Review: Max The Curse of Brotherhood

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
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Cost
$14.99
Format
Digital
Size
2.96 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], Xbox 360
Release Date
12/20/13
Developer
Press Play
Publisher
Microsoft Stuidios
Modes
Single Player

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a 2.5D sidescrolling puzzle platformer developed by Press Play, a company owned by Microsoft. It’s a sequel to the Wii and PC game Max & The Magic Marker, which was released in 2010 before Microsoft bought Press Play. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is developed my Microsoft Studios and is a part of their indie game push along with ID@Xbox. You play as Max, who found a curse online that sent his annoying younger brother Felix through a portal to a monster infested magical world which Max instantly jumps in after him. This world is being controlled by the evil lord Mustachio. Mustachio plans to use Felix’s youth and some evil magic to allow him to go back to being a young man and continue to reign over the land before his old age catches up to him. It’s up to Max to save Felix and save the day. 2D/2.5D puzzle platformer games have become one of the most common genres in gaming. So each entry needs to have its own unique puzzle and gameplay elements. In Max this comes to fruition with the magic marker; an item found early in the game that builds in power and abilities in each new world. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, along with Halo Spartan Assault, was the first game to be utilized with the Games with Gold program for the Xbox One, which allows Xbox Gold users to download and own games for free.

Max’s story is very simplistic and predictable; it plays out like a kids Disney or DreamWorks movie. Honestly this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there’s no reason at all to have some crazy story because at its core Max is a kids game that us adults can also enjoy. There are really only four characters in the game. Max, with his motivation to right his wrongs and save his obnoxious brother Felix, is a good enough protagonist. Felix’s voice is one of the more unbearable things I’ve heard in gaming. I guess this is a good thing, because they try to make Felix be that annoying little brother character from every movie and TV show ever so they do a nice job, but jeez is he irritating. On one of later levels you can hear his cry for help every five seconds and he repeats the same three or four phrases over and over and over and I almost didn’t want to save him. Mustachio is just a crazy evil bad guy, nothing special really, other than the fact that he is incredible ugly and disturbing. And there’s a fourth character, a creepy old lady who has no name but gives Max his magic marker and aids him throughout the journey.

There are seven chapters with two to six levels in each chapter for a total of twenty-two levels. Each chapter is atheistically very different, varying from anything from a desert to a forest to a dark rivery wasteland. The level design offers some diversity. Usually you can walk at your own pace to navigate the puzzles and platforms and avoid the enemies. Sometimes however you’ll get chased by a giant monster, ride a log down some rapids, run from some rising lava, etc. Nothing in this aspect is revolutionary, it’s all been down before, but it still offers some appreciated array of level design. The real special part of the gameplay is the magic marker. And this is where you make your bread and butter in this genre. The gameplay needs to be fun and the puzzles need to utilize the games twist properly. In Portal this is the portal gun, in Braid it’s the time bending, in Fez it’s the world manipulation. While Max doesn’t use its magic marker anywhere near as creatively and perfectly as those games, it still does a fine job of creating rewarding puzzles and gameplay.

When traversing the world there are predetermined spots around the environment that you can manipulate using the marker. The key in these moments isn’t’ to necessarily find these locations, although sometimes they are slightly hidden, instead it’s about properly using them to climb over a giant rock, smash open a gate, take down a monster, etc. To move max you use the left analog stick, and to control you marker you use the right stick. As soon as you create something with the magic marker you can destroy it with a click of a button. This can be used to start over if you messed up something, but it’s also used to solve puzzles. The abilities you unlock for the magic marker allows for continual fresh and interesting gameplay. The first thing the magic marker can do is raise pillars out of the ground. This is the most simplistic power of the marker, but it is still used in intriguing ways. Sometimes it’s used to block a monster, or maybe to simply climb onto a ledge, or sometimes it’s used to create platforms for rolling rocks to fall down and smash into giant stone walls. You soon learn to create vines to use to swing over giant pits, but again they find creative ways to go beyond what you expect like attaching the vine to a giant boulder and pushing it off a ledge then quickly breaking the vine and watching it fly through the air and smash into a monster. They continue with this throughout the game, always using the abilities in ways you wouldn’t expect. Later in the game you gain the ability to create branches, water spouts, and launch fire through the air. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of usages for the magical abilities of the magic marker. Each one could have easily been a simple one trick pony, but that thankfully isn’t the case. The game’s puzzles are at their absolute best when you are asked to use multiple abilities in one puzzle. They do this pretty often and usually they are done well. The final boss battle is weak. It’s actually a strange and doesn’t feel well. In a puzzle based platformer it’s hard to do boss battles well. Putting any kind of direct combat or even puzzle based combat into the game feels forced, but I don’t blame them because no matter what it’s hard to pull off. Max also has hidden collectables to find that can provide a decent challenge at times.

The graphics in Max are sub-par. The first chapter of the game takes place in the dessert and it’s the ugliest chapter in the game. It seems strange to start off with such a bland boring environment. The next chapter looks better, it’s a forested area. But the darker the game get’s the prettier it gets. There is a strange swampy rivery chapter that is very pretty; the art design is fantastic here. And when lava get’s thrown into the mix in dark dungeons in the later chapters it is also visually appealing. On a technical level the game is not impressive, but at some places the art design picks up for the lack in power. There is little detail and not much enemy verity. At some point the game is flat out ugly. There are objects that are used repetitively throughout the environment. This is done in games often, but if you use that same rock in or tree stump in nearly every level than there are tricks that can be used to make them look slightly different. I also encountered strange visual glitches from time to time that threw me out of the experience. The voice acting is aggravating to the ears, and the writing is equally dreadful. The music is also lacking, sounding like it got ripped right out of a straight to dvd soundtrack. Overall the general presentation of the game seems very rushed. More time to work on detail in the environments and overall appearance would have greatly enhanced on Max’s overall feel and tone, which would in turn improve the overall game itself.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a good start to Press Play’s development on the Xbox One. It’s by far not a perfect puzzle platformer, but it does make the most of the magic marker and creates fun gameplay. The puzzles could have been much tougher, there were very few moments where I truly had to stop and think, but as mentioned before this game is designed partially for a younger audience. Max could have used more time in development. The core game is there, but the polish is not. It’s not the prettiest thing to look. I’m a big proponent of game “feel”. A game’s graphics, art, music, story, and characters can create a tone that pulls you in like no other medium in entertainment. The best games are the ones that create incredible game feel and tone. Bioshock, Limbo, Arkham Asylum are games of the last generation that did this perfectly. Games from the last year that created phenomenal game feel are Child of Light, Last of Us, and Valiant Hearts. Max really doesn’t do this at all, there’s no game feel and no purpose of the direction of the game. More focus and time could have propelled Max to greater heights. Not all of the puzzles themselves hit home, this isn’t the same level as the aforementioned Portal, Braid, etc. but it’s a solid inaugural effort for Press Play on the Xbox One. I look forward to Press Play continuing their efforts on their new home for Microsoft, and I look forward to the possibility of more Max games in the future. Press Play has things to learn but they are on the right way, and that’s definitely a good thing for us gamers.

PROS:
1) Strong core game design
2) Good use of Max’s magic marker

CONS:
1) Overly simple plot
2) Poor polish and detail in graphics and art
3) Little to no “game feel”

7.0
Good

 

Review: Thief

Thief
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Cost
$49.99
Format
Retail & Digital
Size
21.29 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date
2/25/14
Developer
Eidos Montreal
Publisher
Square Enix
Modes
Single Player

Thief is the fourth game in the stealth series from Eidos. The Thief series has been around since 1998 and has prided itself on true first person stealth gameplay. The Thief games take place in an alternate Victorian era history with steampunk, gothic, and fantasy elements. You play as Garrett, a master thief in what is simply known as, “The City”. Garrett uses stealth, tactics, and his wit to steal, solve mysteries, and get out alive. The Thief series is a beloved cult classic that has been in hiding for quite some time. After brilliantly revitalizing the Dues Ex franchise, Edios Montreal is tasked with stealing Theif out of the clutches of video game irrelevance after a ten year hiatus. Do they get the job done? Or should this game have stayed in the shadows where it belongs?

In Garrett’s first contract in Thief he is paired up with his old apprentice Erin. She is a talented thief that tends to get herself into trouble with her aggressive and stubborn nature. During this introductory level you learn the basics of the gameplay in Thief. Garrett and Erin share many memories together but don’t get along too well, they argue and fight the whole way along, Erin even kills for fun which very much offends Garret, who says he kills only when he has to. At the end of this contract together something goes terribly erroneous and Erin is seemingly killed or lost. Garrett falls and loses consciousness and wakes up a year later. The city is in terrible shape, things have gone awfully wrong, a tyrant named The Baron has taken over, and Garrett is the city’s only hope. Garrett plays the hero who doesn’t want to be a hero role, and doesn’t do a great job. Thief has some strange supernatural elements that feel forced. There’s nothing wrong with having fantasy elements, Dishonered is a comparable game that does it well, but in Thief there’s little to no explanation as to what these elements are and why they exist. So instead of having interesting mystical thought provoking components, it’s just confusing and cheap. The story is for the most part predictable. It tries to throw in some twists and turns, and admittedly there were moments when I was intrigued. But as soon as I thought the story was about to surprise me, the “twists” would instead end up being exactly what I expected.

The stealth gameplay is where Thief excels. In many stealth games the best and most recommended action is to quietly take down one enemy at a time. In Thief you want to get in, steal, and get out without anyone even knowing you exist. And this can be extremely fun. Garrett uses the shadows as his biggest weapon. Successfully navigating each room, alleyway, city street is all about the timing in which you move from shadow to shadow. Garrett uses a blackjack to knock out guards when he needs to. He also uses a compact bow that can be used to destroy select pieces of the environment or a standard arrow to kill the guards in complete silence. The bow can also be upgraded with water arrows to burn out torches or fire arrows to light them back up. He can also pick up empty bottles to throw across the room to misdirect the confused guards. Each of these allows you to feel quite equipped to sneakily plot your course and execute your plan through each level. It’s entirely possible to play the entire game without killing a single enemy, which is actually an achievement in the game. The minute to minute stealth of the game is satisfying. You can climb up to higher places and pass by unseen. You can throw a bottle across the room to distract a guard, take down the second guard as he is distracted, and jump back behind the shadows before the guard even knows what’s happened. When you do get detected, the combat is awful. The only thing you can do is try to run away, but you will probably get hit with arrows from afar. You can try to use your blackjack in a clunky dodge and hit combat system but good luck taking on any more than one or two enemies. The combat could have been better, but really the game is designed to avoid confrontation. Most stealth games have guns and weapons, so you can just pull out and shoot some poor guard in the head. Thief seems more real and tactical, and it makes sense because Garrett technically isn’t some secret agent, he’s a thief. Expertly sneaking into a building, stealing the loot, and escaping in the shadows feels pretty awesome to accomplish. The AI in Thief is pretty stupid, but this is the case in the stealth genre, if you have smart AI than you can’t really be that stealthy successfully.

The missions are fun and offer some verity. Each level is thought out quite well, sometimes taking place in a mansion or sometimes in whole small sections of the city. There are a few areas of some levels that really seem unfair, as it feels almost impossible to move by unseen, but there’s always at least one way to sneak by. The game is at its best when it allows you to be creative and take any approach from any angle you want, and usually it does this very well. There’s a level that takes place in an insane asylum that is very eerie. There are also some surprising levels that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say the stealth involved is quite different than the typical missions. The story tries to motivate you through the campaign, but it does a lousy job. Luckily the gameplay itself does the task just fine.

The graphics in Thief are at some points very impressive, at other points not so much. The world of Thief is dark, gritty, gross, and ugly; there’s very little color and very little life. This is intentional; to help develop the miserable world. And remember the dark shadows are your best friend. But more color would have helped the games visuals. The lighting and shadows of the game aren’t the best I’ve ever seen, but they do look nice. One of the prettier levels the game is the House of the Blossoms. This is essentially an upscale whore house; with roses, curtains, candles, and gold plated walls. It is a shame more levels couldn’t have utilized a wider color scheme like this one did. The facial animations seem subpar. Thief is actually a good looking game. It’s sad because the game does a great job of creating an ugly, beat-down, sad, dark city. So it does its job quite well, it’s just that the city is too unattractive for its own good. The music in Thief is good, nothing to memorable but nothing bad either. It ramps up at important fast paced moments and gets quiet and slow when you are hiding in the shadows. It matches the tone of the dark stealth based tone of the game.

Speaking of which, let’s move onto the absolute worst part of Thief, The City. Along with looking ugly and sad, The City’s design is amounts the worst overworld I’ve ever seen in any game. It’s almost too bad to even explain. There are painful amounts of backtracking in Thief. And what seems like it would only take two or three minutes can sometimes take ten or fifteen to traverse. Instead of having a straight path or multiple paths to get from point A to point B, there are usually one or two very twisted and confusing paths. One path may ask you to sneak around a few guards, climb up a ladder, go through a window, wait thirty seconds for loading time, climb out the window, run on the rooftops, jump down a rope, and finally land back on the floor at your location. The biggest gripe with this is that it’s probably only ten feet away from where you started; it’s just that the game didn’t want you to be able to walk through that gate so instead it sent you on a ten minute relay race. There are literally a dozen examples of this and you can’t really get to any part of the city without going through one or two of these tortuous mazes. Another aspect of the city that is dreadful is the enemies. The guards are in very specific locations on the map, they never move. They also respawn within minutes if you do happen to kill them or knock them out. The problem is that Garrett’s resources are low, so you may take down a group of guards one moment, and then come back towards the same area a few moments later and be all out of bottles to throw, arrows to shoot, etc. And sometimes you are almost forced to attack them if you want to escape alive because of the layout of where the guards are posted. The map is also awful; the blueprint of the city doesn’t even make sense on paper. It doesn’t show you where to go to replay old missions and the icons for each location are confusing. The map layout is so poor that there were multiple times that I painfully trudged through the city for ten minutes only to find out that the location was on the OTHER side of the wall and I had taken the wrong path! So I was forced to backtrack through the horrifying streets, sobbing more with every furious disheartening step, until I finally took the correct path to where I needed to go. It’s hard enough to navigate the world when going from mission to mission. But even after you beat the game you may want to accomplish all the side objectives and investigate what the game has to offer. The city itself has small shops, extra side missions and contracts to accomplish, hidden items and loot, and so on. So there’s incentive to want to explore, but the design of the city is such a turn off that you will never want to come back. I myself wanted to 100% the achievements in the game, but I couldn’t stand the horrifying backtracking and tediousness of the city so I stopped before I really even got started. As soon as the main game is completed, you’ll never want to come back.

Thief in some ways is an agonizing game to play because there’s something really good here but it gets swallowed up by its shortcomings. The stealth aspects and the creativity it allows are truly rewarding. And the designs of the campaign’s levels, for the most part, truly bring out those strengths. But the story is uninspired and sloppy. The plot itself is at its best moments almost captivating, but at its worst moments predictable and boring. The baron is a poor villain who I don’t have any emotions towards. For a good villain you want to either truly hate him or sympathize with him, instead I just didn’t care. Garrett is one dimensional and dull. He is really only motivated by understanding the mystery around Erin. But for me as the player, I didn’t care about Erin at all because she is extremely obnoxious, self centered, and rude. And the remaining side characters in the game are worthless, even Garrett himself doesn’t seem to want to be bothered by their existence. Eidos Montreal created characters that are just so hard to care about. I would have liked the campaign better if they just gave me fun levels to sneak through to find the treasures and loot. And of course the aforementioned overworld is appalling, atrocious, and monotonous. If I scored the game on the overworld alone Thief would get the lowest score possible. Luckily that’s not the case, and even with the worst overworld ever and a lackluster story, the gameplay itself is designed well and it enjoyable. If Eidos Montreal wants to develop another game in this sneaky series of pickpocketing, blundering, and burglary, than that’s fine; because there’s a good game here. And I want it to be good. But a lot of work needs to be done for Thief, so until then please get back into the shadows and leave me alone.

PROS:
1) Good level design and campaign structure
2) Creative sneaky stealth gameplay
3) Game feel and art design create strong tone

CONS:
1) Uninteresting and predictable story
2) It’s hard to care about any of the characters
3) Perhaps the worst overworld in recent gaming history

6.0
Average

 

Review: R.B.I. Baseball 14

R.B.I. Baseball 14
box_rbibaseball_w160
Cost
$19.99
Format
Digital
Size
1.12 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date
6/24/14
Developer
MLB Advanced Media
Publisher
Majesco
Modes
Single Player & Local Multiplayer

RBI Baseball 14 is a arcade style baseball game that is a re-imagining of a NES classic. All the current teams, players and stadiums are present in about the most basic baseball game you could ever think to make.

I’m struggling to find a word that is more basic than basic. This game makes Tic-Tac-Toe look complicated. Are you a gamer who wants to mess with their line-ups? Not here buddy. Do you want to trade players between teams? Not going to happen. Enjoy Manager or Coach type modes? Move along. Are you a min/maxer looking to play the best team? You’ll not find a single power rating of any kind. People are suggesting online that certain players and teams are indeed better that others but the game won’t help you figure that out in any way shape or form. Want to play a game where your options are hit the ball or throw the ball? Now you are in RBI Baseball’s ballpark. There are only two modes in the game; Exhibition or Season. An Exhibition game is a single game and is RBI Baseball’s only multiplayer game which is a local only mode. We’ll get to that in a bit. In Season mode you can play out a full season ending in the World Series or just play the World Series.

I don’t want to say that being basic is a negative in itself. It’s more that for a $20 price tag this game seams to be basic just to save money on the design process. Players are represented by a photo and then a pretty basic rendering. The main graphics are first gen 360 at best. Minimal polys and stock standard animations across all players. When fielding a ball the characters will just hold up their glove and no matter where the ball actually is on the field or in the air, its just magically transported to their glove. I’m not talking across the field, these are all catches I would expect them to make, they just don’t line up as they should. Having sloppy animations is not ‘retro’, it’s poor design. The further from the play you get the worse the graphics get. Spectators in the stands are simply box shaped blobs with two long thin rectangles for arms that are constantly clapping together like a seal at Sea World.

vlcsnap-2014-08-14-11h25m06s106

For me, local only multiplayer is a cardinal sin for this generation. Really it was a sin since Live went live but in today’s age where over 80% of Americans have internet it’s pure and simple laziness. If you want to make a single player game then fine do that. But if you choose to include multiplayer then it has to be online. What is the issue? Your game is as simple as can be, it’s not like there is a lot of data to push back and forth. MLB Advanced Media has said that a upcoming patch would add online multiplayer. That was a post right before launch and we are now almost 2 months past with ZERO communication. All tweets and posts asking for clarification are ignored so I am not holding out hope for it to be added anytime soon.

The game uses standard d-pad up,down,left,right to select which base you throw the ball too. Making this d-pad selection at the exact same time as you hit the throw button makes your player throw it a little faster. A nice addition that is not referenced ANYWHERE in the instructions. There is an achievement for fast throwing out a runner trying to score. You have to look up online to find a instruction book from a previous version of the game to even learn about this feature.

The AI is yet another area where this game drops the ball. I can name a laundry list of bad decisions and inconsistent play. Let’s start with the worst. If the AI is trying to steal a base, they advance ALL runners. This means if the AI has a player on 1st and 3rd, they are going to try to steal home. It happens almost every game and they will not back down. I see the run, I throw a ball, my catcher gets it and then just waits for the out. EVERY SINGLE TIME. A bunt towards 3rd base is a hit 90% of the time because only the pitcher can get the ball. If it drops RIGHT in front of the catcher, he will stand there and wait for the pitcher to come. Same with a bunt that lands just short of 3rd base. The 3rd baseman will watch it and the pitcher take his sweet time coming over for the ball.

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The only thing the AI does right is run bases like a champ. If you twitch the wrong direction on your pass the AI knows it the millisecond it leaves your player’s hand and is on the run for the next base. Their other advantage is they can continue their run smoothly. They round 2nd without a pause but there is no control for you the gamer to pre-round that base. Your player must stop on 2nd before you can tell them to advance costing you time.

Really the only thing RBI Baseball has going for it is that it’s the only baseball game on the ONE at this point. If you want a sports game you can play quickly head to head with a buddy sitting right besides you and not deal with all the strategy and nuances a Madden or a FIFA has then this is the game for you. Hitting is hit or bunt. Pitching is fast or slow. It’s a game you can play while watching a movie or in the middle of a party and not paying attention to it too closely works in this game’s favor anyway.

Their website boasts that this is the first time in over a decade there has been a RBI Baseball game and after playing the game I can tell you that they should of waited even longer. Sloppy AI, complete lack of any kind of management options and dated graphics make this game a strike out for all but the most diehard, need to play a baseball game no matter what, fans.

PROS:
1) It’s baseball, and on the ONE your only option

CONS:
1) Basic to a fault
2) Local only multiplayer
3) Graphics are not retro, they are just horrible

2.8
Terrible

 

Pinball FX 2 Achievement List & First Impressions

PREFACE

This just showed up in the store and I thought I’d post some quick thoughts. Will do some gameplay later tonight. Also something to note is Zen said each purchasable table would have 1 achievement for 10gs. So far all of these that I have seen are showing up as 0gs.

ACHIEVEMENTS

:: Main Game ::
25gs – Pathfinder – Complete a 6-way combo on Sorcerer’s Lair! (Single player only)
25gs – Stockpiler – Beat the tree being in it’s hurry up mode on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
50gs – Sharpshooter – Take down the spiders in 20 seconds in the cellar on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
100gs – Secrets of the Lair – Conclude the final mode: Midnight Madness on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
50gs – Tower Conqueror – Score a jackpot in the Citadel multiball on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
100gs – Gargoyle’s Quest – Score a super jackpot in the Gargoyle multiball on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
100gs – Master of the Stairs – Complete the Stairway mode on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
150gs – Afraid of no Ghosts – Complete the Sorcerer’s multiball on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
200gs – Perfectionist – Complete all the main modes in a single game on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
200gs – Obsidian Obsession – Collect all 13 obsidians on the Sorcerer’s Lair table! (Single player only)
:: Marvel Civil War ::
0gs – Heroes Imprisioned – Break into the Prison and start the Ambush with Captain America on Civil War! (Single player only)
:: Marvel Captain America ::
0gs – The Cosmic Cube – Use the Cosmic Cube to your advantage on Captain America! (Single player only)
:: Marvel Fantastic Four ::
0gs – Doomsday – Lock 4 balls with Doctor Doom and start the Four-ball mode on Fantastic Four! (Single player only)
:: Paranormal ::
0gs – Ghost Sightings – Get up to the attic of the Haunted Mansion and banish a ghost on Paranormal! (Single player only)

IMPORTING TABLES

When you look at the price of a table you have you will see that it is changed to $0.00. Then go through the process like you would normally to buy something from the Store. It doesn’t just give you a option to import everything you already own, you need to navigate to each take and re-buy it for FREE. THEN you still have to click it again to let Xbox know that you actually want to install it.

FIRST 9 OR SO MINUTES OF SORCERER’S LAIR

If you want to see how it looks check out this quick video I made of my first 9 minutes of play. Sorry for how bad I suck.

Review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
box_mgsgz_w160
Cost
$29.99
Format
Retail & Digital
Size
4.75 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date
3/18/14
Developer
Kojima Productions
Publisher
Konami
Modes
Single Player

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is Kojima’s newest game in the extremely popular Metal Gear Solid series. It’s the first game to showcase the new FOX Engine. The game had a controversial announcement and release due to the fact that it’s a very small game that can be completed in literally ten minutes, although on the first play-through it should take about two hours. But the game does have great replay value and harkens back to a classic style of gaming that invites creativity in Snake’s sneaky attack. Of course Ground Zeroes is a stealth espionage game, but also Kojima adds new gameplay elements to bring in new gamers and a more forgiving nature. Does this ruin the gameplay? Is there enough game here for $30?

Ground Zeroes’ story takes place after Peace Walker, the PSP game which is one of the most beloved and highest rated games of the franchise. The campaign’s story will connect the dots of Peace Walker and the yet to be released The Phantom Pain, which will take place before 2008’s MGS4: Guns of the Patriots. The story is dark, jarring, and leaves multiple cliffhangers for what we will look forward to in The Phantom Pain. Kojima is known for crazy stories, over the top characters, and a lot of confusion. If you are a fan of the brain aneurysm inducing intertwining stories of Metal Gear Solid than you won’t be disappointed by Ground Zeroes. But if you don’t know what you’re jumping into, prepare to be disturbed and confused on whole new levels.

The gameplay in Ground Zeroes is extremely polished, deep, and thoroughly enjoyable. Kojima took a risk with some elements and they paid off. The main new idea to Ground Zeroes is that it is an “Open World” style game. Now this is using the term loosely because the game takes place in one refugee camp and not some big city or massive island. But the open world allows the player to navigate and pick and choose how to take on the challenge. This is extremely satisfying and replaying the game once the enemies’ locations and patterns are fully learned can be very fun. This is the classic style of gaming that Kojima wanted to add and he did it perfectly. Remember classic games like on the old NES that we would play hundreds of times? In these games we would learn exactly where enemies are, when to shoot, where to move to, when to jump, etc. And the joy of those games was beating it over and over and getting better every time. Kojima designed Ground Zeroes to feel like this and it’s great. There are also multiple side missions that take place in the same refugee camp but have new enemies in different locations and new objectives. Almost all of these are very unique and give so much imagination in how to approach them. One of which can be beaten completely by simply riding in the back of a patrol car, getting out and stealing the intel, and jumping back in unseen. At the end of each mission the player receives a rank, which also unlocks new weapons to use at the start of those missions to make it easier to get to that next ranking. At the end of the mission it also shows stats on how quickly you beat it, how many enemies were killed, etc. So speed runs, perfect runs, and more allow for some fun replayability.

Another new gameplay element is called Reflex Mode. If an enemy spots Snake as he is sneaking around, time freezes and the player has a few seconds to take down the enemy before the alarm is raised. It doesn’t at all break the feel of MGS, and in the open world environment where sometimes it’s hard to see if a patrolling enemy snuck up you, it’s a very smart design decision. Also in older MGS games there was an alarm system in the top corner of the HUD that showed when Snake was in the alert stage, evasion stage, or caution stage. This time it’s much more intuitive. There’s no on screen indication at all, instead the player must pay attention to the AI and their movements, the radio’s of the patrolmen and what they are saying. It’s another great decision that immerses the player in the stealth espionage action.

Ground Zeroes does definitely have some faults as well. It’s extremely short, and although it has some replay value, many gamers could be turned off by the idea that the core game is over in just two hours. It’s important to know that in the beginning of every Metal Gear Solid game, there is a few hour level that initiates the player with the gameplay and story of the game. In MGS2 this is the submarine level. In MGS3 it’s when Snake is initially thrown into the wilderness with a simple mission before later having to go back and then the game vastly opens up. I believe that Ground Zeroes was supposed to be the “tutorial” type level for Phantom Pain. But Konami needed some revenue and a big title for the first time in a while, so they decided to experiment by giving us Ground Zeroes. So they gave us that level along with a bunch of side mission and extras.

Fox Engine is gorgeous. The level of detail in the characters and the environment is some of the prettiest in gaming. One minor gripe has to do with looking at an AI character at distance. The faces are very blurred and non-detailed when looking through the binoculars at a distance, then they sort of pop into focus once it is zoomed closer. This is an ugly transition that is the only part of the engine that looks out of place.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a very polished, very fun stealth game. The open world style allows for impressive amounts of creativity. Each gameplay tweak is done wonderfully. It’s easy to fundamentally change a game, like the way Kojima made this “open world”, but fail to advance gameplay mechanics at the same time. Kojima didn’t miss a beat here. The graphics are stunning, especially at night and in the rain. The biggest complaints are definitely the length of the game, and this is a big deal. I ended up playing it for over 20 hours, but that’s because the gameplay and replayability hit home for me, but I can easily see this not being the case for everyone. All the side-missions are cool, and the creative replayable nature of the game is great. But it should have been an add-on to an 8-10 hour game instead of almost being the core game itself. If you like MGS you’ll love the story and Kojima’s craziness, but again if it’s not your thing it may just turn you off. Ground Zeroes is one of the more polarizing games of recent memory. I can see some people very much enjoying it while others could end up disappointed. I lean towards the former, but I do recognize that there could have been much more. If it’s just a taste of what Phantom Pain will have to offer than color me excited for this “next-gen” step into the crazy world that is Metal Gear Solid.

PROS:
1) Smart, smooth, stealthy fun gameplay
2) New element such as open world and reflex mode are all great additions
3) Gorgeous Graphics
4) Crazy Kojima and his madness

CONS:
1) Replay value is there, but main game is way to short
2) Overpriced for such a short main mission
3) Crazy Kojima and his madness

7.8
Good

 

Review: Sixter Second Shooter Prime

Sixty Second Shooter Prime
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Cost
$4.99
Format
Digital
Size
492 MB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed]
Release Date
6/18/14
Developer
Happion Laboratories
Publisher
ID@Xbox
Modes
Single Player

Sixty Second Shooter Prime is a small downloadable only game for the Xbox One developed by Happion Laboratories. The game is a duel stick space shooter that may draw comparisons to games like Geometry Wars or even the classic Asteroids. For just five bucks, one might wonder if this game is a hidden bargain or if after sixty seconds you’ll be completely done with it.

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The cool gameplay mechanic for SSSP is that each player starts out with sixty seconds on the clock and you need to score as much points as possible before that time runs out. There are typical powerups like missiles, multipliers and the ability to slow down time. Each level has a portal that appears and you can choose to go through the portal if you like. The next portal will instantly put you into the next level, but the difficulty will spike just as fast. The game is fast paced, and very hard. It’s good classic fun.

Where SSSP falls short is replayability and depth. The game you boot up the first time is the exact same game you play the four hundredth time. And you may actually play it that many times just to beat the achievements. Geometry Wars excelled with instant updates of leader boards and the ability to see just how close you are to beating your friends’ scores. And it had many gamemodes. Sixty Second Shooter Prime doesn’t do either well. The second gamemode is an endless game mode that is exactly what you think it would be, just the same game on endless replay until you blow up. Another complaint is the graphics. When everything explodes on screen it can be pretty, but the art style is very bland. It seems like SSSP is just another game that has low texture boring graphics just to say, “Hey look everyone! We’re Indie” But in reality the real beautiful indie games are the ones that have amazing detailed art style, this game doesn’t do that at all.

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Sixty Second Shooter Prime is a fun little experience, it just doesn’t last long. The sixty second idea is nice, but it isn’t fleshed out anywhere near as well as it could have been. Happion Laboratories could have taken some notes from Geometry wars with more gamemodes and reasons to keep playing. For just five dollars, it may be worth a shot. But by the time you get over the initial difficulty curve and find out that Sixty Second Shooter Prime is a decent game, you already have played as much as the game has to offer.

PROS:
1) Just $5
2) Fun core concept
CONS:
1) Core idea not fleshed out enough
2) Very little replay value
3) Not too visually appealing

5.5
Dull

 

Review: Peggle 2

Peggle 2
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Cost
$11.99
Format
Digital
Size
2.36 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed]
Release Date
12/9/13
Developer
PopCap Games
Publisher
EA
Modes
Single Player & Minor Multiplayer

Peggle 2 is a puzzle game developed by Popcap studios. It’s the sequel to the inventive and successful Peggle released in 2007. The puzzle genre has been around for a very long time. There have been countless block breaking style games or Tetris clones or ball shooting puzzlers or match three games (sorry Candy Crush, you are far from pioneering). One of the cool things about Peggle is that the gameplay really is innovative. For a genre like puzzle games, that are some of the easiest to develop and are placed on any and every machine in the world that can handle them, it’s impressive the Popcap created something genuinely new and fun. Peggle 2 is tasked with taking what the first did right, adding new stuff, and hoping not to screw up something that is already such a huge hit.

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Peggle 2’s gameplay is the same as the first. You need to shoot a ball from the top of the screen and aim it to hit as many orange pegs as you can. Ten balls, so ten tries to take out every single orange peg. Luckily for the us players there are plenty of chances to get extra shots. Getting twenty-five thousand points in a single shot will give you an extra ball. If the ball fortunately lands in the moving bucket on the bottom of the screen the player will be rewarded with an extra shot as well. There are also many masters to choose from, each giving the player different powerups, called super shots, to help the cause. Bjorn’s magical unicorn powers allow for a super guide aimer to show exactly where the ball will bounce for three turns. Jeffrey the troll’s super shot will transform the ball into a giant boulder that will smash through every peg in the way. Each super shot is unique and provides a fun twist to the gameplay. The game’s art style is bursting with charm. If there was a camera recording my face the whole time (KINECT!) it would show me smiling nonstop (except in the moments of pure frustration). The music is also incredibly catchy and fun, with a few that don’t match up quite as well as to the others. Most of the songs are re-imagined and remixed versions of orchestrated classics like Morning Mood and Ode to Joy. They fit perfectly with Peggle 2’s colorful vibrant world. Months and months later some of the tunes still get stuck in my head. THAT BERG TRIAL SONG BRO!!!!!

The standard game takes you through ten levels for each of the five masters, with an additional ten for each DLC character (I’ve played two of them so far, the first was great and the second fell flat in my opinion). The basic game is fun and has decent difficulty. There are also three additional optional objectives for each level; this is where the real challenge is. There are also 10 trial levels for each master, and these range from super easy fun levels that show off the masters’ abilities in enjoyable ways to painfully difficult ones that ask you to beat the level without going over a certain score. There are two multiplayer functions in Peggle 2. There are basic leaderboards for high scores in each level. And there is Duel Mode. Duel Mode is a local or online head-to-head game mode that pits two players against each other on the same board, high score wins. It’s a fun game mode that has a lot of strategic elements because you want to get great shots yourself but also don’t want to set up high scoring shots for your opponent.

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The difficulty is where the game starts to fall off at times. If you are a completionist, as I am, then this game may make you want to rip your hair out. Beating all the trials are a major challenge. But it’s the optional goals on the regular levels that are truly ridiculous. Some of the goals are nearly impossible, one of which I literally stayed up for six hours all night until I beat. The reason why they are so hard is because Peggle 2 is such a crazy game. What I mean by this is that you can perfectly aim a shot at long distance and it can ricochet into the bucket just like you hoped. But the very next shot, if you just ever so slightly misfire it could go nowhere near your intended target and ruin pivotal chances. In every level there is a clear all pegs objective and ace score objective (reach a certain score). These objectives sometimes feel impossible given the layout of the level. Also another big complaint is that as much character and allure that each master has, the super shots for most are sort of pointless. Luna, Jeffrey, and Berg all have abilities that work fine on the few levels that are designed around it, but other than that they are useless. Bjorn’s super guide is useful for levels that require precise aiming. But all in all if you want to clear all pegs or get the high score, Gnorman’s Uber Volt is uber over powered. It zaps three surrounding pegs and is much more effective than the other super shots.

Peggle 2 is a blast to play. It’s fun, simple, and addictive. It’s very satisfying to get the hang of it and nail a tough shot. And it’s hilarious to see a bad shot luckily bounce around and take out half the pegs on screen. More balanced super shots for the masters would have been very nice. And lowering the difficulty to a less controller-throwing-across-the-room level would have been even nicer. Overall Peggle 2 is a fine sequel to an already very fun game. Keep ‘em coming Popcap!

PROS:
1) Bursting with charm and smiles
2) Fun simple gameplay, easy to pick up and play and satisfying to master

CONS:
1) Painful level of difficulty
2) Master’s special abilities lack balance

7.5
Good

 

Review: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Valiant Hearts – The Great War
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Cost
$14.99
Format
Digital
Size
1.32 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date
6/25/14
Developer
Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher
Ubisoft
Modes
Single Player

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a download only game from Ubisoft Montpellier. The game uses the gorgeous innovative Ubi Art engine which allows the developers to place concept art directly into the game, resulting in some breathtaking visuals. Valiant Hearts is a side-scrolling 2D puzzle adventure game that takes place during the World War I. You play as a French man who becomes a POW named Emile, his German son-in-law named Karl, an American soldier looking to avenge the death of his wife, a Belgium nurse named Anna, and the trusty dog that links the whole group named Walt.The story follows these characters across the different nations on both sides of the war with a huge emphasis on story. Valiant Hearts is a beautifully ambitious game with some minor flaws but overall a wonderful experience.

As mentioned before, the Ubi Art engine is used to bring Valiant Hearts’ world to life and it does an absolutely marvelous job. The hand-drawn art style and charm of this game is one of its strongest assets. It perfectly depicts everything from the happy expressions of Emile when reading a letter from his daughter thousands of miles away to the brutality of the bitter never-ending trench warfare that was the Great War. The best possible way to illustrate the game’s plot and characters was used through the power of Ubi Art. The music in Valiant Hearts is also a perfect fit, with the main theme being exceptionally powerful. The soundtrack is done almost entirely with piano alone; giving the game its own unique sound and feel. The music magnificently meshes with the Valiant Heart’s tone. The story will take the player through an up and down roller coaster of emotions right up until the sobering and heart wrenching ending. I can’t praise the game’s art style, music, character, and charm enough. Everything in this game just oozes with heart. The game amazingly portrays how awful and exhausting The Great War really was for every poor soul involved.

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One of the brilliant components in the game is the collectables. It’s been a mainstay in adventure games since the beginning to add hidden items for the players to find. That has since been added to every single genre of gaming. You’d be hard pressed to find a game that doesn’t have something for you to collect. However in Valiant Hearts these collectables are actually real items from The Great War, historical nuggets for the player. The player will find and learn anything from how the soldiers used goat hides as blankets to how they would make carvings out of bullets while spending months and months in the trenches. This information is invaluable and history like this in video games is wonderful.

As incredible as Valiant Hearts is, it still has a few things that hold it back from being a true masterpiece. The puzzles are very much like an old adventure game. There’s a barrier in the way, now you must go find a way to move this barrier. This could be anything from finding a lever that needs pulled or finding a stick of dynamite to blow away some fallen debris. It’s very simple, but it get’s repetitive and they even use the same “find the broken lever puzzle” a half a dozen times in the game. The puzzles in the game won’t test the players’ brain much. The only times I got stuck was when I just missed an item on the floor and simply had to backtrack to find it. There were some innovative ideas here and there, especially when it comes to using your dog to your advantage, but overall the puzzles got repetitive around midway through. I ended up riding the emotional waves to the conclusion, which is what I was hoping for in Valiant Hearts anyway, but I think I would have liked a little more “game” here.

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Overall Valiant Hearts is a truly inspiring and unique game. We haven’t had many games taking place during the Great War, having something like a shooter or an action game is a tough thing to do in the slow depressed viciousness that is trench warfare, but a story driven adventure game is a perfect fit. I want more games to be focused on truth and history. The entire game’s story is based on real letters from the war. And the setting may be the closest reality to any war we’ve ever seen in gaming. The art style and music flawlessly coincide with the playful yet somber emotional story. Valiant Hearts is a sensational representation of what gaming can give us. Games like Uncharted or Halo are awesome, but they also are shallow at times. When a game like Valiant Hearts comes along it reminds us of how deep, immersive, and special games can be. For that reason alone Valiant Hearts is truly exceptional.

PROS:
1) Beautiful art style and emotional music
2) Museum of World War I history

CONS:
1) Puzzles are easy and repetitive

9.0
Phenomenal

 

Titanfall Daily Challenges

With the addition of title update 5 Titanfall has added 3 new daily challenges to give XP, Black Market currency and possibly some burn cards. You can have up to 9 active at any time. We will try to keep this list updated so that you can look for things you might want to jump in and work on. The game will only give you new challenges if you have space for them. Meaning if you start a day with 8 challenges, you will only get 1 new one when you log in.

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