Category Archives: PS4 Reviews

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

Developer: Aquria
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita
ESRB Rating: T

 

Introduction:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is the latest in a series of Sword Art Online games that is based off a light novel and anime. The setting of the series is a fictional Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing (MMORPG) game in which players don a Virtual Reality headgear that allows them to fully immerse themselves in this online world. Sword Art Online is the name of this game, which itself has seen several settings during the various story arcs of the series.   The video games are based off the source material, but occur in alternate realities where events did not unfold exactly how they did in the original stories.

In Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization, Kirito, the main protagonist of the Sword Art Online series, and his companions are invited to participate in a beta test for Sword Art Online: Origins, a new MMORPG set in a recreation of the world from the original Sword Art Online. Inside this new game, they meet a variety of other players, and encounter a mysterious NPC that offers a quest with an unusually meager reward. Intrigued by this odd and seemingly incomplete NPC, Kirito and his companions aim to solve the mystery of this unusual NPC.

Parent Talk:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization has a Teen rating by the ESRB with the following justifications listed for the rating:

  • Drug References
  • Mild Language
  • Partial Nudity
  • Suggestive Themes
  • Violence

This list is very accurate for what is portrayed in the game, especially suggestive themes. The game is full of what is often called “fan service” in which female characters are frequently shown in rather suggestive situations and revealing states of dress.

The battles fought in the game are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame; they should not cause any problems for even younger children.

There are some direct portrayals of drug usage within the game.

The teen rating seems appropriate for the game, younger children should have parental discretion.


Plays Like:

Although there is an online multiplayer feature, at its core this game is a “Pretend” Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). The game simulates the look and feel of a MMORPG, but the core game occurs offline. The game-play borrows a lot of elements from Phantasy Star Online 2 and Final Fantasy XIV.

There are two types of game-play here. This game is an action RPG that plays very similar to Phantasy Star Online 2. You always have direct control of your character. You can run, jump, attack, and evade all in real time. You can perform special skills with your weapons, which often serve as finishers to your combo attacks.

Much like Final Fantasy XIV, you have a pallet where you can set various skills, items, and abilities to grant you quick access to them. Enemies have visual cues and the world maps have special events that occur when you enter a designated area. Fans of these online RPGs will find a lot looks familiar here in Sword Art Online.

The second style of game-play is a visual novel. Story progression takes place through character portraits displayed on screen.   Most dialogue is voice acted, albeit entirely in Japanese. Subtitles display the dialogue in English. Nearly all narration is presented through this visual novel style of play.


The Good:

In terms of visual presentation, the game takes a unique approach. I would describe the aesthetics as looking like Dragon Quest characters inhabiting a Final Fantasy world. The character models have a distinct “anime” look to them, helping them stay pretty true to the source material they come from. The world and terrain you explore looks much like the world of Final Fantasy XIV; a much more realistic look in contrast to the characters.

Speaking of the in-game world, there is no shortage of world to explore. Helping the game simulate the look and feel of a MMORPG, you are presented with some truly massive maps to roam around in. These maps are full of monsters, treasure chests, and special events that will ensure there is always something to do on them. With so much activity, you can easily spend more than an hour on a single field hunting down all its features.

Of course, maps filled with monsters inevitably leads to battle, and fortunately battles are one area where this game shines. Despite a large number of skills and abilities available, you do not have to wade through endless menus searching for your desired move. Basic attacks are mapped to a simple button press, with another button activating your main skill. Further skills can be activated by tapping your special attack button while inputting a direction on the analogue stick. An action pallet can also be customized and displayed or hidden as desired to gain access to even more skills and abilities.

The result is quick access to your desired specials with minimal “search” time, which is essential when you are in the thick of a heated battle. Combat is simple enough that it’s easy to learn, yet has enough depth and strategy to it to make it feel engaging without being overwhelming.

My favorite aspect of the game comes from one of its mechanics designed to help simulate a specific MMORPG experience, and that is the simulated “raid” boss battles.   While there are only a handful of true bosses in the game, when you finally do encounter one, you find you are not the only one gunning for the boss. A whole legion of characters have shown up contemplating how to defeat the boss, and they are more than happy to join up with you for the battle.

Accept the offer, and you’ll begin the boss battle with a 12-member team, and it is truly an incredible experience to see so many characters working together in real-time to achieve an objective. You can even issue commands that your AI party members will follow; you are given a lot of influence over encounters.

Are you a trophy hunter?   If so, there are quite a few to go after. It will probably take you a several hundred hours to collect every trophy this game has to offer. If 100% completion is your thing, this game will keep you busy or quite some time. Obtaining the platinum for this game is quite an accomplishment!


The So-So:

Although the game features a character creation mechanic, no matter what you do with your character, the game still considers you to be Kirito, SAO’s main protagonist. Most of the time, you’ll be referred to by the name you input, but make no mistake. You are Kirito. In all of the cut scenes, you’ll hear Kirito’s voice actor voicing your dialogue unless you go into the options menu and mute the voice. Characters will make references to your past deeds in previous adventures from SAO, and treat you the same way they do Kirito. Even if you create a female character, everyone will still refer to you as a male, and all of the female characters will still hit on you.

I should mention that I am a woman, and it quickly became apparent to me that I am most definitely not the target demographic for this game. Aside from being forced to essentially be Kirito, this game is definitely one that plays the role of a male fantasy. The core cast of the game is almost entirely female side-kicks for Kirito, all of which are ready and willing to hit on Kirito, and frequently present themselves in varying states of undress. In fact, the rewards for many of the game’s side-stories is a snapshot of the girls in a revealing and often seductive state.

Even Asuna herself has realized what this game is really about! Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude and I am not offended by some revealing images, but when the same fully nude female character was shown to me 3 different times, and nearly every other quest line was prominently having the female characters reveal their panties and having suggestive dialogue, it became quite clear that this game was not intended for me.

Further building on the male fantasy design of the game, it includes a dating simulation.   Characters have a friendship level that represents their affinity towards you. Once you are on friendly terms with a character, you can invite them to walk around town with you. Special locations around town will allow you to initiate a private conversation with a character. During these private conversations, you not only get a chance to build up your friendship with them, you get to make out with them as well. You can stroke them, grab their waist, or if you’re really daring, move in for a kiss.   If you are skillful with your making out, you an even bring the characters to bed with you, where you can have a “Pillow Chat” with them as they lay down on your bed so you can continue to make out with them. While the game naturally guides you towards the multiple female characters swooning over you for this, anyone and everyone is fair game. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. As long as your friendship level is high enough with someone, you can romance them. Even Kirito’s family members are fair game. Want to hit on your daughter? The game will let you.

While this mechanic does introduce an element of bonding with characters, which is not a bad idea, the way it’s carried out comes across as so shallow and superficial that it’s hard to feel like you are really building a meaningful relationship with the characters as opposed to just taking advantage of them.

Another area of the game that is rather under-whelming is just how shamefully it borrows from other games, to the point where it almost feels like a knock-off of them. This is especially true when the game is compared to Final Fantasy XIV, where the similarities become so glaring that it has to be intentional.

Monsters look suspiciously similar to enemies encountered in Final Fantasy, and the special field events are virtually identical to the “FATES” encountered in that game.   Enemies even use the same targeting field on the ground to telegraph their attacks that Final Fantasy uses.   When it comes to originality, this game is sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, the things it copied it did so fairly well.

It really does get your heart racing and builds up a sense of excitement when a massive super powerful enemy suddenly appears, and you have to decide if you are going to fight it, or run for your life. These on-field super enemies can be even stronger than the game’s main bosses, and it can take as long as an hour to defeat one.

If you are able to topple your super foe, the rewards are incredible pieces of equipment, giving you a real tangible motivation for engaging these super foes; not just bragging rights. In addition to the super enemies, there are also lesser field events that give lesser rewards but still encourage field exploration and interaction. Despite the lack of originality, these copycat events are executed well and can be fun to play.

While this game is only pretending to be an MMORPG, it does in fact contain a multi-player mode playable online. Multi-player mode is instance based. You create a room that can contain up to 4 people. There is no story progression or special quests in multiplayer mode. It’s essentially free-roaming of the world maps, although it is possible for the super enemy monsters to appear, allowing you to recruit friends to help fight them. There’s also a mode where you need to defend checkpoints while accomplishing an objective. This mode is also available offline, but it is quite fun to play it with friends.   That’s all she wrote for multi-player.   It’s a fun diversion, but it’s features are quite bare-bones. It’s worth mentioning that PS4 and Vita cannot play together for some reason.


The Bad:

For all the things about an MMORPG that the game does right, there’s a lot it gets wrong. First and foremost, the game is extremely dialogue heavy, so much so that it is not uncommon to spend 20 minutes doing nothing but advancing dialogue. While narration is important, the problem is that frequently, the narration is just fluff that has no significance to the story. Many times, its just not interesting to read. All of these characters know each other and are friends, that’s great and all but the game is going to be reminding you of this constantly. What’s worse is, it’s very easy to stumble into these long cut scenes when you’re simply trying to move through town to reach a destination. I once encountered four lengthy cut scenes all while I was trying to walk to the teleport plaza. It quickly became a rather infuriating experience when every one of them was little more than re-affirming that the characters are friends with Kirito.

Even out in the field, you are not safe from these. Frequently, you’ll be traversing a new field and will at last find a significant location; perhaps one you have spent a great amount of time searching for. But just as you approach its entrance, Kirito will halt progress and demand you return to town to “tell the others” about it. You then must go back and sit through a lengthy scene where you explain to the other characters what you already knew. Then at last you can return and continue on, but by the time you get back, that sense of excitement and anticipation has probably turned into one of frustration and annoyance.

That’s not to say that the story is all bad. Over time, you can genuinely start to feel for some of the characters, and some of their events are quite relatable. Occasionally, the events that unfold are surprisingly poignant and can really touch your heart.

While it doesn’t make up for all the fluff, there is some good bits in the narration if you are able to pay attention long enough.

In addition to the length of the visual novel elements, another problem is the means at which they tell their story. Frequently, a cut scene will begin, and end a quest without ever giving you any active input into it. This is true for the vast majority of the main “quests” in this game.   You don’t feel particularly engaged when a terrible monster supposedly shows up and attacks your party, only for it to never be seen on screen. Instead, you see images of your friends as various sound effects play in the background and the on-screen text tries its best to convince you that a fierce battle is underway. Very occasionally, you’ll actually be thrust into an in-game battle during one of these scenes, though this is rare. That’s the most participation you ever get in these visual novel elements. While they are beautifully drawn, they are over-used and way too long, and become more of an annoyance than an engaging story tool.

For as much as these visual novel elements talk about all these quests the game is full of, in truth, the quest system is arguably the most faulty part of the game. There are essentially 3 kinds of quests. The main story, the side stories, and the bulletin board.

The main story is just what it sounds like, the main single player offline campaign. The side stories are triggered by talking to people in town, or visiting a specific location. These side stories are always visual novel scenes. Finally, we have the bulletin board. The bulletin board offers hundreds upon hundreds of quests… all of which fall into one of 2 categories. Hand over some items the client wants, or kill certain monsters.   It never goes any deeper than this, this is how every single quest works from the bulletin board. When you complete a request for someone, they’ll mail you a thank you letter, and may even ask to meet the in town. Meeting them in town allows you to trigger another quest, which is simply another item fetch quest. Clearly the developers did not understand what actually makes for an engaging quest system in an MMORPG. Endless monster hunt and fetch quests become little more than chores.   A proper quest system with interesting characters and objectives could have made what is supposed to be a MMORPG world feel much more alive and interactive. What do you think would happen if in a real MMORPG your party leader decided to do several hundred of these kind of quests and dragged you along for it?

Another problem with the quests is the mail. As I mentioned, every time you complete a quest, the client sends you mail. This results in a huge amount of “mail spam” in which you start receiving hundreds of messages, and everyone sends the same messages. It gets tiring very quickly, to the point where soon you’ll just be ignoring the mail. There’s no quick delete function either, every letter has to be manually deleted.   What’s worse, in many cases deleting someone’s mail simply prompts them to re-send it, which only furthers the problem.

One other glaring flaw about the game are the numerous typos. A few are forgivable, but here they are spread throughout the game, and show up quite regularly. In a game that already has problems of breaking you out of the immersion, this only makes the problem worse. Though, they can be a source of amusement as well, such as this one:

Can Horton hear the Who?

The Lowdown:

Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is a fun, yet flawed game. The target demographic for the game is young men, and the game is not the least bit subtle about that fact. The story is full of visual novel elements that quickly out-stay their welcome and the game features one of the worst quest systems ever seen in a game.

Despite these drawbacks, the core game-play is solid, and the visuals are gorgeous. The world to explore is huge, and despite it’s shortcomings teaming up with friends in multiplayer mode can be fun. The game can be difficult, but is always a fair challenge. There are some truly epic boss battles to be had in SAO.

While the game falls quite short as a pretend MMORPG, if you can make it through its lengthy dialogue and get to the action, there are plenty of good times to be had.

My final rating for Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is 7.7 / 10

Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

Atelier Sophie ~ Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

 

Available on PlayStation 4 (Japanese version also available on PlayStation 3 & PlayStation Vita via importing)

ESRB Rating: Teen
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America Corp
Developer: Gust Co, Ltd.
Release Dates: JP – November 19th, 2015, NA – June 7th, 2016, PAL – June 10th, 2016

Version Reviewed: North American PlayStation 4

Parent Talk:

Atelier Sophie is a light hearted adventure in a European styled town in which the titular character, Sophie, uses her alchemy skills to help her friends and fellow villagers with their day-to-day lives.   The game features some mild language in the form of a few curse words, and there are some suggestive themes, namely from the “Tess” character. There’s also a few somewhat revealing outfits in the game that are worn by the Plachta character. This has earned the game it’s teen rating, which is probably pretty appropriate for it.   Even children younger than their teenage years should be fine with this game.

Plays Like:

I would describe Atelier Sophie as playing like a cross between Dragon Quest and Animal Crossing. The game-play involves guiding Sophie through various fields in order to collect an assortment of materials to be used in alchemy.   Virtually everything that happens in the game centers on the alchemy. Alchemy is used to create a wide variety of items that affect your performance in battle, advance the story, and develop your relationships with people living in your village.

Much like in Animal Crossing, you’ll often have people request you to create something for them. Delivering the item they request will both improve their opinion of you, and help advance the story forward.

There are also plenty of side quests available, which will earn you rewards and Cole (money) for completing them. This, and gathering materials for alchemy purposes, is reminiscent of the Dragon Quest series. And, there are barrels!

Despite some similarities in how they play, Atelier Sophie still very much stands on its own, and never feels like an imitation of either game.

Review Basis:

 

I must begin by saying that this is the first, and currently only Atelier game I have ever played. This is the 17th game in the Atelier series, thus it has quite a few other titles that it very likely draws inspiration from. Having not played any of the previous ones, this game is being reviewed entirely on its own merits with no comparisons made to previous games in the series.

The Great:

Atelier Sophie is filled with characters full of personality. While this game is not pushing the bar on graphic fidelity, all of the characters still look gorgeous and are beautifully animated. They are expressive and a joy to talk to. Much of the game is voice acted, and you have a choice of using the Japanese or English voices. And you can’t go wrong with either choice, both sets of voices sound appropriate for the characters; I never encountered any cringe-inducing moments due to awkward voice selection.

None of the characters ever came across to me as being overly annoying either. There wasn’t any character that I dreaded seeing appear on the screen, even the ones that have some rather unusual passions and interests. Much like in real life, you can be quite surprised by what someone’s interests are, and this game shows that as well with several characters having some unusual or un-expected hobbies.

The town you live in is bustling with life and even deep into the game, you’ll still be exploring the town and talking to people to see what they are up to.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to help the people of your village too, you are most definitely not a mere visitor passing through, this town is your home, everyone knows you, and you know them.   And you’ll be able to actively help them pursue their goals, for better or for worse…

If you enjoy an active and lively town to inhabit, Sophie definitely delivers.

The Good:

Atelier Sophie features a much different style of story than your usual RPG. There’s no earth shattering catastrophe here that you are setting out to prevent, there is not an evil being plotting the destruction of the world that you are on a quest to foil. You are not on a quest to save the world, you are instead helping Plachta, a mysterious flying book that you encounter, recover her memories, and helping the people of your village.

Both of these things are done through the very thing Sophie is trying to become skilled at, alchemy!

When you aren’t visiting with villagers, your primary activity will be exploring the surrounding landscape in search of alchemy materials.

Initially, your choice of destinations is limited, but you’ll steadily unlock additional locations to visit as the game progresses.   Each provides access to new materials with new traits for Sophie to find. By the end of the game, you have a pretty respectable chunk of land that you can traverse. Traversing the map is easy, simply select your destination, and Sophie automatically runs to the location you wish to go, stopping only for the map events you might encounter on the way, portrayed as red dots on the path. These red dots usually result in a small reward, but sometimes powerful enemies suddenly ambush you, so there is a sense of mystery when you encounter one.

Within each field, you’ll not only encounter items to collect, but monsters as well. Battles are your traditional menu driven turn-based fare, but there is some depth to be found to it. As the game continues, you gradually unlock additional features to the battle mode, such as chaining attacks together and unleashing special super moves. Your characters choose a stance to stand in during battle that either allows them to do extra damage, or focus more on defending themselves. And these stances have a big impact on what kind of moves get chained together. The chained moves can also increase offense against an enemy, or help strengthen your party’s defenses. There’s a lot more to consider than if you want a particular character to reduce their incoming damage or not.

Character growth is also handled in an interesting way in this game. Traditional leveling up only takes you so far. The level cap in this game is fairly low. Rather than grinding out levels, alchemy is your main form of development. Every piece of equipment you wear can be affected by alchemy. In some cases, you’ll directly create some gear in the alchemy cauldron, in others, you’ll provide parts to someone else to craft something for you. You can create these parts through alchemy and infuse them with special properties that will aid you in battle. You might build a sword with incredible attack power, or you might create armor with resistance to a status ailment. It will require a great deal of clever alchemizing and manipulating of materials in order to get the traits you want on the end product.   Fortunately you can transfer characteristics from one ingredient to the next, allowing you to create combinations that can result in some truly amazing items.

Alchemy itself is handled by placing your alchemy components on a grid, in which colored spaces on the board serve as a multiplier for pieces laid over them. The idea is to fill as many spaces of the board as possible and obtain the largest bonuses for the desired characteristics of the alchemy in question.

While it’s simple to get the basic idea down, mastering the system takes a lot of patience and practice. But you’ll definitely have ample time to practice, as alchemy is a fundamental component of the game, and this is a screen you will be seeing often.

The So-So:

One area that Sophie is a bit lacking is the fields in which you explore. Many of them have a similar look of being a small outdoor field, especially in the early areas. Even as the game advances, most of the areas still have a similar look to them. There’s not a big variety of climates, and you can start to get tired of being out in the woods or meadows surrounding the towns. And the fields are all pretty small, sometimes being just 1 small map. Many areas do have sub-areas you can visit, but these sub areas usually look about the same, and are still very small, adding only an extra screen or two to the area. There really is not a rewarding sense of exploration when it comes to the maps. Very few times will you encounter a special hidden treasure hidden in a crafty place. Very occasionally, you can see some subtle changes in a map by special events found through the Rumors system, but these typically relate to a special enemy or item appearing that you wouldn’t normally see.

The game also has a definite lack of boss fights.   While many maps do have a formidable enemy on them, there’s very few major story-driven battles in the game.   If you are looking for compelling narrative and a focused goal, you won’t find that here. While there is a plot, it moves along fairy slowly and your progression isn’t determined so much by overcoming fierce challenges that test your skills, but more by how much alchemy you performed and how many people in town you talk to.

Sophie’s home town of Kirchen Bell is the only village in the game, and you’ll be exploring it repeatedly as the game goes on.   Players looking for fresh areas and new faces to interact with will be disappointed. This game is more about building relationships with the people you know than meeting new faces.

Graphically, the game is not pushing the limits on graphic fidelity. As mentioned previously the characters are colorful and expressive, but there is a bit of a lack of detail to the textures.

The visuals are not bad, and they give a very anime styled look to the game. But some fine tuning of the textures and more attention to detail could have certainly enhanced the games presentation and overall experience. All in all a small price to pay for an otherwise great experience, but one that is noticeable.

The Lowdown:

Atelier Sophie is a delightful experience full of light-hearted charm. The characters are likeable and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in Sophie’s world and the people that inhabit it. The game does a great job of blending narrative, alchemy, and exploration into an adventure that is quite down to earth. Sophie is one of the most relatable protagonists I have seen in a game, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her character development as she learned the ins and outs of being an alchemist, and dedicated herself towards helping her villagers.

With a variety of fields to explore, and a “Requests/Rumors” system that serves a similar role to side quests in other games, you can get a lot of mileage out of Sophie. It’s amazing how much variety can exist within the simple humble village of Kirchen Bell.

While the lack of a focused story and clear direction can be a little jarring at first, give Sophie a chance and let yourself become drawn into her world. Once there, you won’t want to leave.

My final rating for this game is a solid 9.7/10

Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Guerilla Games
Release Date: February 28, 2017

Parent Talk: Horizon: Zero Dawn has been rated T for teen from the ESRB because of alcohol and tobacco references, blood, mild language, mild sexual themes, and violence.  Horizon is a breathtaking action RPG where players take on the role of Aloy, a young outcast that hunts majestic mechanical beasts to stay alive outside the safety of the populous cities.  The mechanical animals she hunts do not bleed, however enemy tribes you go up against are made up of humans, and while attacking human enemies you can expect a certain level of violence.  The game is never tremendously gory, even though the violence is realistic.

Plays Like: Have you had the chance to play through 2013’s Tomb Raider or Rise of the Tomb Raider yet?  If so, those two games give the best impression of what you can expect from Horizon in terms of general gameplay.  Horizon is a gargantuan open world that is fully realized in a way very few open world games achieve.  There is a wealth of open world tropes such as unlocking towers, except here the towers are giant moving dinosaur-like creatures.  Side quests, vehicular combat, and more are all featured.  It’s the way that everything comes together that is truly impressive.

Review Basis: Sony Interactive Entertainment was kind enough to send us an advanced review code.  I put in well over 35 hours with the game and completed the main storyline.  I played through the game on a regular PlayStation 4.

Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in development since 2011.  Guerilla Games wanted to work on something different after the release of Killzone 3 on the PlayStation 3.  While it’s true the company would go on to release another Killzone on both the PS4 and the Vita, internally the team was secretly plugging away on what would become Horizon.  At E3 2015 the game was shown off to the public for the first time and I knew then that this was going to be a special game, and now having completed the game, I can proudly say it is indeed one special game that all PlayStation 4 owners should experience.

The Great:

There are have countless open world games released since Grand Theft Auto III hit the scene way back in 2001.  Some goofy, some serious, some kid-friendly, others not so much, and some come together in such a way that leave you speechless.  This one falls in the latter category.  It comes together in such a way that will truly take your breath away.  There have only been a few games where I stop and move the camera around because I am so in awe of what I’m looking at.  I’ve done that at least a dozen times while playing this game.  Aloy’s world is incredibly unique, and without spoiling anything, you will see mountain ranges that are so vividly detailed you won’t believe you’re not watching a cinematic.  The dynamic weather system will have it snow one minute, and pour rain another, but in a realistic manner where it doesn’t just rain for no reason.  You’ll see the clouds start to move in, the sky gets dark and then it starts to rain.  It’s amazing to see in action.  When it rains and you’re running through the dense forest areas, you can’t help but stand there in shock at the sheer beauty of it all.

Each area of the environment has been meticulously put together so that there’s a logical sequence to the placement of villages, mountains, desert areas, etc.  You don’t just see a mountain pop out of nowhere, you’ll slowly see the land incline and then as the elevation increases that’s when the weather starts to change and it gets cold.  It may seem trivial, but it’s this attention to detail that runs through every aspect of the game.

The storyline is one area I can’t speak much about, but it’s far more interesting than the trailers have led you to believe.  Aloy is an outcast, she doesn’t belong to a tribe.  Her guardian, Rost, used to belong to the Nora tribe many years back but something happened as he was cast out.  Typically, criminals are shunned this way, but in the case of Rost there’s much more to his backstory than meets the eye, much like everything in Horizon.  Eventually Aloy sets her eyes on an event that will allow her to become one with the tribe and learn more about where she comes from, who she is, and what her place is in this unique world.  What happens next changes the scope of the game and over the next thirty hours or so players will try and piece together exactly where these machines come from, why they were built, and just who are these ancients everyone keeps talking about.  It’s all fascinating stuff, and classic elements such as finding detailed information hidden away in the game’s world can be exposed if you’re willing to explore every nook and cranny.  Believe me, it’s worth it as the back story the game doesn’t tell you is just as, if not, more compelling than the one you’re taking part in.

The gameplay is excellent.  The game that most closely matches what Horizon does is the reboot of Tomb Raider, where you explore a massive open world, take on main storyline quests, side quests, and harvest resources to expand your arsenal and increase the number of items you can hold.  Fear not though, you don’t actively have to look for resources, they’re scattered everywhere.  You’ll see trees, plants, and animals all over the place that you can run up to, press triangle and harvest the resource.  Animals must be hunted, but you can see them with your Focus, which works something like Detective Mode in the Arkham games.  That means you don’t really have to put much effort into hunting or harvesting, which is good because it could have easily detracted from the rest of the game.

There will be certain animal resources you will need to find to upgrade your quiver for example.  When you hunt boars, turkeys, foxes, racoons, and fish they have a random number generator which dictates which resources the animal will drop.  Often you will need either the green uncommon or blue rare drops.  Because there are so many animals everywhere though, it never becomes a hindrance or burden and very early in the game you will be able to upgrade most of your gear at least once so long as you invest a good twenty to thirty minutes hunting.

The combat system and to a larger extension the weapons are incredibly fun and engaging.  For the most part you’ll be using your bow and arrows to hunt down the bulk of your adversaries.  From hunting wild animals, which require one arrow to take down, to taking on human and mechanical beasts alike, the combat is incredibly fun to partake in.  There are several elements to the combat depending on the situation at hand.  So, let’s break down each one.  Wild animals we already discussed, use your Focus to see where they are, highlight them with a quick press of the R2 button and take them out.

Human enemies are smarter and require some finesse to take down.  Once again you can use the Focus to see through walls, and plan your attack as you can mark enemies, but you can also see their walking pattern which is incredibly important for when you’re hunting the machines.  I typically stay far back, mark all the enemies and then take them out with precision arrows, one of many different types of arrows available to you.  Like everything else in the game, ammunition needs to be made from resources you find.  Absolutely everything in the game requires resources, but fear not, you can also buy goods from traders you meet along the way.  The form of currency is metal shards which everyone carries so when you defeat a human enemy and loot their corpse you’ll likely find some shards as well as potions and other items of use.  The one wrinkle to watch out for with human enemies is that they can bring in reinforcements if one of them reaches the strategically placed alarm signals.  A good tactic is to snipe all the enemies surrounding the alarm, then use stealth to deactivate the alarm and wipe out everywhere else however else you want.

Stealth is important because Aloy has a wild array of weapons as her disposal so she doesn’t just need to use the bow and arrows.  You can also use her trusty spear.  If she sneaks up on a person you can press the R1 button to activate a stealth kill, which is not only satisfying, but incredibly useful as no one hears the sounds, but they may see the body so be careful where you perform the takedown.  The world is covered in beautiful long flowing grass, which is just perfect for Aloy to use as cover, and this is important when taking on the mechanical beasts.  This is where the combat changes dramatically.

The wonderful creatures you’ve seen in all the trailers may look majestic, but when you must take one of them down, things get nasty.  Each type of machine needs to be handled differently, and this is an element I absolutely loved with the game.  The simple Watcher enemies can be defeated with a nice clear shot to their front lens, but before long you’ll be facing much stronger enemies that require multiple strategies to take down.  One enemy I fought was something like a giant worm that burrowed into the ground and popped up rather unexpectedly.  He ripped me to shreds the first time I faced him, but then I looked through my inventory to see what options I had available.  The first thing I did was I used the Focus to highlight any potential areas of weakness on the creature.  These areas become highlighted in yellow.  The thing is you can’t just shoot them and be done with it.  Sometimes these spots are protected and the creature needs to be immobilized first so you can target that specific area.  Some enemies are weak against one of the three elemental attacks in the game, fire, ice, and electricity.  Some are weak against a specific weapon you have, so you really must plan your attack before just jumping in and going crazy or you’ll be destroyed.

In the case of the worm fight, I decided to use my Ropecaster, which shoots a rope into an enemy and ties them to the ground, but wouldn’t you know it, he just burrowed underground so that didn’t work. I then tried to use the Sling to shoot frozen grenades at the creature to see if I could freeze him, which typically causes extra damage, and while it was working, I found it was taking too long, so I finally used my Tripcaster, which shoots out a trip-line with a small explosive attached to it, and boy did that work.  Every time the creature would lunge at me, I would have it setup up so he would trip the line and cause an explosion.  Shortly after, the creature who once destroyed me, was now dead.  Talk about a feeling of satisfaction.  Every time you stumble onto a new machine, you will do the exact same thing, try and find a good strategy to use against it.  The best news of all, your strategy could very well be completely different than mine, and that’s where the game shows its biggest strength.

As you complete more and more missions you’re awarded with experience, which slowly levels Aloy up over time.  Every time she gains a level she unlocks a skill point which can be allocated to a wide array of unique and helpful abilities.  You might be able to harvest more resources from a single source, reload your weapons faster, run while staying in stealth and much more.  Speaking of upgrades, your weapons and gear can be retrofitted with enhancements that cause extra damage, or give some other perk in battle.  The best thing to do is mess around and have fun with these unique elements as you never know what the results will be.

As you progress far enough in the game Aloy will eventually learn to hack creatures so they fight for her, she can learn to ride some as mounts, and so much more.  One of the more incredible aspects of these features is that they come together in a game with virtually no loading at all.  It’s an impressive sight to behold.  When you die there’s a short load time, and the same when you first boot the game but outside that there’s virtually no loading whatsoever.  The only exception to the rule is when you fast travel somewhere.  Even saving your progress can be done in about two seconds at campfires, either manually or automatically.  It’s impressive considering how incredible everything looks.

And oh, those looks.  I already mentioned I stopped to look around a dozen or so times, but really, I can’t stress this enough, this game looks incredible in motion.  It’s breathtaking how amazing everything came together.  If you thought last year’s Uncharted 4 looked amazing, wait until you see this.  Keep in mind I played the game on a regular PlayStation 4, so I can only imagine how much better it looks in 4K with HDR on the PlayStation 4 Pro.  I won’t get into the finer details, but Horizon is one of the nicest looking videogames I’ve ever played, period.

The sound design is also superb.  From excellent voice acting to a beautiful soundtrack, the audio came together in such a way as to compliment the visuals.  The audio is also dynamic meaning it will change based on the environmental situation, so not only battles, but whether the weather is really coming down hard, or if there’s something critical Aloy happened to figure out while she was on-mission.

The So-So:

There are a few elements that didn’t come together quite as well as Guerilla Games may have hoped for.  The first of these is the dialogue tree.  While it’s great being able to ask questions, and get more information out of NPCs, the choices you make feel as though they don’t really have any consequences.  The system works great from the perspective of information gathering, but there’s little to no weight behind some of the choices you make.

Another element that is ok, but nothing overly special is the mission variety, particularly if you take part in the side quests.  Too often Aloy must race off to a location, Focus on the area to find tracks and then follow those tracks to eventually fight either a mechanical beast or a bunch of humans.  This was offset by what I mentioned earlier though, that each new enemy encounter is unique in and of itself, and I suppose that was Guerilla’s argument for perhaps not having more mission diversity.

One area that cracked me up on more than one occasion was the acrobatics system.  Much like in the Uncharted series, Aloy can perform some rather impressive acrobatic feats, however these are always scripted.  She can only jump up to a specific spot if it happens to have a yellow border, if not she can’t.  It’s bizarre when there are areas she can’t reach that are shorter than the ones she can, all thanks to this mysterious yellow border.

Finally, the last elements of the game design that you must watch out for are with very specific resources not always available everywhere.  Under most circumstances, you will easily be able to craft whatever you want; however, ammunition is the one exception and that can force you to fast travel back to another area to harvest a few specific resources you’re missing so that you can continue with a mission that requires you to hunt down certain creatures.  This rarely happens, but when it does it can be slightly annoying.  Thankfully you can always buy what you’re missing from traders, however I like to save my shards for big upgrades and often the prices can be a bit steep for ammunition.

The Ugly:

Much like most open world games, I experienced a game breaking bug while playing the game, that Sony had to send me instructions on how to revert to a previous save point and avoid the bug.  If not for cloud saves I wouldn’t have been able to review this game for you as I was already 14 hours in and wouldn’t have had the time to restart from the very beginning.  The good news is this bug has been squished in the day 1 patch, but be warned that there will likely be other bugs present.

The Lowdown:

Horizon: Zero Dawn is an outstanding accomplishment from Guerilla Games.  While I had a few nitpicks with the game, overall it came together in such a way that few new IPs do.  It is also a technical achievement that will leave countless PlayStation 4 fans floored when they see it for the first time.  It comes with my absolute highest recommendation.  If you dislike open world games, give this one a chance as it may surprise you.  If you’re a longtime fan of the genre, this is a no-brainer.  Horizon: Zero Dawn is already a contender for Game of the Year.  Job well done Guerilla Games.

Final Score: 9.5/10      

Street Fighter V Review

SF5Street Fighter V (Available on PC and PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Dimps & Capcom
Release Date: February 16th, 2016

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Street Fighter V T for teens because of suggestive themes, violence, and mild language. The series has its own unique art style, and isn’t overly realistic in its depictions of violence and everything is over the top. The suggestive themes are mainly because of the scantily clad female fighters, but that too isn’t as far reaching as some other fighters out there. Honestly if you’re old enough to understand how to play fighting games, you’re old enough for Street Fighter V.

Plays Like: I’d hate to say that if you’ve played one Street Fighter you’ve played them all because that would be a flat out lie, but the core gameplay mechanics and structure have remained largely the same since the original Street Fighter II. Yes the series has greatly evolved since then to introduce advanced combos, parrying, and so many other concepts, but those original gameplay mechanics like best of three rounds, unique joystick motions to pull off special moves, and more are still featured here. Street Fighter V is a wonderfully compelling game that will take hours upon hours of your time to get competent at, and will takes years to master.

Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy to play in advance of the official release date. I played through the entire story mode, I played a bunch of versus matches locally, and got destroyed online.

It has been since the Super Nintendo that a Street Fighter was exclusive to a home console. That sure didn’t last long back then before the series hit the Genesis, and every other platform known to man shortly afterwards, but for a short period of time Street Fighter II was only available on the SNES, and that changed the landscape of the console wars forever considering how big of a success Street Fighter II was in the arcades.

Today Capcom and Sony have partnered up to bring Street Fighter V exclusively to the PlayStation 4. Yes it’s also getting released on PC at the same time, but having console exclusivity is a really big deal. Whether or not it helps further the divide between the PS4 and Xbox One is up for debate, but the fact that the PS4 will now become the de facto fighting game system of choice for fighting game fans the world over speaks volumes.

Having sat out Street Fighter IV for most of its existence means I’m reviewing this game having stepped away from the series after the Street Fighter II, III, and the Alpha series. Those series were incredibly influential in my understanding and enjoyment of fighting games. So does V have enough special to make me want to devote time, effort, and energy into the latest Capcom fighter? Let’s find out together!

SF5_5The Great:

The complete package. That’s the first thing I think of when I think of Street Fighter V. There were four different versions of Street Fighter IV, the original release also known as vanilla Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Each of these games added new characters, costumes, backgrounds, and gameplay tweaks. The problem was, and one of the key reasons why I stayed away from that game for so long, is that if you missed out on the original release, you always felt like you were playing catch up. If you wanted the complete experience, it always felt like it was just out of reach.

With Street Fighter V, it’s clear that Capcom designed the game from the ground up to be upgradable. Capcom has built a game that will allow players to constantly add new characters, new costumes, new gameplay tweaks, and even new gameplay modes, without forcing the player to purchase an entirely new game. New gameplay features will be free to everyone via downloadable patches. Characters, costumes, and stages will be purchasable DLC, however you can use the in-game currency, Fight Money, to purchase these goods. Yes you can purchase the goods via the Season Pass, or real-world money (Zenny), but the fact the option is there to use an in-game currency makes all the difference in the world.

At launch Street Fighter V has 16 playable characters, with a nice roster of new characters and returning favorites from previous games in the series dating back all the way to the original Street Fighter. The line-up includes Ryu, Chun-Li, Nash, M. Bison, Cammy, Birdie, Ken, Necalli, Vega, R. Mika, Rashid, Karin, Zangief, Laura, Dhalsim, and F.A.N.G. First year DLC characters have been confirmed to include Alex, Guile, Balrog, Ibuki, Juri, and Urien. That’s quite a nice roster if I do say so myself, and who knows how this will play out in the years ahead.

The current gameplay modes include a Story Mode, Versus, Survival, Challenges, Training, Ranked Match, and Casual Match, but as I said before, there’s room for additional gameplay modes in the future. Capcom has already confirmed a Cinematic Story expansion will hit in June for free to all players. It’s what’s available right now, plus the promise of future support that ultimately makes this an exceptional fighter. The future looks exceptionally bright for this one.

SF5_4The Good:

  • Interesting story mode. Unlike traditional story modes where you fight through a lengthy roster of characters, here you battle your way through three or four opponents and that’s it. Each character has a very detailed, almost comic-book style infused cutscene-based storyline that details some part of their past leading up to the current events of the game. The overall storyline will be fleshed out in an update coming out this June, but it does act as a nice starter. The artwork is also fantastic, and will tickle the nostalgia bone of long-time fans of the series.
  • Online play is very responsive and the net code is great. Playing this prior to launch I had very little problems connecting to online matches, and there wasn’t any noticeable lag. I played through a bunch of matches and they all went off without a hitch.
  • The Capcom Fighters Network is awesome! It highlights where battles are happening all over the world, you can view player profiles, match statistics, designate rivals which allows you to keep an eye on their performance, register your friends and follow your favorite players. You can even find out about the latest tournament news, watch replays, and best of all, send battle invites out. Overall, this is a phenomenal way to keep everyone connected and up-to-date, which is crucial considering this is supposed to be the only version of Street Fighter V ever released. With this system, Capcom has created a key way of allowing them to update everyone in a nice, clean, and elegant manner. Hardcore fighting game fans are going to absolutely love this.
  • Combat is smooth, with good weight to the various characters, and the fighting feels tight and responsive. Classic Street Fighter moves are present throughout, however the new aspect to this iteration is the Variable or V-system. Each character has a V-Trigger, a V-Skill, and a V-Reversal. The V-Skill is completely different based on the character, some perform an offensive, defensive, or mobility enhancing move. V-Reversals are very similar to Alpha Counters in the Street Fighter Alpha series and allow a player to counter an incoming attack. They take some time to master, but can allow you a chance to start up a wicked combo. The V-Trigger works like Ultras from Street Fighter IV in that they’re designed to allow one player to turn the tide on the other. Once triggered they unlock a character’s true potential. They can make standard moves more powerful, and they can turn a super special move into an ultra-move. Take Ryu for example, if you have full V-stock and EX stock, you can trigger a Denjin Hadouken, by far his most powerful singular move. You may have noticed I said EX stock, and that’s right, you can keep stock of EX as well, which allow for more powerful version of standard special moves. Overall the system is fairly easy to get into, and robust enough that when coupled with the deep combo system, players should be able to spend countless hours seeing what’s possible.
  • The audio visual presentation is excellent. You can really tell they put the Unreal Engine 4.0 to good use here, and yes it’s true there’s a distinct style to the game that doesn’t go for realistic fighters, this is still the prettiest Street Fighter ever made. The backgrounds in particular look great, and the comic book-style cutscenes in the story mode are just great. The most important part, the entire game is running at 60 frames-per-second in wonderful 1080p resolution. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the new renditions of some of the classic tunes sound wonderful. Even the voice acting is pretty good, which really surprised me. Overall, it’s Street Fighter you know and love, but in glorious next-gen HD.
  • PS3 arcade sticks work! That may not be a big deal to some, but considering professional sticks are often around $150 and up, I can tell you many people will be extremely pleased with this aspect of the game.

SF5_3The So-So:

+/- The training mode is your basic training mode, where you can set some features like move displays, frame boxes, command inputs, etc. What it lacks is what made the training mode in Killer Instinct so exceptional on the Xbox One, it fails to teach you how to string combos together, or how to understand the fundamentals of the game. This won’t even be a blip on the radar of series veterans, but it is an important element missing for brand new players to the genre. Understanding the basics before getting online is crucial.

SF5_2The Bad:

  • While the game does offer a lot of options for fighting game fans, it feels a bit barebones at launch. The roster is nice, the backgrounds are great, however the story mode is over in a flash, and there’s not much else here except for online combat, the survival mode, or local versus multiplayer. Sure the future promises to increase the content dramatically, but for now, there’s nothing to unlock, and thus very little else to chew into outside online play. Mortal Kombat X felt much richer in terms of sheer content at launch.

SF5_1The Lowdown:

I have to admit that it was really nice being able to sit down, whip out the old arcade stick, and just lose myself to a fantastic Street Fighter. It feels like I haven’t done that in far too long, and that’s the truth. This is one I want to devote more time, effort, and energy on because it feels like it deserves it. This is an absolutely excellent game that is well worth the price of admission, and with the promise of no new Street Fighter V releases, and loads future content delivered directly through this one game, fans of the series may have just found the ultimate Street Fighter experience. If you like fighting games, honestly, this one’s a no-brainer and is likely already on your pre-order list.

Final Score: 9/10

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review

Uncharted ReviewUncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Release Date: October 7th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates the Uncharted Collection T for teen because of blood, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. While there are certainly mature themes throughout the series, it’s not ultra-violent. Think of it like going to see a PG-13 action movie and you know more or less what to expect.

Plays Like: Let’s see here, there’s stealth, cover mechanics, gunplay, platforming, and puzzle solving to be had. The action takes place in third person, and personally I’ve called the Uncharted series the franchise that Tomb Raider should have been since the beginning. It’s kind of ironic that now the Tomb Raider series is a derivative of the Uncharted series, but that’s a topic for another day. This is as close as you will likely ever get to playing an Indiana Jones movie.

Review Basis: The Uncharted franchise is my favorite franchise established during the PlayStation 3 generation, so I know these games well. I played enough of each game in this collection to compare the remasters to their original counterparts and report back.

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a remarkable collection of games. People tend to forget but the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune shipped back in 2007 from a developer mostly known for their mascot characters such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. To see them branch out into a more realistic action adventure was shocking. Nathan Drake had to prove himself, and prove himself he did. Today the Uncharted series is the jewel in Sony’s first party developed crown. With the forth entry in the series gearing up for release early next year, having a set like this hit now is fitting. Not only does it remind us of how far the series has come, but also where things are going.

Uncharted2The Great:

The fact this collection exists gives me an excuse to go back and play through all three of these games back-to-back-to-back one more time before the next installment is released. I consider that the very best feature of the game, giving me one more chance to experience these absolutely incredible games.

Uncharted3The Good:

  • Evolving gameplay. The cover mechanics of the first game get better and better as the series evolved, and that’s highlighted in this collection. The gunplay also got tighter the further the series went. Regardless of the improvements made, the series was fun from the very beginning. The mix of action and puzzle solving, and phenomenal storytelling make this a series you will want to play through again and the gameplay evolves at a natural pace, meaning you don’t ever feel completely restricted.
  • The incredible action set pieces are just as memorable today as they were when you first played through these games. If you never experienced these games from the previous generation, then you’re in for a real treat. From the dilapidated train wreck in Uncharted 2 to the incredible desert in Uncharted 3, it’s just amazing to behold in 1080p.
  • The amazing story flows from one game to the next in such a way that you really have to play the games one after another in order to tie the themes together and get the most out of the trilogy. This marks the first time I’ve ever played the games one after another, and I enjoyed the story more now than I did when the games were new. The first game is by far the weakest of the bunch in terms of the narrative, but it sets the stage for things to come.
  • The advances in motion capture technology came a long way from Drake’s Fortune to Drake’s Deception, and so too did the Naughty Dog’s cinematography skills. I find it interesting how a game based so much on the past, has itself a little history lesson in technological advancements. Naughty Dog became more and more comfortable in their newfound skills as the games progressed, and that’s evident as you play through them.
  • The 1080p resolution and smooth 60 fps gameplay are the way these games were meant to be played. I actually had to connect my PS3 because I never remembered these games looking this good, but to my surprise they were quite impressive even on the PlayStation 3.

+The soundtrack is also just as incredible as I remembered. The game also supports 7.1 surround sound, and it sounds superb. These games have never sounded better than they do here. The voice acting is also a highlight.

  • New features and modes make these games better than ever. For beginners there’s a new super easy mode called Explorer Mode, and then there’s the Brutal difficulty which makes Crushing look like child’s play. There’s also a Speed Run mode which keeps track of your progression versus your friend’s times, which is nice. There’s even a photo mode, and all new trophies. Finally there’s a render mode, which unlocks new skins allowing you to play as some of your favorite characters from the series.

Uncharted5The So-So:

+/- One element this series has always struggled with is the disconnect between the protagonists that are so rich and lively, and the mass murdering they perform throughout the three adventures. These games are filled with deep storylines and complex characters that are emotionally charged, yet none of them have any problems killing thousands of people.

Uncharted4The Bad:

  • Sadly all multiplayer modes have not been carried over from the original games, which will surely disappoint some fans of the series.

Uncharted1The Lowdown:

Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection proves Drake’s motto is true, Sic Parvus Magna or, Greatness from small Beginnings. This set is an absolute must buy.

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

Disney Infinity 3.0 Review

Disney Infinity 3.0 ReviewDisney Infinity 3.0 (Available on PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Avalanche Software
Release Date: August 28th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Disney Infinity 3.0 E10+, or everyone over ten years old. They only site cartoon violence as a potential hazard, and to be honest, that’s absolutely right. Even young kids under 10 shouldn’t have much trouble with the game in terms of content, more so they’ll need an adult’s help in setting up the game and creating some of the content.

Plays Like: If you’ve played any of the Infinity games you should know the drill by now. You purchase the starter set that includes a few figures and the power base, plus a play set. That activates a certain amount of content on the disc. Typically it unlocks one story mode for the included characters. You also get the toy box which is where you can use every figure from across all three games. It’s where you build levels, customize your house and much, much more. If you want to experience more stories or figures, those are all sold separately. The non-user generated content plays out like any other children’s action game where you have limited moves, and make your way through linear stages.

Review Basis: Disney Interactive sent us a review copy for the PlayStation 4.

Disney Infinity has been my go-to series for the toy-to-game genre. Skylanders may have started the trend, and Nintendo is sure making a mint off those Amiibos, but it’s Disney Infinity that seems to have struck the perfect balance between a limited amount of figures, and a very entertaining videogame. This is by far the best version yet, and considering how many figures have been released across all three games, you sure have a lot of options for your toy box.

DI3_2The Great:

Disney characters, check, Marvel characters, double check, and now Star Wars characters, triple check! That is an incredible wealth of content, and for the very first time all three universes have come together in one package. There is something here for children of all ages. Whether you want to spend countless hours in the intimidating, but ultimately enjoyable toy box mode where you can use any figure you’ve collected over the years in a mix mash of games, genres, or anything else your brain can think of; or work your way through one of the many play sets, Disney Infinity 3.0 is a sheer delight. It’s the incredible wealth of content that is by far the single best feature of this game.

DI3_4The Good:

  • This year’s starter set features Ahsoka and Anakin figures, and the play set Twilight of the Republic, which is hands down the absolute best play set included in any of the previous starter sets. While you may note that’s one figure less than the previous starter sets, keep in mind that the price has been lowered. It’s also possible to use the power base from Disney Infinity 2.0 and simply download the game for an even greater cost reduction. That way you can simply pick-up the figures individually.
  • As always the build quality of the figures is top notch. That classic cartoony look the toys have fits the Star Wars universe perfectly. I will admit that excited children might snap off those thin lightsabers though, so parents be warned.
  • Combat is tighter and more refined than ever before. Experienced players will be able to time their button presses to string together a wide assortment of awesome looking combos, but for the kids, button mashing also leads to some rather awesome results. This is a perfect balance for seasoned and newbie players alike.

DI3_1+ The Star Wars property is respected and put to good use. You can explore four planets, take part in space dog fights, and much more. I was surprised by just how fantastic the overall gameplay was.

  • The toy box mode is now easier than ever before. It’s incredible what you can do in this mode, make a Star Wars-inspired Mario Kart, or anything else you can dream of. Previously actually making these mini-games was daunting, but now, thanks to the new tools, I found it much easier to whip up something enjoyable. That said, it is still quite overwhelming at first glance. If building your own levels and games isn’t your thing, that’s ok, you can easily play through the hundreds of user created levels.
  • The audio visual presentation is absolutely top notch. This feels, looks, and sounds like a Star Wars game. The developers didn’t skip a beat, and it shows.

DI3_3The So-So:

+/- Every year it’s the same thing, but ultimately your enjoyment of Disney Infinity 3.0 will greatly depend on how much money you throw at it. If you purchase the additional characters and play sets, naturally you’ll have a much deeper experience than someone who only purchases the starter set. I would strongly recommend if you’re going to buy this for children, pick up at least one or two additional figures and another play set.

DI3_5The Lowdown:

Disney Infinity 3.0 is a fantastic game. While it may appear to be a more expensive affair this time around because of the reduced figure count, you’re actually getting more bang for your buck. While I absolutely loved last year’s iteration, this year’s blows it out of the water. The Star Wars property is handled with respect and admiration and it shows. This is an absolute gem for kids, so if you have some, I strongly recommend you put this bad boy under the Christmas tree.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Tearaway Unfolded Review

Tearaway Unfolded ReviewTearaway Unfolded (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Platformer
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Tarsier Studios and Media Molecule

Parent Talk: Tearaway Unfolded is the perfect game for children of all ages. It has been rated E for everyone by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and the only disclaimer is mild cartoon violence and that sums it up. You take on the role of Iota, or Atoi, a little paper crafted messenger trying to deliver your special message to the real world.

Plays Like: Tearaway makes full use of the DualShock 4 controller, which is no surprise considering the original version on the Vita made use of that system’s unique capabilities. There’s also a companion app you can use in order to have even more control over the game’s environments and creative tools. The PlayStation Vita itself can also act as an input device, which is fantastic for those of us who experienced the original. Your objective is to make it to the real world by traversing countless action platforming stages until you reach your destination. Combined with intelligent puzzles, terrific action and platforming, Tearaway is a fantastic game that everyone in the house can enjoy.

Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy two weeks before release. I went back and played through the Vita version to compare and contrast Tearaway Unfolded with the original version and to get a better feel for how the new controls work.

When Sony announced Tearaway would be coming to the PlayStation 4, I would a little disheartened. It meant that the Vita version likely didn’t sell as well as Sony had hoped, which is really a shame. I was also perplexed because how could they take a game that was created from the ground up for the Vita and port it over to a console where you’re using a controller instead of a system with a touch screen, track pad, built in camera, microphone, etc. The answer is the developers got creative, and that’s what the true spirit of Tearaway was always about, being creative. I’m happy to the report the end result is a game that remains just as charming and fun to play on the PlayStation 4 as it was on the Vita.

TU_4The Great:

This is the Tearaway you remember, but with a twist. Sony didn’t just take the Vita version of Tearaway and quickly port it to the PS4. It’s clear that love and devotion went into the development of Tearaway Unfolded. For one thing huge sections of the game have been added in order to flesh out the storyline, which is now more focused on the journey of Iota or Atoi reaching the You, as in the real you, the one reading this review. In the Vita version, which I thought was excellent (http://www.projectcoe.com/2013/12/28/tearaway-review/), the game did a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the game world and the real world, and that translates well to the PS4. It’s better if you own the PlayStation Camera because you can take pictures of yourself or even short clips. Even without it though you can make use of the companion app which works on tablets and smartphones, and serves the same purpose. If you own a Vita you can also use that to help further enhance the game’s features.

The focus has been changed somewhat this time around because the level of interaction isn’t as native to the PS4 hardware as it was with the Vita. For example all the touch screen elements have largely been replaced with either light-focused elements, which are done by holding down the R2 button on the controller and the light from the controller magically appears on-screen to assist your little paper messenger. With the Vita version you would likely have had to touch the screen to move a platform out of your way. I will give the developers credit though, they did a good job of making use of the DualShock 4’s track pad. You can click it in to cause large drums to bounce, or sweep your finger along the trackpad in order to change the direction of the wind. While not quite as natural as the Vita’s gesture features, it does work fairly well thanks to the motion controls and built-in features of the DualShock 4.

TU_2The Good:

  • Solid gameplay. I love the interactive concept Tearaway plays with, but it really wouldn’t mean much if the core gameplay was lacking, but it certainly isn’t. Behind the unique exterior lies a very fun and addicting action platformer. As you progress in the game you unlock more and more abilities, and you can return to previously visited areas in order to unlock a wide assortment of goodies from real world paper crafts, in-game confetti which is used to purchase additional customizable items for your avatar, to trophies and more.
  • The fantastic customization options from the original game are back. You can change every aspect of Iota and Atoi. There are sections of the game where you have to create wonderful pieces of art, and admittingly it can be a bit difficult with the small surface area of the DualShock 4’s trackpad, but thankfully the companion app works very well if you’re using it on a tablet. You can even get a second person to help you out with the app, which I found to be quite useful.
  • Creative world never looked so good. Featuring lush 1080p visuals at a smooth 60 frames-per-second. It was a true sight to behold on the Vita, the way the levels peeled back, the way every object was made of paper and reacted realistically to wind and your interactions, and now on the PS4 the details are sharper than ever. While I wouldn’t say this game is pushing the PS4 to its limits, it looks and runs perfectly. The world feels more alive on the big screen, and the audio is just incredible. The soundtrack is fantastic, with melodies that help bring this special world to life. There’s also some great voice acting and perfectly matched sound effects.

TU_3The Bad:

  • No matter how much effort was put into this version of Tearaway, it could never fully match the original if only because the game was conceptualized for a system with specific features. While this version works great, and is indeed fun, it doesn’t come across quite as revolutionary as the original. It also puts the final nail in the Vita’s coffin as its single best reason for owning is no longer exclusive.

TU_1The Ugly:

While not frequent, I did run into a few areas where some bizarre graphical glitches occurred whereby a small piece of paper from the environment wouldn’t float away as scripted, it would instead stay floating in front of a characters face or other really minor anomalies like that.

TU_5The Lowdown:

Tearaway Unfolded is a really fun game to play, it’s creative, original, and makes perfect use of the DualShock 4’s features. It’s even better if you own the PlayStation Camera or download the companion app for your smartphone or tablet. The problem is that it also destroys the best exclusive Sony had for the Vita as now you can pick the game up on the PS4. I don’t blame Sony as it makes perfect financial sense, so do yourself a favor and since the odds are you skipped out on the Vita, pick this one up instead. You won’t regret it.

Final Score: 8/10

Until Dawn Review

Until Dawn Box ArtUntil Dawn (Available exclusively on the PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: August 25th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Until Dawn M for mature players aged 17 and up because of blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Ever watch a movie franchise like Saw, well if so you know what to expect here. If you haven’t, this is a horror videogame where you see people get ripped apart, decapitated, and much more. Under no circumstances should children be anywhere near this game.

Plays Like: The best way I can describe Until Dawn is if someone were to take the episodic nature of Alan Wake and apply that to a horror-themed version of Heavy Rain. The game plays almost exactly like that mash up. For those that don’t know either or those games, you are largely interacting with a seven to nine hour movie. You can move one of eight characters around a limited environment, correctly hit the right buttons during quick-time events, and study various objects in the environment. This isn’t your typical third-person shooter, no here it’s all about immersing the player in a highly disturbing world. The big twist is that your choices literally affect everything in the game from the storyline to segments of the game you’ll actually play through.

Review Basis: Sony Computer Entertainment Canada sent us a review copy a week in advance, and I played non-stop until I had not only completed the game, but went through it several times to see how I could affect the storyline.

I really enjoyed the heavy narrative of Heavy Rain. It was a tremendously unique experience. It didn’t play like your typical third-person action game, instead making you interact with the environment in bold ways uncommon for the genre. Until Dawn is very similar in-style to Heavy Rain, but instead of trying to solve the riddle of the origami killer, here you’re wrapped up in a terrifying tale of murder, suspense and dread, where your every action changes not only the storyline, but the entire game. Until Dawn is the butterfly effect realized in videogame form, and it will absolutely blow you away.

Until Dawn1The Great:

The one element that really makes Until Dawn standout from its peers is its incredible use of the butterfly effect. In reality the butterfly effect amounts to the smallest choices we make could have dire consequences in the future. Step on a blade of grass and that could bring about the apocalypse sometime down the road. Until Dawn excels at this because during any given moment there are literally dozens of choices you will have to make. Do you get angry at one character for something they did or said? Do you take the left path instead of the right path? Do you ignore the quick-time event and see what happens, or do you try your hardest to keep up with the ever increasing prompts? Some of these choices may seem trivial, but their consequences can be felt as you progress through the game.

There’s an extremely helpful butterfly effect menu system where you can see how each choice you made affected the outcome of the game. On one wing you’ll see the initial choice you made, and then you can swipe to the right using the DualShock 4’s trackpad to see the next outcome. This is extremely useful to keep track of where branches were made, especially if you want to experience the game again by going down a different path.

I should also mention the choices you make are permanent. There are no checkpoints here, no do-overs. Once you’re make a decision you have to stick with it throughout the entire game. If that choice leads to a character dying, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. This means there’s no Game Over screen, and that allows you to get extremely experimental during your future play-throughs.

Until Dawn2The Good:

  • You will be afraid, count on it. The first six chapters of the game are genuinely scary. You have no idea what’s going on, you know there’s a presence out there, something that’s hunting your friends down, but you don’t know exactly what. There are countless jump scares where I almost dropped my controller out of fright, and then there’s the genuine dread that starts to creep in as you’re all alone making your way to some foreboding area. I can tell you I actually had my hands start to shake at one part because I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. The tension slowly eases off towards the end of the game as more and more is revealed about what’s actually going on, but let me tell you, the first half is absolutely petrifying. That’s not to say the latter half isn’t scary, it’s just that you start to acclimatize to the jump scares, and the game really wants to flesh out the story so you get the complete package.
  • Speaking of the story, it’s great. A very traumatic event occurred a year ago in a cabin in the woods on a mountain side. Now everyone who was present is back to pay their respects, but all is not what it seems and now each of the eight friends are systematically being taken out. What is going on? Who is doing this? Will anyone make it until dawn? There are quite a few horror tropes featured and many clichés, but what separates the game from your run-of-the-mill teen horror story are the deep and fleshed out characters. By the end of the game you will absolutely hate some of them, and feel true pain when you let others die because of your poor decisions that led to them being massacred.
  • Core gameplay works perfectly. This is the one area that won’t be for everyone. Gameplay is broken down into several sections, each specifically designed to draw you further into the narrative. There are areas where you play in third-person, usually at times where you have to explore dark and scary places, then there are decision bubbles where you have to move the right analog stick to select one of two decisions, which will completely change the course of the game. There are also quick-time events that play out during key cinematic scenes, and finally there are targeting sections where you have to aim a reticle at a target very quickly or something awful usually happens.

Until Dawn3+ A surprising amount of replay is featured. There are quite a few collectable goodies you should be on the lookout for as these flesh out the storyline, and some can only be found in sections of the game that are unlocked by making certain choices. You can also go back and create new branches in the storyline that affect relationships between characters by changing the choices you make in each chapter. So while the game consists of only 10 chapters which last for at most around seven to nine hours, you could be playing for much longer if you decide you want to experiment with all the different story branches.

  • Fantastic cast of characters. Like Beyond Two Souls, Until Dawn features Hollywood actors such as Hayden Panettiere), Peter Stormare, Brett Dalton, Rami Malek, Meaghan Martin, Nichole Bloom, Galadriel Stineman, Noah Fleiss and Larry Fessenden. Each actor does a superb job of capturing the essence of the characters they play.
  • The audio visual presentation as a whole is absolutely incredible. From the dynamic camera angles that heighten the tension and suspense, to the sublime particle effects used to highlight snow and fog, it’s just a stunning game to look at and admire. Because of the limited interactivity, Supermassive Games were able to push the PS4 to its limits by creating breathtaking environments and one wonderful setting after another. This very well could be the nicest looking game of this current generation thus far.

Until Dawn4The Bad:

  • For someone like me, not having the option to use inverted aiming controls really hurts, and there’s one scene in particular where the only way to save a character is to very quickly aim at a specific spot, and because I’m so used to inverted controls my brain told my thumb to move the stick down, instead of up, thereby causing the character to die. That was very annoying to me as I was so close to saving him. I can only hope this gets patched into the game ASAP if it isn’t a day-one update.

Until Dawn5The Ugly:

I have to mention this because it occurred once, yet never again. During my very first gameplay session with the game I went through eight of the game’s 10 chapters, and since there’s no exit to main menu option I quit the game from the dashboard using the ‘Close Application’ command. When I tried to resume my game I got the following message: “Recovering partially installed data. This may take up to twenty minutes.” It took about seven minutes for the file to get recovered and then I was back where I left off, but it was odd just the same.

The Lowdown:      

Until Dawn truly surprised me as I had no expectations for it. I remember it being announced for the PlayStation 3 as a Move game (thankfully that decision was scrapped and the game now features either motion controls or traditional controls), but it really flew under my radar. So imagine my surprise when the game arrives and it absolutely blows me away. If you enjoy a good scare, close the lights, raise the volume on the TV and prepare yourself for one hell of a good time. Until Dawn might just be the very best PlayStation 4 exclusive of 2015. Don’t miss it!

Final Score: 9.2/10

 

God of War III Remastered Review

GoW3God of War III Remastered (Exclusively available on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sony Santa Monica Studios, and Wholesale Algorithms
Release Date: July 14th, 2015

Parent Talk: I think it goes without saying that the ESRB rates God of War III Remastered M for mature. There’s gratuitous violence and gore at every turn, there’s nudity, and strong sexual themes. Honestly, there’s no way this game should be played by anyone other than an adult.

Plays Like: There have been a lot of God of War games over the years, and they all share the same theme of destroying everything that moves, and solving puzzles to progress to your next killing spree. The same is true here. Along the way you earn powerful weapons and spells that can be upgraded to make Kratos a more efficient killing machine.

Review Basis: I played through the original God of War III back in 2010, wow I can’t believe it has already been five years since the original version was released. Sony provided us a physical copy of the game to review, which I played through in order to see all the changes.

God of War 3 was a phenomenal game. The opening alone is one of the absolute best openings in a videogame ever. Yes, I found it even more impressive than the colossus battle from God of War II’s opening, or the beginning of the original God of War where Kratos battles a Hydra. Here you ride Gaia, a titan, who’s climbing Mount Olympus, as you face off against the Water God himself, Poseidon. I mean really, how can you possibly top that? The scale, the sheer ferocity, it’s absolutely fantastic, and while the rest of the game is fun, it’s never able to surpass this moment of pure gaming bliss. Being able to relive that moment in 1080p, 60 frames-per-second is amazing, but I did find myself asking if this was worth the $40 asking price, especially considering the PS3 version is still readily available, and remains technically impressive to this very day.

GoW3_1The Great:

Reliving all your favorite God of War III moments. Let’s be honest, God of War III has a lot of great scenes, excellent combat and a conclusion to a story that was originally spun on the PlayStation 2. It’s an all-around great game, and having another chance to play through it in all its 1080p HD glory is great. Not only do you get 1080p resolution and 60 frames-per-second, but you also get some get character skins and arenas thrown in for good measure, and a new camera mode to take pictures of you dominating the forces of Zeus.

GoW3_2The Good:

  • Combat is just as you remember it.  With the previous entries in the series there were only a few great weapons, but this time around Kratos’ arsenal is perfect.  Just about every weapon has a purpose, and some enemies require switching between them to be eliminated.  Simply use the D-pad to transition between your trusty blades, power gloves, and others.  Certain weapons even have an influence on the environment.  Even the magic system has been overhauled, so arcane attacks completely change depending on the current active weapon.  There are four primary attacking weapons, and a slew of secondary toys and abilities.  These range from Apollo’s bow to Hermes’ boots.  No matter what’s equipped though, a good time is guaranteed.
  • All of the classic clichés return.  There are tons of quick-time events, a sex scene, and about everything else you expect from the series, both good and bad.  The big difference lies in the slight modifications, which amount to a lot.  No longer does a random button icon appear on screen.  They instead appear in the order they appear on the controller.  Even the sex scene has been refined, but I won’t spoil it.  All I’ll say is play through twice.  Even the puzzles, which many complained about in God of War II, are more logical in the scope of the game.
  • This remastered version features better graphics to be sure, but it’s the audio that really surprised me. Something about the PS4’s audio output always floors me, and the same is true here. The game sounds absolutely incredible, from the amazing music and themes that play out during combat and exploration, to the power behind each and every swing Kratos makes of his awesome blades. If you have a powerful surround sound system, you’re going to be in audio bliss with this one.

GoW3_5The Bad:

+/- Sadly the pre-rendered cutscenes have not been upscaled to 1080p, and there are very little other additions to the game, making the $40 price tag a little steep.

GoW3_3The Lowdown:

Who is the target audience? I still can’t answer that question. It’s true that a lot of people who own a PS4 didn’t own a PS3, but then wouldn’t it make more sense to have packaged God of War 1 to 3 together, in order to get the whole story? Longtime fans of the series likely won’t be interested as they’ve already played the game on the PS3 and there’s very little incentive to pick this version up especially if you still have a PS3 lying around. For newcomers though, this is a superb action game that is well worth looking into, although it does feel somewhat incomplete without the first two parts.

Final Score: 8/10

Batman: Arkham Knight – Batgirl: A Matter of Family DLC Review

BatgirlBatman: Arkham Knight – Batgirl: A Matter of Family DLC (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal
Release Date: July 14th, 2015

ESRB Rating: The DLC itself has not been rated by the ESRB, however Arkham Knight was rated M for mature because of mature themes, violence, and blood. The same is true for this downloadable content.

Plays Like: The core gameplay stays true to Arkham Knight, except this time around you play as Batgirl on her mission to rescue her father from the Joker. There is more emphasis on hacking various objects in order to take down enemies or solve puzzles, but the combat feels exactly the same as when Batman engages enemies. The game doesn’t take place in the same area as Arkham Knight, which is both interesting and refreshing.

Review Basis: I downloaded the DLC as part of the Season Pass on July 14th, and finished it an hour later. I spent another hour locating all of the hidden chattering teeth, jack-in-the-box, and balloons.

For the first time ever players can experience the breathtaking environments and tight combat system of the Arkham series as Batgirl. She’s joined by Robin as they try and rescue Jim Gordon from the Joker. It’s surprisingly fresh to play as Batgirl, even though her move-set and skills mimic those of Batman. The new location is interesting and fits the Joker’s personality perfectly. The ultimate question isn’t whether the DLC pack is fun, but rather is it worth the asking price.

Batgirl1The Great:

Being Batgirl. It might sound cheesy, but Batgirl was and remains one of the more interesting characters in the Batman family. She’s intelligent, powerful, and has a fantastic backstory. Just being able to play as Barbara Gordon is special, and the setup here allows her to shine. You get to see glimpses of the character she’ll become as Oracle after the Joker paralyzes her during the events of The Killing Joke. It’s just a shame we don’t have more time with Babs as there’s a lot more to her character, and an additional hour or two of content could have really bridged the gap between the DLC and the character she would eventually become. Either way, it’s still great being able to play as Batgirl.

Batgirl5The Good:

  • The setting is fantastic. An old abandoned amusement park makes this DLC feel distinctly different than Arkham Knight and is the absolute perfect setting for a Joker tale. It might not be the largest location set piece in the Arkham universe, but it feels self-contained and special, which is what you want from a DLC pack. Once the story progresses to the point where Batgirl has to rescue a series of hostages, it’s left up to the player which of the three locations to tackle first. While not fully open-world, it doesn’t break up the linearity of the DLC pack.
  • The same excellent combat you’ve come to expect from the series is featured here. While Batgirl has all unique animations, which look incredibly bad ass, the core gameplay is exactly the same as what you’ve experienced with Arkham Knight and the previous games in the series.

  • Barbara’s hacking skills are put to the test here, and her remote hacking device can be used from much farther away compared to Batman’s, but ultimately it does the exact same thing. To spice things up, the developers introduce several new elements that can be hacked so Babs can take down several enemies at once via an electrified floor panel, or maybe she can lure several enemies into a trap by hacking a terminal which will make lots of noise.

  • Harley Quinn in her Animated Series costume. That’s all sorts of win!

Batgirl2The So-So:

+/- If there’s one element that kind of disappointed me, more so than the length of the DLC, it’s the fact that there were so many missed opportunities. First off Tim Drake is Robin, I think it would have been really special to have had Jason Todd as Robin in this DLC because it would have allowed us to explore the character a little more. It could have also been interesting to have Dick Grayson as Robin, but alas no. I’m ok with Tim Drake, but they could have fleshed out the story of Babs and his budding romance. Instead we get awkward dialogue that doesn’t come through well at all. The other big missed opportunity is not being able to take the excellent looking Batgirl model out in any other portion of the game. There is no replay value here whatsoever so once you’re done locating the few collectables and max out all the easy-to-acquire trophies, you will never use Batgirl again, and that’s a real shame. If you could at least use her in the AR challenges that would be something, but sadly you can’t.

Batgirl3The Bad:

  • I’ll be honest with you all, seven dollars for 45 minutes to an hour of gameplay is a hefty asking price. Considering the Season Pass is a staggering $40, and only comes with three story packs, some AR challenges and a few skins, and we know that one of the story packs is only 45-minutes, it sure seems to me like the Season Pass will be outrageously overpriced. To make matters worse the Red Hood and Harley Quinn DLC packs which were included as retailer pre-order exclusives are not included in the Season Pass and are about the same length as A Matter of Family. That makes this feel DLC even harder to swallow since the others were free.

Batgirl4The Lowdown:

I’m not a huge fan of DLC packs when they’re done like this. When a free pre-order incentive is as long as a $7 piece of DLC there’s something wrong. It’s a real shame as this could have been so much more if it were twice as long and if Batgirl could have been used elsewhere in the game. As it is now, as much as I enjoyed playing as Batgirl, I cannot in good faith recommend this until the price drops.

Final Score: 5/10  

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Arkham KnightBatman: Arkham Knight (Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: June 23, 2015

Parent Talk: Arkham Knight is rated M for mature because of blood, suggestive themes, strong language, and violence. Like the previous games in the series, Batman doesn’t use lethal force, however his enemies do. This isn’t an overlay graphic videogame, however it does indeed deal with mature subject matter and young kids would be advised against playing this.

Plays Like: If you have played Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, or Arkham Origins you have a very good idea of what to expect with Arkham Knight. You take on the role of Batman, and have all of Gotham City to explore. Your mission is to stop Scarecrow and figure out who the Arkham Knight is. You’ll use stealth, some fantastic gadgets, and Batman’s brute force to bring justice back to Gotham City.

Review Basis: I finished the PS4 version of the game with 96% overall completion rating, and if I have the time I plan to go back and collect all of the Riddler trophies so that I can see the game’s true ending.

Batman: Arkham Knight is the final chapter in Rocksteady’s incredible Arkham Trilogy. While I have very little doubt Warner Bros. will continue the series moving forward, this was an incredible way for Rocksteady to say good-bye to the series they popularized. After having completed the game, I sat back for a few moments to take it all in. This really is the end, and what an incredible journey it has been. Comic book videogames aren’t supposed to be this good.

This is MY city!
This is MY city!

The Great:

This is the end. With those words begins one of the most dramatic and best ending sequences I have ever seen in a videogame. What started with Arkham Asylum is now truly over. Arkham Knight takes everything I loved about that game, its incredible combo system, great detective mode, and deep story, and expands upon it in such a way that makes you feel as though Batman couldn’t possibly get any more powerful, and that his tale has finally reached its climax. The open world city from Arkham City is here, but it has been greatly fleshed out, and Batman’s rogue gallery has never been more interesting. Add in a wide assortment of new moves, expanded gadgets, and the Batmobile, and you have yourself the best comic book videogame I have ever had the honor of playing. It all comes together perfectly.

Just look at all the special effects.
Just look at all the special effects.

The Good:

  • The story manages to recognize what came before in both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and expands on the mythos by introducing a new element, the Arkham Knight. A mysterious figure that seems to know an awful lot about Batman. Throw in a masterplan of the Scarecrow, and the return of an old enemy, and you have a tale woven so perfectly that it will be hard for another action game to top this for a long time to come. I wish I could go on and on about the story, but I truly want you all to experience it for yourself.
  • Gadgets galore. While most of the gadgets return from the previous games, you can put them to great use here in new and interesting ways. All gadgets can be upgraded as well making something that was once an ok solution to taking out certain enemies or elements in the battlefield like the Disruptor to a gadget that you will whip out every chance you get because of how powerful and diverse it can become.
  • Detective Mode. Scan bodies for clues, look through walls to see how best to take out certain enemies, everything that makes Batman the world’s greatest detective is at your fingertips. There is one series of missions in particular that really nails the detective in Batman. During story missions Batman will frequently have to put clues together by looking at recorded footage, or and locating key items. I felt Rocksteady did a wonderful job of really making the player feel as though Batman isn’t just all muscle.
Races are challenging, but a blast.
Races are challenging, but a blast.
  • Speaking of muscle, Batman has a wide assortment of new moves, and all of them can be upgraded via the level system. As you complete each side mission or story mission Batman acquires skill points which can be allocated to several key areas, combat being one of them. With enough practice you’ll get good at the counter and attack system and with upgrades, you’ll become an unstoppable Dark Knight. The combo system is just as fresh and fluid as it has ever been.
  • The Batmobile! I was a little afraid it may be overused when I first started learning how to use it, as it appeared every new mission type revealed would make use of the Batmobile, but very soon afterwards the game starts spicing things up and breaks the game down into two sections, Batmobile and combat. The Batmobile has two modes, a standard card mode which allows you to zip around Gotham’s streets with ease, and then the tank mode which you’ll be using a lot during combat sections. Here you face off against unmanned drones and you take them out with your 6MM cannon and machine guns. The Batmobile takes only a few minutes to get the hang of, and after that you’ll be blasting away even the most challenging foes. It too can be upgraded much like the gadgets and your combat skills.

­+ The City. I’ve got to hand it to Rocksteady, they really nailed the city this time. There are three islands you get to explore, but you never feel overwhelmed. Traversing from one area to the next is quick and easy either through the air, via grappling or on-ground with the Batmobile. Each area is distinct with color and flavor, such as Wayne Tower, ACE Chemicals, and more. I also enjoyed that you didn’t have to go to the Batcave in this game, considering we spent so much time there in the previous games.

  • Riddler’s trophies and challenges return, but thanks to the inclusion of the Batmobile, you really have to think outside the box. There are over 240 items to collect in the game, which will take a very long time to complete, and will put your brain to the test as some of these challenges are extremely complicated to figure out.
  • The voice cast is back. One of the biggest disappointments from Origins was some of the key missing voice actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, but they’re here. The entire voice cast is phenomenal and brings these characters to life, but I’ve got to single out John Noble as Scarecrow, wow what a fantastic job he did. This is by far the creepiest Scarecrow we’ve ever received, and I can’t ever go back to someone else voicing him again. The soundtrack is equally as powerful and rich.
  • Graphically Arkham Knight is a gorgeous game and Gotham City has never looked so detailed. The framerate remains constant for the vast majority of the game, only slowing down a bit when too much action is going on, typically during tank battle portions of the game. I was extremely impressed by the sheer size of the city, the amount of enemies on the streets, and the fact that there is always some sort of particle effect going on either rain or something else. It all comes together to make one impressive package.
The combat is just as excellent as in all the other games.
The combat is just as excellent as in all the other games.

The Ugly:

Since I can’t be sure everyone reading this will have the chance to play through the PlayStation 4 version of the game, I need to mention that the PC version was wrought with problems and Warner Bros. did the unthinkable, they pulled it from retail until the game can be fixed. It was riddled with bugs, glitches, and was barely unplayable. I experienced no such problems with the PS4 version.

The excellent detective mode makes you truly feel like the world's best detective.
The excellent detective mode makes you truly feel like the world’s best detective.

The Lowdown:

Sometimes a game will come along that strikes a chord with me, and this is one such game. I absolutely loved it from the first cinematic to the last mission. It may have been a little obvious who the Arkham Knight was, and yes it might seem a little odd that a man who doesn’t kill anyone would even own a tank capable to demolishing an entire city block, but at the end of the day I felt like Batman playing this game. I felt like I was the world’s greatest detective that I had the best and most colorful enemies in comic book history, and that at the end of it all, this is a very special chapter in the life of Batman that has come to a close. This is one you need to experience.

Final Score: 9.8/10

LittleBigPlanet 3 Review

LBP3LittleBigPlanet 3 (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sumo Entertainment
Release Date: November 18th, 2014

Parent Talk: LittleBigPlanet 3 has been rated E for everyone, meaning absolutely anyone can play this charming game. There’s really not much here anyone could find offensive, although there are a few cutscene that the really young might be frightened to see. Characters are all made out of cloth, or other real-world materials, but the action is so charming and harmless that I think this makes a perfect game for both children, and the young at heart.

Plays Like: Much like the rest of the series, the game is a platformer at heart. You move between three distinct plains, running and jumping all over the place. To make things even more interesting, you also have access to a wide assortment of powerful editing tools where you can create your own levels.

Review Basis: Finished the game, and tried my hand at creating a masterpiece of a level. That last part didn’t turn out so well.

When LittleBigPlanet first hit the PlayStation 3 it ushered in Sony’s unique marketing strategy of Play, Create, and Share. This simple concept applied to quite a few games over the years, but it all started with LittleBigPlanet. You could make your own levels, share them with others, and play through a wonderfully crafted campaign. The same holds true with LBP3, except everything has been enhanced and tweaked to a near pitch perfect level. If only a few nasty bugs would have been squashed prior to release, and some of the gameplay choices been a little different, this likely would have been one of the best games on the PS4, but as it is now, it’s just a damn fun one.

LBP3_4The Great:

The three new characters introduced in LittleBigPlanet 3 are a sheer delight to use. Oddsock is quick, and can be used to wall-jump, which makes him particularly useful. Toggle can switch between large and tiny versions of himself, which make him perfect for getting to hard to reach places, and finally Swoop can fly and carry objects. You have full access to all three new characters in the creation mode, however a major omission is that they’re not all playable in the main campaign for some reason. Instead you’re limited to where and how you can use the characters, but outside that limitation I love all of their new abilities and how they allow you to get truly creative when creating or trying to create your own masterpiece.

LBP3_1The Good:

  • I really enjoyed the cheerful story in LBP3. Sure it’s the similar to what we’ve seen before, but it’s still charming. You can on the role of Sackboy, who has been whisked away to Bunkum by a lightbulb named Newton. Newton tells the story of ancient Titans who sucked all the creativity out of Bunkum, but were thwarted by three unlikely heroes, Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. Sure enough, the Titans returns, and Sackboy has to locate these three heroes and save the kingdom. It’s simple, cute, and charming, which is perfect for this kind of game.
  • The campaign is divided into four main areas, one for the prologue, and then one for each of the three hero characters. Each new area has a series of levels, and then a boss fight in the last. There are countless hours of platforming goodness is each level, and once special items are introduced you’re rewarded for revisiting previously completed levels. There are secret challenges which require two or more players to attain, and you’ll almost always have a reason to come back and play because of missed stickers or other goodies you skipped on your first play through.
  • Speaking of creativity, as with all the other LittleBigPlanet games, this one features an incredibly robust level editor. I say level editor, but it’s so much more than that. You can build your own levels, an entire map, mini-games, and just about everything else you can possibly imagine, and then share those creations with the rest of the community.
  • Popit Puzzles are featured on their own planet, and act as a giant tutorial. Each level introduces one new tool, and forces you to understand how said tool works within the context of creation. So while technically you’re being challenged to overcome puzzles, in the back of your mind you’re also learning how and where to place traps, the best way to conceal a certain danger, and more. For lack of a better term, it’s brilliant.
  • There’s so much to do in this game that you feel like you’re truly getting your money’s worth. There are tons of NPCs in every hub world that offer mini-games, stickers for you to collect, and so much more. Then there are all the community aspects, such as playing through levels other players have built, of which there are literally hundreds if not thousands.
  • Coop has always been one of the game’s strengths and that holds true here. While most levels have two-player areas to them, only a fraction were designed for up to four players. That said, every level can be completed with four players, and it’s a blast doing so.
  • Environments are all extremely creative. One minute you’re in a Hollywood-inspired world filled with the frights, and excitement that come with the movies these levels are based upon, and the next you’re underwater in an area that doesn’t look anything like where you just were. That’s the creative genius of this series, and it’s still impressive. Everything is made up of real world materials such as wool, wood, or steel, yet everything is overly cute and cuddly. It’s a beautiful game to look at.

LBP3_2The Bad:

  • I really was sad to learn that you can’t switch characters at a moment’s notice during the campaign. You’re only allowed to do so at key spots, and even then you’re typically only allowed to switch to one of the characters, whichever one you happened to unlock in that area’s hub world. That’s very disappointing as it could have unlocked a wealth of options, almost making the game have a Metroid-like essence to it. Technically it already does with the in-game items you acquire such as a weapon that allows you to push certain items out of the way, or a teleporter that only works at certain spots.

The Ugly:

  • As with just about every modern videogame, LittleBigPlanet 3 is littered with bugs. Thankfully most of these have been patched, however while I played through the game I had frequent issues whereby I would fall through the floor of a level, would appear in the background, or would get stuck unable to explode myself or restart at the desired checkpoint.

LBP3_3The Lowdown:

LittleBigPlanet 3 is a really fun game, although it would have been so much better had the new characters been utilized a little better. I would have loved to have been able to switch to whichever character I wanted, whenever I wanted within the stages. This would have increased the replay factor by about a hundred percent, and really would have helped make this feel like the ultimate LittleBigPlanet. I loved all the new creation tools, the Popit Puzzles, but the bugs were annoying. Overall this is a fun game and fans of the series should most certainly check it out. It’s also a good jump on point for those curious to see what the series is all about.

Final Score: 7/10

The Order: 1886 Review

The Order 1886The Order: 1886 (Available exclusively on PlayStation 4)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SECA
Developer: Ready at Dawn
Release Date: February 20th, 2015

Parent Talk: The Order 1886 is rated M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, nudity sexual content, and strong language. There’s lots of very mature content featured in the game, making it a no-brainer that children should not be allowed to play. You visit a brothel and see full frontal male nudity, there are half-breeds that rip people apart, and then there’s the action, which has you cutting down enemies, setting them on fire, or otherwise killing them in very graphic ways.

Plays Like: The Order 1886 is a game that hand holds you through most of the adventure. It’s filled with quick-time events, cover-based action like you’d find in Gears of War, and third-person shoot outs as in many other games. The game is closed off and very linear, meaning the replay factor is quite limited since there’s also no multiplayer. It’s a graphically rich game, which falls a tad short when it comes to gameplay.

Review Basis: Sony sent us a review copy, and I polished off the campaign.

The Order 1886 is without a doubt the nicest looking game currently available on the PlayStation 4. It often feels like a glorified tech demo because of little touches like being able to zoom in on certain objects, and turn them around to look at all sides. It adds to the overall realism, and you’ll be floored by the game’s beauty, but when you’re given control, things don’t shine nearly as bright.

The Order 1886_1The Great:

Victorian London never looked so good. Honestly, this is a beautiful game, and it’s kind of a shame Ready at Dawn felt the need to remind players of that every few seconds. It’s gorgeous, and anyone with eyes can easily see that. Personally I loved how everything from the way the characters look to the environments all fit together perfectly. You’ve got zeppelins, beautiful iron bridge, carriages and just about everything else you can imagine. When I saw the old bar in one of the early characters I just couldn’t believe how much attention to detail went into the creation of the environments. They’re absolutely spectacular. If there’s one element Ready at Dawn can be proud of it’s that their game engine is amazing, and will hopefully be put to use in a more interactive game later on.

The Order 1886_2The Good:

  • The music, sound effects and voice acting are all superb. The actors do a phenomenal job with their dialogue, and the sweeping soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, and acts as a perfect balance to the incredible setting and graphics.
  • When action segments do break out, they’re fun to experience and play. Most of these areas play out similar to Gears of War, whereby you use cover to protect yourself, take out enemies, and then move on to the next cover. Weapons are creative, although you don’t get to use them nearly as often as I would have liked.

The Order 1886_3The So-So:

+/- The story somehow mixes steampunk, King Arthur, and 1886 London into a cohesive and highly interesting setting. Players take on the role of Grayson, A.K.A. Galahad, one of the Knights of the Round Table. You’re trying to figure out why rebels have sided with half-breeds or Lycans (werewolves), and what the Order has to do with everything that’s going on. Are the rebels truly sided with the half-breeds or is there more going on here than you know of. I was hooked from the very beginning, however like most of the game, you never really get to explore much of the backstory of the game. Where do the Lycans come from, what’s the focus of the supernatural elements? You’ve never told, and it’s a shame. Instead the majority of the story focuses on the Round Table Knights and everything that’s going on within the political side of the story, which admittingly isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the world in which these Knights exist.

The Order 1886_4The Bad:

  • While some might enjoy the overall experience, I found the pacing to be extremely tedious at times. The game is essentially broken down into four segments, cutscenes, quick-time events, extremely slow walk and talk sequences, and action set-pieces. Entire chapters may be nothing more than lengthy cutscenes, and yet others will feature a handful of action segments, and lots and lots of walking. More often than not, I simply wanted to break free of the constraints and explore the world, but was never given the chance to do so. Instead I was handheld over the course of the entire game.
  • An incredible amount of filler is featured that easily could have been cut. While I enjoyed being able to pick up and look at certain objects in the environment, I really started to dislike being forced to do so. What ends up happening is you spend a good 20 minutes or so just walking around an area doing nothing but picking up and looking at three of four objects, and flipping them around, only to have to press the triangle afterwards to trigger a brief dialogue scene. These could have all been cut out, or left up to the player to discover on their own.

The Ugly:

I can’t recall being teased as often in a videogame as I felt with this one. From being given an excellent weapon, only to have it get ripped away moments later, to the thought of facing off against menacing half-breeds, just to polish them off with a few rolls and some QTEs, this game promised so much excitement and adventure and ultimately falls short because it simply does not deliver on those promises.

The Order 1886_5The Lowdown:

The Order 1886 is a game I think all PS4 owners should play. You might not believe it from what I’ve said in this review, but it’s the truth. I feel this is an exclusive that people who own a PS4 would do well in experiencing. It’s beautiful and I think with some major changes the sequel could actually be great. I’d suggest two or three friends purchase one copy, play through the seven hour game, share it amongst the group and then do what you want with the game after that. I have a feeling this is going to be a game that people will fall in love with for its cinematic qualities, and others will feel as I did, as if the game promises me the world, and simply didn’t deliver.

Final Score: 6/10

Citizens of Earth Review

medium_coverCitizens of Earth (Available on PC, PS4, PS Vita, 3DS, and Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Eden Industries
Release Date: January 20th, 2015

Parent Talk: Citizens of Earth has been rated E10+ for everyone ten and up. It features animated violence, tobacco references, and simulated gambling. If you’ve ever played Earthbound you know what to expect here. The game’s world is animated with cartoony flare, and the setting is a modern day, over the top city. It’s very goofy, which means that even players who are ten shouldn’t have a problem with any of the material showcased in the game.

Plays Like: At first glance one might be inclined to say this is the next entry in the Earthbound series. Citizens of Earth features many elements inspired by that classic SNES game, however it has a few other elements that separate it. Gameplay is broken down into typical RPG fair, where you move around an overworld, get new quests by talking to people you see, complete quests to get more members on your team, and battles take place via turn-based gameplay.

Review Basis: Finished the PC version of the game, which Atlus sent us.

Earthbound is considered a lost classic. For whatever reason the game bombed upon its original release, however it has developed a massive cult following since then. There was something special about it, the modern setting, the charm and awesome characters were also so unlike everything else on the market. Citizens of Earth tries so desperately to be the unofficial sequel, but never manages to capture the same spirits.

COE1The Great:

If there’s one elements that I absolutely loved with Citizens of Earth it has to be the presentation. I loved how all the characters looked, and the game’s setting. This often felt like a modern day Earthbound. The art style is beautiful and also very humorous. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. The voice acting of the character is also another area that I really enjoyed because each has their own unique charm to them.

The Good:

  • The story can also be quite humorous at times. You take on the role of…you. You’ve just become the Vice President of the World, and after a day on the job you’re tired and decide to go on a much deserved vacation. The game picks up with you waking up at your mother’s house, and as soon as you leave said house you see protestors everywhere. Eventually the plot takes a turn to the bizarre with some strange brewed coffee affecting the citizens, and well, there’s much more going on behind the scenes. Sadly the story does get a little jumbled with the abundant amount of side-quests thrown in.
  • Characters galore. There are over a dozen recruits you can find in the game, and each one has their own unique ability. Your brother can allow you to acquire items from anywhere, a mascot character can change the game’s difficulty on the fly, and so on. These abilities also transfer over into battle, where your mother might be able to heal an ally, and another character might be able to protect other characters. Mixing and matching your team is a powerful strategy to ensure you’re always ready for whatever lies ahead.

COE2The So-So:

+/- Most of the game’s objectives are a little too vague for their own good. I understand this was done to be humorous, but in the end it means you have to play through the game in a few sittings or you might have trouble remembering exactly what it was you were supposed to do. A very simple case from the beginning of the game is you try and recruit the conspiracy guy. He requires three pieces of evidence, but you’re not told what the evidence is. The log simply tells you to ‘Collect the Evidence’. What does that mean? It’s simple enough if you play right away, and explore, but if you put the game down for any lengthy period of time you may wonder what it is you’re supposed to do next. This issue pops up constantly throughout the game.

+/- The battle system starts off quite enjoyable, but after a while it becomes tiresome and repetitive. The concept works like this. Every attack either gains or depletes an energy orb. There are also items you can use to restore energy, as you would imagine. That sounds simple enough right, well good because it is. The thing is that after a while you find yourself always cycling through the exact same attacks. You’ll use two physical attacks to build energy, one powerful attack which depletes said energy, another to heal your party, etc. Repeat this countless times and there you have it. Over time it almost feels like you’re not playing at all. Thankfully the auto-defeat feature from Earthbound is featured here so when you visit older areas with weaker enemies you can easily navigate the area without having to defeat countless enemies.

The Bad:

  • At first you won’t mind all the new characters being added to the game, but in time you start to realize that none of these characters has any soul. There’s just nothing special about them. I really enjoyed the banter from a handful, but the rest felt almost like cut and paste clichés. I would have much rather had a solid group of say six or eight characters, but with more fleshed out and humorous storylines than what we got.

COE3The Lowdown:

I think with some tweaking this could have been something special. It’s not a bad game by any means, it’s just that it needed some more time in the oven and the battle system needed some more diversity. I also would have really loved to have seen less characters, but more of a focused backstory on some of these wacky people. As is right now, Citizens of Earth is a decent game that might tickle your fancy if you’ve enjoyed seeing the footage in the video review.

Final Score: 6.5/10

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