Review: Child of Light

Child of Light
box_childoflight_w160
Cost
$14.99
Format
Digital
Size
2.31 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox 360, Wii U/th>
Release Date
4/30/14
Developer
Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher
Ubisoft
Modes
Single Player


Books can tell incredible stories with brilliant writing that take the reader to other worlds. Movies can show the viewers those worlds in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Music can make the listener feel those worlds in unexplainable ways. Video games may be the only medium that can do all of these things in one. And with the ability to experience and move in those worlds, video games can also make you live those worlds like nothing else can. Child of Light is a living breathing fairy-tale book, with art and beauty that the makes the big screen jealous, and music and ambiance that would make the orchestrators of old truly proud.

Child of Light is an RPG developed by Ubisoft Montreal. It’s a 2D platforming adventure game that feels like a classic Japanese RPG. It’s also the first non Rayman game to use the incredible UbiArt Framework engine. Ubisoft has been on a roll lately. They’ve been able to continue franchises with success by reinventing them instead of just cashing in, like the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry series. They’ve also continued to introduce new innovative games like Watch_Dogs and The Division. And as of late, they’ve started to release small scale “indie-like” games using the UbiArt Framework. The diversity and quality of these games is wonderful. Far Cry 3 was an extremely successful game that had both critical and sales success. You’d think that Ubisoft would see that success and want to do nothing but roll out Far Cry games. But that’s not really the case. Instead, Ubisoft allows the creative director of Far Cry 3, Patrick Plourde, to completely switch shifts and create a wildly different and gorgeous game, Child of Light.

In Child of Light, you play as Aurora, a daughter of a Douches and Duke in Austria in 1895. Her mother passed away when Aurora was just a baby. Raised by her father alone, Aurora herself falls ill and dies in her sleep. When she wakes, she arrives in a new unknown world called Lemuria. Aurora has to find out where she is, why she has come here, and how to get back home. Along the way, she meets many new friends and foes and people in-between. She learns that the Queen of Light who once ruled the land has disappeared and the Black Queen has taken over. The sun, the moon, and the stars have been stolen and the land is swallowed by darkness.  The real beauty of the story of the game is the writing. The entire game is written in rhyme. The plot and the communication between the characters are read like a poem. The rhyme is most in the style of A, B, C, B. But other styles are used as well. It’s beautiful and unlike any story I’ve experienced in a game before. Only a few times did the rhymes feel like a stretch; for the most part, it sounds just like a classic piece of poetry. Each character has so much personality and even the way they speak and rhyme feels unique to their own. There’s a firefly named Igniculus, who becomes Aurora’s best friend. There’s a coward dwarf named Finn and an in-love mouse named Robert. There’s a happy jester named Rubella and her depressed jester brother Tristis. Each of these and more are characters that join you in your party. There are also plenty of non-playable characters that play important roles in developing the story. It’s a storybook plot told in a powerful way. There are twists and turns that feel right in place in the fantastical world. Everything about the story of Child of Light feels like a perfect fit.

The gameplay in Child of Light is personality my favorite battle system in any RPG I’ve ever played. Before you enter into a battle, you traverse Lemuria as a 2D platformer. There are a few puzzle type elements but they are really just roadblocks that last a few seconds before you learn how to bypass them. Enemies are scattered throughout, if they see you and hit you, you enter battle mode with the enemy getting the first hit. And if you hit the enemy from behind first, you enter the battle with the advantage. Your first friend you find is Igniculus, he helps in battle in a completely different way than the other party members. You can highlight enemies with Igniculus and hold them to slow down their attack. The battle system draws comparisons to the Active Time Battle system from Grandia, an RPG that Ubisoft published at one point. It’s a mix of turn based fighting and engaging action. On the bottom of the screen, there is a meter that has each player from your party and the enemies. Each one moves down the bar until they reach the attack section, which is where you can select your move. Some moves are quick; some are more powerful but take longer. Some attacks can slow down the enemy, some poison them, etc, typical RPG stuff. But the reason the “typical” RPG stuff feels anything but typical in Child of Light is that speed, being frozen, and slowing down completely changes the battle. If you hit an enemy while they are in the “attack” section you can push them back further. I’ve had plenty of matches where the combination of slowing the enemies down and hitting them at the perfect timing resulted in them never even being able to get a single attack off. But at the same time, the difficulty level can still be intense and is at a perfect point. I lost battles, I won battles, but I never felt ripped off by cheap difficulty.

You can also switch out your party at any point and have up to three members battling at once. Each character feels very unique. Some focus on power while others focus on magic. Some characters don’t have many attack moves but they can heal teammates or speed up moves for the group. Rearranging the team and completely changing the strategy is a huge part of the fun and challenge of the game. Enemies have weaknesses, like physical or magic moves and lightning or fire moves. You can find and place gems to give to the party members to change and improve the statistics of each character. You can do things like give them more defense or change the attacks to lightning. Each character also has his/her own skill tree. You can choose which abilities and move sets to unlock and improve on; which gives, even more, freedom for expression in your favorite play style and strategy.

Let me take a moment now to try to explain how absolutely incredible the art and music and game feel Child of Light possesses. Using the incredible UbiArt Framework, Child of Light is a visually stunning game. It uses a water color art style that looks like it’s ripped right out of a beautiful centuries old fairy tale book. The game is bursting with life and personality. The brilliant art style perfectly coincides with the story, characters, and poetry of the game. The backdrops and backgrounds of each level and battle look like a painting, a true work of art that would be found hanging in museums across Europe. Each character and enemy is given so much detail. The music in Child of Light is a masterpiece. Fully orchestrated piano, violin, drums, trumpets and more give the game a sensation unlike anything I’ve played before.

I talk about “game feel” from time to time. Game feel is a combination of art, music, storytelling, game play and pure magic that some games have that allow for this unexplainable feeling that allows the gamer to completely be immersed in the world. Bioshock creepiness nails this. The Last of Us is brilliant with this. Wind Waker’s charm and beauty do this amazingly. Super Metroid’s eeriness does this. The game “Journey” is another example. Imagine the developer creating an idea, feel, and an emotion for the world of the game. Imagine the developer making every single game choice to correspond with this idea. From music and art to gameplay and even how the pause screen looks. Literally, every aspect of the game is there for a reason and is done with pure excellence. Game feel is sort of when all of this is done in just the right way, with true purpose and distinction, so the gamer really feels the game in unparalleled ways. Far and away Child of Light is the most emotionally powerful game I’ve played in years. There’s no easy way to rate the “game feel” of a game. Some games have it and some don’t. More specifically, most games don’t have it. There are good games out there that just don’t have that game feel, and they end up being good games and nothing else. Then there are good games out there that have incredible game feel that pushes the game to new heights. But the best games of all time are great games by themselves, and then they throw in this incomprehensible immersion that completely takes over and allows the gamer to truly live out these games. Child of Light is one of the best “game feel” game I’ve ever played. The music, the art, the storytelling, the writing, the poetry, the emotion, the love and care and charm and character that Child of Light is bursting with is something that I cannot express enough. There’s a subtle innocence to Child of Light that is something truly unique and truly beautiful.

Child of Light is my favorite game on the Xbox One and my favorite game in years. If I made a list now of my favorite games of all time, Child of Light might crack my top ten. Based on the emotion, storytelling, characters, art, and music alone it would be an incredible game. Throw in an amazing battle system, great progression, perfect pacing, and pure fun and you have yourself a game that is unlike anything the entertainment world has ever seen. In fact, Child of Light is unlike anything the world of art has ever seen before, and that’s saying a lot. The absolute only complaint for some is the length. It will take around 10-12 hours to beat, but that’s without exploring and collecting everything in the world. I didn’t have a problem with the length at all, for just $15 and for the type of experience given, it’s the perfect length. If you haven’t played Child of Light, please show Ubisoft some support for making games like this. Buy the game, play the game, fall in love with the game and fall in love with the reason why video games can provide us something that nothing else can.

PROS:
1) Unique storytelling in gaming with fairy-tale and rhyme
2) Amazing, deep, and fun battle system
3) Beautiful art and incredible music
4) Unparalleled “Game Feel”
CONS:
1) On the short side when compared to JRPG style games

10
Perfection

 

Why Do Summers Suck?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Bam Rants

Video games are a beautiful hobby. They can take us to other worlds, allow us to do things we can only dream of, tell us deep emotional brilliant stories, and they are just plain fun. My first video game was Super Mario Bros on the NES when I was just four years old. Although the Super Nintendo was out for a few years by then, my family was stuck with the NES. But that was a great thing because it allowed me to grow up on the 8-bit classics. I’m an early 90’s kid so my first console could have just as easily been a Nintendo 64. Mario and Duck Hunt quickly took over as my absolute favorite thing to do when I wasn’t eating peanut butter and jelly, watching Batman the Animated Series, and pretending I was all twenty-two players on an NFL field at once. Fast forward twenty years and gaming is still my definitive go-to diversion from the real world. Whether it’s playing Child of Light till the morning light is literally shining through my windows or being deeply interested and invested in the stories and advancements of our great medium or constantly checking on the smash bros website to see if any new characters have been revealed; I am always living and breathing video games. Every year around the same time I am baffled, perplexed, and downright annoyed by something that we gamers have to deal with. Summers… Why is it that there’s such a huge chunk of the year where there’s so little to play? There’s an epidemic on our hands and I think it’s time the industry takes a closer look at this and notices that there’s huge money being lost and wonderful opportunity for games to flourish this time of the year.

There’s no doubt that there’s less games to play during these scorching hot summer days

To clarify, I consider June, July, and August to be the real summer. Yes, summer doesn’t start until the 21st of June, but for the most part, these three months are what we regard as the actual summer. Most of us don’t think of September 15th to still be summer for example (even though the calendar would argue otherwise). For the sake of this article, and for what the entertainment industry in general considers, let’s simplify June, July, and August to be the legitimate summer. Now I don’t for a second want to say that there is nothing at all to play during the summers. There are certainly some games that launch each year. This summer we had games like Shovel Knight, Sniper Elite III, and The Last of Us Remastered. But the quality and quantity is definitely not on the same page as the other nine months. Much of what gets launched during the summer are games that we may end up playing only because it’s the only thing available. Transformers, One Piece, Worms Battlegrounds, Murdered: Soul Suspect, and Sacred 3 are some of the lackluster games that many of us ended up playing just because there wasn’t much else. The aforementioned The Last of Us or the updated Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition are both ports of already released games (Metro Redux is another example of this). Even if these games are amazing, which they are, it’s telling that some of the best games to play this summer were re-makes. There are definitely some truly brand new and truly great games that came out this summer. Valiant Hearts and Shovel Knight are two of my favorite games of the year. But there’s no doubt that there are fewer games to play during these scorching hot summer days. Continue reading

Review: Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4
box_battlefield4_w160
Cost
$49.99
Format
Retail and Digital
Size
35.62 GB
Available On
Xbox ONE [Reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date
11/22/13
Developer
Dice
Publisher
EA
Modes
Single Player and Multiplayer

Just a few years ago the interwebs were abuzz with the war between the two first person shooter kings. Which series is better? The close quarters intense twitch based blood fest of Call of Duty or the massive scale destructive squad based slaughter of Battlefield? Now that battle is less prevalent, as new games like Titanfall and Rainbow Six: Siege try to take over the reins. Old champions like Halo are trying to recapture the crown. Even a semi-new genre of shooters has emerged and taken over the conversation, including the likes of Destiny. BF3 vs MW3 was the huge debate, and it’s tough to say who definitively won that specific battle. One may say that the ongoing war is still being won by Call of Duty, but the battle of the ‘3’ was won by Battlefield. So here we are with Battlefield 4. The massive scale is supposed to be like nothing else we’ve ever played with epic multiplayer, amazing graphics, gripping campaign, and endless hours of fun. BF4 is developed by Dice, Dice LA, Visceral games and Bioware. Dice has created great games in the past. With such high expectations, including a live demo at e3 2013 that saw a gigantic skyscraper come crashing to the ground alongside the audience’s collective jaws, what could possibly go wrong?

The campaign in BF4 is built to be full of emotions, characters you care about, and high action. I appreciate the lofty goals but the final product doesn’t quite hit the mark. The story itself is rather traditional. It’s really hard to do anything new anymore; people die, things explode, yada yada yada. We do see some brutal situations that from behind a controller we aren’t too shocked by, but behind a real gun in real war, would be life-altering. Sometimes in video games the giant set-piece moments are completely over the top and unbelievable. Like if you’re in a helicopter crash with ten other guys and you happen to be the lone survivor that gets to live another day. I call these moment, “oh come on” moments. When it happens once you think, man this guy is lucky. When it happens seven times in a few hour campaign you think, this is just getting stupid. BF4 walks this line to many times. There are a few set-piece moments that seem semi-believable, like shooting a window of a sinking armored car to escape while tragically leaving a comrade behind. But then other moments, like falling out of a ten story collapsing building or quite a few others that I’ll won’t spoil, are way to over the top and bring the player out of the believable setting into a superhero-esque setting that destroys the tone. The campaign itself takes about five hours to play all the way through.

The characters are for the most part likeable. You play as Recker, and the squad you run has a lot of personality. They argue with each other, joke around with each other, they have slightly over the top behaviors, but they are for the most part believable. But the biggest complaint, and it’s a huge one for me, is the fact that Recker literally never talks. Can we PLEASE end the days of the silent protagonist in this style game? It just looks and feels so stupid when someone like Irish, one of your comrades, looks you in the eyes and screams out for answers and help in the moment of insanity and you just stare at back like a deer in head lights. Are you a mute Recker? The biggest douche bag ever? What’s wrong with you? In a fantasy game or a classic pixel game of old or something of that nature it’s possible and even sometimes the right choice to make playable character completely silent. Maybe it’s best that Link and Crash and Jak stay quiet. Certainly in a game like Journey, Limbo, or the upcoming Rime it’s best to keep the protagonist quiet so the gamer can be sucked into the living brilliant vibrant world. But it’s absolutely ridiculous in a modern military shooter when everyone around you is engaged, questioning, screaming, shouting, staring into your soul as you just stand there dazed and awestruck like a speechless twelve year old child who just opened up his dad’s porno stash for the first time. This is admittedly a problem in many games, including Call of Duty. But it’s never been worse than in BF4 because of its attempt at a gripping emotional story with interesting relatable characters.

The biggest complaint in BF4 is the inexcusable glitches. I for one have never been more genuinely upset, frustrated and downright angry at any glitches in any game I’ve ever played. We’ll go over the multiplayer problems in a moment. In single player there are multiple glitches that can totally ruin the game for the player. Along with silly, strange, and forgivable visual bugs there are multiple campaign glitches that completely lose saved data. I personally got through the first four missions, of the campaign, including almost every single hidden item in those levels, before taking a break and going to multiplayer. When I returned I was shocked and irritated to see that none of that was retained by the game. I then heard from Swaggers (my friend and co-writer on this amazingly awesome website) that many people had to play the entire game in one sitting to make sure everything was saved. So I did that, including every hidden item in the game all in one six to seven hour sitting. This time the game remembers that I beat every level and collected every dog tag, but it forgot half the weapons I found. On top of that it didn’t save any of my high scores. How can I beat the level without posting a score? So basically the game is saying I beat the level without killing a single enemy. I’m either the greatest stealth player of all time or this game has worse memory than Dory from finding Nemo.

Multiplayer in Battlefield is where the money is made. After the success of BF3, Dice has to pick up right where they left off and improve on the BF formula while adding new and innovative features. And Dice did this magnificently, right? No… The map design, gun and equipment feel, and vehicle feel are all for the most part on the same page as BF3. Snipers at mid to long range, which is 75% of the time in BF, are still overpowered. Shotguns are still worthless unless on a few specific levels. Vehicles in the right hands still equal god mode. These things feel just like BF3, but then the changes come into place, and very few of them are the right changes. The movement and player control feels clunky and slow, and after many complaints, Dice finally decided to add a patch which states that “Changes have been made to soldier movement so that it closely matches the one in Battlefield 3”. So in this case Dice is literally going back to BF3, basically admitting that it’s the superior game in this aspect. Dice also introduces “Levelution” which is a dynamic level altering system to go along with the series’ stellar destruction mechanics. Specific areas of most maps have elements that can be destroyed via explosions or gunfire. This can be anything from bridges crumbling to whole skyscrapers collapsing. In the case of the massive building coming down, the way it completely changes the map flow and just how sweet it looks never gets old. But some of the others fall flat. If Dice had been able to implement more skyscraper-type levelution into all the maps it could have been one of the game’s strongest points.

There are massive fundamental design flaws in Battlefield and they shine through in BF4. From inside the game, there is only one way the player can edit each class, and that’s in the middle of a match. For some unknown reason there is no way to simply alter the Recon, Assault, Engineer, and Support classes from an out-of-match menu. This is just stupid, no nice way to put it. It’s great as an added feature that I can edit those classes mid-match, but that should be optional not the requirement. This is a design flaw, but on top of that there is a ridiculous glitch that still exists nearly a year later that deletes and resets the player’s class. So this is how 80% of my matches started; Right away I’d open up my class because I remembered that I just unlocked a new camo and scope for my sniper, so I spend the first minute of the game doing this when I should have been able to do this in the lobby between matches. The very next game I’d jump right in, pick my class, let’s say assault class, and rush right toward the objective. One problem, my new launcher, red dot sight and ego grip that I recently added to my class are nowhere to be found. What happened? Now I either wait to die or kill myself to re-edit my class. Then I’d notice that this has happened with all my classes and I need to re-edit every single one, which takes some way to long. Meanwhile the enemy team is barraging my base and I’m attaching my flashlight to my M9. There’s another way you can edit your classes, and this is on the battlelog website or app. The app is glitchy, I’d recommend the website. The website itself is very detailed, full of content, and extremely useful. But again there’s so much here that I should be able to do in the game itself. There are assignments in the game that give the player rewards like new guns, equipment, and dog tags. This is a cool feature that creates great replay value. What’s the problem? There is no way to access these in game. It’s entirely possible to play the game for hours and hours and wonder what these random assignments are that are unlocking midgame and what they mean. Any assignments you have progressed in are visible at the end of that match; but without context it’s confusing as to why they exist. And even if the player knows, it’s obnoxious to jump back and forth between the game and the website to see what assignment should be worked on next and how close they are to being completed. Why this isn’t in the actual game itself is beyond me. All I know is that as someone who is a completionost and someone who enjoys “side-missions” in multiplayer this is taxing and strenuous.

Battlefield 4 is a beautiful game. In the campaign the brilliant lighting shines through, the environmental effects pop with brilliance, explosions burst with color and the facial animation breathes life into the characters. My only complaint is that it’s missing the added umph. Technically it’s incredible, but it’s lacking the magic that can propel some games by creating a tone and game feel that genuinely pull the players into the world. In multiplayer the graphics take a big step back, but this is to be expected considering it is 32vs32. Things like plants and minor explosions can tend to look bland. But considering how much is going on and how many players are battling it out at the same time, it’s truly remarkable. Point black BF4 is just a pretty game.

Battlefield 4 is a definite misstep in an otherwise very strong franchise. The series still has a large following, but a good chunk of them certainly feel burned with this entry. The biggest problem is without doubt the massive amount of glitches. Small bugs can be forgivable, there’s always some random impenetrable rock that somebody learns how to get inside and reek havic. But as long as they are cleaned up quickly it’s not a big deal. But the sheer amount of glitches in Battlefield, how they completely ruin the experience for the players, and how long it’s been with so many of them still being present, it’s impossible to give Dice a pass here. I still haven’t been able to finish my own campaign achievements and I’m dreading going back in. If Dice could build a time machine and fix every single bug before the launch of the BF4 it would have completely changed the view of BF4’s success or lack thereof. But even without the glitches BF4 still could have been better. The campaign feels like just another campaign. There’s not much innovation and it’s yet another crazy ride of unbelievable death defying moment. I do like the emotion and characters, but that’s almost completely ruined by how strange and stupid it is that Recker is a silent protagonist. The multipayer at its core gameplay is a lot of fun, a nice addition to the BF series. But it’s still not as good as BF3. And the lack of features in game, like being able to edit the class and look at assignments, feels incredibly old. We’ve had features like this in online FPS games since the early 2000’s. Battlefield Hardline got pushed back by a few months, and I’m truly hoping it’s because Dice has seen the many issues in BF4 and want to make sure Hardline doesn’t duplicate them. As far as I’m concerned, I really hope they get their act together before StarWars Battlefront is released, because Dice has the talent and ability to make it a phenomenon, but with recent history I’m very skeptical. All in all Battlefield 4 is a game that feels rushed and broken. It’s still a lot of fun in multiplayer, but wading through the various glitches can be painful. Here’s hoping this misstep was just a hiccup and not a peak at the future of Dice starting to be “levolutioned” to non-existence. Also please give me Bad Company 3…

PROS:
1) Beautiful Graphics
2) Fun Massive Multiplayer

CONS:
1) Terrible game altering glitches
2) Lacks features in game that are industry standards (Forces you to use website)
3) Feels unfinished

6.1
Average

 

Review: Max The Curse of Brotherhood

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
box_maxcurseofbrotherhood_w160
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: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
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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
box_sixtysecondshooterprime_w160
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.

rev_sixtysecondshooterprime_02

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.

rev_peggl2_01

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.

rev_peggle2_02

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 and 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. The game follows 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 together named Walt. The narrative 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 are some 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 is accomplished through the power of Ubi Art. The music in Valiant Hearts is also a perfect fit, with the central 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 of the game is the collectibles. It’s been a mainstay in adventure games since the beginning to add hidden items for the players to find. And it seems to be a part of nearly 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 collectibles are actual 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 delightful.

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 find a way to move it. 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 straightforward, 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 did not test my 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 whimsical 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

 

EA Access is the devil… Right?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Bam Rants

 

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Yesterday afternoon EA announced a new service for the Xbox One called EA Access. This subscription service cost 5 dollars a month or 30 dollars a year. It gives the users free games, discounts on everything EA, and the ability to play games early. Instantly I was excited yet confused, happy yet cautious. There are always two crazy parts to every new video game related announcement. The rush of discovering the information while uncovering the mysteries and the hilarious yet obnoxious voices of the vocal minority of gamers.

I could hear the collective groans and ignorant complaints across the internet within seconds. Oh no, the gaming industry is nickel and diming us yet again. It costs money so it must be bad! It’s making things free so it must be bad! It gives me discounts on games and DLC so it must be bad! EA is the worst company in America! Well, not any more, after winning (or losing) two years in a row for the WCIA (Worst Company in America), Comcast dethroned EA in 2014. The comical thing about this competition is that most of the companies in the running aren’t even “bad”. They are just successful. McDonalds, Chase, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Time Warner—one could argue that some of these companies have downsides, but you won’t hear apologies from them for thriving and making money. So is EA bad news? Are they just ripping us off? Well let’s dive into the features of the service and find out.

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