Well, March has come and gone, and April has officially arrived. We're midway in Spring, Spring Break's happening in various circles, and college kids are flocking to Mexico to get drunk and partake in wet t-shirt contests with the local ladies. While I may never join them in their raucous fun, at least I can stay at home and play video games. It's looking to be an exciting month, so here's what's been going on with me gaming-wise.
I picked up Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag today for the PS4. I didn't think I was going to return to the series after leapfrogging across the franchise proper and exposing myself to major spoilers, but I decided it was time to give it another chance at glory. My first few hours into it, I was thoroughly impressed with the gameplay mechanics. All the memorable stealthing, assassination, mini-games and side-quests (including one involving Jack Sparrow) were here in full effect. Overall, I think ACIV on the PS4 is the definitive version of a stellar game. Ubisoft also announced that AC4 will also be ported to the Nintendo 3DS with added features, a new playable character named Jack Sparrow and a trailer for Assassin's Creed 5!
In other news, given the fact that I'm unable to play Bioshock Infinite, I decided to visit my friend and try it out on his 360 just to get a feel for what I'm getting myself into. And man, was I disappointed. It was nothing like Bioshock at all! The controls were horrible, the story was garbage and the graphics were absolutely archaic by comparison to its predecessors. I was so disgusted that I decided to return my unwrapped copy, demanding my money back. Pitiful! I think Bioshock Infinite is one of the absolute WORST games I've ever played. I'd rather play Cheetahmen on the Nintendo than this drivel. Ha! I used my refund money to buy an even better game than that -- Street Cleaning Simulator. And I'm happy.
Anyway, I guess that's about it from me. April's still young, so I'm looking forward to getting my 360 back from the repair shop so I can smash it with a sledgehammer and post it on YouTube. :) Keep calm, game on ......
So I picked up Bioshock Infinite today from an age-old preorder ticket. I was not able to get the Collector's Edition, but at least it didn't cost me $100. That's the good news. The bad news is my 360 got the dreaded Yellow Ring of Death two days ago and I'm not going to be able to use it until after it's either fixed or I get a replacement. Who knows how long that'll take, but for the moment, I'm pretty much sidelined from 360 gaming, so I'll have to sit there with my Dr.Pepper and Egg sandwiches and be jealous at everybody else already running wild in Columbia and keeping Elizabeth out of trouble. Yet, I assure you -- my time will come soon enough.
I could have simply substituted for the PS3 version, but I already made up my mind that I was going to play the Bioshock series entirely on the 360, because in my opinion, the 360 is the more suitable platform for a game like that. Unless they're console exclusive to a particular system, I typically buy first-person shooters on the 360 by default.
I'm pretty much left watching gameplay videos to imprint the illusion that I'm playing along with you guys. There's no doubt that the game looks great and well deserving of the 9.0 rating here at GS. I have heard that a few people are upset by the mere docking of .5 extra points---i.e. it should have been a 9.5, not a 9.0. What's to take issue about? Van Ord poured nothing but immediate praise for the game. A 9.0 still earns its Editor's Choice label and should be highly regarded as a must-play title. Isn't that enough? A video game can be awesome, but there's no need for it to be near-perfect to still be great.
As soon as I get my 360 repaired, I'll finally be able to venture to Columbia. For now, my experience will have to wait. Until then, for those who have the game already, do enjoy it!
Only the truly hardcore of gamers can fool themselves into thinking they can handle extremely difficult games. I'm not one of them, but I decided to take a shot at one of the cruelest free-to-play MMORPGs on the scene today -- Wizardry Online.
Wizardry's an old role-playing game series that started in North America by Sirtech before somehow being assimilated as a Japanese RPG franchise. Wizardry Online's the latest offering into the burgeoning free-to-play MMO market with a style remarkably similar to Final Fantasy XI; incorporating traditional real-time combat and other MMO trappings made popular by its peers. In other words, it isn't any real different from anything else you've tried out there.
But those erstwhile similarities end with a frightening gameplay component; permadeath. In an MMORPG. MMORPGs are incredible time sinks. People spend hours upon hours of their time cultivating their character. I couldn't imagine what would happen if all their dedicated hard work suddenly disappeared with absolutely no way to recover it. Wizardry Online's the first MMORPG of its kind to introduce permadeath in the genre. Not only that, the game itself is boorishly difficult. Your character cannot auto-heal -- you are forced to either recover health at healing stations that are limited in use, invest in expensive potions, and deal with highly aggressive mobs. Fortunately, you're given some opportunities to save your character from permadeath should you get slain, but even that can be a gamble. In Wizardry Online, the threat of death in a video game gets about as frighteningly real as the threat of death in REAL LIFE.
You get one shot in a very difficult game and, if you blow it, it's over. Would you want to play a game like that? I would. Video games thrive on providing a challenging atmosphere, but I don't know of anything that can be more challenging than the threat of permadeath. In an MMORPG.
.....because my rank says "Rise from Your Grave". (evil laughter, LMFAO)
Now that GameSpot allows you to embed YouTube videos into your blogs, I thought I'd do something fun in tribute to my effervescent Rank title -- a full longplay of the game from whence it came; Altered Beast. Known in Japan as "Beast King's Chronicle" and released in 1988 with a development team of only a handful of members, it quickly grew in popularity in the arcades, spawning a multitude of home conversions including an impressive Sega Genesis port (complete with the voice samples), and spinoffs like Project Altered Beast on the PS2 (released only in Japan and Europe) and Guardian of the Realms on the GBA. One of the boss characters, Neff, makes a cameo in Wreck-it Ralph.
Well, anyway.....some updates.
I've finished Tomb Raider with 100% Completion.
It wasn't easy, and I had to struggle a bit with the challenges, but throughout the entire journey, I had a blast. It was also quite an emotionally charged experience, too. Lara endures a cavalcade of punishment that would permanently sideline even the hardiest person on the planet, and she bears witness to some horrible sights. The game itself has a lot of gruesome, disturbing imagery that earns the Mature rating---much of it I've had to look away from. Yet, I still had to keep my thumb on the analog to keep Lara moving. Time and time again, she emerges from each and every obstacle stronger and more confident than ever. Maybe it's because she's mostly driven to save her friends rather than considering her own personal fears. And trust me when I tell you this -- you can sense she is frightened. To say she is oblivious to such a rational human emotion in the midst of these terrible obstacles would be the result of narrow-minded thinking. She chooses not to give in to it, because fear is merely a choice.
Sniping enemies using a bow and arrow is perhaps one of the biggest rushes I've ever had in a game. A bow and arrow is a rather primitive tool, but in the right hands, it can be a fiercely deadly weapon capable of some brutal headshots. I like how you can develop Lara's skill set, especially earning finisher kills. The one with the rifle is especially hilarious.
This is one game I won't soon forget.
I also completed Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fatewith 100% completion.....
......although the extra cutscene you earn for your trouble....well, far be it for me to express my own opinion in an effort to avoid spoilers, but for anyone still interested in getting the game, I hope yours is more favorable than mine. I'll just say that you do not necessarily NEED to get 100% to finish the game unless you're a rabid completionist type like I am, but if you do insist on doing so, at do it for bragging rights and all the useful upgrades. The exploration of Dracula's Castle is a nice throwback to the Castlevania games of old, but it usually isn't worth the effort finding scrolls. Life and Magic Upgrades are perhaps the more worthwhile item pieces to find as it will help you during boss battles and the final confrontation with the Prince of Darkness. The story is told in ad hominem in reverse, letting slip a few noticeable bread crumbs early on that will likely spoil a lot of the surprise. And as I said in my last blog, there is one particular plot twist regarding one of the playable characters that left me in utter disbelief and not in a good way. I felt it was a big disservice to the Castlevania lore -- even despite the fact that it is a reboot.
That said, do you need to play the original Lords of Shadow first? With me, personally, having beaten that game before going into this one, I was already made aware of a major plot point involving one of the main characters, so that came as little surprise. If you have not played Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate will likely divulge important spoilers, but it doesn't get into the nitty gritty details regarding how specific events occurred that lead to one of the more greater developments of Lords of Shadow. I would suggest anyone wanting to play the original Lords of Shadow to play that first along with both its DLC, but if you do not mind being a little spoiled, then Mirror of Fate may not pose much of a problem.
Anyway, overall, it was a good game, but not great. Hopefully, LoS2 will fare much better.
So what's next for me? Well, I eagerly await Bioshock Infinite and Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon (the only remaining March releases I plan on picking up) but in the meantime---remember when I said I was going to play a Final Fantasy game and finish it all the way through? I've chosen the one that will help me fulfill that very promise. The vid below will reveal all. Until then, keep calm and game on.
You guys remember to spring forward your clock? Spring is fast approaching, and around here, the weather is getting nicer after a slew of rainstorms. It was also a good time for me to pick up two high profile releases; Tomb Raider (PS3) and Castlevania: LoS Mirror of Fate (3DS) -- two games I had been waiting for. Sadly, only of the two games managed to live up to my expectations, while the other fell a little short. Which is which, you ask? Read on.
The first game I got was Tomb Raider 2013 -- a rebooted origin story of Lara Croft. Finding herself shipwrecked on a mysterious Japanese island, her journey propels her from an ordinary young whelpling into a tough-as-nails adventurer.
If there's one thing I can possibly say about Tomb Raider, it's the fact that it just might be a possible contender for my personal Game of the Year. Not since Lords of Shadow have I had this much fun with a rebooted franchise title. Here's the irony -- Uncharted borrowed elements from the older Tomb Raider games for inspiration, and this latest Tomb Raider consequently borrows heavily from the Uncharted series. However, Tomb Raider 2013 is far more brutal, gruesome and disturbing. Lara Croft is utterly savaged and beaten all throughout the course of the game. She gets impaled, smashed against walls, swept away in raging rivers, plummeted a good thirty feet from deathly chasms -- small wonder why you can hear her breathing heavily most of the time, even in quieter moments. The game is touted as foretelling the origins of the titular Lara Croft from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor and, given everything she goes through in just thirty minutes and walking away practically in one piece, it's not hard to see why. As for the gameplay itself? There's a ton of things to do and tons of environment to explore. There were several things that actually reminded me of Assassin's Creed, but Tomb Raider is much easier to navigate for me. Controls are surprisingly tight and platforming against the face of extremely dangerous situations is thrilling and responsive as it needs to be. I also like how you can upgrade weapons by using salvaging materials, strengthen your own character through skill points spread out in three different categories and raid optional tombs for bonus rewards. Simply put, Tomb Raider is nearly the complete package, and I'm eager to see where the franchise goes from here.
The second game I got was Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate. Taking place after the events of Lords of Shadow, the story follows three characters as they explore Dracula's Castle to defeat the Prince of Darkness, all the while revealing their own tragic fates as members of the storied Belmont Clan of vampire killers.
Despite its convoluted title, it is a pretty decent game. It is meant to be a bridge between the original Lords of Shadow and the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2, reintroducing three major characters of the franchise lore---Trevor, Simon and Alucard. The combat is quite solid, drawing obvious elements from Lords of Shadow, and the enviroments are gorgeous for a 3DS game. However, I felt as if the game suffered from a dearth of missed opportunities. For one, there's a particular plot point regarding a major character in the game that left me in utter disbelief. The storytelling, for one, revealed a lot of clues that ruined the element of surprise. And the exploration of Dracula's Castle involved some tedious backtracking for hidden items that don't do much to help your character other than a minimal EXP payout. Getting 100% will nab you an extra cutscene, and even that isn't worth the trouble. I don't know -- I had so many high expectations coming into this one, and it just feels as if the game fails to meet up to most of them. Still, for what it's worth, it's a good game, but not something you'd want to get in day one. I just hope now that Lords of Shadow 2 concludes the LoS saga in a satisfactory way.
So far, I'd say March is looking quite promising. Until then, keep calm and game on.
I remember that night as if it were only yesterday. It was around 12:00 AM in my time zone. Halfway across the world, my GameSpot friend @mufujifi introduced me to a relatively unknown indie game through the Steam network. It was a first-person adventure that took place under the cover of darkness with the player possessing only a flashlight, and everything was almost entirely black-and-white with shades of grey inbetween. The goal of the game was to find eight pieces of paper scattered all throughout a bleak and uncertain deep woods environment that draws obvious comparisons to those old Blair Witch movies. However, the player also had to contend with a bizarre looking boogieman creature who popped up entirely at random, designed to surprise you when you least expected it. Well, perhaps "surprise" is the wrong word. This creature will not attack or kill you, but the game ends when you stare at it for a lengthy period of time, and he will appear in more frequency the further you get and the more pages you collect. It doesn't appear to be any more frightening than that badly-drawn cartoon mummy you see on those Count Chocula cereal boxes. What makes this creature particularly scary is its element of surprise within a dark and foreboding environment, and you've got nothing but a flimsy, battery-run flashlight for company. So, this rather simple creature that looks like something my six-year old niece can draw with a blindfold on has the very real capacity of meting out a whole lot of "oh, s***" moments.
The game is known as Slender: the Eight Pages, and it is quite possibly one of the most psychologically scariest games I've ever played. Not so much the fact that it isn't about zombies or homicidal maniacs brandishing chainsaws, or the idea of it not being an exercise of resource management against horrifying odds. It's because of the mental strain of being constantly watched by something that hides like a diminutive cockroach under a kitchen stove, lying in wait to scutter from underneath its laurels to reveal itself to the unwitting. The creature in the game, called "the Slender Man", is an unsettling bit of imagery that has the ability to take the fullest advantage of your fears without ever needing to look like a monster.
Games like Slender are a stark indication that indie developers are looking into different definitions of horror to appeal to people that enjoy horror-based genres; something the larger third-parties have yet to be fully aware of. We live in a world where violent games like Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Zombi U are chalking up the horror amplitude with disfigured zombies, limited resources, mutant scourges, atmospheric scares, disgusting images, and lots of blood and intestinal entrails. Yet, most people don't realize that the horror genre, whether it be in games or otherwise, can be construed as many different variables outside of all that. In video games, horror can be alternately used as a pure psychological factor to draw reactions that aren't necessarily based on shock value. A horror game can successfully tap into a person's mental and emotional fears. In the case of Slender, there's the feeling of vulnerability and a fear of being watched and surprised in an uncertain environment or situation. In the case of the Fatal Frame series, the player snaps photos of ghosts who represent stigmas of very real deaths. Seeing a ghost that is clearly representative of an actual demise causes a almost knee-jerk fear of death and mortality.
Uncomfortable as this may all seem, psychological horror can actually work well in video games, and people who play video games like to immerse themselves fully in the experience to maximize their enjoyment. Just as it is with a burst of laughter, an adrenaline rush, a fit of rage or a need to solve a problem, the act of experiencing horror in all of its forms, not just merely through disgusting imagery or ugly zombies, is indicative of watching a movie or reading a novel; we experience these to BE scared, to BE surprised, to confront our fears. The same should hold true for video gaming as well, and the bigger industry giants will want to take notes from the little guys who are helping bring the horror genre back from the brink of relative darkness.
Hast thou felt it? The collective wind of eager anticipation, the aria of excitement not seen in ages. All emanating from one of the worst kept secrets in the video game industry -- the PlayStation 4.
They did manage to keep a few things under wraps to prolong the suspense. First off, we don't even know what it LOOKS like; apart from the touchy-feely Dual Shock 4 controllers and a Kinect-like sensor bar for motion-based games. We caught a glimpse of the system's performance through several trailers of upcoming launch titles. While not expecially mind-blowing, it was admittedly quite impressive enough to cast a shadow over the aging PlayStation 3. We gathered crucial bits of info about the PS4---such as the fact that it reportedly won't blocked used games as initially feared, but it won't support backwards-compatibility with PS3 games either. We still have yet to know a price point, the official release date and the design of the console itself. I suspect such things would be revealed at this year's E3.
Over the course of the next several months), I'm going to be studying the PS4 like a wheat germ under a high-powered microscope. Typically, I get excited over new consoles because they're a step-up from the ones before, but I always felt the PS3 just about tipped the plateau of what was humanly possible in console performance. High definition brought crystal clear images, and frame rates have improved considerably to allow for smoother gaming experiences. Heavy Rain pushed the limits of the PS3, inspiring third-parties and competitors to challenge themselves in creating an incredibly life-like experience using current-gen technology. But soon, the PS4 will succeed the PS3, boasting an impressive AMD next-generation Radeon GPU and a CPU 8 core "Jaguar" AMD. That's roughly comparable to the current round of well-equipped PCs. Might Sony be able to push things further than what we thought they had achieved with the PS3? Would there even be a need for a PlayStation 5?
Who knows? Performance and specs aside, the games are what really matter at this point. Still, it's hard to ignore what the PS4 can do with its hardware.
Are you guys excited about the PS4? Weigh in with your thoughts.
Bungie finally put out a teaser spot for their next big game post-Halo; called Destiny. They say it's supposed to be a first-person shooter that will allow players to create a character that will grow and evolve overtime, and the game itself will undergo an evolution that spans at least ten years. Sounds pretty ambitious. I suspect a massive promotional campaign and major hype surrounding this game. However, I'm left to wonder -- can Bungie reinvent the first-person shooter? You think Activision's got a potential hit on their hands outside of Call of Duty?
For now, Destiny seems like a promising concept. I'm definitely interested, but I want to see for myself just how good the game is, and what the screenshots and gameplay vids tell me. Expect lots and lots and lots of homework.
In the meantime, I'm going to be on the lookout for this in the months ahead. What about you?
The tagline for the Aliens films is "in space, no one can hear you scream." I wonder if that holds true for the video game industry and the development teams that churn its gears.
My friend picked up the collector's edition of Aliens Colonial Marines yesterday and I was watching him play it for several minutes. This was before I realized how horrible a critical reception it received right off the gate. 4.0 from GameSpot. Major website publications calling it a "disappointment" and a blight on a storied legacy of a beloved film franchise. Personally, I expected the game to be a lot better than a 4.0, seeing how it's Aliens and all, but it looks as if Gearbox once again unintentionally committed a second offense after Duke Nukem Forever -- taking the reins of a game that languished in development hell and turning up a less-than-stellar effort.
The question remains -- what happened? The overall lurid reception of Colonial Marines can be blamed on a variety of things. First, it's been reported that Gearbox had been inundiated with Borderlands 2 development around the same time Colonial Marines was being made and, because of the obvious strain, were collectively forced to hand over duties to another team known as TimeGate. Second, the team that handled Colonial Marines in Gearbox's temporary absence (sans Borderlands 2) supposedly butchered what Gearbox had started, resulting in a game that languished in a horrid state. Third, there were signs of tension between Sega and Gearbox in regards to the lengthy time period of Colonial Marines' development. Sega was reportedly ready to pursue legal action against Gearbox, and that Gearbox themselves requested several extensions to polish the game while they were simultaneously working on Borderlands 2. All in all, either Borderlands 2 stalled the potential of Colonial Marines, or there was some nastiness going on behind the scenes between Sega and Gearbox.
Even though the game is disappointing, the fault does not necessarily lie with Gearbox. I'm lead to believe they might have done everything in their known power to ensure a quality product with Colonial Marines, but were met with various obstacles. I'm left to wonder -- could Colonial Marines have been a better game if they did not have Borderlands 2 to contend with? Would it have been possible if Gearbox had not taken on two different projects at once?
They could have gotten away with simply outsourcing the rest of the game to another developer and relegating themselves to advisory status, but it isn't immediately clear whether or not Sega would have been entirely happy with them abandoning ship at a crucial point in Colonial Marine's development cycle. After all, they did threaten legal action. Conversely, Gearbox could have delayed Borderlands 2 instead and diverted their focus in getting Colonial Marines done and polishing all the rough edges, but it isn't clear whether or not 2K Games would have been happy with Borderlands 2 being pushed back either. As you can see, Gearbox found themselves in a bit of a pickle.
I'm also worried if the heavy expectations of gamers might also have played some part in straining the cycle of development. Not just this game in particular, but many more like it. For anticipated titles like Colonial Marines, gamers expect nothing less than a solid game that hits on nearly every note, and rightfully so given the fact that they're paying $60 of their hard-earned money. They are known to express their disdain and frustrations against developers in company message boards, and I'm fairly certain the same holds true with the Sega/Colonial Marines message boards right now.
Whatever the case may be, what you see is what you get. Colonial Marines has become a tragic catalyst of the unfortunate behind-the-scenes squabbling, industry shoe-horning, and heavy struggles that developers endure to make games for us to enjoy. And I fear there will be many more like it in the future as the game industry continues to change -- for better or for worse.
My friend, however, did tell me the next day he enjoyed the game and was looking forward to playing more. For Gearbox and Sega, who probably aren't even friends anymore, that should be some bit of consolation.
Love is in the air, and the month of February promises to be a cavalcade of surprises, including the anticipated unveiling of the PlayStation 4. In the meantime, I got a couple of new games to kick off the month. To get one of the games, however, I decided to let Assassin's Creed 3 go and use it as a trade-in. I messed up badly leapfrogging that series, and I'm paying the price. It's doubtful I'll get back into the franchise after it held so much promise for me, but life goes on. I'll live. In the meantime.....
Ni No Kuni. It was only mere days ago when I got this game and began playing it when I received a hearty congratulatory message from my good friend matastig. That was when it all sank in -- Ni no Kuni was something special, and there was a reason why it's got everyone talking. It's not merely a great game -- it's a prodigal son. You know, when a specific brand of role-playing game goes away for a lengthy period of time only to come back feeling better than it's ever been. The whole thing screams "old-school traditional style" right down to the Rogue Galaxy-esque combat, the familiars and the all-around classic vibe. It may not break a lot of ground, but it does what it does extremely well. Drippy has officially become my new favorite sidekick character. Not so much because he speaks in a heavy Scottish accent, but he's as lovingly annoying as a hyperbolic Ricky Gervais.....with a Scottish accent. Anyhow, the game is a nice throwback to old-school traditions; even if it does feel as if the game relies too heavily on them at times, I suppose that's what gives it so much charm.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. For a while, I had my reservations about the fourth Sly Cooper game going into a next-gen platform for the first time and being handled by people other than Sucker Punch, but with Thieves in Time, Sanzaru Games have proven how much they actually love the source material. Thieves in Time draws heavily from Sly 2 and retains all the memorable platforming gameplay of the series. Bottle collecting is back, the time-travel element works with the story and the ability to play different characters from the Cooper family is a big hoot. It's safe to say that the franchise is in good hands, even though the transitioning of development teams was tough to swallow. Although I do hold some hope that Sucker Punch will pick up the reins again, Sanzaru seems competent enough to carry the Sly Cooper legacy well into the future and, perhaps, through the graces of the rumored PS4. As Sly himself says in the game, "it feels good to be back in action."
Legend of the Mystical Ninja. On my quest to build a Super NES collection of games (complete with their boxes and manuals---watch yourselves, digi-demon and widdowson91!) I chose this game as my pick of the month; found it on EBay complete with box and manual. Such a thing is fairly rare with a game that had a limited print run back in the day, so this is something of an extraordinary find. I remember the good old days when me and my friend played it together on my Super NES, seduced by the authentic Japanese soundtrack and perplexed by the many different gameplay variants -- like the mini-games, the side-scrolling platformers and some mild RPG elements. Granted, this wasn't exactly Konami's killer app at the time when compared to juggernauts like Gradius, Contra and Castlevania, but it managed a cult following of sorts. Heck, I actually wanted it for Christmas one time before I had completely forgotten about it mere months later when I got Contra III for my birthday. Legend of the Mystical Ninja can currently be found on the Virtual Console for 800 points.
On the fence, I'm considering Metal Gear Rising, but since it is technically a part of the Metal Gear Solid series, I don't want to find myself leapfrogging again until I play the previous games. I also still have Far Cry 3 on the brain, too. Not sure yet. I'll keep you posted.