  Now you have a beefed up and ridiculous version of Roller Coaster Tycoon.  This is the best way to describe Planet Coaster.  Now I must admit, my time with Planet Coaster is slim compared to some of the other games on this list due to me being a busy person, but I have enjoyed every single minute of my time with the game.  Just like other theme park sims out there, the game gives you a plentiful number of tools that allow you to create vibrant and entertaining theme parks.  Planet Coaster takes things further by giving you an insane number of object placement tools that essentially allow you to create an infinite number of buildings, scenic pieces, and…well, basically anything.  It’s almost like a 3D Modeler in the sense that there are a limitless number of things you can build in the game.  If you have the time (and the artistic skill) you can faithfully recreate any of your favorite real-life amusement parks with stunning detail.  I might not have created a fully functioning theme park yet, but I have created my fair share of death rides and horrific scenery pieces.  Perhaps my death park won’t be a hit with guests…but at least I’ll have a hell of a time imagining and building it.  P.S. Here’s my K-Pop Roller Coaster of Death that I built. It has a fun ending that’s surely going to be a nightmare hit:


9 – Batman: The Telltale Series

Say what you will about Telltale’s brands of games, but I whole heartily enjoy them.  Despite their technical hiccups and an engine that’s past its prime, their games still manage to tell engaging stories with memorable characters.  In Batman, you get to control one of the most iconic characters, Batman (probably self-explanatory looking back on this sentence).  Sure…a video game about Batman is certainly no novelty, but what makes Telltale’s offering different from the rest is the inclusion of Batman’s other half…Bruce Wayne.  No other Batman game (at least from what I’m aware of) tells a story that predominately feature’s Gotham’s billionaire playboy.  Just like any other Telltale game, we get a fantastic story that deals with Bruce’s past and its effect on the city and the people that inhibit it.  You are in the driver’s seat, making the decisions that will ultimately shape the city of Gotham and its people.  The Batman stuff is cool and the QTE action sequences are thrilling, but it’s the Bruce Wayne portions of the game that really make this game a standout above Telltale’s other adventure games.

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8 – Mafia III

Man, Mafia III has a kick-ass introduction.  I’ll take this a step further by saying Mafia III might have the best production of the year.  Everything from the story and its documentary-style presentation down to its stellar licensed and original soundtrack make this a thrilling ride from beginning to end.  You play as Lincoln Clay, a Vietnam veteran who travels back home to New Bordeaux, Louisiana (a.k.a. New Orleans).  After a night of welcomes, drinking, and cheer things go horribly wrong in an exciting introduction.  These events fuel the revenge fantasy that Clay partakes in as he rampages through the city with the goal of taking out the Italian Mafia that betrayed his family.  Although the gameplay tends to get a tad repetitive at times, it’s the game’s fantastic writing and its cast of characters that secure the game’s place on this list.  Mafia III also takes place in 1968, which means southern racism is a real thing for Lincoln Clay.  The way this game “gamifies” racism is something I have never seen in a game before.

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7 – Gears of War 4

Before I go into any detail about why I liked this game, I should mention that I only played Gears of War 4’s single player campaign.  Sure, this means I might have missed out on some of the game’s other features, but I frankly don’t care.  Multiplayer games are not usually my thing, so I was perfectly content with breezing through Gears 4’s exciting and thrilling campaign.  The campaign ushers in a new host of characters, while making a ton of callbacks to the original trilogy.  The good news is the new characters are very likable and the banter between them is entertaining, even though it might make you roll your eyes a bit.  The action is satisfying and varied and each sequence never overstayed its welcome.  You’ll be doing a variety of things over the course of the campaign, but I never found myself getting bored with what I was doing.  Gears 4’s weather effects are also something new this time around, and they demonstrate the visual beauty of the game.  There’s nothing like a storm of environmental effects that will make you appreciate a game’s looks.

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6 – Watch Dogs 2

I was most likely part of the minority that liked the original Watch Dogs that released in 2014.  However, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like that game didn’t have its fair share of issues.  I’m not naïve…the game was far from perfect.  Watch Dogs 2 improves on its predecessor in just about every fashion down the board.  Marcus, the game’s protagonist, is actually a likable character this time around and the supporting cast is just as enjoyable…despite my premonitions.  The setting, San Francisco, is a bigger and better open world that just feels more alive.  The story is more enticing (despite a couple of trip ups towards the end) and relevant.  Maybe the best thing of all is that the game knows what it is and runs with it.  There’s a lot of hacker culture, from the game’s characters to its loading screens, and it never takes itself too seriously.  You’re supposed to have fun with Watch Dogs 2, and boy did I have a lot of fun.

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5 – That Dragon, Cancer

And the award for Most Emotion goes to That Dragon, Cancer.  This game, whether you know someone who dealt with cancer or not, will hit you right in the gut with an emotional one-two punch.  As someone who lost their mother to cancer this year, this game spoke to me in ways I haven’t experienced in a piece of interactive media.  The game serves as an autobiographical tribute to developer Ryan Green’s son Joel who passed away from a terminal form of cancer.  You play through a series of vignettes that are often rich with symbolism and even richer with emotion.  This is a very personal game, and Ryan and his wife Amy really open up over the course of it.  There’s a lot of raw emotion that comes from some of the events in the game, some that were very hard to watch and play through.  There’s some clunky interaction at some points in the game, but that shouldn’t detract you from this experience.  It’s a short little game, one that will leave you feeling all sorts of ways.

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4 – Day of the Tentacle Remastered

What?  You’re probably wondering why an old-style adventure game from 1993 has made it onto my list.  Day of the Tentacle was remastered this year by Tim Schafer and the guys at Double Fine…so technically it counts as a 2016 game.  That’ll be enough from you.  Anyway, this was my first time playing through the cult classic adventure game and it proved to be one of my absolute favorite adventure games.  The story is a zany tale about a purple tentacle with eyes on world domination.  You play as Bernard, and his two friends Laverne and Hoagie, who set out on a time travelling adventure to stop Purple Tentacle from taking over the world.  The humor is some of the best I have seen in an adventure game and the solutions to the game’s puzzles cleverly use the time travel mechanics in fun ways.  The amount of work that Tim Schafer has put into the game’s fresh and updated art and modernized mechanics really gives this game an archival quality.  The audio is remastered as well, putting the cherry on top of a fantastic remaster.

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3 – Inside

Inside is a game that took me by surprise.  Developed by Playdead, who you’re probably familiar with as the developers behind Limbo, the game cements itself as one of the best 2D puzzle platformers out there.  As you control a red-shirted boy running through the forest in an effort to escape an unknown force, we are immediately met with a beautiful and atmospheric dystopian world.  It’s a dark world, with contrasts of red, that really makes it visually appealing…and often unsettling.  Every area in the game is really detailed and meticulously animated, which had me pausing to stop and stare at my surroundings at various points in the game.  As you make your way deeper into the environment, you begin to uncover even more secrets about the world.  The game features no voice and hardly any music, which also adds to the game’s mysterious allure.  Gameplay-wise, Inside keeps things fresh from beginning to end with well-designed puzzles that never get repetitive.  There’s no tutorials or hand-holding, which means the game teaches you through death.  You die a lot in the game, but thanks to a nice checkpoint system and fast load times, deaths never feel like a penalty and they teach you what to do and not to do.  It’s really smart and demonstrates effective game design on Playdead’s part.  Inside is a masterclass at what small indie games can be, and the game is worth it alone for the ending.  The ending makes for one of the most WTF moments I have ever experienced in a game.

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2 – Heavy Rain Remastered

I don’t want to hear it.  Yes, I’ve put another old game on my top ten list for 2016.  What are you going to do about it, huh?  Again, this remaster of Heavy Rain was released in 2016, so it makes my list.  Another reason why the game climbs its way to number two is because this was my first experience with the highly-lauded adventure game designed by David Cage and French studio Quantic Dream.  Over the course of the game you control four characters, Norman, Ethan, Scott, and Madison who each have their own complicated stories that all intertwine in ways you wouldn’t imagine.  The performances by the actors were great and they really made it seem like I was watching a gritty film noir.  The story is captivating and its some of the game’s smaller character moments that really put it above the rest.  People love to have the “are games art?” conversation and this would be a game I would give as an example as to why they are.

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1 – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

There’s a good chance I might not have ever played a game prettier than Uncharted 4.  This is obviously not the only reason why I highly regard this game, but hot damn this game is beautiful.  Everything from its facial animations down to the various settings showcase the game’s technical and graphical prowess.  Being that this is Nathan Drake’s final adventure, the story is also emotional and bittersweet.  The performances from Nathan Drake (Nolan North), his brother Sam Drake (Troy Baker), Sully (Richard McGonagle) and Elena Fisher (Emily Rose) are all top notch and really enhance the story and its emotion.  There’s also the introduction of two new characters, Nadine and Rafe, that make for two great antagonists.  The exploration and the action sequences are some of the best in the series and the set-piece moments are big and gorgeous.  That car chase is some next level stuff.  The gunplay is great and the familiar gameplay elements like climbing and swinging are the best they have ever felt.  Perhaps the best part is the game’s ending, which is intensely satisfying and puts a nice big bow on Nathan Drake’s adventures.  Naughty Dog has created a masterpiece…and there’s not much else I really need to say.

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Games I Didn’t Have Time to Play but Deserve a Mention:

Final Fantasy XV, Stardew Valley, Dishonored 2, The Witness, The Last Guardian, Hitman (I’ve played a little bit of the game, but not enough to have an opinion.)

Review: No Man’s Sky

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via Moby Games

No Man’s Sky (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Hello Games

Developer: Hello Games


What do you get when you mix together a fresh new idea, an unconventional publisher-developer relationship, a massive development cycle, and hype levels the size of space itself?  You get No Man’s Sky, a game that I really wanted to like.  Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games promised to make an expansive game rooted in boundless exploration and science-fiction nostalgia.  They teamed up with Sony to bring a console exclusive that would be revolutionary to gaming.  Unfortunately, the game was treated like a AAA game with the size of an indie studio.  When you pair that with a plethora of broken promises and an unclear scope, you get a game that lets a ton of people (like myself) down.

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via Gear Nuke

Again, I really wanted to like No Man’s Sky.  The game brought and touched upon a ton of different concepts and ideas that would have made for a fantastic game if handled with a little more care.  The prospect of getting in a space cruiser and flying through the endless expanse of space, exploring different planets and their wildlife on the way, is an idea that should get any sci-fi nerd bouncing with excitement.  On top of that, a fluctuating space economy and the ability to interact with different alien species paint should have made No Man’s Sky the space exploration game we all were waiting for.  So where did it all go wrong?  Why did the game fall short of its expectations?

One reason is reality of the game’s planets versus what we were promised over the course of the game’s prolonged development and PR cycle.  If you watched any of the game’s demos, you probably saw a lush and vibrant ecosystem, filled to the brim with a wide range of mystical creatures roaming about.  It’s a setting that looked ripped from a painting.  It was beautiful, and it got a lot of gamers excited to explore the game’s randomly generated planets for themselves.  We all bought a ticket for the hype train.  We all bought in to the Sean Murray’s tremendous vision, one that might have been a little too far-fetched.

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via Segment Next

At the end of the day, No Man’s Sky is just a game.  A game with limitations, just like any other game.  What Hello Games was promising fans was a game that would exceed technological innovation.  Instead, what we got were computer-generated planets that looked barren and empty, usually with some sort of radiation or extreme temperatures that make exploration a major pain in the ass.  Instead of these mythical creatures we saw in pre-release footage, we got a fair amount of atrocities that looked like the by-product of an animal creation algorithm gone wrong.  Remember EA’s character creation game Spore?  The creatures that you encounter in No Man’s Sky look like Spore rejects.  The ecosystem in the actual game just doesn’t match up with what we saw leading up to the game’s release.  This made planet exploration a bummer, especially when I started to see a lot of the same animals and planets over and over again over the course of my travels.  Random generation is great, but the limitations of such a system started to become apparent after my visit to my fifth planet.

Besides flora and fauna, you can also explore abandoned outposts, monoliths, and other structures, some populated and some empty.  Inside these buildings you can find new items, upgrades, money, and directions to other locations of interests.  The variety of these buildings, just like the animal and plant variety, starts to quickly wear thin as the buildings you explore start to become super familiar as you go on.  The monoliths, which are essentially ancient alien structures, are the most intriguing structures to explore as they offer the most variety and they also look amazing as well.

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via Investor Place

The universe of No Man’s Sky feels empty as well.  Talks of a space economy and different alien species that you could interact with made me believe that the world we would be exploring would be a living and breathing galaxy.  Instead, members of these different alien species stay in the same spots, whether it’s in a space station or a planet’s outpost.  They talk in foreign tongues which makes it next to impossible to feel like you are actually having a conversation with an alien.  You can find tomes throughout the galaxy that help you understand these species’ languages, but this doesn’t help the fact that these NPCs that you encounter are lifeless quest givers.  The space economy does deliver in that you can find different prices for materials in different space systems, but I don’t think these prices are determined by any meta-statistics.  If I were to sell tons of iron to a space trader, the price of iron across the galaxy would not go down, which is a shame.  A space economy that actually reacted to players’ buying habits would be amazing.

Combat, whether it’s on foot or in the sky, is largely underwhelming.  While exploring planets, you have a multi-tool, which allows you to mine for materials as well as fight enemies.  You can upgrade the tool with better upgrades and abilities as you go.  When exploring planets, your only enemies are aggressive creatures and the flying sentinels that scour the planetscape, waiting for someone to cause trouble.  The creatures are easy to take down with your multi-tools’s blaster but the sentinels become a real nuisance as they traverse through the air.  The gun combat doesn’t feel great and I often found myself recklessly shooting my gun in an attempt to destroy the sentinels.  Combat does get easier with subsequent upgrades, but it never felt fun, which is a big problem.  In the air, your space ship has blasters and lasers that aid you in taking down pesky space pirates you track you down if you have any valuable cargo on board.  These fights were the most frustrating of them all.  The space pirates zoom by you and do nimble acrobatic maneuvers through the air as you try to shoot them with your sluggish aim.  Your best bet is to park yourself in place and turn your ship around in an attempt to take down the enemy ships.  This, again, was not fun at all and was the source of a good amount of deaths.  In fact, most of my deaths in this game came at the hands of space pirates.  Luckily they have no interest in your cargo as you can go retrieve your lost goods in the same place where you went down.  There are no stakes to these fights, which makes them a little easier to swallow.

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Up to this point, I have probably talked about half of what you do in No Man’s Sky.  The other half you may ask?  Well, you are going to spend a lot of time with inventory management, which is another major detriment to the game’s experience.  The thing I like about No Man’s Sky’s user interface is the inspiration it draws from Destiny’s user interface.  Unfortunately, navigating through your inventory becomes a hassle thanks to the limited space that you have right from the get-go.  Your Exosuit (your spacesuit) has an inventory as well as you ship, which usually has a larger inventory.  These inventories are pretty small in the beginning which makes resource mining a pain.  I constantly found myself having to sacrifice some materials in order to make room for rarer materials and items.  It also doesn’t help that suit and ship upgrades take up inventory spots as well, which makes upgrading your gear a tougher decision that it should be.  Your inventory space should never get in the way of upgrading your gear.  In order to expand your inventory, you either have to purchase suit upgrades at outposts or obtain bigger and more expensive ships with more space.  Again, as a player you should never have to upgrade your inventories in order to make them useable.  Moving resources and items around in order to make room for other things is a big portion of the gameplay, which is a major shame.  It starts to become a drag really quickly.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that half of your playtime will be spent in the game’s inventory menus.  You’re going to be managing your inventory a lot…which is not my idea of a good time.

Finally, I feel like I need to talk about the multiplayer aspects of the game, rather the lack of multiplayer features that the game has to offer.  You have the choice to name the systems, planets, animals, and plants that you discover in hopes that another player will stumble upon your discoveries.  Why else would name these things?  However, the reality of such a massive random generation algorithm means that millions of planets are being created.  Sean Murray has made it pretty clear that the chance of stumbling upon someone else’s discovery are pretty slim.  Over the course of my playtime, I found nothing that was discovered by someone else.  Because of this, I found myself skipping the naming process, sticking with the randomly generated names that the game gives to these different aspects of the universe.  I stopped claiming ownership of such discoveries, because in the end, they don’t really matter.  Realistically, no one is going to stumble upon your discovered planets…which is a damn shame.  This is the theme of No Man’s Sky.  It’s a damn shame.

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via Segment Next

I could go on for multiple paragraphs, but this review is starting to run long.  There’s a bevy of great ideas and systems that No Man’s Sky implements, but they all feel half-baked and undercooked.  Black holes, Hyper drives, puzzles, and the mysterious Atlas are aspects of the game that I haven’t talked about.  However, none of these things managed to stick out because they were either mishandled ideas or cheap by-products of another random generation.  I admire Hello Game’s commitment to fixing the game and trying to make it a better experience for players after the game has launch, but a lot of these problems could have been fixed if expectations were tempered and promises weren’t made.  The No Man’s Sky we were expecting versus the No Man’s Sky that was put on shelves are two different products that tell two different stories.  One could have been a defining addition to gaming history while the other was the product of a hype train gone off the rails.  I wanted to like No Man’s Sky so much, but in the end it’s a game that just can’t get into.  Who knows, maybe the game will be different in a year’s time with the developer’s plans to update the game, but I don’t think I will be making the return trip into No Man’s Sky.

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Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

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via PlayStation 4 You

Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games

Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games


Batman has been made great again.  Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride.  They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham.  What about Bruce Wayne?  Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games.  With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.”  The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics.  It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.

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via Press A Key

Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games.  In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots.  The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.  As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils.  On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites.  Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot.  Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player.  The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful.  Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important.  As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.

Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with.  As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer.  In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble.  There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs.  His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign.  Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.

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via MMoga

The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully.  There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny.  Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt.  Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard.  Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again.  This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes?  Hey!  Hey!  Remember when your parents died!?  Yeah that must suck huh.  There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail.  These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written.  I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.

There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series.  Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in.  You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out.  Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments.  Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus.  There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence.  When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games.  Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun.  Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene.  It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique.  There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities.  I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.

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via VG24/7

Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot.  The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors.  The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman.  The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better.  Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work.  The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character.  The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking.  Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.

I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan.  The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement.  There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name.  It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media.  With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.

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Vault-Tec Needs You: Vault-Tec Workshop Impressions

Have you ever found yourself wandering through a vault in the Fallout universe and wondering what it would be like to build one of those vaults for yourself?  Have you wondered what it would be like to practice experiments on the vault dwellers within?  Now this dream is a reality in the Vault-Tec Workshop, the latest string of DLC add-ons for Bethesda’s Fallout 4.  It’s essentially a more fleshed out version of the studio’s mobile game Fallout Shelter, which is novel in concept. Vault-Tec Workshop doesn’t go without its faults though.

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via WASD

The add-on starts you off with a quest calling you to investigate a mysterious cave, a new location added into the game.  Inside this cave you find what is seemingly an abandoned vault, although you hear a woman’s voice over the loudspeaker.  After defeating the enemies that are trying to break in through the vault door, you open the vault and come into contact with a new acquaintance, Valery Barstow, a ghoul who was meant to become the overseer of the uncompleted Vault 88, the vault in which you discovered.  After walking into the main area, you find a huge cave with loads of abandoned construction equipment and some feral ghouls who used to be a part of the crew.  After getting to know a little bit about Barstow and her ambitions for Vault 88, she sets you free with the task of finishing Vault 88 and the experiments that it was meant to run.  It might seem unethical at first, but that’s the question you will have to repeatedly struggle with as you continue to welcome in new settlers and complete different tasks for Barstow.  You can either murder Barstow in cold blood or complete her unethical, and sometimes devious, experiments on the settlers you welcome in.  It’s your choice, which is what I like about this add-on in particular.

The settlement space that the add-on gives you to build your vault is definitely the biggest space in the game by far.  You have a massive system of caves that you can explore and clear out to make room for your vault.  The game encourages players to reach level 20 before starting the DLC, because some of the enemies you will have to clear out are pretty tough.  Once you have explored and cleared the cave system, you have a massive cave at your disposal…which you pretty much can’t take advantage of due to the settlement size constraints.  You know that bar in the upper right corner in the workshop HUD that indicates “size”?  This size constraint unfortunately still applies to your vault, even though it gives you a massive space to work with.  If you’re on console (I have been playing on PS4) then you can pretty much forget creating a vault that spans the entire cave system.  If you want a vault that’s nice and furnished, then you’re pretty much going to have to stick to the main area for now, until mods come out that allow you to remove the size limitations.  It’s a pretty large oversight, but I understand that console limitations prevent you from creating vast vaults.  At the end of the day it’s a hardware constraint, but it’s still rather unfortunate, especially when your teased with such a massive building space to play around with.

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via Video Games Zone

When you take into account all of Bethesda’s previous workshop add-ons for the game, Vault-Tec Workshop is probably the biggest and best addition to the constantly growing workshop feature set.  The add-on gives you a pretty hefty set of new workshop elements that give you the ability to create your very own Vault-Tec vault.  There’s a bunch of pre-sets that allow you to build hallways, atriums, dining spaces, living spaces, overseer offices and much more.  There’s also a host of new furniture options that relate specifically to what you typically find in vaults around the world.  Everything from Vault-Tec posters to diner benches have been included, allowing you to personalize your vault to your liking. Perhaps the most practical addition to the workshop is the Vault-Tec generators, that have the ability to produce 150 or 500 electricity.  These generators are powerhouses that will allow you to power up even the heftiest of vaults.  You can build all of these elements outside of the add-on’s underground area in any settlement of your choice, which can potentially lead to some unique creations as well.

For all you diabolical folks who want to conduct experiments on your vault’s dwellers, you get a pretty nice array of experiments to choose from.  In all, there are four objects that allow you to conduct three experiments each, which totals up to twelve experiments in all.  These objects range from elliptical bikes to soda machines to slot machines.  These experiments are not as crazy as some of the others that you have seen in other vaults, but they are enough to suffice.  You also can’t create your own, so your stuck with what the add-on gives you.  There’s a population management terminal that allows you to manage all of your vault dwellers, which provides a nice and easy way to get a glance at what everyone is doing.  You can also equip your dwellers with their very own Vault 88 jumpsuits and Pip-Boys, which is a nice touch in itself.  The add-on goes pretty far in letting you create what feels like an authentic vault.

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via Film Games Etc

Despite the size limitations that inhibit you from creating expansive vault systems, the Vault-Tec Workshop is a nice addition to Fallout 4.  Sure, in the end it’s just a console version of Fallout Shelter, but the add-on provides enough items and features to make it worth taking a look at.  At the end of the day, I would have preferred a little more story add-ons like the previous Fallout games, but these workshop add-ons will suffice for now.  Nuka World, presumably Fallout 4’s final piece of DLC, is coming out next month, but Vault-Tec Workshop should be enough to hold over fans in the meantime.

Pokemon Go Impressions

Maybe you haven’t checked Twitter recently, but you’ve probably noticed an influx of new Pokemon trainers taking to the streets, all with the mission of catching them all.  After only a couple of days since the app’s release, Pokemon Go has literally taken the world by storm.  The game is developed by Niantic Labs, the minds behind the augmented-reality game Ingress, which was essentially a game about territory wars. Just like its predecessor, Pokemon Go used augmented-reality technology to allow people to catch Pokemon in “real-life.”  Players wonder around their streets finding Pokemon along the way.  It’s a cool concept, but just like any other big app that hits the marketplaces, the level of staying power comes into question.  Is this game going to be around for a while?  Probably.  However, there’s some aspects of the game that need to be fixed in order to cement its longevity.

Let’s start with what the game gets right, because there’s a lot of potential to be had.  Perhaps the biggest reason the app is resonating with so many people is the fact that “Pokemon” is in the name.  Who doesn’t love Pokemon?  But…seriously, who doesn’t love them?  If you were a kid growing up in the 90’s, there’s a strong chance that you watched a Pokemon episode or two.  Not to mention the popularity of the trading card game as well as the video games that went along with it.  Pokemon was an integral part of a lot of our childhood’s, which explains why so many people have become instantly attached to the app.  Currently, the only Pokemon available to catch in the wild are the original 151, which might also explain the number of teens and adults playing the game, rather than younger kids who are probably more familiar with the newer types.  I’m sure there’s a bunch of kids playing the game, but in my experience I have noticed a surplus of older folks running around.

pokemon go 1
via Maktech Blog

Pokemon Go’s social aspect is something I haven’t seen in a while.  The game encourages you to leave the house and go out into the world.  The game uses the equivalent of Google Maps to tag locations of interest as either Poke Stops or Pokemon Gyms.  Checking in at Poke Stops grants you items like Poke Balls, Potions, and Revives.  There’s also the chance for rarer items like Eggs, Incubators (used to hatch the eggs), and Incense.  As you walk around, you will eventually find Pokemon hanging out in your area.  When you click on them in the app’s map-like interface, it brings up an AR interface with the Pokemon.  You can catch these Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them, which can prove tough if they are more aggravated.  It’s a pretty simple premise that becomes second-nature as you find more Pokemon.  When you catch a Pokemon, it gets added to the Pokedex (if you haven’t caught one of its type) and you get to see it’s stats.  You can name your Pokemon, to give them a more personal touch, as well as level up their CP (Combat Power) by giving them Stardust and Pokemon-specific candy (items you obtain when you catch these Pokemon).  Like I’ve said before, that’s pretty much all there is to it, but there’s some deeper strategy that you can employ as you level up and evolve your Pokemon.  Finally, once you level up your trainer level to five, you can participate in Gym battles around your area.  First, you pick a team to side with.  You can choose between either Team Valor, Mystic, or Instinct.  The main goal with Gym fights is to capture them for your team.  If you take down a Gym’s prestige level, you can then claim that Gym for your team.  If your team has already laid claim to the Gym, you can offer up your Pokemon to bolster its defense.  This seems to be Pokemon Go’s endgame.  Trainer vs. trainer battles are expected in the future, but right now Gyms seem to be the main goal for your stronger Pokemon.

pokemon go 2
via gamepur.com

Never have I seen more people get into a game like they have Pokemon Go.  Alright, that’s probably a bold statement considering games like Clash of Clans exist in this world, but there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the game.  My Twitter feed has literally been taken over by Pokemon Go posts.  I have literally had conversations with friends and random strangers in the street who were also playing Pokemon Go.  Maybe it’s just a phenomenon that’s going to blow by in the coming days, but the game’s social meta game is what makes it so special.  It’s inspiring people to get out and have social interactions with completely random people.  People are literally treating their teams like their gangs, hassling people who aren’t apart of their team’s ranks.  (If you’re not Team Mystic, I don’t know what you’re doing.)  It’s these aspects of the game that convince me this game’s going to be around for a while, especially as more social features get added to the game.

Finally, the game gets you an excuse to get off your butt an exercise.  These Pokemon aren’t going to catch themselves.  Sure, you can use Insence to attract Pokemon to your location for a span of thirty minutes, but the real fun comes when you get out and take a walk.  Your almost guaranteed to find more Pokemon that way and you’ll burn some calories at the same time.  You can also hatch eggs as you walk, given that they are in incubators.  Eggs either take two, five, or ten kilometers to hatch, so you better start grinding away. Over the course of the past couple of days I have walked a total of seven miles.  I got lost in my neighborhood trying to find a rare Machop, but I didn’t mind.  It’s an excuse to get in shape, which is perfect for the coming Summer months.

pokemon go 3
via iDigital Times

Now at this point I have rattled off a lot about what makes this game great, but there are some fundamental features of the game that either need fixed or added.  It’s in no means a perfect game.  It’s still young which means there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s first talk about the actual game…because there isn’t much too it.  Catching Pokemon by throwing Poke Balls at them yields some strategy, but at the end of the day it just amounts to swiping a Poke Ball in the Pokemon’s direction.  The battles?  Well, there not so hot.  Each Pokemon has a total of two moves that they can use when you fight other Pokemon.  The combat consists of tapping the opposing Pokemon to attack and swiping left or right to dodge incoming attacks.  That’s all there is to it.  Remember that turn-based battle system that you were probably used to in the original Pokemon games?  Now it’s been relegated to an inaccurate touch-and-swipe minigame that essentially comes down to which Pokemon has the higher CP level.  You’re not battling human players when you are fighting at Gyms, which means a turn-based system would be tricky to implement when the opposing Pokemon isn’t being controlled by its trainer.  However, some sort of change needs to be made in order to make the battles more enticing.  It might not be the app’s biggest problem, but I would love to see a more strategic focus in the battle systems.

Right now, the biggest problem plaguing the app is its technical issues.  Oh boy there’s a lot of them.  Whether it’s server troubles or hard crashes, you are going to run into a fair share of issues as you walk around.  The game is fairly new and it’s received an overload of players pinging the servers, so this is a problem that should be expected.  I don’t think the guys and girls at Niantic Labs were expecting such a response to the app.  However, the amount of server issues and crashes indicate that the problem might be a bit tougher to fix.  Either that or the game will need some time to work itself out.  I’m fairly confident that these issues will be worked out over time, but their presence makes the game a touchy experience in the present.

pokemon go 4
via Pokemon Blog

Battery life is the other technical aspect that needs to be fixed.  The game will shred even the finest of phone batteries.  This stems from the fact that you have to keep the app open in order to register distance and catch Pokemon.  You can have it open in the background, but that’s not going to do you any good.  If you want to interact with the game, it has to be open at all times, which is bad news for your battery.  Pro tip: you can make your battery last longer by lowering your brightness.  It’s not much but it will help you, especially if you plan on going on a long endeavor through the wild.  Maybe even pack a portable battery to charge up your phone in times of need.  This problem can be fixed by allowing for background processes.  As I’m walking around, I would love to receive notifications if there is a Pokemon nearby or a Poke Stop to take advantage of.  Simple push notifications don’t seem like they would be tough to implement, but who knows.  Tracking your distance walked should also be handled in the background.  I shouldn’t have to have the app open in order to register that I’m walking.  If these aspects of the game could be handled in the background, it could go a long way to improving the app’s battery usage.

Pokemon Go is currently in beta, so there’s a good chance that the game’s going to improve in the coming weeks and months.  As it stands, the game is a lot of fun, partly because the fact that it’s Pokemon.  Right now the gameplay isn’t much, but it’s the thrill of catching them all that is going to keep players grinding away.  Is the app going to have staying power?  Probably, but only if Niantic bolsters the gameplay and improves the technical experience.  The fixes I mentioned above could go a long way in ensuring players stick around for the long run.  More Pokemon are presumably going to be added in the future, so the fun has only just begun.  Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a wild Rhydon somewhere in my neighborhood.  Good luck out there fellow Pokemon trainers.

pokemon go 5
via Concrete Playground