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Fall 2013 Gaming Preview

Well it’s that time again.  A year ago this week I posted my Fall 2012 Gaming Preview.  Last year was a relatively light year for releases.  Apparently, it was the calm before the storm because this year the calendar is packed with blockbuster titles.  So again, I’m not listing every single game coming out between now & Dec. because I don’t have that kind of time.  Rather, these are what I consider the highlights.  I also reserve the right to ignore consoles that I have no interest in and therefore am in no position to gauge upcoming games for them – I’m looking at you, Xbox One.  Games are listed in chronological order by release date, with a few at the end that have yet to be given specific release dates (but all are expected to be out this Fall).

D3Diablo 3
Release Date – September 3
Systems – PS3, 360

Diablo 3 is finally making its way to consoles, and it’s doing so with quite a few improvements.  The game has been completely retooled to work with a controller.  This includes a supposedly improved and easier to use inventory interface.  Speaking of inventory, loot drops have been modified to occur less frequently but be more significant when they do happen.  This is to cut down on garbage drops that you end up either ignoring or filling up your inventory with.  Oh, and the real money marketplace is nowhere to be found in this version – something that many say was a game breaking feature of the PC version.  Still, if you’re keen on revisiting the world of Sanctuary and plan on getting a next-gen console, you may want to wait for that version.  Early reports say the current gen console versions take a graphical hit over last year’s PC release.

INTEREST = NONE (not until the PS4 version releases next year)

RLRayman Legends
Release Date – September 3
Systems – PS3, 360, Vita, Wii U

If you missed Rayman Origins a couple years back, you missed one of the best 2D platformers to come along in ages.  Gorgeous hand-drawn graphics combined with level design that bordered on genius.  Not to mention enough charm to melt even the hardest of hearts.  And now we’re getting a sequel that promises to be everything the original was, but even better.  How can you possibly NOT be excited?

INTEREST = HIGH

 

 

 

KH15RKingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix
Release Date – September 10
Systems – PS3

The announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 at Sony’s E3 press conference this year was something that a lot of people had been waiting on for many years.  And knowing Square-Enix, they’ll be waiting a few more years before the game actually materializes.  But fear not!  Because to get everyone up to speed on the overly-convoluted Kingdom Hearts storyline they are re-releasing the games in HD form.  The first collection (of 2, supposedly) features the original Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories and the story cinematics from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.  All of that has been remade in HD, and as a bonus the original Kingdom Hearts contains extra content that was previously only available in Japan.  All of that plus an artbook for $40 is not a bad deal at all.

INTEREST = HIGH

KMKillzone Mercenary
Release Date – September 10
Systems – Vita

Truth time: I know very little about this game.  I do know that it’s highly anticipated by some who are hoping it will be the first truly good FPS game on the Vita.  Personally, I don’t have any interest in playing a FPS on my Vita – that type of game is much better suited to my big screen TV.  But here’s hoping it turns out well for everyone looking forward to it.

INTEREST = NONE

 

 

 

W101The Wonderful 101
Release Date – September 15
Systems – Wii U

This was one of the big titles originally announced for the Wii U.  And then it got delayed.  For some, this is still a big title.  And I’ll admit, I was somewhat interested in it myself – until I played the demo.  Ouch.  Inaccurate touch controls are just the beginning of the problems with this game.  The use of the second screen feels forced and unnatural, and the hectic action does not lend itself to the finicky controls at all.  This went from a “maybe” to a “definite pass” for me, but others who have played the demo are singing its greatness.  If you own a Wii U you’d probably like some games, so download the demo and find out for yourself.

INTEREST = NONE

 

GTA5Grand Theft Auto V
Release Date – September 17
Systems – PS3, 360

Quite possibly the biggest game release all year.  If you haven’t heard of this one, you must have stumbled across this page by accident. Hype for this one is off the charts, and it appears to be with good reason – sporting the largest game world Rockstar has made yet, 3 playable main characters that you can switch between virtually at will, a plethora of activities and a very ambitious sounding multiplayer mode that sports a persistent world with the ability to do anything.  Heck, the online mode is so big it’s being billed as its own separate game that just happens to come free with GTA V called “Grand Theft Auto Online”.  I’ll admit to being very lukewarm on this one until recently, but even I can’t deny how cool all of this looks and sounds.  Let’s just hope our cousin doesn’t constantly wanna go out for drinks this time.

INTEREST = HIGH

BTSBeyond: Two Souls
Release Date – October 8
Systems – PS3

The follow-up to Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls is about…a girl…who’s psychic?  Maybe?  And possibly in the military.  I have no idea.   To me, Quantic Dream’s tech far outpaces their actual games.  This one may be different.  At the very least they have some real vocal talent in this game so there shouldn’t be any more “or-eee-gah-meee keeler” moments.

INTEREST = LOW

 

 

PXYPokemon X & Y
Release Date – October 12
Systems – 3DS

The Pokemon machine keeps right on rollin’.  What many outsiders don’t realize is that these are actually very solid, fun games even if they do stick pretty close to the same formula that has worked for them since the original Gameboy days.  It looks like their will be some shakeup with these new releases – they will be the first in the series done completely in 3D.  And by that, I don’t mean 3D-3D (tho I’m sure it will support that as well) but not 2D sprites.  It looks like there will be some other gameplay shake-ups as well, but at the very least it should make for a good way to pass the time on the go.

INTEREST = MEDIUM

 

 

 

 

 

 SLWSonic: Lost World
Release Date – October 22
Systems – Wii U, 3DS

For those of you who have been ignoring Sonic for years – and honestly, I can’t say that I blame you – you’ll just have to trust me on this:  Sonic’s last outing, Sonic Generations, was a really good game.  Surprisingly good.  So when this new game was first shown at E3, people became legitimately excited.  It appears to take everything that was great about Sonic Generations – a mix of 2D & 3D gameplay, ton of speed and very inventive platforming – and crank it all up.  The trailer I watched even shows hints of Super Mario Galaxy influences.  So this is definitely one to keep an eye on, especially if you’re looking for a good Wii U exclusive.

INTEREST = MEDIUM

 

BAOBatman: Arkham Origins / Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate
Release Date – October 25
Systems – PS3, 360, Wii U, PC / Vita, 3DS

I have called the Arkham series one of my favorite new franchises this generation, and with good reason.  The games have a very kinect combat system that makes you feel like you’re Batman.  They also show a love for the source material, filling their worlds not only with well-known heroes and villains but also with much lesser known characters and hidden references to more obscure Batman lore.  They employ the Zelda style of gameplay – unlock new gadgets and abilities to allow you to access more of the map – with fantastic results.  And they also look incredible.  The developer may have switched hands for this third entry, since Black Rock is apparently hard at work on something else, but from all the hands-on impressions I’ve heard and videos I’ve seen, you would never know it.  In addition to the main game there is also a portable game releasing the same day for Vita & 3DS.  This game is said to be a 2.5-D “Metroidvania” style game with a story that takes place after the console version.  Both games definitely look like something to keep an eye on.

INTEREST = HIGH

AC4BFAssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Release Date – October 29
Systems – PS3, 360, Wii U, PC, PS4, XBOne

Oh, Assassin’s Creed – I can’t stay mad at you!  Many of you may recall that I didn’t think last year’s entry into the series was a high point.  The main character, Connor, was not nearly as charasmatic as Ezio had been.  His main story was largely dull, and the story missions were often awkward and just not fun.  But I revisited the game earlier this year and discovered that all of the side activities around that story was a blast to play.  The world was beautiful and fun to just explore, and I never got tired of hunting and climbing through the trees.  ACIV: Black Flag looks to expand even further on the extra-curricular activities by boasting the largest game world for an AC game yet filled with islands to chart, treasures to find, ships to battle and loot to plunder.  Did I mention you’re a pirate this time around?  They dropped Connor in favor of another new character, Edward Kenway, who appears to be much more likable.  The gameplay looks further refined and the world is breathtaking, especially running on next gen hardware.  Here’s hoping they have some better story missions this time around, but even if not there should be a lot to like about this one.  It will be releasing on the two next gen systems at their launch, so that means it will be one of my first PS4 games on November 15.  I’m very, very excited!

INTEREST = HIGH

B4Battlefield 4
Release Date – October 29
Systems – PS3, 360, PC, PS4, XBOne

I always feel obligated to include these games because they’re such a big deal for many people.  It’s just that I’m not one of those people.  Therefore, I know practically nothing about this game other than it looks very pretty running on the new systems.  It will be available on those new systems at launch.

INTEREST = NONE

 

 

 

CODGCall of Duty: Ghosts
Release Date – November 5
Systems – PS3, 360, PC, Wii U, PS4, XBOne

Every single thing I said about Battlefield 4, apply it here.  Exact same thing.

INTEREST = NONE

 

 

 

 

 

WDWatch Dogs
Release Date – November 19
Systems – PS3, 360, Wii U, PC, PS4, XBOne

Watch Dogs looks amazing.  From the first time it was shown at 2012’s E3 it has amazed, and it continues to get more impressive as time goes by.  An open world game where you can hack into virtually anything – security cameras, cell phones, ATMs, traffic lights, etc. – and use that to your advantage in the real world.  I’ve honestly been trying to avoid any detailed information on this one because I want to go into it as fresh as possible.  But the concept is certainly promising, and I can’t wait to see if the execution lives up to it.  As for the release date, I’m not sure how exact that is as I’ve read that it will be a launch title for both the PS4 and XBOne, and since the PS4 is launching on the 15th that either means we will get it a few days early or the date will change.

INTEREST = HIGH

KSFKillzone: Shadow Fall
Release Date – November 15
Systems – PS4

This will be the third of my three planned PS4 launch titles, and the only exclusive of the bunch.  I’ve thought past games in the Killzone franchise were good but not great, but this one really looks to shake things up with more open-ended environments and a color palette that’s more than just brown and red.  It should make a good game to get a glimpse of what the PS4 is capable of as well as give me something to play online with friends to try out the new & improved online functionality of the new system.

INTEREST = MEDIUM

 

 

TATearaway
Release Date – November 22
Systems – Vita

Tearaway is a new game by Media Molecule, makers of the LittleBigPlanet series.  The big claim to fame for this one is that it supposedly uses all of the various functions of the Vita – front & rear touch, tilt functionality, etc. – to great effect.  This is being billed as a game that is only possible on Vita.  I’ll admit I’m curious about this one, but since I haven’t been overly impressed with the LittleBigPlanet games I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to it.  I’ve always felt Media Molecule’s ideas outpaced their ability, but hopefully this will be the game where both sync up nicely.

INTEREST = LOW

 

WWHDThe Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Release Date – TBD
Systems – Wii U

Wind Waker is my second-favorite Zelda game of all time – the first being A Link to the Past.  So when Nintendo announced that they were doing an HD remake of the game for the Wii U, I was very happy indeed.  The game was already gorgeous with its controversial at the time but now beloved cell shaded style.  And the screens and footage Nintendo has released of the remake all look incredible.  I already know the gameplay is solid, although even that is supposedly being tightened up some for the port.  Definitely an anticipated game for me, but the only thing that keeps it from ranking “high” is its timing – this Fall is packed with new games I want to play, so a remake will have to wait until probably next Spring.

INTEREST = MEDIUM

 

ALBWThe Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Release Date – TBD
Systems – 3DS

While we’re on the subject of Zelda, here’s another one I’m highly anticipating.  A Link Between Worlds is described as a direct sequel to A Link to the Past.  It’s as if Nintendo has read my mind concerning the Zelda series.  If they release a Majora’s Mask remake I’ll have to accuse them of spying on me.  What I’ve seen of ALBW looks every bit as charming as ALttP was back in the day.  It should make for a perfect portable game as well, so this one very well may be a day one purchase for me depending on timing.

INTEREST = HIGH

SM3DWSuper Mario 3D World
Release Date – TBD
Systems – Wii U

Rounding out the Nintendo trifecta is a new Mario game.  This one looks suspiciously similar to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS.  Except apparently there’s a cat suit in this game.  It’s Mario, so the gameplay will be solid and it will probably make for a welcome addition to the Wii U’s library.  But it would have been nice to have seen another shake-up for the series along the lines of last gen’s Super Mario Galaxy.

INTEREST = LOW

RCITNRatchet & Clank: Into The Nexus
Release Date – TBD
Systems – PS3

After two spin-off games in the Ratchet & Clank series, Insomniac is back with another traditional game in the franchise – Ratchet & Clank: Into The Nexus.  Budget priced at $29.99, this is expected to be a shorter game than usual, but hopefully it will still pack the same punch as past main games in the series.  A definite buy for me – it’s hard to argue with that price point.

INTEREST = HIGH

 

 

FFXX2Final Fantasy X-X2 HD Collection
Release Date – TBD
Systems – PS3, Vita

I’m a huge JRPG fan, as a quick glance through the site will tell you.  Therefore as it stands to reason, I’m also a huge Final Fantasy fan.  And for my money, Final Fantasy X is the cream of the crop.  Amazing characters and story combined with fantastic combat and graphics make this one of my all-time favorite games.  And now Square-Enix has made it look even better.  Not content to simply churn out an up-res’d version of the original, they recreated character models, textures, etc. to give it a proper HD look.  Then they packed in Final Fantasy X-2 as well, which is a very underrated game in its own right.  The story may be weaker than in Final Fantasy X, but it has one of the best battle systems in the franchise that more than makes up for it.  Both games also include exclusive content never before released outside of Japan – new costumes and missions in X2, and a completely new alternate sphere grid layout in X are just a few of the additions.  As if that wasn’t enough, a nearly 30 minute audio drama has been recorded specifically for this set that will play over the final closing credits.  All of that for a measly $40 is highway robbery, even without the included artbook.

INTEREST = HIGH

The Grind – August 9, 2013

I’m back.  Did ya miss me?

xillia_combatThis has been a big release week for me personally.  Primarily because what was probably my most wanted game of the year released this week, Tales of Xillia.  And let me tell you, from what little time I’ve gotten to put into it so far it does not disappoint.  It’s a old school JRPG at heart, but there are definitely plenty of updates here that make the experience feel new and fresh.  One of the biggest is the battle system which introduces the Link system.  Basically you can “link” your main character to another of your teammates in battle and that character becomes your personal support.  They will flank the same enemy you’re fighting, heal you when you need it and the two of you can perform special Link attacks together.  It really helps focus the combat and is a blast.  I’m looking forward to digging into this game further this weekend.

dragons_crownThe second big release of the week is Dragon’s Crown, another game by Vanillaware (the makers of Muramasa: Rebirth).  The easiest way to describe Dragon’s Crown is Golden Axe meets pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons.  Gorgeous hand-drawn graphics are a given with Vanillaware, of course.  But the game offers far more than that – it’s a hack ‘n slash, sure, but it’s one that’s mission based, loot focused and has a ton of depth.  With 5 playable characters (each of which has their own distinct playstyle) and both online and offline co-op play, there’s a ton of game included in this package.  After briefly comparing both the Vita and PS3 versions I give the slight edge to the PS3 in this case – there’s simply too much going on at times to be able to follow it on the small Vita screen.  But if you like the genre, you can’t go wrong with either.

shelvesI’ve been busy since I last posted.  I’ve completely redesigned my gaming room.  I took out several store bought shelves that did not match each other and made the room feel cluttered and in their place I installed some custom shelves.  I still have a little more work to do before calling the room finished, but I’m definitely pleased with the results so far.  My collection is better displayed and the room looks more open and orderly.  Please note, the TV you see in the picture is not what I play my current gen games on, it’s for my “old school” systems.

I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve missed talking about over the past month.  I’ll try to make it up to you with some more regular updates over the coming weeks.  The fall gaming rush is almost here!

The Grind – July 11, 2013

There’s a lot to talk about, so I guess it’s time to get back to The Grind!

Muramasa-rebirthI’ve been playing a lot of Muramasa: Rebirth on the Vita lately.  I got the first ending with both characters, then immediately started working towards the second ending.  Realistically, this game shouldn’t be as fun as it is – it’s unquestionably gorgeous, but the gameplay itself is a relatively simple side-scrolling beat-em-up.  Plus there’s a lot of backtracking.  So why can’t I quit playing it?  I don’t have a clue, but I’d definitely recommend any Vita owners who are fans of the genre give it a go.

r&c-nexusEvery time I think I’m out, Insomniac pulls me back in.  I was a bit down on them after the two spin-off R&C games.  I still haven’t played All 4 One, so I have no comment on the quality of that but what I played of Full Frontal Assault was not good.  Overall, I just didn’t like that they were getting so far away from the core R&C experience.  Then they released Fuse.  Even tho I personally enjoyed the demo, the game did not review well so I decided to pass on it.  Finally, they announced a game at E3 – Sunset Overdrive – that will be a Xbox One exclusive published by Microsoft.  What happened, guys?  So just as I’m about ready to give up on them I decided to pickup a used copy of Fuse using a birthday coupon I received from Gamestop, and it’s pretty good.  So far, at least – I’m still early in, so this isn’t a final review by a long shot.  But still, I wasn’t thrilled about the way the company appeared to be going.  So last night what did they do?  They announced a true non-spinoff Ratchet & Clank game called Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, for the PS3.  And it will retail for only $30.  So MAYBE they’re not completely going off the rails – but I have my eye on them!

ffxiiI’ve booted up another game recently, this one is a game that’s around 7 years old now – Final Fantasy XII.  Thanks to the incredible PS2 emulator on the PC, I’m running it in high definition AND I’m able to invert the camera controls to work how I’m used to – something that isn’t possible inside the game itself.  Running the game like this you’re really able to appreciate all the effort that went into the look of the game.  It holds up surprisingly well visually, and is a lot of fun on top of it all.  I hope to get back to it this weekend & put some more time in.  I’m at about the 8 hour mark now, and I’m almost at the point where I stopped playing back in the PS2 days (for reasons I can’t remember – something else probably came along and distracted me).

RyanDavisFinally, I wanted to join the rest of the gaming side of the internet this week in saying goodbye to Ryan Davis of Giant Bomb.  He passed away on the 3rd at the age of only 34, just a few days after his wedding.  While I didn’t know him personally, after listening to him on the Giant Bombcast nearly every week for the past 3 years or so, I almost felt like I did.  He was one of the greats in gaming journalism, and to hear anyone talk who knew him personally just an all-around great guy.  He’ll be missed.

Review: The Last of Us

The Last of Us is one of those games I’m of two minds on.

The-Last-of-Us-EllieOn the one hand, the story and characters are absolutely phenomenal.  I just can’t say enough good about that aspect of the game, and it’s far and away the biggest reason to play the game.  It tells a very mature story that isn’t so much about zombies as much as it’s about people and what they will do in desperate situations.  It’s also about rebuilding relationships and learning to trust.  It tells the story not only through the expected cutscenes but also through dialog spoken as you’re exploring your environment and even the environment itself.

Everything in the world has been meticulously crafted, there are no reused rooms or haphazard items strewn around.  Everything feels like it’s where it is for a reason.  Empty houses tell the stories of their former inhabitants through items left scattered in rooms.  And almost none of those stories seems to have ended well.  You see, The Last of Us is also an extremely dark game.  There are a very few scattered moments of levity, but those mainly serve to underscore the harshness of everything else that’s happening.  Joel, the main character, is certainly no Nathan Drake.  You won’t hear him popping off clever one-liners as he smirks at the bad guys.  Instead, you hear in his voice the strain of the 20 years he has spent struggling to survive in this nightmare.

the-last-of-us-high-res-image-2Graphically, it’s clear that this game pushes the aging Playstation 3 hardware to its absolute limits, and it’s astonishing what they manage to squeeze out of the machine.  Those gorgeous graphics come at the cost of an occasional glitch, but none of the ones I encountered were very serious.  The worst I ran into was a event that didn’t trigger after a battle ended, but after restarting the battle everything went as it should.  Music is very sparse, and often the only sounds you hear are the sounds of the enemies hunting you.  As you would expect, the voice acting is stellar – Troy Baker, the voice of the lead character in Bioshock Infinite does a fantastic job as Joel and Ashley Johnson knocks it out of the park as the already-world-weary 14 year old Ellie.

But…

The gameplay itself really didn’t do much for me.  Part of this is because it’s primarily a stealth game, and I’m not a big fan of stealth games.  They tend to be very trial-and-error, and it’s often difficult to figure out why you were discovered.  This game is no exception.  There were times I thought I was perfectly hidden but an enemy would spot me, and other times when I had basically walked right out in front of an enemy but they still didn’t notice me.  Before I relented and dropped the difficulty to easy (about 3 hours in I’d say) there were segments that I was having to play over and over because I would get past the first 2 or 3 guys and then get spotted & killed, only to have to do it all over again.

The-Last-of-Us-Stealth-GameplayDropping the difficulty really helped out, but there’s another related gameplay issue I had – it is VERY slow paced.  There are ingredients, items to boost your stats and items to improve your weapons hidden everywhere.  These aren’t simple collectables that earn you a trophy (there are those as well) but items you need to survive.  You basically have to spend the time searching every single room, every drawer, everything to find the supplies you’ll need to progress.  And this becomes pretty monotonous around the half-way point.

The actual gunplay when you’re in a true firefight is fine, but nothing really special.  I mean, I have no complaints with it but at the same time it didn’t “wow” me.  So it comes down to this:  if this exact same gameplay was in a game that didn’t have the same calibre story & presentation, it would be an average at best game.  But the story & presentation really are that good, and because of them this game is absolutely worth playing through.  It even ends on a note that while somewhat controversial is absolutely true to the characters and left me very satisfied.

I loved the story of The Last of Us and could honestly talk about it for quite a while, but I’m trying to be 100% spoiler free here.  The fact that it makes this game what I would consider to be a must-play in spite of the mediocre at best gameplay should tell you just how good it is.  But because a game also has to be played, that gameplay really took the overall experience down for me.  At the end of the year, I can tell you it will be among what I consider to be this year’s best games, no doubt.  But I can also tell you it won’t be THE best, because there are already other games I’ve played this year that I consider to be much better.

Review: FEZ

My wife has graciously written me a review of her latest video game addiction, FEZ.  Enjoy!

Oh my gosh, FEZ!

Oh my gosh, FEZ, you guys!

There is nothing to NOT like about this indie game!  If you like puzzles, and a different take on “side scrolling”, then you need to check out this game!

Having downloaded this on the 360 from my husband’s account, I was completely addicted from the beginning.

The Look

From the start, it’s an enchanting world.  You play as Gomez, a little man made from marshmallow fluff and a baby’s first smile.  He leaps about a square-decorated environment, full of bright colors, talking with other marshmallow fluffs in his village.

And then, he gets his hat.  (One guess as to the kind of hat it is.)

Getting the hat is the beginning of all Gomez’s adventures.  Suddenly, the world changes from just a 2D side scroller to a 3D masterpiece, full of color, high jumps, and lost, yellow cubes.

And then there’s Gomez’s happiness, something so adorable that it’s what first drew me to the game. When he first receives his hat, and from then on whenever he completes a cube, he will leap into the air, arms outstretched, to express his glee.

cube

First seeing that in passing on a review, I knew I would have to play this game.

The Play

It’s simple:  You leap around a 3D environment, going in and out of rooms and levels, until you find all the yellow blocks and other treasures you can.  That, in and of itself, is the entire goal.  And honestly, it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.  It’s simple and easy to learn, but other challenges along the way quickly make it clear that it takes a much longer time to master.

For there are treasures hidden in that world, things that I never even knew could be put into a game.  Treasure that will keep me playing until the cows come home!

fez

The Negatives

Sadly, every game has its downside.  FEZ, as far as I’m aware, only has one:  The Waterfall Level.

I had been playing on the 360 for about two weeks….and then made the mistake of saving on The Waterfall Level.

Don’t save on The Waterfall Level if you are playing on the 360.  Don’t even try to re-enter The Waterfall Level on the 360.  Like me, you will have to start all over.  And, like me, you’ll find yourself stuck there…again…and again…

Needless to say, it’s a bug.  Unfortunately, it’s a bug that Phil Fish (FEZ’s creator and engineer) can’t afford to fix on the 360 version.  (Seriously, Microsoft?  $40,000 to fix one little bug?)

Far as I know, however, this is the one and only thing wrong with FEZ.  That, and that it needs to be offered in the next Humble Bundle, so that I can keep looking for cubes, nega-cubes, keys, and artifacts.

The Overall

If you enjoy exploring interesting environments….

If you have an affinity for anything super-duper adorable….

If you can acquire it on anything other than the 360….

Then I highly recommend this game!

~L. A.~

 

Metamorphosis

xboneBy now you undoubtedly know the big story of this year’s E3.  Just in case I’ll summarize it for you.  Microsoft had their press conference first, showing a ton of games and wrapped it up by announcing the price – $499.  This was more than most people were expecting.  To make matters worse, they didn’t address the growing controversy that they had created a few weeks ago when they announced how their DRM system would work.  A system that effectively means that games you buy from the store can’t be loaned out, sold or traded – unless the publisher allows you to trade them, and then only at select stores that are equipped to de-authorize the game from your account.  In other words, it’s a very restrictive system that dictates what you can & can’t do with the games you buy.  Gamers didn’t like this, to put it lightly.

Sony-Used-GamesA few hours later Sony took the stage.  They started by taking some light shots at Microsoft.  They filled the stage at one point with indie developers and their games, taking the opportunity to not-so-subtly mention the fact that they allow developers to self publish their games (unlike Microsoft).  As the show continued, the jabs got more obvious – and more brutal.  This all culminated in Jack Tretton re-taking the stage to spell out in no uncertain terms how they were not following down the same path as Microsoft with the way they handle retail games.  Standing under the most welcome Powerpoint slide ever displayed at a Sony event, he went down the list bullet point by bullet point, assuring the crowd that they would be able to do with their games as they pleased, just as they always had.  The crowd, as they say, went wild.  Shortly after this, Sony announced their own system price – $399.  The final blow had been struck, and they walked away the undisputed winners of the day.

Since then, I’ve seen it mentioned in a few different places how Sony didn’t really do anything differently than they normally do – it was just a case of Microsoft messing up so badly that they looked like heroes in comparison.  This is partly true.  Microsoft clearly dug their own hole with their draconian DRM system, and Sony simply chose not to follow them in.  But the true story of this E3 starts back in 2006, when Sony put on a very different press conference announcing the launch details of the PS3.  That was a completely different Sony than the one we have today – the Sony of 2006 was arrogant.  They assumed people would pay the $599 price tag they announced for the system based simply on the success of the PS2.  They didn’t take Microsoft seriously as competition.  They didn’t feel like they needed a ton of launch titles because they thought it would sell on name alone.  They built the system on an overly complex and difficult to program for architecture because developers would just have to suck it up and figure it out.  And they were taking no notes from the online service Microsoft had had in place for a year before the PS3 launched.

Sony-PS4-Indie-GamesThe Sony of today comes off as being downright humble in comparison.  They constantly talk about respecting their fans and developers – developers they have been working to build better relationships with.  It has been said repeatedly that the PS4 was built with developers in mind, taking notes from them to make the system easier to develop for.  They’re proudly growing relationships in particular with indie developers.  While many of the biggest indie games of the past 6 years were released on the 360 first, now Sony is lining up big names in the indie scene who are releasing their titles on the Ps4 first.  Sony is also putting a big focus on their customers, the gamers.  They have shown that they are unwilling to repeat past mistakes – announcing a very reasonable price while showing a very impressive lineup of launch window titles.  They are also showing that they respect their customers by maintaining the policies that are expected when buying a retail game.  In short, the tables have turned – Microsoft appears to be arrogantly assuming that their success with the 360 will carry them forward no matter what, while Sony is showing that they are actively listening to what their customers are saying.

So to say Sony “stayed the same” is simply untrue.  Sony’s transformation to a company dedicated to video games and the people that play them has been a gradual one over the past 7 years.  Monday’s showing was just the culmination of that, and it stood in stark contrast to their competition.  And gamers have taken notice.

Top 5 Things I’d Like To See From E3 2013

E3, the event that has become something of a holiday for gamers, is only a few days away as I write this.  This year’s event promises to be one of the biggest ones in quite a while due to the fact that both Sony and Microsoft are releasing new systems this year.  We can all expect more details on these already revealed systems and perhaps more importantly, tons of game announcements for them.  So here are the top 5 things I would personally like to see from the show:

#5 – Fallout 4

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It’s been almost 2 years since the release of Skyrim, and it’s a safe bet that Bethesda had a team working on something even before that was completed.  They revealed a couple of months ago that all of the Skyrim DLC is out and now their teams are fully focused on their next project.  There have been signs that this very well could be a new game in the Fallout series, and I’m hoping that’s exactly what it is.  A new game in the series released on next-gen hardware would be something pretty much everyone could get behind.

#4 – Naughty Dog’s PS4 Project

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Yeah, I know, The Last of Us isn’t even out yet (it releases next Friday) and I’m already asking “What’s next?”.  But I’m a gamer, and we’re a notoriously greedy lot.  The fact is, Naughty Dog is not a one-game studio.  There’s no doubt they’ve been working on something for the next gen, and I want to know what.  Pretty much anything they could announce would be awesome, whether it’s a new Uncharted or even Jak & Daxter game or something brand new.  They’re also Sony’s star first-party dev right now and a new game from them on the new system will definitely help build excitement for their new hardware.  Just announce something and show us a little footage.  I’m ready to be wow’d.

#3 – Release Dates & Prices For The Two New Systems

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In a perfect world, I’d love for both Microsoft and Sony to lay all their cards on the table next week.  There are still tons of questions swirling about both of the new systems, and it’s a safe bet that they will not all be answered next week.  But at the very least, I’m really hoping for release dates and prices.  Let me know how much I need to squirrel away for my new fix.

#2 – Vita!  Vita!  Vita!

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The reports of the Vita’s death have been greatly exaggerated.  I know, I’ve been playing mine lately and having a blast with it, and there are several upcoming games for it that I’m looking forward to.  Still, it could definitely use some more love from Sony.  The announcement last week that all PS4 games (except for those requiring special peripherals) will support remote play on the Vita was a good start and shows that Sony hasn’t forgotten about their handheld.  Now I want to see new game announcements and a price drop.  And this is a personal dream, but I’d love for them to announce PS2 Classics support for it.  We’re all excited for the PS4 Sony, but don’t let the Vita get lost in the shuffle.

#1 – New IPs

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The start of a new console cycle is typically the time when we get a big influx of new IPs.  It’s started already with original games such as Watch_Dogs and Destiny having been announced for the next generation systems.  But I want more.  An original game from Nintendo would be a fantastic start.  How about Rocksteady?  Since they aren’t the ones developing Batman Origins, is it possible they’re doing something brand-new?  Is it too soon for Ken Levine, the man behind the Bioshock series, to announce his new project?  What about first-party Sony & Microsoft?  Surprise us, guys!

 

The Grind – May 29, 2013

This past weekend I wrapped up a long JRPG I had been chipping away at – Final Fantasy XIII-2.  The story was practically nonsensical, but the gameplay itself was a blast.  I had so much fun with it, that I kept playing until I had earned the platinum trophy.  But after I finally wrapped it up, I had no desire to jump back into another long game.  So instead I’ve been checking out some shorter, less involved games.  Most of these have been sitting in my backlog with one obvious exception, the newly released Call of Juarez: Gunslinger.  So I thought I’d give some impressions of them here.

Call-of-Juarez-GunslingerLet’s get Call of Juarez: Gunslinger out of the way first: it’s awesome, it’s cheap, you should go buy it.  What, you want more?  OK, it has the production values of a full-priced game.  In case you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a FPS set in the Old West.  Their last game strayed from this formula, and everyone seemed to hate it (I had no interest in even trying it since it was such a departure).  This game comes off as a sort of apology.  You play the role of a bounty hunter who is in a saloon recounting his adventures.  He manages to place himself into the starring role of nearly every famous Western story you know.  As you’re playing, he often adds or changes details which directly impacts what you’re seeing in the game – it’s an awesome mechanic that feels like a natural expansion of the narrator idea from Bastion.  The game looks incredible, definitely nothing like what you’d expect from a budget download (did I mention the game is only $15?).  In addition, it is an absolute blast to play with great shooting mechanics, a cool “bullet time” mode that lets you pick off bad guys in slow motion, and skill points to earn & spend in one of three categories.  What’s not to love?

Forza-Horizon-LancerNext up was a demo for Forza Horizon, a game I’ve had my eye on since it came out last year.  Unfortunately it came out about the same time as Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and that was the racer I went with.  That was a mistake, because I found that game to be a huge letdown.  After that I was sorta soured on racers in general and just forgot about Forza Horizon.  Well something jogged my memory this weekend so I decided to grab the demo, and I have to say it was a lot of fun.  The handling is excellent, it looks great and it has a nice “drive around and discover events” setup that works really well.  Basically, I’m sold on it now – just waiting to find it at my price somewhere, which given how long it’s been out is about $20.  I’m patient.

n3-ii-ninety-nine-nightsStaying on the 360, I next popped in an older game that I’ve been wanting to play for a while – Ninety-Nine Nights II, or N3 II as it’s also called.  This is more or less a fantasy-themed Dynasty Warriors knock-off, but it’s one of the better DW knock-offs that I’ve played.  They manage to incorporate a good bit of strategy to the hack & slash formula and even mix in some indoor exploration levels that come across as more than just adjoining rooms filled with people to kill.  Although there are still tons of people to kill, make no mistake.  The plot is ridiculous – something about an evil army of legend that’s about to kill us all.  In one level I was playing as the princess of the land, and I fought my way through what I believe to be my own troops in the dungeon in order to free a prisoner to fight with us (the third playable character).  By the end of that level, I had massacred over 1,200 of my own troops to free a prisoner.  Crazy.  But fun!

katamari_foreverLastly, I played some Katamari Forever on the PS3.  It’s true that if you’ve played one Katamari game you’ve basically played them all, but that doesn’t bother me because the formula is just so fun.  It’s very relaxing to roll your little ball around, watching everything in the world stick to it until it grows big enough that you’re picking up people, cars, boats, buildings and even whales.  All while being berated by The King of All Cosmos, who sounds like a record scratching.  Oh Japan, you’re so silly – that’s why I love you!

The Xbox One Reveal: A Series Of Unfortunate Events

I have debated all week whether or not to write this post.  The internet is already being flooded by people who were disappointed (to put it mildly) by Tuesday’s reveal of the successor to the Xbox 360.  But in the end, I think I need to write this out to get it out of my head.  So while I still hope you enjoy this post, realise that this one is more for my benefit than yours.  I’ll make it up to you, I promise.

As most of you know, I am admittedly more of a fan of Sony’s systems than any others.  They just seem to do things more in line with my way of thinking.  That’s not to say I’m a Sony-only guy tho, if I were to list my favorite games from last gen (and oh, I will, don’t worry) I’d have at least one entry from all three of the major systems.  I owned them all, and while the PS3 got the majority of my playtime I found enjoyable games on the others as well.  That’s my disclaimer.  Now even before the Microsoft event yesterday I had a bad feeling about their new system.  The negative rumors were flying left and right about it, and it seemed like a new one popped up every week.  But even more than that, it’s clear to me looking at the last couple years of the 360’s life the direction that Microsoft has been heading – services such as movies, streaming TV, etc. first and games second.  I still held out hope tho.

This is next-gen: The Price Is Right

This is next-gen: The Price Is Right

That hope was quickly shattered.  For more than thirty minutes of the one hour presentation, games were not even mentioned.  What was mentioned was how the system will tie into my cable TV subscription and make my television viewing a wondrous experience.  Of course, I cut the cable two years ago and haven’t looked back.  I doubt I’m the only one.  What’s most ironic is that streaming apps on the 360 & PS3 have encouraged me to go in that direction.  Why should I pay $75 a month for cable TV when I can pay $8 to Netflix and $8 to Hulu and get more than I can possibly watch?  Even if you could use these features, isn’t this first and foremost a game console?  Shouldn’t the focus be on games, and everything else that it does be considered secondary?

Judging by what was shown, their apparent target audience for the device is the casual gamer who will play Madden and/or Call of Duty – both of which were shown – but will be equally if not more interested in watching TV and streaming movies on the device.  There were a total of two exclusive games shown at the event of a promised 15 in the first year.  More on that number in a minute.  Of the two that were shown, only one was an original IP:  Quantum Break, a new game being developed by Remedy.  This game was touted as having ties to a TV show, tho few details were given.  But again, there’s TV being pushed.  The other exclusive was a new entry in the Forza series which is sure to please fans of the franchise but was hardly a surprise.

Always watching…

There’s also a new version of the Kinect which will come bundled with the system.  In fact, a Microsoft executive was quoted after the show as saying that the device has to be connected for the system to even operate.  The Kinect has a built-in processor and will never truly turn off but rather simply go into a standby mode where it will listen for you to say “Xbox On” to power on the system.  I will let you make your own Orwell jokes about a hi-def camera and mic that is constantly on and connected to the internet in your home.  Rather, I’ll just say that voice recognition is sketchy at best and my current Kinect constantly mishears what is said to it.  It has even been known to pickup sounds in movies we’re playing and interpret them as commands directed at it – so expect your Xbox One to turn itself on at random times when it thinks it hears an on command.

So that was basically the show – huge focus on watching TV, presentations from EA Sports and Activision regarding games that will be on both systems anyway and a grand total of two exclusive games shown.  Oh, and that 15 exclusive games in the first year that they mentioned?  Who’s taking bets on how many of those will be Kinect games?

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough – and it really, really is – the after the show buzz says that one of the other system’s “features” of requiring every game to be installed & then no longer needing the disk means that used games are right out.  Unless of course you pay some sort of “fee”, which according to the Xbox VP may just be the price of the game again.  So don’t plan on trading in your games or even loaning them to a friend.

All of that, plus it looks like an 80's VCR

All of that, plus it looks like an 80’s VCR

The 360 started out very strong.  Microsoft was actively courting exclusives and trying to build up their stable of first-party games.  In the early days, strong Japanese exclusives such as Dead Rising, Lost Odyssey and Tales of Vesperia helped give the system some strong core gamer appeal.  But since then Microsoft has decided to change their focus to the casual gamer.  They have more of an interest being your living room TV & movie box, and if you decide to play some games occasionally well that’s ok too.  Any interest I had in their new system was decisively stomped out with that presentation.  That’s just as well, Sony is giving the exact opposite message saying that their system is primarily about games and openly courting game developers.  That works for me because I buy a game console to play games.  Shocking, I know.

The Grind – May 10, 2013

Are you ready?  Because I am – let’s do this!

deadly_premonitionDeadly Premonition: Director’s Cut, which I picked up this week, is completely insane.  Just off the rails crazy.  It’s the video game equivalent of a bad movie.  We’re talking Plan 9 From Outer Space: The Game here.  The acting is horrible, the story is extremely bizarre and much of the game is unintentionally hilarious.  So you’ll either appreciate all of those things and love this game, or you’ll think it’s garbage and hate it.

If I had to summarize the plot up to where I am right now – the end of the prologue chapter – then it would be like this:  A schizophrenic man who thinks he’s in the FBI has a car crash and proceeds to kill a ton of innocent hillbillies until he finally stumbles onto the road and finds the sheriff – who is unaware of the mass murder he has just committed.  This summary is likely completely wrong, but please don’t tell me if it is – I’m loving my version of the story so far.

The Director’s Cut version is an enhanced port of the 360 original which was released back in 2010.  The primary change has been to the controls.  Although I never personally played the 360 version, all reports say the controls were clunky at best.  So far, the PS3 version has controlled as you would expect a 3rd person action/adventure game to.  The port also supposedly includes improved visuals – but don’t expect it to win any beauty contests – and some added content, as well as a few other minor tweaks.  So if you’re interested and have the choice, the PS3 version seems to be the one to play.

fuseI hate Insomniac Games.  Everything I’ve seen about Fuse, their upcoming co-op focused shooter which will also be their first multi-platform game, has looked completely unappealing to me.  Co-op focused probably means crappy AI partners if I try to play solo, and the screenshots I’ve looked at in passing have made the game look like a fairly standard military shooter anyway.  So good then, I can just ignore this one, one less game to worry about…right?  Well, they put up a demo this week and me being such a big fan of theirs I had to at least try that out.  So last night I tried it out both solo and co-op with a friend of mine.

It doesn’t suck.  That’s an understatement.  It’s really, really good.  The AI seems more than competent from what I played, but even better is the fact that you don’t just choose one character at the beginning of the game and play through it all with him.  You can swap characters at any time simply by holding down the Select button.  And with weapons that make enemies explode into black holes, turn them into crystal or just create a mobile shield that reflects bullets back to them, this is hardly a standard military game.  Rather, the game is decidedly sci-fi having you fight futuristic soldiers and mechs, and this is just in the demo.

Well surely it doesn’t hold up to the normal graphical standards of other Insomniac games since it’s a multi-platform title, right?  No, wrong again – the game is absolutely gorgeous and runs silky-smooth, on the PS3 at least.  And the normal Insomniac sheen I’ve come to expect from them with a beautifully elegant menu system and HUD is there as well.  Throw in leveling up with character-specific skill trees that enhance each characters’ weapon specialties and some well done voice acting complete with a nice dose of humor, and you have a game I absolutely cannot ignore.  So thanks a lot Insomniac, you couldn’t just NOT be awesome for one game, could you??

Oh, and you’re making a Ratchet & Clank CG movie that’s due out in theaters in 2015 as well???  That’s just not even fair!