Monday, December 1, 2014

Calling the Inquisition

And so, this marks the first time I have pre-ordered a game; for it was quite evident from early on, having watched hours of pre-release footage, that Bioware had come back with a vengeance, to deliver the goods, with Dragon Age Inquisition. The package comes with a few extra weapons, which are quite welcome, since even while Dragon Age: Origins is my favorite game, period, I was never extremely good at it. So, without further ado, let us delve into the Gen 7, or previous console version, while others debate for or against, the newer consoles' versions.

The story kicks in with Cassandra and Leliana from the religious Chantry, both from the previous two games, who wish to close the dangerous Breach in the sky, and it's your task to help them, based on your newfound power to seal rifts; this much is explained in the prologue. This time around, the developers got it right even with save-games or lack thereof; with the use of the web-based Dragon Age Keep, the player can review and export decisions from past games, similar to how the Mass Effect comic-book was used for the initial release of the ps3 version of Mass Effect 2.

On to the character creation screen; in which I chose to play as an Elf, as I had in DAO; perhaps looking a bit like a wimpy Geralt of Rivia. Add a taste of elf-haters, and the civil unrest in a world-building so well depicted, as has become usual in the developer's history, putting the player in the middle of a racial conflict. Herald of Andraste, is the title given to your character due to his powers, and authorities aren't too content with it. But you can convince people, town after town, that you are there for help.  Also, many players will wonder whether to play as male of female, later realizing that, given the quality and breadth of the game, it makes sense to to play as both eventually.

And the hours tick by, and you realize you haven't even seen one third of Thedas, with wide expanses, reminiscent of Skyrim.  All the while, you are sealing these mysterious rifts, which really remind me of Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, from such classic books as The Golden Compass, in which multiverse-travel are a reality, specifically through them. And the woods and the constructions here, look majestic and colorful. Thus, we find the main weak link of the game; namely the characters aren't too interesting. Sera is a rebellious and quirky elven rogue, though the Bull is also quite well-rounded. In fact, the romance options cover various possibilities, hence people from all walks of life will feel at home.

Visually, the game is a throwback, in the best sense possible, to DA: Origins, though also considering the new character designs from DAII, one thing that changes is the vastness, the scope of the levels. I thought it was of great use, that on the upper-right hand, quests are shown, when they upgrade to a considerate percentile. You also establish camps, which you can automatically travel to, and rest in order to restore potions, which becomes of important strategic value. Meanwhile, in the war room, you can delegate missions, which are completed by npcs later on. Powers, on the other hand, are gained mostly by closing rifts and building encampments, and are needed to unlock new areas.

As it happens, I bought a larger hd in order to play this game; and it was most certainly worth it. While it is true that the visuals, while nice and shiny, aren't as advanced as those on the pc, there seem to be some textures and perhaps a filter missing, still the game's adventures remain intact. It all reminds me of The Witcher 2 port for the xbox 360, in that it may not rival the pc, yet it's more than adequate. Despite some questionable game decisions by the developers, the Inquisition marches on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Voice of the Tunnels

For what I consider a long while in this blog, I have expressed bafflement at the infantile approach Western developers adopt to depict Eastern European characters. Having tried out the demo of Metro 2033 on pc, in which society gone-underground is shown with a deft hand, I proceeded to play Metro Last Light, in its console version. Given that both games in the series have been released in Redux re-masters for the newer consoles, it seemed somewhat timely to write about such title.

Based on the works of renowned Russian sci-fi author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, it can be seen the author has an eye for subtle social commentary, as we find a costumbrist tale at times, as the city hubs are clearly a strong suit narratively. While being the second game in the series, Metro Last Light is not based on the second book, Metro 2034, yet the author did take over writing duties for this game's screenplay. It's indeed of great value that the voices of contemporary young-adult Russian authors may be heard amongst the concert of nations, instead of us media-consumers getting second-hand, or cranberry accounts of the realities of the ex Soviet Union.

At a time when even some above-average first-person-shooters still somehow leave a bad aftertaste, such as, praise notwithstanding, Far Cry 3, with its unilateral narrative and short-sighted view of what constitutes them and us; a shame, since its predecessor really nailed it with its multiculturalism, it is quite hard to encounter an original perspective such as Metro Last Light in sci-fi, or the Polish The Witcher in fantasy. In the Metro world, the player controls Artyom as he explores the ruins of post-nuclear Russia. In this apocalyptic state, he is confronted with mutants and hostile survivors, most of them within or around the shelter that is the Moscow metro system.
The presence of gas chambers and the so-called Reich faction depicted as bad guys, made me ponder on the one thing East and West at least agree on; there is nothing more satisfying than, in make-believe of course, to wreak some havoc on the nazis, while they spout their nonsense about mutant corruption and whatnot. Given this scenario, the closest point of contact here, are the Wolfenstein games, yet perhaps it's the little details in game design and so on which set Metro apart. Moreover, one can play with the Russian voice-acting option on, yet unfortunately, the English subtitles don't translate everything that is said, in this thorough world.
Visually stunning, 4A Games offers metro tunnels looking rusty and full of vegetation, as they should in any clever dystopia. In my experience, some games may distract you from your surroundings, while others make you completely lose sense of time; such is the immersiveness of this title. Each human model seems to have been crafted with great care, and the mutants move fast and fiercely, their musculature reminiscent of wild animals. The level design, while linear, is an achievement in itself, mostly rather lived-in, right down to a theater with performers.
Some of the creators of the Metro game series, had previously worked on the breakthrough Stalker, Shadow of Chernobyl, and this translates into rather tight controls and interesting additions to FPS norms. The stealth sections while knife-throwing, are a high point, as is the need to control your gas mask while outside, reminiscent of the Mars exterior missions of Doom 3, and check for radiation, carrying a small inventory. The third act truly features some of the most amazing sci-fi I have witnessed in some time, and what to say of the fact that there is no multiplayer; good riddance. As well, the game has a basic morality system, which doesn't really intrude as far as gameplay is concerned. The Limited Edition comes with an extra weapon and more bullets for Ranger mode; you might actually need them.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


As in, I'm currently purchasing, more or less, fairly newish releases, as well as a few indies. Riveting, ruthless, relentless reviews to come! And below, some game trilogies.

Index of trilogy reviews

Infamous 2
Infamous: FoB

Dragon Age: O, Awakening
Dragon Age II
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Mass Effect
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 3

The Witcher
The Witcher 2, EE
The Witcher 3

Or maybe I should visit How Long to Beat and VGCollect.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Horned Boy and The Horse Rider

The Land of the Rising Sun; home of the most awe-inspiring, visually and thematically arresting games. At last, I got the chance to immerse myself in the uniquely singular world of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, a twosome of intertwined, minimalistic games, with two different approaches, though both containing exploration, and brought to life by game auteur Fumito Ueda. I hesitate to utilize common adjectives to heap praise, yet it is hard to fathom such gaming landmarks otherwise, now in their HD release.

I recall recently playing other adventure titles, and thinking to myself; "more exploring, less bullets." Well, gaming's longest escort mission, is also the most charming and quietly beguiling, as Ico's main focus is exploration; starring the namesake Ico, the exiled horned boy, working alongside the unearthly Yorda, with the goal of escaping from a foggy ancient fortress, and an evil queen with perverse intentions. In this title, even the enemies are unworldly shadow creatures, dark wisps right out of a dreamscape.

The visuals may look a bit dated, but the character and background designs are rather delightful. The gaming deities from Japan, have decided not to include health bars, or tutorials, making the game a captivating riddle, awaiting to be slowly untangled. I for one, am in favor of the puzzles being of intermediate level, since games such as this are an experience, and not really about skill, much like the trippy game Rez. Here, the right stick is employed to inspect your surroundings; in fact the dualshock 3 controller even quietly beats like a heart, while Ico holds Yorda's hand.
The music and sounds add much to the atmosphere, transporting you to this magical realm of made-up languages, in a subdued yet poignant way, which one might find reminiscent of the Minecraft original soundtrack. Michiru Ōshima handled the gentle soundscapes here, which are part of what make Ico so unique, whereas Kow Otani was the orchestral composer for SOTC. Both soundtracks present notable music cues, which really help define the identity of these games.
Shadow of the Colossus, which was originally to be an online game, squarely focuses on boss fights, while some elements from the previous game repeat themselves, such as the architectural style and the appearance of shadowy figures. SOTC is also something of a love story, though the action is certainly more agile and elaborate; while the former was an intimate game, this is a sprawling adventure. It also takes place in a magical world, and those who dig deeper, will find direct connections in both games' plotlines.
The game is more dynamic than its predecessor, yet the balance struck between exploration and action denotes the makers' trademark deft hand. Once again, the game mechanics are quite unique, as you progressively climb over each Colossus, while watching your grip, and finding their weak spots. It can be plainly seen that SOTC was a landmark game, with its breadth and epic scale, which influenced generations to come, and this has been noted by certain reviewers.
Wander's horse, Agro, has well-crafted and lovely, fluid animations, it controls very intuitively, and it's a pleasure to watch as she runs at great speed, in a rather realistic fashion; a thing of great artistry and refinement. The giants themselves are a unique mixture of pre-historic animals and ancient architecture, which has to be seen to be understood. The game's open-world map may not be the largest, but it's crafted with considerable care. As well, not only can you search for the sixteen giants to battle against, you also can collect shiny lizard tails and fruits from fruit trees, adding longevity to the title.
A final word, regarding the extras. These are filled with concept videos, animated prototype clips and interviews with the team behind the two games, and all are quite insightful. It's interesting to note, that the as-yet-unreleased The Last Guardian, is to be a combination of the premises of both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, since you play a boy whose companion is a an imposing fantasy creature. Gladly, this HD Collection takes only about 8 mb to install. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Happy Youth Vandalism

I was recently on the lookout for an inexpensive digital game; my short-list included the indie survival-horror Amy, the beat-them-up Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the experimental and innovative Flower, and the action-packed Hydrophobia. Yet none of these titles fully convinced me. And then, browsing what was on offer at the psn, I finally found it; Jet Set Radio, one of the finest games I had played back when I was the proud owner of a Sega Dreamcast, and which I loved to bits.

The original game, which has been remastered in HD, for every conceivable platform, is one of the early experiments in cel-shaded graphics, and awarded true classic status, having received accolades ever since its original 2k release. If you are looking for a game that will take steady persistence to complete; brilliant, since the gameplay from JSR is rather old-school, making the difficulty level quite high; even the game's tutorial is just about the hardest in recent memory. Having said that, the title packs an irresistible dose of nostalgia, and comes with nifty extras.

And so I find myself as a gamer, in the capable hands of another Japanese creation. The story is straight-forward, as you are part of a gang of graffiti street artists, which other skaters later join, competing against other gangs in quirky turf wars, while a relentless troup of policemen; who evidently watched the film Maniac Cop one time too many, chase you, led by Cap. Onishima; who in turn, is surely a big fan of the movie Psycho Cop. But there are also shady corporations and ruthless assassins; powerful enemies awaiting the ever-expanding GG gang. This, at least, is what happens in between cut-scenes, during which everybody just boogies.
The art direction is quite simply superb, and holds up wonderfully after all these years. As the story goes, the developers wanted to replicate the fashion and music styles they saw in the streets of Tokyo during the nineties, with a little bit of western elements thrown in for good measure. This is, after all, a Smilebit creation, a talented game development studio if there ever was one, responsible for many great Dreamcast titles, as well as others for various platforms.
Jet Set Radio presents more hardcore gameplay, so to speak, with time limits, than its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, released for the original Xbox, which is more accessible, having no time limits. In JSR, you often have to replay a level, given that there are secret passways, which lead you to completion of the level. In fact, if you do not plan everything to perfection, you will not clear the levels; this is the game's greatest weakness and greatest strength. The game mechanics may remind you of the Tony Hawk series, as you grind and do tricks that net you points, yet JSR takes place in a cartoony world, hence the flashy combos get a free pass, even though they kind of defy the laws of physics.
The original soundtrack is pure awesomeness. Some of the stand-out tracks are Let Mom Sleep and Humming the Bassline, by composer Hideki Naganuma, as well as Magical Girl and Super Brothers by indie band Guitar Vader, and Everybody Jump Around, by Richard Jacques, a composer I have admired for a long time, due to his work on Metropolis Street Racer and the Headhunter game series. I can't help but compare JSR to the Skate series, in that they are both landmarks in gaming; distant relatives connected through the decades via similar game mechanics, and the fact that more computing power and the evolution of the medium itself, has allowed for much smoother controls, more depth and precision, at the service of a fun ride. Only for hardcore gamers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Now You're Playing With Power

When you're ready, step inside. I highly doubt you'll survive this fight. But hey, there's only one way to find out, right? Give it your best shot! I am 100% certain you're returning from this battle, Travis... In a body bag. But trust your Force, and head for the Garden of Madness! - Sylvia Christel

Most gamers in their thirties, like myself, have been playing games for around fifteen years, and in the past, experienced such classics as Mario and Sonic. As it happens, yours truly wrote for a vintage-gaming site years ago. So a game which brings back youthful memories, is more than welcome indeed. Enter No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise, a port of the popular Wii game, with additional content. Meet Travis Touchdown; you know, just your regular trendy assassin with a beam katana.

The objective of the game, is to defeat the top ten assassins who outrank you on the UAA contract killers hierarchy, and reach the number one spot, through gloriously over-the-top battles. But that is not all, as this is also an open-world game. To fight each adversary, you need to pay an entry fee, so you must carry out smaller assassination missions, and partake in some hilariously mundane jobs, to gather cash. Plus, you get to move around in a sweet motorcycle, and purchase clothes and weapon upgrades.

The gameplay itself is a throwback to games of generations past, with precision button mashing, collectable items, high-scores, and laborious boss battles; all of them memorable. Even without the ps3 Move peripheral, and simply using the dualshock 3 gamepad, this is one of the most unique and creative control schemes you can find on Gen 7 consoles, while being a bit less organic than that of Nintendo's own Wii.* Add to this the wrestling moves, and you are looking at one tough Otaku.
No More Heroes: HP is chock-full of references to other titles in gaming history, and the very design of the game itself, as seen in the menus and in-game effects, is graced by vibrant audio-visual nostalgia, making you recall the days of classic game consoles. The game also pays homage to the film Kill Bill; after all, you are a hitman with a death-list to complete, and the battles usually get humorously bloody; of course, that movie was also a collage of Japanese references itself. There are also various versions of this game, since the visuals have been improved for the ports, and bosses have been added from the Wii's sequel to this game. The Anime-flavored cut-scenes are also a joy to watch.
Santa Destroy, the sunshiny town where the game takes place, comes alive as you progress, with various things to do, reminding me somewhat of the original Crazy Taxi. Even the motel room which our contract killer occupies, is a place of interest; you can access your card collection, pet your cat, watch TV; where you can play a game within a game, check out the fridge, change clothes; this is after all, a fashionista-killer, and of course, save your progress in the game, by using the toilet. There are even humorous calls from the video rental shop, asking our suave hitman to return his steamy tapes in time.
And what to say of the excellent electronica soundtrack, composed by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda. It was released as a three-cd set, and included such great tracks as Do Not Destroy, which is Travis' living room music, Gorgeous Blues, the addictive open-world, bike music, as well as several variations of the motif from Beam Katana Chronicles, the main theme from No More Heroes. Perhaps these tracks could help uncover who is the man wielding the laser blade, as I feel Travis is no cipher at all; though depicted in a quirky way, he has clear motivations; to find a suitable challenger, to fight a battle that will put him to the test. He does, as well, have a soft spot for Sylvia Christel, his flirtatious, passive-aggressive supervisor.
Being the first Suda51 game I have played, it was a thrill to experience the work of a true game auteur, a visionary of which there are but few not just in games, but in artistic expression. Along with Hideo Kojima, Fumito Ueda, Yu Susuki, Keiichiro Toyama, Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami, Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Masayoshi Kikuchi; Goichi Suda, the creator of No More Heroes and Killer 7, is one of the great talents-for-export to have come from Japan. Just about the most fun I've had since Pac-Man; in one word, Moe! *Except for one minor glitch.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Agent Provocateur

Most gamers have played either fantasy RPGs or sci-fi RPGs. But what happens when a game developer makes a present-day action Role Playing Game? A valuable concept I learned from my favorite film critic, is that sometimes "interesting" movies can often be better than "good" movies. I believe the same applies to other forms of media. Hence, it could be said that Alpha Protocol, a fairly ambitious title, certainly presents a rather compelling scenario.

The game opens with a an attack resulting in a downed aircraft, something which was seen recently on the daily news; we are dealing with a mostly timely and plausible plot. Espionage is indeed pervasive, the region this writer inhabits, saw in the past the grave consequences of US intel sector intervention, culminating in Operation Condor. Alpha Protocol may indulge in some creative license, but the world it depicts is faithful to its real-life counterpart. Yet, instead of sticking to one enemy, the gamble is made to tackle the Arabs, the Russians and the Chinese all at once; most of the real, or imagined, enemies of the US. Being a spy story, you can also expect the mandatory plot twists, as well as globe-trotting.

At the menu screen, you are presented with five classes to choose for your agent, Michael Thorton's background; Soldier, Field Agent, Tech Specialist, Freelancer and Recruit, plus the additional Veteran, once the game is completed, and later, specializations. There are three training missions, which will outline what's in store during the rest of the adventure. At this point, you can also customize Thorton's appearance. As the game progresses, you can work under several different handlers, or analysts. As for the missions themselves, they aren't exactly Splinter Cell material, but they work nicely. As is the case with most action RPGs, you have your talent tree, as well as weapon upgrades.
I often ponder how RPGs can become such deep personal experiences; consider, for instance, the times an acquaintance plays a section of your game, and you hope they will not screw with your intended actions, your story, which you are building alongside the game's creators, and it is here that I find a resemblance to the relationship between author and reader; it takes two to make these narratives work. Alpha Protocol's story is credited to Brian Mitsoda, a writer and video game designer known for his screenplay to Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. In this title, he is responsible for at least two absolutely memorable characters; the shady Henry Leland, from the enigmatic Halbech Corp and his daunting ex chief of security, Conrad Marburg.
Some reviewers have written off this game due to its lack of polish; an appraisal which I find to be a huge blunder. I played the initial sections of this espionage game twice, and in doing so, came to the  realization of just how much the experience can differ if you make contrasting decisions. From how to engage the enemies, to winning over, or being disliked, by your co-workers, the freedom this game grants the player is rather unique. You can even negotiate with key opponents, a truly winning and innovative game mechanic, making the game a more organic experience, which somewhat reminded me of the digital-only I Am Alive.
The white elephant in the room, is that there are similarities between this game and Mass Effect 2, romancing and hacking mini-games included. Having said that, the sheer craftsmanship and attention to detail behind Alpha Protocol, makes it very much its own thing. In truth, Obsidian Entertainment's game may be even with the space opera trilogy, since for instance, the use of intel here, such as email, which you can even reply to, becomes of vital importance for your interactions and missions, in a similar manner to Bioware's admittedly thorough codex entries. Ultimately, Alpha Protocol offers a level of depth seldom seen in games; a good indication of this is that this reviewer actually read the game's manual.
In the end, this ingenious title seems to have ended up being everything the game The Bourne Conspiracy had aspired to, and then some. Also worthy of note, the game data, or hard drive installation, works in an enigmatic fashion, at least on the ps3. While on the back of the box, it reads "7 MB Required," in reality, the game data file increases as you progress in the title, finally reaching a much larger file size. As well, halfway through the game, the game began to ask for more memory, since I have a small HD. Nonetheless, it was most certainly worth it. Now where is the Game+ option?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Beast is One Mile from New Marais

The original Infamous was released in the early days of the ps3, and this was evident in the graphical department, yet the game had a lot of verve, and rather polished gameplay, so it comes as no surprise that Infamous 2, presents graphical improvements, both in-game and during cut-scenes. After a showstopper of a prologue, featuring the powerful new enemy, The Beast, the game reveals the changes in the engine; the environment being much more responsive, in other words, you can now destroy things aplenty.

An even greater surprise is the political undercurrent present, as New Marais, where our hero Cole is supposed to get his new powers, is a thinly veiled post-Katrina New Orleans; as we are told through motion-comics, Cole had been there before practicing urban exploration, or parkour, during the disaster, and during this episode it is highlighted that the police were less than useful, in a place turned lawless. In fact, an area in New Marais' map, is actually called Flood Town; I doubt you can see people struggling to walk in waist-high water in other games. Now, the citizens of New Marais have employed a militia, of rednecks, as Cole puts it, to guard them against so-called deviants; powerful conduits such as Cole himself.

The greatest addition, is being able to work with other conduits similar to Cole; such as Kuo, the good girl, and Nix, the evil one; who are basically shoulder angels. These companions come in handy while fighting the beastly Ravagers. Melee combat has been greatly improved, with the introduction of The Amp, a weapon built by our hero's pal, Zeke, which is sort of an oversized metallic cattle prod, which Cole can swing at his enemies, often resulting in finishing moves. This becomes useful when going one-on-one against other conduits, such as the Corrupted, mutated citizens connected to the Big Bad; Bertrand. After all, as in the first game, the story's backdrop is constituted by a web of espionage and intrigue, with characters from different spy agencies, all salivating over the power of conduits.
The Infamous titles seem to always excel in the music department, and this proves to be true once again, with the delivery of another stupendous soundtrack. Contrary to what occurred with The Darkness II, in which they downtraded the main voice actor, Infamous 2 benefits from Cole's new voice, as it displays more pathos. The karma system doesn't break any new ground, it acts more like an excuse for a second playthrough, in which you may choose the path opposite from your original one. However, it dawned on me that, the moral system manifests itself more effectively in the little details; if you play as a hero, you are rewarded by cheering crowds, whereas, if you choose the evil path, citizens nearly hurl stones at you. There is even distinct good and evil music.
There are some memorable gaming moments found in Infamous 2; such a Godzilla-inspired section, and a turret mission with a twist; using a powerful UV light beam to ward off an attack of the Corrupted. As well, since there are areas constituted mainly of swamps, Cole has to be watchful of not getting electrocuted in the water, for instance, while being knocked over with force by a Ravager. This watery scenario can lead to the hilariously-named trophy, aptly titled "I'm As Shocked As You Are." Ultimately, what makes the series so enthralling, are the engaging sci-fi concepts, intermingled with the more grounded element of the friendship between two men, and its evolution.
New Marais is one of the best-crafted, most accomplished game cities on the ps3, with attention payed to the littlest details. The train tracks from the original have been replaced, in this outing, by trolley lines which you can grind on. Also this time around, the news reports made popular in the first game, appear in the corner of the screen, picture-in-picture. There is User-Generated-Content; admittedly, a great concept, and it adds longevity to the game. For this author, Infamous 2 is part of one of the most exciting sci-fi franchises released as of late; with continued expansion in gaming's Gen 8.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

One Hour Until Sunrise

In the vein of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, comes Infamous: Festival of Blood, a standalone total-conversion of the Infamous world. The title, in fact, remains one of the biggest-selling ps3 downloadable games launched on the PSN.

Our protagonist, Cole, now decidedly an antihero, given his vampire form, must dispatch Bloody Mary, a powerful vampirette, before sunrise, or the blood suckers are taking over, as the vampire lady plans to turn the entire citizenship into creatures of the night. It may sound somewhat cheesy, yet the game makes sure you are in on the joke. Cole has been granted the power to fly, and given vampire vision, similar to Arkhman Asylum's detective mode.
Festival of Blood employs the Infamous 2 engine, and takes place in New Marais; based on New Orleans, during the Pyre Night celebrations; a sort of rather twisted Mardi Gras, complete with barefoot girls with glow-in-the-dark necklaces, partying all night. In this brief but engaging game, you need to suck blood from civilians to regain health, reminding me of the better moments of Bloodrayne II, but after a certain point, some of them may turn into the towering Firstborns, which are mighty vampire foes; much like the Banshees from Mass Effect 3.
Ultimately, there is much to do in this little package, having two sets of powers; the electrical and the vampiric, as well as the smooth controls and swift camera, both being extremely fine-tuned, with the end result, that at times, the screen is filled with colors and movement reminiscent of a japanese fighting game. It is one of those great games to play in company, even though it is a single player campaign.

The game is narrated by uber-cool geek Zeke, Cole's buddy, as he tries to pick up an attractive woman in a bar, and hence probably tells a story which is either embellished or completely made up in his own mind. There is also User-Generated-Content available throughout the city, many of it by game developer, Sucker Punch. A tasty appetizer before delving into the world of Infamous 2.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Massive Electrostatic Discharge

Infamous, an early ps3 exclusive title, is a superhero game without the trappings and the inherent baggage which comes with a superhero movie adaptation, since as history has proven, outside of the Spider-Man games, most such adaptations have failed deplorably. Cole MacGrath's electrical powers are intimately linked with the game's mythology, and the game's design and world-building are a case of quality over quantity.

I have played few exceptional free-roaming, or sandbox, games; chief among them, Rockstar Vancouver's Bully, which takes place in the confined Bullworth Academy, yet this is made up for with strong characters and a good premise. Only one other worthy title comes to mind; Team Bondi's The Getaway, which puts the player in a lovingly crafted London. Does Infamous offer a spin to the age-old GTA formula, and not fizzle out like a certain recent game?

To begin with, Infamous' Empire City is very much alive; you can even go into the sewers, and the fact that it is small is utilized as an advantage, since it is exploited to maximum capacity. Little details like bystanders snapping photos of you, TVs that play news reports and commercials, and, of course, the fact that there are enemies wreaking havoc in territories you have to clear, make this a thorough world. Your pal Zeke, offers comic relief, while the game plays like a more violent version of the movie Hancock. I had listened to the soundtrack by techno-virtuoso Amon Tobin beforehand, and I must say it is truly fantastic. The motion-comic cut-scenes are also quite well designed.
Some degree of strategy is necessary to fight against your enemies, the Reapers, the Dust Men and the First Sons; like taking cover, or holding from ledges, while you blast them with electricity; the routine of blasting away and recharging on any city device that runs on electricity never gets old. The city is quite interactive, with pipes you can climb, antennas which can be tumbled over to use as bridges, and power cables which you can hang from or slide on; the latter grants a tremendous sense of freedom, like Spidey swinging from a web. Cole's physical prowess is partially explained, when the main character states at one point, that he is an urban exploration aficionado.
The game employs an ambitious karma system, sort of like a good Jedi vs. dark Jedi path, taking into account certain decisions you make throughout the story, in addition to whether you decide to heal or "leech" injured civilians. There is also a basic talent tree, to upgrade your powers. Taking these things into account, it could be said the game has a respectable dose of action-rpg elements. Last, but not least, the main missions, and some side-quests, are actually quite fun. Having bought the Infamous Collection, which comes with both ps3 games, as well as DLC, I am certainly looking forward to experiencing the complete story. One of the ps3's finest games.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

It is with great satisfaction that I can revisit a franchise I have grown to enjoy in comic book form and its original game, although with the property switching game studios, The Darkness II has changed some of its elements, though thankfully not the ones lying at its very core. Mobster Jackie Estacado and his demon arms are back with a vengeance. The game plays in a rather similar way to its predecessor, but it is as though the action has been amped up, with the vibrant use of cel shading, and more spectacular and brutal Darkness powers.

It also stays a bit closer to the comics, with the inclusion of the Brotherhood and Angelus, the latter being more of a cameo. As well, Jackie's character model resembles the comic book look more this time around. Our antihero's powers lie dormant, until he is attacked by seemingly a rival gang. After her passing, Jackie sees his girlfriend from the original game, Jenny, in visions, as he is tortured by her loss. Jackie is being sought by a secret society, the above-mentioned Brotherhood, whose leader makes an attempt to obtain the Darkness powers through occult means.

The game has some rpg elements, with the inclusion of a talent tree, since you can buy Darkness talents with "essence points" by eating hearts or finding relics, and there is even the incorporation of a few dialogue options. There are talent shrines scattered about the levels for the former purpose. The ability to hurl objects at enemies, as well as grabbing, for instance, car doors as shields, are welcome additions. Pointy objects are of special use, since you can impale your enemies against a wall; this is a comic book world, after all.

There is now one darkling, instead of several. Jackie's demon friend opens doors and assists you during boss fights. As in the first game, he has a punk-rock attitude, and urinates and passes gas over your enemies, while cursing in a cockney accent. You can even throw him against enemies, which is helpful since gunfights can get fairly intense, and there are sections where you control him. There are various weapons at your disposal, and you can grab those that your enemies leave behind. There is the added bonus of playing while dual-wielding two different guns.

The quiet interludes in between missions mimic the pace of the original game, and I for one am glad this is present in the sequel, such as visits to Jackie's mansion, and vivid visions, for instance, of a terrifying psychiatric ward in which Jackie's mobster pals are inmates and doctors; always count on psychiatry to be more chilling than the Darkness itself. The tour of the brothel is explicitly detailed in all its decadence, with sights and sounds which both arouse and repulse. The loading screens are also similar to the first game, featuring Jackie's short monologues.

Curiously, some of the most fun I had with the game are the bonus missions, called Vendettas, which is pleasing since the main story is a tad short. Vendettas is a co-op mode for up to four players, which can also be played offline. Each of the four Darkness Assassins have distinct weapons and powers. This mode ties to the main campaign through Johnny Powell, Jackie's go-to man on the occult, who behaves and talks like a famelic Woody Allen on acid. The Limited Edition comes with a poster, printed on both sides, free digital download of the Darkness Origins Volume 1 and 2 comics, and a couple of minor additions to the game. A worthy sequel in all regards.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Tomb Raider

As I was playing the first chapters of Uncharted 2, a ps3 exclusive game, my older brother remarked; "this is just like a movie," and he made a solid point indeed. Naughty Dog are masters at walking the fine line between film and game. For one thing, the game is built around setpieces, in the same manner of a motion picture. With wonderfully written cutscenes, the point I've been making throughout this blog, that games are the new movies, is alive and well.

The visuals are rather inventive, making special use of camera angles, and the dialogue from the team banter is just phenomenal, right out of a polished screenplay. If Heavenly Sword showed what could be done with the ps3, then U2 pushes it to the limit. Arguably the pinnacle of the series, this sequel reminds me of Mass Effect 2, formerly from that competing console, in that this was also the standout episode in such series. Add the obligatory globe-trotting aspects and you have a winner in your hands.
The parkour style gameplay marks a trend in recent games, in which everyone is a monkey man who can scale just about any wall. But the game's charms somehow allow for enough willing suspension of disbelief to pull off a polished experience. This type of freedom is at times more welcome, in the opinion of this reviewer, than the by now utterly boring sandbox style gaming. In fact, the game shines during exploration as opposed to combat. Uncharted 2 is perhaps too violent, as at times it plays like a war game, and would have benefited from some self-reflection, like a sorrow dream.

The voice actors deliver their lines to perfection, and after all, the talented Claudia Black, of Farscape and Stargate SG-1 fame, is on board, playing Chloe. The voice actors, in fact, performed their motion capture for some of the scenes. It all adds up to a wonderfully cinematic experience; the question then becomes, whether Uncharted 2 would make a good film, since Indiana Jones knockoffs are usually subpar.
The bad guy du jour here is Serbian, hence gladly, not ex Soviet. Since I have spilled enough digital ink on that subject, I refer you to this excellent article. There seems to be a certain nagging problem with the Greatest Hits GOTY edition. 1 GB in updates and the trophies just aren't displayed properly. You try to support the industry by buying brand-new and this is what you get. Yet the quality of the game more than redeems this scenario, of course.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

War Has Changed Indeed

It's curious that the best game on the ps3, was released on the console nearly a decade ago. The level of craftsmanship shown in Metal Gear Solid 4, rivals that of another early title, Heavenly Sword, in that they both show traces of admirable craft and many years of development. This Konami title then, was a proud addition to the company's tentpole releases, for we are talking about one of the most-accomplished sci-fi worlds to date, in gaming at least.

As a tv-series addict, I found the various cut-scenes to be captivating and engrossing. This melodrama and exposition may be superior to say, SC: Blacklist, in that this world is a full-on dystopia. In fact, MGS4 is more of an experience, like a theme park ride, if you will, than videogame. A title in which Pixar's Luxo Jr, or perhaps Wall-e, get a homage in the form of the tiny mechanical Mk.II, is truly gaming at its finest. Moreover, the game obtained trophy-support, a couple of years ago.

To say that the games in the series have an aesthetic of its own is an understatement, as even the voice acting is recognizable. Likewise, both the hero himself, with his advanced ever-changing camouflage, and the enemies, are a wonder of design, such as the powerful Gekko, a towering Mech. All of this taking place in a para-military, nano-machine governed world. Likewise, few war games are self-reflective and retrospective, as is the case here.

And why does it work? The game can get away with some violence due to being sci-fi, yet even then, it takes the time to parody and question the ethics of war; there is even a trophy for losing your belly after a killing spree. The opening even puts infomercials into question. The property, which reportedly borrowed elements from film, is such a self-contained world, that not for a single minute does the player questions it. The game is like delicious cuisine, in which all the right ingredients are present, for you certainly believe the character as a super-soldier, because that is just what Snake is. Likewise, the cigarette portrayal veers between coolness and parody.

Kojima both glorifies and condemns war, and this approach seems quite sensible given Snake's adventures, and this glamorization and demonization, allows for a true auteur's voice to express itself in a large canvas. These hardened soldiers take pills, like they do in real life, for this war game is about both brain and brawn, and most other offerings in the genre should take note. It's about how you do it, right down to our hero's psych treatment. As well, the game is full of easter eggs and secrets. The update allows for a seemingly full install, instead of in parts, of this large game.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Am My Sword

It was written that twenty-three years ago, in the year of the fire-horse, a deity would be reborn, in the body of a mortal man. A savior, destined to unite our people and show us the way to the Promised Land. Instead, I was born from my mother’s dying body…and my people wept. They said I was a portent of doom… - Nariko

Nariko is the kind of heroine who takes matters into her own hands. An outcast, reviled by her clan for seemingly not fulfilling an age-old prophecy, she takes her role of savior very seriously. So much so, that her very her mission becomes her life; that at least is the premise of Heavenly Sword, a ps3 exclusive game.

Nariko and her notorious hair are a wise design choice and so are the locales found within the game disc, which are breath-taking to say the least; constructions in the mountains adorned with banners waving in the wind, stairs that go on forever, and waterfalls as a backdrop, like an Eden invaded by evil men, led by nefarious and resolute King Bohan. Five years in the making and a staff of 140 people will get you that.
In fact, the game, which is basically a hack and slash title, makes a powerful argument for art in gaming, since much work went into this ps3 launch title, as can be witnessed by the behind the scenes features. The talent behind Ninja Theory explains they wanted the game to have the grandeur of a movie and they certainly succeed in that regard, although the game looks more like a series of illustrations come to life. The cast, starring Anna Torv, of Fringe fame, and Andy Serkis, is a great addition.

In this challenging game, the art design truly shines; Nariko and Kai, the two playable characters, are wonderfully depicted, with top notch animations. The villains are also a joy to behold, each of them crafted with great care. Be it King Bohan himself, who sports the best facial animations, or his henchmen, Flying Fox, Whiptail and Roach. These characters appear in well written cutscenes and inventive boss fights, and have solid voice acting to bring them to life.

The Sixaxis motion control is the thorn in this rose. The bow missions with Nariko's adopted sister, Kai, in which you have to shoot arrows at enemies, are of extreme difficulty when you find yourself shaking the gamepad. However, there is thankfully an option to turn Sixaxis off and use the analog stick instead, making those sections fun. When companies allow gimmicks to have an integral part in their games, as is the case of Microsoft's almost defunct Kinect, things can go downhill.

Whilst it is a combat game, as explained above, there are enough combat stances to keep you fairly busy. Each of these moves is accompanied by a balletic animation which is pure eye candy. The game, which has inspired a recent animated feature, comes also with a series of animated shorts which are breath-taking in their simplicity. For a title which offers no trophies due to its early launch date, it certainly comes packed with hefty extra content to make up for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


You'll notice that some of the games have a red ps3 logo, being reissues, or are collections. This is what occurs when you want to buy games new, some of which are no longer available. So expect some oldies-but-goodies reviews!