Tag Archives: M

Review: DOOM

doom-cover
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.

doom-2
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.

doom-3
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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Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

batman e1 cover
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.

batman e1 1
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.

batman e1 2
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.

batman e1 3
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.

batman e1 score

Review: The Walking Dead: Michonne

michonne cover
via PC Gaming Wiki

The Walking Dead: Michonne (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games


The Walking Dead games are what put Telltale Games on the map.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true but they have definitely given the company the most success.  Both season one and season two of their episodic adventure games based on the comic books were critically acclaimed and set the company on the right direction.  With Telltale’s latest installment in the franchise, The Walking Dead: Michonne, they decided to take a different direction in more ways than one, but some of these directions don’t pay off in the end.

michonne 1
via YouTube

Unlike the previous two adventures, The Walking Dead: Michonne hones in on the story of Michonne, a protagonist from the comics.  She’s a stoic figure who doesn’t really talk much unless she needs to.  She’s also dealing with some psychological demons involving her two dead daughters, which is the aspect of her character that the story focuses the most on.  For those wondering, the story takes place between the comic’s issues 126 and 139.  (I haven’t read the comics myself, or seen the show for that matter, so I wouldn’t know.)

Another thing that Telltale does differently with Michonne is its three-episode format, unlike the normal five-six-episode format that most are used to.  There’s nothing wrong with going down the short-form adventure route, but it makes developing a meaningful and impactful story pretty difficult.  It can be done, but it’s tough to do.  Unfortunately, Michonne falls short of giving us an impactful story, which is due in part to the short time we have with the characters.  I grew attached to Michonne, as she was the main protagonist, but all of the other side characters and antagonists meant nothing to me really.  They had their moments, sure, but I wanted to spend more time with them in the end.  Just like the previous games, there will be deaths and tough decisions to make, but they ultimately didn’t matter to me in the end.  It also doesn’t help that the episodes were short in comparison.  I just didn’t feel that attached to what was going on onscreen.

michonne 3
via Rocket Chainsaw

Speaking of decisions, the game plays just as you’d expect.  Telltale hasn’t reinvented the wheel with Michonne, giving you an all-too-familiar gameplay experience.  You will participate in quick time events.  You will pick dialogue choices.  You will walk around small little environments.  You will make some pivotal decisions.  These decisions don’t really have consequence however.  The decisions also weren’t that hard to make either.  It almost felt like Telltale was just laboring through the motions, pumping out a paint-by-the-numbers experience similar to their other games without really putting any thought into what they were doing.

This is all a shame because The Walking Dead: Michonne has a gripping drama in its hands.  Michonne has a tough and quiet exterior, but on the inside there is a bevy of bottled up guilt and sadness that literally haunt her as she moves along.  During her travels she comes across a friendly crew of sailors as well as a small band of vicious and deadly survivors.  How she deals with these new people, as well as the situations she is thrust into, are by far the most enticing aspect the game has to offer.  Telltale has an interesting story to tell, it’s just too bad its brought down by some of the more technical facets of the game.

michonne 2
via Game Over

If you were a fan of the previous Walking Dead installments by Telltale (which most probably are) then this might warrant a look.  There’s some cool stuff the game brings to the table, but just know what you’re getting into.  Wane your expectations.  If your new to the series, then it’s hard to justify a play through of The Walking Dead: Michonne.  I would recommend the previous two installments, but that’s about it.

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Also available on PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Review: Heavy Rain

heavy rain poster
via Giant Bomb

Heavy Rain (2010 – PS3) (2016 – PS4)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Quantic Dream, SCE XDev Studio


Losing someone you love is one of the toughest things we have to go through as humans.  It’s even tougher if they’re young.  You end up asking a lot of questions and you sometimes question yourself, especially if you had a chance at preventing the loss.  In Heavy Rain, a game by David Cage and Quantic Dream, a father loses his child and is on the brink of losing another.  Feelings of guild, depression, love, and contempt all rear their head as he tries to save his son.  How far are you willing to go to save someone you love from the clench of death?  This is the primary theme that drives Heavy Rain, as well as its four main characters.

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Tension has been rising as a serial killer, calling himself the “Origami Killer,” has been killing innocent children by kidnapping them from their parents and drowning them in rain water.  Their deaths are marked by the presence of an origami figure, placed in the kids’ cold lifeless hands.  The latest victim is Shaun Mars, son of Ethan Mars, one of the four playable characters.  He’s kidnapped during the course of the game and he only has a couple of days to live.  It becomes a race against the clock as Ethan is given a set of trials that test his love for his son and his willingness to go through hell to save him.

Meanwhile, you play as three other characters who are all concurrently after the Origami Killer in one way or another.  Norman Jayden is a criminal profiler who works for the FBI.  He is contracted by the town’s local police department to investigate the recent killings and he uses the help of his gadget ARI (Added Reality Interface) to help with the investigations.  Madison Paige is a freelance journalist and photographer who ends up meeting Ethan at a local motel.  It’s through this chance meeting that she starts to become involved in the Origami Killer’s doings and she begins to start a private investigation of her own.  Finally, there’s Scott Shelby, an ex-cop turned private investigator who has been contracted by the Origami Killer’s victims’ families to investigate their murders.  Each of these characters, including Ethan, have their own stories and motivations that drive their actions.  The game flips between perspectives, giving you control of each of these characters as the game goes on.

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There’s a lot of heavy material that the game covers and there’s a lot of tense moments that will make you sweat, quite literally.  There’s a lot of twist and turns, including one big one towards the end that caught me off guard.  However, after going back and examining the events that led to this twist, everything made sense and came together, which is an indication of a really well-written twist.  There’s also some plot-holes here and there, but they aren’t too offensive and they don’t detract too much from the story.  The performances were also really well done.  The characters you play as and interact with were all motion captured, which really helped convey emotion and feeling.  You could see the emotion in character’s faces, giving them more life and believability.

The game is an adventure game where all of your choices affect the story in ways that are predictable and not so predictable.  Gameplay mainly takes the form of quick-time events and dialogue choices.  If a character dies due to a failed quick-time sequence, then the story goes on.  There’s no game over screens to save you.  The story is constantly adapting to your choices (and your mistakes) and contains a multitude of different endings based upon the story’s happenings.  A lot of games claim that your choices affect the story but there are few that have high-impact decisions.  Every little choice you make in Heavy Rain affects the story in big and small ways.  Even the smallest of details, like the color of a character’s clothes, can play a big part in the way the story plays out.

heavy rain 3

One of the things I really liked about the way the game handles its quick-time events is the way they conveyed emotion through these events.  As you play through the different sequences, buttons will appear on the screen indicating a quick-time event.  Sometimes these indicators will be calm and stable while other times they will be shaking uncontrollably.  This can lead to some frustrating moments where mistakes are easy to be made, but this works in the game’s context.  If a character is nervous and at the precipice of danger, then they are more likely to make hasty decisions and mistakes.  You always know what the character is going through based on the presentation of the quick-time events, which is brilliant and works really well in conveying story without explicitly describing how a character feels.

Heavy Rain was initially released in 2010 on the PS3, but I have been playing the PS4 remaster, which gives the already good looking game a complete HD makeover.  The game looks amazing and even the slightest details like the boxes you find in a convenience store are all retouched and redone in a higher resolution.  The game still looks a little dated at moments but the gorgeousness is undeniable.  Unfortunately, the movement mechanics were not redone for the remaster.  Movement is handled by pressing down the right trigger while moving the stick in the direction you want to move.  It’s a dated mechanic that does not hold up well at all.  I often found myself running into walls and scooting past an object in an environment that I wanted to interact with because I was trying to grasp the character’s movement.  It’s not a thing that gets better with time either.  I was still having annoyances with the mechanic late in the game.

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David Cage’s game took the gaming industry by storm when it was first released.  Heavy Rain, despite some of its mechanical woes, still holds up extremely well today, thanks to some of Quantic Dream’s remastering work.  There’s a thrilling story to be told, one that will most likely move you in one way or another.  All of the characters are dynamic, interesting, and even relatable in some ways.  Heavy Rain was on of PS3’s best games and that quality still stays true today.

heavy rain score

Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

ethan carter coverThe Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: The Astronauts, Nordic Games, EuroVideo Medien GmbH

Developer: The Astronauts


Never have I felt more alone while playing a video game than I have in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.  The game literally throws you straight into the world with no guidance or hand-holding.  I’m serious, the game straight up tells you that from the very beginning.  There was a lush landscape in front of me that was just calling my name.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is game chock full of discovery, beauty, mystery, and sometimes horrifying imagery.  There’s some weird things going on and it’s your job to investigate.

ethan carter 1
via Push Square

Players assumes the role of a nameless detective who’s tasked with finding a missing boy.  As a detective, you have the power to rip holes in reality, giving you visuals of horrible crimes that have taken place within the game’s world.  It’s necessary to go around and put these visuals together to solve the mystery of the missing child.  A lot of this legwork involves stumbling upon a rift in reality in the environment and then proceeding to investigate the rift.  A lot of these investigations involve piecing together the events of crimes and forming a clear picture of what took place.

The game sets a tone of loneliness as there is no one to be found as you roam around the gorgeously lush world.  The sense of discovery that the game provides is immense.  The game doesn’t tell you where to go…leaving the exploration to the player.  There’s forests, lakes, cottages, and caves that you will end up exploring.  Each of these environments are beautiful and look wonderful on the PS4.  I haven’t seen the PC version but I can only imagine that the visuals are heightened on the platform.  Sometimes it’s a little tough to figure out where you need to go next, but you’ll most likely stumble upon the places you need to go without having to worry about it.

ethan carter 2
via New Game Network

The amount of interaction you have with the world is limited, but the game does a good job at enticing you to move forward.  Most of the gameplay involves pressing a button to open up a visual of a previous crime or walking around and piecing together different events of a crime. There’s also some lite puzzle solving, but nothing that will drive you crazy. That’s about it.  There’s not much to be found in terms of gameplay, but the exploration more than makes up for the lack of interaction that you have with the world.  There was a multitude of times where I just wandered away from my objective and just took in the sights and sounds.  There were many vistas and landscapes that seemed screenshot worthy.  In fact, 98% of the game is screenshot worthy.  98% is an arbitrary number…there’s no science behind it.

Remember the game Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture?  Yeah, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is basically that game but better in almost every way.  (Graphics wise, the two are comparable) In both games you are walking around the environment piecing together the events that took place prior.  There’s a sense of mystery and intrigue in both games, but TVOEC captured my interest way more than EHGTTR.  The story in TVOEC is a lot more interesting and gave me more incentive to explore and dig deeper.

ethan carter 3
via New Game Network

I feel like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that passed everybody by.  It didn’t make a big splash when it was first released and the talk surrounding the game waned as weeks went on.  Hell, I even passed up the game when it first came out.  I remember looking at it and having interest in playing it, but I never went back to it.  I am glad I finally visited this short and unique experience.  Its full of interesting ideas and intrigue-driven exploration.  The game also looks fantastic, probably one of the prettiest I have seen in years.  It’s an extremely immersive experience that is worth sinking some time in.

ethan carter score

Also available on PC.

Review: Three Fourths Home

three fourths home cover
via PS3 Life

Three Fourths Home (2014)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Digerati Distribution

Developer: [bracket]games


There’s something about long car drives through the middle of nowhere.  They’re therapeutic and relaxing.  How about adding some rain into the mix?  The rain drops bead up on the windshield of your car as you continue on your drive.  There’s really nothing like the experience of the open road and the pleasant sights, sounds, and smells of a spring rain.  Now, what would make this experience ten times worse?  What if you replaced the rain with a tree-splitting tornado and the open road silence with a stressful conversation with your family that you haven’t talked to in a while?  That’s basically the anxiety-inducing premise of Three Fourths Home, an interactive visual novel.

three fourths home 1
via I Play PSVita

The interactive piece of fiction places you in the shoes of Kelly Meyers, a young girl traveling home through the corn-fields of Nebraska.  She has just recently moved back in with her parents and her brother after being gone for some time.  She left home in the first place to attend college, but hasn’t kept in touch with her family as much as she might’ve wanted to.  On the way home, things start to go bad as big storm starts to kick in.  Making matters worse, you’re on the phone with your mom talking about a whole slate of different topics ranging from school to your dad’s drinking problem.  Kelly’s family take turns passing the phone around as they put her through the gauntlet of family drama…the last thing you need as your pushing 80-90 mph in order to make it home before the Tornado gets the better of you.

You don’t do much in Three Fourths Home besides navigating text choices during the phone conversation with your family.  There’s moments were you don’t have a choice in how to respond, but it’s mostly on you to decide how you want the conversation to go.  You can be negative or positive in the way you talk with your family.  You can burn bridges or mend them.  It’s all up to you.  The conversations start at the surface level but as storm ramps up, so does the intensity of the drama.  The storm taking place outside your car is indicative of the intensity of the conversation your having with your family…which is really cool.

three fourths home 2
via Vandal

Visuals play a key part in what makes Three Fourths Home so unique.  The game’s art style is primarily black and white.  It gives the game a dreary and depressing tone, which fits perfectly with what’s happening on your journey back home.  Kelly’s in a pretty crappy situation, in more ways than one, and the visuals reflect this in every way.  The sound design, consisting mostly of sounds of rain, thunder, and wind, meshes well with what’s taking place as well.  Three Fourths Home does a pretty bang-up job of immersing players into its tense atmosphere.

Some of the controls are a little wonky and they can take some time to get used to.  I found myself repeatedly pressing the wrong buttons, causing me to in turn choose the wrong dialogue options.  It wasn’t a major problem but it led to some annoying situations that put me down a path that I didn’t want to be in.  You’re driving a car for the entirety of the short little experience, so you have to hold in one of the triggers to keep the car, and the conversation, moving.  This leaves players with an awkward control scheme that might not be too familiar.

three fourths home 3
via Game Planet

The writing is well done and searing and makes it easy to picture the people you are talking to in your head.  During the course of the game you never see Kelly’s family, but the writing leaves you room to form those characters in your head.  The game is short, lasting roughly 1-2 hours, but it builds up its characters and makes you care about them in the short amount of time.  There were times where I wished there was a little more visually going on, but the stark atmosphere of the long open road does enough more than enough to keep players going.

Three Fourths Home is short and to the point, but it tells a deep and painful story about the reality of leaving your family hanging for a couple of years.  The game succeeds in that it makes you sit back and reflect about your family and how much you talk to them.  It’s eye-opening in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  There’s a couple of rough patches here and there but this short little interactive piece of fiction is something special and worth a try.  It’s not that expensive and it will leave you moved in some form or fashion.

three fourths home score

Review: Firewatch

firewatch coverFirewatch (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Panic

Developer: Campo Santo


What is Firewatch?  It’s a question that has been asked multiple times leading up to the game’s release as a joke, but also in seriousness as well.  It’s because the game, developed by Campo Santo, was largely a mystery.  Details on aspects like the story and gameplay were scarce and hard to find.  Demos were shown and previews were written, but there was never a good sense as to what Firewatch was actually about.  The game is now upon us and after playing it, I now have the answer to that question.  Firewatch is a narrative-driven experience that delivers a memorable experience along with some frustrations.

firewatch 1
via Super Gameplay

The game follows the story of Henry, a man on retreat from his issue-ridden life.  His wife is struggling with the effects of early onset dementia, which devastates Henry.  As an escape, he decides to move out to the wilderness of Wisconsin to work as a fire lookout.  He’s alone for the most part, aside from a handheld radio that connects him to fellow fire lookout Delilah, who is serving in another lookout tower farther away.  On the first day, Henry is tasked with investigating the usage of illegal fireworks in the forest, which leads him on a walk through the beautiful and lush Wisconsin forest.  However, what seems like just an ordinary job turns into a deeper and more involved mystery as you start to run into some strange things.  Henry’s normal fire lookout duties are put on the backburner as he and Delilah work to uncover the strange mystery clouding the wilderness.

The game starts off very strong, beginning with a text-based sequence serving up the backstory on Henry and his wife.  It’s an emotional wrecking-ball that slaps you pretty hard.  The game then throws you into the forest where you are introduced to Delilah as well as your duties.  As the game goes on, the story starts to trail off.  I was hoping that the story would dive deeper into Henry’s motivation for leaving his problems behind as an act of escapism, but instead, the game goes places that I did not expect.  Luckily the ending picks things back up a bit, but the journey to the conclusion was a little weak and aimless.  With that being said, the story was still memorable but it could have used some work.  It had the potential to be something so much more.

firewatch 2
via Only SP

Dialog between Henry and Delilah was witty and generally fantastic.  You never meet Delilah in person during the short duration of the game, but I still felt like I knew a lot about her.  As you walk around, Henry and Delilah talk about their lives and you start to realize how similar the two actually are.  They’re both dealing with their struggles and problems and their relationship starts to grow as the days go by.  There’s a bunch of jokes and sarcasm thrown around, but some of the jokes don’t land.  However, I found myself laughing more than shaking my head.  Some of the best moments include Henry’s confrontation with a pair of skinny-dipping teenagers…because how would you deal with something like that?

The game shines in its environmental storytelling.  Roaming around the National Forest was a therapeutic and breathtaking experience.  The game’s visual style, designed by artists like Olly Moss, is fantastic and really makes the game stand out.  The amount of interaction that the game gives you makes the experience more immersive as well.  I found myself getting lost in the world, stumbling upon secret caves and little valleys.  The game is short so the map isn’t as big as most open world games, but it felt large.

firewatch 3
via Thumbsticks

The downside of having an immersive forest to explore is the chore of navigating the world with a compass and a map.  I understand Campo Santo’s decision to exclude an interactive map screen and waypoints, but the actual task of walking around with a map in one hand and a compass in the other made me realize how bad at directions I am.  The game’s characters do a good job at telling you what direction your next objectives are, but I still found myself going down the wrong pathways or running into trees.  The fact that there is some backtracking doesn’t help the case either.

I had a fun experience with Firewatch.  There are a ton of things to like about it.  It’s just too bad that things like an in cohesive story and some frustrating mechanics put a blemish on the final product.  Despite the frustrations, the game is still worth a look.  It’s a short game, taking around three to four hours to complete, so there is no excuse not to give the game a try.  I’d also suggest teaching yourself how to read a map before playing Firewatch.  You’ll thank yourself later.

firewatch score

Review: The Order: 1886

the order 1886 cover
via 3D Juegos

The Order: 1886 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Shooter

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, SCE Santa Monica Studio

Developer: Ready at Dawn Studios


2015 has been a stellar year so far for gaming and it’s looking like 2016 might even surpass it.  With so many exciting things that have taken place this year, the number of disappointments has been relatively low, especially compared to what 2014 brought.  I think you know where this is going.  If you had to ask anybody what the biggest disappointment of the year for gaming was, they would probably point to The Order: 1886.  Ready at Dawn, the studio behind the game, has had some success with PSP titles in the past, but this was the first time they took an original game to the console, and perhaps it shows a little.  I’m not necessarily up at arms against this game as much as some are, but my time with the game was less than ideal.

the order 1886 1
via Siliconera

The Knights of the Order are an elite group of highly trained knights that offer protection to Victorian-era London.  The game takes place in an alternate history where technology has progressed farther along, giving the knights access to some high-tech weapons, a lot of them designed by the famed inventor Nikola Tesla, who also happens to be a character that you meet in the game.  You play as Sir Galahad, a member of the Order.  He’s an older and more seasoned knight that has a lot of experience under his belt.  Other members of your Order include Lady Ingraine (Galahad’s love interest), Sir Percival, and Marquis de Lafayette, who hasn’t received his title yet since he is just an apprentice.

An ugly war has taken place in London between humans and these creatures called “half-breeds.”  These creatures start off as humans but take on animalistic traits.  The origins of this disease are not really explained but these creatures are not things you want to mess with.  With the help of Black Water, a weird substance that heals the drinker almost instantly, the Order has been able to turn things around, giving them the advantage in the bloody fight that has ravaged the streets of London.  (All traces of realism are thrown out the window with this one) There’s a whole bunch of twists and turns as you make your way through the eight to nine-hour campaign that make the story enjoyable and gripping.  Unfortunately, its capped off by a rather abrupt cliffhanger that blatantly sets up the prospect of another sequel.  I would have liked the story to continue on a little longer, but I was generally content with the game’s length.  There were a lot of complaints directed at the game’s length, but I don’t think the game would have necessarily been better if more content was tacked on to the game’s length.  It’s the game’s combat and gunplay that are the real problems with The Order.

the order 1886 2
via Game Zone

Uninspired and unoriginal third-person cover shooting makes up a good percentage of the gameplay.  For the most part it works, but boredom starts to kick in as you routinely have to take out a number of rebels and other enemies.  The game has an okay variety of weapons, however only a couple stand out.  As you progress through the story, some science-powered weapons are given to Galahad to try out and this is where the main fun can be had, although that feeling starts to degrade again as repetition kicks in again.

Maybe the most surprising thing is the lack of half-breeds that you have to fight.  The whole premise of the game revolves around the fight against these monsters, but here I was, shooting rebel after rebel from the safety of some cover…what!?  The couple of times where I actually was fighting the half-breeds were great and intense, making me hungry for more.  Maybe it was the game’s lack of creative direction, but the lack of half-breeds in this game seems like a major misstep that should not have been overlooked.

the order 1886 3
via GamersNet

The other percentage of gameplay that wasn’t cover based shooting involves quick time events and corridor walking…fun right?  Who doesn’t appreciate an overzealous use of quick time events and endless walks through corridors?  As it turns out, a lot of people.  There was not an offensive number of quick time events but it was starting to get a little out of hand.  The game’s shooting sequences were sandwiched between walks through city streets or dark corridors with some of the other characters.  This was not fun at all, but at least the game’s environments were gorgeous and highly detailed.  It would sometimes make me forget that what I was doing was just walking to the next large area where a shooting sequence was going to take place.

If Ready at Dawn would have put a little more work into The Order: 1886’s gameplay, this could be a whole different review.  The story is original and engrossing, set in the frame of Victorian London that pops off the screen with stunning visual appeal.  It’s the unoriginal and rote cover-based shooting and quick time events that largely bring the experience down.  I wouldn’t call the game my biggest disappointment of 2015 because it had a lot of good things going for it, but the game could have been a lot more.  Maybe the sequel will right its predecessor’s wrongs?

the order 1886 score

Review: The Walking Dead Season Two

the walking dead s2 cover
via watz-up.fr

The Walking Dead Season Two (2013)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games


Clementine was probably one of the greatest video game characters to come out of 2012.  When Telltale Games released season one of their adaptation of the Walking Dead series, it was met with rave reviews and massive critical appeal.  The game was close to a masterpiece, introducing you to main characters Lee Everett and Clementine while forcing you to make some gut-wrenching decisions along the way.  It was this game that propelled Telltale to where they are today.

the walking dead s2 1
via Softpedia News

One year later, Telltale released The Walking Dead Season Two, putting you in the shoes of Clementine.  Some time has passed and the young and naïve Clementine has grown up and matured.  However, she is still on the road, fighting to survive the dangerously harsh world of the zombie apocalypse.  Some things just don’t change.

The Walking Dead Season Two introduces players to a whole new set of characters, along with a couple of surprises here and there.  As with the previous season’s cast of characters, season two’s characters have their own set of problems.  At first, these new people that Clementine comes across rubbed me the wrong way, but after time they start to open up and reveal the kinds of demons and struggles they are dealing with.  They all have good intentions, but some of these issues cause them to get snappy with each other, putting the group on edge multiple times throughout the story.  Clementine always seems to act as the beacon of reason, calming the group down and helping them work through their problems.  It’s a cool dynamic that really goes to show how much Clementine has changed since the first season.

the walking dead s2 2
via IGN

Another big theme that season two tackles is Clementine’s personality.  In season one, she is young and scared, often looking to Lee for help and guidance.  Lee was her mentor and her best friend, helping her endure and adapt to the harsh world that they live in.  After a year has passed, she isn’t the scared child that you remembered from before.  This time around she is killing zombies left and right and doing some things that, for a lack of a better term, “make grown men cry.”  The reality of this new life has changed her, and these types of moments are scattered throughout the season.  It’s cool to see this zombie-ridden world through the perspective of a young kid.

My biggest complaint about this entry in the series is the plot’s predictability.  I was seldom surprised at the events that took place on screen.  Now I am not going to lie, there was some points in the story where I was legitimately surprised, but these moments were few and far between.  I always felt that the story made it a little too clear at what kinds of things were going to happen next.  For example, a character would say something like, “Hey Clem, I don’t think I can trust this person.  What do you think?”  Well, when you put it that way, I guess I shouldn’t trust said character should I?  An episode would pass and surprise, that character would do something to betray the group.  This is just a specific example but I felt these kinds of situations made it super easy to see where the story was going.

the walking dead s2 3
via Video Gamer

Although the season had some plot issues, as well as some classic Telltale Games technical issues, I still had a great time with The Walking Dead Season Two.  Although it does not stack up against its predecessor, it is still one of the best Telltale games I have played to date.  Story wise, the game wraps up in a way that opens up the possibility of future games.  (There has already been rumors of a season three) If you are not a big fan of what Telltale has to offer, I at least encourage you to give their Walking Dead games a try.  You don’t have to be a big Walking Dead fan to appreciate the stories that they have to tell.

the walking dead s2 score

Also available on Mac, PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, iPhone, iPad, Android, and Ouya

Review: Tales from the Borderlands Episode 5

via PS4 France
via PS4 France

Tales from the Borderlands Episode 5 (Vault of the Traveler) (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Telltale Games, Gearbox Software


The Borderlands games never made it to my list of games I have played.  They were interesting in concept but over the years I have watched them come and go without a second thought.  This is why it’s surprising that I liked Tales from the Borderlands so much.  The story did not seem like the key piece that kept players coming back to the Borderlands games, but it turns out I’m wrong in saying that.  Telltale Games has given us a fantastic first season in Pandora and the series’ finale, Vault of the Traveler, wraps everything up in a tight package.

via Vandal
via Vandal

Tales from the Borderlands has been on its A-game ever since episode one.  The humor and writing has been superb and the acting has been phenomenal as well.  This game featured one of the most charming and most hilarious stories I have played in a while.  In fact, it was probably my favorite series that Telltale has put out.  Tales might not have had the seriousness and emotion of some of the studio’s other choice-driven games, but it established its own footing as a much different breed of animal.

The series’ final episode wraps everything up pretty nicely.  The story of Rhys and Fiona is brought to an end and the conclusion is pretty satisfying.  Loose ends are tied up and everything plays out the way you would expect it to.  There was no major plot twists or groundbreaking moments, but it didn’t really need any of that.  Rhys, Fiona, and friends eventually make it to the vault and everything is happily ever after, just as you would expect.  There is a moment involving one character hovering on the brink of death, only to be brought back to life in the most random way.  It was the only part of the episode that rubbed me the wrong way.  The story would have had a bigger impact if they stuck with their decision to kill off the character, but instead they decided to settle with the easy route.  Its fine the way they have it, but I would have liked the story more if they decided to go with their original decision.

via Vandal
via Vandal

Another thing that the episode did well was the numerous callbacks to previous seasons.  Some of your favorite characters from previous episodes, as well as some of the ones you probably forgot about, all happen to make their way into the finale in a variety of different ways.  Part of the episode involves the building of a team for the final fight with the Vault of the Traveler.  Depending on the choices you made in previous episodes, some characters from previous episodes might not be able to join your team.  It was satisfying to see the full picture of your choices and how they affected the different people you have met during your adventure in a larger scale.

The episode’s climatic moments were some of the greatest parts of the series.  The final fight was tantalizing, providing non-stop action that would fit right at home in a Transformers movie.  Although it was just a series of involved quick time events, it was still fun to power through the fight.  The final fight felt pretty good and it really seemed like the entire series was building up to these final moments.  Nothing was better than finally taking out the final enemy with the teamwork from the team that you assembled.  It made for some great moments.

via IGN
via IGN

Tales from the Borderlands might make me consider playing some of the more core Borderlands games.  Telltale proved that the series has a good number of stories to tell, interesting stories full of crazy humorous stories.  Based off word of mouth and critical reception, I would not be surprised if we were to get another adventure in the universe of Pandora, which makes me super excited.  The story of Rhys and Fiona came to a fantastic close in season one, but I would love to see another story open up with a whole new cast off zany characters.

tales from borderlands e5 score

Also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android