Game On

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Evil Within

(published by Bethesda Softworks, developed Tango Gameworks)
platform played - XBOX 360

I admit that I have a problem with games that have linear stages with survival tests that center on patients and timing and I think this game beautifully demonstrates the reason why.

First, understand this game is above par on so many levels.  It deserves its credit as a top-tier horror game.  The imagery has the potential of haunting your nightmares, grabbing on all the terror tropes and pushing the limits, and eventually finding the kinks in your psyche.  The crafting of the story and action sequences show a care for camera movement and scene framing.  The skins and elements have great detail and add to the overall tone.  The music and sound does a great job in complimenting the setting, amplifying the sadistic tone.  This is a full package.

The story has depth, maybe too much for most players.  The storyline for the protagonist, Detective Sebastian Castellanos, can seem convoluted, leaving you a bit behind while button-mashing to advance the chapters.  I didn't mind the constant desire to need more answers as I progressed and let the story progress at the pace that was intended.  I found it to be important and entertaining as the game reveals your unfortunate circumstances.

Now, the problem I mentioned earlier is the one hurdle I hate to jump.  I appreciate the need to create a tense situation, moving with great caution and avoiding the 'baddies' as much as possible.  But for THE EVIL WITHIN, this game deserves an 'A' (or 'F' if you will) for Frustration.  The answers to the stage require you to do almost exactly what they present to you as the solution, subtly (and by subtly, I mean you will test other options that seem clear but only lead to your face being smashed in or head cut clean off).  The freedom to do what you would do in any survival situation is so limiting that you question the developers need to create a challenging game.  Why can't you cut off their heads when their down?  Why can't you open or maneuver through objects placed in the scenes?  You give us so much to look at guys, why can't I interact with at least some of it?  As a trained survivalist, my frustration level was through the roof. 

The game is a tension builder that will keep you maneuvering through the crazed setting.  I would recommend heavily medicating yourself first though, so not to send your controller flying into your flat screen TV. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

XCOM: Enemy Within - Commander Edition

Game On's - At A Glance
XCOM: Enemy Within - Commander Edition
(published by 2K Games, developed by Firaxis Games)
platform played - XBOX 360

This game and I have a "personal" past connection.  Well, not this particular XCOM version.  I played the original game on my PC back in '94 for hours, hunting down those pesky little xeno-critters.  Thankfully, not much has changed in the gameplay and I am thankful for that.  I cannot believe that even now I enjoy the turn-based squad tactics after getting used to the quick first-person shooters out there.  Each grueling, patient step keeps you honest when fighting off the alien invasion.  Such a twisted sense of joy from the unknown as you crash through a window to a grocery store or Laundromat.

You are a commander in charge of a team that tracks and hunts down aliens who are invading Earth.  The soldiers are sent out as a team of four with the idea that they act as a squad.  Each mission puts you in a clouded map that the squad will move through with turn-based actions.  You can quickly over-extend your squad and become outnumbered or flanked by the enemy.  As you go, the teams gather bodies and tech to expand the research projects and usable technology, continually giving you a sense of achievement.  For the soldiers, they morph into a particular soldier (heavy, sniper, assault, support...) and earn ranks and medals as the game progresses.  There is enough perk-pleasing variation and random-ish play that no one game will play out like the next.

The hard, and a bit irritating, part is managing the base operations.  It does give you a number of choices and changes the pace but all I can think about is getting to the next mission.  These people just keep bugging the crap out of you about projects and research.  Just get them done already so I can get back to blasting some xenopods.  Also, the countries that are supporting the project end up being a bunch of whiners.  They complain about problems and bump the panic level up at every turn while giving you no chance to chase down any reports.  I'm here and ready... come on guys...

But the more important connection to XCOM came later, when I went to visit my son in NC.  While there, he was playing another PC version of XCOM.  Made me so proud...  I have to imagine that there must be a genetic trait that I must have passed on.  I would say that hunting aliens is in our blood.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Game On's - At A Glance
(published by Activision, developed Infinity Ward)
platform played - XBOX 360

The gunplay in video games gets better and better.  GHOSTS may not have been as well received as BLACK OPS II, but its new and numerous multiplayer formats should have made for greater waves in the gaming community. 

The campaign is short and pushes the sense of 'special tactics awe' that most combat gamers thirst for to the limits.  Who can resist the spec ops mystical stories of phantom fighters and their deep behind enemy line reports, chasing the suicidal assignments with such gusto.  Missions run from living through earthquakes to space combat to taking down enemy in first/third person view as a dog.  Gotta like designers trying to be original.  Also, the campaign AI works well in firefights - your comrades are not useless, actually contributing to the fray without overzealous butchering.

The multiplayer aspects push the boundaries in options.  This helps reach out to each individual's preference, whether a crazed combat junky who likes collecting player kills or the introverted, soft-handed team member working with AI teammates.  You get to choose from many flavors (...take that Baskin Robbins).  Sure, you will find the ones that appeal to you most, but the journey and taste tests will keep you hungry for more.

GHOSTS one weakness for me was in the campaign.  I would have enjoyed more freedom and non-linear combat setups.  You do get the opportunity to try different methods of completing a stage, kills or no kills and such, but it seemed like you were being spoon fed the progressive encounters.  But hey, it happens in games like this. 

Overall, I can assure you that developers are only getting better at these projects.  The bar continually gets raised and the need for unique material a tougher quest.  The COD storylines are among the best out there.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Game On's - At A Glance
(published by 38 Studios and Electronic Arts, developed by 38 Studios and Big Huge Games)
platform played - XBOX 360

Finally taking a look back (2 years back that is... so I'm a little slow) and getting a chance to wander the Amalur countryside.  I prefer the free-realm style games, and this one gets close to one of the better.  Sorry, I have to gauge all similar products by the standards established by THE ELDER SCROLLS.  This maybe no SKYRIM, but AMALUR does have the elegance in story and character that makes for a good game.

This role-playing game carries the R. A. Salvatore signature all over it.  Well, he was the executive designer, so no surprise.  If you didn't know, Salvatore is one of the most prolific fantasy writers, creating one of the top fantasy characters, of our time - Drizzt Do'Urden.  I will admit my dismissiveness that has grown after the insatiable thirst for dark elves by most shallow gamers, so find a slight repulsion to ever being around his work as of late.  But I am working through my issues. 

Coupled with the visual artistry of Todd McFarlane (yes, THE Todd McFarlane), this power duo is like a rock-n-roll Supergroup.  The imagery has a stylistic artistry of its own, a comic book-come-to-life approach (but not as much as the BORDERLANDS phenomenon).  The people and scenery have a vivid presentation but also carry a subtle malaise woven in. 

I did have some trouble spots with game-play style.  The over-the-shoulder viewpoint works to some degree (and can see the merit in the choice) but it does take away from the personal experience.  I appear to be spoiled with the first-person viewpoint.   But I will say the controller layout was simple and quick to manipulate.

Anyways, AMALUR has a richness and strength in plot that most games wish they had.  The character creation choices, the adventuring opportunities and decision making, and the rich interactive mechanics for character building with the setting made for a complete game.  Two years later, doesn't seem game developers took note of this remarkable piece of digital crafting.  Shame.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Last of Us

Game On's - At A Glance
(published by Sony Computer Entertainment, developed by Naughty Dog)
platform played - PS3

THE LAST OF US takes you into an alternate world that tests your survival skills and your patience to stealth.  You run through a post-apocalyptic setting, fighting and avoiding infected, zombie-like people and belligerent survivors.  Timing and stealth are the key components to effective game-play while moving through the visually detailed stages.  This both makes THE LAST challenging and frustrating. 

The game progresses you linearly through the story, pushing you to the end while limiting some of the freethinking and open world exploration, which could have been quite awesome.  Along the way, you find collectable items to craft new weapons, objects used for combat, and items to distract bad guys.  These can be useful in this low ammo setting.  Another added quality is your character being able to 'listen' for possible hidden or out of sight enemies.  A nice feature but not always helpful, so don't depend on it all the time or you'll find yourself becoming a 'fungi freak' chew toy.

The combat and linear-like maneuvering is what I found the most troubling.  Although they boast about the AI for real-time interaction when confronting bad guys, it leaves you needing to combat one thing at a time or be swarmed with no way to understand where the attacks are coming from.  And don't expect much help from your AI buddies.  Sure they shoot occasionally, but their bullets are about effective as yours (... meaning not so much, apparently you can shake it off pretty quickly).  The worst part (which I think they mean to be helpful) is that the game will give you an idea of where you went wrong after you die.  Some of the combat sequences and suggestions make this more a skill game than a shooter game (don't put a gun in a game and expect us to not use it, and where are all the guns and ammo on the fallen bad guys?? really???).  A suggestion, if you want lifelike responses for AI to initiate combat, how about a little more thought into effective combat damage.  So, after all my whining, the need to stealth is very heavy and you must do things in stages for combat as they give them to you or the AI will trigger some bad situations.

Overall, this is a great product.  I found the cut-scenes epic, using motion-capture for fluid body movement, and the distressed story filled with the human condition.  The graphics and attention to detail for movement and body language really sells the narrative.  With the haunting music to help set the darker tone, these elements alone validate the numerous "Game of the Year" awards.  This game may not be for free world hustlers like me but I can make allowances.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


(published by Electronic Arts, developed by Respawn Entertainment)
platform played - XBOX 360

So, finally locking down some time, I 'dropped' in for some TITANFALL. 

The premise is that you are a pilot, for one of two opposing sides, battling for control of a space frontier.  This multiplayer first-person shooter puts you in 6-on-6 fire-team scenarios, which is the primary draw for gamers interested.  This is also its weakness.

The game starts out strong.  The training stages did a great job walking you through the different maneuvers and understanding Titan combat.  I would almost wish other more complex games embraced this style, would help my dim game-wits and old man controller hands.  After completion, Titanfall begins to stumble.

For the campaign stages, the game offers very little, and that is with making you fight for both sides in the war.  I was able to complete the whole campaign in five hours.  For the multiplayer events, you have five modes to chose from:  Attrition, Pilot Hunter, Hardpoint Domination, Last Titan Standing, and Capture the Flag.  They are all team based and earn your pilot experience to unlock better equipment and perks.  Unfortunately, this is where things get unbalanced.  Players at all levels are matched up, making you attempt, and I use "attempt", to knock out opposing pilots who potentially outmatch your weapons and armor.  Even when you have them dead-to-rights, they still have the upper hand since you can't take them out even after plugging them a few times (thus, giving you away for a nice head shot).  Yes, you and your friends can link up and play as a team, but the chaos that ensues will make things difficult once someone gets picked off.

The storyline is simplistic, which is why it works for the game.  No need to bog playtime down with complex plotlines and too much dialogue.  You only get this during the waiting periods between matches to fill the time.  This allows for cool down after having your ass handed to you and the final numbers are posted so you can see how little you actually contributed to the last match.  Painful.  Don't get me wrong, you will work your way through and continue to climb the ranks, but noobs will probably grow tired of the ground and pound after a point.

Titanfall shows why it has won many awards and has a plethora of great reviews, with large, spacious maps and quick combat, but you will have to put in your time and be cheated with a brief campaign mode.  After suffering through many deaths and humiliations, I can say that Titanfall is fun as a multiplayer game until you hit a slump in a match and start screaming at the TV.  Then it's Game On *****'s.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Destiny (Beta)

(To be released September 9, 2014, published by Activision, developed by Bungie)
platform played - XBOX 360

Welcome to the unofficial re-envisioning of the tremendously successful HALO series.  Yes, Bungie may have broken off from Microsoft, thus no longer having the development privileges to HALO, but they know and exploit a strong vein in the gaming industry that can be tapped again and again.  DESTINY was born.

After a few late (and I mean late) nights getting a feel for the game in campaign mode, I feel a growing excitement inside.  You are a 'Guardian' in a futuristic post-apocalyptic setting trying to save the human race.  This is all given at the beginning as cut-scenes and during player familiarization.  The character build is pretty quick and you are thrust into the action.

First, about my preferences of game-play.  I thoroughly enjoy campaigning and open world play in video games.  I have played but do not find massively multiplayer online games (MMO) or the player-vs-player (pvp) interactions as attractive to play.  I avoid well-developed MMO games because my obsessive personality would lead me to playing too many hours (taking away what little time available I have) and also tentatively play pvp so my ego isn't forever bruised by 9-year-olds or have to deal with 'those kinda players'.  DESTINY offers a first-person shooter in a near-MMO setting, changing the experience up a bit.  And it works well, a coupling of the best elements from both worlds.

I ran through the beginning stages and made my way to 7th level, nothing crazy but some good fun.  I didn't feel the pressure of player interaction when I didn't want it and the tough situations were survivable and exhilarating, to include being abandoned on the first three-man fire team mission.  It took a few (maybe more...) times to find the method to the madness but what a feeling to live through three waves of baddies.  One of the great player interactive features comes from the 'events' that occur while running around.  One example was a supreme bad-ass being dropped in, making all the 'Guardians' rush over to smash some face. 

I'm sure I missed a lot and was not the star shooter on the server but it was easy to pick up on the game's mechanics and story progression.  BETA has promised a setting that is quite large but the maps had repetitive sections, so wondering if that was a BETA choice or actual game locations.  If so, then I will be disappointed.  What was available to run through was engaging and had plenty of detail that still made the cloned map's sections interesting for firefights.  I also found sections with aliens that seemed a bit unbeatable (not talking boss fights) but show a glimmer of intelligence from Bungie by not having every enemy encountered moded to your level and skill. 

Overall, they jury may still be out but I have high hopes.  The Beta testing has ended and now we wait.