Category Archives: Xbox One Reviews

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

Rise of the Tomb Raider ReviewRise of the Tomb Raider (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics & Eidos Montreal
Release Date: November 10th, 2015

Parent Talk: the ESRB rates Rise of the Tomb Raider M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. You shoot, stab, and kill in every way imaginable in order to survive this harsh world. You hunt animals for their pelts, throw grenades to take out small hordes of enemies, and much more. Even though you take part in all of these overly violent acts, this isn’t Gears of War so don’t expect pools of blood everywhere. That said, this is certainly not a game you would want your children to play.

Plays Like: Rise of the Tomb Raider plays almost exactly like 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, except the controls are tighter, the action is more refined, and the exploration feels more natural. This is an action game with puzzle elements, some light platforming sections, and an emphasis on action during the latter half of the game.

Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played through the entire game on Normal difficulty.

2013’s Tomb Raider was a fantastic game. I absolutely loved it, as it was the Tomb Raider experience I had always envisioned, ever since playing through the original Saturn version of the first game way back in October of 1996. Back then the controls were finicky, the graphics were clunky, and the game, while fun, required one to use their imagination for some of the finer details. When we got the reboot though, everything changed. The developers took what I loved about the Uncharted series and applied it to the Tomb Raider franchise. The end result was something truly special, and now two years later we have a sequel that lives up to my lofty expectations. Imagine everything Tomb Raider did right, and refine it even further, and you have Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s hands-down one of the best games of 2015, and if you own an Xbox One you owe it to yourself to purchase this game.

TR1The Great:

The setting and story are absolutely the highlight. As per usual you play as Lara Croft as she makes her way around the world in search of an artifact grants immortality. The interesting elements this time around are why she’s on this particular quest. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it deals with a treasure her father was looking for, a new mysterious group called Trinity, and a bitter betrayal. The villains are grounded and have purpose, and this only makes things that much more interesting. The key difference this time around is that Lara isn’t a scared survivor, here she knows exactly what she’s doing, and is actively jumping into danger because she considers the cause righteous.

As for the setting, the bulk of the game takes place in an old soviet country. You can expect to find derelict soviet equipment, bases, and vehicles, on top of ancient ruins, and even a tribe of people that appear untouched by the modern world. All of these elements come together to create a truly unique game world. There is nothing more impressive than seeing a wide expanse open up when Lara unlocks new abilities, and you realize that wow you can actually reach that mountainside you’ve been looking at for the past two hours. It’s incredible.

TR2The Good:

  • Exploration is key. I’ve always described this new Tomb Raider series as a cross between Uncharted and Metroid. You may wonder why Metroid, and that has to do with the semi-open world nature of the game. As the story progresses you’ll move from one massive area to the next, however as you learn new abilities, or earn new items, you can backtrack (via camp fires for quick travel) to previously explored areas to unlock vast new ones to explore. Tombs also make a return, and force you to think of logical ways to solve some rather challenging puzzles. These were a highlight in the previous game, and they shine brightly here too.
  • The action is tighter and more refined than ever. Lara has to make use of cover and be quick about dispatching her foes as the AI is smart, and enemies will constantly throw grenades at you, or try and circle around you to flank you. It makes every enemy encounter feel threatening, but you’re always equipped to take out even the most challenging foe. Lara has access to a wide assortment of weapons from her trusty bow and arrow, to hand guns, shot guns, and more.

  • Perfect learning curve, and experimenting is rewarded. In the beginning of the game you can take out enemies with a simple headshot, however as you progress enemies start wearing heavy armor, and that’s when you realize there are so many different ways to take out enemies. You can hide in bushes, in branches on trees, and take them out stealthily, or you can use explosives and heavy weapons to go balls to the wall and take the threat on head-first. The choice is left up to you, but whatever you do, it’s a blast and you’re constantly rewarded for trying new things.

TR4+ The same upgrade system from the first game returns, where you can harvest collected goods from nature in order to upgrade your equipment. You can take out a bear, take its pelt and then combine it with some tree branches you find in order to make a new quiver capable of holding more arrows. Lara can also have her core abilities upgraded. These skills are broken up into three categories, hunting, brawling, and survival. Each category strengthens Lara in one way or another, making her a better hunter, a better killer, and a better survivor.

  • There are quite a few extra features thrown in for good measure to keep you coming back. There are time trials where you can try and finish key areas as quickly as possible and challenge your friends to beat your times. There are also cards you can purchase with both real-world money, and in-game currency which allows you to customize how levels are played. There are a wealth of customization options already available for use in your own unique adventure, and then there’s the promise of future DLC to expand the storyline which sounds very exciting.
  • One of the most beautiful games ever made. No joke, this game is absolutely stunning. The environments you interact with look so detailed I often just stood in one spot and moved the camera around just to take it all in. The special effects are also superb, seeing fire, smoke, and water in such high detail is outstanding and really impressed me from the onset to the very end of the adventure. The character models are also made up of countless polygons and look very impressive.

  • The soundtrack is sweeping and powerful. You feel as though you’re really on a mysterious adventure. Once the action set pieces begin, the music really cranks up and will raise your adrenaline.

  • TR5The So-So:

    +/- Resource gathering can become a bit tedious if you’re trying to maximize everything.

    TR3The Lowdown:

    Rise of the Tomb Raider is a sensational game, one of my personal favorites of 2015. This has been a pretty awesome year for videogame fans what with Batman: Arkham Knight, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Forza 6, Halo 5: Guardians, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and now Rise of the Tomb Raider. I can’t stress this enough, if you enjoy action adventure games, this is one you can’t miss. It comes very highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9.4/10

    Halo 5: Guardians Review

    Halo 5 ReviewHalo 5: Guardians (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 24
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: 343 Industries
    Release Date: October 27th, 2015

    Parent Talk: Halo 5: Guardians has been rated T for teenagers 13 and up. The only disclaimer mentioned is for blood, mild language, and violence. The Halo franchise isn’t overly realistic, and while violent, there aren’t ample amount of blood. Typically you’re fighting aliens, robotic enemies, and creatures that sort of fit in-between those descriptions.

    Plays Like: It seems obvious to say the game plays like the rest of the Halo games before, but I should really say that it plays very closely to Halo 4, which was a more modern take on the series. The same evolution made to the gunplay and mechanics returns here. You have access to a wide assortment of weapons, vehicles, and some fun extra abilities such as a running dash.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code, and I played through the entire campaign on Normal difficulty, as well as tried out the various multiplayer modes and maps on scheduled multiplayer days. I’ll edit the review once the game is live so that I can experience the multiplayer under normal conditions.

    It has been almost three years since Halo 4 hit the scene, and a lot has changed since that time. First-person shooters have continued to gain popularly, and the Halo franchise is larger than ever. 343 industries proved they were willing to take risks with the series after Bungie left with Halo Reach, although they did stumble a big with the Master Chief Collection. Is Halo 5: Guardians their way of making up for the lackluster collection, or is this another game that just don’t quite hit the mark?

    Halo 5_1The Great:

    Multiplayer has reached new heights of awesome. From the incredible four-player coop campaign, which I touch on a bit later on, to the extensive competitive multiplayer modes, Halo 5 has got what it takes to stay in your Xbox One until Halo 6 is released, and no I’m truly not joking. From the absolutely fantastic 24-player Warzone mode, to all the customization options make this one a keeper. Warzone offers the largest maps ever seen in a Halo game. Matches often last upwards of 30 minutes, and you score points not only from achieving your primary objective, but also from capturing key locations, taking down difficult NPCs, and much more.

    As you play you earn REQ points, which can be used to purchase powerful weapons and items. You have to be very careful how you spend these points though, do you save them for a Scorpion tank, or does your team improve their initial loadout with more powerful weapons? I love how strategy is built into everything now. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a dominate strategy as players get used to this mechanic.

    Customization options are intense, allowing you to select from 15 multiplayer maps, 8 gameplay modes including Slayer, Capture-the-Flag, Stronghold, Breakout, SWAT, Free-for-All Slayer, Shotty Snipers, and Neutral Flag. Then there are all the options for loadouts, etc.

    Halo 5_2The Good:

    • The storyline is interesting, and the new villain is far deeper than all other enemies previously introduced in the Halo universe. The story is far less black and white, and by the end you may find yourself actually siding with the protagonist saying their motives are actually quite sound.
    • The banter between Locke and his squad is quite interesting. Because Cortana is no longer a central character, it’s refreshing to hear new voices, and get some backstory to some of these new characters. Sadly Master Chief’s squad is far less developed, and I never found myself caring about any of his teammates. It’s true that Blue Team’s backstory is part of the expanded universe, so there is a way to catch up on this group for those interested. I still think a few missions should have been dedicated to this group just so I would have felt their comradery more.
    • Four-player co-op multiplayer is a blast. It’s online-only this time around, which I’ll get to later on in this review. The missions don’t feature the largest maps ever seen in the series, but they do feel much more open and less linear. There are multiple ways to tackle each objective, which makes these missions perfect for replay. I loved that each player could tackle a different aspect, one could be snipping, another could be working with a partner in order to take down a Hunter, etc. Variety is the name of the game this time around, and it’s great!
    • Speaking of your teammates, even while the AI controls your squad mates, I loved having rudimentary command options at my disposal. Being able to tell the squad to focus their attacks on a single enemy or turret is fantastic, as is telling them to press on ahead.
    • Weapons are absolutely top notch. Typically I stick to the tried and true when it comes to this series, but not this time around. There were a good five or six weapons I always wanted to have on me, which is fantastic.
    • The core gameplay is great fun. Missions are primarily made up of the go to this location and kill everything that moves type, but given the wealth of options available for you to take out your enemies, I never found the missions to get repetitive or dull, even though I was tasked with doing the exact same thing over and over again.
    • Jumping has never been so fluid. There’s a fantastic climbing mechanic that is great in both multiplayer and single player. Trust me when I say you’ll never miss another jump ever again, because so long as you’re close to a ledge you can grab on and pull yourself up.
    • The audio visual presentation is absolutely top notch, not that you weren’t already expecting that. You can clearly tell this game was built from the ground up for the Xbox One. The environments are chalk-full of details everywhere from little critters running around some of the alien planets, to gorgeous particle effects. There’s always something to keep you impressed. The audio is also a show-stopper. The soundtrack is phenomenal, and the sound effects are exactly where they should be in terms of pulse-pounding explosions, and great use of surround sound.

    Halo 5_3The So-So:

    +/- Some will love this, and some will hate it, but this isn’t a Master Chief game. This is the first time in a numbered entry in the Halo series where you don’t really play as Master Chief, instead you play as Spartan Locke for over 80% of the adventure. I didn’t mind this, but I know some will. Be warned of this in advance if you’re a die-hard Master Chief fan.

    +/- The artificial intelligence can be quite good, especially if you highlight an enemy target for your squad to take down, however if you yourself get downed, don’t expect your squad to always come to your rescue. I purposely put myself in harm’s way, died, and tried to get resuscitated, and instead of taking out the enemy standing over my corpse, they simply stood there trying to say me and thereby getting killed themselves. Also, don’t ask the AI-controlled squad to drive, they like to ram into walls and other stationary objects, because why not.

    +/- There’s an odd breakdown in the missions. Three of the 15 missions can be completed in 45 seconds or so. These act as somewhat interactive story missions where you’re challenged with finding someone, talking to them, and then talking to someone else. Boom, mission complete. It feels a little jarring, and doesn’t add anything that a minute cinematic couldn’t do.

    +/- While the overall storyline is good, you absolutely have to know the Halo lore if you’re going to get the most out of this game. It’s expected from a sequel, but a nice overview of the entire franchise would be nice as we’re now five games in and there’s a ton of story to digest here.

    +/- Spartan Locke isn’t Master Chief. His motives are far less interesting than the Chief’s, making him out to be nothing more than a typical soldier.

    Halo 5_4The Bad:

    • The lack of local multiplayer hurts. 343 Industries says this was done to ensure the game didn’t run at 30 frames-per-second (fps), but rather a steady smooth 60 fps. The problem with this is that the Halo series was founded on its strong support of local multiplayer including LAN. This is the first game in the series to completely do-away with local multiplayer including LAN, split-screen, etc. If you want to play with another human being, they’re going to have to own an Xbox One, and a copy of Halo 5.
    • There’s pretty much one boss in the entire game, and you go up against him over and over again during the campaign. This enforces the game was made for multiplayer, as his only weak point is on his back. With or without live players I found the battles to get repetitive by the forth encounter.

    Halo 5_5The Lowdown:

    Halo 5: Guardians does a lot right. The campaign is enjoyable, the multiplayer is outstanding, and the storyline can be thought-provoking, however it’s what the game does wrong that ultimately bring down the package. This isn’t a bad game, not by a longshot, but it’s not great either. The lack of local multiplayer is what truly hurts the most. Sure it’s 2015 and everything is online, however LAN matches are still a very big part of Halo, and not being able to have those, or even have a friend come over and play through the campaign really is disappointing. Halo fans will love the game, no question about it, however the most diehard fans will likely walk away wanting more.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Rare Replay Review

    Rare Replay ReviewRare Replay (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Compilation
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: Rare
    Release Date: August 4, 2015

    Parent Talk: Rare Replay is a compilation featuring thirty classic Rare games, with a few notable omissions due to licenses being owned by Nintendo. This compilation contains thirty games, some of which are mature themed, thus the M rating. Most are perfectly fine for children of all ages with the exception of a few, so just be mindful of which ones your children want to play.

    Plays Like: As a compilation game, each game plays differently, however there’s a genre here for everyone from shmups, to beat ‘em ups to fighting games and action platformers.

    Review Basis: Microsoft sent us a review code and I played around with a wide assortment of the thirty included games.

    Rare Replay is a love letter to videogame fans. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Rare, there’s no denying the incredible wealth of influential games included in this compilation. It’s an amazing bargain too at only $30. The overall package is incredibly well developed. You can tell the people who worked on this game really loved the source material, because the incentives to try some of the older games is just amazing. This very well could be the best compilation this side of Super Mario All-Stars.

    Rare1The Great:

    30 games for $30. What’s not to like about that? Here’s exactly what’s included in the package.

    Jetpac, Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac, Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde, Knight Lore, Gunfright, Slalom, R.C. Pro-Am, Cobra Triangle, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Digger T. Rock, Battletoads, R.C. Pro-Am II, Battletoads Arcade, Killer Instinct Gold, Blast Corps, Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Viva Piñata, Jetpac Refuelled, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, and finally Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

    Some of the included games are certainly better than others, but the overall package is extremely impressive. Being able to play Battletoads Arcade in the comfort of my own home is fantastic, as is reliving great Perfect Dark and Killer Instinct Gold moments from my younger years.

    Something else that has to receive our highest compliments is the game’s presentation. It’s likely the games included in this package had never looked as good as they do here, but that’s only a fraction of the story. The real shocker is the way the games themselves are presented together as a whole. The whole game takes place in a gallery, with each title representing one painting or section of the gallery. For games that were designed for 4:3, a cool looking border is applied around your play session window. There’s also a CRT filter, which warps the image and adds a bit of contrast to the edges, which nails the look of an old-school tube TV. You can also save anywhere, and you have a rewind function which completely kills the challenge of some of these old-school gems, but that’s part of the compilation’s charm. It removes the barrier, and allows you to just sit back and enjoy some classic videogames.

    Rare3The Good:

    • If there’s one feature that really surprised me, it was the way this game almost forced me to play games I wasn’t even curious about. Snapshot challenges highlight key areas of a game, and allow you to sample what you might otherwise have ignored. The video features are also superb as they unlock a lot of the mysteries behind one of gaming most famous developers. The only downside is you have to earn them, but then again, it goes back to what I was just saying, it’s a means to get you to play games you might have no interest in.

    Rare4The So-So:

    +/- Some of the games have extremely sloppy and sluggish controls.

    +/- Several games, including Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, both Viva Piñata games, Jetpac Refuelled, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts are not featured on the game disc, instead requiring additional downloads. While that isn’t too troubling, it’s a bit annoying that if you select those games from within the compilation, you’re kicked out of the game, booted into 360 backwards compatibility mode and then have access to the games. It’s a bit jarring, and questionable why they weren’t added to the disc.

    Rare2The Bad:

    • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts features some severe framerate issues.
    • No online multiplayer support for legacy games, which I think would have been awesome, particularly for the Battletoads games.

    Rare5The Lowdown:

    Regardless of your thoughts on Rare as a modern day developer, there’s no denying they were at one point one of the world’s best developers, responsible for a wide assortment of excellent classics. This compilation is a testament to those games. While I would have loved to have played GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong Country, amongst others, what’s offered here is plenty. This game will keep you busy for weeks, if not months to come.

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Review

    Gears ReviewGears of War: Ultimate Edition (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
    Developer: The Coalition
    Release Date: August 25th, 2015

    Parent Talk: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is rated M for mature because of strong language, intense violence, and blood and gore. This is a game that features an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached to it. That chainsaw isn’t for looks, it’s used to literally cut your enemies in half. So naturally this isn’t the type of game you should let your kids play.

    Plays Like: The original Gears of War was responsible for really bringing the cover and shoot gameplay the series is now known for to the forefront of gaming. It works much like it sounds, you run from one cover to the next, taking out enemies as quickly as possible so you don’t get flanked. The game features an excellent two-player co-op mode that is an absolute blast to play.

    Review Basis: Having finished the original game multiple times, I played enough of this one to see what improvements had been made.

    Gears of War is one of my favorite Xbox 360 titles. It was the first game on the 360 that really made me go wow this is next-gen. It was a stunning look at a dystopian future and I had some of the best moments of my gaming life in this game with Steven, that other wacky COEr. We still talk about a few classic moments from our hours-long play sessions via Xbox Live. So returning to this classic almost a decade later was both entertaining and nostalgic.

    Gears1The Great:

    I have to admit I was shocked at just how well Gears of War has aged. The cover gameplay still feels fresh and exciting. The co-op mode is just as excellent as you remember, and the overall experience is just as powerful today as it was when the game first was released back in 2006. There’s something special about revisiting the game that started it all. Breaking Fenix out of his prison cell, seeing the world all tattered and decayed again for the first time, is just an amazing experience and depending on your level of enjoyment with the original title, you may very well find yourself smitten with Gears of War all over again.

    Gears2The Good:

    • Respect and devotion went into this remaster. The graphics have all been given fresh coat of paint, to a blistering 1080p resolution and 60 frames-per-second gameplay. The Coalition didn’t go crazy though, and there are plenty of rough edges here and there to harken back to the Xbox 360, and therefore preserve your nostalgia. I really appreciated that. Overall textures, models, and even the cutscenes have all been redone, but with care, and it shows. The game has never looked this good.
    • Remembering the past, but embracing the future. One of the best aspects of Ultimate Edition is that modern day features have made their way into the game. Take the co-op mode for example, it now supports drop-in and out gameplay. Your friends can join you mid-chapter, and both players can play on separate difficulty levels.
    • The five additional segments from the PC version have been added, which chronicle Dom and Marcus’ journey to a train station through an assortment of abandoned factories. It’s a fantastic addition that many, myself included, didn’t even know existed beforehand.
    • Horror roots. I completely forgot how much the original game was based on the horror genre. When the second game in the series hit, it was all out war, but here you’re just a small group, making your way through dimly lit hallways with scary monsters around every corner. This really makes me wish Gears of War 4 will return to this style because it’s much more personal and in your face.
    • Multiplayer feels much fresher and faster than ever before, likely thanks to that 60 fps boost. There are a few new modes, and a new map, but classics like Gridlock, Tyro Station, and Depot all hit that nostalgia sweet spot.

    Gears3The So-So:

    +/- It’s understandable that there wouldn’t be a lot of gameplay variety in the first entry in the series, but because you’re playing this today, I found myself wanting to do a bit more than just kill every enemy in one section before moving on to the next to repeat the exact same situation all over again.

    Gears4The Bad:

    • As amazing of a job the developer did, there is one area that truly hasn’t aged well whatsoever, and that’s the AI. I can’t tell you how many times my partner character would purposely veer off to an area where just moments before he said not to go, thereby instantly killing himself. There were also a few instances where the AI character wouldn’t trigger a scene, such as pressing a button or opening a door, which led to me having to restart a checkpoint.

    Gears5The Lowdown:

    Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a great remaster. The fact that the initial release of the game also included digital downloads of the four Xbox 360 Gears games was a special treat. I can’t tell you how many times I smiled or laughed at key scenes because of all the nostalgia I have for this game. If you even remotely enjoyed the original, I highly recommend you give this one a go.

    Final Score: 8/10

    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

    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

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection Review

    Halo MCCHalo: The Master Chief Collection (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 16
    Genre: FPS
    Publisher: Microsoft
    Developer: 343 Industries
    Release Date: November 11th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The Master Chief Collection has been rated M for mature by the ESRB because of blood and gore, language, and violence. Unlike something like Call of Duty, the blood isn’t over-the-top realistic. Yes this is definitely not a game for the really young because of scary enemies like the Flood, but honestly it’s not the worst FPS out there, not even by a longshot. Halo is Halo, it has its own distinct style and flare, and by now you should know exactly what you’re getting into if you’re considering purchasing this game.

    Plays Like: The Halo series has evolved from a fun single player experience to a worldwide online phenomenon. The original Halo set the bar for single player first-person shooters on home consoles, and the Live-enabled sequel raised it exponentially higher. Today players all over the world know what they’re getting with Halo, a top tier campaign, and addictive multiplayer. Since this is a compilation game, naturally the games progressed with each iteration, but at its heart and core it was always this balance of an awesome campaign and killer online multiplayer that put Halo where it is today, as one of the world’s leading FPS franchises.

    Review Basis: I tried my hand at all four Halo games to see how they compared to the originals, and tried my hardest to play a wide assortment of online multiplayer matches, but I’ll touch on that later on in the review.

    Note: Microsoft has promised and delivered updates almost non-stop since the game’s release to fix the broken multiplayer, and the company will even be giving ODST’s campaign away for free as an apology to fans.

    I was extremely excited to get my hands on The Master Chief Collection. I’m a big fan of the Halo series after all, and the thought of having beautiful 1080p 60 fps versions of all four games in the core series was incredibly exciting. Sure I was a little disappointed that Halo: Reach wasn’t included, as that’s actually my second favorite Halo game ever, after the original, but I figured I could live without it as I would be so busy checking out all the other games. What I didn’t expect was for this compilation to be a really great campaign compilation, and a complete disaster when it comes to the multiplayer. To understand how huge of a deal this is, it would be like making it to world 8-4 in Super Mario Bros. only to have a black screen pop up saying ‘sorry…err..hay_98*’ Yup, that makes no sense whatsoever, and to be quite honest, neither does the incredibly broken multiplayer.

    Halo MCC1The Great:

    The campaigns are absolutely incredible. If there’s one aspect that really floored me it’s with the four core campaigns. The original Halo is based on the Anniversary Edition, but has been upscaled and looks extremely sexy. Halo 2 has been completely reworked and looks amazing, and Halo 3 and 4 have also been upscaled. The four games run so silky smooth that you’ll be immediately impressed. What I especially appreciated was that you can select any chapter you want right from the get-go. This allows you to enjoy these games any way you want, from beginning to end, or that one level you remember so fondly from way back when. It’s all incredibly fun, so long as you always enjoyed these campaigns, if not well then this most likely isn’t the compilation for you.

    It’s also really fun to be able to turn on and off the alterations of the original two Halo games, because you can appreciate just how much work went into these remasters. For Halo 2, it’s especially amazing to see the drastic improvements Blur Studios made to the cutscenes. The whole world feels so much more fleshed out now. The new lighting system also makes Halo 2 on the Xbox One look so much better than it did on the original Xbox. There’s even new musical arrangements and sound effects, although some of the sound effects sounded better in the original in my opinion.

    Halo 3 and 4 are not Anniversary editions, and it’s obvious, however both have been updated to run at 1080p 60fps, so they’re the best versions to play. The gameplay in both games is also top notch, and help round out this superb package of excellent campaigns. Playing through Halo 4 after playing the others shows this is a clear new beginning for Master Chief. The gameplay is radically altered from giving Master Chief the ability to run, to new enemies and a story which paints Master Chief in a totally different light. No longer is he the warrior god that everyone looks up to, and it’s quite jarring to play all four games back to back and see this. It’s a sign that the series is changing, and it’s clear that when Halo 5 hits next year the evolution of the series that started in 4 will continue.

    Halo MCC2The Good:

    • One aspect that I was really worried about that turned out quite well is the user interface. It’s quite easy going through each game, selecting the chapter, mode, or gameplay alterations you want. It takes a little getting used to, but after a very short time you’ll be playing through whatever chapter you want in any way you want.

    Halo MCC3The So-So:

    +/- I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for saying this, but while it’s really awesome that you can select a playlist that’s made up of multiplayer maps from all four Halo games, your memory of each game will heavily determine your enjoyment for the first few hours with the game. Here’s why. If you don’t remember that you can’t run or dual wield in the original Halo and you try to, odds are you’re going to get killed by those that do remember, and the same is true for all the other games. You really need to relearn your Halo history because gameplay changes with each new map you play. This can be highly frustrating at first, but you will overcome it in time.

    Halo MCC4The Ugly:

    By far the worst aspect, and one that completely ruins the package, is the matchmaking. To say it’s broken would be an understatement. When I played Halo 2 on the original Xbox I could get into a match within seconds. Here, you can wait for minutes, hours, or forever and never get into a match. Even worse once you finally do manage to get into a match, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to during the next session. Considering so many people buy this franchise for the multiplayer, I consider this a huge disservice to the fans. 343 Industries promises fixes will be coming, but as of launch the online component is severely lacking and that’s inexcusable for a game of this caliber.

    Halo MCC5The Lowdown:

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a brilliant collection of four excellent games, however it feels only half complete as of launch. Will patches get released to fix the problems, I have no doubt, and the odds are that by the time you watch or read this review those changes may already be here, but I can only review what I had access to and during that time it’s clear this game needed far more time in the oven. It was rushed to market for the holiday shopping season, and that’s a real unacceptable. If you’re in this for the online component, you’re better off waiting until the game has been patched to perfection. If you want to experience the four campaigns again, then go ahead and give this one a purchase as it’s an easy recommend for the campaigns alone. As a complete package though, I can’t help but feel highly let down. I can’t believe this game was allowed to go out the door in the state it did.

    Final Score: 6.5/10

     

    Sunset Overdrive Review

    Sunset OverdriveSunset Overdrive (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
    Developer: Insomniac Games
    Release Date: October 28th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Sunset Overdrive M for mature because of blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, and drug and alcohol use. I know what you’re thinking, this is another one of those Grand Theft Auto clones that is super realistic, but it’s actually not at all. Sure it’s a bit vulgar, but the blood is cartoonish, and the whole game doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever. In fact this is a game that looks like it would have come from SEGA back when they were still in the hardware race. It’s a mix of GTA meets Jet Grind Radio. It’s silly, insane, and damn fun, but it also features enough mature content that I can easily recommend you don’t allow children near the game, no matter how colorful its exterior might be.

    Plays Like: Imagine an open world that’s bright and colorful like a Mario or Sonic game, features the maturity of a Ratchet and Clank game, and is just about as fun as you can imagine, and you have yourself Sunset Overdrive. The game is broken up like GTA, so you can expect a wide assortment of missions, however the world in which the game takes place is completely silly and ridiculous. You can grind on rails all over the city, scale buildings with ease, and perform all kinds of insane acrobatic maneuvers which almost always propel you into the air, or keep you moving. That’s what makes Sunset Overdrive so unique, it wants you to always stay moving, and will do everything in its power to ensure you do just that. It’s a hell of a good time.

    Review Basis: Finished the single player campaign, and tried my hand at the cooperative online multiplayer mode.

    When Insomniac Games first announced Sunset Overdrive I didn’t really know what to expect. These are the guys behind the now legendary Ratchet and Clank series, but haven’t worked on a brand new IP in a long time. Would this be another game people would flock to, or would it end up being like Resistance, a good game that just never really took off for whatever reason. Looking back I can firmly say this is going to be one of those Xbox One titles that people are going to talk about ten years from now because of just how much fun it is to play. The humor the studio is known for remains razor sharp, and the incredible weapons Insomniac developed for the Ratchet and Clank series are actually improved upon in some fashion here. I never expected to enjoy Sunset Overdrive as much as I did, and because of that it has ended up becoming one of my absolute best games of 2014, and a very good reason why you should own an Xbox One.

    Sunset Overdrive1The Great:

    Sunset City rules! One of the biggest problems I have with most open world videogames is that they’re far too realistic. The colors are almost always muted, or shades of browns and greys, but here everything is brimming with color. The graphics are also exceptional, making Sunset Overdrive one of the absolute best looking games currently available on the Xbox One. The fact that the city is so interactive is also a blessing because you can use the city as a massive jungle gym, taking out hundreds of thousands of monsters, all while grinding, flipping, and jumping to and from buildings, cars, electrical wires, and everything else you can imagine. All of this while rocking a constant framerate. The city is so inviting that you’ll be coming back to play another hour whenever you have a chance.

    Sunset Overdrive2The Good:

    • The upgrade system is also enjoyable to mess around with. There are these special Amps which allow you to grant special powers to not only your body, but weapons as well. The more stylish you zip around the city, the quicker you’ll increase your special meter. This is what allows you to use those powerful Amp attacks. If you want to find new ones, you’ll have to head out into the open city and locate a wide assortment of goodies which can then be used to create new Amps. This is made much easier if you purchase in-game maps which show you where all the items are hidden.
    • Speaking of weapons, they’re awesome. Think Ratchet and Clank awesome! These things are completely ridiculous. You have access to a wide assortment of makeshift weapons like the bowling ball cannon, or the explosive teddy bear launcher, and so much more. This is insomniac so you know you’re in for a real treat in the weapons department.
    • The boss fights are great, and offer up some of the best moments in the entire game, but you’ll have to discover those for yourself.
    • Chaos Squad is an 8-player cooperative horde-like mode that offers up hours of fun because you all have the freedom offered in the single player version. The one downside, and it’s quite a big one, is that this mode doesn’t scale with the number of players in your group. So if you’re only four, you’ll find the challenges almost impossible.
    • What holds this wild and crazy universe together, is an equally ridiculous story, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fizzco, an energy drink maker, has accidently poisoned all the citizens of Sunset City with their latest beverage. One minute you’re taking out the trash, being totally disrespected, the next you’re a one-man war-machine destroying everything in your path.
    • One of the best features that I didn’t even think I would like is having the ability to recreate your character whenever you want. Normally the character you create when the game begins is the one you finish the game with, but here you can customize your sex, size, and features whenever you feel like a change. It works perfectly with the theme that anything goes in this open world.
    • Cast of characters are fantastic. While you make your escape from the city, you stumble onto a wide assortment of support characters who are all part of factions. Each faction has a specific theme, like the preps, the nerds, etc. Sure these groups are stereotypical, however key characters will often call out these stereotypes during cutscenes, which I found absolutely hilarious. The voice actors who voice all these support characters clearly had a fun time with the dialogue as they’re all immediately likeable.

    Sunset Overdrive3The So-So:

    +/- While Sunset City beckons you to scale its largest buildings, and to jump on every single car and object you can see, when you do stand still you’re punished for it. You see enemies are all over the place and so long as you keep moving you’ll easily be able to pick them off one at a time, or a dozen at a time. The thing is, sometimes you’re ‘regular game’ instincts kick in, where you’re surrounded by enemies and you feel you should stand your ground and fight. Doing so will cut your life short, as the whole game was built around the concept of action in motion. Some might not enjoy being forced to keep moving, although to be fair I’d be really surprised to hear that because of how much fun it is to use the city as a mean’s of transportation.

    +/- When you first start the game out, don’t be put off by the limited mission variety. As you progress the missions start to get diverse, but it does take time. Be warned!

    Sunset Overdrive4The Bad:

    • One of the only gripes I have with Sunset Overdrive is that there isn’t a standard co-op mode. I know at least one friend that would have had an absolute blast playing through this game with me, but sadly only Chaos Squad is open for cooperative play.

    Sunset Overdrive5The Lowdown:

    Sunset Overdrive is a fantastic game, one of the best of 2014, and probably the best on the Xbox One right now. It’s an exclusive to be proud of, it’s a brand new IP, features great single player action, has an addictive cooperative horde mode, and isn’t afraid to be over the top. If you enjoy ridiculous games, great weapons, and clever stage design, I would highly recommend you give this one a go.

    Final Score: 9/10

    The Evil Within Review

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

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

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

    Review Basis: Completed the campaign.

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

    The Great:

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

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

    The Good:

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

    The So-So:

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

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

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

    The Bad:

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

    The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 8.5/10

     

    Alien: Isolation Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Great:

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

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

    The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The So-So:

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

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

    The Bad:

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

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

    The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 9/10

    Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review

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

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

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

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

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

    The Great:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Good:

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

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

    The So-So:

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

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

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

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

    The Bad:

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

    The Ugly:

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

    The Lowdown:  

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

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

    Destiny Review

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

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

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

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

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

    D1The Great:

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

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

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

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

    D2The Good:

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

    D3The So-So:

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

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

    D4The Bad:

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

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

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

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

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

  • D5The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 7.5/10

     

    Watch Dogs Review

    Watch DogsWatch Dogs (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
    Release Date: May 27th, 2014

    Parent Talk: Watch Dogs is rated M for mature because of blood, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, and the use of drugs and alcohol. If you’ve ever played an open world game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row, you know what to expect in terms of sheer violence and brutality. There are also some intense scenes such as people being sold off to the sex trade and much, much more.

    Plays Like: While Watch Dogs shares a lot in comment with other open world games in that you drive around a massive city, take on missions to progress the story, and take part in hundreds of short side quests, or mini-games. What makes Watch Dogs unique is that it features a hacking mechanic that feels completely different than virtually any other open world game out there. You can spy on anyone by taking over a security camera, you can cause traffic lights to spontaneously switch colors causing a massive traffic jam, and much more. Aiden is no push-over either, and he’s well-armed with all the usual firearms you’d expect from a game like this.

    Review Basis: Ubisoft sent over the PlayStation 4 version for us to review.  I played many online sessions, and completed the single player campaign.

    Watch Dogs has been hyped as the next great videogame franchise for the past few years. It has been eagerly anticipated by millions of gamers around the world, and now the time has come to pass judgment. Does Watch Dogs live up to the hype, or is it just another in a long line of open world action games?

    Watch Dogs1The Great:

    In typical open world fashion, you take on missions in order to progress the story. Interestingly enough, the story is linear, and each act is broken down into one mission after another. You don’t go see either Cousin Vinnie, Bob, or Sue for a mission, and someone else for another. No, instead the core focus is on a very linear storyline, but how you tackle the missions is what makes Watch Dogs stand out. Normally you’d just run into a building, guns blazing and then you’d be challenged with escaping the madness afterwards. While that basic setup is more or less the same here, Aiden, the protagonist, has the ability to hack into a nice assortment of objects. He can hack security cameras, which allow you to see where enemies are, he can overload an enemy’s cellphone which causes it to explode, he can overload circuit breakers, and much more. This changes the way you approach each encounter, because while it’s certainly true you could just run in guns blazing, it’s so much more enjoyable taking your enemies out from the shadows using nothing but your hacking skills and a couple of smart distractions.

    Watch Dogs2The Good:

    + Fantastic cast of characters. One of my favorite aspects of Watch Dogs is the great casts of supporting characters. I never really connected on a personal level with Aiden, but the rest of the cast was great. Clara in particular is an extremely important, and interesting character.

    + The side missions, and optional content are all extremely fun to play. If you enjoy open world games, you’re going to enjoy this one. Simple as that. From blasting aliens in augmented reality mini-games, to the wide assortment of side missions like preventing people from being robbed, to delivering cars to specific spots with little or no damage, to anything else you can think of, the action remains fun and enjoyable.

    + I also really loved how the online portion of the game is seamlessly connected to the single player experience. Frequently you’ll be updated about some sort of online event taking place from races to decryption matches and more. There are several online game modes available, and they’re all a blast.

    + I also have to mention the digital trip mini-games. I don’t want to spoil them as there are only four, but these offer some of the most fun you’ll have in the entire game. They’re wacky, but so, so awesome.

    + The simple level system allows Aiden to become a better hacker, driver, and a more proficient killing machine. Everything you do in the game nets you experience and all the various mini-games, and side quests, including online sessions, will reward special cars, weapons, and skills. I love how no matter what you do, you always feel like you’re making progress.

    + Watch Dogs is a very impressive game to look at, and to listen to. From lush environments, great water effects, and a wide assortment of catchy musical tracks, there’s something here for audio visual fans to dig their teeth into. I also really appreciated how destroyable some of the environments are.

    Watch Dogs3The So-So:

    +/- The story never reaches its full potential. Aiden is seeking revenge for the death of his niece, but when his sister begs him to stop because he’s putting the rest of his family in jeopardy, he essentially ignores her pleas and continues, even though she’s absolutely right. I was never really satisfied with the explanation the game gave for why Aiden was so persistent, and I found it hurt his overall character as a result.

    +/- While Aiden does get more interesting later on in the game, I found it a bit too late by that time. Here we have a person who is essentially killing hundreds, if not thousands of people for one little girl. Is that truly revenge?

    +/- Being able to use your profiler, or cellphone to see what every single NPC does for a living, how much they make, and more, acts like a moral compass of sorts. Will you shoot an enemy if you know that they’re only doing this job because they need the money for their sick mother? What about the guy who’s expecting a newborn any day now? I loved that the game made me react differently to each new situation, however there was no real consequence for killing one NPC and saving another. I appreciated what Ubisoft tried to do here, but it felt only half fulfilling.

    Watch Dogs4The Bad:

    – While everything comes together beautifully in Watch Dogs, the game does suffer from a few issues. The first being the shopping system is completely pointless. During my entire time with the game I never once bought anything from the various stores that I wasn’t forced to, because there was simply no need. I never ran out of ammo, never had a need for a sports car, etc. Everything I needed the game gave me, making the shopping experience useless.

    – As with virtually all open world games, eventually the world starts to feel a bit repetitive. While I love fast traveling to safe spots, the core breakdown is almost always the same. Drive somewhere, shoot people, hack something, drive somewhere else. There is a ton of mission variety, but that feeling that you’re doing something similar is always present.

    Watch Dogs5The Lowdown:

    Watch Dogs is a very fun game to play, but it didn’t wow me as much as I thought it would. Perhaps it’s because the hacking system is simply a single button press, maybe it’s because there are so many high quality open world games out there, or perhaps I’m simply tiring of the genre. Whatever the case may be, I enjoyed my time with Watch Dogs and I can easily recommend this one to fans of the genre looking for something a bit different. Ultimately though, I’d say this is a very good game, just not overly great.

    Final Score: 8/10