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  1. The second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a harsh slog through death, violence, and zombies. Which makes it all the more incredible that Season Two manages to be masterfully, achingly human. I’ll be attempting to keep this review spoiler-free since the main draw of the Telltale adventure games has always been experiencing the story. The Walking Dead Season Two places players in the shoes of Clementine, the young girl who was a staple character of the previous season. Soon after the second season begins, Clementine becomes separated from her friends and meets a new group of survivors. Players follow her trials and tribulations with the new group and the people they meet as they go through their ordeals. At its core, The Walking Dead Season Two knows how to construct drama. That mastery immediately sets it apart from many other blockbuster video games that rely on set piece spectacle, graphical horsepower, and marketing. Those bigger titles forget that effective drama relies on the audience empathizing and understanding the motivations of the characters. In this area, The Walking Dead Season Two excels. We understand the motivations of the characters, usually within the first few minutes of being introduced to them. Each character, even the bit players, have their own wants and needs, their own motivations. When we see those needs and wants clash, we can genuinely empathize with the situation, even if that situation is full of zombies. If any game makes a compelling case for more diverse video game casts, it is the second season of The Walking Dead. The most interesting characters of the second season are mostly women. There are several non-white characters. There is even a great moment involving a male character who is in a relationship with another man. All of this comes together to create a more interesting narrative. Seeing different views and ideologies collide is fascinating, especially when you can understand their viewpoints. As the season progresses, the player comes to an understanding of the level of violence permissible in the world of The Walking Dead and that understanding elevates the drama. When characters that we care about are threatened by intense, graphic violence we don’t want that to happen on a very fundamental level. When I say that the violence is some of the most graphic I have seen in a video game, I am not being hyperbolic. In particular, one scene stands out. There is a segment that involves a character being beaten into an unrecognizable, bloody mess with a crowbar. It is nauseatingly awful to witness and that is precisely the point. The Walking Dead’s second season makes a statement about how easily we accept horrific acts in our video games and how those acts are almost always treated casually or loosely justified with statements like, “It was war,” or even more simply, “they were the bad guys.” The brilliance of The Walking Dead Season 2 is that instances of violence, even in the most extreme cases, are never cheap and there is always an underlying point to their existence. I’m currently playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, so it is hard for me not to compare how violence works in each title. Don’t get me wrong, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game, but it falls into a category that I like to call, “well executed dumb.” It is trying to take players on a violence fueled romp through the ranks of Nazi’s who have taken over the world. The core mechanics all revolve around killing. I’d argue that violence is the end goal of Wolfenstein. If you take away the violent interactions there is no game left. You are never meant to think about the Nazi soldiers you kill in Wolfenstein as human beings. You are meant to think of them as monsters. There is nothing wrong with violence for its own sake, sometimes it can be very cathartic. However, violence by itself is empty excitement. When you compare the violence of The Walking Dead Season Two with that of Wolfenstein, you find that The Walking Dead uses violence with a purpose. For Telltale, violence is the means to an end. Let’s return to the crowbar scene that I mentioned earlier. What end does the incident serve? On a purely base level for the player it provides a certain amount of catharsis seeing an “evil” character get some form of retribution. On a character level it is a statement about what kind of a person Clementine is becoming. It is a pivotal moment where she, and by extension the player, is given multiple opportunities to leave and let the event go unwitnessed. Whether the player decides to stay or leave says something about what Clementine has learned in her time surviving the apocalypse. Then the scene drags on and on. It becomes grotesque. It is not pleasant to sit through, nor was it intended to be. Why does such an occurrence of violence feel so strange and unique in the gaming world? In fact, it is remarkable how often games create similar scenes or situations and treat them casually. How many soldiers have we mowed down in Call of Duty without giving it a second thought? How about Grand Theft Auto? In real life the acts we see performed in most video games would be utterly awful. In that way, despite its cel-shaded graphics and preposterous setting, The Walking Dead Season Two feels like one of the most honest depictions of violence that video games have to offer. It is enough that it makes one question; should violence be so easily digested? Midway through episode two Clementine is asked what she thinks is the most important thing in the world. No matter what response the player chooses the answer, Telltale’s writers tell us, is family. Where growing up was the central idea of the first season, family is the theme of the second season. We see Clementine through the struggles of surviving alone and then through the struggles of surviving with the people with whom fate has stuck her, much like how we are all stuck with our own families. In fact, there are a lot of different topics that are brought up over the course of playing the Walking Dead Season Two. A lot of people die, causing many characters to question the meaning of life and whether living is worth the trouble. Some find it hard to go on, others soldier on because it is the only thing they know how to do. How important is friendship and family in the face of life or death? Do children belong in such a world? Are the zombies or the humans the real monsters? Often Telltale forces players to make split second decisions; choices made in the heat of the moment that perhaps reflect a truth about how the player views the world. All of this serious talk might make it seem like The Walking Dead Season Two is doom and gloom all the way through, but that would be a misrepresentation. There is real joy and laughter nestled amongst the sadness and loss. I laughed out loud at several moments and smiled through others. A lot of the humor derives from Clementine being a young girl who is treated out of necessity as an adult. Most of the time she rises to the occasion admirably, but sometimes she can’t help but show how in many ways she is still a kid. Maybe those moments taken out of context weren’t hilarious, but any levity serves such a contrast against the dismal backdrop of the world that a good guffaw isn’t too far away when the comedy hits. You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t said much about the gameplay. That’s because there isn’t much to say about it. It is the least interesting aspect of Telltale’s recent adventure games and The Walking Dead Season Two isn’t an exception. Between the decisions that players will make are action segments comprised of quick time events. They’re not interesting by themselves, but the context of what players view on the screen makes them bearable. Tapping the Q key is not an interesting way to interact with a game. Often, interactivity is limited even during the moments when players are allowed to search an environment. However, I am more than happy to put up with the annoyance of quick time events and limited interactivity if I can experience more narratives of the quality produced by Telltale Games. The third season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead has been confirmed which leads me to wonder how the next season will work. The ending of the second season diverges wildly after a certain point of decision the player makes as Clementine, resulting in three different core endings, two of which have several different ways they can play out. This would make it very difficult to start the third season with Clementine remaining as the main character. Perhaps Telltale’s writers will perform some complicated word jiu-jitsu and make it work, but I think it is more likely that next season will have a different protagonist and Clementine will make an appearance as one of the side characters. Only time will tell for certain, though. Conclusion: The Walking Dead Season Two is one of the best narrative-focused games to be released this year. The writing is excellent, the performances are compelling, and the emotions it evokes are potent. The lack of variety in the interactions with the game world is overshadowed by the powerful narrative. Anything that might distract from the core experience with the story has been stripped away, revealing a journey with characters that will break your heart, mend it, and then shatter it all over again. The Walking Dead Season Two is available on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
  2. The second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a harsh slog through death, violence, and zombies. Which makes it all the more incredible that Season Two manages to be masterfully, achingly human. I’ll be attempting to keep this review spoiler-free since the main draw of the Telltale adventure games has always been experiencing the story. The Walking Dead Season Two places players in the shoes of Clementine, the young girl who was a staple character of the previous season. Soon after the second season begins, Clementine becomes separated from her friends and meets a new group of survivors. Players follow her trials and tribulations with the new group and the people they meet as they go through their ordeals. At its core, The Walking Dead Season Two knows how to construct drama. That mastery immediately sets it apart from many other blockbuster video games that rely on set piece spectacle, graphical horsepower, and marketing. Those bigger titles forget that effective drama relies on the audience empathizing and understanding the motivations of the characters. In this area, The Walking Dead Season Two excels. We understand the motivations of the characters, usually within the first few minutes of being introduced to them. Each character, even the bit players, have their own wants and needs, their own motivations. When we see those needs and wants clash, we can genuinely empathize with the situation, even if that situation is full of zombies. If any game makes a compelling case for more diverse video game casts, it is the second season of The Walking Dead. The most interesting characters of the second season are mostly women. There are several non-white characters. There is even a great moment involving a male character who is in a relationship with another man. All of this comes together to create a more interesting narrative. Seeing different views and ideologies collide is fascinating, especially when you can understand their viewpoints. As the season progresses, the player comes to an understanding of the level of violence permissible in the world of The Walking Dead and that understanding elevates the drama. When characters that we care about are threatened by intense, graphic violence we don’t want that to happen on a very fundamental level. When I say that the violence is some of the most graphic I have seen in a video game, I am not being hyperbolic. In particular, one scene stands out. There is a segment that involves a character being beaten into an unrecognizable, bloody mess with a crowbar. It is nauseatingly awful to witness and that is precisely the point. The Walking Dead’s second season makes a statement about how easily we accept horrific acts in our video games and how those acts are almost always treated casually or loosely justified with statements like, “It was war,” or even more simply, “they were the bad guys.” The brilliance of The Walking Dead Season 2 is that instances of violence, even in the most extreme cases, are never cheap and there is always an underlying point to their existence. I’m currently playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, so it is hard for me not to compare how violence works in each title. Don’t get me wrong, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game, but it falls into a category that I like to call, “well executed dumb.” It is trying to take players on a violence fueled romp through the ranks of Nazi’s who have taken over the world. The core mechanics all revolve around killing. I’d argue that violence is the end goal of Wolfenstein. If you take away the violent interactions there is no game left. You are never meant to think about the Nazi soldiers you kill in Wolfenstein as human beings. You are meant to think of them as monsters. There is nothing wrong with violence for its own sake, sometimes it can be very cathartic. However, violence by itself is empty excitement. When you compare the violence of The Walking Dead Season Two with that of Wolfenstein, you find that The Walking Dead uses violence with a purpose. For Telltale, violence is the means to an end. Let’s return to the crowbar scene that I mentioned earlier. What end does the incident serve? On a purely base level for the player it provides a certain amount of catharsis seeing an “evil” character get some form of retribution. On a character level it is a statement about what kind of a person Clementine is becoming. It is a pivotal moment where she, and by extension the player, is given multiple opportunities to leave and let the event go unwitnessed. Whether the player decides to stay or leave says something about what Clementine has learned in her time surviving the apocalypse. Then the scene drags on and on. It becomes grotesque. It is not pleasant to sit through, nor was it intended to be. Why does such an occurrence of violence feel so strange and unique in the gaming world? In fact, it is remarkable how often games create similar scenes or situations and treat them casually. How many soldiers have we mowed down in Call of Duty without giving it a second thought? How about Grand Theft Auto? In real life the acts we see performed in most video games would be utterly awful. In that way, despite its cel-shaded graphics and preposterous setting, The Walking Dead Season Two feels like one of the most honest depictions of violence that video games have to offer. It is enough that it makes one question; should violence be so easily digested? Midway through episode two Clementine is asked what she thinks is the most important thing in the world. No matter what response the player chooses the answer, Telltale’s writers tell us, is family. Where growing up was the central idea of the first season, family is the theme of the second season. We see Clementine through the struggles of surviving alone and then through the struggles of surviving with the people with whom fate has stuck her, much like how we are all stuck with our own families. In fact, there are a lot of different topics that are brought up over the course of playing the Walking Dead Season Two. A lot of people die, causing many characters to question the meaning of life and whether living is worth the trouble. Some find it hard to go on, others soldier on because it is the only thing they know how to do. How important is friendship and family in the face of life or death? Do children belong in such a world? Are the zombies or the humans the real monsters? Often Telltale forces players to make split second decisions; choices made in the heat of the moment that perhaps reflect a truth about how the player views the world. All of this serious talk might make it seem like The Walking Dead Season Two is doom and gloom all the way through, but that would be a misrepresentation. There is real joy and laughter nestled amongst the sadness and loss. I laughed out loud at several moments and smiled through others. A lot of the humor derives from Clementine being a young girl who is treated out of necessity as an adult. Most of the time she rises to the occasion admirably, but sometimes she can’t help but show how in many ways she is still a kid. Maybe those moments taken out of context weren’t hilarious, but any levity serves such a contrast against the dismal backdrop of the world that a good guffaw isn’t too far away when the comedy hits. You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t said much about the gameplay. That’s because there isn’t much to say about it. It is the least interesting aspect of Telltale’s recent adventure games and The Walking Dead Season Two isn’t an exception. Between the decisions that players will make are action segments comprised of quick time events. They’re not interesting by themselves, but the context of what players view on the screen makes them bearable. Tapping the Q key is not an interesting way to interact with a game. Often, interactivity is limited even during the moments when players are allowed to search an environment. However, I am more than happy to put up with the annoyance of quick time events and limited interactivity if I can experience more narratives of the quality produced by Telltale Games. The third season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead has been confirmed which leads me to wonder how the next season will work. The ending of the second season diverges wildly after a certain point of decision the player makes as Clementine, resulting in three different core endings, two of which have several different ways they can play out. This would make it very difficult to start the third season with Clementine remaining as the main character. Perhaps Telltale’s writers will perform some complicated word jiu-jitsu and make it work, but I think it is more likely that next season will have a different protagonist and Clementine will make an appearance as one of the side characters. Only time will tell for certain, though. Conclusion: The Walking Dead Season Two is one of the best narrative-focused games to be released this year. The writing is excellent, the performances are compelling, and the emotions it evokes are potent. The lack of variety in the interactions with the game world is overshadowed by the powerful narrative. Anything that might distract from the core experience with the story has been stripped away, revealing a journey with characters that will break your heart, mend it, and then shatter it all over again. The Walking Dead Season Two is available on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. View full article
  3. From the forges of Kickstarter rises an RPG that embraces player choice. Undoubtedly Larian Studios finest work to date, Divinity: Original Sin is a throwback to the PC RPGs of old, albeit with a modern coat of paint. Larian’s latest title can stand proudly alongside the likes of Baldur’s Gate or the original Fallout. For my review of Divinity: Original Sin, I’m just going to relay the events that occurred within the first five hours of booting it up. One of the neat aspects of Original Sin is that you can play with strangers or friends in a two player co-op mode which you can switch into at any time. I grabbed a colleague of mine and we hopped into the world of Rivellon. We both created our own Source Hunters, intrepid individuals tasked with tracking down and destroying the corrupting power known as Source. After character creation, we were sent by the order of Source Hunters to the coastal town of Cyseal to investigate a high-profile murder suspected of involving Source. Unfortunately the coastal town happened to be under attack by orcs, so after a beautiful animated cutscene we were dropped off on the shoreline a short distance from Cyseal. On our way to conduct our investigation, we learn that Divinity: Original Sin has some of the most entertaining sneaking animations ever devised. As we neared the coastal city, we encountered two drunk guards who mistook us for orcs. Luckily we convinced them that we were too human to be orcs and that was that… or it would have if one of us had thought to ask them if we could cross their bridge. For our transgression onto the sacred planks of their bridge, we were thrust into unwilling combat which ended with two dead guards on the beach. Later we would backtrack to that location and discover that one of the guards that came to relieve them of duty was freaking out over their murder. Whoops! We, being cool and collected Source Hunters, proceeded into Cyseal as nonchalantly as possible. While there, we died repeatedly trying to steal supplies from the town guard. It turns out that while it is entirely possible to steal everything in sight or kill everyone in the game, it really isn’t advisable to do so. After learning our lesson the hard way, I discovered that my character could talk with animals, a skill which I proceeded to use to get my fortune told by a prescient cow. While I was chatting up the local fauna, my companion ran off to explore the city proper. From what he told me a few minutes later, he had discovered a talking skull that he then proceeded to irritate until it called the town guard and had him arrested. Luckily, there was a demon in the prison to whom he traded a point of constitution to teleport him out of jail. It was around this time that we discovered a gravestone that dared us to dig up the remains that were buried below. We happily obliged and in repayment we were incinerated in a blast of fire. Reloading, we continued our exploration, vaguely remembering that we had come to solve a murder. We ran about town, eagerly exploring any nooks and crannies we encountered. While my friend was on the other side of Cyseal chatting up a wizard who enjoyed being a cat, my Source Hunter barged into the local physician’s clinic where he helped the young assistant try to heal one of two sick men. Upon resolving the moral conundrum posed by limited healing supplies, my companion and I were whisked away to THE FREAKING END OF TIME. While we were there, I kid you not, we met a time traveling imp historian named Zixzax. This was such a bizarre and unexpected turn of events that the two of us laughed for a good three or four minutes. Is this starting to sound insane yet? Clearly, Original Sin’s greatest strength lies in the freedom it affords to players. Every mission and scenario can be solved multiple ways or bypassed entirely. During one quest where I was supposed to infiltrate an evil cult and had to solve their initiation puzzles, I got frustrated and just killed all of the evil cultists and took the amulet I needed to progress in the story from their leader’s corpse. On one sidequest to break a character out of prison, rather than go to the trouble of finding the key to the cell, I simply teleported said character out with magic. Original Sin rewards a player’s creativity. Pretty much any solution you can think of has the potential to work and it rarely feels unfair when a plan fails (i.e. failing to pickpocket a McGuffin off of a goblin shaman because your skill was too low and starting a nearly hopeless fight in the middle of a goblin war camp). While the aforementioned freedom is definitely the main draw of Divinity, it is a double-edged sword. The unwillingness to restrict or funnel players leads to multiple instances of directionless wandering. There were several times when I felt lost because I either missed a line of dialogue or the game was being coy about where to go. You won’t always feel the burden of a lack of direction, but when you do you’ll feel completely stumped. Luckily, the narrative of Divinity: Original Sin isn’t anything over which you should get excited. The murder the Source Hunters come to investigate ends up being a more complex mystery than they could have guessed and that larger affair escalates until the stakes really can’t get any higher. This isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It is a competently executed tale of swords and sorcery (or as Original Sin puts it “sourcery”). Basically, the entire undertaking feels like it would be right at home as a pre-made Dungeons and Dragons adventure. The character creator allows for a number of different backgrounds, beginning powers, and visual tweaks. The abilities you take in character creation only matter for the first few hours, until you begin to find new abilities and level your appropriate skills. One of my Source Hunters began as a lady raised by wolves and was only proficient with earth magic; she ended the game as a crossbow sharpshooter who could also summon earth elementals. The flexibility of leveling is important, because it is almost a guarantee that you’ll have to branch into skill sets outside of your beginning pool of abilities. I started the game with a character who knew Geomancy and another that was well versed in Pyrokinetics. Later we recruited an expert Hydrosophist (water mage) who dabbled in some Aerotheurgy (air magic) along with a lady who could wield a nasty battleaxe via her Man-at-Arms proficiency. That left Scoundrel, Witchcraft, and Expert Marksman skills untaken. Then there are all of the skills that affect things outside of what abilities you can use in combat. There are skills for each weapon type, four different defensive skills, as well as social, crafting, and thievery skills. Beyond the general freedom of Divinity, the turn-based combat system is what will keep your interest throughout your adventures in Rivellon. Most of the moves are what you would expect: lighting, fireballs, freezing pillars, poisoned darts, etc. However, the way these abilities interact with the environment is what makes combat feel truly unique. Sure, you can summon a pool of oil to slow a group of enemies, but you can also hit the oil with a fire spell and engulf your enemies in flames and blinding smoke. If you create a poisoned cloud around a group of enemies, fire will cause it to explode. Ice spells can create slippery ice slicks that trip up opponents. Clouds of mist, pools of water, or even copious amounts of blood can be electrified to stun careless foes. While a lot of fun to play around with, using these secondary effects to your advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat. The terrain effects reveal one of the major weaknesses of Divinity: Original Sin. Unlike other recent tactical, turn-based games *cough* XCOM *cough*, the camera is fixed to a few certain angles. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it can sometimes make it hard to see where the terrain effects are located behind smoke or gas clouds. This can lead you to make fatal error like sending one of your Source Hunters or their allies over an ice slick, rendering them prone for two or three rounds of battle. While this wasn’t a constant issue, it was still a big enough problem that I had to reload several times throughout my playthrough. There is also another reason why players should be wary of the camera: Hidden objects. Imagine that you are trying to finish a quest and have reached a dead end. You were pretty sure you went in the right direction, but you end up backtracking and trying to find where you went wrong. You do this for over an hour. Eventually, you discover that you had missed a tiny button that was concealed on a portion of wall that was barely visible from the best angle afforded to you by the camera. This happened to me multiple times. You can chalk it up to the design attempting to be more retro, but I just found it incredibly irritating. As for the co-op, it is very much serviceable and it is really fun to experience an adventure like this with a friend by your side. I wouldn’t recommend playing with random strangers, simply because of the absurd level of trolling that unknown players are capable of within your world. For example, important conversations periodically take place between the two Source Hunters, conversations that alter the course of Divinity’s events. The Source Hunters must decide on a course of action, either by naturally agreeing or by arguing. Arguments are settled by a digital game of rock, paper, scissors. Some of the decisions result in the killing off of important characters or how you’ll tackle the next segment of a quest. It is fine to disagree with a friend, but a stranger mucking around in your game world just isn’t as much fun. One final note is that while most of the technical bugs have been fixed with patches by now, there are still a few lingering issues. The one I encountered that all but crippled my game was during the final boss fight. Overall, Original Sin looks great. It is bright and colorful or drab and moody when it needs to be. My computer had no problems running it at max settings until the final boss. For some reason, there are tons of particle effects that are being blown around by some sort of world-shattering wind and it caused the fight to slow to a crawl. I was barely able to successfully give orders. Even dropping the settings to their lowest point didn’t help. I eventually got through the fight, but it was quite a slog. Just beware that there are a few issues that could cause crashes or severe slowdown. Conclusion: Overall, Divinity: Original Sin is a fantastic, wonderful, silly, funny, ridiculous adventure that goes on for a very, very, very long time. Just keep in mind that the camera is a fickle creature and that you should save after you succeed in doing pretty much anything. Other than that, don’t expect the story to reinvent the wheel. Grab a buddy who will stay by your side for the long haul and save the world in whatever way seems best. Divinity: Original Sin was reviewed on PC and is now available.
  4. From the forges of Kickstarter rises an RPG that embraces player choice. Undoubtedly Larian Studios finest work to date, Divinity: Original Sin is a throwback to the PC RPGs of old, albeit with a modern coat of paint. Larian’s latest title can stand proudly alongside the likes of Baldur’s Gate or the original Fallout. For my review of Divinity: Original Sin, I’m just going to relay the events that occurred within the first five hours of booting it up. One of the neat aspects of Original Sin is that you can play with strangers or friends in a two player co-op mode which you can switch into at any time. I grabbed a colleague of mine and we hopped into the world of Rivellon. We both created our own Source Hunters, intrepid individuals tasked with tracking down and destroying the corrupting power known as Source. After character creation, we were sent by the order of Source Hunters to the coastal town of Cyseal to investigate a high-profile murder suspected of involving Source. Unfortunately the coastal town happened to be under attack by orcs, so after a beautiful animated cutscene we were dropped off on the shoreline a short distance from Cyseal. On our way to conduct our investigation, we learn that Divinity: Original Sin has some of the most entertaining sneaking animations ever devised. As we neared the coastal city, we encountered two drunk guards who mistook us for orcs. Luckily we convinced them that we were too human to be orcs and that was that… or it would have if one of us had thought to ask them if we could cross their bridge. For our transgression onto the sacred planks of their bridge, we were thrust into unwilling combat which ended with two dead guards on the beach. Later we would backtrack to that location and discover that one of the guards that came to relieve them of duty was freaking out over their murder. Whoops! We, being cool and collected Source Hunters, proceeded into Cyseal as nonchalantly as possible. While there, we died repeatedly trying to steal supplies from the town guard. It turns out that while it is entirely possible to steal everything in sight or kill everyone in the game, it really isn’t advisable to do so. After learning our lesson the hard way, I discovered that my character could talk with animals, a skill which I proceeded to use to get my fortune told by a prescient cow. While I was chatting up the local fauna, my companion ran off to explore the city proper. From what he told me a few minutes later, he had discovered a talking skull that he then proceeded to irritate until it called the town guard and had him arrested. Luckily, there was a demon in the prison to whom he traded a point of constitution to teleport him out of jail. It was around this time that we discovered a gravestone that dared us to dig up the remains that were buried below. We happily obliged and in repayment we were incinerated in a blast of fire. Reloading, we continued our exploration, vaguely remembering that we had come to solve a murder. We ran about town, eagerly exploring any nooks and crannies we encountered. While my friend was on the other side of Cyseal chatting up a wizard who enjoyed being a cat, my Source Hunter barged into the local physician’s clinic where he helped the young assistant try to heal one of two sick men. Upon resolving the moral conundrum posed by limited healing supplies, my companion and I were whisked away to THE FREAKING END OF TIME. While we were there, I kid you not, we met a time traveling imp historian named Zixzax. This was such a bizarre and unexpected turn of events that the two of us laughed for a good three or four minutes. Is this starting to sound insane yet? Clearly, Original Sin’s greatest strength lies in the freedom it affords to players. Every mission and scenario can be solved multiple ways or bypassed entirely. During one quest where I was supposed to infiltrate an evil cult and had to solve their initiation puzzles, I got frustrated and just killed all of the evil cultists and took the amulet I needed to progress in the story from their leader’s corpse. On one sidequest to break a character out of prison, rather than go to the trouble of finding the key to the cell, I simply teleported said character out with magic. Original Sin rewards a player’s creativity. Pretty much any solution you can think of has the potential to work and it rarely feels unfair when a plan fails (i.e. failing to pickpocket a McGuffin off of a goblin shaman because your skill was too low and starting a nearly hopeless fight in the middle of a goblin war camp). While the aforementioned freedom is definitely the main draw of Divinity, it is a double-edged sword. The unwillingness to restrict or funnel players leads to multiple instances of directionless wandering. There were several times when I felt lost because I either missed a line of dialogue or the game was being coy about where to go. You won’t always feel the burden of a lack of direction, but when you do you’ll feel completely stumped. Luckily, the narrative of Divinity: Original Sin isn’t anything over which you should get excited. The murder the Source Hunters come to investigate ends up being a more complex mystery than they could have guessed and that larger affair escalates until the stakes really can’t get any higher. This isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It is a competently executed tale of swords and sorcery (or as Original Sin puts it “sourcery”). Basically, the entire undertaking feels like it would be right at home as a pre-made Dungeons and Dragons adventure. The character creator allows for a number of different backgrounds, beginning powers, and visual tweaks. The abilities you take in character creation only matter for the first few hours, until you begin to find new abilities and level your appropriate skills. One of my Source Hunters began as a lady raised by wolves and was only proficient with earth magic; she ended the game as a crossbow sharpshooter who could also summon earth elementals. The flexibility of leveling is important, because it is almost a guarantee that you’ll have to branch into skill sets outside of your beginning pool of abilities. I started the game with a character who knew Geomancy and another that was well versed in Pyrokinetics. Later we recruited an expert Hydrosophist (water mage) who dabbled in some Aerotheurgy (air magic) along with a lady who could wield a nasty battleaxe via her Man-at-Arms proficiency. That left Scoundrel, Witchcraft, and Expert Marksman skills untaken. Then there are all of the skills that affect things outside of what abilities you can use in combat. There are skills for each weapon type, four different defensive skills, as well as social, crafting, and thievery skills. Beyond the general freedom of Divinity, the turn-based combat system is what will keep your interest throughout your adventures in Rivellon. Most of the moves are what you would expect: lighting, fireballs, freezing pillars, poisoned darts, etc. However, the way these abilities interact with the environment is what makes combat feel truly unique. Sure, you can summon a pool of oil to slow a group of enemies, but you can also hit the oil with a fire spell and engulf your enemies in flames and blinding smoke. If you create a poisoned cloud around a group of enemies, fire will cause it to explode. Ice spells can create slippery ice slicks that trip up opponents. Clouds of mist, pools of water, or even copious amounts of blood can be electrified to stun careless foes. While a lot of fun to play around with, using these secondary effects to your advantage can mean the difference between victory and defeat. The terrain effects reveal one of the major weaknesses of Divinity: Original Sin. Unlike other recent tactical, turn-based games *cough* XCOM *cough*, the camera is fixed to a few certain angles. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it can sometimes make it hard to see where the terrain effects are located behind smoke or gas clouds. This can lead you to make fatal error like sending one of your Source Hunters or their allies over an ice slick, rendering them prone for two or three rounds of battle. While this wasn’t a constant issue, it was still a big enough problem that I had to reload several times throughout my playthrough. There is also another reason why players should be wary of the camera: Hidden objects. Imagine that you are trying to finish a quest and have reached a dead end. You were pretty sure you went in the right direction, but you end up backtracking and trying to find where you went wrong. You do this for over an hour. Eventually, you discover that you had missed a tiny button that was concealed on a portion of wall that was barely visible from the best angle afforded to you by the camera. This happened to me multiple times. You can chalk it up to the design attempting to be more retro, but I just found it incredibly irritating. As for the co-op, it is very much serviceable and it is really fun to experience an adventure like this with a friend by your side. I wouldn’t recommend playing with random strangers, simply because of the absurd level of trolling that unknown players are capable of within your world. For example, important conversations periodically take place between the two Source Hunters, conversations that alter the course of Divinity’s events. The Source Hunters must decide on a course of action, either by naturally agreeing or by arguing. Arguments are settled by a digital game of rock, paper, scissors. Some of the decisions result in the killing off of important characters or how you’ll tackle the next segment of a quest. It is fine to disagree with a friend, but a stranger mucking around in your game world just isn’t as much fun. One final note is that while most of the technical bugs have been fixed with patches by now, there are still a few lingering issues. The one I encountered that all but crippled my game was during the final boss fight. Overall, Original Sin looks great. It is bright and colorful or drab and moody when it needs to be. My computer had no problems running it at max settings until the final boss. For some reason, there are tons of particle effects that are being blown around by some sort of world-shattering wind and it caused the fight to slow to a crawl. I was barely able to successfully give orders. Even dropping the settings to their lowest point didn’t help. I eventually got through the fight, but it was quite a slog. Just beware that there are a few issues that could cause crashes or severe slowdown. Conclusion: Overall, Divinity: Original Sin is a fantastic, wonderful, silly, funny, ridiculous adventure that goes on for a very, very, very long time. Just keep in mind that the camera is a fickle creature and that you should save after you succeed in doing pretty much anything. Other than that, don’t expect the story to reinvent the wheel. Grab a buddy who will stay by your side for the long haul and save the world in whatever way seems best. Divinity: Original Sin was reviewed on PC and is now available. View full article
  5. I believe that Transistor would classify as one of the few genuine video game tragedies, though such classification could doubtless be debated to death. Transistor is a game of paradoxes and mysteries. It is a tragedy, but it is also a tale of revenge. It focuses on the end of the world and the beginning of a new one. It is about an eloquent singer without a voice. Supergiant Games designed almost everything in Transistor with multiple purposes in mind. While this might seem confusing at first, it is really a dazzling testament to the talent at Supergiant Games. All the individual pieces of Transistor click together to create a cohesive and interesting whole that is shocking, beautiful, and full of silent rage. Inevitably people will compare Transistor with Supergiant Games’ first project, Bastion. On a purely surface level, Transistor shares a similar sense of style and world-building with its predecessor. It is highly stylized, played from an isometric perspective, and there is a constant voice helping to clarify the narrative and objectives. However, in almost every other respect it is an entirely different sort of beast. Nothing in Transistor is straightforward. The story begins with a murder gone wrong and a stolen voice. Red, the protagonist, was a famous and influential singer in the city of Cloudbank, until a group of individuals known as the Camerata attempted to silence her permanently. They only half succeeded. Though they stole her voice and managed to kill the mysterious man who was with her at the time, Red finds herself armed with the assassins’ weapon: the sword-like Transistor. Rather than run and escape Cloudbank, Red decides to take the fight to the Camerata just as a strange mass of creatures known as The Process begin to tear the world apart. Most of the talking done in the game is done by the Transistor itself which has absorbed the soul of the unknown man who was killed instead of Red. Red herself can only communicate back by typing on the various terminals scattered throughout Cloudbank. Because of her lack of voice, Red’s motivations and intentions are left to the player to interpret and aren’t necessarily clear until the final moments of Transistor. The narrative takes some strange turns and brings up a lot of questions that it doesn’t completely answer, at least not after a preliminary playthrough. What starts out seeming like a simple, little story ends up asking huge questions that feel relevant to our rapidly advancing, digital society. After having a few days to mull it over, I think I have a firm grasp on what Transistor was all about, what it meant. I’ve been trying to think of a less pretentious way of saying this, but I haven’t been able to come up with one: Transistor’s narrative doesn’t stoop to accommodate everyone. It requires a bit of effort on the part of the player to understand and piece together what happened over the course of the game. It isn’t a grand mystery, but it is an exercise in interpretation (which I think is bloody fantastic to see in a video game). Many games feel the need to spell themselves out, but Transistor understands that you don’t need to spell everything out and that sometimes conclusions that players reach themselves feel all the more valuable because they had to reach for them alone. There are going to be a fair number of people who won’t feel like delving into the narrative of Transistor and that’s fine. However, those people will be missing out on part of what makes this game truly great. The Transistor can absorb the fragments a person leaves behind after their death and make use of their power in combat. While the gameplay of Transistor initially feels very similar to the action-oriented gameplay of Bastion, a major addition changes everything. The Transistor allows the player to stop time and plan out a certain number of actions, which then unfold within the span of a half-second. This lends the game an almost turn-based feel as the time-stopping mechanic takes several seconds to recharge after being expended, during which the player is left vulnerable and unable to use (most) abilities. There are four ability slots that are open at any given time, each with one open augment slot (which can be upgraded to two augment slots), and later in the game there are unlockable passive skill slots. There are tons of different ability combinations for players to explore and discover what configurations they prefer. However, for those curious about the world and characters of Cloudbank, no combination will be satisfactory for long. Every person that the Transistor absorbs has a story and you unlock different pieces of their story by using their power as a main ability, and augmentation, or as a passive. If you want to discover everything about Transistor, you’ll be constantly forced to incorporate new abilities in different ways and adapt your strategies accordingly. While background information might not be enough of a motivation for some players to experiment with their preferred abilities, I found it to be very effective at getting me out of comfortable ruts with tried and true strategies. Right up until the end of the game I continued to acquire new soul fragments; only reverting to what I found to be my most powerful ability configuration for the final, climactic battle. While I found Transistor to be at a well-balanced difficulty, players looking for more of a challenge will be able to use unlockable limiters to give themselves combat restrictions in order to get more experience points. While the meat of Transistor revolves around its combat, there are many small, caring touches that make the game world feel a bit more human. These little things range from a button that allows Red to hold the Transistor tightly and hum along with the background music to a short pizza party sequence that results from interacting with a certain terminal. Those two examples might not seem like much, but they make the characters feel like people rather than pawns. Those slight moments inform and reinforce the rest of the game while simultaneously serving to briefly lighten the mood. Heavy topics arose throughout my time of Transistor and having some breaks, however short they might be, from looming catastrophe was welcome. Transistor’s world is dramatic, bold, and beautiful largely due to the work of art director Jen Zee and composer Darren Korb. Transistor is doubtlessly some of the finest work that either of them have ever done. You could take a screenshot from just about any portion of Transistor, crop out the UI elements, slap a frame on it and it would look right at home in an art exhibit. Seriously, I cannot emphasize how gorgeous I found Transistor. The lovely visuals are likewise complimented by an amazing techno-jazz-electronica-noir soundtrack that seemed to insistently pull me forward, giving me a sense of urgency. The few tracks that make use of Ashley Barrett’s incredible voice serve as a reminder of what Red has lost. For all of the energy present in the Korb’s excellent soundtrack, many of the pieces contain hints of sadness and loss, heralding the direction events are destined to take. (Warning: The Transistor soundtrack contains some light spoilers) Conclusion: Transistor is not a game to play if you are looking to turn your brain off. The combat asks for tactics and the story requires some thought. It isn’t a long game, easily finished in two or three sittings, but it needs a certain level of engagement. It tells a tale of heartbreaking reprisal and presents moral questions to its audience. Some players might be dismayed at the lack of choices and exploration. However, Transistor is largely an on-rails sort of experience; not having a large degree of player choice or exploration aren’t bad things, they are simply different ways to make a game. As a game, Transistor is a deep and thoroughly enjoyable experience. As a narrative, Transistor sits as one of the best video game tragedies of all time. Transistor was reviewed on PC. It is currently also available on PlayStation 4
  6. I believe that Transistor would classify as one of the few genuine video game tragedies, though such classification could doubtless be debated to death. Transistor is a game of paradoxes and mysteries. It is a tragedy, but it is also a tale of revenge. It focuses on the end of the world and the beginning of a new one. It is about an eloquent singer without a voice. Supergiant Games designed almost everything in Transistor with multiple purposes in mind. While this might seem confusing at first, it is really a dazzling testament to the talent at Supergiant Games. All the individual pieces of Transistor click together to create a cohesive and interesting whole that is shocking, beautiful, and full of silent rage. Inevitably people will compare Transistor with Supergiant Games’ first project, Bastion. On a purely surface level, Transistor shares a similar sense of style and world-building with its predecessor. It is highly stylized, played from an isometric perspective, and there is a constant voice helping to clarify the narrative and objectives. However, in almost every other respect it is an entirely different sort of beast. Nothing in Transistor is straightforward. The story begins with a murder gone wrong and a stolen voice. Red, the protagonist, was a famous and influential singer in the city of Cloudbank, until a group of individuals known as the Camerata attempted to silence her permanently. They only half succeeded. Though they stole her voice and managed to kill the mysterious man who was with her at the time, Red finds herself armed with the assassins’ weapon: the sword-like Transistor. Rather than run and escape Cloudbank, Red decides to take the fight to the Camerata just as a strange mass of creatures known as The Process begin to tear the world apart. Most of the talking done in the game is done by the Transistor itself which has absorbed the soul of the unknown man who was killed instead of Red. Red herself can only communicate back by typing on the various terminals scattered throughout Cloudbank. Because of her lack of voice, Red’s motivations and intentions are left to the player to interpret and aren’t necessarily clear until the final moments of Transistor. The narrative takes some strange turns and brings up a lot of questions that it doesn’t completely answer, at least not after a preliminary playthrough. What starts out seeming like a simple, little story ends up asking huge questions that feel relevant to our rapidly advancing, digital society. After having a few days to mull it over, I think I have a firm grasp on what Transistor was all about, what it meant. I’ve been trying to think of a less pretentious way of saying this, but I haven’t been able to come up with one: Transistor’s narrative doesn’t stoop to accommodate everyone. It requires a bit of effort on the part of the player to understand and piece together what happened over the course of the game. It isn’t a grand mystery, but it is an exercise in interpretation (which I think is bloody fantastic to see in a video game). Many games feel the need to spell themselves out, but Transistor understands that you don’t need to spell everything out and that sometimes conclusions that players reach themselves feel all the more valuable because they had to reach for them alone. There are going to be a fair number of people who won’t feel like delving into the narrative of Transistor and that’s fine. However, those people will be missing out on part of what makes this game truly great. The Transistor can absorb the fragments a person leaves behind after their death and make use of their power in combat. While the gameplay of Transistor initially feels very similar to the action-oriented gameplay of Bastion, a major addition changes everything. The Transistor allows the player to stop time and plan out a certain number of actions, which then unfold within the span of a half-second. This lends the game an almost turn-based feel as the time-stopping mechanic takes several seconds to recharge after being expended, during which the player is left vulnerable and unable to use (most) abilities. There are four ability slots that are open at any given time, each with one open augment slot (which can be upgraded to two augment slots), and later in the game there are unlockable passive skill slots. There are tons of different ability combinations for players to explore and discover what configurations they prefer. However, for those curious about the world and characters of Cloudbank, no combination will be satisfactory for long. Every person that the Transistor absorbs has a story and you unlock different pieces of their story by using their power as a main ability, and augmentation, or as a passive. If you want to discover everything about Transistor, you’ll be constantly forced to incorporate new abilities in different ways and adapt your strategies accordingly. While background information might not be enough of a motivation for some players to experiment with their preferred abilities, I found it to be very effective at getting me out of comfortable ruts with tried and true strategies. Right up until the end of the game I continued to acquire new soul fragments; only reverting to what I found to be my most powerful ability configuration for the final, climactic battle. While I found Transistor to be at a well-balanced difficulty, players looking for more of a challenge will be able to use unlockable limiters to give themselves combat restrictions in order to get more experience points. While the meat of Transistor revolves around its combat, there are many small, caring touches that make the game world feel a bit more human. These little things range from a button that allows Red to hold the Transistor tightly and hum along with the background music to a short pizza party sequence that results from interacting with a certain terminal. Those two examples might not seem like much, but they make the characters feel like people rather than pawns. Those slight moments inform and reinforce the rest of the game while simultaneously serving to briefly lighten the mood. Heavy topics arose throughout my time of Transistor and having some breaks, however short they might be, from looming catastrophe was welcome. Transistor’s world is dramatic, bold, and beautiful largely due to the work of art director Jen Zee and composer Darren Korb. Transistor is doubtlessly some of the finest work that either of them have ever done. You could take a screenshot from just about any portion of Transistor, crop out the UI elements, slap a frame on it and it would look right at home in an art exhibit. Seriously, I cannot emphasize how gorgeous I found Transistor. The lovely visuals are likewise complimented by an amazing techno-jazz-electronica-noir soundtrack that seemed to insistently pull me forward, giving me a sense of urgency. The few tracks that make use of Ashley Barrett’s incredible voice serve as a reminder of what Red has lost. For all of the energy present in the Korb’s excellent soundtrack, many of the pieces contain hints of sadness and loss, heralding the direction events are destined to take. (Warning: The Transistor soundtrack contains some light spoilers) Conclusion: Transistor is not a game to play if you are looking to turn your brain off. The combat asks for tactics and the story requires some thought. It isn’t a long game, easily finished in two or three sittings, but it needs a certain level of engagement. It tells a tale of heartbreaking reprisal and presents moral questions to its audience. Some players might be dismayed at the lack of choices and exploration. However, Transistor is largely an on-rails sort of experience; not having a large degree of player choice or exploration aren’t bad things, they are simply different ways to make a game. As a game, Transistor is a deep and thoroughly enjoyable experience. As a narrative, Transistor sits as one of the best video game tragedies of all time. Transistor was reviewed on PC. It is currently also available on PlayStation 4 View full article
  7. Picture yourself at ten years old. Imagine snuggling into bed at night and asking your parents to tell you that one story. They’d ask you which story you meant and you’d say as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “You know, the one with the clowns, the talking mountain, and the dragons. The one with Aurora!” Your parents would laugh and begin, “Once upon a time…” Through some feat of technical and artistic wizardry, Ubisoft Montreal has managed to breathe the imagination of a young child hearing their favorite fairytale bedtime story into every aspect of Child of Light. Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young princess who is whisked away into the magical land of Lemuria. She struggles to find a way to return home to her ailing father and free the various creatures and people of Lemuria from the oppression of the evil Queen of the Night. It isn’t a tale that’s pushing many boundaries or a story many will be unfamiliar with, but that’s part of the brilliance of Child of Light. It takes a familiar premise and executes it so well that it doesn’t matter that we’ve heard similar stories before. Part of what makes the entire package of Child of Light work so well are the characters. While on her journey, Aurora befriends a number of interesting companions like Finn, the fainthearted magician; Robert, the swashbuckling mouse; and Rubella, a talented vocalist/clown skilled in the ways of combat. The cast is diverse and Child of Light uses that diversity to its advantage, giving each character a memorable personality and at least one opportunity to prove their worth. For the most part, the story is constructed very well, but the moments leading up to the climactic ending feel a bit rushed and left me scratching my head regarding a few questions that were never addressed. Some people might also be put off by the fact that all the dialogue in the game is conveyed in verse rather than straight prose. Personally, I really enjoyed it, especially the jokes that make use of the format. At the very least it is trying something new and different. Of course, Child of Light entirely hinges upon its protagonist, Aurora. Beginning the game as a 10-year-old girl, Aurora’s character arc throughout her journey tackles issues like growing up, love, grief, and what it means to be brave. From the opening minutes, I was struck by how refreshing it was to see that the adventure throughout the mysterious Lemuria was undertaken by a courageous, kind, and intelligent female protagonist. Maybe that says something about the video game industry at large needing more awesome heroines or perhaps that is just where I am at in my personal life or possibly both. Regardless about what that says, I couldn’t help but think that when my niece is old enough to play video games we’ll be able to sit down together and play Child of Light. When we do, she’ll be able to point to Aurora as a role model both in video games and in larger world; and that’s something that is really important to me. I also think it is equally important that our young men have awesome female protagonists in their games. I had two of my nephews over for an evening recently and I showed them the classic Miyazaki film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Their response when Nausicaä was revealed as a princess? “She’s supposed to be a boy.” That’s not their fault, but so many of the stories both in our games and other media have implanted this idea that women aren’t capable of the same heroism as men and that’s malarkey. We need more games like Child of Light so that the messages we are sending to our children aren’t so slanted and exclusive. Incidentally, I sat those kids (3 and 5 years old, respectively) down and had a chat with them on that topic, hopefully that straightened things out. The previous paragraph may have given the impression that Child of Light is for children, which would be misleading because it’s really a game for all ages. There is a very wide spectrum of behaviors and strategies that will serve to progress through the world of Lemuria. Players can opt to simply go from point A to point B if they wish, but Child of Light rewards almost all deviations from the path for those willing to explore. Rewards come in the form of chests that contain HP, MP, and Revive potions, stat upgrades, or oculi, which can be used to augment a character’s attacks, defenses, or to have some other effect in combat. While I never ran out of any single item in my playthrough, there aren’t any ways to obtain more potions or revives other than by finding them in the environment. This could potentially be a problem for players less experienced in RPGs, but it isn’t a likely scenario considering how many of each item I had in my inventory by the end. Speaking of the combat, it is an amazingly fun system from which I hope Final Fantasy takes notes. All combatants are placed on an action bar and progress toward the end at different rates according to their speed stat. After passing into the “casting” portion of the action bar, any attack that hits either the player’s characters or the enemies will cancel their attack and knock them back along the action bar. You can use this to a tactical advantage to get enemies trapped in loops unable to make a move. Each new character recruited to Aurora’s side introduces new potential strategies on how to deal with the assorted baddies that plague Lemuria. However, don’t let the apparent depth of Child of Light’s combat dissuade you. While thinking tactically feels rewarding and certainly make progress easier, even brute force, unthinking attack commands will get you through most fights. In my time with Child of Light, I only saw the Game Over screen once and that was because I ran into spiked walls a few too many times while exploring. Overall, I think Child of Light would be an excellent game to introduce someone to RPGs or video games in general. Child of Light is a largely single-player experience, but it can be played co-op to a certain extent. The first character Aurora meets in Lemuria is a firefly named Igniculus. Igniculus can be controlled via a separate controller to pick up collectibles, open doors and chests, heal characters in battle, and slow an enemy’s progress on the action bar. Granted, whoever is controlling Igniculus is getting the short end of the stick, but it is still a way to experience Child of Light with someone else who might not otherwise be able to play. Visually, this game is so charming it hurts. Everything has a dreamy, watercolor painting look to it from the characters to the environments. It lends a beautiful ethereal quality to the entire production that makes Lemuria feel both foreign and familiar at the same time. I cannot stress this enough: Child of Light is a pleasure to look at. Half of the time I wanted to see what was next in the story and the other half of the time I wanted to see what new creatures and environments were around the next plot point. One tiny nitpick I have about the visual design is that the character model of Aurora is rendered in 3D rather than 2D like all the other assets. This is an intentional design decision, but for what purpose I’m not entirely sure. It could be to make it clear that Aurora is from a different world than that of the Lemurians, but I wish they had gone a different route because the 3D model sometimes stands out in a less than pleasing manner. <a data-cke-saved-href="http://musique.coeurdepirate.com/album/child-of-light" href="http://musique.coeurdepirate.com/album/child-of-light">Child of Light by Cœur de pirate</a> The soundtrack was put together by Quebec singer-songwriter Cœur de pirate and it perfectly complements the visuals and story. This is the kind of soundtrack that is absolutely essential for an RPG. Songs that players have to listen to repeatedly are made interesting and complex so that each subsequent listening players can discover something new about the music. There are certain elements that repeat throughout each song that give the soundtrack a certain cohesion. For an example of a game that does this very poorly, watch the opening minutes of The Last Remnant and pay attention to the music when it switches over into its battle mode. In Child of Light, the battle music that you hear hundreds of times is always thrilling; each time it would begin playing I took it as a call to action inspiring to do my best in combat. In fact, many of the songs in Child of Light are calls to action, albeit in different ways. Some musical pieces demand heroism or beckon the player onward, while others call forth compassion and empathy. Each track contains elements of innocence and excitement tempered with a strain of melancholy and mystery. And that mystery is part of what pulled me into the world of Lemuria and why I am so enamored with what Ubisoft Montreal has created. Conclusion: I have no doubt that in time Child of Light will be remembered as a classic. Everything about it is so well executed and enchanting that I really can’t recommend this game enough. At $15, it is certainly a must play for anyone who likes RPGs or has ever been interested in seeing what RPGs are all about. Visually and musically elegant, Child of Light should be used as a textbook example of how to tell a simple, but effective story within a video game. Certainly it has some minor blemishes, but none of them are large enough to get hung up on. I hope to see more games like this in the future. Excellent job, everyone at Ubisoft Montreal! Child of Light was reviewed on PlayStation 4. It is currently available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Wii U.
  8. Picture yourself at ten years old. Imagine snuggling into bed at night and asking your parents to tell you that one story. They’d ask you which story you meant and you’d say as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “You know, the one with the clowns, the talking mountain, and the dragons. The one with Aurora!” Your parents would laugh and begin, “Once upon a time…” Through some feat of technical and artistic wizardry, Ubisoft Montreal has managed to breathe the imagination of a young child hearing their favorite fairytale bedtime story into every aspect of Child of Light. Child of Light tells the story of Aurora, a young princess who is whisked away into the magical land of Lemuria. She struggles to find a way to return home to her ailing father and free the various creatures and people of Lemuria from the oppression of the evil Queen of the Night. It isn’t a tale that’s pushing many boundaries or a story many will be unfamiliar with, but that’s part of the brilliance of Child of Light. It takes a familiar premise and executes it so well that it doesn’t matter that we’ve heard similar stories before. Part of what makes the entire package of Child of Light work so well are the characters. While on her journey, Aurora befriends a number of interesting companions like Finn, the fainthearted magician; Robert, the swashbuckling mouse; and Rubella, a talented vocalist/clown skilled in the ways of combat. The cast is diverse and Child of Light uses that diversity to its advantage, giving each character a memorable personality and at least one opportunity to prove their worth. For the most part, the story is constructed very well, but the moments leading up to the climactic ending feel a bit rushed and left me scratching my head regarding a few questions that were never addressed. Some people might also be put off by the fact that all the dialogue in the game is conveyed in verse rather than straight prose. Personally, I really enjoyed it, especially the jokes that make use of the format. At the very least it is trying something new and different. Of course, Child of Light entirely hinges upon its protagonist, Aurora. Beginning the game as a 10-year-old girl, Aurora’s character arc throughout her journey tackles issues like growing up, love, grief, and what it means to be brave. From the opening minutes, I was struck by how refreshing it was to see that the adventure throughout the mysterious Lemuria was undertaken by a courageous, kind, and intelligent female protagonist. Maybe that says something about the video game industry at large needing more awesome heroines or perhaps that is just where I am at in my personal life or possibly both. Regardless about what that says, I couldn’t help but think that when my niece is old enough to play video games we’ll be able to sit down together and play Child of Light. When we do, she’ll be able to point to Aurora as a role model both in video games and in larger world; and that’s something that is really important to me. I also think it is equally important that our young men have awesome female protagonists in their games. I had two of my nephews over for an evening recently and I showed them the classic Miyazaki film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Their response when Nausicaä was revealed as a princess? “She’s supposed to be a boy.” That’s not their fault, but so many of the stories both in our games and other media have implanted this idea that women aren’t capable of the same heroism as men and that’s malarkey. We need more games like Child of Light so that the messages we are sending to our children aren’t so slanted and exclusive. Incidentally, I sat those kids (3 and 5 years old, respectively) down and had a chat with them on that topic, hopefully that straightened things out. The previous paragraph may have given the impression that Child of Light is for children, which would be misleading because it’s really a game for all ages. There is a very wide spectrum of behaviors and strategies that will serve to progress through the world of Lemuria. Players can opt to simply go from point A to point B if they wish, but Child of Light rewards almost all deviations from the path for those willing to explore. Rewards come in the form of chests that contain HP, MP, and Revive potions, stat upgrades, or oculi, which can be used to augment a character’s attacks, defenses, or to have some other effect in combat. While I never ran out of any single item in my playthrough, there aren’t any ways to obtain more potions or revives other than by finding them in the environment. This could potentially be a problem for players less experienced in RPGs, but it isn’t a likely scenario considering how many of each item I had in my inventory by the end. Speaking of the combat, it is an amazingly fun system from which I hope Final Fantasy takes notes. All combatants are placed on an action bar and progress toward the end at different rates according to their speed stat. After passing into the “casting” portion of the action bar, any attack that hits either the player’s characters or the enemies will cancel their attack and knock them back along the action bar. You can use this to a tactical advantage to get enemies trapped in loops unable to make a move. Each new character recruited to Aurora’s side introduces new potential strategies on how to deal with the assorted baddies that plague Lemuria. However, don’t let the apparent depth of Child of Light’s combat dissuade you. While thinking tactically feels rewarding and certainly make progress easier, even brute force, unthinking attack commands will get you through most fights. In my time with Child of Light, I only saw the Game Over screen once and that was because I ran into spiked walls a few too many times while exploring. Overall, I think Child of Light would be an excellent game to introduce someone to RPGs or video games in general. Child of Light is a largely single-player experience, but it can be played co-op to a certain extent. The first character Aurora meets in Lemuria is a firefly named Igniculus. Igniculus can be controlled via a separate controller to pick up collectibles, open doors and chests, heal characters in battle, and slow an enemy’s progress on the action bar. Granted, whoever is controlling Igniculus is getting the short end of the stick, but it is still a way to experience Child of Light with someone else who might not otherwise be able to play. Visually, this game is so charming it hurts. Everything has a dreamy, watercolor painting look to it from the characters to the environments. It lends a beautiful ethereal quality to the entire production that makes Lemuria feel both foreign and familiar at the same time. I cannot stress this enough: Child of Light is a pleasure to look at. Half of the time I wanted to see what was next in the story and the other half of the time I wanted to see what new creatures and environments were around the next plot point. One tiny nitpick I have about the visual design is that the character model of Aurora is rendered in 3D rather than 2D like all the other assets. This is an intentional design decision, but for what purpose I’m not entirely sure. It could be to make it clear that Aurora is from a different world than that of the Lemurians, but I wish they had gone a different route because the 3D model sometimes stands out in a less than pleasing manner. <a data-cke-saved-href="http://musique.coeurdepirate.com/album/child-of-light" href="http://musique.coeurdepirate.com/album/child-of-light">Child of Light by Cœur de pirate</a> The soundtrack was put together by Quebec singer-songwriter Cœur de pirate and it perfectly complements the visuals and story. This is the kind of soundtrack that is absolutely essential for an RPG. Songs that players have to listen to repeatedly are made interesting and complex so that each subsequent listening players can discover something new about the music. There are certain elements that repeat throughout each song that give the soundtrack a certain cohesion. For an example of a game that does this very poorly, watch the opening minutes of The Last Remnant and pay attention to the music when it switches over into its battle mode. In Child of Light, the battle music that you hear hundreds of times is always thrilling; each time it would begin playing I took it as a call to action inspiring to do my best in combat. In fact, many of the songs in Child of Light are calls to action, albeit in different ways. Some musical pieces demand heroism or beckon the player onward, while others call forth compassion and empathy. Each track contains elements of innocence and excitement tempered with a strain of melancholy and mystery. And that mystery is part of what pulled me into the world of Lemuria and why I am so enamored with what Ubisoft Montreal has created. Conclusion: I have no doubt that in time Child of Light will be remembered as a classic. Everything about it is so well executed and enchanting that I really can’t recommend this game enough. At $15, it is certainly a must play for anyone who likes RPGs or has ever been interested in seeing what RPGs are all about. Visually and musically elegant, Child of Light should be used as a textbook example of how to tell a simple, but effective story within a video game. Certainly it has some minor blemishes, but none of them are large enough to get hung up on. I hope to see more games like this in the future. Excellent job, everyone at Ubisoft Montreal! Child of Light was reviewed on PlayStation 4. It is currently available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Wii U. View full article
  9. I’ll get to the point: Titanfall has a lot of elements that will seem really, really good at first glance. It has giant robots, parkour ledge-grabbing, wall running, and explosions. If those sound like things that would appeal to you, then you will probably enjoy Titanfall. If, on the other hand, you are looking for an intriguing storyline, compelling characters, or anything outside of the multiplayer experience, you might want to look elsewhere. Titanfall is a first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment that inserts players into a civil war torn vision of the space-faring future. Players take up arms as a member of either the courageous Militia or the nefarious IMC and engage in team battles with six players on each side and numerous AI grunt forces spraying bullets everywhere. The game modes on display are almost all variations on modes that we’ve all seen before in other games. Attrition, Pilot Hunter, and Last Titan Standing are all slightly tweaked versions of classic Team Deathmatch. Capture the Flag is… well, Capture the Flag. And Hardpoint Domination is Titanfall’s version of Capture Point. While nothing terribly revolutionary seems to be happening in Titanfall’s game modes, the gameplay shines with polish worked into every aspect of the presentation. Matches begin with cinematic airdrops into combat zones along with AI allies, lending every match a sense of scale I’ve rarely felt in other multiplayer games. As soon as players hit the ground, the magic starts to happen. Since Titanfall features unlimited sprint, most players hit the ground running. All players are also equipped with jetpacks that allow for double jumps, wall-running, and ledge-climbing all of which can be linked together for a feeling of flowing movement. This freedom of mobility is largely what makes Titanfall standout. It liberates players from the traditional corridor shooting mindset that governs many of the most popular FPS games on the market. Running through a level becomes just as much fun as actually fighting through it. One of my favorite aspects of Titanfall is the visual and level design. The maps take into account the vertical capabilities of the players and encourage the use of freerunning maneuvers. Visually, every level feels like it was once a space people inhabited. The debris in the battle zones provide glimpses into the world of Titanfall, into the culture of the Frontier. Some signs in homes are written with Chinese characters, Militia settlements look cobbled together from numerous pieces of used technology, and majestically large aliens stroll the map borders. Unfortunately, the backstory conjured by the minutia scattered throughout each level is more interesting to think about than the actual story told by the campaign, but more on that later. Players new to Titanfall or FPS games in general are given an advantage to even out the skill disparity between themselves and the hardcore, reflex shooter crowd in the form of the smart pistol, a weapon which auto-locks headshots. While it might seem overpowered, after spending a good chunk of time playing Titanfall, it becomes very apparent that the smart pistol’s lock-on isn’t nearly as fast as someone with a high amount of skill with a shotgun, rifle, or SMG. Skilled players will be able to take down the wielder of a smart pistol before enough headshots are locked. The smart pistol is available right from the start, but new weapons, customizable loadout slots, and titan gear can be unlocked by playing the game and levelling your account with experience earned from playing matches and completing various challenges in-game. Eventually, players will unlock the ability to use burn cards while in matches. Burn cards are a fun meta-game that provide finite, temporary benefits when used in a multiplayer match. These range from a large chunk of seconds shaved from your titan’s cooldown to enhanced versions of weapons in your loadout. They are gone forever after you use them, but you earn plenty of them while playing, so no need to be stingy with them. Perhaps Titanfall’s biggest accomplishment lies in its balancing. It is a perfectly tuned multiplayer machine, an incredible feat when every player has the ability to call down giant robots from space that shoot gigantic rockets, catch bullets, and can self-destruct with the force of a miniature nuclear bomb. As each match starts, a timer begins counting down to when each player will be able to call down their titan. This timer can be reduced by eliminating enemy players, AI grunts, or titans. This makes the opening minutes of almost every match a frantic scramble to get the first titan of the game and secure an advantage over the enemy team. This doesn’t mean that players on foot are left defenseless. Each character’s loadout includes an anti-titan weapon that can puncture a titan’s armor. Though titans destroy almost everything that comes in contact with them, the anti-titan ordinance, along with the freedom of movement afforded to players, make fighting a titan on foot slightly less suicidal than it might initially seem. Regardless of winning or losing, the end of a match brings a new mini-game. The losing team must retreat to an escape ship and fight for survival, while the winning team is tasked with preventing their escape. I enjoyed the thrill of escaping at the last minute or preventing an adversary from escaping the battlefield. The majority of Titanfall’s problems appear when it tries to present its campaign. Stemming from laziness, a lack of money, or a misguided design decision, the campaign is little more than multiplayer matches with voice overs slapped over them. That idea has the potential to be interesting, but not the way it appears in Titanfall. The story revolves around the war between the Militia and the IMC. I could look up the synopsis on Wikipedia and regurgitate that for you all, but I think how little I remember of the plot is more telling. The Militia are supposed to be the “good” guys, but I never really understood why we were supposed to be rooting for them other than because of the “underdog rebels fight evil empire” trope. The IMC are bad because they use robots or are trying to take the Militia’s land or something. I also can’t remember any of the characters except for “cool girl” and “guy-who-plays-with-knife.” Things explode and then the campaign ends. The campaign never becomes detrimental to the rest of the Titanfall experience because it is just more multiplayer matches, but neither is it beneficial in any sense. I found it disappointing that such an interesting world, brimming with so much creative potential wasn’t explored in more depth. I have the sneaking suspicion that, this being Respawn’s first game, they focused their efforts on crafting and balancing the multiplayer experience and when they finished, they didn’t have the means or the time to also create an interesting or meaningful campaign. I don’t blame them for not having a noteworthy story; they did what they had to in order to sell their game. However, since video games are a medium for storytelling as well as for fun I can’t help but see this as a wasted opportunity. Perhaps we’ll see some interesting single-player DLC or a better campaign in Respawn’s next project? Conclusion: Overall, Titanfall is a thrilling experience and a blast to play with friends. Moments like smashing an enemy who was about to kill you by calling down a death robot from space on top of them are almost magical in how awesome this game can make players feel. While the lazy campaign bothered me as a writer, I doubt it will be a deal breaker if the previous sentence sounded cool to you. I’d urge those who write it off as “Call of Duty with robots” to try it before passing judgment. Titanfall was reviewed on PC View full article
  10. I’ll get to the point: Titanfall has a lot of elements that will seem really, really good at first glance. It has giant robots, parkour ledge-grabbing, wall running, and explosions. If those sound like things that would appeal to you, then you will probably enjoy Titanfall. If, on the other hand, you are looking for an intriguing storyline, compelling characters, or anything outside of the multiplayer experience, you might want to look elsewhere. Titanfall is a first-person shooter from Respawn Entertainment that inserts players into a civil war torn vision of the space-faring future. Players take up arms as a member of either the courageous Militia or the nefarious IMC and engage in team battles with six players on each side and numerous AI grunt forces spraying bullets everywhere. The game modes on display are almost all variations on modes that we’ve all seen before in other games. Attrition, Pilot Hunter, and Last Titan Standing are all slightly tweaked versions of classic Team Deathmatch. Capture the Flag is… well, Capture the Flag. And Hardpoint Domination is Titanfall’s version of Capture Point. While nothing terribly revolutionary seems to be happening in Titanfall’s game modes, the gameplay shines with polish worked into every aspect of the presentation. Matches begin with cinematic airdrops into combat zones along with AI allies, lending every match a sense of scale I’ve rarely felt in other multiplayer games. As soon as players hit the ground, the magic starts to happen. Since Titanfall features unlimited sprint, most players hit the ground running. All players are also equipped with jetpacks that allow for double jumps, wall-running, and ledge-climbing all of which can be linked together for a feeling of flowing movement. This freedom of mobility is largely what makes Titanfall standout. It liberates players from the traditional corridor shooting mindset that governs many of the most popular FPS games on the market. Running through a level becomes just as much fun as actually fighting through it. One of my favorite aspects of Titanfall is the visual and level design. The maps take into account the vertical capabilities of the players and encourage the use of freerunning maneuvers. Visually, every level feels like it was once a space people inhabited. The debris in the battle zones provide glimpses into the world of Titanfall, into the culture of the Frontier. Some signs in homes are written with Chinese characters, Militia settlements look cobbled together from numerous pieces of used technology, and majestically large aliens stroll the map borders. Unfortunately, the backstory conjured by the minutia scattered throughout each level is more interesting to think about than the actual story told by the campaign, but more on that later. Players new to Titanfall or FPS games in general are given an advantage to even out the skill disparity between themselves and the hardcore, reflex shooter crowd in the form of the smart pistol, a weapon which auto-locks headshots. While it might seem overpowered, after spending a good chunk of time playing Titanfall, it becomes very apparent that the smart pistol’s lock-on isn’t nearly as fast as someone with a high amount of skill with a shotgun, rifle, or SMG. Skilled players will be able to take down the wielder of a smart pistol before enough headshots are locked. The smart pistol is available right from the start, but new weapons, customizable loadout slots, and titan gear can be unlocked by playing the game and levelling your account with experience earned from playing matches and completing various challenges in-game. Eventually, players will unlock the ability to use burn cards while in matches. Burn cards are a fun meta-game that provide finite, temporary benefits when used in a multiplayer match. These range from a large chunk of seconds shaved from your titan’s cooldown to enhanced versions of weapons in your loadout. They are gone forever after you use them, but you earn plenty of them while playing, so no need to be stingy with them. Perhaps Titanfall’s biggest accomplishment lies in its balancing. It is a perfectly tuned multiplayer machine, an incredible feat when every player has the ability to call down giant robots from space that shoot gigantic rockets, catch bullets, and can self-destruct with the force of a miniature nuclear bomb. As each match starts, a timer begins counting down to when each player will be able to call down their titan. This timer can be reduced by eliminating enemy players, AI grunts, or titans. This makes the opening minutes of almost every match a frantic scramble to get the first titan of the game and secure an advantage over the enemy team. This doesn’t mean that players on foot are left defenseless. Each character’s loadout includes an anti-titan weapon that can puncture a titan’s armor. Though titans destroy almost everything that comes in contact with them, the anti-titan ordinance, along with the freedom of movement afforded to players, make fighting a titan on foot slightly less suicidal than it might initially seem. Regardless of winning or losing, the end of a match brings a new mini-game. The losing team must retreat to an escape ship and fight for survival, while the winning team is tasked with preventing their escape. I enjoyed the thrill of escaping at the last minute or preventing an adversary from escaping the battlefield. The majority of Titanfall’s problems appear when it tries to present its campaign. Stemming from laziness, a lack of money, or a misguided design decision, the campaign is little more than multiplayer matches with voice overs slapped over them. That idea has the potential to be interesting, but not the way it appears in Titanfall. The story revolves around the war between the Militia and the IMC. I could look up the synopsis on Wikipedia and regurgitate that for you all, but I think how little I remember of the plot is more telling. The Militia are supposed to be the “good” guys, but I never really understood why we were supposed to be rooting for them other than because of the “underdog rebels fight evil empire” trope. The IMC are bad because they use robots or are trying to take the Militia’s land or something. I also can’t remember any of the characters except for “cool girl” and “guy-who-plays-with-knife.” Things explode and then the campaign ends. The campaign never becomes detrimental to the rest of the Titanfall experience because it is just more multiplayer matches, but neither is it beneficial in any sense. I found it disappointing that such an interesting world, brimming with so much creative potential wasn’t explored in more depth. I have the sneaking suspicion that, this being Respawn’s first game, they focused their efforts on crafting and balancing the multiplayer experience and when they finished, they didn’t have the means or the time to also create an interesting or meaningful campaign. I don’t blame them for not having a noteworthy story; they did what they had to in order to sell their game. However, since video games are a medium for storytelling as well as for fun I can’t help but see this as a wasted opportunity. Perhaps we’ll see some interesting single-player DLC or a better campaign in Respawn’s next project? Conclusion: Overall, Titanfall is a thrilling experience and a blast to play with friends. Moments like smashing an enemy who was about to kill you by calling down a death robot from space on top of them are almost magical in how awesome this game can make players feel. While the lazy campaign bothered me as a writer, I doubt it will be a deal breaker if the previous sentence sounded cool to you. I’d urge those who write it off as “Call of Duty with robots” to try it before passing judgment. Titanfall was reviewed on PC
  11. On the surface, Earth Defense Force 2025 bears many signs that would normally be red flags to seasoned gamers. The premise, aliens using giant insects to invade Earth, sounds like something from a scraped ‘50s B-movie. Graphically, it fails to impress. The writing is some of the most laughable I’ve ever encountered in a game. However, Earth Defense Force 2025 accomplishes the impossible by blending all of these elements into a game that I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable third-person shooter. Developed by Sandlot, Earth Defense Force 2025 is a sequel to 2007’s Earth Defense Force 2017. The story of the series is that an alien race came to Earth in 2017 and were promptly dubbed the Ravagers before they had even ravaged anything. The aliens soon unleashed swarms of giant insects to decimate the world’s population. Luckily, the titular Earth Defense Force had one very competent soldier who almost single-handedly took down the alien threat… Or so the world thought! 2025 picks up a few years later and more giant bugs are coming out of the ground and the aliens are back and it is the player’s job to single-handedly take down the alien thre-wait… if the plot summary of 2025 seems oddly familiar, that is because EDF 2025 is pretty much a retelling of 2017. This isn’t really a problem since story was never the strong suit of the series, but it is still a bit strange for a game so off the rails to be stepping to such a similar beat as its predecessor. Graphically, there have been numerous tweaks and updates between 2017 and 2025. This is most noticeable in the steady frame rate which is much appreciated when the action gets thick and entire cities are busy exploding and collapsing. Lighting effects are also greatly improved and make everything, especially the explosions, look much nicer. Everything related to the enemy models, explosions, and player characters looks fine. However, much less attention was paid to the environments and smaller details. Civilians look like place-holder animations that were never finished. Buildings have very little detail because almost every structure in the game is designed to be blown up and destroyed with one or two rocket attacks. When everything is exploding these imperfections aren’t such a big deal, but they do provide unintended entertainment during cutscenes which are made using in-game assets. Load times for these cutscenes can range anywhere from 20-40 seconds, which is a real drag if you encounter a particularly difficult mission that requires multiple attempts. Thankfully, there is an option to disable cutscenes. The meat and potatoes gameplay of EDF 2025 consists of shooting large amounts of ridiculous enemies that consist of giant ants, giant spiders, giant robots, giant dragons, giant hornets, and giant flying saucers. If you couldn’t tell from the previous sentence, Earth Defense Force rarely does anything on a small scale. The weapons you choose to take with you prior to level select have infinite ammo, meaning players that aren’t shooting everything that moves as fast as they are able are doing it wrong. As players move through levels, enemies will drop health packs, armor (which slightly increases total health), and bright green crates that unlock new weapons. Co-op is built into the experience and players have the option of either playing online four-player co-op or locally in split-screen mode with a friend. Earth Defense Force 2025 feels like a ridiculous arcade game that snuck onto consoles. It gives off the vibe of the kind of arcade game you’d only encounter once in an obscure, back-alley arcade and then never find again, but you’d remember for a long time afterward for its insanity. Since level after level of shooting waves of bizarre enemies with infinite ammo guns might slip into repetitive territory after a while, EDF 2025 infuses some variety into the gameplay through the implementation of four different soldier classes. The basic Ranger class is well rounded, can drive vehicles, and does little dodge rolls to get out of tight spots. Air Raiders were built specifically as a support class for co-op. They are the only class capable of calling in air strikes, tank, helicopter, and mech drops, and the only other class that can operate said vehicles. The Fencer is the heavy duty combatant of the bunch, able to equip up to four weapons and make use of heavy-hitting melee attacks. By far my favorite class was the Wing Diver, which sacrifices HP for a jet pack and plasma weapons. The addition of the jet pack makes it much easier to avoid enemies and use the vertical elements of the various levels to get an advantage. Furthermore, there is an enjoyable element of managing your resources with the Wing Diver. The jet pack and weapons use the same energy source, meaning that going a bit too nuts with your guns or flying too long will overload your systems. In order to avoid a systems failure at an inopportune moment, players have to balance their need for fight and flight. On the first run through the game, any difficulty other than normal or easy will be virtually impossible. Higher difficulties require much more powerful weapons, which are only unlocked by playing later missions on normal or easy. Higher difficulties unlock even better weapons, but right off the bat enemies will overwhelm and crush players attempting anything more difficult than normal. The voice-over work in the Earth Defense Force series has never been that great, but in 2025 it reaches new levels of cheese and silliness. While there is always something amazing about a serious-sounding narrator pleading with the player to save the world from giant robots and insects, what really shines is the ambient dialogue between soldiers controlled by the AI. These nameless members of the EDF follow the player around and will talk with each other as missions progress. They enthusiastically shout out phrases like, “The next battle is going to be violent!” and, “Did you eat lunch?” There are also cases of strange and silly translations from Japanese to English. For example, when a new enemy type appears that makes use of an energy shield, the narrator constantly refers to the force field as a “shield screen.” Conclusion: While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Earth Defense Force 2025, I also realize that it isn’t for everyone. The game has numerous technical flaws that could distract players from the core experience. Some people will be put off by the lack of visual polish, while others might find the gameplay repetitive. However, EDF 2025 has all the signs of becoming a cult classic. People who can look past Earth Defense Force 2025’s missteps or even embrace them as a cheesy part of the EDF experience will find a game that is fun, unintentionally hilarious, and strangely endearing. View full article
  12. On the surface, Earth Defense Force 2025 bears many signs that would normally be red flags to seasoned gamers. The premise, aliens using giant insects to invade Earth, sounds like something from a scraped ‘50s B-movie. Graphically, it fails to impress. The writing is some of the most laughable I’ve ever encountered in a game. However, Earth Defense Force 2025 accomplishes the impossible by blending all of these elements into a game that I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable third-person shooter. Developed by Sandlot, Earth Defense Force 2025 is a sequel to 2007’s Earth Defense Force 2017. The story of the series is that an alien race came to Earth in 2017 and were promptly dubbed the Ravagers before they had even ravaged anything. The aliens soon unleashed swarms of giant insects to decimate the world’s population. Luckily, the titular Earth Defense Force had one very competent soldier who almost single-handedly took down the alien threat… Or so the world thought! 2025 picks up a few years later and more giant bugs are coming out of the ground and the aliens are back and it is the player’s job to single-handedly take down the alien thre-wait… if the plot summary of 2025 seems oddly familiar, that is because EDF 2025 is pretty much a retelling of 2017. This isn’t really a problem since story was never the strong suit of the series, but it is still a bit strange for a game so off the rails to be stepping to such a similar beat as its predecessor. Graphically, there have been numerous tweaks and updates between 2017 and 2025. This is most noticeable in the steady frame rate which is much appreciated when the action gets thick and entire cities are busy exploding and collapsing. Lighting effects are also greatly improved and make everything, especially the explosions, look much nicer. Everything related to the enemy models, explosions, and player characters looks fine. However, much less attention was paid to the environments and smaller details. Civilians look like place-holder animations that were never finished. Buildings have very little detail because almost every structure in the game is designed to be blown up and destroyed with one or two rocket attacks. When everything is exploding these imperfections aren’t such a big deal, but they do provide unintended entertainment during cutscenes which are made using in-game assets. Load times for these cutscenes can range anywhere from 20-40 seconds, which is a real drag if you encounter a particularly difficult mission that requires multiple attempts. Thankfully, there is an option to disable cutscenes. The meat and potatoes gameplay of EDF 2025 consists of shooting large amounts of ridiculous enemies that consist of giant ants, giant spiders, giant robots, giant dragons, giant hornets, and giant flying saucers. If you couldn’t tell from the previous sentence, Earth Defense Force rarely does anything on a small scale. The weapons you choose to take with you prior to level select have infinite ammo, meaning players that aren’t shooting everything that moves as fast as they are able are doing it wrong. As players move through levels, enemies will drop health packs, armor (which slightly increases total health), and bright green crates that unlock new weapons. Co-op is built into the experience and players have the option of either playing online four-player co-op or locally in split-screen mode with a friend. Earth Defense Force 2025 feels like a ridiculous arcade game that snuck onto consoles. It gives off the vibe of the kind of arcade game you’d only encounter once in an obscure, back-alley arcade and then never find again, but you’d remember for a long time afterward for its insanity. Since level after level of shooting waves of bizarre enemies with infinite ammo guns might slip into repetitive territory after a while, EDF 2025 infuses some variety into the gameplay through the implementation of four different soldier classes. The basic Ranger class is well rounded, can drive vehicles, and does little dodge rolls to get out of tight spots. Air Raiders were built specifically as a support class for co-op. They are the only class capable of calling in air strikes, tank, helicopter, and mech drops, and the only other class that can operate said vehicles. The Fencer is the heavy duty combatant of the bunch, able to equip up to four weapons and make use of heavy-hitting melee attacks. By far my favorite class was the Wing Diver, which sacrifices HP for a jet pack and plasma weapons. The addition of the jet pack makes it much easier to avoid enemies and use the vertical elements of the various levels to get an advantage. Furthermore, there is an enjoyable element of managing your resources with the Wing Diver. The jet pack and weapons use the same energy source, meaning that going a bit too nuts with your guns or flying too long will overload your systems. In order to avoid a systems failure at an inopportune moment, players have to balance their need for fight and flight. On the first run through the game, any difficulty other than normal or easy will be virtually impossible. Higher difficulties require much more powerful weapons, which are only unlocked by playing later missions on normal or easy. Higher difficulties unlock even better weapons, but right off the bat enemies will overwhelm and crush players attempting anything more difficult than normal. The voice-over work in the Earth Defense Force series has never been that great, but in 2025 it reaches new levels of cheese and silliness. While there is always something amazing about a serious-sounding narrator pleading with the player to save the world from giant robots and insects, what really shines is the ambient dialogue between soldiers controlled by the AI. These nameless members of the EDF follow the player around and will talk with each other as missions progress. They enthusiastically shout out phrases like, “The next battle is going to be violent!” and, “Did you eat lunch?” There are also cases of strange and silly translations from Japanese to English. For example, when a new enemy type appears that makes use of an energy shield, the narrator constantly refers to the force field as a “shield screen.” Conclusion: While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Earth Defense Force 2025, I also realize that it isn’t for everyone. The game has numerous technical flaws that could distract players from the core experience. Some people will be put off by the lack of visual polish, while others might find the gameplay repetitive. However, EDF 2025 has all the signs of becoming a cult classic. People who can look past Earth Defense Force 2025’s missteps or even embrace them as a cheesy part of the EDF experience will find a game that is fun, unintentionally hilarious, and strangely endearing.
  13. I’ve had my PlayStation 4 for almost two weeks now, just enough time to sink my teeth into a few of the launch titles and get over the initial zealous excitement of opening a box of new hardware. Even after ruminating on the new machine for a while, I have to say that I am still very much impressed. Before I even get into the actual hardware and software, I want to give a thought or two on Sony’s marketing strategy. Sony did a great job of raising public awareness of its console, obviously learning a bit from Nintendo’s missteps with the Wii U. The Greatness Awaits and Perfect Day commercials performed their jobs admirably and rank among some of my favorite video game commercials (yes, I have a list). However, neither of their biggest commercials talk about one of the biggest selling points of Sony consoles: PlayStation Plus. While the service gives subscribers access to lower prices on PSN and allows online play on the PS4, it also gives subscribers free games every month and people still seem surprised when they find that out. Nestled in amongst the cellophane-wrapped goodies of a new PlayStation 4 is a small voucher that provides codes for $10 on the PSN store, a free 30-day trial of the Music Unlimited service, and a month of free PlayStation Plus. Not only did I pick up Knack and Killzone Shadow Fall with my console, I also received the fast-paced and addictive side-scrolling shooter Resogun and the indie platformer Contrast for free. Let me reiterate that: I got two games for free and yet that seems to be a secret. Sony, you’re doing something wrong if people don’t know they can get video games for free just by purchasing your console and using a code to get a brief PlayStation Plus membership. But I digress. The physical design of the machine is pleasing, with slightly slanted front and back sides giving an air of futuristic sophistication. If these things were white instead of black, they wouldn’t look out of place as a sci-fi gadget in the next J.J. Abrams Star Trek film. The only complaint I have is that the slants can make it unnecessarily difficult to plug and unplug wires from the back of the machine if you need to shuffle it around or have a limited supply of HDMI cables. On first booting up the console, expect to put in around 30-40 minutes of set-up time. This includes syncing up PSN accounts, downloading launch updates to access the PlayStation Network, setting system preferences, and downloading/installing new games. Once all of that is finished and the console reboots, the dashboard is opened up. One of the things that most impresses me about the PS4 is the fluidity of its menus, which are arranged into two rows. The primary row functions as the main menu with the most recently used games or apps placed farther left where they can be quickly accessed. Selecting a game or app from this list instantly launches it, while hovering on it for a second reveals drop down menus with more specific options. Meanwhile, the PSN store, friend lists, notifications, and messages are located in the secondary row. Players can freely flick between the two rows at any time, ridding gamers from the headache of shuffling through an ocean of icons. My biggest complaint with the user interface isn’t ever related to the PlayStation 4, it is with the online store Sony built for it. The PSN store menus are still a huge pain to navigate and I can only image they will get worse as more games, movies, and television shows are added. Unfortunately, that complaint also applies to many of the other apps available to PS4 users (with the notable exception of Netflix). That being said, once the device has been set-up and the menus successfully navigated, the console moves incredibly fast. Netflix opens and begins streaming a show or movie within 10 seconds. As you play, the PS4 constantly records your previous 15 minutes of gameplay. Pressing the share button on the PS4 controller brings up the option to edit a video clip from that footage and upload it online to share with friends. Uploading videos takes under 20 minutes with decent internet speeds. You can immediately suspend gameplay at any time to return to the menus to send friends messages or fiddle with settings. Once installed, games launch within a matter of seconds. The controller for the PlayStation 4 is arguably one of its best features and represents a drastic step forward from the previous incarnations of the DualShock. While it retains a design very similar to previous iterations, there are a number of small improvements that add up to a truly great controller. The material which covers the front is smooth, while the back plating is slightly textured to give it a bit more traction when gripped. Both of the analog sticks have ridges surrounding the edges to give thumbs more of a hold. The L2 and R2 triggers have a bit of an outward flair making them easier to press and providing a comfortable resting position for fingers. The touchpad in the center of the controller is perhaps the biggest addition and the source of my only complaint. The only game that has required me to use the touchpad has been Killzone Shadow Fall where it is used to give orders to a tactical drone. It feels awkward to quickly switch between joysticks and buttons to reach the touchpad with a thumb. Maybe I just have small hands or it was clumsily implemented in Shadow Fall, but whatever the reason I am not overly fond of the touch pad. The controller also includes a light on the back which changes colors depending on the in-game situation, but seems to serve no real purpose except looking cool and helping gamers to find their controllers in the dark. There is also a built in speaker which yells things at you during various in-game situations. Most often it will be too loud and jarring, so you will want to turn it down with the in-game options. The Share and the Options buttons have replaced the traditional Start and Select buttons. As previously discussed, the share button allows players to share a clip from their past 15 minutes of gameplay, but it also can take screenshots or initiate a livestream. The Options button pauses the game to bring up the in-game options, crazy, right? One of the most convenient aspects of the PS4 controller is that it allows users to plug their own headphones into the audio jack built into the bottom. You can then stream all of the audio to your headphones and not have to worry about disturbing sleeping housemates or neighbors. The controller also has a fairly decent rechargeable battery life and can be set to turn off after being left untouched for a set amount of time. Maybe it is the addition of the touchpad, light and speakers, but the PS4’s controller has a more agreeable heft to it than that of previous DualShock controllers. Overall, the controller just feels good to hold and play with, excepting the times when it shouts too loud or requires quick and awkward swipes on the touchpad. What good is a console without good games to play on it? While not nearly as lackluster as the 3DS or Wii U launch line-up, the PlayStation 4 library at this time isn’t terribly compelling. Outside of Shadow Fall, Knack, and Resogun nearly every game available on PS4 can also be played on other systems. I think Sony was hoping that Killzone would be a console-selling IP, but I don’t think it is a must have. The shooting is a bit loose, certain mechanics don’t live up to their full potential, and the story is fairly standard as far as sci-fi shooters go. Knack is a simplistic, yet fun and challenging brawler for a younger type of gamer that is certainly charming, but also not a system seller. Resogun is a great arcade game on par with Geometry Wars or a supercharged Space Invaders, but it isn’t going to convince people to buy PS4s. True, you can play Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Assassin’s Creed IV on the console, but you can play those on any other piece of last-gen tech. As it stands now, the library is a bit slim and could use an infusion of life. This is likely to come slowly over the course of next year as the industry shifts to the next-gen with the release of games like Infamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886 and the various console-exclusive indie games like Helldivers and Guns of Icarus Online (and maybe Rime, my most anticipated indie game at the moment?). Unfortunately if you are looking to pick up the console at this time you are looking at a hefty amount of cross-platform sports titles and FPS games, with exceptions for kid-friendly Knack or Lego Marvel Super Heroes (which won’t release until the 29th). From the physical design to the user interface, the overall impression of the PlayStation 4 is fantastic. It is a solid piece of hardware that possesses so many advantages over its predecessor that it is kind of silly. The ability to share gameplay clips, screen shots, or livestream on the fly is a very welcome addition to functionality and in all other respects the console seems built for the convenience of gamers. The biggest strike against the console is that there aren’t any truly amazing titles, but this is less of a problem because the hardware is so much better than what was available previously. I am honestly surprised at how tangible the improvements to the console feel beyond the expected visual upgrades. My recommendation: If you are the kind of person who loves to stay up to date with the latest gaming technology, the PlayStation 4 is an impressive piece of hardware and has some fun titles worth playing, just don’t expect any life-changing experiences from the games currently available. If you aren’t thrilled by FPS games, Assassin’s Creed, or sports titles, you might want to hold off on a PlayStation 4 until that must-have game drops or a price drop hits. Extra Lifers out there, what do you think of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Are they worth buying right off the bat or are prospective customers better off waiting a while? View full article
  14. I’ve had my PlayStation 4 for almost two weeks now, just enough time to sink my teeth into a few of the launch titles and get over the initial zealous excitement of opening a box of new hardware. Even after ruminating on the new machine for a while, I have to say that I am still very much impressed. Before I even get into the actual hardware and software, I want to give a thought or two on Sony’s marketing strategy. Sony did a great job of raising public awareness of its console, obviously learning a bit from Nintendo’s missteps with the Wii U. The Greatness Awaits and Perfect Day commercials performed their jobs admirably and rank among some of my favorite video game commercials (yes, I have a list). However, neither of their biggest commercials talk about one of the biggest selling points of Sony consoles: PlayStation Plus. While the service gives subscribers access to lower prices on PSN and allows online play on the PS4, it also gives subscribers free games every month and people still seem surprised when they find that out. Nestled in amongst the cellophane-wrapped goodies of a new PlayStation 4 is a small voucher that provides codes for $10 on the PSN store, a free 30-day trial of the Music Unlimited service, and a month of free PlayStation Plus. Not only did I pick up Knack and Killzone Shadow Fall with my console, I also received the fast-paced and addictive side-scrolling shooter Resogun and the indie platformer Contrast for free. Let me reiterate that: I got two games for free and yet that seems to be a secret. Sony, you’re doing something wrong if people don’t know they can get video games for free just by purchasing your console and using a code to get a brief PlayStation Plus membership. But I digress. The physical design of the machine is pleasing, with slightly slanted front and back sides giving an air of futuristic sophistication. If these things were white instead of black, they wouldn’t look out of place as a sci-fi gadget in the next J.J. Abrams Star Trek film. The only complaint I have is that the slants can make it unnecessarily difficult to plug and unplug wires from the back of the machine if you need to shuffle it around or have a limited supply of HDMI cables. On first booting up the console, expect to put in around 30-40 minutes of set-up time. This includes syncing up PSN accounts, downloading launch updates to access the PlayStation Network, setting system preferences, and downloading/installing new games. Once all of that is finished and the console reboots, the dashboard is opened up. One of the things that most impresses me about the PS4 is the fluidity of its menus, which are arranged into two rows. The primary row functions as the main menu with the most recently used games or apps placed farther left where they can be quickly accessed. Selecting a game or app from this list instantly launches it, while hovering on it for a second reveals drop down menus with more specific options. Meanwhile, the PSN store, friend lists, notifications, and messages are located in the secondary row. Players can freely flick between the two rows at any time, ridding gamers from the headache of shuffling through an ocean of icons. My biggest complaint with the user interface isn’t ever related to the PlayStation 4, it is with the online store Sony built for it. The PSN store menus are still a huge pain to navigate and I can only image they will get worse as more games, movies, and television shows are added. Unfortunately, that complaint also applies to many of the other apps available to PS4 users (with the notable exception of Netflix). That being said, once the device has been set-up and the menus successfully navigated, the console moves incredibly fast. Netflix opens and begins streaming a show or movie within 10 seconds. As you play, the PS4 constantly records your previous 15 minutes of gameplay. Pressing the share button on the PS4 controller brings up the option to edit a video clip from that footage and upload it online to share with friends. Uploading videos takes under 20 minutes with decent internet speeds. You can immediately suspend gameplay at any time to return to the menus to send friends messages or fiddle with settings. Once installed, games launch within a matter of seconds. The controller for the PlayStation 4 is arguably one of its best features and represents a drastic step forward from the previous incarnations of the DualShock. While it retains a design very similar to previous iterations, there are a number of small improvements that add up to a truly great controller. The material which covers the front is smooth, while the back plating is slightly textured to give it a bit more traction when gripped. Both of the analog sticks have ridges surrounding the edges to give thumbs more of a hold. The L2 and R2 triggers have a bit of an outward flair making them easier to press and providing a comfortable resting position for fingers. The touchpad in the center of the controller is perhaps the biggest addition and the source of my only complaint. The only game that has required me to use the touchpad has been Killzone Shadow Fall where it is used to give orders to a tactical drone. It feels awkward to quickly switch between joysticks and buttons to reach the touchpad with a thumb. Maybe I just have small hands or it was clumsily implemented in Shadow Fall, but whatever the reason I am not overly fond of the touch pad. The controller also includes a light on the back which changes colors depending on the in-game situation, but seems to serve no real purpose except looking cool and helping gamers to find their controllers in the dark. There is also a built in speaker which yells things at you during various in-game situations. Most often it will be too loud and jarring, so you will want to turn it down with the in-game options. The Share and the Options buttons have replaced the traditional Start and Select buttons. As previously discussed, the share button allows players to share a clip from their past 15 minutes of gameplay, but it also can take screenshots or initiate a livestream. The Options button pauses the game to bring up the in-game options, crazy, right? One of the most convenient aspects of the PS4 controller is that it allows users to plug their own headphones into the audio jack built into the bottom. You can then stream all of the audio to your headphones and not have to worry about disturbing sleeping housemates or neighbors. The controller also has a fairly decent rechargeable battery life and can be set to turn off after being left untouched for a set amount of time. Maybe it is the addition of the touchpad, light and speakers, but the PS4’s controller has a more agreeable heft to it than that of previous DualShock controllers. Overall, the controller just feels good to hold and play with, excepting the times when it shouts too loud or requires quick and awkward swipes on the touchpad. What good is a console without good games to play on it? While not nearly as lackluster as the 3DS or Wii U launch line-up, the PlayStation 4 library at this time isn’t terribly compelling. Outside of Shadow Fall, Knack, and Resogun nearly every game available on PS4 can also be played on other systems. I think Sony was hoping that Killzone would be a console-selling IP, but I don’t think it is a must have. The shooting is a bit loose, certain mechanics don’t live up to their full potential, and the story is fairly standard as far as sci-fi shooters go. Knack is a simplistic, yet fun and challenging brawler for a younger type of gamer that is certainly charming, but also not a system seller. Resogun is a great arcade game on par with Geometry Wars or a supercharged Space Invaders, but it isn’t going to convince people to buy PS4s. True, you can play Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Assassin’s Creed IV on the console, but you can play those on any other piece of last-gen tech. As it stands now, the library is a bit slim and could use an infusion of life. This is likely to come slowly over the course of next year as the industry shifts to the next-gen with the release of games like Infamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886 and the various console-exclusive indie games like Helldivers and Guns of Icarus Online (and maybe Rime, my most anticipated indie game at the moment?). Unfortunately if you are looking to pick up the console at this time you are looking at a hefty amount of cross-platform sports titles and FPS games, with exceptions for kid-friendly Knack or Lego Marvel Super Heroes (which won’t release until the 29th). From the physical design to the user interface, the overall impression of the PlayStation 4 is fantastic. It is a solid piece of hardware that possesses so many advantages over its predecessor that it is kind of silly. The ability to share gameplay clips, screen shots, or livestream on the fly is a very welcome addition to functionality and in all other respects the console seems built for the convenience of gamers. The biggest strike against the console is that there aren’t any truly amazing titles, but this is less of a problem because the hardware is so much better than what was available previously. I am honestly surprised at how tangible the improvements to the console feel beyond the expected visual upgrades. My recommendation: If you are the kind of person who loves to stay up to date with the latest gaming technology, the PlayStation 4 is an impressive piece of hardware and has some fun titles worth playing, just don’t expect any life-changing experiences from the games currently available. If you aren’t thrilled by FPS games, Assassin’s Creed, or sports titles, you might want to hold off on a PlayStation 4 until that must-have game drops or a price drop hits. Extra Lifers out there, what do you think of the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Are they worth buying right off the bat or are prospective customers better off waiting a while?
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