Tag Archives: EA

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: 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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A More Genuine Video Game Award Show

Over the past couple of years, video game award shows have been anything but special, or entertaining for that matter.  They have mostly been a bunch of PR babble and celebrities paid to act like they actually play and enjoy video games.  Spike TV has been the channel that has hosted the video game award shows over the past couple of years, but that was not the case for this year.

Geoff Keighley, a video game journalist of GametrailersTV fame, was the brains behind a new type of award show.  One that was independent, and free from TV.  It would be an award show for the gamers, run by gamers.  The industry would play a big part in them.  Thus, for the first time ever, The Game Awards was brought to life as an internet only broadcast, taking place at the AXIS Theater in Las Vegas.

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Numerous members of the industry, as well as journalists and fans alike, crowded the theater to watch the inaugural year of the award show.  For the first year, the show actually felt genuine, and not fake.  (However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the audience cheer heard on the live stream was fake).  The Game Awards did a lot of good things, and they took some steps in the right direction.

However, after forty minutes and only one award handed out, you know there are still some problems that hover over the show.  The show had more of an E3 vibe to it than an award show.  There were countless “World Premieres” as developers showed off their newest trailers and sneak at games to come in the future.  There were some cool announcements here and there (including some new ones) but they mostly got tiresome as we hit the later parts of the show.  The show also lasted a whopping three hours.  It was a little on the long side, and their seemed to be a lot of filler that clogged up the show in between.

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With that being said, how about we actually get to some of the stuff that took place during the show…

The ceremony kicked off with a pretty neat musical performance by Koji Kondo, one of the main music composers at Nintendo.  He played the piano as Mario appeared on the big screens behind him.  It was a cool little retro homage to the early days of gaming.  Then Reggie Fils-Aime (the President of Nintendo of America), the crowd favorite, came out to start the show.  He then directed our attention to a video that had Shigeru Miyamoto highlighting some of Nintendo’s biggest releases coming next year, including the likes of Majora’s MaskMario Maker, and Star Fox for the Wii U.  The show was off to a good start.

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Kiefer Sutherland, who was the voice of Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series, came out to introduce the mastermind behind the series, Hideo Kojima.  Sutherland’s presence was actually a nice surprise.  His little talk about where games have come was even better.  Kojima gave us a little sneak peek at the new Metal Gear Online.  The little trailer showed some of the tactical strategies you can employ as a team to carry out your mission.  The game looks beautiful, but the online components don’t seem like they fit the Metal Gear style.

After that, we then got our first award of the night, which went to Trey Parker for Best Performance in a Game.  Trey Parker did a ton of voices for the game South Park Stick of Truth.  The best part about the whole thing was Tim Schafer, the presenter of the award, who cracked some jokes about the fake nature of past video game award shows.  It was actually pretty funny and clever.

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It was then Fullbright, a small independent studio known for their hit game Gone Home, who took the stage to give everybody a surprise teaser for their new game Tacoma.  Coming in 2016, the game looks like it has an retro art-deco atmosphere to it.  If it’s anything like Gone Home, it should be pretty interesting.

Then there were more announcements and sneak peeks, which was slowly becoming the theme of the show.  We got a look at Bloodborne, a PlayStation exclusive RPG that borrows a lot from the Dark Souls games.  We also got an announcement of Banner Saga 2.

Some other highlights of the show included EA’s Peter Moore, who came up to announce Hazelight Studios, a new development team working on a next-gen game.  We got a little teaser, but it only showcased two men on a train car looking off into the distance.  Nothing much, but still intriguing.  We also got a cool laser light musical performance that showcased some old video game music of yore.  It was weird, but a good kind of weird.

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Nintendo was the big winner of the night, taking home three awards by the end.  They won Best Fighting Game for Super Smash Bros for Wii U, Best Developer, as well as Best Sports/Racing Game for Mario Kart 8.  They also ended the show with an exclusive look at the next Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U.  The sneak peek showcased some of the open world traversal features that they were working on, as well as the scope of the game itself.  The game looked pretty, and the fans loved it as well.  Nintendo had a great night at the awards.

Probably one of the best moments of the show was when the Industry Icon award was handed out.  The new award was designed to honor icons in the industry who have put in a lot of work to get them to where they are today.  It was Sierra, the studio behind classics such as Kings Quest, that got the spotlight.  The founders of the studio, Ken Williams and Roberta Williams, received the award.  There was a video that showcased some of the work that the two worked on, featuring some of the history of the studio.  The two really deserved it.  They also brought out some developers working on the revival of the series, aptly named Kings Quest.  They gave us a look at the stylistic 3D re-imagining of the series.  Some thought that this game took the prize for game of the show.

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Some other notable awards included Best Shooter, which surprisingly went to Far Cry 4, Best Indie Game, which went to Shovel Knight, and Best Handheld/Mobile Game, which went to Hearthstone.  However, the award of the show, Game of the Year, was saved for the end.  Geoff Keighley came out on stage and announced the winner, which was Dragon Age Inquisition. The game, which has gotten high praise the past couple of weeks, seemed like a sure lock for the award.

The award show concluded with a nice, and surprisingly intimate, performance from Imagine Dragons.  It turns out that they are pretty big video game fans, as evidence by their performance of some of the music from the Legend of Zelda.  They were also joined by Koji Kondo, who played piano in the background.  Kondo was a good sport through it all, and it was a nice conclusion to the show.

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As I said before, the Video Game Awards 2014 was a big step in the right direction.  The show has rallied a lot of support from the industry, and it seemed like they were free of the PR antics that plagued past shows.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done however to make it spot on.  Nevertheless, the show was still entertaining after all.  But, I got tired of “World Premiere” by the end of the show.  They need to cut that stuff out.

Here’s the full list of winners from the night:

JURY VOTED

GAME OF THE YEAR: Dragon Age Inquisition

DEVELOPER OF THE YEAR: Nintendo

BEST INDEPENDENT GAME: Shovel Knight

BEST MOBILE/HANDHELD GAME: Hearthstone

BEST NARRATIVE: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

BEST SCORE/SOUNDTRACK: Destiny

BEST PERFORMANCE: Trey Parker as Various Voices, South Park The Stick of Truth

GAMES FOR CHANGE: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

BEST REMASTER: Grand Theft Auto V

BEST SHOOTER: Far Cry 4

BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE: Shadow of Mordor

BEST ROLE PLAYING GAME: Dragon Age Inquisition

BEST FIGHTING GAME: Super Smash Bros Wii U

BEST FAMILY GAME: Mario Kart 8

BEST SPORTS/RACING GAME: Mario Kart 8

BEST ONLINE EXPERIENCE: Destiny

FAN CHOICE

MOST ANTICIPATED GAME: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

ESPORTS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Matt “NaDeSHoT” Haag

ESPORTS TEAM OF THE YEAR: Ninjas In Pajamas

TRENDING GAMER: TotalBisquit

BEST FAN CREATION: Twitch Plays Pokemon