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Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

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

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

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

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

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

The Great:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The So-So:

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

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

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

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

The Ugly:

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

The Lowdown:

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

Final Score: 9.5/10      

Ghost Blade Review

Ghost Blade ReviewGhost Blade (Available exclusively on the SEGA Dreamcast)
ESRB Rating: N/A
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Shoot ‘em Up
Publisher: Hucast Games
Developer: Hucast Games
Release Date: September 27th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB doesn’t rate independent releases, but I can tell you right now this would get an E for everyone rating as it’s a 2D sprite-based shoot ‘em up, that doesn’t feature any harmful violence except the explosion of thousands of tiny ships.

Plays Like: Ghost Blade is a vertical shooter that pits you against a massive onslaught of enemy ships. Dodge all the bullets you can, and destroy everything that moves. Simple as that. Ghost Blade shares a lot in common with other shooters such as DoDonPachi and Mushihimesama, although is nowhere near as difficult. As a matter of fact, this game is directly aimed to introducing new players to the genre.

Review Basis: Completed the game on Novice and Normal modes.

In 2001 SEGA officially discontinued the Dreamcast in North America, it’s now 2015 and the platform continues to see new releases thanks to the efforts of independent game developers all over the world. Ghost Blade is another in a long line of indie releases that shows the dedication and love the community has for the Dreamcast. Many of the Dreamcast games that get released today are shoot ‘em ups that aim at pleasing fans of the early 90’s, and this release is no different. That being said, it’s not without its controversy too.

Ghost Blade was announced back in April 2013, with pre-orders opening for a limited to 300 (eventually raised to 500) copies of a Collector’s Edition. After that, the game saw one delay after another, and eventually its Caravan mode was completely scrapped before the game was eventually released in September 2015. Sadly those that did pre-order the Collector’s Edition still haven’t had their version of the game released, as only the regular and limited editions (contains the game’s musical soundtrack) are currently in stock. What we’re left with is a five-stage two-player shmup that was delayed by over two years. So as I said, lots of controversy. Controversy aside, let’s see how the game holds up.

Ghost Blade 1The Great:

If you enjoy shooters, you’re going to really enjoy this one. You begin by selecting one of three female pilots, each who controls a different ship. Your mission is to destroy a rogue AI that is out wreaking havoc on everything. Each ship has a different firing system in-place, as well as movement speed. There’s the classic spread shot, a wide shot with a missile-combo, and finally the all-powerful straight laser shot. You also have access to a screen-clearing bomb. The weapon system is rather unique. If you press the A button to shoot, you end up earning stage stars which boost your score, however if you use a focus attack, the X button, all of your firepower is streamed into a forward attack, which also slows your ship down, and that nets you tech orbs. These orbs fill a meter that, once full, grants you another stage-clearing bomb. So it’s nice how you juggle between the two modes of fire, which becomes even more important once you factor in the point system, which I’ll tackle in just a few.

Ghost Blade 2The Good:

  • Novice mode is a complete cake-walk, especially if you use the focus fire and continuously get new bombs. As an added bonus in this mode, if you happen to be touched by an enemy, you automatically deploy a screen-clearing bomb instead of blowing up. If you run out of bombs, that’s when you lose a life. I really thought this was a great way of introducing new players to the genre. Even those who have never played a shooter before should have little trouble clearing the game on Novice mode.
  • Normal mode doesn’t automatically release a bomb, but I still found it fairly simple to navigate the game within a few hours of practice. This isn’t a hard shmup, and that’s ok, because it plays very well. If you’re here for difficulty, this won’t be the shooter for you.

  • The point system is based a combo chain system. The more enemy kills you string together, the higher your combo. If you die, it reverts back to zero, so you really don’t want to do that. This isn’t a game where your main goal is to finish it, as honestly you can do that in under half-an-hour. Instead this is a game that requires you to play it over and over again to chase that ever illusive high score.

Ghost Blade 4+ I hope you enjoy kick-ass music, because you’re going to get it. Rafael Dyll who composed the music for other recently released Dreamcast games such as Last Hope, Gunlord, amongst others, is back to give this game a rip-roaring soundtrack that will stay with you long after you finish the game. I would highly recommend you check out the Limited Edition, because it comes with the game’s soundtrack on a separate disc. There were only 1,000 of these printed, so be sure to act fast before they’re all gone.

  • Graphically the game shines in VGA-mode, although there is a lot of slowdown when too much is going on. There are also times where you really have to pay attention to differentiate between enemy bullets and orbs and stars flying towards your ship. It isn’t too bad after a short period of time, but all of these sprites make the Dreamcast come to a grinding halt, especially if you shoot out a bomb while all of this is happening on-screen. Backgrounds are varied, and detailed, and overall the game looks quite sharp, and runs well for the most part. I should also mention Ghost Blade supports a TATE mode, where you can play on a vertical monitor for the optimal experience.
  • As you’d expect the game supports the VMU, where little icons are displayed, as well as the arcade stick. This is extremely important for those of us that like to relive the glory days of the arcades in our homes.

  • The packaging is classic retro goodness. If you’ve purchased any other games from Hucast you know what to expect. You get a DVD case, which fits nicely with Hucast’s other offerings like DUX and Redux: Dark Matters. You also get a full color instruction manual, and in the case of the Limited Edition, you get a fantastic pressed audio CD featuring the game’s soundtrack. Speaking of pressed discs, the game disc itself is also professionally pressed.

  • Ghost Blade 3The So-So:

    +/- A training mode, two-player co-op mode, and the five-stage campaign is all she wrote for Ghost Blade. While it’s fun chasing high scores, I can see people wanting a little more after a few days with the game. Unless people want to partake in a high score tournament, I just don’t see this being in one’s Dreamcast for months to come.

    Ghost Blade 5The Lowdown:

    Ghost Blade is a brand new Dreamcast game released in 2015, you have automatically get brownie points just for that. Sure there was some controversy surrounding the release of the game, and yes some might say the game can be a little light on content, but it remains a truly enjoyable shooter to play, and that’s key here. New fans to the genre would do well in checking this one out as it makes for a great introduction. I can’t wait to see what Hucast has in-store for Redux 2.

    Final Score: 8/10

    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

    Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review

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

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

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

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

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

    Uncharted2The Great:

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

    Uncharted3The Good:

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

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

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

    Uncharted5The So-So:

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

    Uncharted4The Bad:

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

    Uncharted1The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 8.5/10

     

    Disney Infinity 3.0 Review

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

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

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

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

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

    DI3_2The Great:

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

    DI3_4The Good:

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

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

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

    DI3_3The So-So:

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

    DI3_5The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 8.5/10

    Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven Review

    510932_frontLord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (Available exclusively on 3DS)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Role Playing
    Publisher: XSeed
    Developer: Marvelous
    Release Date: June 2nd, 2015

    Hey everyone! My name is Cranberry; here with a guest review! Well, let’s get right to it!

    Lord of Magna ReviewParent Talk: The Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated this game T for Teen, citing the following: Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Partial Nudity, & Suggestive Themes. While it’s not excessive, there is some blatant “fan-service” in this game that involves some up-skirt pictures and some unnecessarily skimpy outfits. They aren’t kidding about the suggestive dialogue either; it definitely gets pretty suggestive at times. Of particular note, there is an animated bathing scene that you probably would not want to get caught watching at work.

    The battles are not bloody or gory and are pretty tame, although some cut scenes imply some pretty harsh violence at times.

    The teen rating seems to be appropriate for this one; I wouldn’t recommend this one for young children.

    Plays Like:  This game plays like a cross between a turn based RPG, a strategy game, and a visual novel. The main emphasis of the game is definitely the plot and the interactions between the characters. It features a lot of cut scenes and dialogue reading, much of it voice acted.

    Combat plays a part as well, and is played out in a strategic turn-based system. You field a party of up to four characters, each with different attributes and attack ranges. Combat takes place on a large field where you can see all of the enemy units. Both you and the enemies take turns moving and attacking, however the field is not a grid. Each character has a circle that appears around them, showing their move range for that turn. You can move freely anywhere within this circle provided there isn’t anything to block your path. When you’re ready to attack, you’ll see a red space that designates the area you can hit.

    Lord of Magna1Lord of Magna also features an experience point leveling system as well as a crafting system, which adds some RPG elements into its strategy styled combat system.

    The Good:

    • The presentation  is quite beautiful. The graphics have a cartoonish feel to them, which is pretty normal for a 3DS game, but they get the job done wonderfully. The 3D effects are not mind blowing, but they supplement the setting well without feeling too “busy” or disorienting. The characters are likable and full of personality. The story is also pretty well written and engaging. You take the role of an inn keeper, whom you can choose a name for. He runs an inn on the outskirts of town, and is patiently awaiting the day when his inn at long last receives a guest. The guests soon arrive in the form of characters that will join your party; seven in all over the course of the game. There is a reason this game is called “Maiden Heaven”, every playable character except for the main character is female. But each girl has a distinct personality and it is quite enjoyable to watch their stories unfold and see their character development over the course of the tale. These cut scenes are sometimes supplemented by some lovely artwork too.

    Lord of Magna2+ There are also “heart events” you can access, which are essentially quests that dwell deeper into an individual girl and reveal more about her. There are 21 such heart events, and it will take several play-throughs to see them all; which fleshes out the story further and gives the game some replay value too.

    • The music is top-notch. The songs fit the context well and are pleasant to listen to. I received the original soundtrack with my purchase, and I frequently pop the CD in and listen to it. I really enjoy the music.
    • I also enjoy the combat system in this game. Each character has different roles they can contribute in a battle, and you need to think about how they can complement one another on the battle field. Some characters hit for a wide area in front of them, others hit an area at a distance, some hit an enemy multiple times, and others specialize in support skills. There are a lot of possibilities even before the battle begins. Once in combat, the strategy-game like field system allows for a lot of tactics that just wouldn’t work in a traditional turn-based RPG. You gain an action point each turn, and you spend this action point to perform your chosen action. There’s also an interesting “bowling” mechanic in battle, where enemies you hit can knock down and take out other enemies. If you manage to take down ten or more enemies with one attack, you get a free turn. It’s quite an interesting and creative mechanic.
    • If you choose not to take an action, you’ll keep your action point and when your next turn comes, you’ll have two action points. This allows you to save up points for special skills. This makes combat more complex and engaging than simple “hurt and heal”. You need to carefully consider how best to place your characters, and what action is best for the situation at hand. Do you send one character ahead as a decoy to try and form an opening for the rest of your party to slip through? Do you try and surround the enemy to limit their attack options? Do you fall back and regroup? All of these and more are decisions you’ll be making in battle, which makes for a very engaging battle system.
    • There’s also an elemental “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style vulnerabilities system that is similar to the typing system used in Pokémon. This further adds to the strategic combat decisions you make in battle.
    • An enjoyable story and an engaging well-designed battle system make for quite a good presentation.

    The So-So:

    +/- The story is both it’s strength and it’s weakness. While the story is engaging, it’s also very drawn out and you’re frequently watching long scenes in which you do nothing but hit the A button to advance through pages upon pages of text. This can be pretty frustrating if you are itching to get to the action, or if you don’t particularly care about the conversation the characters are having at the time. This is especially noticeable at the very start of the game where you read a huge amount of dialogue before you even gain access to your character. While there is a fast-forward feature, it doesn’t actually skip the cut scenes, but rather speeds through them much more quickly. Doing this does help speed things up, but there’s no “rewind” feature so if you accidentally skip ahead too far, you can’t go back to read what you missed.

    The massive amounts of dialogue and the frequent lengthy cut-scenes often make this feel more like reading a book than playing a game; which can be a big put-off for a lot of people. Simply put, playing this game is going to involve reading a LOT of text.

    Lord of Magna3+/- There is a crafting system, and while it adds some interesting customization options by allowing you to create skills for the characters, there’s little else you can make other than skills. There is also very little in-game clues as to what you can craft. You can at least see what the item your chosen ingredients will create before you make it, but there are no recipe books or listings of what can be made. No clues or hints from other characters as to what you should make. Unless you look up a guide online, it’s entirely trial and error based. The game really needs a recipe list.

    +/- Sadly there’s no equipment to put on your characters. No new weapons, no new armor, no special accessories. Just skills, although some of the skills are passive skills that give you stat bonuses or special attributes, which is similar to what accessory-like items do in many other RPGs. But it still feels like a real missed opportunity to not include equip-able items in the game.

    +/- There are a number of free missions, which allow you to field a team into battle in a variety of settings that you’ll unlock as you go through the story. These missions have some interesting flavor text, but that’s all it ends up being. It’s nothing but a battle against enemies that serves as a grinding or item farming opportunity. The good thing is that these free battles allow you to immediately enter a battle without having to wade through a mountain of text, but it’s disappointing for the missions to be given such interesting descriptions only to have nothing special happen in any of them.

    The Bad:

    As was already mentioned, the lengthy cut scenes can be pretty jarring, which depending on your tastes can be a real negative. But perhaps the biggest negative is the complete lack of exploration this game allows.

    • Except for a camp-site that you get to very briefly walk around in, the Inn is the only area you get to explore. Every other area, the only interaction you get with the environment is through battle. No exploring the territory, no searching for treasure, no searching for hidden secrets, no chatting with NPCs in town. There is a town in this game, and your visits to it are entirely scripted. For an RPG title, this is a glaring flaw. Nothing is more frustrating than setting foot on these beautiful maps, and not being able to explore them.
    • 99% of the battles mandate that you have the main character in them, even in free battles. This unnecessarily restricts your party selection, and can be frustrating when you start getting more characters available and want to experiment with a variety of character combinations. In a game that is already quite linear with no exploration, the last thing you want is even more limitations.

    The Lowdown:

    This is almost a love it or hate it game. The story is an engaging tale full of mystery, drama, and suspense.

    Lord of Magna4There’s a fair amount of customization you can do with the character’s skills, and the combat system is magnificent but, the frequent extremely lengthy cut scenes, the lack of exploration, and the lack of equip-able items are pretty significant flaws that are quite noticeable and glaring during play.

    If you’re looking for an engaging tale full of lovable characters, I recommend this game wholeheartedly. But if you’re looking for action and adventure, or your traditional RPG experience, this game won’t satisfy you.

    That’s why my final rating for this game is a 7/10.

    Until Dawn Review

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

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

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

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

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

    Until Dawn1The Great:

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

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

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

    Until Dawn2The Good:

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

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

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

    Until Dawn4The Bad:

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

    Until Dawn5The Ugly:

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

    The Lowdown:      

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

    Final Score: 9.2/10

     

    God of War III Remastered Review

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

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

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

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

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

    GoW3_1The Great:

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

    GoW3_2The Good:

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

    GoW3_5The Bad:

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

    GoW3_3The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Batgirl1The Great:

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

    Batgirl5The Good:

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

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

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

    Batgirl2The So-So:

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

    Batgirl3The Bad:

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

    Batgirl4The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 5/10  

    Batman: Arkham Knight Review

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

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

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

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

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

    This is MY city!
    This is MY city!

    The Great:

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

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

    The Good:

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

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

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

    The Ugly:

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

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

    The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 9.8/10

    LittleBigPlanet 3 Review

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

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

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

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

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

    LBP3_4The Great:

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

    LBP3_1The Good:

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

    LBP3_2The Bad:

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

    The Ugly:

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

    LBP3_3The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 7/10

    The Order: 1886 Review

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

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

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

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

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

    The Order 1886_1The Great:

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

    The Order 1886_2The Good:

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

    The Order 1886_3The So-So:

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

    The Order 1886_4The Bad:

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

    The Ugly:

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

    The Order 1886_5The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 6/10

    Citizens of Earth Review

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

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

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

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

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

    COE1The Great:

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

    The Good:

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

    COE2The So-So:

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

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

    The Bad:

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

    COE3The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 6.5/10