Tag Archives: Xbox 360 Reviews

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

The Evil Within Review

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

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

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

Review Basis: Completed the campaign.

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

The Great:

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

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

The Good:

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

The So-So:

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

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

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

The Bad:

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

The Lowdown:

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

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

Alien: Isolation Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great:

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

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

The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The So-So:

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

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

The Bad:

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

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

The Lowdown:

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

Final Score: 9/10

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review

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

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

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

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

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

The Great:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good:

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

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

The So-So:

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

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

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

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

The Bad:

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

The Ugly:

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

The Lowdown:  

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

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

Destiny Review

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

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

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

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

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

D1The Great:

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

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

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

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

D2The Good:

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

D3The So-So:

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

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

D4The Bad:

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

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

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

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

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

  • D5The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 7.5/10

     

    Watch Dogs Review

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

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

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

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

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

    Watch Dogs1The Great:

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

    Watch Dogs2The Good:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Watch Dogs3The So-So:

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

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

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

    Watch Dogs4The Bad:

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

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

    Watch Dogs5The Lowdown:

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

    Final Score: 8/10

    R-Type Dimensions Review

    RT1R-Type Dimensions (Available on PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Shoot ‘em up
    Publisher: Tozai, IREM
    Developer: Southend Interactive
    Release Date: May 20th, 2014

    Parent Talk: R-Type Dimensions is rated E for everyone by the ESRB, and it’s a fitting rating. Neither R-Type nor R-Type II are overly violent by today’s standards. The games are entirely sprite-based, and colorful. There’s virtually nothing children should find frightening about an old arcade shmup, except for the difficulty.

    Plays Like: Both games in this compilation play as you’d expect from the legendary series. You pilot the infamous Arrowhead and try to take out and alien life form. You have control over a force pod which can be thrown out in front of the ship to offer extra protection or firepower. It can also be attached to the rear of the ship. There are a wide assortment of power-ups and weapons, and the famous charge-shot. There’s one thing everyone needs to know about ­R-Type, it remains one of the most difficult videogames ever created, usually only offering one way to complete each stage.

    Review Basis: Played through the Xbox Live Arcade version, and the PSN version.

    If you don’t know what R-Type is, chances are high you don’t play many shmups, or are simply not a fan of the genre. The series remains legendary because of its extreme hardcore difficulty, and has become synonymous with quality gameplay. This compilation is a testament to both of those facts. Originally being released on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2009, Southend Interactive has just released this bad boy on the PlayStation Network so let’s dig a little deeper and find out what makes R-Type Dimensions tick.

    RT1 The Great:

    This reworking of the first two R-Type games is an incredible value. For only $10 you get the two original arcade ports, plus a complete reworking of the two games. This includes an entirely new 3D overhaul and an entirely new audio soundtrack, based on the original tracks of course. To make things even more interesting you can switch back and forth from the originals to the remastered version whenever you want with a simple press of a button. There’s even a ‘slow mo’ button for when the action really heats up and you want to take a little breather. This makes the two legendary arcade games much more approachable to newcomers who would otherwise be put off by the immense difficulty.

    RT2The Good:

    + Accessibility is important, and Southend Interactive, the developer behind this compilation title realized that. Not only can you select to play through the original games in ‘Classic Mode’ with only a handful of lives and having to restart a level upon death, or a new mode which grants infinite lives and the ability to restart exactly where you perished from. If you actually want to complete both games, this is pretty much the only mode you’re likely going to succeed at doing that.

    + Core gameplay has aged perfectly. You have a charge shot, which is extremely powerful, but takes time to charge up, a wide assortment of power-ups such as missiles and different laser cannons and more. The biggest innovation upon its original release was the force pod. This orb-like pod can be attached to either the front or back of your ship, and can be shot out to attack enemies further away from your ship. It also acts as a very important shield.

    + Insanely high difficulty remains in check. The infinite lives mode is likely how most will play through the game, but if you really want a challenge, play through the Classic Mode. It forces you to figure out the one way through each of the levels, and believe me, it’ll take years of practice.

    + The very best way to experience R-Type is with a buddy, and thankfully online and offline modes are supported. If you really have a pair of brass balls, you can actually activate hit detection between the two ships. It makes an already impossible shmup that much harder.

    RT3The Bad:

    – The only negative comment I can say about Dimensions is that if you only play through the infinite lives mode you can play through both games in about 45 minutes. $10 for 45 might be asking for a lot.

    RT4The Lowdown:

    The awesome ability to switch between the original arcade versions and the redux versions are absolutely superb. I can’t tell you how often I found myself flipping back and forth. While I love shooters myself, this one is extremely challenging unless you play on the infinite lives mode, but then there’s no challenge at all. Whether you purchase this one on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network, it’s certainly a legendary shooter that’s worth checking out.

    Final Score: 8/10  

    Child of Light Review

    Child of Light ReviewChild of Light (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: RPG
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft
    Release Date: April 30th, 2014

    Parent Talk: Child of Light is a beautiful RPG that features fairytale-like fantasy violence as well as the use of tobacco and alcohol, but again, in a whimsical sense. The entire game is told through the eyes of a young girl, and the backdrop is a painting world come to life. There is very little damaging with this game, however I do recommend parents heed the warning of the ESRB because very young children might be scared by some of the darker elements in the game.

    Plays Like: Child of Light was designed from the ground up to be reminiscent of RPGs from the 16-bit console generation, however with modern sensibilities. That means there are no random encounters, but action is entirely turn-based. Everything is streamlined here from the basic inventory system, to the relatively simple battle system, however it all comes together in such a way that it proves there’s still a place for turn-based RPGs in today’s overly action RPG world.

    Review Basis: Finished the PS4 version of the game.

    If you’re looking for a beautiful game for any of the modern platforms from the PS3 to the Xbox One and Wii U, this is a game you should pay attention to. It features some of the liveliest settings I’ve seen in years, and the gameplay, while nostalgic, is extremely balanced and fun to play. It feels extremely rewarding when you time your attacks correctly and prevent a boss from attacking during the entire encounter.

    CoL1The Great:

    There are two distinct elements that really stand out in Child of Light, with the first being the incredible battle system. What makes it so unique is that it combines real-time elements and classic turn-based commands. At the bottom of the screen is an action bar which show icons for all the characters on the screen, typically two icons for the two heroes and three for the enemies. On the right side of the action bar is a red portion which is the command entry or cast build-up portion. The second your character’s icon hit the left portion of the red section you’re given your turn to enter your command. From there your character will prepare to attack, only doing so when their icon reaches the very end of the meter. The twist is that should you be attacked before your character gets their attack off, it acts as an interrupt and your icon gets blasted back to the left, therefore causing you to essentially lose a turn. What’s so great about this is that you can do the same to enemies as well, and even bosses. This adds an incredible amount of strategy to a deceivingly simple looking combat system.

    Things get even more interesting when you include Igniculus, who is controlled with the right analog stick of a real-life coop partner. Igniculus can fly around the screen healing allies, or slowing down enemies, on top of picking up health and mana orbs from the environment. If that sounds like a lot to manage, keep in mind that this doesn’t even include the fact that you’ll be switching your party members almost every other turn later on in the game because each has unique abilities catered to a specific type of enemy.

    The other fantastic element are the beautiful graphics. Imagine a hand painted piece of art come to life, and that’s what you get here. Child of Light was deeply inspired by Studio Ghibli and the spectacular art of Yoshitaka Amano. From the backdrops, to the enemy and level design, everything has been meticulously pieced together in such a way that you always feel like you’re playing within a child’s fairytale book and it’s wonderful. Each new area you explore looks dramatically different than the last, and yet they all fit together perfectly. It’s hard to describe in words just how incredible this game looks, and the feeling it will give you as you first step foot in the magically world of Lemuria.

    CoL2The Good:

    + The story is quite unexpected as it features a young girl named Aurora trying to save her father, and not the other way around. Each new cast member you meet strikes off on their own, instead of following archaic archetypes from RPGs of old. As such you automatically feel connected to these characters as they all feel important and unique.

    + Incredible sense of style from not only the lush visual presentation, but also the way in which the dialogue has a deeply Shakespearian feel to it. This further enhances the game’s unique feel.

    + The soundtrack feels much like the visuals, organic. The melodies are bold when you’re in combat, and surreal when you’re running by a waterfall. I haven’t played a game where the soundtrack complemented the visuals like this in a very long time.

    + The simple inventory system allows you to easily get the most out of potions and special gems, which you can augment to your weapon, defense, and overall stats. These gems can even be combined through a very basic alchemy system. If you attach a blue gem to your weapon you’ll gain a water attack bonus on all enemies you attack through melee, and if you attach said gem to your defense you’ll gain a certain percentage of water elemental resistance. For the stat bonuses, they can range from increasing your HP and mana, to grant you a limit-break type attack and so much more.

    + Upon leveling up players can unlock one new skill in the level-up tree. Later on it will take two levels to unlock the most powerful abilities. What’s nice is that you always have at least three different directions you can select from on the tree. Typically one area will be most focused on magic attacks, one for melee attacks, and one for overall bonuses, but each character has a unique tree, and often there are skills from all three sets located within each branch. Another bonus is that your entire party gains experience even if they’re not in combat.

    + Igniculus isn’t just useful in battle situations, but also helps Aurora solve puzzles. He can light the way to secret caves, or helps her activate switches she otherwise would never be able to reach. In the end he feels like a true companion.

    + One of the biggest problems people have when they have a family, or begin their working career is a real lack of time to devote to playing videogames. Thankfully Child of Light is around 12 hours long, which is absolutely perfect because even if you can only devote 30 minutes a day, you’ll always feel like you’re making progress and before long you’ll see the end credits.

    CoL3The Lowdown:

    Child of Light is one of the year’s freshest and best RPGs. Don’t let it’s download-only moniker fool you, this is an incredible journey that’s well worth taking. The combat is balanced and extremely deep for appearing so simple. The graphics and soundtrack are absolutely fantastic, and the story is deeply personal. I don’t know what else I can say except, go give this one a download right away. It comes extremely highly recommended.

    Final Score: 9.8/10  

    Strider Review

    StriderStrider (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: E10+
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Capcom
    Developer: Double Helix Games & Capcom Osaka Studio
    Release Date: February 18th, 2014
    Price: $14.99

    Parent Talk: The ESRB Rates Strider E10+, for all those over ten years old. The content warning is for mild language and blood, and fantasy violence. The violence is much like the 1989 arcade game, fast and frantic, without being realistic. While players are cutting down everything in their way, there is very little in the way of blood. I’d say that almost anyone could play this game given the mild tone.

    Plays Like: Players take on the role of Strider Hiryu, a ninja assassin like no other. With his Cypher (wicked looking sword), he chops down absolutely everything in his path. Unlike the previous games in the series, which were primarily level-based, this new reimagining plays like a Metroidvania game, where new items unlock previously inaccessible areas. Thankfully the action remains completely 2D so longtime fans of the series should have a lot to look forward to here.

    Review Basis: I played through the PlayStation 4 version of the game, and had a real blast doing so.

    GRIN, the developer behind Bionic Commando Rearmed, was set to make a Strider reboot in 2009, but when the company went bankrupt those plans were obviously scrapped. What we didn’t know was that Capcom was very serious about remaking Strider, so much so that they hooked up with Double Helix Games, the developer of the excellent Killer Instinct remakefor the Xbox One. What’s interesting is that Double Helix has gone on record as saying they were heavily inspired by Shadow Complex, which is a fantastic game to take inspiration from. So how has this reboot turned out? Is it worth the $15 asking price?

    Strider1The Great:

    Above all else what I enjoyed most about Strider was the fact that it’s always fun to play. Did you enjoy the 2D Metroid series? Did you love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or the other Metroidvania Castlevania games? Were you a fan of Shadow Complex and Guacamelee? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you will absolutely adore Strider. By infusing rich and classic arcade action with Metroidvania-style gameplay, Strider has reached new levels of awesome. Not only do you get more powerful by finding new Cypher enhancements, but if you explore enough you can also find energy tanks, which allow you to use your option attacks more frequently. There are also rejuvenation and health tanks to find as well. Eventually Strider will be the ultimate bad ass, able to reflect enemy projectiles, call forth three option attacks (panther, droid, and hawk), and scale even the largest obstacle.

    Strider2The Good:

    + Superb controls. At no point does Strider ever feel loose, which is important as he scales the side of a building or comes sliding through an open grate. He’s always responsive, and pulling off a dazzling array of special attacks is only a few button presses away.

    + The Cypher can now be upgraded. As you progress Strider will learn the ability to freeze his enemies, repel incoming projectiles and so much more. What I thoroughly enjoyed was that Strider’s famous scarf, or in this version his plasma trail, will turn a different color based on which Cypher you have equipped. It’s a nice touch.

    + Color system works great for both combat. Certain enemies will have yellow, red, or purples shields, which tells you which Cypher you need to switch to in order to take them down. Certain enemies are only weak to one Cypher, and switching back and forth is done by a simply tap of the d-pad.

    + Classic Metroid-inspiredmap system. The map is extremely detailed, allowing you to see where upgrades are located, which Cypher is required to open colored doors, etc.

    + Unlockable extra modes are a blast to play through. These might include racing through certain areas as quickly as possible, or sometimes something a little more violent.

    + The perfect download title. Weighing in at around six hours or so, give or take based on how much you explore, Strider is a wonderful reimagining of an arcade classic.

    + Excellent graphics. The game may take place in one giant environment, but the characters, animation, and level of detail is excellent for a digital-only release. Strider himself looks fantastic, and while I would have liked to have seen a little more color, I like how Strider and the bosses contrast so well with the backgrounds.

    + The soundtrack and sound effects are also very impressive. The music can be rip-roaring when the action cranks up, and the Cypher sounds as powerful as it should as you swing it around in front of you. The voice acting is fairly decent, although a few characters are a little cringe-worthy.

    Strider3The So-So:

    +/- There are some repeated level design elements that can make exploration a little off-putting because you might think you’re in one area, when you’re actually somewhere completely different. A little more variety in the environments would have been appreciated.

    Strider4The Lowdown:

    If you’ve got $15 and are looking for a great way to spend some time over the weekend, look no further than Strider. It’s an excellent reboot which should appeal to longtime fans and newcomers alike. The nice mix between action and exploration feels like a natural fit for the series, and I can only hope this is only the beginning of a brand new series of Strider games. Go download this one right now!

    Final Score: 8.8/10

    Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review

    MGSVMetal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Konami
    Developer: Kojima Productions
    Release Date: March 18th, 2014

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates MGSV: Ground Zeroes M for mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, sexual violence, and strong language.  Like all previous entries in the series, you sneak around taking out unsuspecting enemies by shooting them, breaking their necks, or by non-lethal methods such as putting them to sleep with a tranquilizer.  There are some very mature themed cut-scenes though, one of which will leave you reeling.  If you’re squeamish you might to play something else.

    Plays Like: If you’ve experienced Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, or any of the older Metal Gear Solid games you should have a very good idea of what to expect here.  The difference is that the world itself is open.  The campaign takes place within a large military compound, but there are no limits to how you can achieve your mission objectives.  The series has dabbled with ideas of non-linear progression, but never to this extent, and because of that this truly feels like a next-gen Metal Gear.

    Review Basis: I played through the PlayStation 4 version of the game and completed the campaign in forty-two minutes.  I then proceeded to polish off the unlockable side missions, in a very short amount of time.

    When I first turned the game on, I was immediately shocked by just how beautiful everything looked.  It was just incredible.  The new gameplay features were also exciting to learn and put into action.  Problem is, something was off with the rest of the game.  Where was David Hayter, and why was the game over within an hour?!?  These issues left much more of a sting than I thought they would.  While it’s true there is a lot of replay value in the unlockable side missions, I still find Ground Zeroes feels much more like an E3 demo than a full-fledged game you should be paying $30 or more for.

    MGSV1The Great:

    A true next-gen Metal Gear Solid.  Almost everyone reading this has likely played a Metal Gear game before.  If you’ve played Peace Walker you’ll get more out of Ground Zeroes than those who haven’t as the story fills in the gap between Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain, which will be released within the next two years if all goes well.  Gameplay improvements include a new stealth system that completely removes the HUD map.  Now you have to use your binoculars in order to locate enemies, tag them, and follow them on your map.  The catch is you have to bring up your map in real-time, meaning there’s always a sense of urgency because you can be spotted at any time.

    As you’re sneaking by, enemy field-of-vision is represented by a circular white light which gains intensity the closer you get to an enemy.  Should you be spotted, Snake enters a reflex state where you have a few seconds to react.  Usually you have enough time to shoot off a round or two, so make sure your aim is steady for that all important head shot.  Failure to eliminate the treat will result in the entire base actively looking for Snake.  You can do what you’ve always done, stick to the shadows and wait for things to calm down, or you can stay your ground and kill everything that dares come close to you.  It’s important to pay attention to the radio chatter during these scenes as you can piece together when reinforcements will arrive.  It’s a great new system that really helps immerse players in this brand new world.

    The open world nature also dramatically changes the gameplay.  There are jeeps you can ride, watch towers you can shoot down with an RPG, and naturally you can mix and match how you want to tackle each mission objective.  This freedom greatly changes how you approach enemy encounters, reach destinations, explore, and having fun.

    MGSV2The Good:

    + The side missions, including one exclusive side mission per console, give Ground Zeroes plenty of replay value.  The side missions vary from being more action orientated to more stealth based.  They all take place within the same environment, however typically during different times of the day.  Where the main campaign takes place during the night and with heavy rain, one of the other missions might take place during the day.  Regardless of what your mission objective is, these side missions only last for a very short period of time.

    + Ranks will keep you coming back for more, and trophies/achievements don’t hurt either.  While there’s no denying the game’s content is ultra-thin, the fact you can unlock new starter weapons by performing better during the missions make Ground Zeroes a game you’ll want to keep coming back to.

    + Graphically this is one of the most stunning videogames released on next-gen consoles as of writing this review.  The Fox Engine is clearly up to the task of delivering impressive visuals at a constant 60 frames-per-second.  The Xbox One version looks almost exactly the same as the PS4 version although it’s slightly less sharp.

    MGSV3The So-So:

    +/- The narrative is a bit of a hit and miss.  While it’s great finding out more about this awesome universe, it seems Kojima-san tried to push the boundaries just for the sake of doing so.  There are hints that one of the female characters was either raped or had some other form of sexual violence performed to her, and yet this is a game where one of the main antagonists is named Skull Face.  Often I found the very serious moments didn’t jive well with the absurd nature of the very world in which the tale is being told.

    The Bad:

    – Say what you will about Kiefer Sutherland, but he’s no David Hayter, and longtime fans will immediately notice that Snake no longer feels the same.  Sutherland does a good job with the dialogue, but I can’t lie to all of you, when Snake first started moving around and taking I didn’t realize who was talking.  I had completely forgotten that Kiefer had replaced David Hayter.  There is absolutely no reason for this change, and I’ve got to say it is really disappointing and makes Snake feel souless.

    MGSV4The Ugly:

    30 to 40  dollars for this game is asking way too much.  I know there is a lot of replay value, but let’s face facts here, Zone of the Enders contained a multi-hour demo for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on the PlayStation 2, and that was included for free with the purchase of ZOE.  I don’t know why Konami didn’t do something similar here, perhaps pairing this with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.  My fear is that when The Phantom Pain is released people who purchased Ground Zeroes will simply brush it off thinking it’s just another demo, when in fact it’s a full-fledged release.

    MGSV5The Lowdown:

    Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is an incredible promise of what’s to come.  The problem I have with it is that it’s just too short for the asking price.  Downloadable games costing $10 are longer and have more content.  If you can overlook that, and David Hayter’s voice being a no-show, than yes there’s are a lot of really great aspects to Ground Zeroes.  The action is fantastic, the new gameplay systems are awesome, and the visuals are mind blowing.  The real question is, can you overlook the inflated asking price for quality gameplay and an extremely short experience?  I couldn’t.

    Final Score: 6.5/10

    South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

    SPSouth Park: The Stick of Truth (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1
    Genre: RPG
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
    Release Date: March 4th, 2013

    Parent Talk: The ESRB has rated South Park: The Stick of Truth M for mature because of…do you really need to know the rest?  South Park is extremely vulgar, with countless swear words, tons of nudity, and everything else mature-themed you can think of.  Under no circumstances should children be allowed anywhere near this game.  It’s really that simple.

    Plays Like: Imagine Paper Mario for light-RPG gameplay, mixed with shades of Knights of the Old Republic II when it comes to weapon and armor upgrades.  The story is wickedly delightful, and the humor is often offensive, but hilarious.

    Review Basis: I played through the PC version of the game.  I finished it, and will return one day, as the legends have foretold.

    Could South Park: The Stick of Truth be a near perfect game?  Is it possible that it could make me laugh non-stop for hours on end?  The answer to both of those questions is yes, South Park: The Stick of Truth is one of the very best videogames of the generation, and hands down the best licensed game ever made.  I knew this looked good when I first saw it at E3, but having completed the game, I never imagined it would be this incredible.

    The Testicular:

    Having the balls to do what no one else has done before.  The show has always pushed new ground in satire, and now Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done the same for videogames.  You have never played a videogame like this before, I guarantee it.

    SP2The Great:

    Over the years there have been a few licensed games that have been spectacular and genre-defining like GoldenEye 007, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and ET the Extraterrestrial for the Atari 2600…ok maybe not that last one, but there sure have been some awesome licensed games.  More often than not though these types of games are quick cash-ins that completely suck, or are extremely disappointing.  South Park: The Stick of Truth is absolutely, 110% the absolute best licensed game I have ever played in my life.  It not only uses the property in smart and unique ways, but it actually feels like you’re playing through a mini-series devoted to South Park.  I’m not joking either, I haven’t watched a South Park episode in years, and yet I couldn’t help but laugh at all the dick jokes, or be amazed by just how wonderfully intelligent this piece of satire is.  If you have any doubts about this game or its quality, you can rest assure you have nothing to fear here.  The Stick of Truth is brilliant!

    It’s not just the fact that the property has been used so well, it’s the core concept itself that is fantastic.  What’s more normal than a group of children trying to save the universe from their very own backyard?  I used to do this all the time with my brother.  So in essence you have a videogame wrapped around an imaginary setting created by a group of foul-mouthed children.  It couldn’t be more perfect.

    SP1The Good:

    + The story and satire are pure South Park.  Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the show, or haven’t watched it in years, you’ll come to appreciate almost everything this game has to offer.  The story is epic, ridiculous, and awesome all at the same time.  Sure the dick jokes can get old if that’s not your thing, but in the end you’ll actually care for these characters even if you aren’t a fan of the universe.

    + Great gameplay.  The battle system is easy to understand and works much like the Paper Mario series.  When you see enemies on the street, you can flick them with your sword which will draw you into a turn-based encounter.  From there a very simple radial command system allows you to attack, use magic, perform summoning spells, and more.  Real-time elements have been added in order to make the action feel more interactive.  All the key moves you can perform from attacking to using special magical attacks will require you to press certain buttons at key moments in order to boost your attacks, or prevent severe damage from incoming attacks.  It works so much better than I thought it would, and while it does take some getting used to for the timing, once you get the hang of it, battles almost always feel fresh.

    + There’s also a great enhancement system in place, which works much like KOTOR II.   Weapons and armor both have sockets, which you can fill with special offensive and defensive bonuses.  These include being able to gain a 10% HP bonus on a pair of gloves you happen to have equipped, or a fire damage bonus on that shiny new sword you just got.  Being able to easily mix and match enhancements is great because you always feel like trying something new.

    + Some of the most epic boss battles you’ll ever face.  I wish I could go into detail about just how epic these battles are, or who you’ll face, but doing so would ruin the game for a lot of people.  Instead I’ll just say that it’s often not just the characters you face off against, but the setting.  There’s one battle in particular that had me in stiches because not only did I have to contend with a mighty foe, but also the incredible power of one man’s…well…you’ll see when you play the game.

    + While you explore the ‘overworld’ you can actually defeat enemies without ever engaging in battle because of magic farting abilities you learn.  Yes, that’s right, you learn to control the mystical power of the fart.  If you happen to see enemies near a candle, you can unleash a powerful fart which will ignite and kill all those enemies around the candle.  Using your environment in effective ways because a great way to avoid fights, and a clever way to reaching areas you didn’t even realize you could get to.

    + There are four classes available, Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Jew.  How many other games would actually have the balls to do something like that?  Anyways, while the classes each have their own unique abilities, none of them use different weapons.  This was done to stream-line the experience in my opinion because the whole concept here was to keep things simple, and imaginative, and by having the classes similar to one-another, they allow for players to get sucked up in the world, and not have to worry about equipping the wrong type of armor or weapon.

    + Quick party system allows you to take one, and only one, active party member with you at any point in time.  Why this is good is because you have the ability to easily swap any member from your roster of teammates.  You don’t need to worry about leveling them up, or equipping them with armor or weapons.  You just pick the one you like the most and go to town.  Each will have their own abilities and skills, which makes certain characters better against certain types of enemies.

    + South Park: The Stick of Truth may just be one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen.  You really have to sit back and take it all in to realize just how impressive the game is.  It looks exactly like the cartoon, and I mean exactly.  The entire town has been officially mapped out, so it’s awesome just going into all the different homes and exploring every single inch of South Park.  I could go on and on, but honestly this is a true gem and playing the PC version means I didn’t notice a single dip in framerate.

    + All your favorite characters are here, with their authentic voices.  The music is all based on the show, as are the sound effect.  It’s brilliant and a fan’s wet dream.  Some of the classic songs from the series’ past are also featured, and put to very good use.

    SP3The Lowdown:

    So long as you’re not easily offended, this is a game you have to play.  It’s currently the best game I’ve played in 2014, and one of the very best games released in the PS3/360 generation.  It’s intelligent, humorous, and often outrageous and it is without a doubt the funniest game I’ve ever played.  Never have I laughed out loud as often or frequently as I have here.  Obsidian you’ve created a game for our time, and you should be extremely proud.  Don’t let the source material fool you, this is a brilliant effort and the best licensed videogame of all time.

    Final Score: 10/10

    SoulCalibur II HD Online Review

    SCIIHDOSoulCalibur II HD Online (Available on PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 2
    Genre: Fighting
    Publisher: Namco Bandai
    Developer: Project Soul
    Release Date: November 19th, 2013

    Parent Talk: SoulCalibur II HD Online is rated T for teen because of violence, suggestive themes, and mild language.  One look at Taki and you’ll understand why the game’s rated T.  She’s wearing a skin tight spandex outfit with no bra.  Yup, 13-year old men made this game.  Seriously though, it’s rated T because of some of the skimpy outfits, and also because it’s a weapon-based fighter, but there’s no blood or anything like that.

    Plays Like: This complex weapon-based fighter is the follow-up to the Dreamcast launch title, SoulCalibur.  Prior to this naming convention the series was known as Soul Edge, and wasn’t anywhere near as popular.  The game features a killer single-player story mode, as well as the usual assortment of arcade and versus modes.  New to this HD remastered version is a competitive online multiplayer mode, but the game retains the same excellent gameplay from the 2003 version.

    Review Basis: Namco Bandai sent us a PSN review code, and having played the living hell out of this game upon its initial release in 2003, I simply went through the motions of testing the single player portion, and then headed online and proceeded to get my butt handed to me several times over.

    While only a handful of people actually remember Soul Edge, which was released on the original PlayStation way back in 1997, everyone remembers the 1999 follow-up, SoulCalibur, as it was the most polished fighter of all time, upon its release.  It was the first time a home console port actually exceeded the arcade original.  It also happened to be a fantastic fighting game that was extremely well balanced…well except for Kilik with his far reach, but that’s beside the point.  Everyone loved SoulCalibur and it singlehandedly pushed this franchise into the mainstream, so naturally a sequel was inevitable.  When said sequel was finally released in 2003 it featured the same refined gameplay from the original, with an expanded roster, and a sweet little extra.  Each console version, one on the PS2, the original Xbox, and GameCube each had one exclusive character.  Remember this was during a time before DLC, so these characters remained exclusive for the duration of the console’s lifespan.  Everyone I knew picked up the GameCube version because of Link’s inclusion, but naturally he’s not in this version of the game as a Wii U port wasn’t made.  Instead both Spawn (Xbox version) and Heihachi Mishima (PS2 version) join the roster regardless of which version you pick up.  While they’re nice additions, they’re not Link.  That said, how has the rest of the remaster turned out, and has the core gameplay aged well or is this one better off left in the past?

    SCIIHDO1The Great:

    An all-around fantastic remaster.  Textures are crisper than ever before, character models look extremely detailed, and to be perfectly honest, if it weren’t for hair physics being improved so much during the PS3/360 era I’m sure a lot of people would have assumed the game was made for those consoles.  That’s how much care and attention went into this port.  Level design and overall graphic quality has always been one of the strong points of the series, and it’s amazing how well the overall look of the game holds up some ten years after its original release.  It’s pretty damn impressive, and when you see it in motion it makes you wonder why more companies don’t invest in HD remakes like this.  The audio is equally impressive as the soundtrack and audio effects have all been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sound wonderful.

    SCIIHDO2The Good:

    + All the superb gameplay modes you remember from the original make their way back.  Arcade, versus, training, team battle, time attack, and the phenomenal Weapon Master mode all return.  Weapon Master Mode is where you spend the majority of your time in single player and features what would equate to a deep story mode in a modern fighter.  You select your character and tackle various objective-based missions.  Sometimes it’s beat three characters, sometimes it’s complete a round without blocking, and so on.  As you progress you earn points which can then be used to unlock a wide assortment of goodies from additional characters and weapons to costume colors.

    + Gameplay remains as tight as ever.  Not much else to say about it.

    + Great touch adding Spawn and Heihachi to the mix, but it would have been great to see Link make an appearance.  Obviously that was never going to happen, and no one should have expected it, but it would have made a killer Wii U exclusive had they made a version of the game for that platform.

    SCIIHDO3The So-So:

    +/- I appreciate the inclusion of an online mode for die-hard fighting fans, but it’s about as barebones as you can imagine.  Featuring only a Ranked and Player match mode, there’s really not much to see.  Player match is far too basic to be useful, as if you create a private match, or even a public one, as soon as the fight is over with you are kicked out and placed back on the menu screen.  You can’t create a fight list and slowly work your way through it facing multiple friends, one after another.  There’s also no spectator mode allowing you to watch other fights.  As I said, it’s extremely basic, but at least there’s a way to play online.

    +/- Speaking of online play, fighters live and die based on their net code and it’s kind of lukewarm in SC II HD Online.  All the online matches I played featured input lag, making parrying impossible, and blocking a real pain.  If you’re a casual fan the input lag won’t likely be bothersome, but to the hardcore it could be a deal-breaker.

    SCIIHDO4The Lowdown:

    SoulCalibur II HD Online is a fantastic game for those who loved the original, or are just looking into getting into the series.  While I wish the online mode was improved, the core gameplay and overall package remains highly impressive.  If you’re into fighting games, this is certainly one to check out for $20.

    Final Score: 8/10 

    Batman: Arkham Origins Review

    Batman Arkham OriginsBatman: Arkham Origins (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360)
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
    Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal
    Release Date: October 25th, 2013

    Review Basis: Warner Bros. Interactive sent us a review copy for the Xbox 360. I completed the game on the normal difficulty setting.

    Arkham Asylum is one of my favorite games of all time. It came out in 2009, and was my personal Game of the Year. Remember, Uncharted 2 and Assassin’s Creed were also released that year among others, which made 2009 a phenomenal year for gamers everywhere. That said, when Arkham Origins was announced, I didn’t necessarily feel overjoyed with the news. I always thought that prequels were a bad idea and forced. Usually, a prequel comes around when companies run out of ideas and want to keep selling copies of a successful franchise. After having completed Origins, I can safely say that those worries were put to rest. While it’s true that Arkham Origins doesn’t offer anything new for veterans of the Arkham series, it’s still a worthy addition and one that should be experienced, especially if you’ve yet to play any of the other games in the series.

    The Great:

    Have you ever read books like Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, or The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb? What about The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, the famed writer responsible for Watchmen? If you have, you know that Batman is one of the most interesting comic book personalities out there. The reason for that is simple, he has the greatest gallery of villains. No other comic book character comes close. WB Montreal did a fantastic job using all those awesome villains. The relationship between Batman and The Joker always fascinates me and they play on that very well. Here, Batman and Joker have not met yet. What happens when they do is brilliant. I absolutely adore their take on both characters. The Penguin is another foe handled extremely well, and even obscure characters like Deadshot are handled perfectly. For fans of the Dark Knight, Arkham Origins is worth every penny for its storyline alone. You can also put your fears to rest, Troy Baker is perfect as The Joker. At first, you won’t even realize that Mark Hamill didn’t reprise his role.

    Batman Arkham Origins1The Good:

    + Predator missions are back and as fun as ever. These instances are the closest you’ll ever come to feeling like “The Bat”. The best parts of Arkham Origins is when the game encourages you to be stealthy and use Batman’s wide assortment of gadgets.

    + Excellent free-flow combat is back. Two new enemy types added as well, the martial artist counters your attacks while the venom addicts pack quite a punch.

    + New detective situations show a more forgotten side of Batman. He’s a detective at heart, and solving crime scenes is both exciting and visually stimulating. Only downside is that they don’t pose any actual challenge. It would have been fun to use some thinking to try to solve these crimes, instead of just scanning what’s already highlighted on the screen.

    + Lots and lots of content for those looking to invest many hours into the game. There are side-quests everywhere right from the beginning. These usually involve villains you won’t see in the main plot. Doing them adds some nice plot elements too. One in particular involves the Mad Hatter and is a blast to play through.

    + Fantastic experience points system where you can buy and upgrade equipment. It rewards you for playing well.

    + New Game Plus lets you restart a new game with all your previous equipment and exp. It’s a good excuse to replay the adventure and adds even more replay value to the package.

    Batman Arkham Origins2The So-So:

    +/- I would have loved to try the multiplayer, however, I just cannot for the life of me join a match online. The game is barely a week old and already no one is online. If you’re plans were largely centered towards multiplayer, you might want to reconsider getting Arkham Origins as chances are, the online servers will be killed quickly for lack of activity.

    The Bad:

    – Open world concept means there’s lots of tedious traveling in order to reach new areas or return to previous ones. You can unlock quick travel spots, but to do so there’s some lengthy fetch-quests you’ll need to complete first.

    – The grapple hook doesn’t work as good as it did in Arkham City. This makes those long sections where you need to go from point A to point B even more tedious than they already were. Sometimes, the option of grappling to a ledge will appear at the very last moment.

    – Gotham City doesn’t feel alive. It’s Christmas Eve, yet the only people on the streets are thugs and cops. It might be justified towards the end, but this city feels strangely familiar to Arkham City.

    – If you’ve played the Arkham series, Origins offers nothing new. The wow factor of encountering your first predator scenario in Asylum is lost here, as you’ve already experienced it in the two previous entries. Let’s hope they take a break and focus on a new character. There’s this certain “Superman” character you might have heard of who more than deserves a good videogame.

    Batman Arkham Origins4The Lowdown:

    The feeling of freshness from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City isn’t found in Arkham Origins. Because of that, it’s a bit harder to recommend this one. Still, everything that made the first two Arkham games excellent is still here, the magic, the refinement, and the polish. It might not win any awards for originality, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be played. Heck if you, for some reason, haven’t experienced this series before then run out to your local game store and purchase Origins right away. For veterans of the series though, you might be a bit disappointed with the repetitive nature of Origins. For me, being a huge Batman fan was enough and the storyline more than warrants a play-through. Batman: Arkham Origins will not be in any Game of the Year discussion, but is still a very worthwhile addition to an already brilliant series.

    Final Score: 8.0/10

    Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

    AssIVAssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
    ESRB Rating: M
    Number of Players: 1 to 8
    Genre: Action
    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
    PS3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 Release Date: October 29th, 2013
    PS4 Release Date: November 15th, 2013
    PC Release Date: November 19th, 2013
    Xbox One Release Date: November 21st, 2013

    Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Assassin’s Creed IV M for mature because of blood, sexual themes, strong language, the use of alcohol, and violence. You play as a pirate who also happens to be the latest assassin, taking out key targets, and causing all sorts of mischief. While the game isn’t over the top in terms of gore, you cut people’s throats, stab them with various sharp objects, and blow them out of the water. Even though the blood is kept to a minimum, I wouldn’t suggest parents let their children play a game like this simply because of the realistic violence.

    Plays Like: Since Assassin’s Creed has become a yearly iterated series, the changes from one game to the next are typically minimal. Players can expect an vast open world, where they can pick and choose the missions they want to tackle, a la Grand Theft Auto. This particular entry takes place on the open seas, so there are lots of epic sea-battles, tons of islands to explore, and a much greater sense of freedom than ever before. If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous entries, you’ll find lots of fun to be had here. If you were never into the series before, or never tried it, this is a very good place to start as it feels as though it is the most streamlined game in the series yet.

    Review Basis: Ubisoft sent us the PlayStation 3 version to review. I completed the single player game and tried my hand at the multiplayer portions. Players can expect a 25 hour or longer experience.

    Assassin’s Creed has become one of Ubisoft’s most popular franchises. The series has continually tried to introduce new elements to keep the core gameplay from getting stale, and even though I believe the release schedule should be slowed down a bit, this has to be one of my favorite entries in the series because I’m a sucker for anything pirate related.

    AssIV_2The Great:

    Sailing the open seas is an amazing feeling. While it’s great being able to run around an island picking up- missions, side-quests and other things to do, nothing comes close to the feeling of taking command of your own ship and setting sail. The entire game world feels alive because just over the horizon there might be another small island waiting for you to plunder it. This sense of freedom is only magnified when you realize just how large the game world actually is.

    AssIV_1The Good:

    + The story feels much lighter heated than its predecessors. Players take on the role of Edward Kenway, a pirate who’s main goal is to make as much money as possible so he can return to England a more respectable man. He’s not in this because of some secret order, and thanks to a weird twist of fate, his destiny is thrust upon him. I enjoyed how the tale was easier to digest and didn’t take itself nearly as seriously as other entries in the series have.

    + The first-person real world side of the story is also very entertaining, albeit completely optional. As a new employee of Abstergo you’re charged with creating a new entertainment product based around Edward’s life, but if you investigate the company enough it’s pretty awesome what you can find out about the future of the series. The nice play on Ubisoft Montreal wasn’t lost on me either, and I found it rather humorous as I’ve been there several times.

    + While gameplay is broken up into your typical exploration, missions, etc. What’s unique here is that you can harvest resources in order to increase not only Edward’s abilities (such as giving him another gun holster), but also your ship. You can also find supplies just lying around hidden islands, and so much more. These little offshoots offer a nice break from the norm, and further your incentive to explore.

    + Sea exploration and battle is incredibly fun, and it’s one of the key reasons why you’ll want to continuously update the Jackdaw. There’s more to it though. Do you attack a frigate and dismantle it for parts, or do you send it off on missions to increase your wealth? The choices you make here actually feel as though they have some meaning.

    + The multiplayer remains fun and engaging because of the cat and mouse style. Try to convince other players you’re nothing more than an NPC, then pop out and shock them. This style almost never gets old, although personally I found the main draw was clearly the single player campaign.

    + While I’ve only played the current-gen build thus far, I can easily tell you this is one of the nicest looking games released this year. Featuring stellar animation, fantastic draw distances and beautiful environments, Black Flag is a joy to the senses.

    + The audio package is equally impressive. From solid voice acting, to an impressive soundtrack and great sound effects, Black Flag delivers the goods. When you’re sailing the ocean, it’s great to hear the wind realistically rushing through your surround speakers.

    AssIV_3The So-So:

    +/- Some of the missions are great, but there are far too many follow missions, which bring down the action tremendously. Often you have to follow your target for over ten minutes before you can go in for the kill, or maybe not even. Sometime your mission is simply to eaves-drop on the conversation and move on. These missions feel like they drag on and on for ages.

    The Bad:

    – With games this massive it’s understandable that there would be a few hiccups. One such annoyance is with the way Edward scales obstacles that I never wanted to interact with. If you enjoying running as often as I do, it’s common to have Edward run forward, and jump up to a ledge that I never intended to. There are also issues with key targets disappearing for some unknown reason. Moments like these often either caused my death, or led me to restarting the mission.

    AssIV_4The Lowdown:

    Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag manages to give players an open world to explore in such a way that’s never really been done before, at least in terms of how it truly feels like you’re free to sail the open sea. While I may have only played the PS3 version right now, I’ve got the PS4 version on stand-by and am really curious to see how the visual improvements will draw me into the game even more so than this version. For now if you’re looking for an excellent action adventure game where you feel like anything is possible, Black Flag delivers the goods.

    Final Score: 8.8/10

    Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 Review

    PES 14Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360)
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 to 4
    Genre: Sports
    Publisher: Konami
    Developer: PES Productions
    Release Date: September 24th, 2013

    Although I know next to nothing of the sport, I’ve enjoyed soccer games tremendously over the years. The last I played was FIFA 11, a game which was simply amazing. My experience with PES begins and ends with PES ’11 and PES ’12 on the Nintendo 3DS. I found those titles to be solid offerings, especially considering the technical limitations of the handheld. If you’re interested, you can read my PES ’12 review right here. Sadly, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 for the PlayStation 3 is nothing like that. Konami opted to build the game around a brand new engine, and while the game has never looked better, the gameplay took a major hit.

    The Great:

    The tutorial mode teaches you everything you need to know in order to enjoy PES 2014. I always wanted something like this because soccer games require a lot of of strategy. There are so many different options and moves you can execute that you wouldn’t know about unless you’re an expert of the genre. The tutorial starts you off with simple enough commands like passing, but slowly eases you into far more advanced techniques like dribbling. The tutorial not only teaches noobs like me more about the game mechanics, but soccer as a whole.

    PES14_1The Good:

    + The new emotion system puts you right into the game. Players have never felt so alive, and depending on what happens in the game they’ll display anger, joy and everything in between.

    + Online matches are quick and lag-free. I was actually able to win my first bout thanks to the superb matchmaking system. This is something that just wasn’t possible before as I would always be paired with pros.

    + Visually exciting. Matches can be thrilling to watch and take part in thanks to all the little subtle improvements. From the highly detailed stadiums to the player animations and intricate detail in the turf, it’s simply looks brilliant. Fans in the stadium also show great emotion whenever you perform a smart move, or score a tie-breaking goal close to the end of a game. The audio is also impressive, although the commentators could have used more dialogue.

    + Love the defensive system. You can pressure the ball carrier, execute different tackles, or simply force the player to move to a desired location. It’s easy enough for newcomers to use, and a real asset veterans will want to master.

    PES14_3The Bad:

    – Broken gameplay. Passes are often imprecise, and throws typically go out-of-bounds simply because the game opted to pass the ball to an invisible player. Having control of the ball is the single most important factor in soccer, and sadly you rarely feel as though you have control.

    – The AI is terrible. It seems like your teammates feet are planted in cement. They don’t move nearly as often as they should, which makes it hard to set plays. Passing the ball to an open space where a player will be is called a through pass. Using this is the most frequent way of creating a scoring opportunity. Your colleagues want you to do all the work, but eventually you need to setup a play. As soon as the ball leaves your feet for another player, that’s when the game becomes more about luck than anything else.

    – Physics that don’t always make sense. You might be way ahead of your opponent, but the game automatically creates a battle situation. It’s like your both magnets attracted to each other. This was likely done to highlight the defensive system, but there’s a limit to negating offensive situations. Another issue is that your team just isn’t aggressive enough during corners. During all my time with PES ’14, I never once scored on a header from a corner kick as the opposition always got to the ball ahead of me. Crosses are easier to execute to the game’s credit.

    – Dribbling works fine on paper but is next to impossible to execute in a competitive game as you’re stripped of the ball almost immediately. Using both sticks in unison requires precise movement that usually ends up with a loss of possession.

    – Low amount of game modes. You have your standard exhibition match, a bare-bones career mode and a few tournaments based on different leagues. The online mode is great, but it would have been nice to have a little more variety. There’s also a lack of teams, you won’t find the national Canada team here for example.

    PES14_4The Lowdown:

    Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 does a few things right and I’m hopeful they build on that for the next iteration. As it stands right now, for the same price you should pick up FIFA ’14. It’s hard to suggest PES ’14 for anything else than a second football game to those who’ve already bought the latest FIFA and simply want to experience something different. I’m hoping to score a portable copy soon and see how that holds up to the previous years. In the meantime, PES ’14 should be reserved for the most hardcore fans only.

    Final Score: 6.0/10