Tag Archives: Grand Theft Auto

Review: Bully

bully cover
via Neoseeker

Bully (PS2 – 2006) (PS4 – 2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver


I never remember high school being this intense.  In Rockstar’s PS2 classic Bully, which is now available on PS4, you take on the role of the new kid.  You start off pretty low on the high school hierarchy, but you eventually work your way up to bigger and better things.  Along the way you accomplish some weird, random, and insane things, stuff I never remember doing in high school…probably for good reason. (Probably) When you think of Rockstar, Bully might not be a game that comes to mind, but it’s a game that’s worth a good amount of praise.

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via Lakebit

As I mentioned before, Jimmy Hopkins is Bullworth Academy’s newest student.  After being expelled from numerous schools beforehand, which he is very proud of, Bullworth Academy is his final landing place, a place that will supposedly whip him into shape.  The school might be tough, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing stopping Jimmy from his habits.  After meeting some kids and making new friendships, Jimmy becomes determined to make his way up the high school totem pole, not stopping until you literally rule the school.  All of your classic high school cliques, including the nerds, jocks, greasers, and preps, are present and you have to make some alliances along the way if you want to rule them all.

Although your primary goal is clear from the get-go, the journey to achieve this goal is fun and often times ridiculous.  The game’s story and it’s writing is top notch and provided for numerous laughs, way more than I initially thought.  The dialogue is clever and the situations that Jimmy gets himself into are completely insane, especially as you get into the later chapters.  The story starts off pretty grounded, but then starts to go places as the game goes on, especially when the rest of the world, or in this case “the town,” opens up to the player. The characters that Jimmy comes into contact with, including the game’s antagonist Gary Smith, are all pretty enjoyable as well.  Gary Smith is a pretty big dick, so his characterization was pretty well done.

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via PS4 Pal

The thing I appreciate the most about Bully is the fact that it’s basically Grand Theft Auto, but instead of guns you have slingshots and stink bombs and instead of thugs and the police you have bullies and the school’s authority figures, who are absolutely ruthless by the way.  Technically there are also police in the game, which is kind of ridiculous in its own hilarious way.  Just like any other normal school, you should expect to be disciplined for violence against other students, or any other mischief for that matter, unless you can find a way to get away with it.  Bullworth Academy cracks down pretty hard on just about anything you do, but that shouldn’t worry players since getting away with your dirty deeds is pretty easy to do.  Just prepare to do a lot of running.  Running away from the school’s authority or the police is a majority of what you’ll be doing.  Life’s tough as a bully.

Bully’s mission structure favors short bite-sized missions over long and drawn-out affairs, which actually works to the game’s benefit.  A good portion of the missions involve you doing some pretty stupid things that often work best in shorter experiences.  You’ll partake in a majority of the missions on the academy’s grounds, but the story will also take you outside of the academy’s walls into the town of Bullworth, which is surprisingly big for what I expected.  There’s also a good amount of side missions, although most of them are relegated to fetch quests or beat-em-up missions.  Some of the missions might not be super imaginative, but I never found myself getting bored.  In addition to the missions, you can also partake in go-kart and other BMX-style races, carnival games, newspaper delivery, and combat training…because you know, that’s what high schoolers are into I guess.  There’s also a relationship component to the game that can lead to some hair-pulling fights depending on the girls you kiss.  Let’s just say there’s no shortage of trouble that you can get yourself into.

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Gameplay is where Bully starts to feel a little dated.  Combat handles pretty well and usually only involves punching or slingshot attacks from a distance.  Other weapons in the game, like firecrackers or potato guns, offer some variety in combat as well.  There’s also items like marbles and stink bombs that can give you the upper hand in fights as well.  The first part of the game is pretty tough since everybody hates you and wants to pick a fight, however, once you start to make more alliances and upgrade your arsenal, fights become a lot less frequent and when they do happen, they are much easier to handle.  You’re also able to ride bicycles and go karts, but these can get a little squirrely at times, especially the bicycle which I found myself wiping out on a lot if I wasn’t careful.  Perhaps the most frustrating part of the game were some of the classes, which are basically glorified mini games that you have to attend until you complete them.  (You can skip class, but that basically makes you a refugee in hiding until the class times are over.)  There are five classes in all, and most of them are either boring and unimaginative or frustratingly difficult.  I never remember Art class being that difficult.  Also, if Chemistry was as easy as just pressing buttons, then I’d probably be a scientist at NASA by now.  The classes are essential in that they grant you access to upgrades upon completion, but they are not fun whatsoever…which is maybe the most realistic thing about this game.

Never did I think a teenager’s rise up the high school totem pool would be so fun.  Bully provides a unique experience; unlike most traditional games we are used to.  Some of the game’s mechanics might not date well, but the overall experience still stands as one of Rockstar’s best.  This game makes me crave another dive into Bully’s world via a sequel, although that still remains a pipe dream at this point.  Now, this is the part where I would say I wish my high school experience was akin to this game, but then I realize how terrible that would be.  Bullworth is not a normal or sane school by any means, but boy was it fun.

bully score

Also available on PC and PS3.

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Review: Grand Theft Auto V

gta 5 coverGrand Theft Auto V (2013)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Adventure / Racing

Publisher: Rockstar Games, Take-Two Interactive

Developer: Rockstar North


When Grand Theft Auto V was released last year in the sea of climatic hype, I have to say that I missed the train.  I had the full intention of playing the game last year, but I knew that they were going to release the game for next-gen consoles…so I decided to sit back and wait it out.  Surprising no one, Rockstar eventually put their critically acclaimed hit on the PS4 and Xbox One, with some graphical changes, as well as a groundbreaking new game mode.  Not to mention, Grand Theft Auto Online was also in the mix.  It wasn’t just a normal port.

Let’s start with the three stars of the game, Michael De Santa, Trevor Phillips and Franklin Clinton.  Unlike past Grand Theft Auto games, Rockstar decided to incorporate three new characters into the storyline.  Michael is retired from the game of crime, enjoying his new life as well as trying to repair a broken marriage.  Franklin is a repo man working in South Los Santos.  He’s handy when it comes to the wheel and he can handle him self under pressure.  Then there’s Trevor.  Trevor, a heavy drug-addict and all around crazy-person, is everybody’s lovable psycho.  He’s a former military pilot and he is never afraid to take a challenge head on, employing his own brand of insanity to get the job done.  The three’s lives seem distant at first, but they ragtag group of criminals eventually team up together and start taking the crime world of Los Santos by storm.

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The story is heavily improved from previous installments.  There’s a bigger emphasis on the characters this time around and their relationships and business deals are all brought to the forefront.  The game contains a total of 69 story missions, with activities and events ranging all over the map.  There’s planes, drug deals, gang-banging, celebrity run-ins, family issues, federal involvement, private armies, city cops, bank heists, and much more packed into the tightly executed story.  The heists are by far the best parts of the story.  The game puts the pencil in your hand and gives you options on how you want to tackle the different heists.  All three characters come into play, as well as some hired hands that you bring in.  Some of the later missions are intense and electrifying, and the final mission really brings it all together and wraps the story into one satisfying bundle.

The city of Los Santos is by far the biggest Grand Theft Auto city thus far.  The open world spans the sprawling version of LA, as well as the surrounding Blaine County, which is Trevor’s domain.  Filling the city are a bunch of “Strangers and Freaks” missions which are a fancy name for side missions.  You meet some pretty intriguing characters in these missions and they usually pack a breath of fresh air amid all the regular story missions.  There are also a ton of hobbies and pastimes, as well as other miscellaneous things to do like street races, parachuting, hunting, random activities, stick-ups, darts, golf, tennis, and more.  Any person who thinks they will get bored in this city are crazy people.  You will never get bored.

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With such a big city, did Rockstar manage to make it look good?  Surprisingly they nailed it out of the park, especially on the next-gen versions of the game.  The city looks above amazing, with a ton of detail put into every nook and cranny.  The streets are lively, with a ton of people going every which way on their commute, giving a feeling of a fully-alive city.  There is also a ton of variety in the buildings and landmarks that populate the city.  Talking about it here isn’t doing the visuals any justice, its just stuff you have to see for yourself.

It’s probably appropriate to talk about the new play-style that Rockstar incorporated into the next-gen versions, which is the brand new first-person mode.  This may not seem groundbreaking to some, but if you are a Grand Theft Auto fan, you are well aware that this is Rockstar’s first foray into the first-person realm of gaming with the series.  It opens up a brand new perspective on the game, making combat easier and more fun to take part in, as well as making the game look so much nicer.  I played the entirety of the game in first-person, besides the driving.  Driving in first-person view is nice because it gives you a fully detailed view of the cars’ interiors, but it makes it a little tougher to see where you’re going.  Seeing the game through first-person is truly revolutionary in every sense of the word.

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With such a wide variety of activities to do in the game, Rockstar had to put a lot of work into the gameplay for each of these activities.  There are a couple of areas that could be improved, including the combat and other tiny miscellaneous activities, but they’ve pretty much got everything working real well.  The driving is super tight and activities like golf and tennis work really great, despite my hesitations.  Flying in the game is also a little tough, but it’s nothing I can knock Rockstar for.  Flying is tough in general, but I think they did a good job of replicating the activity.  It took some getting used to, especially landing, but it all worked out in the end.

As for online play, it only makes sense opening the world of Grand Theft Auto up to other players, which is why Grand Theft Auto Online is such a great idea.  In short, the online component of the game puts you in the same exact city of Los Santos that you are familiar with from the story mode with the same activities, but puts others players on your map as well.  With these other players, you can participate in different jobs, races, death matches, and a plethora of other activities.  There’s even a robust job creator that puts the tools in the players hands to create their own missions which they can share and play with others.  It’s a cool feature that will most likely extend the replayability factor by a lot.

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Each player in Grand Theft Auto Online gets their own customizable character and their own car and are free to do whatever they like in the city.  You gain money and experience points for doing various things, which in turn, increases your rank, giving you more abilities, modes, activities, and other unlocks.  One you raise enough money, you can even buy your own property to store more cars and call your own.  Grand Theft Auto Online is a great concept that really works well.  It’s a little buggy at times and some things don’t work totally right, but once more patches come out, it will only get better, especially with the announcement of heists coming to the mode, the best part about the story mode.

Grand Theft Auto V is a stellar experience.  I enjoyed my entire time with the game.  Michael, Franklin, and Trevor are all great characters in their own respects and the situation that they get themselves into during the course of the adventure are all great.  There is also so much to do in a city that looks every ounce of amazing.  If you own any of the next-gen systems, including the PC in a couple of months, I heavily recommend you diving into Rockstar’s world if you haven’t already.  It’s an experience that doesn’t disappoint, an experience that lived up to every level of hype that it received.

gta 5 score

Review: Video Games: The Movie

via MCM Buzz
via MCM Buzz

Video Games: The Movie (2014)

NR / 105 min

Documentary / Animation / History

Starring: Sean Astin, Al Alcorn, Peter Armstrong

Director: Jeremy Snead


Movies and video games have always had a weird relationship.  Big corporate companies would often cash in on the big movie releases of the summer, making video game adaptations to go alongside these blockbusters.  They always fell short, with the exception of a few.  On the other hand, we are starting to hear a lot about movies based off video games.  Assassins Creed, World Of Warcraft, and Uncharted have all been in talks to receive movie counterparts.  What about a movie based on video games as a whole?  Well, Video Games: The Movie had the heart and soul, but ultimately didn’t make the mark.

The documentary takes a look at the story of video games, and the people and events that got them to where they are today as one of the entertainment world’s biggest industries.  The documentary wasted no time displaying the graphs and charts that proved video game’s dominance in the entertainment market.  I didn’t think this portion of the project was necessary, considering I didn’t need any convincing that video games are on top.

via Geek Tyrant
via Geek Tyrant

Narrated by Sean Astin, Video Games: The Movie contains a bunch of interviews and bits from some of the biggest names in the industry, as well as the journalistic industry that covers them.  We saw the likes of Cliff Bleszinski (who was also the executive producer on the project), Al Alcorn, Nolan Bushnell, Will Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, Donald Faison, Peter Armstrong, and many more.  I was pleasantly surprised about the amount of talent that was on board.  There was little narration during the course of the story.  The story was told by the game’s creators and the people that influenced them as time went on.

via Film Dump
via Film Dump

There was a timeline of video games that basically served as the backbone for the documentary.  We went up and down the timeline, exploring the games, systems, creators, and other events that impacted the industry, as well as its fans.  Along the way, the documentary covered some of the industry’s biggest issues, like the big Industry Crash, as well as the influence of games like Grand Theft Auto on violence.  All of these issues were covered on a surface level depth, and they don’t really dive deep into any one of them.  They did a good job at mostly covering everything, but maybe that’s the problem of a movie trying to document video games as a whole.  How do you cover everything at a satisfying level?

The biggest problem about the documentary was its lack of new material; stuff we haven’t seen before.  I’ve read a lot about the history of the video game industry, and I’ve seen a fair share of historic videos.  Nothing that Video Games: The Movie covered was necessarily new, or enlightening.  There was a notable absence of talk about the mobile gaming industry, including smartphones.  They have had a profound effect on gaming, and they were nowhere to be seen.  I also would have liked to have seen some other issues plaguing the industry, like the free-to-play arena, as well as the issue of online gaming and harassment.  Perhaps this documentary wasn’t the right venue for issues like these, but I would have liked to see something different than just “the history of video games.”

via Highsnobiety
via Highsnobiety

There were times were the documentary felt like a promotional video for video games.  In between periods of interviews, I would see these drawn out highlight reels showing scenes from video games of yesteryear, as well as the games we are playing today.  These “highlight reels” of sorts weren’t really needed, and they didn’t offer anything to the table.  They were just there to get people excited about gaming in general.  If I wanted to do that, I would just go watch a batch of trailers.  I didn’t need a feature length film to do that for me.

Hearing the story from some of the industry’s greats was a nice touch, but Video Games: The Movie could have been so much more.  There was a lack of depth, which was surprising to me.  Instead, we got a bunch of fan service and highlight reels to get everybody feeling good about games.  I would much rather have a documentary covering specific issues or events in video games’ history, with more insight.  The documentary suffers from being too broad, and trying to do too much.  If you want a good documentary on video games, I would probably point you to Indie Game: The Movie.  It’s much more intriguing than Video Games: THE HYPEFEST VIDEO GAMES ARE GREAT YOU GUYS!

video games the movie score

Review: Watch Dogs

Chicago is a beautiful city in every respect.  I have only been there once but when I visited the city a couple of years ago, I instantly grew a liking for it.  There is a vibrant culture among it’s residents and the buildings that inhabit the city reflect this image.  Chicago was home to the bootleggers and the mob business way back in the day, which means it was also a city of organized crime.  The city has evolved to be one of America’s greatest cities, and also the first city to incorporate the ctOS city-wide operating system…at least in Watch Dogs‘ fictional reality.

watch dogs ctos

The concept of a “city-wide operating system” is extremely stupid when you think about it.  In theory, it is a great way to connect a city and make it operate at a level unmatched by other cities.  It could bring people together and make the quality of life for it’s residents better than ever before.  However, there are some major cons that are kind of overlooked in Watch Dogs.   If a hacker were to gain access to this system (which they obviously do), it would just cause problems on top of problems.  Hackers could theoretically bring down a city if they really wanted to.  Yes, you could increase the security software, but that just makes it more of a game for hackers.

Thus, we have a game about a hacker.  His name is Aiden Pearce.  He is a “vigilante” who has a lot on his mind.  The game starts off with a hit that is ordered on Aiden’s family.  They end up killing Aiden’s niece in a bad car accident.  Aiden is struck with emotion.  He wants to gain vengeance on the killer, the people who killed his niece.  He will literally rip up a city to find the people behind the murder.  This would make sense in any other story, but not in the way that Watch Dogs approaches it.

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My main stipulation about the story is why would a man be so devastated by his niece’s death that he has to find the killer so much.   It’s not like they tried to kill him too.  He could have just gone to her funeral, grieved, and then went on with life, just like everybody else that he meets that was close to her.  But nope, Aiden ends up tearing up an entire city because he just “can’t let go”.  This also brings up something else.  What about the families that Aiden affects.  Aiden surely kills a bunch of people that have families.  A bunch of people that live other lives.  A bunch of people that have loved ones waiting for them to come home after a long work day.  It just doesn’t make sense.  It actually makes Aiden seem more like the bad guy.  Because he lost a loved one, everybody else has to lose them too.  Throughout the story, Aiden’s family starts to notice this too, and they see the man that he really is.  He is a cold blooded killer.  A bloodthirsty killer.  Luckily there is a chance for Aiden to redeem himself at the very end.  However it is up to the player to make the choice.

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The story doesn’t make sense half the time with plot holes and contradictions, but it still doens’t take away from the fact that the story is still intriguing in nature.  I am a tech junkie myself and the story explores a lot of topics that relate to the advancement in technology like security and privacy.  Aiden also meets some other hackers along the way.  My favorite character that you meet is T-Bone.  I don’t want to spoil much, but lets just say he has a great attitude about the whole situation that he is put and he has some pretty good moments himself.  The two “main” bad guys in the story are also pretty good.  I ended up hating them by the climax, and that was there intention.

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With the story aside, there is lots of things for Aiden to do in the city of Chicago to bide his time.  The city of Chicago is massive and fully populated with cars, people, and buildings.  Its a living, breathing, open world that makes the game almost feel like a futuristic Grand Theft Auto.  Since you are a hacker with access to the ctOS, you can manipulate the system to your liking.  You can hack street lights to cause traffic jams, you can cause a black-out, you can hack citizens for their bank accounts, and so much more.  You gain more abilities via a skill tree system.  You gain skill points by leveling up and gaining experience by doing different activities and completing missions.

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The game allows you to “profile” the city’s residents to invade into their privacy.  You can reveal people’s dark secrets…some of them being comically dark.  There are also privacy missions that allow you to creep into a person’s home.  These were some of the funnier moments of Watch Dogs.  There are also city games that allow you to test your luck, skill, and more.  There are also contracts that you can take up that can also net you experience and money.  There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in the city of Chicago.

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The combat works pretty well too.  It’s comparable to similar 3rd person games like Grand Theft Auto.  However, there is a pretty big emphasis on stealth.  You are a hacker, which means that you should be able to “hack your way through any situation”. You can manipulate your environment to take out enemies and you can also hack into your enemies grenades and com systems to make the fight turn in your favor.  Unfortunately, most of the times it is just easier to pull out your big gun and just start unloading bullets into your enemies.  This is a shame because I felt wrong in doing so.  I feel like I could have approached the situation in a stealthier way, but it’s just always easier to take out your enemies via the bullet.

There’s also online missions and activities that you can take part in, but I have to say, they were my least favorite parts of the game.  They can turn out to be frustrating and annoying when you first start out.  As you get better at them, they become boring and too easy.  There didn’t seem to be too much middle ground.

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Although there are a ton of ways that Watch Dogs can be improved,  it still turned out to be one of my favorite games of the year so far.  It has lots of intriguing ideas, some farther explored than others.  When they make Watch Dogs 2, I hope that they can nail down the story and make it a little more believable.  Ubisoft has a good franchise on their hands and their first entry in the series was a good step in the right direction.

Grand Theft Auto V delayed till September

Everybody knows that Rockstar usually releases their Grand Theft Auto games in May; it’s pretty much a fact at this point.  But they are stepping off the normal path with Grand Theft Auto V as it is delayed till September 17th.  Rockstar said they are delaying it so they could have some “additional development time”.

Rockstar released their official statement on their website:

Dear all,

Today, we have an official release date to share with you: Grand Theft Auto V will arrive in stores on September 17, 2013.

We know this is about four months later than originally planned and we know that this short delay will come as a disappointment to many of you, but, trust us, it will be worth the extra time. GTAV is a massively ambitious and complex game and it simply needs a little more polish to be of the standard we and, more importantly, you require.

To all Grand Theft Auto fans, please accept our apologies for the delay, and our promise that the entire team here is working very hard to make the game all it can be. We are doing all we can to help ensure it will meet if not exceed your expectations come September – we thank you for your support and patience.

Yours,
The GTA Team

This might anger some fans due to the fact that they will  now have to wait longer till they can get their hands on the game.  In reality, this can actually be considered good news because we now have a cemented release date and news that the development team is fixing the product to make it even better.

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