keskiviikko 30. heinäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! | PS4 | 2014

GENRE(S): Platformer / Puzzle
RELEASED: July 22, 2014
AVAILABLE ON: MAC, PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Just Add Water
PUBLISHER(S): Oddworld Inhabitants

Released on the original PlayStation on August 31st, 1997, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is a true cult classic. The only things dragging this surreal joyride influenced by games such as Prince of Persia and Another World down, were its unforgiving learning curve and general level of difficulty, both of which were worked on to pave the way to the success of the even better sequel, 1998's Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus. After 2001's Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee - the first 3D game in the series - Abe stepped down as the main protagonist of the Oddworld series to make way to "the Stranger". Although the first-person shooter Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath was notably well-received by critics and fans, the praises did not come without wishes that Abe would one day return. Rumours of a new Oddworld game circulated for years, until in the summer of 2012, Just Add Water - the British studio responsible for the HD versions of both Munch's Oddysee and Stranger's Wrath - announced they were working on an HD version of Abe's Oddysee. To make it absolutely clear that the game wouldn't be just a simple HD remaster of the 2D platformer, but a complete remake, they renamed the game Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!. And that's exactly what it is. Welcome back to RuptureFarms.

THE remake

Meat processing factory RuptureFarms is in a financial slump, as they're running out of ingredients with the wild animals of Oddworld becoming extinct. Chairman Molluck comes up with the perfect solution to all of RuptureFarms' problems and taps into his very own staff of Mudokon slaves for something "new and tasty". Mudokon janitor Abe overhears Molluck's presentation and decides to escape RuptureFarms, saving every fellow Mudokon he can before they become the factory's new flagship product.

Nice doggy.
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee was the last in line of 90's cinematic platformers starting with the original Prince of Persia from as far as 1989 - puzzle-ridden, extremely challenging platformers with realistic movement. The levels were divided into literal screens, and just one mistake usually equaled death. But, it wasn't just a carbon copy of every cinematic platformer with a name - it was a crazy, insanely funny, and innovative game. It wasn't that ultra-popular in its time - it was a 2D game in an era 3D became standard, and the initial reviews weren't THAT good. Although critics praised the game for its best qualities - humour and innovation - they heavily criticized it for its unforgiving difficulty. Abe could switch from slow Mudokon movement to the speed of a Scrab in a fraction of a second, usually whenever there was a mine placed in the proximity, it all depended on just a slight extra tap of a button which could've easily been blamed on the general tension. To survive most of the puzzles in the later half of the game, you would've needed some info on the whole level in advance so that you wouldn't inevitably run into a deadly mistake 99% into it; the screen-by-screen design didn't allow you to scout all that much. The worst part of it all was one of the crappiest checkpoint systems ever - counting out those games which totally lack checkpoints - just one mistake, again perhaps even 99% into a complex puzzle, led to death and at the worst case, the beginning of the whole level. The sequel Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus introduced the Quiksave system, which enabled you to make a temporary save file at any point of the game in addition to the standard checkpoints - kind of like state saving on emulators - and it was therefore a more popular game among critics. Die-hard fans always preferred Oddysee, though, and I've got to admit that it's funnier and it has a better story than the sequel. Now I can finally enjoy it, as every flaw from the original is harvested. There are a few new ones, once again relating to the game's difficulty, but from the far end of the spectrum - the tolerable end. Let's first go into how the game looks and sounds - considering how faithful New 'n' Tasty! is to the original Abe's Oddysee, it's quite important.

You'd actually be surprised how identically the game plays out as the original if you're merely looking at screenshots. The game has been re-crafted from scratch in 2.5D; it looks quite a bit like diversified LittleBigPlanet. The game no longer progresses screen-by-screen, every level has standard side-scrolling design, which - some would say unfortunately - affects some original puzzles the difficulty of which depended on things like Abe not being able to possess a Slig guard that wasn't on the same screen as him. Essentially, it's much easier to possess guards in this game than the original, and you can bend several other rules laid down by the original game at will, all thanks to the new UI - as well as the addition of the Quiksave utility. There's close to no music in the game, save for a beautiful yet a bit unbelonging end credit song by Elodie Adams, an Australian up-and-comer who's a big Oddworld fan. Fans were crucial to the game in general; not only did fans come up with the game's final title and Trophy names, but most of the voice cast is apparently comprised of fans. Abe's (Lorne Lanning) narration is directly remastered from the original game, but the GameSpeak and "dialogue" are completely re-recorded, using lines from both Oddysee and Exoddus, as well as some new ones which will totally crack you up.

Tread carefully.
This review is mostly a short presentation to those people who've played the original game(s), but before going over the few minor things that went wrong with this remake and casting my final judgement, let's do a quick recap of what the game is all about to people who've only heard of the game. Abe's primary mission is to escape the meat grinders at RuptureFarms and venture deep into the wild, dangerous jungles of Oddworld to find an ancient power he can use to put his former employers out of business for good. It's kind of a crazy coming-of-age story. If you want the full experience and challenge, and a better ending out of two possible conclusions, you should save your brothers on the way. GameSpeak allows you to give simple commands such as "Follow me" and "Wait" to your fellow workers at RuptureFarms, and when you have every Mudokon from one level rounded up, you use a spirit door marked by a flock of birds to get them to safety. Mudokon slaves are only found at RuptureFarms; you meet Mudokons in the jungles as well, but you'll have to use alternative GameSpeak to commune with them, by holding R2. They offer you passage in exchange for a password, which is a series of different lines, capped off with a tasty fart. Otherwise the jungle is filled with extremely dangerous creatures whose patterns you need to observe and learn inside out very quickly before you can even dream of making progress. Abe cannot inflict direct damage on enemies. Indirectly, he can do quite a few things - depending on the enemy and the environment.

Provided there are no chant suppressors in Abe's immediate surroundings to shock him out of his socks the moment he makes a beep, and that there aren't enemies on the same ground level, Abe can use the ancient chant of his people to possess Slig guards. Control shifts over to the possessed Slig, who you can use to command Slogs - "dogs", real ugly ones - pull levers that are out of Abe's reach, use Slig's very own vocabulary in the language of GameSpeak to get past RuptureFarms security, and finally, the most important part, you can shoot the shit out of every other Slig you see and then either feed your puppet to a meat grinder, cast him down a bottomless pit or simply blow his brains out with the power of possession itself. Fun! You can also trick two Scrabs - large crab-like creatures - to attack each other; whenever they make direct eye contact, they duke it out until the other one's dead. You'll always have to survive one, though; that's hard enough. Paramites, though small, are perhaps the most volatile and unpredictable enemies in the game; if you see just one, you can rest assured it won't do anything to you as long as you're out in the open, but you can rest just as assured that its friends aren't far away. And when its friends come, you'd better have a boulder ready to dump on the little bastards. Being able to kill enemies and the ways to do it very often depend on the level itself, and sometimes the craziest ideas actually work. Just be sure to take advantage of that Quiksave utility now that you finally have it.

Yep, those landscapes look a wee bit prettier.
Those are the basics. I could tell you all about the grenades, rocks and even the bottlecaps carried over from Exoddus, but if you really haven't played the game, I'll leave the consultation for the game itself, since it really is worth its steep price (21.95€) for anyone; all who have played the original game and all who've never heard of it. It's high time for the latter. But, to those who have played the game, those who outright love it, I have some words you might perceive bad news; the game is quite easy. Not a walk in the park by any means - NO - but in comparison to the original Abe's Oddysee, it's basically a whistle. The harvesting of the screen-by-screen UI alone works for an easier time, not to mention the Quiksave feature and the fact that Abe can now actually escape machine gun fire, very often to make it to a safe place just in the nick of time. I have no actual complaints on the issue, I think the game's difficulty level is just right, and you can always refuse to use Quiksave, just like I refuse to use state saving in emulator games except if I'm in a hurry to go somewhere. I think the greatest flaw of the game is occasionally bulky control, just like it was in the case of the original. Abe's occasional refusals to follow commands - usually at the worst possible occasions - most likely brought on by similar button presses between certain precision moves, and his reaction speed which might take a long while to sink in to the player. GameSpeak is still complex enough to drive you to the random point of frustration, but it's been simplified by having movement pass on to the left analog stick and dedicating the digital pad to the eight different forms of GameSpeak only.

21.95 is steep, but what you get for your hard-earned money is a remake of one of the most unique games of the late 90's, and not just any remake, but an awesome remake which I consider better than the original in every possible way, and very likely the best game in the Oddworld franchise. Quiksave is optional, speedrunners are taken into consideration with online leaderboards, and finally the near-impossible Trophies, topped off with a Plat - I think challenge-mongers will eventually come to terms with the game once they see beneath the surface. Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty! is definitely one of the games of the year thus far.

+ A beautifully re-imagined game, as unique and innovative today as it was 17 years ago
+ Crazy, surreal humour
+ Fantastic puzzles
+ Simplified scheme for GameSpeak

- Otherwise, the controls are still a bit bulky
- One too many ways to bend the original game's strict rules

< 9.0 >

maanantai 28. heinäkuuta 2014

REVIEW - Child of Light | PS4 | 2014

GENRE(S): RPG / Platformer
RELEASED: April 29, 2014
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montréal

Ever wondered what it would be like if the French made a J-RPG? ...That must be the most unattractive kickoff in history. Director Patrick Plourde, who had previously worked on Ubisoft's greatest hits such as the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, Assassin's Creed and Far Cry franchises, introduced Child of Light in 2013 - as a heartfelt tribute to his long-time love towards Japanese role-playing games, especially the Final Fantasy series. The art style in itself was so influenced by legendary Final Fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano that even dedicated Amano followers were convinced the maestro had his hand on the game. This unique mix of a classic turn-based RPG and a platformer in the direct vein of Ubisoft's very own Rayman was one of the most anticipated digital downloads of the spring, and in the end of April it was finally unleashed. So let's go back to my original question... ever wondered what it would be like if the French made a J-RPG? Wonder no further - get Child of Light. Now.

Child of Light, what a sight - so God damn tight

Aurora, the daughter of an Austrian duke, falls into a coma the night his father marries a new wife and imagines a surreal, yet vivid fantasy world named Lemuria where she is hounded by the Queen of the Night - her stepmother - and her daughters, as her path towards the light.

When I got the PlayStation 4 back in April, I was struggling to find decent games for it - ones that I couldn't get for any other system I already had. I bought the thing for games that now aren't coming until 2015, just to ensure I have it and that I've grown comfortable with it once the hits start to pour. Then I read about this upcoming digital download named Child of Light and I was stunned by the specs alone. Of course, a few days later it was confirmed that this was yet again one of those "next-gen" games the developer ultimately decided to capitalize on by unleashing 'em on older systems, but I was still quite convinced that the PlayStation 4 version would be the way to go, that's what the previews I had watched were about. The game showed some highs and lows right from the start - you could as well say gameplay and presentation, respectively, 'cause that's how it is. At least that's how it feels like at first.

It's pwetti.
The plotline of Child of Light is really hard to follow, 'cause absolutely everything in the game, 99% of the dialogue and even menu entries, is written in verse - meaning, everything rhymes, and it's far from natural. The forced rhyming makes the game extremely hard to understand at times, and heavy to read; no, there's no voiceover work at all beyond the narrator's occasional readings in the four or five key points of the game. However, if you're not into poetry but are fascinated by unconventional, artful games, then Child of Light is still definitely your thing. You don't need more than 30 seconds to realize that. Check this out.

Child of Light is largely hand-painted, in watercolours, in the distinctive, innovative style of classic Japanese role-playing games. You'll probably find yourself realizing time and time again that this game is not Japanese, but French - or Canadian, whatever. Let's just go with French since there are just a few real Canadians on board. Although the party characters might not be of the most unique kind, there are plenty of enemy designs that practically reek of Final Fantasy, if not all of them, not to mention the beeeeeautiful landscapes. It's a treat to look at from the start and those landscapes just keep getting more beautiful on the go, which basically means that halfway through the game, you'll be hooked just because you want to see where Aurora and her companions are travelling to next.

Then we have the music... just thinking about it almost made me skip a beat. 24-year old Béatrice Martin, a.k.a. Cœur de pirate, who is like Canada's own Adele, composed the whole soundtrack. Although there's an end credit song that could easily be mistaken for a "kinda different" Adele song - the similarities with these ladies' voices are uncanny - the rest of the soundtrack is a steady mix of beautiful atmosphere and absolutely EPIC battle music. I was thinking of breaking all of my personal rules about dating French folk - OK, OK, Canadian - and writing this chick a love letter once I had beaten the game, but it turns out she's married. Daymnnnn. But, seriously: the soundtrack. It's on Spotify. Do yourself a favour and check it out. Hell, while you're at it, do yourself a favour and get this game, I implore you - for the second, yet probably not the last time.

The combat mechanics set an example for
genre games that are actually Japanese.
Child of Light uses the UbiArt Framework engine used in Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends; I first played the game while I was still very much addicted to the latter, so I found the game very accessible from the start. Physically speaking, it plays out exactly the same for a time, and there are many general gameplay-related things in common between the Rayman games and Child of Light, such as the placement and presentation of secret passageways and the wishes. Wishes are these orbs of light used to replenish the energy of Igniculus, your firefly companion - quite like Murfy in Rayman, yet not as annoying - and by collecting lines of wishes in a certain order you'll replenish your health and mana as well, just like collecting lums in a certain order in Rayman granted you score bonuses. In just few tens of minutes into the game, you're granted the ability of flight, which enables you to fly freely all over the game world and that's when you'll realize how damn vast it is, and how many collectibles there are. You can do it the hard way, or make searching for the collectibles easy for yourself by buying maps for those collectibles at uPlay; Child of Light yields a LOT of points to spend on uPlay, so if you're into Ubisoft games in general, there's another reason to not miss Child of Light.

Combat is traditionally turn-based, but it plays out very uniquely in that sense. You can switch between party members at any time without wasting a turn. A few characters are optional acquaintances, and you can actually leave some of 'em you don't like out of the fray by just refusing their special request (loyalty mission for you Mass Effect fans) at a key point - but if you're going for the full party, you'll have every kind of character you'd need in any RPG by the end of the game. A couple of healers, a ranged combatant, a tank, and a black mage, just to name a few. Aurora's non-surprisingly moderately adept at just about everything. She can use light magic, which half of the game's enemy cavalcade is weak against, and has good physical power. Switching characters in the later combat parts of the game is one of the most important keys to your success. Action time is determined by a timeline in the bottom of the screen. If you manage to sneak up on an enemy from behind in the field for a surprise strike, your characters start way further down the timeline than the enemies; however, making it to the end of the timeline does not mean you'll gain the first strike. Casting time varies between different actions; the stronger the attack, the longer casting time. For example, using any item takes just a second, but an AOE healing spell might take as long as five seconds, and it's interrupted immediately if an enemy gets an attack in on your healer during casting time. This works both ways, of course. Usually, if you manage a surprise strike and use Igniculus to great effect, the enemy won't stand a chance, might be they never get the mere chance to attack.

Igniculus is invaluable in field and combat, both. Like in Beyond: Two Souls, you can even set up a two-player game where the second player controls him, though that's just a pathetic way to force a multiplayer mode in my view. Essentially you control him with the right analog stick. In the field, he can get items and open some certain types of chests that are out of your reach, the light emitting from him is the key to most of the puzzles in the game, he can blind enemies to set you up for a surprise strike or help you avoid encounters altogether, and finally, he can heal your minor injuries as long as he has energy left. In combat, he can also blind a single enemy at a time, this time with the purpose of slowing down their timeline progress, and regenerate your health. There are a few batches of wishes in the corners of each battle screen to replenish his energy, making it absolutely clear that you wouldn't survive without the little bastard. The game starts out real easy, and it doesn't get much harder, but you'll need some perception of how the combat actually works and how much use Igniculus really has as you make your way towards the sudden end. And of course, some perks.

Back in the world of Limbo.
The skill tree's (apparently) inspired by director Patrick Plourde's previous megahit Far Cry 3. The characters gain one skill point each via leveling up, and can be developed according to the player's own preferences and needs, along several different branches. One basic skill or stat boost costs that one skill point, but mastering a special attack costs two. In addition, most stats can be permanently boosted with hidden Stardust collectibles, which you can also buy from uPlay, in limited numbers of course. It's all really simple - casual players will appreciate it, some veteran role-players are known to have criticized it. Then again, Child of Light's core is all about the beauty of the experience, not necessarily the challenge of gameplay...

...Which is proven further by the fact that I did not perish once during Child of Light; plus, I didn't find all the collectibles, but I did acquire each and every Trophy with just 20 minutes of extra gameplay after the credits (easiest list ever, but no Plat), and these days, whenever you manage to do that, you're done with the game at hand. Child of Light is really, really easy for an RPG vet, and in my mind, that's its greatest flaw. However, it is so pretty, it sounds so epic, and it's so immediately accessible to people who don't usually play RPG's, that I'm able to imagine that more casual players might have a fun challenge here. Besides, I was still very happy with the game. The fact that it was easy was nothing compared to the fact that it ends so abruptly - just when you're starting to have some grip on a story behind all that incessant rhyming. I have all the Trophies, I'm probably never going at the game again, personally, but I'd gladly watch someone else do it.

It looks and sounds like a piece of art, and it plays out fabulously. These, I think, are the things that matter. It's the best fifteen you've been implored to spend in a long, long time, if you don't count the tad pricey 12-pack I consumed during the final hours of the game - it's the hottest summer ever. Yeah, it's easy and it's simple, but when the weather's like this, I find solace in even that fact. I don't need any more sweat. Get the game. Seriously. And make your own judgement.

+ Just beautiful graphics
+ The music tip-taps between epic, beautiful and awesome
+ Smooth gameplay
+ Fun combat mechanics; ATB with a few twists
+ Easy access to non-RPG players
+ Reasonable price

- Easy as heck, all the way to the Trophies
- Comes to an abrupt end
- There's a good story with life lessons there somewhere, but it's hidden behind deeply annoying dialogue

< 8.9 >

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

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.

+ 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...

- ...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)
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Eood

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

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
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.

+ 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

- 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 >