Deadly Odds Book Review

Deadly OddsDeadly Odds

Author: Allen Wyler
Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions
Formats Available: Paperback, Digital, and Digital Audio
Release Date: November 7th, 2014

It’s not every day I get asked to review a novel, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it. I frequently sit down and enjoy a good book when I’m not working on reviews or features for the site. The book in question, Deadly Odds by Allen Wyler, was offered up for review, and the least I could do was write a few words about what I thought about this suspense thriller.

Arnold Gold is a young computer genius out buying a pizza, he comes home, hears his best friend scream RUN, a gun-shot rings out, and his life is changed forever. It wasn’t always like this for Arnold, a short time ago he wanted nothing more than to learn the secrets to what women want in a man. His friend suggested he take a trip to Vegas, hire an escort, and learn everything he could about both the physical and mental desires of women that Arnold so desperately struggled to communicate with. Only one slight problem, along the way Arnold slips up and tells his beautiful escort that he just so happens to have a program that can analyze all sorts of data and predict outcomes. Under normal circumstances that might not be a problem, only this escort isn’t your ordinary escort, she has terrorist ties, and what follows is an incredible game of cat and mouse, as you try and piece together how Arnold can possibly make it out of this horrible situation with not only his live, but without causing irreparable damage to the country he loves.

The characterization is absolutely top notch, and the book is very well written, with the one exception being some repetition in the form of the technical explanation. Often times Wyler feels the need to repeatedly explain why Arnold is using Darknet or other programs like T.O.R. It’s interesting the first time, but a little annoying afterwards. Outside that though, the book is well paced, well written, and absolutely entertaining. If you enjoy a nice read that will keep you glued to the page until the very end, give Dead Odds a glance.

Deadly Odds is currently available on Amazon.com

Far Cry 4 Review

Far Cry 4 ReviewFar Cry 4 (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 10
Genre: FPS
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 18th, 2014

Parent Talk: This is a viscous game, both in its narrative and in the acts of violence depicted. From slicing someone’s throat, to seeing people get tortured at every turn, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart. It features drug use, alcohol, and strong language and is most certainly the type of game that deserves its M rating. Keep the kids away from this one at all costs.

Plays Like: If you were a fan of Far Cry 3, there’s a good chance you’re going to love this one. You take on the role of Ajay Ghale, and are put to the task of essentially taking on open-world missions for the two co-leaders of the Golden Path, a separatist group that is trying to overthrow the current dictator, Pagan Min. The story takes itself very seriously, but once the more traditional open-world side missions open up, things become far sillier. Most open world games these days follow a specific path, you can tackle a wide assortment of crazy and wild side quests, or focus on the main storyline. The same is true in this first-person action romp.

Review Basis: Finished the main storyline, and tried my hand at all the various side quests and activities offered.

Far Cry 4 is wild, it’s crazy, it takes itself too seriously at times, but above all else, it is a really enjoyable game to play, so long as you enjoy open-world games. There’s nothing quite like barging into an enemy camp, on top of an elephant, and throwing grenades all over the place. It’s sheer chaos, and yes it’s often hard to take anything the game throws at you too seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the fictitious Himalayan province of Kyrat.

FC1The Great:

If I had to say what I enjoyed the most with Far Cry 4, it would have to be the co-op mode. This game is crazy enough playing by yourself, but grab a friend, or a complete stranger and prepare to go all out bat shit crazy. You can have one player fly the gyrocopter, while the other swings off it with a grabbling hook picking off enemies. You can purposely rush enemies while both players are riding elephants, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. To say you feel like a total bad ass would be an understatement. It’s completely ridiculous, and that’s most likely why it’s just so much fun to play.

FC2The Good:

  • While the narrative takes itself too serious, I did find the tale to be a solid one. You play as Ajay Ghale, on a quest to scatter your mother’s ashes in some unknown area of Kyrat, a fictitious Himalayan province. Once you arrive things go downhill quickly as you’re forced to watch a madman named Pagan Min do unspeakable things.   As the story progresses Ajay finds himself choosing between two co-leaders of The Golden Path, a separatist group trying to bring balance to Kyrat. Do you go the more technical route and support Amita, or do you always put out fires by supporting Sabal? While these elements were great, sadly the antagonist was severely underused and that’s a crying shame because he had so much potential.
  • Great activities and mission variety. One moment you’re trying to get to the top of a giant radio tower, which acts almost like a platforming puzzle game, and the next you’re taking down wave after wave of enemies trying to liberate an outpost. There are racing activities, you can attempt to escort munitions to The Golden Path, and then there are the actual story missions which vary just as much as the side missions do.
  • Everything about Far Cry 4 is about causing chaos to ensue, and this couldn’t be more evident by the animal luring and elephant riding. If you’re sneaking up on a group of enemies, you can lob what amounts to animal guts at your enemies, which will lure in a vicious bear, tiger, or some other predator to make short work of Pagan’s forces. If that’s not really your style, why not hop on an elephant and ram the outpost to hell, all while spraying enemies with bullets.
  • The player progression system in place is deep and rewarding. As you complete more and more missions and activities you earn experience which will eventually grant you skill points which can be used to upgrade your core abilities. Things like having an extra life bar, being able to reload while running, and standard FPS-fair are all featured here, and act as an excuse to tackle just one more mission before bed.

  • 5v5 competitive multiplayer is a blast to play because it features so many aspects of what makes the open world gameplay in the main campaign so much fun to play. The two opposing factions are quite different, one featuring supernatural elements such as invisibility, and the other using the more traditional guns, explosives, etc. Combining these two groups with the open world elements from the main campaign was surprisingly fresh and exciting, no matter which objective the game throws at you.

  • The audio visual presentation is certainly worthy of the next-gen moniker. The environments are beautiful, and well-populated, and the character animations are great. At times there are a few scenes that are a little rough around the edges, but for the most part this is a great looking first-year title for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Naturally if you have a powerful PC you can really make this game look stunningly beautiful. The audio fits the bill perfectly, although I absolutely detested the radio announcer. I didn’t find he added anything to the narrative, and wasn’t funny at all. The soundtrack matched the setting perfectly, feeling majestic and mysterious at times, and pulse pounding and energetic at others.

FC3The So-So:

+/- Is there such a thing as too many things to do in a game? Picture thing, a giant map with about two dozen radio towers on it. You know that if you liberate those towers you’ll unlock new activities, and new areas to explore. So you start to do that, you manage to liberate one of the towers and purchase several maps which show the locations of treasure troves, posters, and much, much more. Suddenly your map has about 100 different icons on it, and that’s all from just one tower. Now imagine what happens when you start unlocking more towers. Before too long I found myself a little overwhelmed by how much stuff there is to do in the game. This is all on top of the interesting story missions, the hunting missions that you’ll set yourself on in order to craft items of great use such as a much larger bag for holding skins, loot, and ammo. It’s very easy to get distracted, and it feels like Ubisoft was purposely going out of their way to jam as much as they possibly could in the limited real-estate available. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on you.

FC4The Bad:

  • Far Cry 4 feels an awful lot like many of Ubisoft’s other big games such as the Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs franchises. It’s all starting to blend together into one big giant ‘been there, done that’ mess. This is still a fun game, but Ubisoft is going to have to be careful not to overdo it. I can very easily see all of their big franchises collapse under the mighty weight of each other if each of these series receives yearly iterations.

FC5The Lowdown:

Far Cry 4 borrows a lot from Far Cry 3, and like I mentioned just above, Ubisoft will have to be careful how to proceed from here. It’s one thing to have three great franchises, but something else entirely when all three start becoming a bit too alike. Right now Far Cry 4 is a ridiculous game that is so much fun to play, however it can also be a bit daunting when you realize just how much stuff there is to do in this massive open world. If you’re looking for a videogame that you can invest dozens of hours into, this will most certainly scratch that particular itch. If you’re hoping for next innovative franchise that breaks the mold, this isn’t going to shock or amaze you. What it does it does well, it just doesn’t do anything particularly new.

Final Score: 8/10

Freedom Wars Review

Freedom WarsFreedom Wars (Available exclusively for the PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: Action
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Shift, and Dimps
Release Date: October 28th, 2014

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Freedom Wars T for teen because of blood, mild suggestive themes, and violence. It’s not overly gory, but you’re challenged with taking down giant robot-like enemies with all manner of weapons.   The story also touches on some mature themes so the teen rating is just about spot on.

Plays Like: Freedom Wars is an interesting game, it plays similarly to Monster Hunter in that you have a wide array of weapons at your disposal, there are tons of resource gathering, and how you complete each mission is entirely up to you. You can charge in using nothing but projectile weapons, or you can get up close and personal and deliver striking melee attacks. The freedom offered is extremely impressive, and over time you will develop your own play style. Missions take typical shooter fair and mix things up just enough to give the game its own distinct flare. You typically have to rescue captives from giant Abductors (mech-like robots), but sometimes you’re pitted against another team which plays out more like a team deathmatch. There’s a ton of mission variety, but we’ll discuss that in further below.

Review Basis: Finished the campaign using both the AI and real-life cooperative teammates.

Freedom Wars is one of the best PlayStation Vita games to come along in a while. The fact it’s an original game makes it even more impressive. It’s a perfect pick-up and play game, but also has the chops to keep you glued to your Vita for hours on end. If you’re a fan of Monster Hunter or Soul Sacrifice, you’ll love this game. From the incredible game world that pulls you in with each and every aspect of the game, to the great weapon and combat system, Freedom Wars absolutely shocked me with how much fun it is to play. If you haven’t played a Vita game in a while, this is one to look into.

The Great:

I’ve played a lot of games over the years, but very few have pulled me into their game world like Freedom Wars did. Everything about the game makes you want to know more about this unique world. First off, you play as a Sinner, basically someone that has been imprisoned for being a worthless drain on society. Because you’re so useless, you’re sentence is a small one, a million years of forced voluntary military service. I love the way the game continuously reminds you of just how useless you really are, and how you’re ‘volunteering’ for everything, even though you have absolutely no choice. Completing missions will slowly decrease your sentence, but until you’ve earned enough money the restrictions placed upon you are hilarious. You’re not allowed to pace more than five steps in your cell or else you’ll be charged with another decade of imprisonment. Want to go to sleep, no problem, but you can’t lie down. These seemingly ridiculous restrictions play into this insane world perfectly, and help flesh out the Entitlement system which eventually allows you to fast-travel, change your characters clothes, and more. You will eventually your stay more habitual, but it’ll take a while before you’re truly free.

The core gameplay also plays into this unique theme perfectly. Each Panopticon, which is essentially a city, is represented by a group of Sinners. I selected Los Angeles because Montreal wasn’t an option. For shame! The more missions you complete, you not only reduce your imprisonment, but you gain notoriety for your Panopticon. There are 50 in the game, and these act almost like leaderboards. The higher your placement, the better rewards you get for in-game events. It gives a true sense of belonging to this messed up world. One important way to improve your Panopticon is to steal citizens and resources from rival cities. There are giant mech-like machines all over the place called Abductors, and you’re constantly charged with bringing these giants down in order to snatch the civilian inside. Once you have the person, you make a break for the closest transport tube. Securing these people will raise your Panopticon’s rating, lower your rivals, and again, lower your sentence.

The Good:

  • Weapons are a joy to use and you’re gameplay style will directly alter the way you play the game. Let’s say you want to focus on melee combat, well that’s an option, select all the weapons that fit your fighting style and you’re all set. The same is true for projectile attacks. Each weapon feels genuinely unique, and no two players will play the game exactly the same.
  • The Thorn, is a grabbling beam of sorts, which you can use to propel yourself to high up platforms, but can also be used as a weapon. You can latch on to the Abductors to slash away at their armor, you can pull them to the group for a team attack, and more. What’s interesting with the Thorn is that there are three distinct types, one for healing, one for traps and barricades, and one for grabbles. Yet again your play style will determine which variation you use most often. The Thorn also gives the game an incredibly fast-paced feel because at any moment you can zip along the side of a building, you can pull enemies off platforms, propel yourself to a specific target, and so much more.
  • There’s also a great variety of missions. While the bulk are about you rescuing captured civilians, you will also experience unique takes on capture the flag, king of the hill, and more, but all wrapped around the citizen rescue theme. For example there might be a mission where you and an Abductor are racing towards a runaway civilian. Your goal is to grab the person, and race towards the rescue tube before the Abductor can stop you, therein lies your capture the flag game. I adored the way the game played on this classic gaming conventions.
  • Team-based gameplay rocks whether or not you have real friends in your party. Every mission you go on is a group affair. Your teammates will typically follow your lead, so if you bring down an Abductor, they’ll do all in their power to finish it off. You’ll have a great time if you decide to bring some friends into the mix because only by working together can you effectively take down three or four Abductors at once. Doing so is a huge reward too.

  • Full PlayStation TV support. Being the very first Vita game I’ve played from beginning to end on my new PS TV was a delight. Using a DualShock 4 proved a perfect way to play the game. It controlled flawlessly, and looked beautiful upscaled to 720p.

  • While on the subject of graphics, the game looks extremely detailed. It’s amazing how much juice the Vita actually has under the hood. There’s great use of color, the environments look wonderful, and the action is always rock-solid, with the frame-rate being constant throughout.

  • The soundtrack is fast-paced to match the action, and die-hards will be happy to hear that the original Japanese voice acting remains in-tact. Some serious production values went into the development of this game.

The So-So:

+/- The story is alright. It’s a shame too because the game world is so perfectly tied to the gameplay and overall theme that you would think the story would fit just as well, but it doesn’t. It ends up slowing things down, forcing you to walk around and listen to dialogue. There’s a ton of lore here too, but I found myself constantly skipping the dialogue sequences just to get on to the next mission because the gameplay is so much more entertaining.

+/- The camera lock-on mechanic takes a little getting used to. You can tap it on or off, but that’s not the issue, the issue comes in when you’re locked on a target and move too close to said enemy. Suddenly the camera is turning and spinning out of control all over the place.

+/- There’s an overly complex crafting system here that yields random results. Over the course of the game you’ll acquire massive amounts of supplies, however you’re only ever going to use a handful of weapons so there’s very little need for all the resources at your disposal. I think a reworked crafting system would have added even more to an already impressive package.

The Lowdown:

Being Japan’s number one selling new IP on the Vita, and a Monster Hunter clone Vita owners can be proud to call their own, it’s a sure bet Freedom Wars will get a sequel sometime next year. With any luck the developers can fix some of the minor complaints I raised here and deliver the Vita’s true killer app. I also hope that game reaches Western shores as well because this is a game that truly surprised me by how deep and genuinely enjoyable it is. If you own a PlayStation Vita, do yourself a huge favor and check out Freedom Wars.

Final Score: 8.8/10

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Review

SSBSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U (Available exclusively on Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Sora Ltd, Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: November 21st, 2014

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Super Smash Bros. for Wii U E10+ for everyone ten and up. The game features cartoon violence, and that’s about it. It’s a bright, colorful, and fun fighter. There are no realistic depictions violence in the traditional sense. Here you can bash your opponents with a giant mallet, you can throw them off a massive arena, or you can blast them with a wide assortment of wacky power-ups. Imagine if Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and all the other classic Nintendo franchises got together and asked one simple question, which one of us is the best fighter out there? That’s what you can expect from this wonderful game.

Plays Like: Normally I would say it plays like all the other Smash Bros. games, but the truth is that I have virtually no experience with the series outside the 3DS version. So what I will say is that the game features a wide assortment of side modes, a robust single player offering, great Amiibo integration, and a kick ass online mode. The core gameplay requires you to throw your opponent off the screen, by any means necessary.

Review Basis: I played all the various modes available, spent far too much time training Amiibo characters, and got my butt handed to me in more online matches than I would care to admit. I am by no means a master player, but I will proudly say that I’ve come to appreciate the series in a whole new way thanks to this excellent fighter.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic game that features a wealth of side modes, Amiibo integration, and great single and multiplayer modes. If you have to purchase one Wii U game this holiday season, this is the one you want to pick up. There are so many different modes available that it often feels like you’re purchasing more than one game. Couple that with the great Amiibo figures and you could very well spend the next year with no other game than this one. The fighting system in place is great, and over time you can master each characters’ move set, and attain pitch perfect timing.

SSB4The Great:

Value. That’s the one word that comes to mind when I look back at all the different gameplay modes available. From the classic mode, to the online ranked mode, and everything in-between there is something here for literally everyone. There are now 8-player battles, there’s a cool spin on Mario Party, and then there’s the Smash mode where most of you will be spending the bulk of your time. That’s where you and your friends can learn to master each of the dozens of characters available. When you combine all of these elements together, it’s incredible just how much value there is in this one game.

SSB2The Good:

  • The Perfect example of easy to pick-up and play, but tough to master. Each character has the exact same button commands. Don’t expect circular fireball moves here, no instead the moves are incredibly simplistic. Press a direction and a button, and that’s it. You have two primary attacks, a block and a grapple. That’s all she wrote. What changes with each character are their unique abilities. While up and A might be an uppercut for one character, it might be something completely different for another, perhaps an up-strike for Link, or a cape sweep for Mario. Then there are projectile-based characters which use the same basic commands, but control completely different than everyone else. The timing is also slightly different for each character. What ends up happening is, you’ll find a character you enjoy using, and spend the next few weeks mastering all their finer details, and that’s what makes this game so bloody special.
  • Respecting your heritage. One of the absolute best aspects of Smash for Wii U is how the game pays homage to all the franchises that came before it. From Duck Hunt to Sonic the Hedgehog every stage, theme song, bonus item, and character move set is inspired by some legendary game, series, or franchise. I absolutely loved that. It was amazing to hear so many classic songs with modern twists to them. If you’ve been playing on Nintendo-made consoles since you were little, this is going to tickle your nostalgia bone.

  • Options galore. First off, you can play the game any way you want. From using the GameCube controller with the newly released adapter, the GamePad or the Wii U Classic Controller, the choice is yours. Then there’s the fights themselves. Do you go one-on-one with items off to test your skill, or do you go item on and 8-players for complete chaos? I adored how every aspect of the game has tons of choices available for you to tweak.

  • Event, classic, special orders, All-Star, and the board-game like Smash Tour all offer up their unique takes on the classic action. Some give you specific challenges, whereas others drop random elements into the fights and have you duke it out. Whatever you decide to play, each gameplay mode offers fun in short bursts. If you want to play for hours on end, odds are you’ll find yourself going between the different gameplay modes, while spending the bulk of your time refining your skills online.

  • Speaking of online, there are a nice set of online modes. From ranked modes that keep tally on your wins and losses, to the free-for-all, you can select between one-on-one matches, team matches, and more. The awesome eight-player matches are local only though, which is a bit unfortunate because those matches are completely insane.

  • Beautiful at 60 fps. This is a technical showpiece for the Wii U. During all of the different gameplay modes and matches I played, I never noticed any dip in the framerate. Keep in mind it’s entirely possible that I haven’t experienced every single aspect of the game, and I actually believe I haven’t as there’s just so much. That said, the attention to detail in the environments, and the stunning framerate make this a silky smooth experience you’ll want to come back to time and time again.

  • The audio is also fantastic. While some of these music scores might be recycled from previous games, they all sound amazing. I absolutely loved going to each new stage to hear familiar tunes from the Zelda franchise. That’s my favorite after all, so it holds a special place in my heart. The others were equally as impressive though.

  • I didn’t expect to enjoy the Amiibo integration as much as I did. From spending time to level my figures to 50, to using them against my opponents, I’d say the Amiibo figures are going to sell quite well. I love that I can bring them over to a friend’s house and tackle his team with mine. It’s excellent. There are several ways you can train and customize your Amiibo fighters too, which adds some much needed depth to an otherwise simple concept.

SSB3The So-So:

+/- The arena builder isn’t as intuitive as it should be for being on a system with a touch screen controller. Simple omissions like not being able to create a platform and then move it without having to erase and start over are major oversights. I also found the whole system to be overly cumbersome. It’s a shame too because that really could have been a huge time sink for some, but now I see it being more of a novelty.

+/- I played quite a few matches online and if I knew who I was playing the matches were always spot-on with no lag, however if I played random matches they were a hit and miss. Most, I’d say around 85% were fantastic, however every now and then I would disconnect. Since there is no way to see the connection strength of your opponents, I can foresee this being a problem moving forward. The fact most of the game runs smoothly is a great sign, but hopefully some tweaks will be made to inch that number closer to 100%.

SSB1The Bad:

  • I find it a little silly that in 2014 I still have to text a friend to tell him I want to play a game with him online, since there’s no notification system. Once we’re both online everything else is a breeze, and works perfectly, but the fact I can’t just send an invite and he gets it in whatever game he happens to be playing is kind of sad.

The Lowdown:

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic game, probably the best currently available on the Wii U considering all the value you get in this one package. Couple that with the prospect of potential downloadable content later on, Amiibo integration, and the robust gameplay modes already available and you can see why the Wii U should have a very successful holiday season. If you own a Wii U, this is one game you should have in your system as of right now, and if you don’t own a Wii U, what the heck are you waiting for? With Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, and now this, plus the awesome Virtual Console offerings, there is something here for gamers of all ages.

Final Score: 9.6/10

The Evil Within Review

Evil Within ReviewThe Evil Within (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Release Date: October 14th, 2014

Parent Talk: The Evil Within is rated M for mature (ages 17+) because of blood, gore, intense violence, and strong language. Often the game feels like something you’d expect if you went to see the latest Saw movie. Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is one gruesome game. You can cut off the heads of your enemies, you can burn bodies, and so much more. If you’re even a little squeamish, this isn’t a game for you.

Plays Like: As any good survival horror game, The Evil Within forces players to use their surroundings intelligently, scavenge for supplies, and conserve ammo wherever possible. Some areas force stealth, while others are all out action segments. There’s a great balance of creepy moments, tense cutscenes, and fantastic combat in this third person extravaganza.

Review Basis: Completed the campaign.

When Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami left Capcom I was really saddened by the news. This was the man who gave us Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and the much beloved Resident Evil 4 and RE Remake on the GameCube. He was also responsible for many other classic Capcom games, but those four set a certain pedigree that Capcom has yet to surpass in the survival horror genre. I had always hoped that maybe one day he would return to the Resident Evil universe and deliver another masterpiece, but when he left Capcom I knew that was never going to happen. Fast forward a short time later and he announced his new game studio, Tango Gameworks, were developing a brand new survival horror game. While it wasn’t Resident Evil, my expectations were extremely high. This is Shinji Mikami we’re talking about here! So was he able to strike gold, or has he been away from the genre for too long? Let’s find out.

The Great:

If I had to pick one aspect where The Evil Within really shines, it would have to be in its atmosphere and tension. While I never found myself sitting in a corner crying for mommy, that honor goes to Alien: Isolation, I did find the sense of tension to be at an all-time high for many parts of the game. The attention to detail in the environments and the settings are ultimately what do it. You always feel uneasy because while you know something is out there, you never know exactly where. The fact the game is a physiological thriller as much as it is an intense action game, only adds to the stress. This is a game where walls disappear before your eyes, where enemies can materialize out of thin air, and where you’re lost more so than you realize.

There’s one section that sums up The Evil Within perfectly, and it’s from fairly early on in the game. There’s a section where you have to pass through a short hallway where a series of hospital beds are lining both sides of the walls. The lights are mostly broken, except for one off in the distance that is flickering, so barely anything is illuminated. You can see there’s something slowly walking back and forth towards the exit. As you slowly make your way towards the enemy, you realize that all of the beds have bodies on them, there’s blood on the floor and ceiling, and you accidently hit something on a table in front of you. You spin the camera around to see that one enemy rushing towards you, so you pull out your gun, which only has three bullets left in it. You take the shot, killing the enemy, but suddenly you hear grumbling, and notice movement. Those bodies on the beds are all moving, and they’re all heading straight towards you!

The Good:

  • The combat system is rock solid. You can tell this is a Mikami-san game. While using the shotgun, sniper rifle, or handgun, you get a real sense of power. The problem is that ammo is so hard to come by. You want to make every shot count, and thankfully you can do just that because the controls are spot on. There’s also a stealth mechanic, where you can sneak up on unsuspecting enemies for an instant kill. The environments can also be used to your advantage, where you can lure enemies into bear traps, explosives, and more. What happens when all of these elements are thrust upon you, choice! There’s nothing like taking out a group of enemies with a well-placed explosive bolt from your crossbow when you only had one bolt left, or getting that perfect stealth kill when you were surrounded by enemies. It’s moments like these that make you feel like a bad ass, and that’s awesome.
  • Much like the Resident Evil remake on the Nintendo GameCube, The Evil Within features enemies that can resurrect themselves after they’ve been downed by the player. The old ‘burn the corpse’ mechanic from that legendary game returns here, and you’ll want to burn all the bodies you come upon, especially later on in the game. Not only does this give you peace of mind, but you also have the chance to gain additional supplies from the burnt corpses.
  • Simple crafting system. While you scour the environment for ammo and syringes to heal yourself, odds are you’ll also stumble onto several parts. These can be used to craft ammo for the Agony Crossbow. You can freeze, explode, electrocute, blind, or craft standard bolts. Not only can you find the parts, but if you dismantle traps you can gain additional crafting supplies. The catch here is that these environmental traps aren’t just there for you to get caught up on, but as I mentioned before you can lure enemies to them. What ends up happening is you start to balance the desire for more ammo for your crossbow, with an easier way to take down enemies. Again, it’s all about the choices you make.
  • Exploration is rewarded. Players who thoroughly explore the various stages will find green ooze which can be used for upgrading your abilities, from extending your health and stamina, to being able to hold more ammo. The progression system in place here is fantastic, and scales perfectly with the rest of the game so you never feel like you’re overpowered. You can also find small statues which, once broken, will reward a small key. These keys can be used to unlock special lockers which grant a wide assortment of awesome goodies.
  • Even though you’re well-armed, don’t expect for this to be a cake walk. You’re going to die, and often, because a simple miscalculation can cause your head to roll. If you want to use stealth, be extremely careful what you bump into. If you want to use more straightforward action, make sure those headshots hit their mark or you’ll find yourself completely surrounded with no ammo to speak of.
  • Speaking of the difficulty, the boss fights are just crazy. Most of these consist of creatures that can down you in one hit, even if you have full health, so you don’t want to screw up! Most fights require you to either use the environments to your advantage, such as when you fight the spider lady, which forces you to use fire against her. Others are more typical fights where you dodge and shoot. Whatever you do, you can expect to die at least a few times, and have an utter blast doing so.
  • The audio visual package is fantastic. I already touched upon how great the tension and atmosphere are, but the graphics and audio go the extra mile and deserve to be singled out. The environments vary quite significantly from a stunningly detailed forest, to a crumbling church, to well…something else entirely. Lighting is superb, especially with the great fire effects. During the night you can see fog in the distance, there are stars twinkling far off in the sky, and there are so many gruesome and disturbing elements from disfigured faces of clowns just hanging on the wall, to bodies ripped apart everywhere. It’s disgustingly beautiful. Audio is used sparingly so as only to give you hints of the trouble ahead, but therein lies the genius. You’ll always hear enemies mumbling, you’ll hear footsteps and other ambient noises, and when trouble comes, the music picks up to keep your adrenaline rushing.

The So-So:

+/- Sadly what starts off kind of intriguing eventually becomes too convoluted for its own good. I found myself not even caring about the story whatsoever towards the end of the game. I just wanted to ‘make it out alive’ as it were. As for the story itself, players take on the role of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective sent in to investigate a series of gruesome murders at a local mental health hospital. From there things go bat-shit crazy as you experience one nightmarish scene after another. What brings the story down is that Sebastian just isn’t an interesting protagonist, and neither are the characters that surround him. I was intrigued to learn about the past residents of the asylum, but never truly cared, and given the constant jumps and flashback sequences, I didn’t feel any remorse over what happened to any of the supporting cast.

+/- The save system is a bit perplexing at times, and perfect at others. Let’s talk about the good first. There is a manual save system where you go back to the main ‘hub’ as I call it. From here you can upgrade your abilities, unlock lockers with the special tiny keys, and save your game. So that works fine, it’s the auto-save feature that leaves something to be desired. For the most part it works just fine, your progress will be saved after lengthy sections of the level, or after key fight scenes. However, there are times where it won’t save your game for what feels like an eternity and should you die, you’ll realize that it really was awhile, thereby forcing you to redo large sections of the level again. It’s bizarre.

+/- Load times aren’t too bad, until you start dying. Once you begin to have to restart over and over, you’ll notice time starts slowing down and load times get longer and longer. The reason for this is that the save system typically places your save directly before a cutscene. Yes you can skip cutscenes, but the fact that you have to go through the process of the cutscene and startup of the battle is what ultimately makes the load times feel longer than what they truly are.

The Bad:

  • There are some anomalies here and there. Some texture pop-in is present, minor clipping issues, and depending on the angle of the camera, shadows can get pixelated to the point they look like early PS2-rendered shadows. These moments don’t occur often, but they’re noticeable when they do.

The Lowdown:

The Evil Within feels like a direct continuation of Resident Evil 4. It shares a lot in common with that masterpiece. It’s tense, atmospheric, and has a great progression and combat system. While the story is mostly forgettable, and I never felt truly scared, overall the experience was an adrenaline ride of disturbing imagery, great survival horror gameplay, and that classic Shinji Mikami formula. If you enjoy more traditional survival horror games with a focus on surviving, The Evil Within won’t disappoint.

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

Alien: Isolation Review

Alien Isolation ReviewAlien: Isolation (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players:
Genre: Survival Horror
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Release Date: October 7th, 2014

Parent Talk: Alien: Isolation has been rated M for mature because of blood, strong language, and violence. Have you ever seen the original Alien movie from 1979? If so, you can imagine why this game is rated M for mature. It’s dark, foreboding, and creepy. Children will be extremely frightened should they see, let alone play this game.

Plays Like: Imagine being locked on a massive space station with little to no weapons, and discovering you’re not alone. There’s a menacing alien creature on the loose that’s impervious to your attacks, and can kill you just as easily as you breathe. The only chance you have for survival is to hide in lockers, under desks, and use a motion tracker to be one-hundred percent sure the alien is nowhere near you as you make your way from one objective to the next. That’s Alien: Isolation, it’s just you and the alien, the problem is you’re the one who’s being hunted. Can you make it out alive?

Review Basis: SEGA sent us a review copy of the PlayStation 4 version of the game. I completed the main campaign and tried the included DLC.

Let’s get something out in the open right now, Aliens: Colonial Marines was not well received. I’ve yet to meet anyone that thought it did the Alien franchise justice. It had potential, but through misguided direction the game never lived up to the hype…quite literally. Enter The Creative Assembly and their take on the Alien universe. This one is much more grounded, and features some truly memorable scares. It is the closest we’ve ever gotten to playing in the Alien universe as imagined by Ridley Scott in the 1979 classic, Alien. It’s pulse pounding, horrifying, and will leave you on the edge of your seat for the duration of the game. Now that’s what Alien was all about.

Guess who's coming to dinner?
Guess who’s coming to dinner?

The Great:

Alien come to life. The developer absolutely nailed the look and feel of the 1979 film. You take on the role of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda who is looking for information about her missing mother. If you’ve seen the Ridley Scott directed film, you know exactly what happened to Ripley onboard the USCSS Nostromo. Amanda arrives on the space station Sevastopol, only to discover the place is in ruins. There is no one around, and it looks like a serious battle look place. There are holes in walls, the power is out all over the station, and you can feel in the air that something’s just not right. When you finally do stumble onto a survivor, they’re not exactly the nicest person in the world. What you discover is that everyone who is left on the station is fighting for their own survival and that some nasty monster has been picking them off one at a time. From there a giant game of cat and mouse ensues as you try ever so hopelessly to seek the information you’ve come here for, and get out alive. It’s in these moments where the game truly shines. You’ll peak around corners, use a motion tracker to ensure you’re alone, and use the environment to your advantage as you slowly make your way through each narrow corridor. To say the game feels just like the original Alien movie during these moments is an understatement, you’re living the movie and it’s just incredible.

Creepy access tunnels like this one are littered everywhere in the game.
Creepy access tunnels like this one are littered everywhere in the game.

The Good:

  • Fight or flight. This instinct-based gameplay is one of the best features of the game. Imagine you’re scouring around an office, and you suddenly hear something in the ventilation duct. You only have two choices available to you, do you stand and fight, or do you run away and give up your position? If you fight, you only have access to a few side arms which don’t really do anything to the xenomorph, or you could use your flamethrower and convince the menace to back down for a few seconds. Your other option is to run away. While that might seem like the best option, doing so will allow the Alien to pinpoint exactly where you are, making your chances of survival near zero. So ultimately do you have any choice at all? Maybe you should just stay right where you are and see what happens, as the lights slowly flicker on and off.
  • While you make your way from one save spot to another, which grant you a very brief moment to breathe, you’ll stumble onto crafting supplies. Collect as many of these as you possibly can as they’re your only means of not only healing yourself, but distracting the xenomorph. You can create first-aid items, noise makers, flash bang grenades, and more. You have to locate a blueprint before you’re able to make said supplies, but it’s critical you do so or you’ll never make it out alive!

  • Unscripted Alien patterns ensure you’re always scared. You’ll always know when the xenomorph drops into the room or area you’re in thanks to your trusty motion tracking device, but you’ll never know where it’s going to go. Will it hop into a vent and crawl around in the ceiling or will it make a circular pattern around the room you’re in. Whatever it does, you have to move, you can’t stay in one spot for too long because eventually it will make its way to you. The ideal solution is for you to hide for a bit, let it walk into another area, and slowly get your butt out of dodge.

  • The motion tracker also serves another purpose, it tells you where you need to go. Since you can use the tracker from virtually any position you’re in, you’ll be looking at it quite frequently during your stay onboard the Sevastopol.

  • There’s more to Alien Isolation than just hiding behind furniture and running from a xenomorph. There are areas you can’t access until you find a way to remove large locks from doors, little terminals you can need hack in order to bypass power from security cameras to air purifiers, and evil androids out to get you. There’s a nice balance between the cat and mouse game with the alien, stealth sections with the androids, and surviving against human opponents.

  • The audio is fantastic. From the limited music that plays during adrenaline-pumping moments, to all the ambient noises that constantly linger in the background, it’s all amazing. You’ll want to play with a quality surround sound system to get the most out of the audio, or a really good headset. Whatever you do, prepare to get fully immersed in this fantastic game world.

The most useful item in the game is the motion tracker.  Use it well!
The most useful item in the game is the motion tracker. Use it well!

The So-So:

+/- The graphics can be a bit of a mixed bag at times. On one hand the xenomorph looks fantastic, and the environments are gorgeous. There’s volumetric fog, incredible lighting, and the attention to detail in the space station is amazing. Sadly some of the human character models don’t look quite as good. The finer details in the face, for example, just aren’t there. I also noticed on a few occasions where the game would drop frame rate during cut scenes for whatever reason.

+/- Alien: Isolation is a fantastic game, but after the ten hour mark it starts to run a little thin. The story appears to be wrapping up on several occasions, only to be forcibly prolonged. I found this hurt the pacing towards the end of the game, but it remained fun throughout.

The Bad:

-False instructions. One of my biggest gripes with the game happens early on in the adventure. You’ll get a radio communication telling you to race towards the next area. Doing so will guarantee death, as the Alien is waiting for you just ahead. Why does the game to do this? If you take your time and do what you’ve been doing since the beginning of the game you’ll be just fine, but actually listening to what you’ve been told will cause you to die constantly.

Someone wants to say hello.
Someone wants to say hello.

The Lowdown:

Alien: Isolation is the best Alien game to come along in years, and it might very well be the best Alien game ever made. It captures the essence of the 1979 movie perfectly, and the feeling of dread you get from being locked in an area with the menacing Alien is unmatched in any other videogame I’ve played before. It might not hit all the right notes, but when the pieces all come together Alien: Isolation is one of the creepiest games I’ve ever played, and it also happens to be one of the very best games I’ve played in 2014.

Final Score: 9/10

Hyrule Warriors Review

Hyrule WarriorsHyrule Warriors (Available exclusively on Wii U)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Omega Force, Team Ninja
Release Date: September 26th, 2014

Parent Talk: Hyrule Warriors has been rated T for teen by the ESRB. That makes Hyrule Warriors only the second Zelda game of all time to be rated T, the other being Twilight Princess. The reason why it was rated T is because of fantasy violence and suggestive themes. The suggestive themes are mainly some of the character’s provocative costumes, and the violence should be obvious. You play as any number of classic Zelda characters and take out hordes of enemies with powerful weapons. There’s no blood or gore whatsoever though, so even kids could get a lot of enjoyment out of this one, especially if they’re fans of the series.

Plays Like: Have you ever played a game in the long-running Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors series? If you, know what you’re getting here, well…for the most part. The game mashes the Dynasty Warriors’ series tactic and time management gameplay with Zelda’s objective-based gameplay. It also acts as the very best fan service I have ever played. You move around a large map trying to secure key forts, take out legendary Zelda bosses, and defeat legions of classic enemies from every single game in the Legend of Zelda franchise. This is a love letter to the fans.

Review Basis: Finished the Legend mode, and played through the Adventure mode.

The Dynasty Warriors series has spawned a number of spin-offs over the years including one based on Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and One Piece. While all great fan services in their own right, as a diehard Zelda fan, I have never played something like this before. It perfectly balances the classic Warriors gameplay of properly securing your position, and making the most of the little time you have available with Zelda’s objective-based gameplay, such as getting a new weapon to access a new area or take out a boss. It’s a beautiful looking game too, featuring the most detailed designs ever seen for these legendary characters, and from the moment the intro screen plays you know you’re not just playing some cheap mash-up between two franchises, you’re actually playing the perfect combination of two excellent series. Warriors fans will appreciate the amount of polish that went into the development of the game, and Zelda fans will adore all the little nods to their beloved franchise. I never expected this experiment would turn out to be as awesome as it did.

She's in deep thought.
She’s in deep thought.

The Great:

Do I really have to say this? The fan service is hands-down the best part of the game. From the rocking remix of the classic Zelda theme, to the 13 playable characters it’s all just awesome. Have you ever wanted to play as the warrior version of Impa? How about actually taking part in one of the epic wars mentioned in many of the previous games? Everything is possible here. Battles take part in some of the most memorable dungeons and areas from key games in the franchise and the characters you get to play as are nothing short of incredible. From Midna to Ganondorf himself, no characters are off-limits. I also really loved all the little touches like how all the characters hold treasure they find in chests above their heads, all the classic sound effects, and the remixed tunes of epic themes from years ago. This is the ultimate fan service and I really couldn’t imagine anything better.

Link is ready for anything!
Link is ready for anything!

The Good:

  • Keeping the choices from the Dynasty Warriors games is excellent. You’re constantly challenged with making choices. Do you hold the current fort you’re fighting in, or do you go and try and locate the Gold Skulltula that just popped because you killed 1,000 enemies? How about the mid-boss that just dropped in the middle of the filed; they usually drop tons of rupees when they die. All these choices coupled with the more traditional objective-based gameplay of the Zelda series, such as locating a powerful weapon inside a hidden cave, or downing King Dodongo, help bridge the gap between the two franchises.
  • There are currently 13 playable characters, some of which I’ve already mentioned, and the promise of more to come. This helps keep the action fresh as each character has their own unique skills and abilities. From Princess Zelda, to Sheik, and even Darunia, the assortment of characters is brilliant. Each character also has an elemental affinity, which means certain characters will be more useful on certain stages, and this is great because it almost forces you to try new characters.
  • There’s a surprisingly deep crafting system in place where you can enhance your characters’ with powerful new combos, or skills. It’s excellent making a bottle with a potion, or unlocking some new skill for one of your favorite playable characters. I also loved being able to use rupees to level up characters that I didn’t use in a while. It prevented me from having to grind out levels on characters I wanted to use in the next mission. I did find myself going back to earlier missions to farm crafting supplies though, but that was a personal choice, not one the game forced upon you.
  • Boss fights might not be too challenging, but they round out the package perfectly. From the minute you see King Dodongo on the first mission, to Gohma, and the Imprisoned One, Hyrule Warriors keeps surprising you. While the mechanics used to defeat boss characters may be somewhat disappointing, I still found it awesome to have all these characters in the same game.

  • Adventure mode is a true delight. Not only does it perfectly recreated the 2D map from the very first Legend of Zelda, but each ‘screen’ is actually a battle area. You move around the map, selecting an area you’d like to jump into. From there the action reverts to standard Hyrule Warriors gameplay, but gives you specific mission parameters to meet. There are plenty of secrets and goodies to be found in both Legend and Adventure mode, and I loved how the two were so perfectly connected. You might find new weapons, new characters, heart pieces, and more and everything you do in one mode transfers to the next. It’s brilliant!

  • Off-screen gameplay is fantastic, as always. The footage you’re watching in the video review was made possible because of off-screen mode. Without it, this review would have been delayed for quite some time.

  • Hyrule Warriors is the nicest looking Zelda game ever, at least from a technical perspective. Characters look incredible, and the amount of enemies on the screen at once is amazing. I didn’t experience slow-down in the single player campaign, and the nods to the previous Zelda games are literally everywhere. While the level design isn’t anywhere near as complex as in traditional Zelda games, it really doesn’t matter when the cohesive world comes together this well.

  • The soundtrack is fantastic. All the remixed tunes are spectacular. I especially love the rock version of the classic theme, and the sound effects are mostly ripped from the previous games in the series, so you know you’re going to feel right at home.

  • I was absolutely shocked to hear any sort of voice acting in a Zelda game, and while it’s only one narrator that speaks during the game, it was more than enough for me. I hope one day Nintendo adds real voice acting in the Zelda franchise because it felt right at home with just the narrator.

Yes there's even a brand new character waiting for you to check out.
Yes there’s even a brand new character waiting for you to check out.

The So-So:

+/- Some will say the core action of repeatedly killing enemies in the same manner over and over again gets old, but since you can play as so many different characters, and all the fan service, I truly can’t complain. I enjoyed every minute I spent with the game, even if I only had to press the same few buttons again and again.

+/- I thought I would love the coop mode, but there are a lot of technical issues that pop up in this mode such as major from frame rate drops. It remains a fun diversion, but I eventually stopped playing in coop because I wanted to experience the game as it was clearly intended to be played.

+/- While this acts as one of the best Zelda spin-offs ever made, it doesn’t do very much to push the Warriors series forward. The gameplay remains largely unchanged since the last major Warriors release, and while new fans to the series might not even notice, longtime fans will. It’s not bad though as this current formula works perfectly.

Adventure mode is an absolute blast.
Adventure mode is an absolute blast.

The Bad:

  • I would have loved to have played this game with Steven, but alas that’s not an option.
Classic bosses make a welcome return.
Classic bosses make a welcome return.

The Lowdown:

Hyrule Warriors is a fantastic tribute to one of the best videogame series ever made. If, like me, you’ve been a fan of the series since the original NES game, then this is a no-brainer. In fact I’d say this is a game Nintendo fans as a whole should check out. It’s absolutely incredible, especially for the fans. Since I am a fan I’m not going to sugar coat it, this feels like it was made for me, and I’m now about three times more excited for 2015’s Dragon Quest Heroes than I was before. There are so many other series that could get the Warriors treatment, and so long as Omega Force treats said series with such love and respect as they’ve done here, they’ll have tons of success. I can’t stress this enough, if you enjoy action games or the Zelda series as a whole, go buy Hyrule Warriors. It’s one of the best games of 2015 in my eyes!

Final Score: 9.2/10  

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review

Disney Infinity 2.0Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes (Available on PC, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Disney
Developer: Avalanche Software
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014

Parent Talk: Imagine a game where you play through a story as one of many Marvel characters, or even better, an interactive toy box where you can create your own games, and use a vast array of characters in silly mini-games, highly competitive races, or pretty much anything else you can think of. That’s Disney Infinity in a nutshell. It’s the perfect family game, and one that features nothing but cartoon violence. I can easily recommend this one to anyone with young kids at home as it’s really simple to learn, and you won’t be bored to tears while they have a blast. There’s real enjoyment to be had here for all.

Plays Like: The one included play set (Avengers) is an open world Grand Theft Auto-like story-driven game where you pick up simple missions and complete them to earn experience and currency, which you use to purchase additional goodies for the Toy Box mode. It’s in this mode where you can create your own games using wonderful assists that do almost all the hard work for you.

Review Basis: Disney sent over the PS4 Start Pack, and I played around with the Toy Box mode and finished the main story campaign that shipped with the Avengers play set. I also plan to cover additional toys that get released for the three current play sets available (Avengers, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy).

Last year I thought Disney Infinity was the perfect games for kids. Yes the Toy Box mode was a little cumbersome because it required you to really know what you were doing, and it was a little sneaky forcing parents to buy a second character in order for their siblings to play together, but hot damn was it a fun game to play. This year Avalanche software has mixed things up a bit, and the end result is a fantastic iteration on what was already a wonderful kid’s game. If you have children at home, this will make for one hell of an amazing Christmas gift.

The Great:

The Toy Box mode has been dramatically improved. While you can still customize and make your own games, now the game tries very hard to help you out by offering up some great templates. You can even let the game build mini-games for you if you’re not feeling overly creative, or if you don’t have the time to devote to the game. I loved this aspect as it allowed me to focus on what I really enjoyed, just playing around with all the different creations other people have built. Giving me the confidence to build my own games just made the experience that much better. It’s now easier than ever to submit your creations to Disney, which once approved, can be downloaded by the entire community. Sadly I lack the skill and time to make something really worthwhile, but I have been enjoying what others have created, just as I did in the first Disney Infinity.

Something else I really appreciated was the fact the Starter Pack includes three Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and Black Widow. You also get the Avengers play set, plus two Toy Box games, which are basically mini-games. That means two kids can play together straight out of the box, whereas last year you had to buy an additional character from one of the three included play sets in order to play together. If you don’t understand the way the system works, it’s quite simple. Each character is associated with a certain play set. Currently there are three play sets available, the Starter Pack’s included Avengers, and two ‘sold separately’ play sets, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Some characters can be used in different play sets if you located 10 character coins in the current play set. This was done to unlock exclusive stories for that character in a play set they wouldn’t normally be associated with. Each play set is a self-contained story mode. Disney has set up a Disney Infinity website (https://infinity.disney.com/en-ca/characters) that will show you all the toys available, and which play sets they work with. Most Marvel characters will work with all the Marvel play sets, but not necessarily all of them. Be sure to check the site before purchasing additional characters. Classic Disney characters only work in the Toy Box mode, so keep that in mind before expecting to use Donald Duck in the Avengers play set.

Assault on Asgard, and Escape from Kyln discs unlock cute little mini-games that are best played in short bursts. If you’re looking for additional discs, you can purchase what are called Power Disc packs. Each pack sells for $5 and includes two unique discs, either a Toy Box disc (hexagonal shape) which could unlock new textures, features, or items for your Toy Box, or you could get a character power disc (circular shape), which gives your Infinity character a stat boost or some other in-game goodie. Because these packs are completely random though, you could spend hundreds in order to collect them all, and in fact you can purchase the complete set of 40 discs for the low asking price of $200 on eBay. Why this is great is because it helps bring the physical toys and discs you collect in real life to the virtual world, and that addictive nature associated with collecting anything really shines through here. Not only can you collect all the toys, but also all the Power Discs, and some of which are extremely rare.

Thankfully you don’t absolutely need the Power Discs to get the full enjoyment out of the game, and if you bought a bunch of figures from the original Infinity I’m happy to report they all work with the Toy Box mode, and all characters have skill trees now! This means you can level them up while you tackle any number of creations in the Toy Box mode. That was a really great, and much appreciated touch.

Personally it’s the figures I love. They’re expressive, detailed, and sturdy enough to actually be played with. While some of the paint work lacks the quality you’d expect on a $14 action figure, they look good just the same. I kind of which they were articulated, but for $14 you can’t expect too much these days, and the poses are fantastic and fitting. I’ll be honest, I’d love to display these on my desk at work because they look that fun. I would gladly spend some extra money to pick up a few extra figures just to have lying around. Disney already has three different waves of figures planned, with who knows how many planned for the future.

Oh and did I mention the game now features Marvel characters? Yeah, that’s clearly great, and coupled with all the existing toys available, this series has just become an instant classic for children all over the world.

The Good:

  • Each character feels completely unique to the last. While Iron Man and Thor can fly, they both have radically different move sets. Each character has a level cap of 20, but their level trees allow players to evolve them as they see fit. When you reach level 20 you won’t have unlocked all the skills, which gives the game some much needed depth. Level progress is saved to the toys so you can bring them to your friend’s house and be just as strong as you were the last time you played.
  • Local co-op is a blast and fitting for parents with their children. There is online play, but it’s for the Toy Box mode only. That’s not a bad thing as that’s the best mode in the whole game.

  • The audio visual package is fairly impressive. I’m a big fan of the way the toys look, and their in-game personas look exactly like the figures. The voice actors do a great job, and there are a few surprise voice actors you may not expect to be here. The music is fairly standard, but there are some good sound effects thrown in making all the special moves sound powerful.

The So-So:

+/- Your children will get a kick out of the play sets, but odds are you’ll be bored to tears very quickly. While it’s great being able to play as all the different Marvel super heroes, the truth is that the missions within the play sets are extremely repetitive. It’s always escort this bus, take this package, or help these people to reach a certain location, or fire up generations, beat back these baddies, etc.

+/- While playing in co-op the framerate frequently drops, and the open city, while fairly nice to look at is made up of the exact same cars and pedestrians. Sure this is a child’s game, but one would expect it to run a bit better than it does.

+/- I love having different characters to play with, but it’s clear some will be better than others. Black Widow is such an interesting character in the comics and in the movies, and while her sculpt on the figure is great, her in-game persona just isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Iron Man or Thor. She unfortunately has to drive to get to different locations, take elevators to reach rooftops, etc. This doesn’t really make her feel very super, or as powerful as the other Avengers do. I have a feeling the other characters you can purchase would be much the same, so keep that in mind. While they might be awesome to look at, they could be really boring to use in-game.

+/- Having to unlock toys in the Toy Box mode never sat well with me, and it remains the same here. It forces you to go back and play through the play sets over and over again. Children won’t mind, but adults will. It limits your creativity until you can purchase new toys and design elements.

The Bad:

  • Some issues occur when playing Toy Box games, including but not limited to full game crashes.

The Ugly:

I really shouldn’t be this into the figures, but damn I love me some Marvel, and these figures are just too awesome to pass up. Gotta Collect ‘Em All!

The Lowdown:  

Disney Infinity 2.0 is a fantastic way to spur one’s imagination. While the core gameplay still needs some fixing, the addictive nature of the Toy Box mode will keep your children glued to the TV screen. If they get bored of watching Daddy try and make new games, they can always play with the physical toys, or jump back into one of the three available play sets. I can’t recommend the game enough for young children, or parents that are looking for a game to play with their kids. If you’re a fan of Marvel, I highly recommend you take a look at the figures, you might just fall in love with the designs and end up purchasing all of them.

Final Score (General audiences): 8/10
Final Score (Kids): 10/10

Destiny Review

DDestiny (Available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 12
Genre: FPS
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Bungie
Release Date: September 9th, 2014

Parent Talk: Destiny has been rated T for teens by the ESRB because of animated blood and violence. If you’ve played the Halo series you know more or less what to expect here. You’re in a sci-fi setting, shooting everything that moves, however there aren’t major depictions of blood and gore. Instead your enemies simply disintegrate or their lifeless corpses stay motionless on the floor. It’s standard FPS violence you’ve come to expect from Bungie. It’s not over-the-top or super realistic.

Plays Like: I know Bungie said they didn’t want people to make the comparison, but let’s be honest, the core gameplay feels very similar to that of Halo. It should too because the core foundation of that series is fantastic, and so too is Destiny. That’s the only thing the two have in common though, everything else is rather unique. Destiny borrows a lot of elements from MMOs like World of Warcraft, in that players have to work together to overcome special strike missions, which play out something like dungeons from WoW. There are even six-player raids! Top all of that off with the Crucible, which is a deep competitive multiplayer mode and you start to see why Destiny was the most ambitious undertaking Bungie has ever done.

Review Basis: I finished the story, played through all six strike missions, and tried my hand in the Crucible. Given the ever growing nature of the game, I’ve done all I can do at this point to give my overall opinion on the launch version of Destiny.

Destiny is most likely the most hyped game of 2014, perhaps of the entire ‘next-gen’. Like Watch Dogs before it, it would be almost impossible to please everyone, however Destiny goes one step further in that by its very nature it’s an extremely divisive game. Take the story for example, it can easily be completed in under ten hours or so. That’s hardly the epic journey fans of Bungie’s other huge franchise would expect. Then there are the MMO elements, or MMO-lite as I’ve come to call them. There’s no in-game communication tools for looking for groups, and all six strike missions (cooperative dungeon-style events) play out almost exactly the same, and use recycled enemies. The main draw here is the loot, however gaining new loot is an exercise in tedium, because the only way to truly score the most epic gear is to repeat strike missions over and over again. After having played well over 20 hours now, I can safely say that this is the perfect FPS for me. I will be returning week after week to try and boost my level ever so closer to the hard cap of 30, but let’s take a closer look at why the game is so many different things to so many people.

D1The Great:

A beautifully realized world. There’s one element no one can take away from Destiny and that’s the stunning world Bungie has created, or several worlds to be precise. From the gorgeous views you see while traversing the moon, the strange and alien design of Venus, there’s always something beautiful to look at. The graphics are simply superb, featuring an incredible amount of detail in the environments to the high polygon counts of all the inhabitants. Destiny is often a sight to behold.

Much the same can be said for the wonderful audio package. From a beautiful score, to powerful and fierce sound effects (you’ve just got to love the sparrow sounds effects), fans of Halo’s music will not be disappointed. The orchestrated intro that plays when you’re logging into the game world speaks volumes to just how much thought went into this game. It’s an easy recommend for your iPod.

Finally we come to the third fantastic element, and this time it has something to do with the gameplay. The gunplay is amazing, some of the best ever actually. The core foundation feels tight, and as spot on as any other Bungie offering. Everything feels perfect from the way guns handle, to the power of your melee attack. Bungie knows how to make an awesome FPS, and Destiny is no exception to that rule. It’s utterly fantastic as a FPS, strictly in terms of how it controls and plays.

There’s also a certain something that I can’t explain, and this is what has hooked me. There are some fundamental flaws with the game, some truly questionable development decisions, and yet I’ll still login at 1AM just to meet up with friends and tackle the weekly heroic strike. Why am I bothering with a flawed game? That’s the ultimate question, and one I cannot answer. There’s just something special about Destiny that if it grabs you, won’t let go.

D2The Good:

  • Learn as you go. One area that I’m sure most people will either love or hate is the way in which the game doesn’t tell you virtually anything. There’s no tutorial here showing you exactly how best to use your newfound powers, or why you should stack Intellect over Discipline or Strength. I’ll tell you right now, each one allows you to either recharge your special ability quicker, your grenades, or your special melee attack. You can find out a lot of info just by reading stats, but to truly understand the minute details, you’re going to have to ask around or look online for solid character builds. That’s going to drive some people crazy, but for someone like me, I love it because it allows me to constantly learn new elements of the game that I didn’t realize before. This being just one example.
  • Events. One of the best features of Destiny is that is isn’t a finished game. What the heck am I talking about you say, only that every week Bungie announces a new event. Perhaps a new Crucible challenge unlocks, or a Raid, or maybe new weekly missions, etc. The fact that the game is ever growing really helps put some of the other concerns to rest because ultimately you feel that Bungie is in this for the long haul.

D3The So-So:

+/- Weapons aren’t specific to one particular class, meaning if you get a shotgun, you can store it in the bank for your additional characters once you out level it. That’s the good part, however if you are more interested in a robust system that makes each weapon feel unique and original to each class, well that’s not the case here. That is the case for armor though, albeit you won’t realize it until you reach past level 20. Prior to that all the gear feels extremely similar, although I expected that. After 20 aromor starts to zero in on specific traits from each of the three classes, and additional sub-classes.

+/- The progression system/level tree is a bit too simple for its own good. While it’s nice that players can easily see which skills they’ll eventually unlock, not having diversity hurts the overall individualism of the game. Take my warlock as an example, there is literally no difference between my character and any other warlock out there until level 15. Remember that the soft level cap is 20, so that’s a good portion of the game where my character is just like every other warlock out there.

D4The Bad:

  • The matchmaking needs some work. The strike missions scale to the number of players involved so when a player exits, and believe me they will, you can actually complete a random strike all by yourself if need be. The problem I have with that is, it hurts the experience. Why other players aren’t automatically added to your strike team is beyond me, but I’m hoping they address this in a future patch.
  • Loading… There is a metric ton of loading in Destiny. From the minute you leave orbit to select a mission, to heading to the tower, to virtually anything else, each zone takes quite a while to load in, and when you realize you forgot to check something out at basecamp it gets all the more annoying.

  • The grind. Absolutely everything about Destiny is wrapped around grinding. Want new loot, well you’ll have to run the same six strikes a hundred times in order to get a good item drop. Want to purchase new gear, no problem, you’ll just have to grind Vanguard reputation, and Vanguard Marks (which are given out at a max of six per strike). Items cost anywhere from 60 to 120 marks! Want to upgrade your weapons, all you have to do is farm supplies from one of the four planets. I could go on and on with different examples, but I’ll spare you. My point is only that if you’re not into grinds, Destiny will not be for you.

  • The story isn’t anywhere near as fleshed out as I was hoping for. You’re brought back to life, made a Guardian and then sent to drive back the darkness. The thing is, who are we, why did we die, what makes us so unique? The truth, you’re not special, you’re just one of many, and even after completing the game you’re never going to find out more about this interesting universe, and that’s a shame.

  • Four planets just isn’t enough. Think of the planets like large maps, and each missions takes place within a section of the larger map. Even strike missions will take place within the same map. In itself this isn’t a problem, but when you realize how much grinding you have to do, the locations all start to blend together to become one. Why doesn’t the moon, Venus, or Mars have different gravity for example? Just that would have fundamentally altered the gameplay and feeling of the areas, but alas no, they all play the same.

  • Lack of variety. Missions almost always feature the same rotation. Go to a certain location, send out your Ghost to scan or activate something, take out a few waves of enemies, and then make your way to a boss character. Rinse and repeat and you pretty much have not only the main missions, but also the strike missions (dungeons).

  • D5The Lowdown:

    For all my complaining, I have become obsessed with Destiny. There’s a reason this review was delayed by so long. I just couldn’t stop playing. There’s something magical about seeing a +3 added to one stat when I finally get a drop I have been waiting for. I’m sure there will be others out there that will feel exactly as I do, however I’m not blind to the fact that there will be others who detest this or feel highly disappointed. Ultimately your enjoyment of Destiny will depend on the type of gamer you are. So are you heeding the call Guardian or is this one you’re going to leave behind?

    Final Score: 7.5/10

     

    Dragon Quest Review for iOS/Android

    Dragon Quest (Available on Android and iOS)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: RPG
    Publisher: Square-Enix
    Developer: Square-Enix
    Release Date: September 11th, 2014

    Parent Talk: Like the original NES version of Dragon Warrior, there is absolutely nothing damaging to children in this release. It’s fit for a five year old, or the ten year old at heart. There isn’t even direct action in the game, just static pictures that shake when your character ‘attacks’.

    Plays Like: Dragon Quest is the game that laid the foundation for all other JRPGs to come, so you can expect lots of grinding, turn-based combat, and a simple magic and leveling system. Don’t expect anything robust or deep, this is the one that started it all, not a modern day RPGs with countless options and level trees.

    Review Basis: Not only did I complete the original Dragon Warrior on the NES when it was originally released, but I took the time to play through the Super Famicom remake, and again on my iPhone 5. This is a fantastic port of a legendary game.

    Wizardry and Ultima may have been the forefathers of RPGs on home computers, but it wasn’t until Enix’s Dragon Quest that RPGs literally exploded, especially in Japan. Sure it took a while before North Americans and Europeans warmed up to what we now call JRPGs, but in the East, Dragon Quest ushered in an entirely new way of playing videogames, and to this very day the series continues to dominate the Japanese sales charts. Sadly Dragon Quest has never been super popular outside of Japan, and because of that we have missed a truckload of fantastic remakes, side games, and even some of the coolest action figures and statues you could possibly imagine. Square-Enix has now decided to test the waters by releasing the series on mobile platforms running on Android and iOS, so let’s see how the very first console RPG stacks up several decades after its original release, being played on a touch screen no less.

    DQ_iOS1The Great:

    I cannot believe I am actually writing these words down, but the absolute best version of Dragon Quest ever released outside Japan is on iOS and Android. Did you honestly ever think that would happen?!?! The graphics and sound are fantastic, and have all been updated from the Super Famicom remaster. While I still prefer that version, it never officially saw the light of day outside Japan. Several years back Square-Enix released a mobile version of the Super Famicom port, albeit greatly tweaked for the cellphones and this version is based on that version that was only released in Japan. Boy what a mouthful. The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter where the game comes from, this is absolutely the best way to experience the original Dragon Quest outside Japan. Simple as that. The graphics and audio are leagues better than the NES original or the Game Boy Color port. So if you’re curious about where the series started, play this one. Nuff said.

    DQ_iOS2The Good:

    • The gameplay might be incredibly simple by today’s standards, but it holds up perfectly, and dare I say it, but feels completely natural on a mobile device. The interface has been completely streamlined for single hand use. To walk around you simply move your thumb anywhere on the screen, or on the visible track pad. Simply tap a command to execute an attack, or check your inventory, equip a weapon, etc. It can take some getting used to since there is no tactile feedback, but it works far better than I thought it would.
    • You play as a descendant of Erdrick out to stop the evil Dragonlord. That’s it, the story never gets deeper than that, and you know what, it doesn’t need to. You only have one party member for the duration of this six to seven hour game. Like the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that is so true here. What’s interesting though is that Square-Enix decided to stick closely to the original translation of the NES version, known as Dragon Warrior. That means Erdrick replaces Loto, and some of the original old English also makes a return, although it has been streamlined and isn’t featured in the battle screens thankfully.

    • Like the original game there is lots and lots of grinding to be had here, however I don’t look at it as a negative since the game is on your mobile device. Think about it, grinding while sitting in front of your TV gets old really quickly, but while you’re on the bus, train, or elsewhere it makes time fly for some reason. I found myself playing for five or ten minutes, and before I knew it I had gained a level. While on the bus I was grinding before tackling the Dragonlord and I almost missed my stop because I was so into what I was doing. That’s a great sign, and perhaps I was wrong to be so worried about the series going mobile-only outside Japan.

    • The price is right! Coming in at only $2.99, that is an absolute steal for the original Dragon Quest. Seriously, if you enjoy RPGs and own an Android or iOS compatible device, give this one a purchase. For $3 it’s a perfect impulse buy and I think you’ll be surprised.

    DQ_iOS3The Bad:

    • I really would have liked to have the option to play the game with a landscape mode instead of being forced to play only in portrait. I suppose it’s not the end of the world, but it would have been good to at least have the option.

    DQ_iOS4The Lowdown:

    The original Dragon Quest might seem archaic by today’s standards, but it holds up well, and this port is the best one we’ve ever had in North America and Europe. I can’t stress this enough but if you’re a fan of the series, support it by purchasing this game. Yes the controls will take some time to adapt to, but damn is it pretty and it sounds fantastic too. The translation is perfect, and the gameplay remains fun, grinding including. I will be purchasing the entire series on my iPhone 5 because I adore this series and part of me hopes if we all show enough support that Square-Enix just might release the next numbered entry on a home console here too. Let’s make this happen Dragon Quest fans!

    Final Score: 8/10

    Rally Together Dragon Quest Fans!

    I’ve done a lot of complaining over the last few days about Square-Enix, but recently Yuji Horii made a blog post about the Dragon Quest series in North America, and I figured this would be a perfect time to rally the fans together and blast Twitter, Facebook, and the blog post to show how much we love the series and that we want more Dragon Quest games released here in North America, and in Europe.  Come on everyone, we can do this!

    Link to Yuji Horii’s blog post: http://na.square-enix.com/us/blog/message-dragon-quest-creator-yuji-horii

    Silent Hill Review

    Silent Hill ReviewSilent Hill (Available exclusively on PlayStation)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Survival Horror
    Publisher: Konami
    Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
    Release Date: January 31st, 1999
    PlayStation Network Release Date: September 10th, 2009

    Parent Talk: Silent Hill was originally rated M for mature because of animated blood and gore, and animated violence. That remains true today. While the graphics haven’t aged all too well, the game still features some rather disturbing imagery, lots of blood, and an overall creepy environment that most adults find tough to play at night, while they’re all alone. This is certainly not a videogame for minors.

    Plays Like: The tank controls made famous from Resident Evil are featured here, although the game separates itself from that legendary series by not resorting to cheap scares and actually gets inside your head and messes with your emotions. It was one of the very first games that challenged Resident Evil because it was so different, and gamers couldn’t stop thinking about the creepy setting long after they had completed the game.

    Review Basis: I finished the game countless times upon its original release, and quickly blasted through it for this very review.

    Silent Hill was one of the very best games released on the original PlayStation, and I thought it would be fitting to discuss it in further detail considering a brand new reimagining of the franchise is currently underway at Konami with both Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro at the helm. Silent Hill is remarkable for getting inside your head and staying there. It features an incredible soundtrack, solid gameplay, and brain-twisting puzzles. If you’ve never experienced it before, there’s no better time to do so than right now. Take my advice, lock yourself in a room somewhere, close out all the lights, and crank up the volume. You want to be creeped out while playing, because it actually makes you feel like the protagonist, Harry, who has just lost his daughter in the bizarre fog-filled town of Silent Hill.

    One note to make is that the video review is entirely made up of the very earliest portions of the game. I did this on purpose so as not to spoil any of the settings and environments for those who have never played the game before. Trust me, you’re going to want to experience the whole game for yourself.

    Before continuing, did you know that Silent Hill was heavily censored for its release outside Japan? It’s true, even the North American version had many different elements changed so it would pass through the ratings board. Many of the enemies look like children with knives, and that just wouldn’t fly with the censor boards. In Europe the enemy designs were even more radically altered than the North American version. Ok that’s enough about censorship, let’s jump right into the game.

    SH1The Great:

    Atmosphere, it’s all about the atmosphere. Silent Hill operates on an entirely different playing field than Resident Evil because it doesn’t want to simply scare you with cheap tricks, it wants to mess with your mind. This is a physiological thriller more so than an action game. It succeeds, tremendously well. From the eerie sound effects, to the radio which omits static noise the closer you get to an enemy, the game is always reminding you that you’re not safe. From traveling through a fogy town, to the darkest depths of your imagination, Silent Hill, challenges you in ways very few other PS1 games did, and it’s for that reason why so much of the game has held up superbly.

    The story is also the game’s biggest strength. It starts off with Harry and his daughter Cheryl making their way to the small town of Silent Hill to spend some time together on a little vacation. While driving a woman suddenly passes in front of them and Harry swerves out of the way, causing the car to flip and crash. When Harry comes to, he sees Cheryl in front of the jeep, through the thick fog that has enveloped the town. As he makes his way towards her she starts to walk off in the opposite direction. What’s going on, and why would she run away from her father? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Silent Hill.

    SH3The Good:

    + The music and sound effects are truly what make this game. Akira Yamaoka did a wonderful job, and to think that he wasn’t the original composer, he was brought on after the original departed the project. With incredible industrial tunes, creepy melodies, and countless memorable sounds, Silent Hill’s soundtrackis considered a modern day classic.

    + While dated by today’s standards, the graphics do their job well. The town is completely covered in fog, but that’s ok as it allows the details in the buildings and environments to shine through. The grain effect also works extremely well in making the players feel uneasy. If you’ve got a weak stomach you might want to skip out on Silent Hill as it’s extremely gory, and there are plenty of disturbing images.

    + One of the more interesting aspects of Silent Hill are the multiple endings. I won’t give any away, but they give you an incentive to keep coming back and trying to do things slightly different each time you play.

    + Dynamic camera angles work extremely well. Unlike Resident Evil, the camera swoops and twists and turns as you make your way through alleys, corridors, and rooms. It can even be a little disorientating at times, which as the whole point to begin with.

    + The FMV cutscenes were simply gorgeous for their time, and while they do look somewhat pixelated today, they’re still impressive.

    SH2The So-So:

    +/- You either get used to the tank controls, or you hate them for the duration of the game, simple as that. For people who started playing 3D games with the N64 and PS1, most don’t have too many problems adjusting to the controls, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal. Combat, and exploration aren’t anywhere near as fluid as they are in today’s games, but for someone like me, I find that’s what heightens the game’s stress level and causes you to get sweaty palms within a few minutes of playing.

    +/- The combat system feels much like the controls, mostly dated. Sure it works, you can knock back enemies with a pipe, or shoot them with your gun, but if the camera is moving around it can be difficult to pin-point exactly where you need to shoot.

    The Bad:

    – The voice acting shows no sign of emotion. The game would have been better suited for text-only dialogue.

    SH4The Lowdown:

    While Silent Hill certainly shows its age, it remains a chilling experience. The thought of losing one’s daughter in a creepy town is enough to put you on edge, but having child-like creature attack you, limited lighting, and a very eerie setting help push you over the edge, and that’s what makes Silent Hill so special. Hopefully the developers of the reboot remember that, cheap scares don’t stay with you months or years after you finish a game. It has to take control of you, and really freak you out, and based solely on the interactive P.T. teaser, Kojima-san and del Toro appear to be on the right track. If you’re curious to see where this legacy of evil started, I encourage you to check out Silent Hill.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

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