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Review: Injustice: Gods Among Us

There are, generally speaking, two types of people who play fighting games: serious players and casual players.  Serious players learn the combos, master the more technical aspects such as counters, and generally just play to master the game with at least one or two characters.  Casual players mash buttons, mainly.  They may work out a few special moves, but combos aren’t going to happen unless by accident – same goes for counters.  They will play all of the characters and while they might have a favorite or two, they’ll probably be switching up who they’re playing match to match just for the variety.  They’re just playing to have fun and are fully aware that they’ll never become proficient at the game – and they don’t care.

Now quick, guess which category I fall into!  If you said “serious players”, I’m sorry – here’s a consolation prize video for your enjoyment.  If, on the other hand, you said “casual players” then congratulations!  You still don’t win anything, mind you, so feel free to click on the previous video link and bask in the knowledge that for a brief shining moment, you were a winner.

injustice-1So now you know the mindset that I went into Injustice: Gods Among Us with.  I was hoping for a good story mode along the lines of the last Mortal Kombat game and some flashy special moves to try out.  And I can’t say I was disappointed.  Of course, I also can’t say the whole experience really stuck with me.  The game is kinda like a candy bar.  It’s great while you’re eating it, even tho you know there are probably better things you could be doing, and once it’s gone it’s easily forgotten.  That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, because it was.  It just didn’t do much that was unexpected that added the “wow” factor.  If you want to pummel DC superheroes and villains with each other, then this is the best way to currently do that.  But don’t go into it expecting the flash and style of Capcom’s Marvel Vs. Capcom series, because it’s not there.  Instead you get a darker game with a much more subdued take on its characters.

From a single player standpoint, there’s a lot to do in the game beyond the story mode (which is a good 6-7 hours or so in length).  The problem is, I didn’t really *want* to do any of it.  I dabbled with the S.T.A.R.S. mode, where they give you odd challenges to complete, but it didn’t do much for me.  Likewise, there’s a more traditional arcade-style mode where you fight a series of opponents in succession with no real story to speak of (except for the ending, which is unique to each character).  But after running through this once, I was good.

injustice-2If fighting games are more your bag and you enjoy honing your skills and/or playing against others online or in person, it’s very likely you’d get a lot more out of the game than I did.  If you’re a casual fighting fan like me, you’ll probably play through the story, check out all of the level transitions and super moves and call it a day.  It’s good empty-calorie fun for a few days, then you’ll move on to something more substantial and forget all about it.

The Grind – April 25, 2013

final-fantasy-xiii-2-chocoboSometimes, for reasons unknown even to me, a game I have a strong interest in will get pushed to the backburner after I pick it up.  I always try to make my way back around to these, and I’d say usually I’m successful.  After more than a year now, I’ve finally gotten back around to Final Fantasy XIII-2.  But now that I have, I can say I am completely hooked.  If I had to use one word to describe what sets this game apart from the first it would be this:  freedom.  In the original game, you felt as if you were going down one very, very long tunnel that lead to the final boss.  There were very few opportunities to go off the beaten path, and most of those don’t come until after you’ve beaten the game.

XIII-2, on the other hand, opens up very quickly to give you tons of options for what to do next.  Exploration is a main focus of the game, and that combined with the already excellent battle system from the first game creates something really special.  Addictive is probably the word I’m looking for.  Tons of missions to complete, creatures to capture & level up, new destinations to find.  It has its hooks in me but good, and I’m very much enjoying playing it right now.

soul_sacrificeOn the portable side, there’s a demo I had been actively avoiding.  It seemed like one of those games that would either right up my alley or something I couldn’t stand – I didn’t see any middle ground in it.  So I decided just to avoid it for now, and that way if it WAS something I loved I wouldn’t know it and could therefore avoid the temptation.  Sadly, a good friend of mine decided that was not to be and insisted that I play the demo.  And I have been playing it for three days now.  The game I’m referring to is Soul Sacrifice for the Vita.  The best way I can describe it is Silent Hill meets Monster Hunter.  The game is divided into missions, which are presented as chapters in a journal your character is reading.  As you read the book, you are living through the memories of the author.

The game has a ton of depth, way more than I can get into here today.  You gain spells by completing missions, and you can combine these spells with like spells to increase their uses.  Oh yes, each spell has a limited number of uses during a mission, but these uses can be refilled by sacrificing creatures you’ve killed or at certain points in the levels.  If you use a spell past its limit, it breaks and cannot be refilled until you restore it outside of a mission.  Missions can be replayed to earn more spells and xp.  The xp you gain either adds to leveling up your life or magic depending on if you save or sacrifice the creatures you kill.  And there is much, much more.  Everything is extremely polished – graphics, controls and voices are all top notch.  There’s also an online component, which I haven’t tried out yet.  But again, I’ve played this DEMO for 3 days straight now – that should tell you something.  Fortunately I have enough store credit to cover this one next week, because its definitely a must-have for me.

Speaking of Monster Hunter, I’m still clicking along in that as well.  We’re still playing at least once a week, tho we are slacking off some on our game sessions outside of that.  I still don’t see us completely stopping anytime soon tho.

Outside of gaming, I’m really looking forward to seeing Iron Man 3 next week.  I’m rewatching the first 2 movies + The Avengers in preparation.  I should also have a review up the first half of next week for Injustice: Gods Among Us.  Until then, happy gaming!

Review: Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate hates me.  I’m not offended tho, if you play the game it will hate you too.  That’s just the way it is.  You see, Monster Hunter is a series that doesn’t really much care if you understand it or not.  Oh, it may appear to hold your hand in the very beginning, but as soon as it can ditch you it’s going to leave you alone and running for your life from a giant wyvern-like creature. monster-hunter-3-ultimate201211-19-12001For years, this had kept me from really getting into the series.  Well, that and the fact that there have always been hurdles in place to playing the game comfortably online.  There was no voice chat of any kind in the original on the PS2.  The PSP games didn’t even have online play, you could only play with people in the same room as you.  Then the Wii version, the original Monster Hunter 3, used the horrendously bad Wii Speak.  Just…no.  So it was with no small amount of hesitation that I picked up the Wii U version, determined to give the series another shot.  Within the first week that I owned the game, I inadvertently sold a good friend of mine on a Wii U.  You see, he has been a huge fan of the series since the original.  So the two of us set off to play, and I was actually having a good time with the game.  The chat (through the Wii U’s gamepad) worked much better than I expected, and my friend very patiently explained the games quirks to me.  Things were going relatively smoothly. MH3GHD_WiiU_MultiPlay_009_bmp_jpgcopyWe soon added a third to our group who was a former co-worker of both of ours and was also a big fan of the series – another Wii U sold.  But the more we played, the more I started to feel like I just didn’t get something about the game.  I felt like there was a piece of the puzzle I was missing, and whatever it was the game wasn’t going to give it up willingly.  Then this past Saturday I logged on to play again, and our group was rounded out by a fourth member – someone the other guys had played with in games past.  In hindsight  I probably shouldn’t have logged on at all that night.  I had had a pretty bad headache almost all day, and it had been a long weekend.  But I decided to give it a shot anyway.  We went into a mission against not one, but two wyverns.  And we failed miserably.  Rather, *I* failed miserably – all three of the deaths that ended the mission were mine.  At this point, I told the guys I was going to call it a night because I really wasn’t up for it and turned in. One of my friends called me to make sure everything was ok (it was) and I voiced some of my lingering questions and frustrations about the game, which he tried to answer.  I turned in early that night but was woken up around 3:30 in the morning unable to sleep.  So I turned the game back on and decided to get in some single player to try and “catch up” with the other guys.  I played for maybe an hour and then went back to bed.  Got up, turned it back on & played more single player until around lunch.  My friend then called to see if I wanted to play online some that afternoon, so after I ate I joined them. mh3u-1During that single player time I invested and the missions we played online that afternoon, something just clicked.  I couldn’t possibly explain to you what it was, just as my friend couldn’t articulate the answers to my frustrations with the game the night before.  I cannot fully explain Monster Hunter to you.  It’s impossible.  I can break down the systems and tell you about the general flow of the game, but you will never truly understand it until you play it and the game decides to click with you.  Once it finally decides to let you in, you’ll be hooked. Monster Hunter still hates me.  But I finally see it for what it is.  I understand its rough edges, its various systems buried in one another like Russian nesting dolls.  It all makes sense to me now.  And I won’t be satisfied until I’ve fully mastered it.  I love Monster Hunter precisely because it doesn’t care that I do.

Review: Bioshock Infinite

I saw the credits roll on Bioshock Infinite just before midnight on April 3.  As I write this that was almost a week ago, and I still haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  I can tell you all about Columbia, the city in the sky that Bioshock Infinite takes place in.  I can describe to you the main street, covered in excess in American flags and filled with people from the early 1900’s.  People who seem decent, at first, until you start to notice the dark underside of the city.  The overt, socially accepted racism.  The slave labor.  The twisted religious zealotry that runs rampant.  Propaganda being directed at all ages, even the very young, which delivers a sinister message.

bioshock_infinite_oct22-screen01-3But in spite of all of this, there’s still a beauty to the city itself.  Buildings gleam in the seemingly never ending sunlight.  The bluest skies imaginable roll outward in all directions filled with the softest, fluffiest clouds you’ve ever seen.  There’s even a recreated beach where people lounge in their period-appropriate full length swimwear.  Some even dance on the pier to music that seems not-quite-right, but unless you listen closely you may never put your finger on just why.  Because you see, Columbia is also a very detailed city.  If you thought Rapture was overflowing with small touches that made the city seem alive, you haven’t seen anything yet.  Every square inch of the world is so dense with details that you will feel compelled to seek them all out, marveling over every little touch.

Bioshock-Infinite-bilde-4However, if you think the city is the main attraction like it was in Bioshock 1&2 you’re in for a surprise.  The real star of this show is Elizabeth, a quiet and somewhat naive girl that you instantly feel compelled to protect, tho you’re not sure why.  But make no mistake, under her soft spoken demeanor lies a very strong willed woman who will not hesitate to stand up for what she believes is right.  She and Booker – your character in this tale – carry out some very spirited discussions during the game.  For you see, you are no longer a silent protagonist.  You are a fully developed, fleshed-out character with motivations that are sometimes at odds with what Elizabeth wants.  And tho your goal may seem straight forward at first, the longer you travel through the twisted city of Columbia the more you realize that not everything is as it seems.

BioshockInfinite6Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter by the strictest definition of the term.  You play in first person.  You do shoot.  You also explore, interact, experience, feel and most bizarrely empathize with the characters you meet.  There are elements to the game that are very much like the games that came before, and there are other elements that are completely different.  And every single one of them has a specific reason for being.  Nothing happens by accident.  This is possibly the most deliberate game you will play all year.  Bioshock Infinite is like a perfectly made clock, every little gear spinning in its place to create the whole – a perfectly functioning piece of art.  This game is as close to that mark of perfection as I have seen any reach.

This is not just a game, it is an experience.  It tells a story as rich and engrossing as any movie or tv show I have seen, and holds its own with the works of fiction I have read.  It is very thought provoking, but even better, it is emotion provoking.  It deserves to be experienced.

Will the circle be unbroken?

Week In Review: April 5, 2013

Another week in the bag!  I didn’t do a regular post this week, because honestly I didn’t have much to talk about.  But I definitely have a few things to discuss now which will fit nicely here.

Bioshock-Infinite-1First of all, I’ve finished a game this week – Bioshock: Infinite – and I’m right at the end of another – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon.  I should have a full review up for Bioshock Monday or Tuesday of next week, but for now let me just say you NEED to play that game.  It’s the best game I’ve played in a long time, the kind that doesn’t come along very often.  The storyline is insanely intricate and I’ve had the ending rolling around in my head since I finished it Weds. night.  Late Weds. night.  Luigi’s hasn’t fared as well with me.  It’s a fun game at its core, but after you play the first area you’ve more or less seen everything the game has to offer.  The further the game goes, the more it seems to drag – there’s a lot of pointless backtracking in the areas to pad the length, but it would have been a better game if that was left out and it was shorter.  A hard recommend for full price, but if you enjoyed the original on the Gamecube it should be on your radar to pickup when it comes down in price a bit.

SwtiefightercdThere was some sad news this week, LucasArts has been shuttered.  Oh, the name is still there but from now on every game you see that has the LucasArts logo will only have been published by them – they are no longer a developer.  Fellow old-school PC gamers will remember the glory days of LucasArts.  I remember playing (and loving) Day of the Tentacle.  I had played the original Maniac Mansion some as well, but never got into it like I did its sequel.  I think if I had to pick one, I’d say that my favorite LucasArts game was Tie Fighter.  I always held out hope that they would revisit that idea at some point and give us a new Star Wars based space fighter sim. Oh well, RIP LucasArts – you will be missed.

In news I’m very excited about but you may not be, a new Shin Megami Tensei game was announced this week for a Summer release.  It’s coming to the 3DS, which makes me that much happier I decided to pick one up a couple weeks ago.  The new game, Shin Megami Tensei IV, is the first game in the main series since Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (III) was released on the PS2 nearly 9 years ago.  Most people are more familiar with the Persona games, which are spin-offs of the main series.  Some of you may recall that I listed Nocturne in my Top 10 JRPGs list earlier this year, so I am very excited to hear this.

Jurassic_Park_T_RexAnd that pretty much wraps up the week!  My wife and I will be heading out this afternoon to see Jurassic Park 3D.  I hear the 3D is really good, but the main draw for us is just to see the movie on the big screen again.  Has it really been 20 years since it first came out?  Wow, I’m old!

Week In Review: March 29, 2013

I thought I’d try something new, and if it works make this a regular thing.  I tend to play a lot of games, and therefore I don’t finish them all.  I don’t like to review games I haven’t finished, so that means a lot of stuff falls through the cracks and doesn’t get discussed here.  Also, I wanted a more casual format to talk about stuff while I’m playing it, just to give along the way impressions.  So I thought I’d try this Week In Review feature to highlight games I’ve been playing and possibly down the road movies/tv shows I’ve been watching, etc.

lcu-1

LEGO City Undercover – The guys at Gamestop who sold this to me were clueless about what it was.  When I told them it was basically “LEGO Grand Theft Auto,” they laughed.  For most people, separating the M-rated content from a GTA game is unthinkable.  If you’re one of those people, let me just say this – it totally works.  The joy in these games to me doesn’t come from swearing, prostitutes or even the extreme violence.  The fun is in the exploration.  And LCU has that in spades.  The world is truly huge.  It’s filled – no, STUFFED – with collectibles and unlockables.  You can’t walk 5 feet without tripping over something to do.  It also has a fantastic sense of humor that references popular crime and prison movies as well as general tropes that are popular in the genre.  The music has a 70’s cop show funk vibe that ties it all together perfectly.  I’ve been having a blast with this one so far, and am looking forward to putting more time into it.  Of course, there’s also….

Bioshock-Infinite-1

Bioshock Infinite – Holy cow.  Bioshock Infinite has taken my already extremely high expectations and somehow managed to surpass them.  It’s amazing.  They’ve created a world that’s so bizarre and filled with tiny details to discover that it begs to be explored.  The story is utterly fascinating so far.  I don’t want to say too much specific about this one, because the less you know about it going in the better it will be.  I will say that while the original Bioshock let you explore the devestated remains of one man’s idealistic but utterly flawed concepts for a society, BI puts you right in the middle of another man’s society that’s in full swing.  It’s a very different vibe seeing the horrible ideas being played out in front of your eyes.  This is one of those games that’s very difficult to turn off because the story grabs you and doesn’t let go.

mh3u-1

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – This has been my multiplayer game lately.  A good friend and I have been putting a ton of time into this one and having a blast.  This is the first Monster Hunter game I’ve tried to play where I didn’t have to jump through hoops to play online with voice chat.  It just works, and works very well.  The built-in mic & speakers in the Wii U’s gamepad controller work great, with only occasional minor feedback.  The game itself is somewhat daunting to get into, and I’ve had a much easier time of it because I’ve been playing with someone well versed in the idiosyncrasies of the series.  I’m not sure how well I would have done otherwise, to be honest.  But once you get the hang of things, it’s absolutely exhilarating to take down a big beast with a friend.  Last night we fought a creature that looked vaguely like a pterodactyl, and in the middle of the fight he called in a fire-breathing wyvern.  Suddenly it became a game of trying to avoid the wyvern as we focused our attacks on the pterodactyl.  It was extremely gratifying when we managed to take it down!

lm2-1

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – On the portable side of things, I decided to picked up a 3DS XL this past Sunday thanks to a sale that Target is running combined with a deal Nintendo is doing where if you register the system + Luigi’s Manion: Dark Moon or Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity by the end of April you’ll get a free game download.  Since I was a big fan of the original Luigi’s Mansion on the Gamecube I thought this sounded like a very good deal.  Fortunately, the LM sequel is just as fun as I remember the original being.  You basically catch ghosts with a vacuum cleaner while exploring a haunted house.  That’s the Cliffs Notes version anyway, but the house is very fun to explore with tons of secrets hidden in the rooms.  Plus the game just has a great charming atmosphere – that “cartoon spooky” vibe that you’d expect from a Halloween themed Looney Tunes or Disney short cartoon.  Great on the go game, and the freebie I got with it (I chose Super Mario 3D Land) was just icing on the cake.

So that’s been my gaming week.  I know, it just sounds like I love everything right now, doesn’t it?  I always enjoy these times while they last, because I know soon enough a disappointing or just plain crappy game will come along.

Review: Tomb Raider

I almost didn’t buy this game.  Honestly, I’ve never been a Tomb Raider fan – never cared for the early games, and although a few of the more recent games were ok they never held my interest through to the end.  When this latest reboot was first announced, I paid it virtually no attention.  I didn’t watch the trailers everyone was buzzing about.  I did not care.   But as luck would have it, last month while trying to find the best deal on the PC version of Bioshock Infinite, a game I am very much interested in, I found a deal that basically got me both it and Tomb Raider for the price of one game.  I figured it was basically “buy Bioshock, get Tomb Raider for free,” and that was my price to give Tomb Raider a shot.  Now that I’ve played the game, I can tell you that I was a fool – Tomb Raider is an incredible game worthy of everyone’s attention, fan of the series or not.

tomb-raider-2013-screen-11The story is relatively simple – while on an expedition, Lara and her crew crash on an island inhabited by a strange cult.  The story is just a backdrop for the character development that takes place, as this is really the story of how Lara Croft became the adventurer we all know her as.  Over the course of the game they do an excellent job of showing her grow from a naive inexperienced girl to a strong decisive woman.  Now you may have heard other reviewers complain about how the action doesn’t always mesh with this narrative – how Lara may act afraid and unsure in a cut scene but then deliver head shots the next time you’re playing.  Well…this is a game.  In the same way I accept that characters in movies can become really good at sports during a musical montage, I accept that what I’m doing while playing may not match up 100% to the character I see in cut scenes.  It’s gotten tons better than it used to be, and in my opinion it’s close enough here that it never stood out to me at all.  But that’s just one of those suspension of disbelief things you have to accept while playing video games.

sc_1600x900As good as the character stuff is, it’s the gameplay that’s the star of the show.  And boy, does it deliver!  Tomb Raider is an adventure game first and a shooter second.  What I mean by that is that exploration, environmental puzzles and traversal take the forefront here and the shooting is secondary.  Structurally, I’d say the game is like a slightly more linear Batman: Arkham game.  During the course of the game you will gain equipment and weapons that will allow you to access previously inaccessible areas.  You can quickly travel to previous areas at the campfires scattered throughout the game.  While the story moves you forward in a linear fashion, this mechanic coupled with a ton of collectibles that actually add value to the game cause you to want to thoroughly explore and backtrack.  In addition, you gain experience points not only through combat but through exploration and finding hidden items.  When Lara levels up, she gains a skill point she can spend in one of several different categories such as Survivor, Hunter or Brawler.  In addition, looting bodies (either enemies or animals you have hunted) and finding hidden treasure caches will give you scrap which you can then use to upgrade your weapons and gear.  These RPG elements go a long way towards strengthening the feeling of character growth the game emphasizes.

130756gegnnc4zln8gze5f All of that sounds great, but this is one of those games where the little touches really make the game.  Where you get completely drawn into the game’s world because of all of the detail the developer paid to…well, everything.  When Lara gets to certain camp sites, she starts narrating diary entries while you navigate the upgrade menus.  Every single journal entry you find scattered across the island – and there are quite a few – is fully voiced.  Areas seamlessly flow into one another with no blatant load screens – load times are instead masked by short areas where Lara can only move forward at a tomb’s entrance.  Speaking of tombs, they are scattered across the island and while short, offer some fantastic environmental puzzles.  Each area has a set of objectives to complete, such as finding and shooting lanterns.  There are also subtle cues that let you know when a fight is coming, such as Lara automatically crouching down and drawing her weapon.  All of this stacked on top of fantastic voice acting and incredible graphics creates a vivid world that feels alive.  Especially on the PC, the graphics seem to be a glimpse at the next gen.  The much touted “Tress FX” – an option that causes Lara’s hair to move very naturally (most of the time) as individual strands instead of one clay-like lump – is definitely something worth seeing.

Bottom line, the game is fantastic.  I have no significant complaints with it at all – everything just works.  It tells a fascinating story with some very strong character development, throws you into a world so detailed you will WANT to explore every inch of it and peppers the experience with some great combat.  It’s the full package.  For the first time, I truly care about the Tomb Raider franchise and can’t wait to see where it goes from here.  The future truly looks bright for Lara.

Review: Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time

Snake.  Fisher.  Auditore.  Cooper.  These names are all synonymous with stealth, tho one of them has been absent from the gaming world for far too long – Sly Cooper.  Sure, we got a great HD compilation of the old PS2 games, but as far as a new game goes it’s been a 7+ year wait.  Well the wait is finally over and Sly, Bentley and Murray are all back in action with a brand new caper.  But has time been kind to the gang, or is this a series that was better left to our memories?

The story in Thieves In Time picks up right where Sly 3 left off.  The gang has been laying low for a while, Sly and Carmalita Fox are still a couple and life is generally good.  But before long Sly is getting that old heist itch and the gang decides to go after an underhanded art smuggler.  After a short opening tutorial level in Paris, the gang is sent zipping back in time to rescue Sly’s ancestors and stop the bad guy’s plot.

Sly & the gangThe game very quickly throws you into the action, and it doesn’t take long at all to realize that the gameplay is very similar to the old games.  This is definitely a plus.  Since the game was not developed by Sucker Punch there was some concern on if it would feel like a “real” Sly Cooper game.  That fear is almost immediately laid to rest.  From the controls and feel of the characters to the general structure of the game and the sense of humor that permeates it, this is 100% a Sly Cooper game.  Levels are structured much as they were in Sly 2.  Each main area consists of a hub world filled with enemies, hidden bottles and other collectibles.  Bentley generally directs the gang, being the brains of the outfit, and you follow his lead to take on missions that utilize each of the other characters.  In addition to the main three, you also get to use each of Sly’s ancestors who also have unique abilities as well as Carmalita.  The game does an excellent job of keeping the focus of the story on the core gang while still offering tons of variety with these other characters.  Each time period offers a unique take on things, with there being 5 time periods in all (not counting the present, which you spend very little time in).

Sly in ArabiaFor the uninitiated, Sly is a platformer game with some light stealth thrown in.  There is very rarely a time when being spotted will cause you to fail, more often than not it just makes life a little easier to stick to the shadows.  Doing so is pretty easy to do, since it usually just means not standing directly in front of enemies.  Often times you’ll want to stick to the rooftops.  Sly has a great mechanic that allows him to stick to any glowing surface by pressing the circle button mid-jump.  This eliminates the need for exact precision for most jumps and puts the focus more on finding the path you need to take.  Each time period also has a costume you will unlock for Sly.  Much more than just a change of appearance, these costumes grant you special moves that will be used for solving puzzles and traveling to previous unreachable locations.  The game smartly doesn’t force you to do a ton of switching between the different costumes, since each costume is mainly only used in the time period in which it is found.  The one exception to this is for collectible hunting – there are some areas that will be unreachable until you find a later costume and return to a past time period with it.

As you find hidden treasure and collect coins by defeating enemies and picking pockets, you can use the money you gain to purchase new moves for all of the main characters.  This gives you a great sense of progression since there are some very useful moves that you can open this way.  It also adds purpose to the myriad collectibles scattered across each mission beyond simple trophy hunting.  In addition to purchasing new moves, collecting the hidden treasures will allow you to repair arcade games in your hideout that you can play.  Finding all of the hidden bottles in an area will allow you to open a safe that will grant you a new extra-special move for Sly.

Vita radar modeThieves In Time was released for both the Vita and Playstation 3, and in a fantastic move by Sony buying the PS3 version will give you the Vita version for free – all for only $40.  The Vita version is almost identical to the PS3 version and supports “Cross Save” functionality, which allows you to transfer your save from the console to the handheld and back again.  This allows you to continue playing your same game in both places.  I found this to be a great feature and one I hope more games adopt in the future (I realize a few other games support it now, but this was my first personal experience with it).  In addition, the Vita can be used as a sort of “radar” to help Sly find all of the hidden collectibles.  This allows for some fun asynchronous co-op play as well as makes finding that last hidden bottle a little easier.

ArcheryThere are a couple of minor problems with the Vita version.  One is unavoidable, the smaller screen size makes things like finding collectibles more difficult.  This isn’t really a big deal, but worth noting.  More baffling is the fact that for some special weapons, the Vita forces you to use motion controls.  The worst case of this is when you use the archer costume in medieval times to shoot arrows, which you must then guide by tilting the Vita.  The final boss in that area requires you to do this several times, and I found that boss fight to be absolutely impossible on the Vita.  I transferred my game back to the PS3 and beat that same boss in less than a minute, using normal controls to guide the arrows.  This will only be a minor inconvenience for people who are switching between both versions, but will be a major problem for anyone who only purchases the Vita version.

Sly Cooper: Thieves In TimeCell shading looks fantastic on current gen hardware, and Sly is no exception.  There is a surprising amount of detail in the environments, and the characters are animated with amazing fluidity.  All of the original voice actors are back (with the exception of Carmalita who has been voiced by a different actress in every game) and they all do their usual fantastic job.  The jokes are delivered perfectly, with some of the best exchanges occurring between Sly and Bentley.  There is only one flaw in the presentation, and that is the load times.  Load times are something I rarely complain about, having grown up in the Commodore 64 era where there were some games where I could literally make a sandwich and eat it while they were loading.  While not THAT bad, the loads in Thieves In Time are significant and serve to pull you out of the experience.

If I could only use one word to sum up Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time, it would be “fun.”  From beginning to end, this game is a blast to play and a reminder of a great genre of gaming that we don’t see very often anymore.  To say that this game is as good as past Sly games is underselling it, because this is easily the best game in the series.  With a fantastic presentation, spot-on gameplay, tons of variety and an unexpected amount of character depth and development worked into the story it’s hard not to recommend this game to pretty much anyone.  Sly Cooper may share the stage with other gaming greats when it comes to stealth, but when it comes to charm he is in a class by himself.

Broken Promises And Exceeded Expectations

I received my copy of SimCity from Amazon on Monday.  If this had been a console game, I would have been happy that I got to play it a day early.  But as it was, I knew that it wouldn’t let me actually play it until Tuesday.  Or so I thought.  In actuality, today is Thursday and I still haven’t played the game.

SimCity Error

Experience the thrill of not playing the game you just paid $60 for!

SimCity is the latest in a disturbing trend in PC games – that is, games that require a constant internet connection to play.  For some games – mainly MMO’s – this makes perfect sense, since the whole point of the game is playing online.  There is no single-player mode in these games.  But with a game like SimCity that’s not the case.  Now before you start angrily typing at me, yes, I know their focus with this sequel was building a social aspect into the game, and that they strongly encourage you to play with others.  But I also know you can create a private game and play by your lonesome, and there’s no reason why this mode shouldn’t have been made available for play offline.  It was the same last year with Diablo III – yes, playing co-op is a big part of that game, but sometimes I just wanna dungeon crawl by myself.  And I can.  Just not offline.

What this truly is is thinly veiled copy protection.  But make no mistake, this is copy protection that hurts the consumer.  It is absolutely ridiculous that I’m not able to play the game two days after release.  Make no mistake, no portion of EA’s systems that are in place to take your money for this game have been affected, they are still willing and able to do that.  I told my wife last night, the next time I see that a game I’m anticipating forces you to be online to play, I’m going to take that to mean “buy this game in two months when it actually works and will probably be cheaper.”  Thanks for the bought lesson, EA.

Tomb Raider PC

Next Gen, today!

So what have I been doing with all of this time in the evenings that I haven’t been using to play SimCity?  Have I taken up knitting, or started learning to play the guitar perhaps?  Why of course not, I’ve been playing Tomb Raider!  And doing so has further proven something I’ve been noticing for a while now – the PC has become the interim next-gen console.  Sure, games have been looking and running better on it for a few years now, but the difference has grown more pronounced recently.  Games like FarCry 3, Crysis 3 and Tomb Raider all look significantly better than their console counterparts.  For those that don’t know, I have my PC connected to my TV, and that combined with a wireless 360 controller allows my computer to basically act as a very powerful console.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to next gen consoles.  For one, all things being relatively equal I prefer to just pop in a game and play rather than have to fiddle with graphic settings.  Also, I’m very much anticipating console exclusives and the features these systems will bring to the table – the game streaming features Sony announced for the PS4 are particularly attractive to me.  But in the meantime, I’ll be playing my multi-platform games on my PC.  The future is today!  Viva la revolution!

 

Review: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

It’s fun to imagine interesting developer cross-overs in the video game world. Even better is when we get to see the results of those cross-overs first hand. Sega made an F-Zero game for the Gamecube, and it was excellent. Square-Enix developed a Disney game, and it was very convoluted but occasionally a lot of fun. Team Ninja made a Metroid game for the Wii, and it….well, it was a disaster. Ninja Theory made a Devil May Cry game, and IT will be the subject of a future review. Today we’re talking about what happened when Kojima let Platinum Games – makers of Bayonetta – take over the reins for a Metal Gear spin-off. Thankfully, the result lived up to the high pedigree of both studiosRaiden.

In Revengeance, you play as Raiden the cyborg ninja from Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4. It’s funny how Konami managed to change public perception on Raiden. He started out being hated since he was stealthily switched in for Solid Snake in MGS2. When he reappeared in MGS4, he was a tough killing machine, and fans wanted more. In Revengeance, he’s an unstoppable force. The story is fairly typical for a Metal Gear game, if not nearly as convoluted as MGS4 was. There’s lots of talk of politics and soldiers for hire. Bosses give monologues about their political and social ideologies before allowing you to carve them to bits. There’s even a brief mention of the Patriots. But the core story is one that’s been told many times before – it’s a simple story of a cyborg ninja fighting other cyborgs to rescue the brains of orphaned children. You know, that old tale.

Luckily the story really doesn’t matter much anyway. The characters are all quirky enough to prove interesting during codec conversations, but the point of this game is action. And on that point it delivers in spades. Revengeance is all about hacking your enemies into tiny pieces. Control of Raiden is extremely fluid and provides that great balance of “easy to play, difficult to master.” You have two primary attacks, a light and a heavy attack. Later on the heavy attack can be switched out to allow you to use the weapons of the bosses you defeat.

Raiden SpineThere are two main systems at play here that are critical for mastering the game. The first is the parry system – move your left stick in the direction an enemy’s attack is coming from and press the light attack button at just the right moment, and you will stun the enemy leaving them open to devastating counter attacks. The second system to master is called the Zandatsu attack. When you parry an enemies attack or when you critically weaken an enemy, a button prompt will appear. Press it (the L1 button on the PS3) and Raiden will proceed to flip into the air and move in slow motion. Holding the L1 button and moving the right stick will allow you to swing your sword any way you want, slicing the enemy to ribbons. However, if you manage to hit the targeted area during this attack Raiden will reach in and pull out their cybernetic spine, crushing it in his fist and refilling his health. If you think this sounds awesome, you are not wrong.

Another ability of Raiden’s is aptly named the Ninja Run. By simply holding down R1 and pressing forward, he will automatically navigate obstacles in his path. This means jumping over barriers, sliding through narrow gaps and even occasionally running across missiles to reach an enemy. This ability works together with all of the others to ensure one thing – Raiden is almost never standing still. There are some areas that can be cleared more easily by employing some basic stealth in the form of sneaking up behind an enemy and performing a take-down move. And there are even cardboard boxes and barrels in the game that serve both as a nod to the series and as a way to accommodate the use of stealth. But none of that is ever required, and if you want to plow through the game full steam ahead, you most certainly can.

MGR ZandatsuOne of the stumbles of the game is that it leaves a lot of critical information up to you to discover. Even special moves you purchase do not readily provide information on how to pull them off, not without digging into menus after you have purchased them. One very critical move I bought, the side step, I did not figure out how to do until the very last boss fight where you HAVE to know how to do it. And even then, I found out by doing a Google search instead of in-game. The fact that they hide all of this information from the player is baffling, but not a deal breaker. You just have to know ahead of time that the game is going to require some outside help to really understand the moves at your disposal.

The presentation of the game really impressed me from beginning to end. Not only does the game look gorgeous, but it runs silky smooth despite the insane amount of things that can be going on at any given time. I noticed one very slight slowdown that lasted maybe a couple of seconds, and that was it for the entire game. Even more impressive, perhaps, is the fact that this game really manages to feel like a Metal Gear. I honestly did not expect that. I assumed with such a different developer in charge, and with Kojima supposedly taking a hands-off approach to this game, that it would feel like what it was – a spin-off of the series with a very different tone. Instead, I found that it fit right in with all of the other games in the series. Everything you expect from a presentation standpoint is there, although it is sometimes cranked to 11. Sound cues, voice acting, menus, codec calls – it’s all here and done just as well as you would expect from the series.

MGR ActionThe best part is the music, which is absolutely phenomenal. This is one of those rare soundtracks where I was constantly thinking while playing “I have to own this soundtrack!” Some of the quieter moments have fairly typical for the series music. But as soon as the action kicks in, so does the rock. It fits perfectly with the tone and action going on. Best of all are the songs that play with each boss fight. Loud, fast and epic to really get your blood pumping. My favorite touch was how vocals will kick in when you get close to beating the boss. The music could not have possibly been better.

The game does make one more stumble tho, unfortunately – the camera. Especially when you get near a wall or are fighting in tight quarters, the camera freaks out. Often pointing everywhere but where you need it to, you’ll do everything you can to get away from the wall. Sometimes it’s more a matter of just trying to keep focused on a very fast moving enemy. A lock-on would have helped immensely, but sadly there is none. The times when you’re fighting the camera more than your enemies are not fun, and they serve to tarnish what is otherwise an amazing game. Thankfully the issue didn’t pop up enough for me to be a deal breaker, but it is definitely an issue.

MGR BlockSomething that you may have heard is a problem but is not is the game’s length. Before going in I had heard it reported at around 4 hours, but for a first time play through that is not a speed run, this is ridiculous. The in-game clock – which does not count cut scenes or any time spent retrying a section – read about 6.5 hours for me. Counting in the retries & cut scenes, I’d say it was easily an 8-10 hour experience for me which is average for the genre. Also, this does not take into account the VR missions you unlock playing through the game or the very strong pull to do a New Game Plus run. It is impossible to level up everything in one run, plus there are collectibles to find and just the draw to experience the adrenaline-soaked madness all over again.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is the summer blockbuster of the gaming world. It’s pure action that never lets up, and you’ll play the majority of the game with a grin that won’t go away. The couple of stumbles I mentioned are unfortunate, but they absolutely should not prevent anyone from experiencing this. There are things that take place in Revengeance’s prologue that most games would save until the very end, and things only get more and more crazy-awesome the further you go. The fact that all of that action is contained in a distinctly Metal Gear wrapper makes it all that much better. I’m looking forward to the next proper game in the series, but Konami (and Platinum) would be crazy not to do a follow up to this as well.