Review: Evolve

16 02 2015

From the studio that spawned the Left 4 Dead games comes a new unique breed of FPS shooter aiming to establish itself as a new order in the game kingdom of team-based competitive game where either side is evenly matched, but couldn’t be more different. Will this genetic anomaly be a chapter or a footnote in the xenobiology books?

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The tale of Evolve’s world is played out in deadly confrontations across various sites of the lush but savage planet of Shear, where a few outposts of humanity have emerged to attempt to colonize and tame the new frontier in hopes of establishing a new home for our species. However, the planet is teeming with hostile wildlife and “megafauna” including giant alien super-predators that stalk the crags, swamps, and forests. A crack team of hunters from all corners of the galaxy is dispatched as a countermeasure to combat the threat of these monsters in a bid for control and survival in the unforgiving wilds of Shear.

Evolve is a multiplayer-focused asymmetrical online FPS game. One team of 4 players assume the roles of the hunters, comprised of different roles and specialties that must work together as a cohesive unit against the 5th player, who controls one of the massively powerful monsters in a scenario-based match played in a vast level strewn with vegetation, bizarre wildlife, and monolithic remnants of colonist construction projects. At the onset of each game, the monster is a underdeveloped juvenile, and must evade the team of hunters as it feasts upon prey animals and grows ever-stronger, eventually reaching its full strength and becoming a force of nature that can devastate its enemies within seconds. The hunters and the monster must outmaneuver each other amidst the rocky caverns and vegetation of the expansive maps in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse where the tables can turn at any moment and the line between predator and prey is thin and blurred.

The hunter characters are divided into 4 different classes: Medic, Trapper, Support, and Assault. Each specializes in a different method of combating the monster and has a specific role to fulfill towards their team’s success. Medics dispense healing and keep the team on their feet, and have several other useful tools like tranquilizer guns to sedate the monster and slow its movement. Trappers are integral to containing the monster and prevent it from fleeing a losing battle with their various tracking equipment and harpoon guns. Support is a flexible class that brings an assortment of useful tools to the table, ranging from group cloaking devices, calling in orbital bombardments, to shielding units that can protect teammates from harm. Finally, the Assault class is the front-line fighter that devotes itself solely to dealing heavy damage to the monster to bring it down with excessive firepower. Within the 4 roles, there are 3 different characters per class that each go about their job in a different way and offer some variety to the playstyles and strengths of the class.

Players can choose from 3 different hulking monsters when playing the opposition, each with a different style of play and methodology. The brutish Goliath is an unstoppable juggernaut that relies on its tremendous strength and unwavering toughness to pound the hunters to a pulp, whether it engulfs them with a stream of clinging flame, tears boulders from the ground to fling like a catapult, or simply throws the destructive weight of its bulk crashing into its enemies. The sinister Kraken prefers to fight from afar, bombarding its foes with blasts and bolts of bio-electricity as it hovers aloft like an angry thunder-god, drifting across battlefields with the malicious presence of a boiling storm cloud. Lastly the slippery Wraith rewards stealth and subterfuge as it slithers through the terrain, with its strange warping abilities to use misdirection and its evasiveness to lure hunters into deadly ambushes at the hands of its reaper-like rending talons. Playing as the monster is certainly the most unique and fresh aspect of Evolve, and there’s something primal and satisfying about controlling one of these dread monstrosities that speaks to the soul’s hunger for destruction; the bestial id within that lurks in the darkness of the heart of the player, straining against its cage.

Playing Evolve is a tight and engaging experience that is focused and expertly crafted. The 15 to 20 minute matches are tense and well-paced where lulls in activity foster a sense of dread and the sudden explosion of violence from a run-in with the monster provides a hot, frantic rush of adrenaline. Playing as the monster manages to provide both a sense of progression and a driving immediacy and the solitude of being pitted against 4 other players but still on level playing ground makes you feel both vulnerable and addictively powerful at the same time. There is a slight learning curve to get acclimated to the various tricks and trades of both the monster and hunters that is satisfying to climb and has a sweet-spot balance of depth and intuitive aspects and the diversity of the ability interactions as well as the composition of the various maps presents lots of opportunities for counter-play and outwitting the enemy. The glory of victory is distinctly different whether singlehandedly overpowering your foes as the monster or conquering your quarry with teamwork and synergy as the hunters.

Visually and aurally, the game also shines. The verdant groves and twisting canyons of Shear are as captivating as they are dangerous, with strange alien growths and otherworldly vegetation and mineral formations that crack and shatter against the hide of a rampaging creature or a roaring torrent of high-tech gunfire. The hunters all have personality and simple but pleasing designs, but the monsters are where the game really flexes its visuals. Tooth and nail, spur and scale, the creature cast is fearsome and awesome to behold as they skulk, pounce, and eviscerate with their jagged teeth, undulating tentacles, and tree-snapping tails in tow. The games’ minimal HUD and visual language are concise and unintrusive, never dulling the feast for the eyes but conveying just the important pieces of information. The hunters’ banter, the report of the futuristic weapons, and the gurgling hisses of the creatures all meld together as a visceral treat for the ears.

For all of Evolve’s strong points, there are a few points of contention. Most notably the content seems sparse especially for players just getting their hands wet. Upon initially launching the game, only 1 hunter of each class and 1 monster is available for use and the others must be unlocked by fulfilling various requirements for the characters/creatures preceding the next. While this is probably meant to be a device to get new players well-versed in basic concepts and core aspects of gameplay using the more straightforward characters, it forces players to “grind” and have several repeated runs with the starter selection in order to unlock options to experiment with. Secondly there is already a bevy of additional content for purchase and the aggressive DLC focus is a bit troubling; there is already nearly $87 worth of add-ons available for purchase within the first week of the game’s launch. Granted most of these extras are cosmetic, but with 2 new monsters and 6 new hunters supposedly on the way, with the currently announced pricing there is forseeably $75 worth of gameplay-relevant content alone in the future. Such a high asking price for add-ons is somewhat unprecedented even in this current generation in which DLC has been embraced as commonplace, and there has already been considerable backlash regarding this game’s content release schedule.

Despite a few concerns, Evolve has a great many strengths that send it towards the upper end of the food chain. While it may not be the perfect organism, it represents an interesting mutation of a oft-retreaded genre and a fascinating new experience that stands on its own feet (tentacles?) amidst a fiercely competitive wilderness of FPS games as an evolutionary success. In a land of devour-or-be-devoured, Evolve emerges as a top predator in my bestiary.





2014 Top 10 Gaming Favorites

7 01 2015

2014 was a pretty fantastic year for games, and as we are just over the horizon of 2015, it’s time to reflect back on the highlights of the recent past. Of the games I got around to play, these are my top 10 of 2014 in no particular order:

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Mario Kart 8

It’s a law of nature that a new Nintendo console brings a new Mario Kart game. Following suit to its predecessors, Mario Kart 8 brings the familiar easy-access racing gameplay with a colorful cast of characters and a fantastic collection of courses, both old and new, along with brilliant HD visuals. There was a merciful de-emphasis on the wacky powerful items in this entry of the series in favor of more focused racing gameplay and utilization of the courses and obstacles to get the edge on your competition. If there’s one sour note it’s that the battle mode is dreadfully uninspired where the battlegrounds are comprised of smaller loops of the normal courses than interesting free-roaming arenas. Other than that, Mario Kart 8 is a hit and a solid addition to the Wii U’s swelling ranks.

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Players take up the sword, bow, and dagger of Talion, a Ranger of The Black Gate in an era of Middle-Earth where Gondor occupied the outskirts of Mordor, filling the transition between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship Of The Ring. The gameplay is a mix of the Batman Arkham games and Assassin’s Creed in which players have multiple approaches to various situations, and any way you decide to engage your enemies is satisfying to execute. The real compelling hook of the game is the “Nemesis System” in which the various Orcs and Uruks remember their prior encounters with you and progress through their own ranks and society based on the outcomes of their meetings with you, maybe even turning to your side and becoming a powerful Warchief. Will you break down the walls of Mordor, or poison it from within?

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Alien: Isolation

It seems like a curse that the Aliens franchise can’t seem to get a decent game based on it. Depending on how you think about it, The Creative Assembly’s new vision and direction for the franchise in Alien: Isolation either breaks or circumvents this curse by theming their game after the first Alien movie rather than it’s successor, in the form of a survival-horror game where the player must defeat the eponymous beast with fast-thinking, cunning, and stealth rather than with blazing guns. Players assume the role of Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda Ripley as she relives her mother’s nightmarish escape from a gigantic space station, bridging the fictional gap between the first and second movies. Stark and terrifying, Isolation brings a new approach to the beloved franchise, harkening back to its roots in the first movie as a high-adrenaline horror experience.

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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Blizzard’s venture into casual games shows that they can work their magic in any medium. Simple and easy-to-play but with compelling depth and challenge, Hearthstone is a resounding success in bringing the traditional card-game format to a digital platform in a unique but familiar way. Addiction-prone individuals beware.

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Titanfall

No, I’m not just plugging my studio’s own game. Titanfall stands up against fierce competition as a next-gen entry into the FPS genre and ushers in a new era of the “mobility shooter” with its dynamic movement and frenetic pace. It preserves the best parts of traditional shooter gameplay while integrating new concepts in an intuitive way to present a fresh but intuitive experience that is unlike any other. Whether you’re bounding through alleyways and across rooftops as a fleet-footed Pilot or smothering foes with relentless volleys of heavy weaponry as a massive armored Titan, Titanfall is always a great time.

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Shovel Knight

A quaint but masterfully-done throwback to the days of 8/16 bit platformers, Shovel Knight overflows with personality and excellent design. Playing through Shovel Knight is like rediscovering your old favorite NES game that you forgot had even existed.

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Hyrule Warriors

Tecmo’s melding of the Zelda universe with the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors stirred up some skepticism, but once it’s in your hands it is undoubtedly an experience worth having. Something like the “Avengers” movie of the Zelda franchise, it draws from characters and worlds from across the history of the series and puts them all in your control as you wipe out enemies by the hundred. It hits the right chords of fond nostalgia while at the same time presenting exciting re-inventions of classic characters and villains. Fairly mindless, but unquestionably fun.

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Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS

The new generation of Smash Bros. has arrived on Nintendo’s consoles and it was well worth the wait. Like a medley of the best aspects of games past, I feel that this new entry in the series has found the sweet spot between highly-competitive and casual play, with the presentation to back it all up. A fantastic cast of characters including honored guests like Mega Man and Pac-Man battle it out in the first true-HD entry in the series, and it plays as smooth and beautifully as it looks. There are many new subtle aspects and features which are uninstrusive and subtle but make available to the player a rich selection of options and customization that make it the most ambitious Smash game to date. With its new inclusions and solid construction, the new Smash Bros. is just about everything I had hoped for.

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Bayonetta 2

This is the best pure-action game I have ever played. And I’ve played a hell of a lot so that’s a pretty high mark. Bayonetta 2 is exactly the sequel that you wanted if you enjoyed the first entry in the series, which handles just like you would expect and introduces just enough new things to keep you rolling forward, obliterating legion after legion of angels and demons. Bayonetta 2 is a “pure-action game;” it doesn’t quite have the scope and majesty of something like God of War, or the creative puzzle-solving and sense of wonder of something like Shadow of The Colossus; there’s little else to do but fight. But you’ll be kicking major ass almost every step of the way from the corners of Inferno to Paradiso, having a hell of a time and looking damn good while doing it. Another gold (pure-platinum?) star for Platinum Games.

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Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-

The Guilty Gear series has had long-running status as a revered property amongst fighting game fans, but went without a proper true sequel for a long time, even since the days of Playstation 2. Guilty Gear Xrd heralds the arrival of a new era for the game, with a completely overhauled 3D engine built from the ground up but retaining the lightning-fast action and deep system and character mechanics that the series is known for. Although the cast is sparse in this first showing, there will undoubtedly be updates and revisions that bring back old favorites as well as flashy newcomers. A beautiful rebirth for a legendary franchise. Let’s rock.





Cards Against Humanity 90s Nostalgia Pack Full Spoiler

22 05 2014

A 30 card mini-expansion was recently released on the online Cards Against Humanity store, dedicated to the 10 retrospectively awkward years before the turn of the millenium. Rifling through these additions you may in quick succession experience a rush of nostalgic familiarity, followed by a sting of realization that you are not as young as you used to be, followed by a twinge of shame/regret. Enjoy.

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)





Battlefield 4 Beta Impressions

16 10 2013

Battlefield 4 is set to go live by the end of October but the beta has been running for about 2 weeks now, having just concluded last night. I got some extensive playtime in and have a few observations, comparisons, and comments on the new entry into the Battlefield series.

Overall match pacing and flow

Although they only were featuring the Shanghai map for the limited Beta, it was a very strong showing for the dynamics of map control and large scale battles to look forward to in BF4. The map seems to have been sized just right; big enough that there was a feel of scale and grandeur and multiple avenues of approach to every objective of the map but also small enough that players can relocate and engage even as infantry on foot. A major change is the increased emphasis on the vertical space on the map, namely high-rises and skyscrapers that provide excellent vision and movement advantages when controlled by a coordinated squad. A new game mode “Obliteration” was introduced which is very similar to one-flag-CTF, where there is a neutral bomb and multiple bomb sites on each team’s “side” of the map. The layout and design was such that players were always in on the action, but also had many different angles of attack to exploit.

The destructible environment was not as extensively integrated as I had expected; it is more or less on par with that of BF3 in that there are certain environmental objects that can be destroyed, and structures can collapse but they are treated as events that occur rather than emergent/procedural breakdown due to structural damage. The massive skyscraper crashing down into the middle of the level is an impressive spectacle, but it collapses in the same canned way every single time.

If there is one complaint that I have it is to the changes in the melee knife system: a single hit will still kill an opponent approached from behind with a satisfying grab-n-stab animation, but if you attempt to use this from an opponents front, they have an opportunity to perform a reversal which will kill you instantly instead. This reversal consists of a one-key prompt and seems exceedingly easy to do; not a single time that I tried to initiate a knife move to an opponent’s front resulted in me killing them, the tables were turned 100 percent of the time. This feature needs to be reconsidered and polished.

Class changes, rebalancing and unlock progression

The same 4 core classes that were in BF3 make their return in BF4, but with a few notable differences that change the dynamic of play. The assault class’s defibrillator has been toned down; it now has a finite amount of uses per spawn and it is an unlock, albeit an early unlock. The assault class’s weaponry seems to have been improved as a tradeoff with some of the best firepower available, especially the SCAR-H assault rifle. The engineer class remains highly useful and effective, featuring an improvement to the basic RPG that allows it to lock on and home on enemy vehicles when it is laser designated by another device. The support class had perhaps one of the most substantial improvements of all in the form of a new default gadget the XM25 Airburst-grenade launcher. This clip-fed semi-automatic launcher can set a distance to explode via its scope mechanism that lets the airbursts damage targets behind cover or out of sight behind ledges, and is a very effective tool for flushing opponents out of cover. Additionally, the XM25 can deal moderate damage to vehicles if an entire clip is expended to hit the vehicle with direct shots. The recon class had a few substantial changes, namely that they are now able to carry C4 as a gadget as in BF2, making them once again able to deal with vehicles effectively, and also featuring variable-zoom scopes as early unlocks on their sniper rifles. Additionally, sniper rifle scopes can now be “zeroed” to compensate for the dropoff when shooting across extreme distances.

Given that all classes now have an effective method to combat vehicles, infantry is much more relevant during BF4 matches which is a refreshing adjustment. There is no longer a feeling of complete helplessness when an enemy tank smashes through a nearby wall raining machine gun fire. This is not to say that vehicles are less effective or valuable, but simply that they must be used more carefully and rely on infantry support as well.

Each class also has a weapon category unlock which enables all other classes to use that class of weapons once it is obtained. For example, the engineer class unlocks carbines which can then be used with any class thereafter, opening up the interesting tactical possibilities in loadouts. A support class with a DMR? An assault class with a semi-auto shotgun? There will undoubtedly be many interesting combinations to explore when the full game launches.

Matchmaking system

One small but immensely helpful inclusion is a feature that automatically tries to put you together in a squad with your friend when it detects that you have joined a server with a registered Battlelog friend. In the past it was a huge headache to even attempt to get on the same team as another friend in the same server due to arbitrary autobalancing, but in the BF4 Beta there was not a single match where I was forced to wait to join into my friend’s squad; rather every single time we played the game automatically saw to it that we would be placed in the same squad upon connecting to the match! While this may give rise to the occasional team imbalance, it is an incredible convenience and a huge boost to the experience of the game considering that BF has always been best when playing with your friends in a squad.

Battlefield 4 is looking to be a real winner when it comes out in late October. I am very intrigued to see the variety of maps and weaponry that will be included in the full game and look forward to being able to connect, play, and dominate alongside my squadmates more easily than ever before.





E3 2013

23 06 2013

I was able to attend the show on Wednesday the 12th to get a preview of some of the exciting things on the horizon of the gamesphere. This is a particularly important E3 since it is the first look at the newly revealed 8th generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, in the form of the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Here are some of the things I had the opportunity to look at during the show:

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U): A new generation of Nintendo consoles brings with it many guarantees: one of those things is a new Mario Kart game. The biggest addition and gimmick of this new entry is karts that morph to different terrain to take advantage of a greater variety of terrain. For example, racers might speed down a long and narrow canyon straightaway but at certain junctures, be able to transition to driving on the wall while others continue down the traditional route, then morph into hang-gliders to descend from an air. The utilization of different terrain in the courses and also divergent paths is an interesting idea. Optional motion control makes a return along with different vehicle types, but there was a noticeable lack of crazy items and power weapons flying around compared to the previous console entry, even with 12 drivers per race. Throughout 3 race courses I never saw a blue shell or lightning bolt, so this aspect of the game may have been toned down which is both good and bad; on one hand the game is much less random and frustrating without the constant barrage of “kill the leader” items but at the same time some of the personality and wackiness of the game is lost.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U): One of my floor-playable favorites of the year, Bayonetta 2 feels and plays nearly identical to its predecessor which is an all-around good thing. The ante has been upped in terms of the ridiculous spectacle of the game, featuring new features such as “Umbran Climax” that temporarily powers-up every normal attack to a massively destructive weave-enhanced move as well as even crazier action sequences and set-pieces, such as a fight that takes place on top of a fighter jet soaring through an urban cityscape. I remain mystified on why this title became a Wii U console exclusive but I can’t deny that it is a tempting draw.

The Wonderful 101 (Wii U): A 5-player party brawler where players control superheroes that rally hordes of civilians to fight heroically, reminiscent of Pikmin. The main mechanic of the game is that the player is able to form various weapons from his mass of followers such as a gigantic fist, hand cannon, or hammer by drawing its corresponding shape. It had a quaint aesthetic but the gameplay itself seems like it would thrive with a full complement of players but would be somewhat underwhelming as a solo experience.

2012 Wii U Pro controller: I made a point of getting some hands-on time with the Wii U Pro controller since it will likely be many players’ go-to for the upcoming Smash Bros. title on the Wii U. Aesthetically and ergonomically, the Pro controller emulates the 360 controller, but the baffling positioning of the face buttons–where the right analog stick would be on a 360 controller–makes for an awkward configuration. Hopefully it will be a simple matter of acclimation to get over this difference but right now it has me worried about the usability.

Dragon’s Crown (PS3): I was only marginally interested in this downloadable title until I was actually able to try it and see it up close. It retains Vanillaware’s visual pedigree; every screen is stunning and mesmerizing to look at, even the world map/level select has more effort put into it than some games have in a full level of the game. Aside from the gorgeous art direction, the gameplay itself is also a satisfying dungeon-brawler derivative with a few interesting twists on the conventional character classes and side-scrolling beat-em-up gameplay. The game became a buy when we encountered a black sabretooth tiger and a velociraptor in one dungeon and made both into rideable player mounts.

Ray’s the Dead (PS4): One of the featured indie games that will be coming to the PS4 as an incentive for the PS+ subscription, in this game you play as Ray, a bumbling zombie with the ability to resurrect and control a swarm of followers as you roam about the outskirts of a dim suburban town. The gameplay takes ques from Pikmin and Katamari Damacy, in that you have certain specialized zombies that you can control and direct, and that the main goal of each section is to uncover and recruit as many zombies as possible to meet a certain threshold to continue past a barrier. The build I played had a few bugs here and there but looks to be a quirky and fun experience when it is available along with various other indie games on the PS4 this fall.

PS4 Dualshock 4 controller: One of the important things for me at the show that I made a point of was to be able to try the controllers of the next-generation consoles. The PS4 felt different from a simple perspective of shape, the handles are thinner and the palm of the hand wraps around them more fully, and the weight of the controller is comparable to that of the current-gen Dualshock 3. The face buttons are about where you would expect them to be. The one thing that threw me off the most was the shoulder buttons: the L1/R1 buttons are more ellipse shaped and have less give, felt like clicking a mouse instead of depressing a button. The triggers are also of an unusual recurve shape that will prevent fingers from slipping off and have about the same springiness and depression depth as the Dualshock 3. I can see myself getting used to the new design after some time but after 3 long generations of predecessor controllers sharing the same basic design, holding this new shape just somehow felt “wrong.”

Beyond: Two Souls (PS3): Quantic Dream’s greatly anticipated new offering looks and plays much like its acclaimed predecessor Heavy Rain. For the demo players assumed control of Ellen Page’s character, who’s name I can’t remember. We are dropped in to the middle of the action in an urban warzone in Africa with Page’s character assuming the role of some special forces badass, that she unfortunately isn’t entirely convincing in. The gameplay consists mostly of QTEs and “think fast” button presses with some embellishments from what we have seen in previous entries. The most prevalent addition are action sequences which have no prompt but feature a time-dilation effect indicating the player must press the right analog stick in the correct direction following the character’s path of movement in order to execute the dodge/attack/lunge successfully. Alas these interactions can be very ambiguous, as sometimes the character is moving their body away, other times they are moving one of their limbs for a parry/intercept, and sometimes they appear to be doing both and it is very difficult to read. I don’t believe this demo did much of a service for this upcoming title, but then again I do not think Quantic Dreams games in general owe themselves to demo playthroughs since they are driven by the intrigue of the story rather than segments of action gameplay.

Killer Instinct (XOne): One of the surprises of the show was the resurrection of the Killer Instinct franchise as an Xbox One exclusive. The build playable at the show featured only two classic characters, Jago and Sabrewulf, with updated looks and gameplay. I personally didn’t particularly like either character’s next-gen makeover but the game itself looks quite gorgeous with a crisp frame rate and absolutely absurd particle effects and cascading sparkstorms when the combatants strike each other. The fighting system itself has received an overhaul but retains some of the recognizable flavors of the games of old, namely extensive multi-hit combos and combo breakers. In the new combo system, the normal attacks chain from light to heavy as one might expect from a conventional fighting system, however at the end of the normal string a character can perform a “linker” special move to reset the string of normal attacks and continue the combo repeatedly. The opponent receiving the pummeling can try to utilize the new combo breaker system to stop the assault by pressing both light, medium, or heavy attack buttons at the same time in anticipation of the offender’s move that is hitting you at the time, but if you guess wrong, your breakers are disabled for about 2 seconds while the opponent shreds you with their attacks. Several other conventional fighting game mechanics have surfaced in KI including meter management, EX moves, and an “Ultra” comeback mechanic. But what may be the most interesting is KI’s pursuit of a free-to-play model in which players can use Jago online for free but additional characters can be purchased individually.

Lost Planet 3 (PS3): It’s unfortunate but every show has it’s stinker and this year it was Capcom’s latest entry into their Lost Planet shooter series. Almost everything that could be wrong was wrong with the demo I played on the Playstation 3, from clunky controls, blocky graphics, uninspired run-and-gun, encounters that last a tad too long, and mediocre sound design. It was the only game that I walked away from before I finished, and there was no line behind me. Disappointing.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3): An unexpected new entry into the Ninja Gaiden series was revealed in the form of Yaiba. The twist is that this time you play as a resurrected half-cyborg ninja on a quest for vengeance against Ryu Hayabusa, the protagonist of the main line of games. Although the game takes place in the Ninja Gaiden world, there are some obvious differences to the casual observer. The game features a vibrant cel-shaded visual style with a more comic-booky feel to it. The game also adheres to a much more unapologetically raunchy and juvenile tone, with fuckwords, not-so-subtle innuendos and violent dismemberments spread throughout. Despite all this Yaiba manages to be appealing and likable in his over-the-top crudeness, and the overall aesthetic and spirit of the game is reminiscent of Madworld. The gameplay itself is similar to conventional current-gen Ninja Gaiden games, featuring oversized bosses, and hordes of swarming zombie mooks that Yaiba flattens by the dozen. Yaiba has most of the basic ninja moves but also has some surpises like a rocket-powered punching arm, a detachable chain hand for grappling, and the ability to use the severed limbs of his victims as improvised weapons to wreak carnage and destruction on those that remain. This game has some kinks but has potential to be a cult-classic or sleeper hit which I think is precisely the territory that it is trying to carve for itself.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3): I endured a two-hour line to get a glimpse of this upcoming entry into the Arkham series. I was apprehensive about this game because for this entry the esteemed Rocksteady Studios was ditched in favor of Warner Bros.’ 1st party Montreal studio. Fortunately, after seeing this 10-minute gameplay walkthrough, my fears were dissuaded; the game looks great. At it’s core Arkham Origins looks mostly to be Arkham City 2. The demo began featuring Batman grappling and gliding his way through a snowy Gotham cityscape, notably less distressed and dystopian as the one we saw in Arkham City; Arkham Origins is a prequel to the first two games featuring a slightly younger Batman encountering some of his most dangerous adversaries for the first time, the main contenders this time around being the likes of Bane, Black Mask, Deadshot, and Deathstroke. The parts of the game shown were very reminiscent of the gameplay of Arkham City which is not at all a bad thing, but with expansions on certain features and concepts. For instance, there are a few new enemy types such as the “martial artist” that figure into a little more back-and-forth flow of combat pertaining to Batman’s combat counter system. But perhaps the most interesting feature they showcased was Batman’s enhancements to his detective mode. The new system features a virtual re-enactment of the scene of investigation interpolated from the various pieces of evidence that Batman scans in through his cowl sensor that is projected onto the scene of the crime and can be played forwards and backwards in real time to piece together what actually occurred at the site. Overall Arkham Origins was one of the most exciting new games showcased at the show and the best part is that it will be out in just about 4 months.

These were the titles that I was able to look at up close during the show. I only had but a single day, so I couldn’t cover everything, but some other highlights of the show were Bungie’s Destiny, Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, and Nintendo’s new Super Smash Bros. entry.





Review: DmC: Devil May Cry

7 04 2013

Ever since the debut of Dante the Demon Hunter on the Playstation 2, the Devil May Cry series became the new standard for what an action game ought to be. Although the series is still fairly young, it has produced more grand slams than strike outs and has gathered a strong following due to the consistent quality and polish of the games, and DMC became one of Capcom’s most successful and hot properties. When the announcement of the latest game bearing the DMC name went live, sporting both word of a new studio at the helm and a much punkier, “emo” look for a younger Dante, there was a backlash of revulsion and doubt. Series fans had their doubts in such a drastic change both in the aesthetics and development for this newly minted image for Devil May Cry, and doubly so since it appeared to be a reboot bearing no numbering or subtitle; an implied end of the “devil we know.” Can the new developer Ninja Theory uphold the pedigree of the series, or will this experiment be a sin against it?

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DmC’s plot takes place at the earliest point yet in the timeline of the Devil May Cry series, preceding DMC3. In DmC, players take control of the youngest iteration of Dante yet and delve a little deeper into the origin story of the Sons of Sparda. Dante’s character is a little rougher around the edges with a “fuck you” attitude, but still exudes the swagger and smarmy charm that we’ve come to expect; more crass than cool and a joker without being (too) juvenile. The overall tone of the game is much ruder and raunchier with a more grungy, urban beat.

Visually the game is quite captivating and this is where it makes the best use of its stylistic divergence. Throughout Dante’s quest he will be repeatedly thrown into the world of “Limbo,” which is a twisted alternate reality dimension where the landscape itself springs to life as a malevolent entity intent on killing Dante any way it can. You’ll be treated to some awesome spectacles as the environment lurches and folds back onto itself like a huge stone serpent, or inverts gravity to change the layout of the level. It’s a world with no rules except the ones that are stacked against you.

The developer Ninja Theory cut their teeth on the PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword, and their experience carries over into this highly combat-centric game. The general flow of combat will feel familiar to series veterans, chaining together combinations of sword slashes, aerial juggles, and endless streams of bullets to tear apart wave upon wave of demonic spawn. The new addition is a modification of the controls that closely mimics that of Heavenly Sword, in which the L2 and R2 buttons can be held down to modify attacks, instantly morphing Dante’s signature Rebellion sword into “angel arms” or “devil arms” to expand his moveset and adapt to different situations. Additionally, Dante is able to utilize the Ophion chain to snare enemies and either pull himself towards the target or yank the victim towards him, enabling him to execute some very extensive and creative combos. Unfortunately the interesting angel/devil arms system sometimes becomes cumbersome when it is forced upon the player. The various enemies that arbitrarily force the player to use certain weapons eventually end up being obnoxious rather than interesting, and when some of them show up at the same time in a battle, it sometimes begins to feel like a to-do list. Several enemies swing closer to a “bitch” than a “challenge” to fight, when your options for dealing with them feel constrained. The problem could have been mitigated if those enemies made the other attacks less effective rather than completely ineffectual. The most fun to be had is experimenting with crazy attack strings to devastate your opponents and the foes that inhibit that don’t much contribute to the fun.

The Ophion chain is also heavily utilized in navigation and platforming, which is mostly how your time is spent when not in combat. Using the chain to fling Dante around the environment doesn’t quite give the sensation of freedom and exploration; it mostly ends up boiling down to a sequence of button presses that must be made to get from point A to point B, but it does encourage a sharp eye to look for hidden areas where Dante can find hidden items. At its best it emulates the sensation of movement of the PS2 era Prince of Persia games as Dante catapults and bounds about the twisting cityscape of Limbo, but at its worst it can be a miserable crapshoot on gauging distances with poor perspective and visually confusing ques that can be a quick way to drain your health bar for no reason at all (you are penalized whenever you fall from one of these acrobatic sequences). Spotty targeting, camera issues, and the propensity for platforms and ledges in the level design makes for repeated eye-rolling missteps during both the combat and platforming sections of the game.

Devil Arms are still intact for a fair amount of variety, but none sport the originality or gimmicky appeal of previous offerings, but are fairly effective and still satisfying to use. A nice addition is the ability to reassign your unlock points to the various moves available in the devil arms in case you change your mind later or acquire a weapon that really suits you. A large variety of launcher and air-launcher moves coupled with the Ophion chain means that Dante tends to spend a lot of time juggling opponents in the air, and finding creative combinations of moves with the various weapons to create intricate and lengthy air combos is when the game is at its best.

DmC manages to retain the soul of the series throughout, but there are some things that series veterans will find off-putting. In particular the “new” (old?) Vergil will throw off perceptions previously held about this character and will clash with the image that he has held up until this point. There are various winks and nods thrown in to dedicated fans, primarily in trophy/achievement names or in passing by some of Dante’s numerous quips and one-liners. The notorious difficulty of series is maintained, particularly on Nephilim difficulty which is where old hands should go to get the authentic “Devil May Cry” experience.

In the end DmC is somewhat of a misfit, but it has legs to stand on its own. It won’t please every series fan, and it is unlikely to win many new ones, but is still a solid contender that does more things right than wrong. I would recommend DmC to dedicated fans of Devil May Cry that want to see a fresh take on the series as Dante settles in to his demon hunting legs.





Cards Against Humanity: Third Expansion Full Spoiler

27 03 2013

Today I finally got my hands on the 3rd expansion set for Cards Against Humanity that released last week. There is always room in the budget for more CAH and their $10 expansion packs are always a fair deal to inject some new life into the game. There was a little bit of redundancy in this set and my custom fan-made expansion but only by about 4 cards, and as usual the whole thing is solid gold.

In case anyone was curious on what they would get or just cannot wait to know what’s contained within as they sit idle for their set to arrive, here is the full card list.

GO TO PAGE 2 FOR THE FULL SPOILER. WARNING: NSFW (duh)