tiistai 15. heinäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Wolf Among Us | Xbox 360 | 2013

GENRE(S): Adventure
RELEASED: October 11, 2013 - July 8, 2014 (PC)
AVAILABLE ON: MAC, PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Telltale Games
PUBLISHER(S): Telltale Games

Founded by three former LucasArts designers in the summer of 2004, Telltale Games have slowly grown into one of today's most revered companies, best known for their unique, episodic, cinematic and point 'n' click-influenced takes on many vintage classics and modern favourites of pop culture - such as Jurassic Park and Back to the Future - as well as independent installments in classic LucasArts franchises, such as Sam & Max and Monkey Island. A few episodes into their final breakthrough in 2012's megahit The Walking Dead, Telltale Games announced they were working on an episodic adventure based on Fables, a cult comic book series created by Bill Willingham in 2002 and published by DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. Although the comic book series was widely unknown outside the U.S. at the time, the first episode of The Wolf Among Us was a great global success, no doubt thanks to the huge popularity of the first season of The Walking Dead. Personally, I was a bit prejudiced of taking on an identical game as The Walking Dead without even knowing what the plot was about, but my ex-girlfriend convinced me that I'll likely find it even better than Telltale's centerpiece. I'm not willing to go quite that far in my statement, but I'll tell you this: after the final episode, there was a smile on my face, and I couldn't think of any other words to say than these four... "they did it again".

What a bad ass you have

STARRING
Adam Harrington : Bigby Wolf / The Woodsman
Erin Yvette : Snow White
Roger Jackson : Ichabod Crane
Gavin Hammon : Beast / Dee / Magic Mirror
Dave Fennoy : Bluebeard
Brian Sommer : Colin
Chuck Kourouklis : Toad / Bufkin
Melissa Hutchison : Beauty / Toad Junior
Kid Beyond : Grendel
Cia Court : Faith

There's some history there. Let 'em at it.
In the year 1986, a group of classic fairy tale characters have settled in New York City and built a community dubbed "Fabletown". The wealthier folk use enchantments known as glamours to disguise themselves as humans, while some less fortunate or otherwise stubborn folk who won't, are considered threats to Fabletown's safety, and sent to an establishment known among the townspeople as "The Farm". To enforce the rules and to keep Fabletown's issues in general check, interim mayor Ichabod Crane and his assistant Snow White assign the Big Bad Wolf - who now prefers to be called Bigby Wolf - as the sheriff. Due to his nasty reputation, Bigby is widely hated and feared, but he does his best to make amends for his past actions. When a serial killer targets the women of Fabletown, Bigby takes it upon himself to catch the killer and clear his own blood-stained name for good.

I love the contrast when you take any age-old story, one you've known your whole life, and turn it upside down. I'm 30 years old and I still laugh my ass off at raunchily rewritten Donald Duck comic strips. I love hidden meanings that are present in many children's shows and books. I loved the first Hoodwinked! movie, which started off as a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but how it ultimately turned the whole thing upside down, into a hilarious mystery and conspiracy story. Yet, that movie was aimed for kids - Fables is strictly for adults, and The Wolf Among Us drives that point further towards home. It's dark, it's gritty, it's brutal, with its share of adult-oriented hilarity. Colin, one of the three pigs, bunks at Bigby's place spending his days smoking and drinking, and Bigby doesn't get much of a say in it since he owes the guy for destroying his house ages back. Snow White is Bigby's hot landlord and (potential) love interest, but a total prude whose grumpiness towards Bigby's (potential) advances comes from her failed marriage to Prince Charming. Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is in turn Snow White's boss, Fabletown's asshole mayor, with Bufkin, one of the winged apes from The Wizard of Oz for a fumbling, drunken assistant. The Woodsman, Bigby's nemesis from his Little Red Riding Hood days, is a short-tempered and violent pervert, whose "heroics" in the Riding Hood story have been long misinterpreted, but Bigby lets him have his fake glory 'cause it's obvious it's all the guy has. Perhaps my favourite turn-around comes along in Episode 2, in which it is revealed that the Little Mermaid has drifted into a career as a stripper - and soon turns out one of the key players in the series.

The beauty, the wolf and the prick.
Even though I wasn't familiar with Fables at all - besides some research on the issue prior to downloading the first episode a while into its release - I fell in love with The Wolf Among Us immediately, from the first intro sequence, and gladly paid the Season Pass mainly to ensure that I would get every episode fresh out of the oven even if I didn't have any money on me at the moment. The four months between Episodes 1 and 2 - a delay which was probably caused by Telltale's shifted focus for the benefit of Season Two of The Walking Dead - were unbearable. Episode 1 was such a firestarter, a masterpiece of interactive comic book drama in itself. Most of the best characters in the whole series were introduced in Episode 1 and the cliffhanger it left us with back in the day made us feel that Telltale taking such a long break from the series basically meant they were fucking us right up the ass. Episode 2 eventually came along, and I think it was bound to be a disappointment on some level. Episode 3 once again cranked the heat up a little, Episode 4 took a few steps back, and just last week, Episode 5 came, hit the jackpot and left us craving for a second season. So, even though The Wolf Among Us has everything going for it in its very beginning, with a great murder mystery and the introduction of one of the greatest lead characters in video game history, it's not of the same consistent quality as The Walking Dead as a whole. The story is the one and only thing that matters about Telltale's games nowadays, since they've found the perfect gameplay scheme. Not only does The Wolf Among Us suffer from occasional slumps, but at times, conclusions to its arcs are not what you'd expect in terms of quality, no matter what kind of decisions you make to build up your very own experience through the eyes of the Big Bad Wolf.

Think The Walking Dead with a fine share of anthropomorphic comic book characters and mythical monsters, and you've got exactly what The Wolf Among Us looks like. I like Telltale's current, recurring interactive comic book style very much - although I might want to see them try something a little different for their Game of Thrones adaptation - but man, is it glitchy. If you've played any of Telltale's previous games, The Walking Dead included although my mind returns to as far as Tales of Monkey Island, you'll know that a/v is out of sync all the time with these games (to the point of looping or interrupted lines), the loading times are bitchy, and quicktime events halt for a brief while after each button press. At least on the Xbox 360, the game's technical flaws are so massive that the system is slow to register an Achievement, and as it ultimately turns out, it might be that the Achievements aren't registered at all! You see them on the game-specific Achievement list, but not on the My Games page. Luckily the story's mostly so enchanting that a few, yet very notable technical flaws cannot go as far as to destroy the game.

The music written by Telltale's court composer Jared Emerson-Johnson is just amazing, and I must say the intro sequence accompanied by the theme song is one of the greatest intro sequences ever made for a game. I got goosebumps from it in every single episode. The voiceover work is once again done by a group who are more or less considered Telltale's in-house talent, including many actors and actresses who were simultaneously involved with the second season of The Walking Dead. It's of the typical Telltale fare, perhaps a little inconsistent and occasionally too melodramatic, but good work by all basic means.

I'd like to make a complaint, my lap dance stunk
like a fish.
Some episodes of The Wolf Among Us are more action-oriented than others, such as Episode 5, while for example Episode 4 is almost all about diplomacy. There are even fewer point 'n' click puzzles than in The Walking Dead; most of the time you don't even have to search for key items to make progress, just talk or fight your way out of any situation. Let's start with talking things out. Now this works out exactly the same as it does in The Walking Dead. There's a different response and/or tone assigned for each face button, with "Silence" as a valid option for every exchange, if you cannot come up with a response of your liking within the time limit that changes depending on the nature and general speed of the conversation. I have seen the whole season through only once, so I can't really say how much your decisions affect the final outcome, but Episode 5 at the very least brings in a shitload of obvious variables, so I'm guessing quite a lot. (Also, unlike in the case of The Walking Dead, it's almost impossible to get all Achievements or Trophies on the first run, so my guess is that the developers wanted you to clash through the story at least twice.)

The action sequences are somewhat evolved from the first season of The Walking Dead, however they were implemented in the second season as expected. A certain, awesome action sequence in the start of Episode 5 brings in the visible time limit from the conversations, which determines how much of that scene you'll see before the transition to the next scene happens, but most of the time, it's success/failure QTE. What's a bit dorky is that even if the game prompts you to press RT, LT works just as fine and vice versa, so pretty much the only challenge is to respond in time, close to no matter what you respond WITH. The action sequences also involve two kinds of decision-making; while the murder investigation's still very much on during the first two episodes, you are given a few brief moments in the heat of battle to decide which character from two possible choices you think is the killer, and chase 'em down to bring 'em in for questioning... or just beat the shit out of 'em, no questions asked. You make the final call. Just be prepared to answer for any of your conduct later on. In other kinds of situations where two or more assailants are ganging up on you, you need to decide quickly which one you'll attack to gain the upper hand in the fight as quickly as possible.

Son, now you've gone and pissed me off.
I hinted at this earlier; The Wolf Among Us is not an easy trip for Achievement-hunters. It's not automatic like The Walking Dead, and each and every player can decide for themselves if this is a good or a bad thing. If you make all the "right" decisions, you absolutely can ace the game on the first run, but virtually it's impossible. In addition to just making progress, you need to unlock each and every chapter of the bio for each and every character in the game, and you need to make certain decisions to make that happen, so very likely you'll have to play through the story twice. Since Episode 1 was released almost a year ago, I don't think that's such a bad deal, especially since Episode 5 returns to a lot of things that happened way back. Besides, The Walking Dead left at least me hoping for a good reason to replay it, all my "pride" of getting all Achievements from that game aside. The Wolf Among Us has five of those reasons - a bio Achievement for every chapter. Besides (volume 2), I know I made a lot of bad decisions under stress; there's at least one conflict in each chapter I would've liked to solve differently.

The Wolf Among Us is another piece of fabulous writing by Telltale Games, but it lacks a few things in total, such as puzzles and a little bit of general consistency; the story stumbles a bit along the way, however just to reach another climax a half an hour later. It also suffers a big deal from Telltale's typical technical flaws. What it definitely succeeds in, is increasing my expectations for any future endeavors after they're done with their "main product", The Walking Dead. Tales from the Borderlands might not turn out my thing - I'm not a huge fan of the Borderlands franchise - but if they manage to weed out those damn technical issues from their upcoming Game of Thrones adaptation, and learn from this experience in general, I think we're in for another masterpiece. Relatively speaking and as a whole, The Wolf Among Us ain't THAT far from one. But it's no Walking Dead.

UPS
+ Bigby and a choice cavalcade of NPC's
+ Great music
+ Some semblance of replay value, rare to Telltale's most recent games
+ The huge importance of decision-making
+ The story is great with all its dark, delicious contrasts...

DOWNS
- ...However, it does not come without minor and major slumps
- Various technical issues
- Virtually no puzzles

< 8.5 >

perjantai 11. heinäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD | Xbox 360 | 2014

GENRE(S): Action / Stealth
RELEASED: January 14, 2014 (PS3)
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Eood
PUBLISHER(S): Ubisoft

With a new Assassin's Creed game on the way - again - and perhaps even another one, it's only natural to get pumped up about the franchise again, even if it doesn't look that promising to me on a personal level. Instead of taking the earlier major installments to the umpteenth ride, I ducked the horrors of the first game, Assassin's Creed: Revelations and the only occasional, yet notable slumps of Assassin's Creed III by taking on Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD. What we have here was originally released as Assassin's Creed III: Liberation on the PlayStation Vita, parallel to the release of Assassin's Creed III on major platforms. Although the game had some unique ideas, such as the first female protagonist in the series and a Persona system that allowed switching between three different character types, and finally, although it was the first handheld Assassin's Creed game to be implemented with all of the series' most important gameplay features, it was pretty much destroyed by critics for lacking excitement, a decent story, or any ties to the modern day storyline of the franchise for that matter, among other things. Despite all the criticism, the game was brought to us major platform owners as a digital high-definition re-release in the beginning of the year. The little respect that critics had for the game got lost the minute the game went online. As a die-hard fan of the franchise, I had to check the game out sooner or later, and I've gotta say it's not as bad as you might think.

Lé Médiocre

STARRING
Amber Goldfarb : Aveline de Grandpré
Tristan D. Lalla : Agate
Noah Watts : Ratonhnhaké:ton, "Connor"
Leni Parker : Madeleine de L'Isle
Olivier Lamarche : Gerald Blanc
Marcel Jeannin : Philippe Olivier de Grandpré / Carlos Dominguez
Conrad Pla : Diego Vasquez
Christian Paul : George Davidson
Kwasi Songui : Baptiste

New Orleans in 1763 has just been taken over by the Spanish government controlled by the Templar order. Abandoned by her real mother and adopted by a noble couple as a child, Aveline de Grandpré has spent her adult years training under the master Assassin Agate. Now it's time for her to put her skills to good use - but for which cause does she ultimately fight for?

Five years into Assassin's Creed II, I still get excited about a new Assassin's Creed game on any operating system, despite all the setbacks. Even Black Flag, as great as it was, couldn't hold a candle to Assassin's Creed II, the way the latter was at launch. Assassin's Creed II made me a fan of the franchise, and honestly, I don't think I could say no to a sandbox game nowadays, especially if one is presented to me at a relatively low price like this, and triple that if it's even slightly reminiscent of Assassin's Creed. And well, I read the reviews after I had already rushed in on a whim and downloaded the game. With the next new game on my list of pre-orders still a few months away, I started this project of deflowering the unplayed part of my collection alphabetically, and Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD was among the first games there - and the one game I've played enough thus far to write a review of. I didn't have a whole lot of expectations, it's a good thing I didn't too, but I've spent my time worse than this.

From afar, it looks like any old Assassin's
Creed
...
The first thing you need to do, especially if you're a fan, is switch off all expectations of a great story and characters. The story's disjointed all over the ether; a small part of it is kind of an Assassin's Creed III sidestory co-starring Ratonhnhaké:ton, obviously there just to promote the major installment that came out the same day as this one. The rest of it is just an incoherent collective of a few messes, somewhat saved by the fact that a female main character is a fresh idea and paves the way for a few more. I'm not a fan of her, though, or any of the shallow NPC's for that matter. The most major flaw with the story is that even though it's made clear that you're in the Animus, there's no modern-day sidestep whatsoever in the whole game - thus, Liberation has no place in the timeline of the franchise, and poor Aveline's just an unrelated stock character who's been graced with a few compensations. Let's get the audiovisuals out of the way before delving into those assets.

Whenever a game from a handheld system is "remade" in HD, you know exactly what it's going to look like. Some people have the misconception that it's a whole new developmental process with these games, but the only development that takes place is optimization for the target system and a large-scale high-definition display. I know most people think I'm pointing out the obvious here, but just to make sure. To not beat around the bush any longer, Assassin's Creed: Liberation is rough, blurry, and in a word, quite ugly. That's what happens with these games when they're scaled up. The map isn't as big as it seems, nor is it very interesting or distinctive. Surprisingly, it's a more vertical game than its major counterpart, though - you'll be doing a lot more climbing in urban environments. Like its counterpart, Liberation has its own scaled-down version of "the frontier", called "the bayou", which is basically a murky swamp with a few inhabited and fortified areas, and a few indoor levels accessible for one time only within the confines of the boring storyline.

The music, on the other hand, is... should I say legendary. I'm quite serious, Liberation might very well pack one of the greatest soundtracks in the whole series. Composer Winifred Phillips' resumé includes assistance on God of War, several contributions to the LittleBigPlanet series and dozens of radio plays. I was quite dumbfounded when I realized that I'm actually humming to the background music while doing some typical sandbox errands for hours, that rarely happens. The combat music is awesome and just gets better towards the end, as the boring story comes to its boring climax. After playing through the major counterpart just once, nothing about this game really surprises you anymore. But, like I said, at least you're seeing it through with some great tunes backing you up.

Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD is surprisingly unlimited. In terms of general gameplay, you can do almost anything you could in Assassin's Creed III. In addition to the story missions and their optional objectives, there are a few factions you can help on several side missions, which don't even repeat themselves all that much. They're just poetically uninteresting and it's the staleness of the environment itself which serves the final disappointment. What's completely new about the game, and probably a one-off deal until the next female Assassin comes along, is the Persona system. There are three different gameplay styles, and exclusive side missions and collectibles for each of them.

...That girl's so tiny, though!
As a default Assassin, Aveline has every skill in the book at her disposal, but always 25% notoriety, and tangling with the guards raises the bar fast. (The guards have crappy A.I. though, very easy to manipulate if you've played these games before.) By unlocking Dressing Chambers around the city - even around the bayou - you can choose from two other outfit options at most times. Wearing the Slave attire, you have slightly weaker combat skills and you gain notoriety the fastest, but only if you free-run or engage in combat; just walking around even on some restricted areas is OK, since everybody in this city has at least one pet slave and no guard is dumb enough to piss off your employers without good reason, no matter who your employers are. Last, the Lady. The Lady might seem the weakest Persona in the bunch, as you're utterly denied of any free-running and not only are your combat skills weak, your weaponry is also very limited, and limited to very close-range stealth combat, until you get the Lady's signature weapon, the umbrella. However, the Lady might very well be the way to solve half of the game's problems most efficiently, as you're able to tease singled-out guards to leave their posts and lure them to secluded corners where their high hopes of some high-class poontang end with a sharp blade stuck into their groin. Also, you can go almost anywhere by foot. Even if someone catches you red-handed while you're dressed as the Lady, your notoriety goes up very slow to compensate for the Lady's lack of free-run ability. This system isn't perfect, but it's fresh and it has potential, and I hope the franchise gets the chance to take full advantage of a more polished system in the future.

Since most of the story focuses on Aveline's uncertainty as to which side she's on throughout the game's second half, she never becomes a master of the Assassin order, so there's no training going to happen. A simple(-minded) and dull Trading system's - later done much better in Black Flag - been brought in for Aveline to spread around the world to collect money and assets. I feel no need to go into the details since I got bored of it after just a couple of rounds.

Enough with the French! Say it! Say it!
Requiescat in pace!
There are plenty of collectibles for each Persona and in general. Perhaps even too much, as there are only extra clothes and weapons to get for going for these, and you'll do fine right up 'til the end with minimal spunk. Of course the HD versions have Trophies and Achievements for some extra incentive; 35 to be exact, which is a rare and huge amount for a digital download, even if it is a part of a major franchise. The problem is that you will have enough of the game just by stomping through the storyline; after you're done with the usual viewpoint search and focus the game on the ground, the staleness of the environment gets on your nerves extremely fast, and getting to the end credits might very well be your one and only goal. It's quite rewarding, as you're treated to some of the best bits of the soundtrack there.

So, in a nutshell, Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD is a good play for the most undemanding Assassin's Creed fan. It's definitely Assassin's Creed, with more glitches, less diverse environment, less connection to the franchise timeline, uglier graphics, crappier story and crappier A.I. than usual. It has some fresh ideas and surprisingly diverse mission scripts to keep it afloat. The price is not too hot to handle, either - although I personally paid more for this game than I did for each of the first two games in the franchise. Recommendable for those most undemanding fans, everyone else will inevitably find the game mediocre.

UPS
+ The basic Assassin's Creed gameplay
+ The music is awesome
+ The mission outlines keep changing
+ The Persona system has a lot of potential - only works for a female protagonist, though

DOWNS
- Shoddy story and characters, they've no place in the timeline
- Boring level design
- Rough and blurry graphics
- Crappy enemy A.I.
- The Trading system
- Plus some random, yet notable glitches

< 6.5 >

torstai 19. kesäkuuta 2014

E3 2014

Over a month between the last two reviews is a little hard to explain, but in my mind it needs no explanation; it just goes to show what kind of a rollercoaster I've been on lately. I have several drafts of reviews of newer games I've hadn't had the time to finish - the games OR the reviews, such as Watch_Dogs - and following up on what I've written thus far wouldn't make any sense anymore. The Tuska festival is once again coming up very soon, as well as my much-feared 30th birthday, so I can't guarantee a steady income of reviews for the rest of the summer, since my vacation time's all used up by then. But we'll see, won't we.

This year's E3 was wrapped up a week back, and it made modern gaming interesting again, after what I have perceived as a bit of a slump. Even Nintendo had interesting stuff on show in a game simply called The Legend of Zelda, which looked kinda like Skyrim on Zelda gear; the gameplay's supposed to be a modern take on the gameplay and general atmosphere of the very first Zelda games - hence the title, I guess - and that makes it interesting. The funny thing is, just a couple of years ago I wouldn't have given two shits about a new Zelda game, but now I'm a whole lot more optimistic. Give me one drunken, sentimental fit and the next morning I'll probably have a Wii U in the shelf. ...Nah. But, if The Legend of Zelda was from the least interesting end of the interesting stretch of games on show at E3, it must've been one hell of a show. Let's see what they had there, in alphabetical order.

Artist Matt Nava, who worked on thatgamecompany's critically acclaimed pairing of Flower and Journey, is at the director's helm of a new project called Abzû, which is being developed by Giant Squid Games for the PS4 and the PC. The teaser trailer doesn't tell us much about the game, but what we can gather is that the game is - perhaps inevitably - a spiritual successor to thatgamecompany's trilogy of games. Sounds and looks beautiful, yet minimalistic, there's this mysterious vibe to it which will surely emanate from the final product as well. I smell another sleeper hit coming. When, that we do not know, but the game will most definitely at least launch as a digital download, so it might not take that long at all. Six months at most.

Ever played Aliens: Colonial Marines? Hell, ever played any game licensed off Alien's butt? Well, there's another one coming by Sega, and this Alien: Isolation is supposed to whack their previous failure Aliens: Colonial Marines off the pages of history. What we have here is a first-person survival horror game, described by testers as one of the scariest games since the dawn of survival horror, somewhat influenced by the original Dead Space - the circle comes to a close - Outlast, and cinematically, the very first Alien film from 1979. As a fan of the Alien movies, including Prometheus which is no doubt another influential point here, I'm hoping for the best and maybe I'll even at least try the game out if it turns out better than your average Alien game. The game is slated for release on October 7th, 2014... just like a few other, much more anticipated games, so on second thought, Alien: Isolation had better be GOOD.

Arno's the new guy.
The new Assassin's Creed for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, previously codenamed "Comet" suddenly became vaporware. It was expected to be revealed at this year's E3, but that didn't happen, and there was no talk of the game - Ubisoft's only comment on the issue was that "they haven't forgotten", so perhaps there will be a new game for the previous generation of systems, announced at a later date, maybe it's a digital download which would explain the late announcement... OOOOORRRR they'll soon announce yet another, originally unplanned PS3 and 360 conversion of Assassin's Creed: Unity just to piss off those people who bought a PS4 or Xbox One months ago just to make sure they got their hands on those megasequels as soon as they came out. In all honesty, I'm not thrilled about Assassin's Creed: Unity. Both the cinematic trailer and the gameplay preview made me feel like I've been seeing the exact same ads and hearing the exact same hype every year since Revelations. Once again, they've been making this game since Assassin's Creed II - that makes it at least the FIFTH game in development since the final touches on Assassin's Creed II. It's always got to be greater than last year's game, since it's been in development longer, huh? If you can't smell the sarcasm, get yourself some nasal spray. Anyway, as I said, I'm not too thrilled, not by those politics, or the gameplay, or the game's setting. Four player co-op would be a neat thing to have, if I was into online playing in general; I'm still a bit sad that multiplayer's the key word nowadays, especially when it comes to a story-driven, single-player franchise, but on the other hand, they've been doing multiplayer AC for quite a while, so they already have the most essential bases covered and can hopefully focus on delivering a good single-player campaign as well. The setting... I've told you many times how I feel about the French, I'm not interested in the French Revolution schtick one bit, but again on the other hand, was I very interested in the Renaissance era back when I was first heading into Assassin's Creed II? Let's just hope for the best. The game is coming out on a very traditional date, October 28th, on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Guess which game is NOT coming when it's supposed to? Yep, Batman: Arkham Knight's been pushed all the way from early October to X-date 2015. The gameplay preview that was on show at E3 evoked all sorts of emotions; while others were all over how great the game looked and how vast Gotham City seemed, and the fancy utilization of the Batmobile, others felt that the game was getting too big, too technical and too action-oriented to really appeal to fans of the first two games. I'm kinda in a blender on this issue myself; I guess all my positive expectations were thrown out of the window the moment I caught the hint that the game was going to be delayed, by several months if not nearly a whole year. I watched the preview with a very sour look on my face and pointed out everything that sucked about it at first glance, and nothing more. ...Who am I kidding? Gotham is HUGE. I'm dying to get my hands on this game. I hope I'm still young when it comes out.

Just to comment on how Bethesda seemingly wants to piss people off - no, they did NOT announce Fallout 4, or anything remotely connected to Fallout, or even Dishonored 2. Instead, they formally announced the arrival of a PC-exclusive F2P multiplayer combat game called BattleCry. Yay. It's a cry, all right. Might as well mention new Battlefield and Call of Duty games in this same context, namely Battlefield: Hardline and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. And new Dead Island. And Far Cry. And Halo (and a Halo collection at that). And Homefront. And Metro. And Medal of Honor. Oops, sorry, scratch that last one.

To my surprise, Bayonetta 2 is STILL a Wii U exclusive, and to all those who ever wondered why because Bayonetta was never such a Nintendo-like title and the first game wasn't released even on the original Wii, Nintendo had answers. First of all, to our surprise, the game wasn't actually seen at the E3, but there was talk about it and at no point did system-specific censorship get mentioned, and also, it was revealed that all retail editions of Bayonetta 2 would include a Wii U re-release of the original game. Okay. Well played.

Admirers of From Software's work will get a whole new set of bones to pick with another spiritual successor to the original Demon's Souls - a PS4-exclusive by the name of Bloodborne, previously known as Project Beast. The funny thing is that I haven't had the time to familiarize myself with either Demon's Souls or Dark Souls just yet, but it goes without saying how intriguing I find those games by all the curses I've heard on the grapevine. This one has an impressive-sounding storyline - which to my knowledge wasn't a strong suit for the Souls series - and it's promised to have similar gameplay and a similar level of difficulty, so I'm sure Souls fans will, umm... "enjoy" the game. It's not gonna be out 'til 2015, though.

Don't know who that's supposed to be, but I'm betting on
bad ass. Dragon Age: Inquisition is on the way, fast.
So, let's continue with the magical date of October 7th. Since Batman: Arkham Knight is out of the equation, you'll go with Alien: Isolation, right? I doubt it, since one of THE sequels is coming. We have three reasons to doubt it: first, it was only supposed to come out on current-gen systems. It was clearly stated that the game would not run efficiently enough on the PS3 and Xbox 360 - that turned out a big ol' crock of bullshit. Once again, the announcement was made AFTER some of us had bought a new system, taking heed of a rare opportunity as they're still periodically sold out. The second reason is, the previous installment in the series was one of the biggest letdowns of the last generation, after a strong first outing. The third reason is, that the game still bears the same commercial mark(s) as the first game in the series, but it's made by a whole different group of people. The same people, but their agendas and attitudes have seemingly changed severely through the years, resulting in games that fans of the old have even deemed garbage. But, I believe - and hope - that now is BioWare's time to rise from the ashes, with Dragon Age: Inquisition. The game looks simply epic - and what's at least been flushed down the drain since the last game is the concept of one single city and hundreds of identical dungeons and forest paths to explore to your bored heart's content. The game is advertised as BioWare's biggest game to date, and the culmination of all things that fans have found most essential in BioWare's games since the initial rise of the company, such as character customization (race and class included), plot development dependent on player choices and even file import. Of course, since Dragon Age: Inquisition is the first Dragon Age title of the new generation, importing is not possible, at least not on the PS4 and Xbox One. To solve this peeve, BioWare has come up with the Dragon Age Keep feature, which is supposedly kind of like an interactive story in the vein of Mass Effect: Genesis, covering the events of both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. Remember, it's only months away - I have a Deluxe Edition coming up, myself, and judging by what I've seen, I think we're in for one hell of a fantasy role-playing treat.

Final Fantasy Type-0, previously released exclusively on the PSP and only in Japan, is getting an HD makeover and heading to the West on the PS4 and Xbox One... and even as the most stubborn Final Fantasy fan in the world, I'm not sure what to think. I didn't even know much about the game beforehand besides its name, so I headed to Wikipedia to educate myself some. What's obvious is that although it's set in the utterly boring XIII universe, it has quite enough classic Final Fantasy elements in it to make me interested. Also, the gameplay is described as the simple action-RPG style of Crisis Core, which I liked very much (although I can't immediately imagine that sort of game on a big screen). The ratings are distinctively awesome - even though all of the ratings come from Japanese publishers, who are known to be unexceptionally biased when it comes to Final Fantasy, especially (and ironically) the newer games. I smell sushi, but I'm still intrigued. My conclusion is that I'll buy it, sure as shit. But, will I like it? That's up to time to tell.

With information on Telltale Games' Game of Thrones adaptation still tucked well under wraps, as well as Gears of War 4, the most interesting parts of the G-department are a couple of remakes. Grand Theft Auto V is finally coming to the PC - "yay" - as well as the PS4 and Xbox One. Another "yay", although all of this was utterly expected, and I'm even glad on the PC players' behalf. Kind of interesting that console players can actually sell their last-gen copies and import their save files to the newer versions - what an impressive stunt to skyrocket 'em sales. Tim Schafer himself is directing a complete remake of his greatest directorial hit, the 1997 point 'n' click classic Grim Fandango. I'm guessing that whichever the way the remake goes, it's probably gonna be Double Fine's best-selling work to date.

The new Killer Instinct, exclusive to the Xbox One, is getting a sequel. Kinda sad that the first one is the most interesting Xbox One title in my books. No Kingdom Hearts III, unfortunately, but as consolidation, we finally have an HD remake of Kingdom Hearts II - coupled with Birth by Sleep and another cinematic "version" of Coded - coming up on the PS3. I recently played through the remake of the first game and had a hell of a time; I almost crossed the line and headed straight into Kingdom Hearts II, but decided to wait 'til they announced a remake. They made the announcement a little sooner than I expected, and scheduled the game for 2014. I hope we're talking about a worldwide release date this time around.

Not one, but two Tomb Raider games are coming up. Never thought I'd be excited about just one new Tomb Raider release, 'til last year's reboot. Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is a sequel to the digital megahit from a few years back, named Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and the sequel to the Tomb Raider reboot is called Rise of the Tomb Raider. Not much is known about it, but the teaser tells me we're in for perhaps an even more realistic and down-to-Earth game than its predecessor. Can't wait to see how this plot thickens; if I never thought I'd be pissing myself over a Tomb Raider game, I sure as hell didn't think that I'd ever consider the franchise to be Square Enix's current flagship.

He's back. With friends. And he owes me a lunch - I spilled
it across the floor once I heard the news.
Out of the purest blue: LittleBigPlanet 3. I mean, what the fuck?! OK, I might've fallen from the wagon at some point, but I never heard one word about this game before the E3. I sincerely thought the franchise was done for, and if Media Molecule were still around, they must've been working on some whole new project. But, that's not the case - LittleBigPlanet 3 is not only coming, but it's coming soon. November, to be exact. Any levels that were created in the pairing of the PS3 classics can be played with overhauled graphics in LittleBigPlanet 3, and the gimmick this time around is the addition of three whole new characters with different abilities to accompany Sackboy or Sackgirl on their trip. I'm pretty sure this game will rock. Case closed. See you in November.

As a new IP from a studio that has never made one game to impress me, CI Games' action-RPG Lords of the Fallen might not be as fascinating as Dragon Age: Inquisition, but it is fascinating, by its title and dark concept art alone. Also, it's directed by Tomasz Gop, who worked on the Witcher games - now I don't have experience from those games myself, but I've read my homework. Lords of the Fallen hits us in late 2014, and I hope it'll do it good.

I probably don't even need to name the game I was personally most expecting to see at this year's exhibition - hell, they didn't either, but 'til proven otherwise, this game is called Mass Effect 4. Rumours of the game have been circulating for two years, and BioWare still didn't have much to show, though if my memory serves me correctly, just a couple of months ago they stated that they were actually halfway done with the game, which in turn at least led me to believe that they would have something to show for it besides some random landscape videos. They looked awesome, no doubt. OK, so what we know about Mass Effect 4 thus far, is that it's a whole new game and will probably not even be called Mass Effect to separate it from Commander Shepard's story. It will play out more like a traditional RPG, and it was revealed at E3 that it will run on the Frostbite engine used in Dragon Age: Inquisition. So, here's to hoping that latter game will rock... again!

In my books, to be quite frank, Hideo Kojima's genius has been debatable in the recent years. OK, yeah, what he does usually turns out quite awesome, but everything that comes out of the guy's mouth nowadays turns to shit on its way to my ears, starting with how I think he deliberately insults fans' intelligence time and time again. We've been waiting for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for a long time - hell, just giving us a release date would be nice, since Ground Zeroes has been out for quite some time now. "Well, I think this game is too big to be completed, so I think we'll just cancel the release." Yeah, very funny. The release date, please. "Well, I know you all want this in 2014, so let's say December 31st." Enough with the fucking jokes, seriously - this kind of shit has been going on ever since Metal Gear Solid 2 hit it big 13 years ago. We didn't get a release date, we got some vintage self-loving and backing out on one's words, but in turn, we got some good-looking gameplay videos and an awesome trailer for The Phantom Pain - and when I say awesome, I mean it, 'cause as cinematically talented as Kojima is, Metal Gear trailers have always sucked; the games have instead sold themselves. When it comes to the game's graphics, I'm actually thinking of trading my PS3 version of Ground Zeroes for a PS4 version and getting The Phantom Pain for the PS4 after all... if they don't cancel the release, that is! Heh. Heh. Heh.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings "interquel" Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is looking better all the time... and more like Assassin's Creed all the time, which is not bad as long as they stick to the actually functional AC formula! I have this game on pre-order, which is kind of weird since I rarely trust new IP's, much less from such low-profile developers as Monolith Productions, and even less from a "licensed" game. This game has the equal potential to suck royal hobbit balls as it has to be the new Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game's out on October 7th.

Mirror's Edge 2. There, it's mentioned, let's move on to another game besides Tomb Raider that I never thought to be THIS excited about: Mortal Kombat X. The 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat blew the bank; not only was it the ultimate Mortal Kombat experience, but in my mind the greatest one-on-one fighting game ever made, it's still on periodical rotation whenever I'm feeling brutal (read: quite often). New trailers and gameplay previews for the game are coming quite steadily, although the game is slated for release no earlier than 2015. There's some new features such as more interactive environments than before, some completely whack new characters to join the classic fold that at the very least includes Scorpion and Sub-Zero, and gruesome Fatalities - all the things we'd expect from a great Mortal Kombat game. Can't wait to FINISH THEM!

Nate's gone Joel, all brooding and grey. Awesome.
The Order: 1886, the whole new IP by Ready at Dawn - who worked on the God of War series at one point - is coming up later this year after all, despite being pushed back to 2015 at one time, and I'm ecstatic. The whole concept behind the game and the reputation of the studio do wonders to the hype. Last but not least on my list of awesomeness is Nathan Drake's return (and farewell?) to the fold with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Things haven't been looking up in the Uncharted band camp since the first teaser trailer for a new Drake adventure emerged ages ago, as series creator and director Amy Hennig resigned from Naughty Dog recently, and the game was rumoured to have been cancelled. It was apparently just restarted from scratch, and it's designed by Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann who worked on the first two games and co-created The Last of Us - which, on the other hand, is now on its way to the PS4 as a remastered version. Seeing who's at the helm, I consider Nate's potentially final adventure a huge overhaul from the disappointing Uncharted 3 already, and the vague trailer tells me three important things: it's dark, almost as dark as The Last of Us by the looks of it, it features a somewhat aged Nate, and Sully's still around. I think it's safe to predict that Uncharted 4 will be the PS4's final breakthrough game, when it comes around some time in 2015.

That's my list of E3's best. Have a nice weekend, and all you fellow Finns have a nice (and healthy) midsummer's party.

torstai 12. kesäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men 2: Clone Wars | GEN | 1995

GENRE(S): Action / Platformer
RELEASED: 1995
AVAILABLE ON: GEN
DEVELOPER(S): HeadGames
PUBLISHER(S): Sega

In early 1995, Sega published their second exclusive X-Men game for the Sega Genesis. X-Men 2: Clone Wars, it was called, and it was received fairly well - best out of all 16-bit X-Men games that had come out thus far, in fact. Just like its predecessor, the game was a very simple, arcade-style action platformer that was perhaps gratuitously faithful to the diversity of the source material, when it came to having several characters that genuinely differed from each other in gameplay. However, absolutely everything else about the game apart from the solid cast was incomplete, and X-Men 2 ended up an even less memorable game than its predecessor in my books. Not total dung, but nothing to celebrate about either. Non-surprisingly, the biggest fault here is boring and repetitive level design. The playable characters' simple lack of aptitude follows up as a good number two.

Damn those clones

The tech-organic alien species known as the Phalanx has returned for another attempt at conquering Earth by manipulating their very own mutant forces. Several mutants have been captured and cloned for an army. Beast, Psylocke, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Cyclops and Wolverine, all of whom have thus far managed to evade capture, join forces with the unlikeliest of allies - Magneto himself - to drive them aliens back to the verges where they came from.

Can't see shit.
Let me start off by stating the obvious: I've played a lot of X-Men games lately, and even more games based on Marvel Comics. Genesis games in particular demand high concentration on details from me, and a lot of background research, 'cause almost every game I play on the Genesis nowadays besides some best-selling classics such as Sonic the Hedgehog and the earliest Genesis titles is a completely new experience to me. Might even be a whole new acquaintance. I was a Nintendo kid, and I didn't even know what was going on in the other 16-bit camp until my favourite magazine finally gave up to popular demand and started doing stuff on something else besides Nintendo back in 1995.

Most of the games I've played thus far have been games I'll never even think to return to again; just some odd Spider-Man games here and there. The X-Men franchise in particular has been a huge disappointment for me, 'cause it's got so much potential and without exceptions, the potential has been laid to waste as the developers have truly invested in some odd element of the game that will surely please a lot of people, but they've forgotten everything else that would please a whole lot of more people. So, I was doing background research on X-Men 2: Clone Wars before putting it to the grand test. Based on a pitiful total of two reviews, the game stands at a sharp 70 on GameRankings; that really isn't too bad by the usual retro standard of GameRankings. The game held fairly good averages on both MobyGames and GameFAQs, and the general "reception" part on Wikipedia told me that the game has even been called one of the greatest Genesis games ever made. Of course I was psyched up; every bit of prejudice I might've had, dropped out one by one at each word I read. I poured myself a long, cold drink, and was fully prepared to finally break this franchise, and this whole marathon, above the usual crappy average.

Now, as I said, I've played a lot of bad games during the last year, but you could say that after all that hype, X-Men 2: Clone Wars is one of the biggest disappointments I've had to deal with. It's superficially fancy, it has a good cast of characters (on paper) and a good story that will surely pique the curiosity of comic book fans, but that's where the fun ends - when we start going into the practical things, such as gameplay and level design. I'm hoping this pattern will break sooner rather than later, but it certainly does not happen here, and I sincerely do not see what's so great about this game, or even essentially new compared to its predecessor. To me, it's the same old, in a slightly more beautiful wrapping. Maybe that's what mattered. Don't know.

The level and enemy design take the usual easy ways out, but in turn, the playable characters are extremely well detailed. The environmental effects such as the initially prominent snowfall are quite neat, as well. The music is of the typical, unimaginative and repetitive fare, not much to say about it.

Whoa. Ass.
The game plays out almost exactly like the previous Genesis title, only there are more playable characters and their abilities are a whole lot more diverse, to the point that some of them are sure winners, while some are completely useless. For example, Cyclops and Gambit are excellent characters to use due to their ranged attacks, and not only is Nightcrawler faster than everyone else, he can climb walls - once again, his teleportation ability doesn't have much sensical use at all, it's used for a strange sort of offense rather than actual teleportation. Sadly, my favourite X-Men - Wolverine and Beast - get the short end of the stick here. Beast's special move is a slow and heavy ground pound attack that has no use at all against the fast and well-ranged enemies, and the range of Wolverine's attacks is pathetic. This leaves Psylocke, who I've always perceived as an oddball character, perhaps due to her absence from the X-Men media most familiar to me.

The even initially uninteresting levels are extremely lengthy and your life bar extremely small. Even Wolverine's regeneration ability works up to three ticks of health. Enemies can pop up from the purest blue even in what's supposed to be a "tutorial level"; the title screen doesn't even show until you've finished the first level, and even accomplishing that much might seem impossible at first. There are no checkpoints, and no save system of any kind. There's no solid reason for me to blurt out my honest opinion, you can pretty much imagine it.

UPS
+ Good story
+ Nice graphics

DOWNS
- Boring gameplay and level design
- Too little health for levels this long
- Too many practically useless characters
- Not even a password system

< 5.8 >

keskiviikko 7. toukokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men | GEN | 1993

GENRE(S): Action / Platformer
RELEASED: 1993
AVAILABLE ON: GEN
DEVELOPER(S): Western Technologies
PUBLISHER(S): Sega

X-Men for the Sega Genesis was chronologically the first X-Men console game LJN had absolutely nothing to do with, not by a long shot. This, as well as positive reception from many retro critics immediately breaks some barriers between me and the game, and so I am finally ready to continue on with the Marvel marathon, with expectations of some decent 16-bit action. However, just recently I watched the game being included in AVGN's X-Men montage, in which he clamped the game together with The Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine on the NES. Looks good, looks bad, looks good again. Which is it? Let's find out.

Relax, it's just a simulation

Bad ass.
Magneto uses a satellite to upload a virus to the main computer of Professor X's training facility, which results in a very bad day for Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit and Nightcrawler. The four mutants must make their way through randomly loaded, exceptionally dangerous simulations of their past adventures and neutralize the virus.

So as I said, I recently watched AVGN's trip through some hand-picked X-Men games from yesteryear, as it was one of the AVGN videos I missed when it came out and I thought I'd watch it for inspiration to continue on with the Marvel marathon. The Marvel marathon has been going on for more than a year now, with varying speed and consistency, and let's face it, most of the games I've played have sucked, royally. There have been these small glints of hope here and there, as in a few truly good Spider-Man games, but not much else. I know I'm in for more good games, but the X-Men franchise in particular has been a buzzkiller, as proven by The Uncanny X-Men being "crowned" the worst game I've ever played. AVGN does not review games lightly - if he sees it worthy to "highlight" a game, that usually means something. So, X-Men does not promise much, but I must review it to carry on. So, how is it? Well, it's not good. But in a bit of good news, it's not totally hopeless. It's a game I even might've enjoyed when I was a kid - if I was an X-Men fan back then to begin with, I mean.

Storm's-a-comin'.
I've grown accustomed to graphics and sound usually being extremely close to each other. If a game looks good, it usually sounds good, and vice versa. Here, that rule does not apply. The game looks pretty good with its very detailed sprites - of just the right size - and nice effects. The level design is quite boring, not to mention confusing - I've also grown accustomed to the trend that Marvel games have either horrible controls or lackluster level design, or both. Luckily this game suffers only from one of these problems, which makes it more playable than most Marvel games of the era. That, and the fact that it was made by and for someone else than you know who. So, while I don't have much complaints about the game's look, I have to say I can't stand the sound. The music's stock and sometimes really high pitched, badly sequenced drivel, and the sudden sound effects are pure slaughter. I usually mute the monitor whenever there's a really hard platforming part - it usually helps me to get through it a lot quicker.

So, this incarnation of X-Men lets you choose between four characters: Wolverine, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Gambit. Whenever one character gets it, you go back to the beginning of the level - regardless how far along the level you are - and get to choose another one, and another one, until they are all gone, which means game over. No passwords. This is one of those games. Not to worry, though. The game isn't too hard; it's just very, very boring. The levels are just paste upon paste, and whenever you're taken back to the character select screen, you have to wait for something like 30 seconds for the level to load. You're free to move in the training room while the level loads, which leaves you kinda aped about what's happening, if you've just started to play the game. Must you do something, are you missing something, is that it? No. Just wait.

Nope, can't do shit to Incan architecture.
You can also switch characters on the go at any time, which doesn't really have much purpose besides the fact that you get full meters (Health and Power) this way - it might help out if you're having a hard time. If Wolverine's claws are out, his Power meter drains all the time, while everyone else's meter is tied to how much they use their abilities. Everyone also has a special attack that drains a bulk of the meter at a time. No one's really better or worse than the other here, both Nightcrawler's character and ability are just a tad hard to learn to control. In addition, you can summon four other X-Men (Iceman, Rogue, Storm, Arch-Angel) once per level. While all the others are designed to kill all enemies on screen and do heavy damage to bosses, Iceman makes bridges in mid-air.

The game is a simple action-platformer with mild puzzle elements. It's not exceptional in its general nuisance, and though it's far from a thoroughly entertaining game, it's playable. This far into the marathon, there's really not much to say about it besides simply telling what it's basically like, and what sucks about it, and while there are plenty of small things that do suck about it, it's the ultra-boring level design that really gets shoved in your face. And the sound. After all the crap I've endured so far, what I just said is letting the game go easy. It's worth a try, really. That's more than I can say about any X-Men game I've reviewed so far.

UPS
+ Looks pretty good
+ Feels pretty good, from a comic book fan's perspective
+ Decent controls

DOWNS
- Lethally boring level design
- The waiting around part in each beginning, after each death and between levels
- Music and sound effects

< 6.5 >

perjantai 2. toukokuuta 2014

REVIEW - Rayman Legends | PS4 | 2014

GENRE(S): Platformer
RELEASED: August 29, 2013 (PC, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360)
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montpellier
PUBLISHER(S): Ubisoft, Nintendo (Wii U)

The very original Rayman from 1995 was the Atari Jaguar's most successful game, and a commercial hit on several other systems as well, including the Sony PlayStation on which it debuted. The game was one of the last 2D platformers of the 90's - as a matter of fact, its first sequel already adapted a 3D environment. Although Rayman 2 was received even better than its predecessor back in the day, somehow the developers' hearts stayed with 2D. Several more or less well-received remakes of the first game later, Ubisoft refitted Rayman into the 2D mold with a new game called Rayman Origins in 2011, capitalizing on the recent new wave of 2D platformers to great success. Two years later, they made a direct sequel named Rayman Legends, which was eventually released as a budget game on the latest systems on the market. Since I've never been a Rayman fan - actually, I'm really getting familiar with the franchise just now - one might wonder why I'm reviewing this game now. The reason is, that Rayman Legends is one of the best 2D platformers I've ever played - taking every Mario, Donkey Kong and LittleBigPlanet game ever made into account. You better believe it. I still don't.

Legendary

It's-a-me, Mario! Wait... it's-a-not.
Rayman, his best friend Globox and the Teensies have been sleeping for a century, during which the Bubble Dreamer's nightmares have grown in numbers, and the evil Magician has re-emerged as five separate beings dubbed the Dark Teensies. Murfy awakens Rayman to inform him that the ten princesses of the land and 700 Teensies have been snatched by the Bubble Dreamer's nightmares and the Dark Teensies. Rayman sets out to rescue and gather his troops for his most epic adventure yet. ...And I'm, having never really played a Rayman game before, violently shoved out in the dark here, but who really cares about the plot?

I seriously wasn't going to do this review. I mean, it's a kids' game - one that I never played when I actually was a kid. It's a platformer, as simple as they come - it's basically the same thing as Super Mario 64, only in 2D and 18 years later, nothing too exciting there, right? The only reason I bought the game was its reasonable price compared to every other new PS4 game out there, and it had good reviews to its credit, so I thought that it might prove to be reasonable, light hangover entertainment. So there I was, completely sober, reflecting on my 30th birthday coming up in two months, enjoying the hell out of everything the game threw at me and finally cursing my lungs out at the final boss... who actually wasn't the final boss, since the game has so much content that it'll push you to your limits to really complete it. It's like Donkey Kong Country 2 or 3 of the new generation, only this time there are TWO extra worlds to conquer beyond the veil of the end credits, and a long way to go 'til the point you are able to merely UNLOCK these worlds. Rayman Legends is a damn fun, fast, challenging game. Even epic, in its own category. It's a damn treasure, and the PS4 version is yours for half the price. I say - make 'em shut up and take your money!

Eye of the Tiger!
I think I'm going to take a deeper look into the Rayman franchise sometime soon - but in case you're about as familiar with the franchise as I am right now, Rayman is... well, Rayman. A limbless pile of limbs, the quirky epitome of both awesomeness and randomness. He's a master of some fashion of kung-fu; he is able to use his fists as short-range projectiles, pound the ground with a devastating attack, jump along between adjacent walls, and roundkick any standard enemy you've ever seen in a platformer from here to eternity. Enough? Good, 'cause I'm running low here. Glowing bugs called "lums" are this game's equivalent to Mario's coins or Donkey Kong's bananas, but since you don't have lives, their purpose is different; you need them for high scores in levels (which actually matter on the account of 100% completion), and to unlock stuff. By picking up lines of lums in a precise order, with the "lead lum" being of a different colour than the others, you gain double the amount of lums you see on the screen. Your heaviest priority is the rescue of Teensies, these Smurf-like creatures; every single level in the game has ten of them, some of them hidden pretty well, especially the two royal ones who are usually found inside secret puzzle rooms. Like in Super Mario 64, a handful of Teensies are found somewhere else besides the levels; however, the gallery of dreams is just your hub and nothing more, it's not an open, dynamic world like the Mushroom Kingdom castle. So these are the basics - if you still want to go deeper, follow me. Epic and constantly changing boss fights, rewarding rhythm games, infernal difficulties and other forms of non-stop platforming entertainment coming up.

I think South Park - the show - said it best: these graphics look like "10% better" than the original editions of the game on last-gen systems. The superficial difference really ain't that big - but when you go deeper, you start to see results. Loading times? WHAT loading times? You could say that Rayman Legends is an optimal way to get to know your new system and its qualities inside out, because you can get in and out of the game in a jiffy, and chances are you won't even have time to figure out that you just died, because you respawn immediately at a checkpoint without having to wait for one extra second, it's so smooth and quick. A couple of days ago, I learned that Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming to last-gen systems after all; I cursed a bit, 'cause the game was one of the reasons I spent my money on a PS4 in the first place, but then I remembered that I hated the loading times in the last two games. If that game is even relatively this fast, I think I made a smart purchase after all; I can't imagine how slow it'll run on the PS3 and 360. Save file importing might turn out a feature on those systems, but I'll take zero loading times over it. Changed the subject there, sorry.

The first boss fight.
Anyway, this version of Rayman Legends not only utilizes the PS4's advanced features, it also tutors players on their use. The touchpad is used to scratch Lucky Tickets, which you win from each level if you score high enough, and a whole bulk of 'em at once from conquering a whole world. The touchpad works as kind of a second screen there, like on the Wii U. The second or third level of the game teaches you how to share videos and screenshots; though as you might know, for now they're exclusive to Facebook, which is kind of a bummer 'cause I have long wanted to improve the quality of PlayStation and Xbox screenshots here on the blog. It's still a nice feature, though, and it's great that the game offers a tutorial unlike any other game I've played on the PS4 thus far; I'm really confused by the system's own tutorials and handbooks, it's too much information at once for one as old-fashioned and narrow-minded as I am at my worst. I'm sorry, again - I think I meant to talk about the graphics here. Well, it looks great. I needed two whole paragraphs to say those three words... we must be dealing with something rather impressive here. (Editorial note: I wrote this review a week ago; apparently the latest system update that was released on April 30th allows you to save screenshots and videos to a USB device - I'll try this out come the next PS4 review)

Rayman Legends also sounds great, and very diverse. There's all sorts of music to go with all sorts of situations, and all sorts of situations are exactly what the game throws at you. Every level of the big book of platformer cliches is used in this game, including its share of notorious ice levels. Lots and lots of gauntlet levels - and since I haven't reviewed a platformer in a while, I must elaborate that what I call "gauntlets" are these automatically side-scrolling, extremely fast and dangerous levels. In this game, danger's coming for you from every direction. Usually, you can't turn back in these levels for even a fraction of a second. I think the music in those levels captures that tense feeling pretty well. The last level in every world - after the boss fight - is a rhythm-based level, where everything happens according to the notes of the music. Which in this particular case is a small selection of classic rock tunes, reworked in some deliciously quirky fashion. I didn't want to spoil this, but do stay tuned for a mariachi version of "Eye of the Tiger" - it's fucking awesome. In short, one of the most epic concepts for a level ever made - and it was at that moment when the first notes played, that I realized I'm playing one of the finest new games I've played in years. Oh yeah, by the way, it doesn't come as a huge surprise that guitar player Steve Ouimette - known for bombastic facemelters he exclusively contributed to the Guitar Hero series through the Neversoft years - had a hand on the soundtrack. This should also give you some idea what you're in for, by terms of sound.

A gauntlet with four player co-op? Sounds
painful.
Well, then - down to business. I think the best way to do this is to take a trip through each room in the gallery of dreams. First, the main gallery - the main hub - which houses shortcuts to every other gallery, as well as every main world painting. (What is it about paintings in these platformers...?) There are five main worlds, with a varying amount of levels and each has a unique theme, or a whole new gameplay feature in store. For example, most levels in Toad Story are physics-based levels that feature less jumping around and more flowing freely with the wind, and 20,000 Lums Under the Sea mixes traditional underwater navigation with stealth action (!), complete with awesome espionage music influenced by Metal Gear, Splinter Cell and even James Bond. Olympus Maximus, the final main world, is a mix of every challenge the game has thrown at you 'til that point - a potentially enfuriating one, seriously one of the most challenging collectives I've seen in any type of game in a long time. It's not the end, though! If you manage to save enough of those damn Teensies throughout your trip, one more world - Living Dead Party - is unlocked. It's basically the ultimate musical challenge, an ultra-hard remix of every rhythm level of the game. It's worth the trip... can't handle the trip? OK, here are some features which might help you to chock up on some extra Teensies beyond the main game.

You're ranked after each level. To achieve 100% completion of a level, you need to rescue all of the Teensies and gather enough lums to get three cups (bronze, silver, gold), as well as a Lucky Ticket. The prizes from the Lucky Tickets alternate between more lums, one extra Teensy, creatures for your bug collection and finally, extra levels. Also, the more levels you ace, the more you gain access to extra levels within the worlds. The ten princesses of whatever this land is called, are trapped in brief, but very tough levels unlocked by certain amounts of Teensies - once you've rescued them, you can use them as playable characters instead of Rayman at any time you wish. These princess levels have three Teensies each. "Invasion" versions of previously beaten levels are also unlocked. They're very strictly timed challenges in which you have the chance to rescue three Teensies waiting at the finish line from being blasted into outer space; you'll have to survive a tough array of different stipulations without the help of any power-ups. After 40 seconds have passed, one gets it every ten seconds, and if all them get their asses blown up, the mission fails.

To put it simply, lums are used as currency to unlock more playable characters in the Heroes gallery, beyond all the different attires for Rayman and the princesses. 'Til now, I've found it weird to play as someone other than Rayman (dressed in Edward's outfit from Ubisoft's very own Assassin's Creed IV), so I can't really say if there's any real use for this feature in the single-player mode, but I'm sure there are people who find it very neat. The ultimate goal is to gather 1,000,000 lums to unlock the final character - I've beaten the main game, and about one fifth of the extra levels, and I'm hardly at 150,000. Whew.

Another boss fight against one jacked up
version of Rey Mysterio.
Let's just skip ahead from the Kung Foot minigame, 'cause this wacky soccer game seems fun, but it's strict multiplayer fun - you can practice kicks alone, but you'll need friends to make something useful out of it. The last gallery on the list is Back to Origins, which is literally a remastered and slightly redesigned collection of 40 of what the developers and fans of the game considered the best levels in Rayman Origins. Once I learned about this, having already figured how great the game is, I lauded Ubisoft for this PS4 budget price of 40 €. The game is basically two highly entertaining, simple but challenging and fast-paced platformers in one, playing out as one, and serving each other's purposes. Of course, you need to go to incredible lengths in the main game to be able to unlock more than four or five levels of Origins. Five main worlds, one extra world, then 40 extra-extra levels, and finally the online challenges, all of which come with tons of different, almost impossible hazards, puzzles and collectibles. This is MADNESS!

I've never ended a review of a great game without sharing some bad news. Everything I've said about the game thus far concerns its different features; it's a 2D platformer, you know how it plays out, but in any case, that's where the problems lie. Ubisoft's games seem to have a common problem with quick navigation and advanced controls. Rayman - or whoever you're playing as - has some sort of an authority problem with certain types of control features in certain types of situations, such as the wall kick (Assassin's Creed...), ground pound, and most of all, sprinting, especially sprinting along an arched wall. Having to use these features extensively spells doom; how doom presents itself varies, but it's still the same thing. Doom. Murfy is a scourge. This all-powerful, flying frog-thingy appears in several levels to manipulate the environment, for your benefit, at your command. He's basically a good idea, but still a scourge, 'cause in the later parts of the game, you need to keep your focus on both your own actions and Murfy at the same time; just to name an example, you're falling down a curved tunnel with spikes on both sides, and there's a circular saw waiting at the bottom; you need to use Murfy to move that saw just in the nick of time so you won't meet a gory end once you reach the bottom. So that's what he does, he mostly moves stuff, but that was kind of a bad example - let's put some more colour into it. Let's say that your way down features captured Teensies and an irresistible amount of lums. You need to command Murfy and swing your fists around at the same time, and THAT'S where the game hits a snag; executing two actions at the same time is not fail-safe, and it's always Murfy that fails to comply - and usually when Murfy fails to comply to your command, you're dead. The game seems so easy at first, so simple, as do Murfy's purposes - after the first couple of levels he's in, you start to wonder what the hell's he for anyway, but soon his arrival starts to signal fury. Basically fun levels, yeah, but there are going to be a lot of deaths, due to bad and/or delayed compliance.

Raining fire on Olympus tonight. We're lucky
to have Murfy. Or are we?
If you're still finding the game too easy, and just for kids, then I've got to mention the boss fights one more time. Every single boss fight is different, but they have one thing in common: they're hard as hell, every single one of them. I even had trouble with the first one, and the last one is just mega-fuckery as it features three totally different rounds, set in a level that's already ultra-challenging by itself even without the boss to harrass you every step of the way. I spent a total of three hours on the last two levels of the main game alone; this stretch is programmed to last about 15 minutes. Do the math. Luckily, acing the boss levels in terms of Teensies and lums is quite easy, so you don't have to worry too much about anything else except for beating the boss, and after you've beaten 'em, you gain access to the musical level and after that, a lot of Lucky Tickets, so you could say the game rewards you quite fine for your resilience. You must be resilient to beat this game to the hilt - there's a lot to do, and a lot of it is extremely hard. 700 Teensies to save - with 3-10 in each level. Again, do the math - you're in for a long trip if you're not here just to beat the game.

Rayman Legends is an amazing game and I warmly recommend it to everyone from kids to adults; kids might have a better chance at survival and better patience for 100% completion, though. And, although I'm not really ecstatic about the fact that the game is once again a port of a game from the previous generation and thus, does not really "unfold" the PS4's power, it's a good and educational one, and very likely at its best here. I would've never thought to nail such a gem for such a low price and with even lower expectations. Amazing.

UPS
+ 2D platforming at the best, fastest and most innovative in all its simplicity it's witnessed in years
+ Tons of gameplay bundled on a single disc, tons of collectibles, and megatons of replay value
+ You never know what's coming next
+ "Eye of the Tiger"... and the rest of the musical levels ain't bad, either

DOWNS
- Murfy
- Some occasional problems with advanced controls, especially in the gauntlet levels

< 9.4 >

keskiviikko 23. huhtikuuta 2014

REVIEW - Injustice: Gods Among Us | PS4 | 2013

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: April 16, 2013 (PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360)
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Wii U
DEVELOPER(S): NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software (PC, PS4), Armature Studio (PS Vita)
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

In 2008, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was released to universal curiosity, yet not much actual acclaim. Three years later, the Mortal Kombat franchise was rebooted with the ninth game in the main series, which in turn was praised for its fresh, yet familiar take on the classic. Concepts from both games were carried over to a new project, which would once again feature characters from DC Comics; this time it would also be solely focused on them. With director Ed Boon and lead designer John Edwards in the helm, and DC Comics writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti as creative consultants, NetherRealm Studios unleashed Injustice: Gods Among Us in the spring of 2013, bringing us one of the best, not to mention one of the most twisted DC Comics storylines ever, fitted into an epic one-on-one fighting game which plays out almost exactly like the latest Mortal Kombat game. So basically, it's Mortal Kombat - a Mortal Kombat in which you can use Batman to kick Superman's ass. I most definitely want in on this, despite not being much of a DC fan beyond Batman - and since I now have the PlayStation 4, I might as well use this game to get to know my new vehicle of destruction inside out. It was not a good choice for that task. But it's a good game.

A fistful of kryptonite

STARRING
George Newbern : Clark Kent / Superman
Kevin Conroy : Bruce Wayne / Batman
Susan Eisenberg : Princess Diana of Themyscira / Wonder Woman
Phil LaMarr : Arthur Curry / Aquaman
Adam Baldwin : Hal Jordan / Green Lantern
Neal MacDonough : Barry Allen / The Flash
Alan Tudyk : Oliver Queen / Green Arrow
Richard Epcar : The Joker
Mark Rolston : Lex Luthor
Fred Tatasciore : Bane / Solomon Grundy

The Joker pulls off the most epic "joke" ever by tricking Superman into killing Lois Lane and his unborn son, and utterly destroying Metropolis with a nuclear explosion. Superman brutally kills the Joker right in front of Batman, whose attempts to interfere with Superman's revenge causes a rift between the two superheroes. Superman finally loses his sense of morality altogether and establishes a new world order, proclaiming himself High Councilor of the One Earth, and goes to war with Batman's rebels, who dub themselves the Insurgency. Five years later, the Insurgency discovers a parallel universe - our universe - where Justice League is still active. The group transports Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and Green Lantern to their world to help them fight Superman's regime, and at the same time, they unknowingly put an end to Joker's plans in our world by accidentally teleporting Batman and the Joker as well, just in the nick of time.

Green Lantern's quite cool after all... from time
to time.
It's hero vs. hero, hero vs. villain, villain vs. villain, man vs. himself, and woman vs. herself, big time. I wish I was a DC fan right about now. We've seen a lot of games with Marvel characters getting it on amongst themselves (and against Capcom characters), and all sorts of all-star fighting games, from Star Wars characters to even Sony's flagship characters, but Injustice: Gods Among Us actually has a story and one that even makes sense on the usual, twisted superhero comic book scale. It's epic, it's emotional, and most of all, it's batshit crazy. A few years back, I was still in the mindset that I would probably never play (or at least pay for) a one-on-one fighting game again, but then some sort of hidden instinct from days of yore came back to me, and I went on a hunt for the latest games in the three most important franchises of the genre: Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. While Tekken and Street Fighter didn't quite do the trick, Mortal Kombat went further than that. Mortal Kombat was always the weakest link in this tight bunch back in the 90's, despite its distinct, gory style - but with the 2011 reboot, the tables turned as far as I'm concerned and I went as far as to name "Mortal Kombat 9" the greatest one-on-one fighting game ever made. When I heard that they were making an all-star DC Comics game as a spiritual successor to Mortal Kombat, with a similar story mode and all, I was ecstatic. Again, I wasn't a DC Comics fan, but I was a huge Batman fan, like I am today. If I could play as Batman, if I could make Superman bleed, that would've been enough. Injustice: Gods Among Us goes way beyond that. Despite fulfilling most of my wishes, despite fulfilling every DC fan's DREAM, and even despite sharing tons of similarities with the latest Mortal Kombat installment, Injustice: Gods Among Us isn't exactly awesome. But it is very good.

Deathstroke is BACK! ...Oh, right, this game's
older than Arkham Origins. It's hard to remember
that.
I'm still getting familiar with the PS4 and its technical capabilities, *slash* advanced features - so I don't know how good a PS4 game CAN look right now, but I can tell you one thing: much better than this. The PS4's Ultimate Edition seems like a simple remaster of the original version - it doesn't really matter which version of this game you buy, it still looks the same. The cutscenes lag, some of the facial close-ups are really ugly, and character design in general is one of the most disappointing things about Injustice; Batman and the Joker in particular are not that easy on the eyes, and Wonder Woman is far from every comic book fan's wet dream in my opinion; she's dreadful. The concept art looks so much better than the actual game as far as character design is concerned; luckily there are lots of alternate skins to go around outside the confines of the story mode, for example Arkham designs for both Batman and the Joker - free of charge at least in the Ultimate Editions of the game. In a without-further-due nutshell, I think Mortal Kombat on the PS3 looked much better and more vibrant than Injustice on the PS4.

The voice cast - most prominent in the story mode, of course - features lots of epic reprisals of classic roles, but unfortunately that's not exactly a seal of quality. Even Kevin Conroy's a bit off as Batman, but the one casting choice that really disturbs me is Richard Epcar as the Joker. First, he sucks - he doesn't even really laugh once during the course of the story, there's this one distant laughing scene which is ripped off something else and it actually sounds like Mark Hamill's trademark. He fails to catch on to the, how should I say it, "sash" (?) which you need as the Joker in general. Second, Troy Baker's in the game as Nightwing AND Sinestro, why they couldn't let him do the Joker as well and not make us wait for him to blow us away with his performance in Batman: Arkham Origins is beyond me. So, basically, I bought this game for Batman and the Joker, and neither one of them really makes the impression I expected. I am still very much capable of enjoying this game. Double irony.

Forebodings of the next Superman flick. I think
Injustice will turn out the better feature of the
two, though.
The main draw of the game is the insane story mode, which turns any mundane altercation between two or three characters into an all-out fist fight. The story is divided into several chapters, each starring a different character from both sides of the law. You even get to play as the Joker for a spell, who's prancing around dumbfounded by how disrespected he is in the underworld of the parallel universe. There are some minigames in addition to the cinematics and the actual matches, winning which gives you a big advantage in the next match. In the PS4 version, these minigames utilize the controller's touchpad, which is still quite foreign to me personally, and besides, there are these few instances which fail to give you a clear indication of what you're supposed to do. You'll get it on the second time around - if you're interested enough to replay the story. That might prove hard, 'cause it gets pretty formulaic and predictable towards the end, unlike Mortal Kombat which provided "holy shit" moments for long-time fans right up 'til the end.

The Arcade and Tower modes from Mortal Kombat are also brought over as Battle and S.T.A.R. Labs missions. Each character in the game has his or her own arcade ending, and the result of the final match which is the same for each character is very different from the story mode's ending - in my opinion, a bit better in fact. Playing Battles as every character gains you even more experience points (and with those, rewards) than playing through the story mode. I honestly think there are people who will altogether enjoy this mode a lot more, and NetherRealm did a wise thing by not unlocking everything from the beginning like they did with Mortal Kombat's later editions, this is a more exciting "complete edition" if you're really into it. The downside to it is that Superman is a much tougher bitch to handle than Shao Kahn ever was, and you have to face him on every single Battle ladder (Bladder, lol). The S.T.A.R. Labs missions are strings of different challenges for several characters, some of which require you to think outside of the game's box. For example, a mission as Superman requires you to focus on avoiding attacks rather than attacking the opponent head-on, since you've been weakened by kryptonite, and another one pits you against the parallel universe's Superman in the form of an eye-laser showdown, once again managed with the touchpad. These missions seem easy at first, but they turn out really hard really quickly. It's especially hard to ace every challenge by nailing every challenge within them, like performing a certain move a set amount of times, being able to avoid certain attacks or events altogether, stuff like that. Yeah, there's plenty of stuff to do in Injustice - no doubt about that. But, with fatalities out of the mix, not that much blood, varying degrees of ugliness in both graphics and sound, there's got to be something that makes it more than just another simple game of kick-ass, right? Right.

He will break you. Again.
OK, so Injustice has that exact meter system used in Mortal Kombat. You know the one - three meters piling up whenever you use special moves, or take damage. Filling up one meter lets you spice up your special attacks with a bit more spunk. Two meters enable you to do... hmm, stuff, which I will return to in a bit. A full triple meter lets you execute a special move, just like the X-Ray moves in Mortal Kombat. They look almost as painful, too, but they're superheroes, they can take 'em - but you gotta remember that characters like Batman and Batgirl are most definitely humans in every single DC canon; if they got their asses kicked by some of these moves, they would be torn to shreds. Oh well. There's also another meter, unique to each character and represented by their logo or icon, which fills up a lot faster and enables them to use character-specific abilities, such as special projectiles or temporary strength boosts. You can interact with any stand-out object in the background, such as statues or cars, and hurl them at your opponent, but it seems to me that definite success in these attacks is somehow tied to the power meter as well. Pretty cool, huh? Here comes the best part - you'll be fucking amazed.

So, whenever you have two meters filled up, you trap your opponent in a certain corner of the current level and are able to pull off a certain type of move, you automatically bust 'em through the wall to an extremely violent and damaging parkour through whatever comes their way in a move called Level Transition. Nothing in this game is as satisfying as sending your opponent on a freefall through the Batcave, hitting girders and other debris on the way before slamming face first to the stone floor of the lowest level, or forcing 'em into a delightful confrontation with a dozen extremely pissed, well-known Arkham inmates who didn't make it to the main roster and are taking their frustrations out on your opponent. The first time I witnessed a Level Transition was the first time I thought that Injustice might be a good game after all, and a worthy successor to Mortal Kombat, despite my initial feelings of taking a few steps back in several categories. It's funny how much a seemingly small, one fresh idea can sometimes turn the tides for a game's benefit, especially in these games that suffer from their genre's limitations themselves. Finally, there's Clash, a moderately rare gambling event in which you have a few seconds of time to gamble a few ticks off your meter to do heavy damage to your opponent, or gain a health bonus... or lose everything on your meter and watch your opponent get whatever spoils the game grants 'em.

The full Ultimate Edition roster.
Injustice: Gods Among Us is as challenging as you make it out to be, as in how far you're willing to go with it beyond the story and arcade modes. The Trophy set is not quite as unforgiving as Mortal Kombat's, but still extremely challenging, and partly extremely frustrating; for example, one of the Trophies requires you to win every single minigame during story mode. Fail one, and it's back to the beginning if you seriously want that dumbass reward.

Nutshell? Well... DC Comics just got a tad more interesting in my books, and given its roots in Mortal Kombat, Injustice is a more entertaining and rewarding fighting game than Marvel vs. Capcom could ever be. It has its limits and outright flaws, but to any REAL DC fan - and not just a Bat-freak like me - it's most definitely a must-purchase, there's never been a doubt of that. Not even in its worst moments. It has three fun game modes, of which everyone is free to choose their favourite, and its brief specialties in gameplay are sure to please. It has an insane plotline sure to please a certain target group. In turn, it's audiovisually disappointing and dry as a bone in comparison to its "predecessor", AND most definitely a disappointing first journey to the PS4's core. But that's not exactly surprising. Buy it, but save yourself some money and buy it for an older system - it's all the same. Wait for Batman: Arkham Knight to arrive, show what the PS4 is truly capable of, and present Batman in the way he's supposed to be presented.

UPS
+ An all-star cavalcade of DC Comics' finest; I'm not a fan, but I respect the roster
+ An insane plot that mirrors that of Mortal Kombat
+ Level Transition. Level Transition. Level Tran-fuckin'-sition. And interactive objects.
+ Three fun modes to get familiar with
+ Generally, all the stuff carried over from Mortal Kombat...

DOWNS
- ...Generally, all the stuff NOT carried over from Mortal Kombat
- Half-cooked graphics and on/off voiceover work
- The story mode plays out more and more forcibly towards the end; boring, confusing and a bit random
- Not a very impressive PS4 game from any angle

< 8.0 >