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Gory, bloody and sexy Dracula goodness!
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a vast improvement over the prequel. Excusably flawed in some areas, a well-rounded combat system, great atmosphere and a pretty decent story make it a tasty experience.
Story-wise, you continue a few .. centuries? after the events of the previous title. You play as Gabriel Belmont's evil incarnation Dracula in all his blood-sucking, finger-licking, fang-bearing glory. Good ol' Zobek pops up at the beginning of the game and tells you Satan is raffling a whoopass and you two have all the numbers. Considering the urgency of Bigredhorny chasing y'all around, he asks for a temporary alliance to prevent Satan's summoning in exchange for Dracula's ultimate wish: eternal rest.
I won't spoil any details of later sections of the plot but, for an action game, the narrative is surprisingly solid and enthralling. A lot of the good things happening in this reboot of Castlevania have to do with the atmosphere surrounding the game universe. The soundtrack is chillingly good, the feeling of utter devastation throughout the levels is awesome and the general design of characters and enemies alike is top-notch. Worth noting, some boss encounters come with an extra serving of epic sauce.
There have been a few changes in terms of how the game plays out in respect to the original Lords of Shadow. First off, the camera is now dynamic, which is a simple yet outstanding improvement over the fixed view. Also, we are now thrown into a sort of open-world format. However, the result is something closer to Darksiders or old school console action games where the freedom to roam is limited and what happens is you actually end up revisiting locations that (usually thanks to a recently-acquired ability) reveal a path that would've been previously inaccessible.
Combat is pretty straightforward: your go-to weapon is the Blood Whip, which is reminiscent of the Cross in the previous entry, but there's also the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws. The former serves as a leech-life-back weapon that also has attacks to freeze your opponents, while the latter is more focused on heavy damage and breaks defenses on certain enemies. All three weapons have similar attacks and the inputs are almost the same in all cases, but the whip is the only one that doesn't require a finite 'mana' bar to use. Besides these three puppies, you also get some secondary weapons and on-use items that have different temporary effects, like slowing down time or unlocking all attacks with all weapons. It can get a bit convoluted juggling both resources for the sword and claw plus the secondary abilities plus the inventory items plus remembering all combos, but all in all, it's a neat combat system that works pretty well and doesn't get in the way of fun.
Praises aside, there are a few flaws with Lords of Shadow 2.
For starters, while I can appreciate the intention to redo some of the things that were wrong with the first game, I'm not completely sold on the pseudo-open-world thing. Having to go back a bunch of screens just to pick up a health upgrade you may only get access to 6 hours in doesn't sound particularly enticing to me. Also, it might just be me being silly, but I often times got lost and couldn't really figure out where I was supposed to go next (there's even an objective marker, for Pete's sake!) and I attribute that to levels working the way they do with this kind of system. I found backtracking through scenery I've already seen really exhausting, particularly so when it came to collectibles and upgrades. To be fair, though, the game world is sort of circular, so you're not literally backtracking, therefore your mileage may vary.
Simultaneously, while the combat is good, solid fun, I would've liked to see maybe more instances with weaker but more abundant enemies to make things a bit more dynamic and feel a tad more powerful. Even with full upgrades, often times you feel like you're chipping away at those demons with a wet noodle. Despite urban legends, wet noodles don't hurt at all.
While we're on the topic of combat, some bosses and sequences are very underwhelming, either visually or mechanically, which is a shame because some others are absolutely phenomenal. The peeps at MercurySteam clearly know how to come up with great ideas but consistency goes a long way. Maybe some portions of the game were a bit rushed, which would make sense considering certain parts towards the end of the story also feel somewhat vague and inconclusive.
What it all boils down to is a very interesting and unconventional rendition of the Castlevania mythos that's even better than the first Lords of Shadow. Some details in the final product could have been a bit more polished, but the sum of its parts make for a really fun and engaging action game.
Pirates + AC = A good combo with some underwhelming points.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag seems to have come out a really short while after Assassin's Creed III. Maybe a hurried product is enough to explain the overall dull feeling this sequel is placated with.
You play as Edward Kenway, a Welsh bucanneer out for riches and fame who bumps into the Assassins-Templars feud. The plot is one of the few reasons left to keep buying into this franchise, not necessarily because it's a great story but more due to the fact that a lot of the players from the previous entries are somewhat already invested in it.
Caribbean and pirates sounds like a natural match for an Assassin's Creed game and it plays like it. Even though most core mechanics are old and predictable by now, boarding ships, bombarding forts and being an otherwise badass salty sea dog works really well with the AC engine and gameplay. Naturally, most of the things you'll be doing have to do with seafaring, treasure hunting, naval combat and other pirate-related demeanor.
In the graphics department, Ubisoft seems to have kicked things up a notch from the previous title. While you can still play the game in the lowest possible settings and feel okay with it, the highest settings are a world apart by comparison. PC users beware: AC4 is not really optimized for PC gaming and many users have reported unacceptable performance issues with settings their rigs should be able to handle. AC3 had some terrible texture problems on computers as well (on release, at least), so it might be a new fad Ubisoft is going for. If you have the rig (and luck) to max it without silly glitches or FPS hits, you're in for a treat. Regardless, the game world looks pretty amazing, water in particular.
Black Flag plays pretty much like any other AC game and, as usual, more than half the content are side-missions. Some of them are fairly interesting and fresh, but most of it is filler that we've seen in the past.
My first complaint is that content feels way too spread out. I hardly ever go for 100% in sandbox games; I don't have the patience to complete absolutely every mission. On this occasion, though, it feels like developers made a conscious, sadistic effort to make completionists waste a ton of time. The world map is split up into sections, each one with different islands, settlements, villages or towns. Each settlement or town has its own set of side-missions. There are also some 'uncharted' objectives in open sea. The problem lies with islands being relatively too far apart from one another and having to spend the better part of your time just sailing (or swimming) to your next objective. Fast travel hubs and 'travel speed' when sailing remedy this some, but it's still painfully difficult to spend so much time just staring at the back of your ship to tackle a side-mission that's probably going to take a fraction of the time it took you to get to it. Don't get me wrong - unlocking every chest in AC2 sucked as well, but there just wasn't so much open nothingness (I'm looking at you, sea) and secondary objectives felt clustered closer together. Rewards for actually completing these challenges are predictably underwhelming, too. All of this put together makes AC4's biggest flaw since the main missions go by pretty quickly.
My second gripe with the game is the amount of content that got cut off on release to put out as DLC later. The whole DLC deal has become commonplace these days, but let me keep fighting the good fight. The pre-order or retailer DLC is fine. Who cares if you get an extra semi-useless sword for buying in Walmart? However, Blackbeard DLC (TBA?), Aveline DLC and so forth should have been included in the base game. Even if it takes you a long-ass time to go for 100% (see above), AC4 is not particularly fleshed out in terms of content and things to do, so being stingy with DLC just to get an extra $14.99 sucks monkey's testes. To add insult to injury, you now must be online and logged into uPlay to send out your fleet on quests alla Brotherhood. We can get philosophical about why this is wrong and it's not a huge deal, but it doesn't make it right. Up yours, Ubisoft.
All in all, you're probably gonna play AC4 if you played the previous ones just for the sake of continuity if nothing else. The main storyline is fun to play through and some of the new types of missions are engaging, but it still is a pretty shallow experience. Chalk it up to putting out the same game for years, with the same re-hashed ideas and improved graphics.
Saints Row IV (2013)
A somewhat limited and safe sequel
Saints Row IV tries to expand on its predecessor by adding new content, new types of missions, new mechanics but keeping too much of everything else as it was.
It seems too generous to call IV a separate game, since it's pretty much more of the same. There are some additions, mostly to do with plot devices and gameplay. Notably, superhuman abilities make things feel more like Prototype than SR3 and add a different layer to moving through the city. Other than that, the action still revolves mainly around driving and shooting, both core mechanics that get ironically dropped to the background since no one wants to shoot a gun when they can throw a fireball or take a joyride when they can run like The Flash.
The fourth installment in the franchise doesn't really add anything incredibly innovative to the table, but if you enjoyed Saints Row: The Third, you can think of this as one huge DLC. The question you need to ask yourself is if you're willing to pay full value for a game that's pretty much identical to its predecessor plus some gimmicky features.
Sure. The main storyline is still whacky, fun to play through and mission design is as good as ever, but sidemissions (which still make about 75% of the content, mind you) get extremely repetitive after a while, as they did in SR3. On the other hand, there's now a cooperative mode and some co-op-only missions that might add some fun if you have a buddy to team up with.
There are also other, somewhat minor imperfections like texture popping due to the old engine not having been fully upgraded to handle the now large-scale movement, graphical glitches, subtitles not matching the script at all and the occasional crash. Mostly, they're not a huge deal but do give out a very unpolished and unfinished feel to what should be a platinum game.
As a final note, there are many references to the previous games in the series, so, if you're a hardcore fan, you might get off on the nostalgia of seeing some old characters make a reappearance.
The bottom line is Saints Row IV trying to cash in on what made Saints Row: The Third great, adding a Matrix-esque twist on gameplay but in the end not having enough substance to warrant paying 50 bucks for something that's pretty much a modded version of the previous game.
Remember Me (2013)
Great ideas but common execution.
Remember Me is the contradiction between having some truly original ideas and executing them in an ordinary fashion.
Set at the dawn of the 21st century in a dystopian version of Paris, you play as Nilin, a memory hunter, part of the 'Errorist' movement. In this world, everyone has a reality-augmenting brain implant of sorts that enables people to transfer memories between one another. Apparently, memorial manipulation feels awesome but people get addicted to it and there's all kinds of health hazards related to overdosing on a memory trip. Taking care of business in tight jeans and thigh-high boots, Nilin's goes around kicking ass and fighting 'Memorize', the corporation behind the whole memory-orgy deal.
The bleak, dystopian scenario is certainly not super original. According to a few dozen Hollywood blockbusters, neither is the memory manipulation theme. Having said that, every element in this gray universe is combined in a very specific style achieved by tasteful art, nice environments, smooth animations and a solid soundtrack. The facial detail looks a tiny bit dated, but it's still decent. On the other hand, the writing and acting can be inconsistent and even cheesy at times but, in the larger scheme of things, it works out. The sauce is the 'reality augmentation' plot device. It enhances a memorable presentation through all sorts of crazy, colorful things popping up as you travel Neo-Paris, mostly in the form of contextual indicators, signs hovering over objects or extra information about your surroundings.
The premise behind Nilin is that she can know everything about you and make you do anything she wants, due to her ability to manipulate people's memories. This is such a great concept for a video game because it opens up so many possibilities. Sadly, the chosen genre ends up as a poor vehicle that limits the potential for innovation tremendously.
Combat is based on a 2-button system that allows you to perform combos. Combos are customizable with different attacks that have a variety of properties, like life regeneration or quickening the cooldown on other, more powerful abilities. The combat is functional and mildly creative but mashing two buttons can get old fast. When not busy throwing roundhouse kicks, you'll be mostly parkouring about. The climbing is pretty straight-forward and more reminiscent of old platformers where you need to time your jumps to avoid falling to your death, which feels kind of simplistic by today's standards. On the flip side, it allows you to see some beautiful landscapes with fancy camera work every now and again.
There are also boss fights, typical environmental puzzles and other gimmicks that seldom break things up, but none even come close to the memory-remixing sequences that you'll have to submit some enemies to. You hack into their brain and a specific memory plays out. You can then pause, rewind or fast-forward it and interact with objects in the scene to trigger a different outcome, in turn shifting the victim's sense of reality. The 'interact-with-object' mechanic could use a bit more depth but, overall, these sequences are really, really well done. With the exception of Nintendo DS' Ghost Trick, I've never seen anything quite like that before. Sadly, these events are few and far between. If the game was more about this genius concept and less about the mind-numbing fighting and pointless climbing, we would have a brilliant product in our hands.
At its core, Capcom's Remember Me is a typical action/adventure title with limited core gameplay that you sort of put up with just to get to the next cool moment.
Apart from some glitches with contextual interactions and a terribly clunky camera courtesy of console-porting, the game does have a major drawback: it's incredibly linear. Level design, missions and the general format, while riding on interesting notions, make it so there's always one and only one available path to progress. When walking down the streets to your next objective, it's hard to avoid this feeling of 'look but don't touch'. There's a sincere drive to interact and play around with this gorgeous world around you, but you're not allowed. There are still some collectibles to find but, in general, you'll be doing what you're told and there's no choice involved. Some more freedom in Neo-Paris would've been great, not only to enhance the fun factor, but also replayability: being a story-driven action game, there's only so much you can do with it before you move on.
The tragedy is that the presentation and some innovative mechanics that went into this project are beyond excellent. If this had been a more open game where you can choose how to fulfill your goals, even a different kind of product altogether, like a really fleshed-out adventure game, it would've become a triple A hit. What DONTNOD Entertainment delivers, instead, is a somewhat generic experience where the entire theme and concept behind the protagonist become completely irrelevant.
A wasted opportunity to make something truly revolutionary, Remember Me turns out to be an okay action game with few neat features and fancy wrapping.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (2013)
A good time, but kind of shallow.
When I found out a new Call of Juarez game was coming out, my memory started playing tricks on me: I couldn't remember any of the previous entries in the franchise. I was pretty sure I had played them, but I had no recollection of what those experiences looked like, what they were about or how it felt. Whether because of the story, some innovative approach to gameplay or a unique idea, some games are memorable. Ubisoft's Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, much like its predecessors, is not. It's not a bad game by any means, but, when all is said and done, it's a pretty simplistic and forgettable FPS.
The game opens up with Silas Greaves, our apparently renowned protagonist, walking into a bar and being bribed with alcohol by some strangers to tell a few stories about his adventures during his younger days. As the veteran bounty hunter recounts his journey, the player gets to reenact the narrative as the actual gameplay. This is a nice touch in terms of presentation since it enables some pleasant gimmicks, such as objects or enemies being altered as a listener challenges the veracity of what Silas is saying or new paths opening up when the raconteur recalls the finer details in his tale. In true Western fashion, the story is some nonsense about revenge or somesuch but it's solid enough to serve as an excuse to shoot baddies. Notably, the plot revolves around famous personalities of the Wild West, like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy, so if you're a cowboy buff, there's some added value there.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is much more visually appealing than its predecessors, not only in hard graphics but in the general style and vibe as well. It's sort of a more grown-up, less cartoon-ish take on Dishonored's or Borderlands 2's art style. Bosses trigger badass cutscenes before you fight them and almost everything that you can look at is done in a very pleasant, stylistic way that stays consistent throughout the whole thing. Detail-wise, maxed out sliders feel a tad lacking but the game still looks good and runs great.
Regardless of the fancy packaging, when you strip everything off, you're left with a good ol' first person shooter. The level loads, you shoot your way through the bad guys till you reach the boss, you kill Mr. Boss, rinse and repeat. Simple doesn't equal bad, but a story-driven, level-structured FPS feels pretty bland nowadays. Sure, there are some action sequences, skill points, duels, quick time events and slo-mo goodness that break things up a bit and even provide some semblance of customization, but all that is icing on the cake.
The cake itself? Not that tasty. There's nothing specifically wrong in any areas, but everything is just kind of bland. The story is okay, the setting is not particularly original, the voice acting is nice, the AI is meh, the actual combat mechanics are incredibly standard, level design isn't anything to write home about, there aren't a whole lot of contextual actions you can execute other than busting the occasional door, et-damn-cetera. Everything is 'okay' and that's why I'll probably forget all about this game when Call of Juarez: The Ballad of Mad Dog McLeod or whatever comes out and, just as I did this time, I'll go: "Hmm.. I think I played the last one, but I don't really remember what it was about."
Unsurprisingly for the genre, the game is somewhat short, probably around 10 hours for the first time. There's also an arcade mode where you just shoot bad guys and a duel mode where it's all about the showdowns. They're both okay but if you're going to make a story-driven FPS, why not invest the resources into making the actual main story longer and better instead of secondary modes that some people won't even bother with?
All in all, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a polished, stylized and decently humorous FPS featuring a bunch of cool moments thrown in for good measure. You can have fun playing it through, but it just lacks the substance to be a memorable hit.
Tomb Raider (2013)
A refreshing take on a classic.
Showcasing a young and inexperienced Lara Croft, Square Enix' Tomb Raider puts you in the shoes of the sexy archaeologist amidst the cluster of islands known as Dragon's Triangle. A shipwreck, a colorful crew, the previous inhabitants of the remote paradise and the remnants of an ancient Japanese civilization are some of the main ingredients in this cocktail.
Every big budget title in the last few years has had a couple of moments that really stand out. Sometimes it's the prologue, some other times it's a specific mission or sidequest. Some sequence that is just memorable when contrasted with the rest of the experience. In Tomb Raider, the whole thing is like that. Be it a bridge falling down, Hollywood-style explosions or some other thrilling, close call scenario, it's hard to go more than a few minutes without some over-the-top sequence that makes you go "wawaweewa!". Fear not: there are also moments where you'll just walk around trying to solve a puzzle, exploring or staring at the protagonist's buttocks, but the feeling of unpredictability is constant and a good way of keeping you at the edge of your seat.
Visually, everything is top-notch. The level of detail is pretty amazing when you max out the settings and the few glitches (mostly related to physics) that might seldom occur are forgivable. The surprising action events plus how good landscapes and textures look make for an intense cinematic experience. The dynamic camera work is the best I've seen in many years and it definitely adds a different feel to how things play out. Sprinkle with a gritty and dark vibe, very respectable acting and sound effects and you end up with a darn good framework to tell a story.
Gameplay doesn't fall too far behind everything else that Tomb Raider does right. As usual, you have your main questline and your secondary objectives. Sadly, you don't get total sandbox freedom to roam the island, alla Far Cry 3, but rather each main stage has campfires that act as checkpoint, level up screen, workbench to upgrade your gear and fast travel node, all at once. Almost all screens have collectibles, wildlife to hunt and some of them even have tombs for young Lara to explore. The leveling and upgrading system isn't incredibly deep by any stretch, but it's done well enough that feels like a nice touch. As your rank goes up, you will also unlock fancy new moves and abilities. As for the actual playing of the game, there's a lot of platforming, climbing, acrobatics, puzzle-solving, shootouts, stealth kills and all that good stuff. Movement and combat are extremely polished and fluid. Hell, even the user interface and controls are great for the usual console-porting disaster that PC gamers have experienced lately.
To keep it zen, I'd like to comment on a couple of weak points that lurk throughout the game.
First off, there are times when it's hard not to feel like the game is capitalizing on the success of other popular names. Regardless of being awesome, there's a sense of familiarity when thinking of Uncharted, Resident Evil, Prince of Persia and some other platinum franchises. At the same time, when you tally everything up, it's an extremely high quality product and it doesn't feel like a ripoff so I can't really scream outrage at the lack of originality, but if you want to get nitpicky, there aren't a lot of incredibly innovative and unique mechanics happening here.
The second aspect that falls somewhat short are the collectibles. Tombs aside (which are very brief), there are audio recordings, logs and other objects to be found throughout the different areas of the island. The problem is that they're just lying there. Some might be harder to find than others, but you just pick them up and that's it. Granted, some people get off on finding that kind of stuff anyway and the lore tidbits they unlock are nice, but it would've been much more rewarding to have more elaborated optional content or a more involved system to make collectible-hunting interesting instead of just being OCD bait.
In closing, Tomb Raider is an outstanding revival of a franchise that was somewhat forgotten but it stands on its own as a triple A game. It's not a never-seen-before breakthrough, but every aspect of it is so flawlessly executed that your knees won't stop clapping.
Far Cry 3 (2012)
A fun little game.
The game's biggest strength is that it doesn't overcomplicate things. But it's exactly because of this, however, that life in Far Cry 3 might feel a bit too vanilla after a while.
Set on the paradisiacal Rook Islands, you and your friends get your vacations pooped on when some mean pirates kidnap you for ransom. After escaping and meeting up with the natives, you set off to help them fight the good fight and, in return, they help you find your lost buddies.
Far Cry 3 is basically an open-world action game with some RPG and stealth elements thrown in for good measure. Besides the main plot (which isn't terrible for an action game, albeit the dialogues being a bit weird) there's a hefty amount of content, ranging from time trials and shooting knives competitions to capturing enemy bases and hunting game. There's also a heavy focus on crafting, which is an oddball for an FPS, but it works well and it's simple to figure out.
One of the most notable aspects in this title is that, in terms of gameplay, everything seems to be really well executed. The user interface is excellent, the skill trees and how they're presented make sense and are creative, the combat is simple yet fun, the driving is fantastic, the AI is somewhat accommodating but still decently challenging; it's certainly nice to see Ubisoft put out something where it's really hard to find flaws after the flop Assassin's Creed 3 was.
In the visuals department, you're gonna get some pretty amazing landscapes. There are some minor glitches, long distance drawing could be a bit better and, at certain times, the light burns out a little, but for the most part, it's an eye-candy parade. Naturally, with the level of detail plus the fact that the whole island is one continuous area with no loading times, you're going to need a pretty powerful rig to max this one out. Fortunately, even if you set everything to low, the game still looks really good.
Paradoxically, Far Cry 3's highest point is its biggest weakness.
While it's definitely pleasant to have such an accessible approach to gameplay, it also kills some of the surprise factor. By the time you're done with the tutorial mission, you know exactly how the entire game is going to play out. There's a certain comfort in that, but the trade-off is that you don't get any unique mechanics that will make this a memorable experience; variety also suffers. That being said, the game is not trying to push originality. It's simplicity combined with fun. Some people might be able to get past how familiar everything feels, while others will frown upon the exact same thing.
The other trait to look out for is that, like in most open-world action games, the better part of the content rides on the assumption you want to explore every nook and cranny of the vast island. If walking around finding stuff to do is not exactly your cup of tea, you're probably going to find the journey fairly bland and repetitive. For what is worth, between some combat-related random events and all the side-missions there are to do, it's hard to spend more than a couple of minutes trekking without bumping into something interesting, so that sweetens the pill considerably.
Lastly, there's a multiplayer and a co-op mode that you can fall back on if things are getting too monotonous in the single player campaign. I haven't had the chance to test it since my friends are all imaginary. Tears.
All in all, Far Cry 3 is a humble, fun, very straight-forward action game that doesn't try to push the envelope. But, like that saying goes, one does not need to get fancy when what one does, one does so well. Pretty sure that's a popular saying.
Assassin's Creed III (2012)
Yet another disappointing game in the franchise, now, with added console-port goodness.
On one side, you know any game in the franchise is always gonna be okay. Ever since the original, gameplay has always been fantastic, the control layout is probably one of the best ever designed, combat is fluid and rewarding and the story, while a bit convoluted, is fairly intriguing. This time around, aspects that made the previous games good have been fine-tuned to make them even better.
On the other hand, it feels like yet another opportunity to revolutionize the gaming industry just went down the drain. As a gamer, I wanna see developers raising the stakes, coming up with new and groundbreaking things, even if they're not perfect. I don't want to keep playing the same stuff with new skins and new dialogue. This was it! After such a long time, finally... the third one! Yet, no surprise. Nothing awesome going on.
Some improvements are there. A smoother and better-looking combat system, the simplification of certain movement and interaction controls, even a better narrative (not story). Mission and sequences design is also pretty good. The problem is that for every one improvement you get, you also get a couple of broken things.
Right out of the box, the combination of Ubisoft's own launcher/community client, DRM and autopatching is a Russian roulette in itself. You might be one of the fortunate people that can install and go. A lot of us weren't as lucky and ended up having to tweak stuff, block internet access, revert drivers and so on. Is it too much to ask that game companies properly test their beta before releasing?
The graphics engine is also broken. Some people will outright tell you that they can't run the game, even if their PC specs are fine. Others will have terrible performance. For me, I had to turn down anti-aliasing to medium because every texture would go bananas in the most ridiculous way I've ever seen a game glitch. Also, I had to lower the world detail because I'd drop to 30fps in exteriors and even then it was still iffy. So I basically ended up playing a not-so-good-looking game at a not-great fps range. The sad part is that there are no major improvements in terms of visuals over Revelations so it's not like the game calls for a super pimped rig. It's just a poor port of a poor engine that doesn't work at all. A huge step down from the previous games in the series.
Should you be fortunate enough that you can get past both of these major issues, you still have the icing on the cake. There's a bunch of small details throughout this title that, to me, are unforgivable for a product that's already the fifth in a huge franchise, backed by one of the biggest game studios today. From NPCs getting stuck or just outright disappearing and typos in the subtitles, to an insultingly bad console-based user interface and texture clipping, you'll encounter an array of instances where the game just oozes terrible, terrible quality.
It's hard to say what the lowest point is. The graphics thing is pretty sad. The original Assassin's Creed was amazing in terms of quality and performance. How is it that five years later, this one looks and performs worse?. Going for 100% in missions is extremely aggravating as well. It seems that most secondary objectives are deliberately placed in such a way that they force you to replay the entire mission (including some unskippable cutscenes to boot!) if you fail to nail them. It's not that they're hard, it's just poor design and gratuitous frustration.
My personal favorite, though, is the lockpicking minigame. You know how analog sticks have a dead-zone and how some features in games are designed so that if you let go of the stick something gets 'centered' on the screen as well? The lockpicking thing is like that. Now, instead of coming up with some way this would work on a PC, they just left it as it was for consoles. Here's a newsflash for you, Ubisoft: mice don't have a f***ing dead-zone, you f***ing dummies! How can design and testing be so negligent that no one realized that the controls for these sequences just flat out don't work? Granted, it's not that big of a deal, but it's representative of how little they thought of the PC version. Just port and go.
There's a lot of filler and fluff as well, like naval warfare and trading, which is okay but it feels so separate from the general theme of the game that it's almost as if they crammed tons of secondary content you could fall back on when you realized everything else kind of sucked.
Regardless of all that's wrong with it, it still is a high value game. Between the improvements in combat, the new story, the welcome change of scenery from the beaten-to-the-ground Renaissance era and some interesting missions, you can still get at least one solid playthrough out of it. It's not fair to score this a 6, because it's a very lazy game from a very lazy company that just keeps recycling the same old stuff, but, regrettably, it's still a good time-waster.
Overall, Assassin's Creed 3 doesn't bring anything new or creative to the series: it's pretty much more of the same. The sheer amount of technical issues and imperfections, big and small, make it feel like a carelessly rushed product. After the lack of ideas Ubisoft has shown on Brotherhood and Revelations, this should've been much, much better.
As a bonus, the ending is bad. Really bad. Mass Effect 3 bad. If you were expecting to at least get some closure on the story, tough break.
For extra karmic points, rent it and don't feed Ubisoft.
Hitman: Absolution (2012)
Borat says.. "Absolution: it's a nice!"
The fifth run in baldie's franchise, Absolution packs new features and even a competitive leaderboard mode.
As in previous installments, you play the scary man with the lustrous head. In case the name is not clicking yet, the story follows 47 as he tries to right some wrongs and protect a kid with a mysterious past tied to the Agency. A babysitting contract killer. Fancy that. Being the sequel that it is, if you've never played at least one of the other games in the series before, you're probably going to miss out on a lot of references, but the narrative is still entertaining enough by itself that you don't *have* to.
The thing that stands out the most is how the general presentation and vibe have changed. Better art style, atmosphere and level design make for a much more cinematic experience. Simultaneously, Absolution favors more linear stages than its predecessors (something that's gotten a lot of flak for), but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The most significant difference is the tweaking of structure in assignments. Where before you had one big level per mission, in Absolution, each level is broken down into separate screens, each one with their own objectives. It's true that this compromised the freedom that, say, Blood Money gave the player, but it also helps in not getting overwhelmed in huge maps if exploration is not your thing.
There are also quite a number of mechanics that have been introduced to 47's repertoire, most notably, the Instinct feature and upgrades tied to your mission performance. While we've all seen sequels that basically add new features to make an extra buck, all of the additions in this one are actually well thought out and make gameplay much more varied and interesting. They feel organic to what the game needs, they're well executed and are just plain cool to engage in. Mix this with the fact that the HUD is very clear plus contextualized commands (a la Heavy Rain, sort of) and you get something that is extremely easy to sit down and play. Regrettably, they also took some neat things out, such as choosing your loadout before each mission, the ability to buy equipment and hiding weapons within other portable items. My uncle Bob used to say: 'if it ain't broke..." and he was a wise man.
The cool bit about all of these new things, though, is that you're not forced to use them. There are five difficulties when starting (or continuing) a save that range from a very easy mode, where the Instinct gauge regenerates automatically and guards have Down's, to a 'Purist' mode, where not only you lose the Instinct button and checkpoints, get a more snappy AI and a much less forgiving damage threshold, but you also don't even get a HUD. If you're worried about the challenge, Purist will keep you busy for a long time.
Lastly, the prominent Contracts mode is a mix of create-your-own-murder and some multiplayer competition. Basically, Contracts lets you load up an objective-free level and 'create as you play'. Kill whatever mark you choose, under whatever conditions (murder weapon, disguises, exit path) you choose and make a mission out of your choices. Through an online voting system, other players can tackle the contract you designed and try to beat your score fulfilling the criteria you set. While I can appreciate the effort to add some online competition to the game and the idea behind a reverse whodunit is certainly great, it would've been nice to have some more variety when setting up your own contracts.
The core and substance of the game are basically left untouched: you sneak around, kill stuff in whatever way you so choose and walk away.
Of course, there are some faults.
Besides the occasional getting stuck in a wrong angle when trying to move behind cover, a corpse bouncing about because the physics engine decided to be naughty and some other seldom glitches, I've seen a lot of reports on low performance, poor FPS or instability, usually coming from people with nVidia cards. I myself (an ATi user) haven't experienced a single stutter with everything on max but it seems to be hit or miss in terms of performance.
Glitches aside, there are some other issues. It's weird because the sum of Absolution's parts make up a very robust and polished product. Yet, there are aspects to design, like baddies spotting you in disguise from a mile away, certain missions sort of pushing a balls-to-the-wall, guns-blazing approach while at the same time penalizing you in rating for not being stealthy enough or the constant crutch on the new Instinct feature, that detract from the overall enjoyment. The way the scarcely-available checkpoints work are also a bit of a problem. While the general direction seems to build upon the good stuff from the previous games, some sections could've been fine-tuned better.
Summing up, Absolution is a more accessible and linear mix of what worked in its predecessors plus some decent new features, a much cleaner design and pretty visuals to boot. The caveat is that the franchise seems to be taken in a different direction, so don't expect a second Blood Money. It could've been better, but it still is a high quality title.
Not so elementary.
The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is the sixth game by Frogwares that has the beloved sleuth as the main star. Sadly, some issues make the final product a bit rough around the edges.
As usual, you play as Sherlock Holmes, and, on occasion, as fatty Watson. Since the story is what lives at the core of adventure games, revealing too much of it would be a disservice. The plot basically opens with Holmes being slandered by the press as the mind behind a number of crimes. Simultaneously, Holmes also gets involved in a handful of gruesome cases. Everything seems to have a common denominator and (surprise!) it's your job to unravel the mystery. Keep in mind that it's an original story this time around (as opposite to being based on one of the books), even if there are some winks to previous tales. A few chunks of the narrative are a bit too grandiose, but, for the most part, it's fairly intriguing and entertaining.
Graphics are nothing to get excited about. Things look okay and it's understandable that, for an indie company that's making an adventure game, eye-candy is not on top of the list. Quality aside, animations are pretty clunky and sometimes it even feels like a step backwards from past experiences with the franchise. It's definitely hard to get immersed in what's supposed to be a cinematic experience if every other scene you're giggling (or cursing) at how stiff everyone looks. All of this would've been forgivable if it wasn't for the fact that, even on a powerful rig, the game stutters or slows down quite a lot given how it looks.
One of the major factors in the adventure genre tends to be voice acting. In this case, it's a toss-up. The pretty consistent voicing behind the main characters is frequently spoiled by some of the secondary counterparts and their appalling delivery. Maybe it's a problem with the writing more than the acting but, whatever the case, many folks in virtual London just sound weird. On top of that, a considerable amount of dialogue lines get re-hashed in certain stages of the game and some 'persuasion' sequences are absolutely insane. Paraphrasing an example:
Watson: Hey, lady. Let me in. This is a life or death situation! - Lady: You're rude and I most definitely will not allow you to pass. - Watson: Hello! I'm a biographer working for one of your tenants. Let me in, puh-leese. - Lady: No. Get out of my property, fatso. - Watson: Hi! I'm a painter doing a portrait for one of your tenants. Let me in? - Lady: Okay. - Watson: Cheerio!
Keep in mind that this isn't a "try again" one-shot scene. This is one continuous dialogue. It's a shame because it was easily fixed by adding a few extra lines.
The biggest flaws in The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, however, reside in how the game actually plays. Lately, there seems to be a fad for putting out really bad console ports in terms of movement and cameras and this is just another notch under the belt.
First off, you have three ways of moving about: your standard first-person, WASD layout; your typical click-to-move, multiple fixed cameras style; lastly, a sort of over-the-shoulder third-person view. Three different 'perspectives' feel like overkill, but you'll be switching all the time because all three are pretty terrible. The point-and-click option forces you to constantly hover over every pixel and see if your cursor changes to something you can interact with; the first person view just makes you miss clues that are too low on the floor or too high up in the air; also, the third person view gives you access to clues faster, but it's just awkward to control. It's truly a crime that a game with no combat, no intricate mechanics, no twitch reactions and no micro-managing, doesn't manage to have smooth controls.
To add insult to injury, some of the levels that you'll have to navigate are absolutely frustrating and not in a "oooh this level is so frustrating but I feel so challenged at the same time!" kind of way. It's reasonable that a big part of clue-hunting comes from objects being somewhat hidden or discovering awkward paths that lead to a backroom, but since the camera and the controls are already terrible as is, solely trying to explore some of the scenes for the first time will make you pull your hair out after a few hours.
Unsurprisingly, the pillar on which this title rests is the puzzle-solving. Again, this feels like 50-50. Some of the puzzles are a staple of the series by now, such as the deduction board, where you draw conclusions from what you know about your current case, or dealing with complex lock mechanisms to open a safebox. Those are mostly okay, but the pain takes over when you stumble upon these ridiculously absurd riddles where all you can do is click everything until something works, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of a puzzle. Now, this is such an obvious issue, that instead of redesigning some of the ideas or coming up with a hint system, the developers decided to make a "skip" button appear after a few seconds, which, again, makes you wonder what the point is.
Summarizing, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes feels like a half-baked attempt at continuing a long-running franchise that has worked well in the past. Regrettably, the controls and poor execution make playing this one more of a chore than a pleasurable experience. You would imagine that after six games, it would turn out to be smooth sailing and a streamline-extravaganza, but alas, it wasn't the case. If you are a fan of the British detective, you'll enjoy it, but then again, you would probably enjoy anything that has to do with Holmes in that case.
Too bad. Sherlock vs Jack was g-o-o-d.
Almost, but not quite
Dishonored is a first-person, stealth-based action game. It also contains some RPG elements... and some parkour for flavor... and a sandbox-game feel... and it's also an exploration game. In the end, it just might be trying to be too much.
The game is set in a steampunk-ish, Victorian universe. You fill the shoes of Corvo, personal bodyguard to the Empress. Victim of a political maneuver, you suddenly turn a wanted criminal and it's your job to right a few wrongs and bring peace to the people. Like that chap in that video used to say: consequences will never be the same - depending on how you act, people, the city and the story will shift one way or the other.
The general setting of the game is absolutely brilliant. The world this story takes place in is beautiful, credible and the atmosphere throughout the game is memorable. The plot and narrative are also a big part of this title, and, while being a wrongfully accused fugitive is not necessarily the most creative idea around, it's certainly executed well enough to keep you engaged and invested throughout the entire thing.
Aesthetically, Dishonored went for the very unique, very stylized route. Reminiscent of Team Fortress, Borderlands or the Fable series, the art this game employs is gonna be a love or hate thing for a lot of people. For this reviewer, the "cartoon-ish realism" works great. I feel, considering the theme and plot, an even more somber, darker palette and design would've been a better fit, though. Also worth mentioning, the music and voice acting is very good, indeed. Musically, definitely a refreshing change from the all too generic fantasy-themed background music so present in videogames nowadays.
Onto the juicy stuff.
The gameplay is not groundbreaking by any means. Segmented in missions and levels, objectives can be completed in a number of different ways. You might want to rely on stealth, non-lethal takedowns and evasion. Maybe killing everyone you come across is your cup of tea. Maybe not killing anyone at all. Maybe you'll be merciful with the main antagonists. Maybe not. The important thing is that how to complete each mission is up to you and different choices lead to different results.
Dishonored does a good job at making every choice, every path viable and somewhat distinct. This is something that a lot of games promise, but very few are able to deliver. However, this is offset by the fact that, through obtainable character upgrades, you are pushed to explore every level as much as you can, so you actually end up experiencing every possible path anyway, making the "choosing" kind of pointless.
The game also incorporates some climbing, a "blink" type of skill and a wide assortment of weapons and magic spells. Some of them are pretty cool, like being able to stop time or possess a person or animal, but it feels like they are there for the "wow" factor instead of really adding to the uniqueness of the gameplay. Combat abilities suffer from a similar fault in that they feel taken from other games as opposite to organic to this one.
There's nothing inherently wrong with Dishonored, but it tries too hard to be good at too much and it ends up not being great at anything. The roleplaying juice is not really there, since dialogue, lore and open-worldliness are limited. Not quite a pure stealth game either, since the mechanics, AI and abilities don't really point towards that direction. FPS/Action game? Probably not: weapons, moves and combat skills are also shallow.
It's been a long time since I wanted to like a game so much and wasn't able to. I feel it's a real shame, because the setting and style behind Dishonored alone are so finger-licking good.
Sadly, the entire thing is spoiled by how weak it is in every other department. Maybe it would've been better if it wasn't a first-person game. Perhaps if it committed to a more definite aspect, like adding more stealth mechanics, instead of trying to go for the character upgrades, the collectibles, the exploration, the choice and consequence system, the side-missions and so forth. The fact that the game is segmented in separate missions doesn't help, either: open-world was definitely the way to go here. Climbing and zipping through rooftops is super limited when all you can do is jump and grab a ledge. Likewise, stealth is extra bland when it's all down to hitting the crouch key and not getting into an enemy's line of sight. Stealth-kills are barely two or three different animations. The list goes on.
In a misinterpretation of the "less is more" mantra, this game tried to cram a bunch of features together, while at the same time managed to keep them all extremely under-developed and superficial.
In closing, Dishonored is a commendable attempt at creating an action game with a very unique setting that, sadly, falls short due to how much it tries to be at once.
Borderlands 2 (2012)
What Borderlands should have been.
Borderlands 2 builds up on the original game, streamlining some features and improving the overall experience, while keeping the concept behind the original game intact.
I'm not a fan of Borderlands. When it came out, I felt it wasn't such a great single player game, but it had huge potential to be either a classic LAN-party game or an internet competitive one. If you had a bunch of friends you could LAN with, it was fantastic: funny, challenging and you had many hours of gameplay. The other option was pubstomping some kids in PvP. Whether it was the Pokemon variant - farming the content solo and jumping online to pewpew some randoms - or the Diablo variant - farming the content online with other players - the idea was focused on running the same bosses and levels over and over trying to acquire some very rare and special gear, to then reign supreme in duels. However, not everyone of us had the chance to play the game like that and, if multi-player wasn't an option, you were left with what was a pretty bland FPS-RPG hybrid.
Borderlands 2 made noticeable improvements in terms of gameplay and presentation. Firstly, the game became a ton more humorous. The original Borderlands still tried to retain a gloomy, somber feel that it never quite achieved. This time around, every character you talk to is absolutely hilarious. Big props to the writers. In terms of the actual game, the addition of a mini-map to replace the first game's clunky waypoint-compass system is a simple yet incredible improvement. Missions and side-missions are now very easy to pick up and turn in through MMO-style markers on the map, as opposite to Claptrap just telling you someone has a quest for you and you having to spend 30 minutes looking for the quest-giver. Also in the quest department, even the most banal side-mission now has voice-acting and somewhat of a plot, trivial as it might be. The general user-interface and inventory system, while keeping the same feel as the original, have also been reworked to a much better design that makes item management and stat weighing very instinctive.
Visually, the game also seems to have been slightly improved as well. Pandora definitely looks much more clear and crisp than before, but the cartoony cel-shading graphics are still there, so it's pretty hard to tell how much better the visuals actually got. The important thing is that the balance between looks and performance is still very good, so people with low-tier computers can probably still enjoy this one.
Now, Borderlands 2 still has a few flaws.
The thing that I hated the most about the game was all the senseless running around. RPGs, inherently, come packed with a lot of traveling. Granted. However, in titles like Fallout 3 or Skyrim, where the distances are far greater, walking for 10 minutes to reach some destination didn't feel like such a chore. Maybe it was the fast travel system guaranteeing that you only had to walk there once before you could revisit with just a click. Maybe it had something to do with the atmosphere or landscapes of the game world you're spending so much time running in. Whatever the case, there are many instances in Borderlands 2 that you have to run all the way to the end of a map, complete a quest and then run all the way back to the entrance of the zone. Multiply this a few times per side-mission and I can assure you: it gets old really fast. The simple way to fix this was to add an instant recall item, like the hearthstone in World of Warcraft or the town portal in Diablo 2. Alas, no such device in Pandora.
My second problem is that a lot of the side-missions just seem to not belong there. The mechanic is pretty much constant throughout the game: you complete a few story missions and you unlock a batch of side-missions. Nothing wrong with that. Some of them are even fun, like a whodunit-type scenario or a couple that reference movies and games in pretty hilarious ways. However, towards the end of the game, the narrative is pretty climatic, you know a plot-twist is about to hit you in the face and suddenly a bunch of side-missions markers pop up on your map. I'm all for content and playtime, but cramping a bunch of random secondary missions just because? It doesn't feel right and it seems like a very cheap way of extending the playtime clock. Naturally, don't be surprised if towards the end of the game you start disregarding them. The rewards aren't significant, they add nothing to the story and they get repetitive and boring after a few hours. I would've liked to see, maybe, a lengthier story and less random side-quests.
The third one is a pretty common problem nowadays: DLC. Gearbox announced before the release of the game that there was going to be a fifth playable class as a DLC. Going off the previous game, we can guess there's gonna be a ton of DLC content as well. As is, Borderlands 2 feels a tiny bit empty. It could've been more and I can't help but wonder: how much better would've this game been if all that content they're ripping out on release to get an extra buck later would've been there from the start? At the very least, the DLC-only playable character rose some eyebrows among loyal Borderlands fans.
To sum it up, Borderlands 2 is what the first Borderlands should have been: a polished, extremely funny RPFPS. Nevertheless, the focus of the game is still on the grind/itemization/online play combo. If you have 3 bros you can constantly play with, it's gonna be ten times better. Exclusively as a single-player game, it's not the best game ever but it's definitely entertaining and more robust than its predecessor.
Sleeping Dogs (2012)
Sleeping Dogs is a fresh take on the known and loved GTA-style sandbox action genre.
My first impression of the game was how polished it seemed. Everything from the interface to the general feel of the game and cinematics oozes a well-finished quality. Between the hustle and bustle of the city and the concept art, the game definitely captures a certain aesthetic that requires no effort getting used to. That being said, saying Sleeping Dogs borrows from GTA would be a huge understatement. Few additions aside, the game is basically a GTA clone to the tee.
Sleeping Dogs is set in Hong Kong, a welcome change of pace from the typical LA/NYC generic city template often seen in this kind of game. You play Wei Shen, an undercover cop out to clear the streets and on a personal vendetta. While this premise is not necessarily new, it sets the foundation for character development in a refreshing way: you get 'triad points' for doing badass things and you get 'cop points' for keeping up with your good deeds. You can spend these points in developing skills or passive abilities. The interesting bit is that these two paths aren't mutually exclusive, actually giving you more content and more depth to how the protagonist builds up.
Visually stunning, Sleeping Dogs has a fair dosage of eye-candy even if graphics aren't the main selling point in this title. On the flipside, being the console port that it is, the engine is not really optimized for a PC. If you have a fairly powerful rig, you won't have much trouble, but there's not a whole lot of room for tweaking on the low-end for all you outdated nerds reading this.
While some of the writing might seem a bit cheesy, the game definitely goes for the cinematic approach. Some big names are on voice duty and they deliver the goods. Speaking of sounds, being used to hating most of the radio tracks on the GTA series, I figured this Asian cousin would be similar, but, to my pleasure again, I was wrong. Musicalization is very good and it ties the whole thing together to really make it seem like you're watching a movie.
The gameplay basically revolves around driving and combat. Nothing new here. The combat, however, is almost exclusively melee-oriented. The general idea is that of Jackie Chan or Jet Li flicks: you're usually heavily outnumbered but a few flashy kicks later, you walk off victorious. More importantly: it works really well. It's fun, it's easy to pick up and there's quite a variety of moves, enemies and contextual combat actions to keep it fresh and exciting all throughout. The beauty of it comes from the simplistic control layout and input sequences. The driving? Not a huge fan. It's not terrible but it feels somewhat difficult to control depending on the vehicle or mission. On the other hand, you can ram other cars off the road and hijack them on-the-fly alla Just Cause, so that makes driving somewhat amusing. There are also firearms but they don't play a huge role. In the parts where you do get to shoot a gun, even though aiming and ducking behind cover feels familiar, shooting baddies can still be pretty awkward until you get used to it.
In typical sandbox-action style, you have the ridiculous collectibles that cool kids like me never bother with, you have your side-missions, your main missions, your races, your romantic interests and your extra quickies given by random pedestrians along the way. While the amount of content is hefty, some side-missions become redundant after a while. Keeping it tasty in playtime but fresh at the same time is a balance most developers can't seem to strike nowadays. In this case, the added incentive of earning skill points to invest in your combat abilities as a reward for completing secondary objectives works moderately well.
Here's the bad news.
First off, the game is meant to be played on a gamepad. Most console ports fall prey to this problem, but in this one, K+M is not even close. The controls are already sort of awkward as is. Parkouring around the city is not very fluid, lock-on targeting is iffy and the shooting sequences can feel unnatural at first. If you add the lack of a gamepad on top of that, you're in for a headache. It just doesn't work, especially the hand-to-hand bits. Most people won't consider this a big deal, but PC games shouldn't warrant anything else other than standard PC peripherals to enjoy a smooth experience.
The second gripe I've had with this game is the lack of originality. Don't get me wrong: sandbox action games are a tried and tested formula, so it really comes as no surprise that Sleeping Dogs is a fun game. But.. really? After all these years since GTA3 hit the market, after all the reskins, shameless clones ('sup Saints Row 2?) and all the retakes on it, after all the expansions, sequels and DLCs, this is the best a developer backed by SquareEnix can come up with? It's a bit painful and it makes you wonder where the industry is headed.
In closing, Sleeping Dogs is a high-quality oriental GTA. If you can get past all the similarities and forgive a few quirks in the control scheme, you end up with a pretty robust and lengthy sandbox action game. But is this the next big thing? Probably not.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Poop in fancy wrapping
Straight up: The Amazing Spider-Man is an over-budgeted attempt to cash in on the homonymous Hollywood remake.
The game picks up where the movie left off. Some creepy dudes break free from Oscorp, some other dude makes robots to kill the first dudes, most dudes in the city get infected by the first dudes and Spidey has to save the day. I'm not sure if this is cohesive with the comics, but who cares? At the end of the day, it feels like a very poor plot lacking in substance.
The presentation is basically something that resembles a sandbox open-world action game but that it's in reality closer to a bad beta or a DLC pack from some other game. The missions feel completely ripped out from the rest of the game. To keep it 'sandboxey', there's a few secondary objectives and a couple of collectibles that you can waste time on in-between missions. There's nothing wrong with the formula, since that's what most modern action games do, but in this case, it just feels bland and empty. Needless to say, the side-missions are scarce and repetitive. In the spirit of keeping it fancy, there's power upgrades to choose from and different suits to wear. Whoopie-do.
Graphically, based on the options that you can tweak before launching the game, an educated guess would be that the game looks fantastic and it has a lot of potential to be shining, shimmering and splendid, but it's just a guess, after all. Is it because my computer can't run it? Nope. It's because this is a terrible, terrible port and you have a 50/50 chance that your PC will go full retard in the FPS department for no apparent reason. I had to download a 'fix' from the interwebz that basically runs the game on DX9, hence disabling a lot of the eye-candy settings. But hey, "Texture Quality: AMAZING" sounds pretty good to me.
The combat is arguably the strongest point in this game, but it's not really anything new. It feels like a less polished version of Arkham City's combat system. Sometimes you'll try to hit a guy and you'll punch nothing but air and some other times the combat sequences are a bit more fluid. I love me some inconsistent combat. Not. There's also a 'stealth' element to it. Noticed the quotes? *Wink* *wink*. Obviously, this is all sprinkled with fancy webbing-tricks and acrobatics to add some flare. Some of the animations are okay, but nothing too spectacular. Some epic boss fights are good and stand out as probably the best bits of this title. To top it off, it's something no one's ever done before. Oh, wait. Every action game for the past 20 years has done it.
The one thing I truly liked about the game was the web-strike or whatever is called, which is basically a time-stop first-person view that enables you to shoot a web to a wall or enemy and get around (besides having other, more ordinary mobility skills). It's a neat mechanic and probably the only truly original thing I've seen in the game. However, this is kind of overshadowed by the fact that the control scheme is down-right weird. Here's the kicker: I couldn't even use my gamepad to play this because the game is so poorly ported that it would mess up the button assignment (i.e: vertical right analog stick axis = horizontal camera axis). Couldn't find a fix for this so I had to go with my good buddies Mr. Keyboard and Senor Mouse.
Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man was a huge let down for me. Sure, you can play through it once because big companies are behind it so it's not a complete flop, but it could've been so much more. This is just one of those games where you get the constant feeling that the developers just didn't give two craps about what was going on and it was all about the monayz. Maybe Marvel or Universal had some kind of package-deal for when the movie came out and they just had to fulfill a contract or something. Who knows? I would steer clear of this unless you're an absolute fan.
Prototype 2 (2012)
Prototype 2 is the sequel to a pretty awesome game. It wasn't perfect, by any means, and in some aspects, it wasn't even original. However, at the end of the day, who doesn't want to be an overpowering mass of .. virus, I guess?
You play soldier James Heller. A big, bad, black dude out to kill Alex Mercer, the protagonist from the first game, for murdering his wife and daughter. After your first encounter with Mercer, at the beginning of the game, he infects you with the fancy superpower virus and it's pretty much a wild goose chase after that.
The general plot of the game isn't anything to write home about. At no point there's any explanation as to why the main dude from the first game, who was 'good', is now the bad guy. If you played the first game *and* read the comic based on it, you get to find out how terri-bull the whole story is: Mercer saves the world, then travels about helping folks, he meets a girl, falls in love, girl betrays him or something and he's now upset and wants to kill everyone. That's pretty much it. Lame.
Graphically, the game looks good. It's not anything ground-breaking by today's standards, but taking huge leaps from rooftop to rooftop seeing a devastated New York is pretty amazing. There's also a lot of blood squirting off stuff. A lot.
Some of the flaws from the first game have been streamlined. For instance, in the first game, the player could take on speed or acrobatic challenges or walk into a military base and sabotage it. After a few dozen, these became really boring and repetitive. More importantly, they felt completely inorganic in relation to the rest of the game. In Prototype 2, you still have these kinds of mission but usually involve some sort of mini-plot or a unique mechanic to them, so is not nearly as bad. Another example would be the control sequences. The original Prototype had these pretty intricate combos that got replaced by much more comfortable and functional commands this time around.
That's the good news. Here's the bad.
Even though the controls have been cleaned up a lot, the game still has a few quirks when it comes down to moving about. Often times, you'll be in hush-hush mode, trying to stealth-kill a scientist or something, when all of a sudden you unwillingly pick up a barrel and everybody starts shooting at you. It's not so frequent that it's unplayable, but by the hundredth time you backflip against a wall you meant to climb, it gets pretty frustrating.
Input-weirdness aside, there's a big issue with Prototype 2. I can't really say if it's the general setting of the game, the story, the dialogues, the writing or what, but at some point, I started feeling as if I was watching a bad anime. Somewhere towards the middle of the game, it is revealed that Mercer has infected other people besides Heller. At first, it's okay because you fight a couple of bosses that have similar skills to you and whatnot. However, a bit more into the game, you just start bumping into randomly generated pedestrians with huge blades for arms that strike weird poses before fighting you. That, coupled with the abuse of the word 'motherfucker' by the protagonist and some other details, made me feel that the devs just started running out of steam towards the end of the game. After the first two or three hours, the plot goes down like a led zeppelin, combat starts becoming stale, no new mechanics are introduced, enemies are the same, missions get repetitive and side-missions are not even worth doing unless you're going for 100%.
My second note is to be taken with a grain of salt because it might be a personal issue, but I still deem it representative of what a player can expect when buying the game. I have a fairly old PC with an okay GPU. I can run the latest, more modest games with medium-to-low settings. For me, running this game was completely terrible. FPS would be okay for a few minutes and then it would drop to like 10 and stay there. Then I'd alt+tab out and go back into the game, and it'd be okay again. Then it'd stutter. Then it'd plummet back to 3 and so on. Searching on the interwebz, I noticed a lot of people having similar problems with very high-end rigs. Obviously, poor coding. I read something about a patch coming out that will supposedly fix some of these issues, but the fact remains: the game was probably released too soon without proper testing. If this was any other game, I would've probably deleted it instantly. I played it anyway because I really liked the first game, but I basically did the whole thing at an average of 7 fps. Good times. To be fair, there are as many people saying they haven't had a single issue as there are people complaining about the poor finish of the game. The bottom line: if you pay 60 bucks for a game, you expect it to work properly, but in this case, it's luck of the draw.
All in all, Prototype 2 is an okay game. It's not innovative as the first one was (Infamous fanboys, begone!) but, if you're a fan of the first one, it still has enough funzies to warrant a playthrough. As it is the rule with sandbox action games nowadays, if you're a completionist, you'll be able to squeeze a whole lot more out of it than if you just play through the main missions which are somewhat brief.
Could've been better. But hey, if it ain't broke..
Blades of Time (2012)
Hack, slash and breasts.
My mom used to be nuts for greatest hits albums. She thought they were the best invention since toilet paper. A bunch of the very best songs by your favorite artist, without all those 'meh' songs that you get in a regular album. Good deal.
Blades of Time is exactly that. A greatest hits album.
This fast-paced action game by Konami borrows A LOT from other platinum titles in the genre, but it does so gracefully enough that it doesn't feel like a rip-off. Drop God of War, Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Fable and Final Fantasy into a blender, and you'll get a Blades of Time smoothie.
The general outline of the story seems familiar: you play Ayumi, a treasure hunter. Ayumi is looking for, wait for it.. treasure. After a series of events, she ends up traveling to an alternate world trying to score some booty. The shiny, glimmering kind. A bunch of dead meanies and twists later, turns out Ayumi, who also happens to be a dual-sword-wielding, steaming-hot piece of ass, mind you, was meant to save the world or somesuch. The story not being super original is not a big deal. The real problem is that the narrative feels completely ripped off from the actual game. For 90% of your playtime, you'll be going from point A to point B just because the game tells you to, but without a clear idea of where the plot is leading you or why.
Graphically, the game looks very tasteful. It doesn't go overboard with crispness and detail, which is good, but overall it looks fantastic. The textures are very clear and defined, some landscapes are textbook eye-candy and the effects and lighting come together to make you go "Ooo, pretty!" without getting in the way too much. Worth mentioning, the game pulls all this off with an incredibly smooth engine. I think this is one of the best, if not *the* best engine I've seen in terms of performance-quality ratio since the original Assassin's Creed came out. With a mid-range computer, with only 2 gigs of the crappiest RAM you can find, I've had no problem running the game maxed out without a single hitch, fps drop, stutter, freeze or anything. On top of that, this is a console port so mad props to Konami for some excellent coding that we rarely get to see these days.
To even things out, the music and voice acting is kind of a let down. Music is not all that present in this game. Some random, generic fantasy-themed backing track will kill the silence every once in a while but no amazingly original soundtrack happening here. The voice-acting is also pretty bad. It's not so much the actors being bad at delivering their lines, but rather the actual lines being bad or the dialogue not feeling cohesive. Maybe more annoying is the fact that Ayumi digs talking to herself. A lot. Like, really, a lot. I'm assuming this was dubbed over an original Japanese version, where certain parts of dialogue or inner monologue might make more sense, so I guess this is forgivable.
The gameplay is where the juicy stuff is. It's definitely Blades of Time's biggest selling point and it's here where most of the borrowing happens. The combat feels very reminiscent of other action games but without being too overly complicated. You have your combos, you have your fireballs and ice lances, you have your firestorms and blizzards, you have your air-jumping, you have your dashing, you have your execution sequences and you have your Huey-Lewis-back-in-time power. The beauty of it is that every element of combat or movement feels extremely natural and it's super easy to pick up. There are no complicated input strings to get that combo you want or a skill bar with a gazillion hotkeys. This results in very fun and rewarding combat sequences. Not unlike Charlie Sheen, combat in this game has only one speed: go. That being said, the game does have a respectable amount of frustrating bosses and puzzles.
So: what's wrong with it? Well, nothing, really. By all accounts, this is just a great game however you want to look at it. But the same way a greatest hits album is not praised for being original, but rather for doing a good job at putting a bunch of great songs together, you can't have it both ways in video-games either. Be it plot elements, the general setting, some concepts in art and presentation, combat and movement, mission design or puzzles, Blades of Time borrows the good aspects from other well-known games. The trade-off is that there's no originality, no break-through, no innovation. There's nothing about how this game plays that hasn't been done before.
Konami did a heck of a job at taking bits and pieces of what's made other action games great, really polishing them and putting them all together into Blades of Time. It's nothing ground-breaking by any means, but at least it's honest in what it does. More importantly, it's fun. So, if you're in the mood to play a somewhat brief, very smooth, albeit generic hack-and-slash game, give it a whirl. If you're looking for that hidden gem that might be imperfect but has something unique and original to offer, you won't find it here.
Mass Effect 3 (2012)
I'm not gonna review this game in the traditional sense. It's easy enough to figure out: it's a *huge* game. The end to a very successful franchise. The production value and hard cash that has gone into it makes it virtually impossible for this to be a bad game. There's been some improvements. It's more action-packed, for one. There's some flaws in there as well, but nothing too major. By all measures, this is a great game: it looks good, it sounds good, it plays well and it's fun.
With that out of the way, there's a but: it has three relevant issues.
The first one is that the canon the game assumes if you don't import a save is absolutely terrible. A fresh game assumes poor decisions that don't correlate with each other. These decisions involve somewhat major elements in the narrative, such as important characters and whether they're still alive and kicking or not. On top of that, a fresh save also assumes as canon that you haven't met certain characters that were in the previous games' DLC and even some that were in the vanilla game. Lastly, some characters (again, DLC and vanilla alike) won't even show up in this game unless you specifically import a save. These choices the game makes for you often seem completely arbitrary and nonsensical.
If you're gonna play ME3 as a shooter, go ahead and enjoy.
If you're gonna play ME3 as an RPG sequel, I strongly advise that you take your character through ME1 with DLC, ME2 with ALL the DLC and then play this one. The difference in narrative is significant.
My second gripe with the game is the butchery it's gone through to enable DLC later on. From day one, the game was released with a somewhat small DLC package that was actually to be included in the game. But, hey, why not cut that out and charge an extra 10 bucks for it? Expect many more DLC packages down the road. While this is not uncommon in games today, I oppose this unconditionally. It's cheap and petty. Enough for me to advise against buying the game.
Last but not least, the game as it released is plagued with bugs and glitches that render a bunch of side-missions undoable. Some other glitches are just annoying, like characters getting stuck in terrain, animation-seizuring and so forth. They're not so consistent that turn the game unplayable, but they're frequent enough that makes me disgusted with how poorly this game was QA'd before release. Coming from BioWare, it's a pretty sad state of affairs.
Rent it or borrow it, beat it and forget about it.
As a final note, the ending blows. You can read all about that in countless sites if you're interested.
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
At last, Saints Row is not a GTA knock-off anymore.
In an era where video games are all about realism, immersion and emotion, this title is a breath of fresh air.
If GTA: San Andreas, Just Cause and Bootsie Collins had a retarded albino child, his name would be Saints Row: The Third. The game doesn't take itself seriously and it makes it pretty clear from the get-go. It pokes fun at itself, other games, movies and pop culture as a whole.
You are the boss of The Saints. In the last few years, the gang has become something of an international multimedia phenomenon but things go south when The Syndicate, a rival crime ring, appears in the picture. Your job is to lead the Saints into conquering the city of Steelport and take revenge on the Syndicate.
There's not much to tell about the story. For all intents and purposes, the plot in this game is just secondary. It's an excuse to let you blow stuff up and pimp your ride. This, however, doesn't feel like a flaw at all. It works because it's understood that the game is just about having a good time.
The signature feature of the game is the pure wackiness of it. Almost everything in this strange world is extremely exaggerated, quirky and bizarre. You'll be meleeing with dildos, riding gimp-drawn carriages, flying planes, engaging into gunfights while free-falling from said planes and customizing your character to look like an indigo-skinned, psychotic, murderous, pimp-hat-wearing Asian clown with a British accent to boot.
The gameplay itself is very arcade-ish, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Combat and driving are both easy to pick up and not frustrating at all, even if they may feel a bit unchallenging at times. The main mission is not very long and it has two endings that you can see one after the other if you so choose. Like with most sandbox games, most of the content is in the form of numerous side-missions, challenges and free-roaming events. These are plentiful, if a bit repetitive, and involve different mini-games, some more entertaining than others (insurance fraud is the best thing ever!).
Aesthetically, the game has a very distinct style which reflects the whole weirder-than-weird theme. Everything is over-the-top, from clothing to haircuts to weapons. The amount of customization you can mess around with is big. I don't think I've seen another game with so many sliders at character creation screen and that's always a plus in my book. The graphics look just a tiny bit dated, but if you run with everything in high (which doesn't take too much of a rig at all) you get to see some pretty landscapes and details. Worth noting, the voice acting is more than decent. There's a variety of voices for your main character, three female and three male, if I recall, all with fully-scripted acting, which really takes customization to a whole new level. If everything else fails, you can even be a toilet. Yes. A toilet.
The maxim that's written all over Saints Row: The Third is that games are supposed to be fun. That's it. There's no pretense to shock you, make you connect with the characters or come out of it a better person through a meaningful message. This is about shooting hookers in the face and laughing at the pimp that only speaks through auto-tune.
While pure in its premise, a game exclusively focused on self-indulgent fun, ironically enough, might leave some people with a bitter aftertaste.
After a couple of hours, I had a hard time playing through it. A game being 100% about amusement is great. I'm all for it, and, on paper, it sounds delicious. Sadly, I'm so used to games like GTA, L.A. Noire or Monkey Island (!) that it's hard to just forget about the more serious aspects of playing video games and enjoy the ride. It just feels *too* random. I like the compelling plot and the deep characters. I like the challenging and innovative gameplay. I like the unique setting and creative mechanics. Saints Row: The Third doesn't have any of these because it doesn't have to. It's not what the game is about. All of these elements would detract from the simple, mindless joy that tries to sell.
Overall, it's an honest, decent open-world action game. At the very least, it has some pretty fun missions and unique moments that will put a smile on your face and that's enough to warrant a playthrough. If you're able to approach it loosely, you'll have heaps of fun with its action-packed sequences and quirky humor. However, if you're looking for a 'serious' game that's deep in plot or rich in innovation, better keep shopping.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
A tricky one.
The Elder Scrolls franchise has been a staple for the RPG genre for quite some time now. Skyrim builds on top of what made the previous titles great while reworking some core features.
The game is good. From a strictly objective point of view, the sheer amount of production value that's gone into it makes it a Class-A title. It looks fantastic, the game world is huge, the voice acting is overall very good and it's just easy to get into.
There's a catch, though.
What Skyrim offers is not for everyone. Any TES game attempts to diffuse the line between video game and roleplaying, and it does so by creating an open world with tons of content and dropping the player into it.
Most games don't take much from a player, other than his/her presence and control input. It might be more or less challenging, surprising or rich, but the story and everything else in the game is scripted, rendering the player more of an observer than an actor in it. Skyrim tries to fight this linear approach by letting you do whatever.
The flipside is that in order for the player to achieve that much freedom in the game, there aren't any solid structures in terms of story, gameplay, decision-making, character development or consequences.
This pattern applies to every aspect of Skyrim, such as quests. With a few exceptions, there's not much in the way of awesome scripting or storytelling. Just a bunch of people asking you to kill someone or fetch an item from some ancient ruins. Even the main quest feels underwhelming and short, when it should be an epic tale of dragons and chosen-one-ism.
To sort of illustrate how the game does not hold your hand, there's the nowadays very popular moral choice bit. We're used to games presenting us with a moral dilemma that will have some tangible consequence. Choose to save Jack, get him as a companion, but Jill dies. Save Jill, Jack's Guild of Awesome Peeps will become hostile towards you. Kill both, get the gold and unlock the bad ending. Skyrim does not work this way at all. At one point, I was jogging along in some city, minding my own business, when a guy walks up to me and asks for my assistance investigating a house. We went in and I got myself mixed up with some sort of demonic lord that forced me to kill this guy. Then, he sent me to look for some kind of priest and lure him into a trap. He died too. I got a cool mace as a reward. Never heard from the demon dude again. Now, in the eyes of a traditional gamer, this made me evil. I killed at least one innocent person. But in Skyrim, there was no consequence. No negative karma points. No bad ending. No Jack becoming hostile towards me. Likewise, there was no dialogue choice to let me back out of the quest. No way to not kill the innocent guy or kill the demon instead. No way of concluding the quest differently. So how does that work? Well, if I really wanted my character to stay good and pure, I had the possibility to just not do the quest. I'd still have it in my quest log and I wouldn't have gotten any sort of reward for being "good" but at least I wouldn't have done the demon's bidding.
Again, freedom vs. structure.
The point is, what your character becomes, the reasons for his actions and how he is judged, is up to you and you alone. The game will not slap you in the wrist for being bad or reward you for being good.
Thus, Skyrim turns out to be a conflictive, confusing and boring game for some and a very enjoyable blank canvas with endless possibilities and replayability value for others.
One other anecdotal illustration. Since I'm really bad at real roleplaying, I decided to keep somewhat of a journal in a .txt as I played the game as if my character was writing it. During the time I was doing this, I enjoyed the game immensely. I made up a story for my character and it was heaps of fun. At some point, due to poor writing skills and lack of creativity, I couldn't follow through with it and just kept playing the game. After a while, the game just became absolutely tedious and repetitive. To me, this made very clear that the more creatively, intellectually and emotionally invested you are in the game, the more rewarding the experience will be. Skyrim is a clean slate. If you can make it work, it's going to be one of the most rewarding RPG experiences that you'll have, but it does take some effort and imagination getting there.
As I approach the end of this review, I realize that reviewing a game like Skyrim is pointless in itself, because there's not much to review. Every player should have a different experience when playing it, because the game bets on the player to do just that: be whoever he wants to be and do whatever he wants to do.
If you're looking for a game that gives you the freedom to do anything and actually *roleplay*, give it a go. If you want solid storytelling, structured content and to be awe-struck by what you're seeing on the screen, try something else.
Same ol' same
The problem with having a successful franchise is that it's hard to keep the innovation and the awesome stuff going. Where do you draw the line, though? How can you tell if the devs are legitimately trying to keep telling a story that is too long to fit in one game or if they're just making cash off a solid, established and loved franchise?
Sadly, Assassin's Creed: Revelations feels like one final squeeze to the saga before they actually have to, you know, come up with something new for the series.
The original game was a total breakthrough. The idea was innovative, the execution was great, the engine was fantastic, it looked and sounded great and it had all the elements of a grade-A title. The sequel was even better. The whole setting for the story was different, the plot itself was deeper and there was the addition of a bunch of gameplay features that really enhanced the first game while keeping the essence of what made Assassin's Creed so good intact.
AC: Revelations is not a bad game (let's face it, you just can't make a bad game when there's such a huge budget behind it), but it's more of the same. There are no significant changes since AC: Brotherhood. The game world feels very much the same (even though the locations are different), the objectives for missions and side-missions are the same and so on. To add insult to injury, the few features that were supposed to refresh the game, such as a new tower-defense type of minigame or the bomb crafting system end up being underwhelming at best and annoying at worst.
Similarly to when Brotherhood came out, Revelations just plays like a bunch of content and features that got cut out of the original AC:2 and instead of coming up with a few DLCs to wrap the story up, they released, supposedly, a whole new title. It really does feel like the same old game, with a few reskins and name changes. In addition, the main storyline is disappointingly short, probably around 5 or 6 hours and its only purpose is not to fill in the blanks in the story, but rather just get you to a cliffhanger by the end of the game so you buy Assassin's Creed 3.
Graphically, it looks a tad better than its predecessor but still somewhat disappointing when compared to other games currently on the market. On the plus side, most mid-range computers won't have much of an issue running with high settings, same as with the previous games in the franchise.
In the gameplay department, everything is pretty much left untouched. There are some new weapons and moves, like the 'hookblade' or the 'counter-steal' but they don't really add any substantial depth to the previous mechanics. Other than that, it still is a sandbox game with a ridonkulous amount of collectibles and side-missions, so if you're a completionist and like shooting for 100%, it will keep you busy for quite a few hours.
My last gripe is with the story. The ending in Assassin's Creed 2 was.. out there. The franchise started out as a very solid, entertaining and thrilling story about world conspiracies and whatnot, and suddenly it turned into something out of the mind of L. Ron Hubbard. Now, as sketchy as it might have been at the time, I thought: "Well, okay. Where are they taking this?" and decided to give them a chance. The story in Revelations just feels blatantly rushed, weak and nonsensical. It's just tidbits and glimpses of Altäir's life after the events in the original game and a cliffhanger at the end. It doesn't tie things together. It doesn't provide you with more knowledge about what happened or what's going to happen. I'm all for building up the suspense, but, yet again, it feels like Ubisoft just needed to stretch things before coming up with the next sequel and ended up with a bunch of filler instead of a solid narrative.
In closing, Assassin's Creed: Revelations just feels like a very safe bet on Ubisoft's side to keep capitalizing on a product they know it works while at the same time cramming a bunch of superficial new features to sell it as new and improved. It's nothing exciting, innovative or memorable, but if you liked the previous games, chances are you'll enjoy this one.
If you're a fan of the franchise and want to find out more about the story/lore behind it, by all means, go ahead and play this one, but don't expect a different game.
7 / 10 due to lack of originality.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
Does one of the most anticipated sequels in videogames live up to the hype?
Deus Ex is one of those games that changed the face of videogames, or at the very least, the genre. It struck the perfect balance between FPS and RPG, the graphics were great at the time, the soundtrack was badass and the story was fantastic.
It's no surprise that Human Revolution is one of the most anticipated sequels ever.
Storyline and presentation
The story is nothing to be amazed at. It seems very linear and unoriginal with an overall feeling of been-there-done-that when thinking of similar titles. That being said, it does bring a lot of background and history to the Deus Ex universe.
While the story is more or less consistent, it just lets you pick the ending when you beat the game. Essentially, you can act in any way and make any choice you want throughout the game, but it doesn't really matter, because what ending you'll get will be determined (literally) by the push of a button.
Level design is lacking. In trying to keep several routes to accomplish a goal, the game starts to repeat itself. Crawling through a vent to reach a location unnoticed is great and all, but after 20 times, you don't want to see another vent or path-revealing movable vending machine.
City-hubs, of which there are only two, Detroit and Shanghai, feel awkward to navigate and not like a city at all. And guess what? There are vents to crawl through in the cities too.
The game starts out great and exciting, but loses a lot of its spark later on. It just gets slow-paced, bouncing back and forth between mission givers, revisiting locations, running around in circles trying to find your next waypoint due to the awkward mapping and leaving the player with nothing new or amazing happening.
In one of the first missions in the game, a guy walks in on you while searching an apartment. Instinctively, a lot of people will hide. It might not seem like much but that gimmick works. It's fun, it's unexpected, it's interactive, it feels realistic and it's one of those details that, when combined, make for a great game. Sadly, there's not a lot of those moments.
The game looks great. If you have the rig to max the settings out, you can be very pleased with how fluid and sharp everything looks. The textures are extremely detailed and consistent and the lightning is beautiful.
That being said, DE:HR does recycle 'extras' NPCs. You'll see the same faces over and over. It's also heartbreaking to see how little went into developing landscapes or eye-candy, considering how great the game engine runs.
Voice acting and soundtrack
Voice actors can make or break a game. In this case, the acting is spot-on for the most part. Elias Toufexis definitely takes the cake here. Doing a fantastic job at playing the protagonist with a low-key, raspy voice, he really sells the character. The supporting cast doesn't fall too far behind, either.
The music is pretty good and definitely reminiscent of the first game, but unfortunately it's not very noticeable save for some cutscenes.
Here's where it gets complicated. The game encourages you to clear objectives by using combat, stealth or hacking. In theory, this is all fine and dandy, but, like in most games, one path ends up being much more efficient than the others. Think the Fallout series.
The high point would be combat. Introducing a duck-and-cover system to the franchise, the combat system makes a great job at being fun and functional at the same time. No awkward collision or line of sight problems makes shooting baddies a real knee-clapper.
Stealth is what's encouraged by the game to be used most of the time. The experience rewards you get by being sneaky and knocking your opponents out instead of just waltzing into a room with guns blazing, are superior enough that you'll want to rely on stealth for most of the game. However, a bad minimap/map system, somewhat limited AI and just poor mechanics all around will eventually make it more trouble than it's worth. By the end of the game, you'll just be shooting everything that moves to be done with it.
Hacking, unsurprisingly, comes in the shape of a minigame which gets boring and unchallenging pretty fast. In any case, you'll be using hacking as a secondary way of clearing paths for yourself or just as an extra experience source.
The game also tries to be big in exploration. Granted. It's a resource that works when the levels are vast and interesting, like in the Elder Scrolls series. However, in DE:HR, going through every nook and cranny for some minor Easter eggs, some ordinary loot or some bits of experience just feels like too much trouble for no reward at all. After a while, you'll just want to be done with the missions as fast as possible, forsaking everything else along the way.
Every now and then, in an attempt to keep it interesting, you'll have persuasion battles and boss encounters.
The persuasion sequences are simple but they work. It's basically dialogue with 3 choices on how to respond. Sometimes it feels a bit unrealistic getting a bad guy to give up just by saying something harsh or sympathetic, but they're enjoyable and provide insight on some major characters throughout the game.
The boss battles are ridiculous and unnecessary. It feels like you go from playing Splinter Cell to Zelda in a heartbeat. They're very arcade-ish, very weak plot-wise and just silly for a game that tries to push immersion and realism.
All in all, Human Revolution feels like an over-budgeted game that doesn't completely honor its predecessor but still has enough highlights to be worthy of a playthrough or two.
If you play this game, consider it a favor.
The first installment of The Godfather video game shipped right in between GTA 3 and Mafia. Both of these games were critically acclaimed, honest-to-goodness, fantastic games. Things that they had in common included simple, yet effective gameplay, really good driving mechanics, fun and action-packed shootout sequences and, in the case of Mafia, a juicy story to boot. While The Godfather wasn't a terribly bad game, it lacked in all of these areas. The Godfather 2 suffers from all its predecessor's flaws plus some new ones, ironically enough. The main reason for this is that basic game mechanics were left untouched.
The main object of the game is to take control of the businesses and crime rings in New York, Florida and Cuba, eliminating the rival families in the process. You are also made Don of your own family and given the ability to recruit soldiers and promote them throughout the ranks. All in all, this is one of those things that look terrific on paper, but due to it being poorly executed, not financed properly or God knows what, the results are far from what they should have been.
The biggest flaw in the game is the fact that it tries to mix typical GTA-style sandbox action shooter with an RTS. Enter the Don's View. By pressing a key in-game, you get access to an overhead map of the cities, along with an icon for every business, information on who owns it, how many guards there are and some more data. The idea is that you can send your made-men or soldiers in an attempt to take over or defend a business, without you having to physically be there. This is where the balance issues begin. At first, sending your guys to shoot stuff and extort owners doesn't really work that well, but as you open up slots in your family, you start to pretty much outnumber your opponents, so the game, unwillingly, makes you choose between: a) you and 3 other mobsters go in old-school style, experiencing very repetitive and dull combat, an equally frustrating maze-like architecture that doesn't make the slightest sense and risking a (temporary) death or arrest or b) you send all of your 7 family members to take over the racket while you just sit there or do some of the more entertaining side-missions. Both choices suck, but option B gets the upper-hand after a couple of hours of playing. Still sucks, because the game basically plays itself while you watch.
In essence, the game is the same thing over and over and over again: go to a business, kill every guard, kick the owner around, get protection money. Rinse and repeat. This is, literally, all there is to it. Sure, you might have some missions that mix it up a bit, like running away from the police, robbing a bank or something along those lines, but the bread and butter of the game is taking over every single business in every city. Furthermore, in the previous Godfather, you were given the choice to take over rackets or not and the main storyline was separate. Here, it's no longer an option. After a certain point, you need to get every business and eliminate every family before progressing, which makes it even more frustrating. There are some side-missions you can do to earn favors from people which you can cash in at any time, such as bailing your guys out if they get locked up, having them instantly recover if they "die" in combat or just get some extra money. These are more of the same, since they are always about killing someone, cracking a safe open, bombing a business or roughing someone up. Again, while this might sound great at first, the game mechanics and general gameplay makes each mission feel like a chore instead of fun and exciting.
There's also some level of customization for your character and members of your family. You can spend money on getting certain bonuses, like higher accuracy when using small guns or extra health, but in practical terms, most of these hardly make a difference and can be ignored.
Everything in the game looks not only dated but also like the budget ran out. The graphics are so-so. The textures are very simple and plain. Backgrounds and landscapes are lazy. The design for the interior locales are repetitive and tedious to navigate. Visual character customization seems deep, especially because of the clothing and apparel, but then you realize you really don't have many choices for your face and body and start seeing your identical twins all over the city.
Combat is dull at best and extremely boring at worst. Taking cover behind walls or objects is awkward and motivates you to not even bother. The damage dealt to your enemies tends to not make much sense, being able to kill some in one shot and literally empty a full 50 bullet machine gun magazine on others and not kill them. Weapon variety is okay, but there's no correlation between their attributes. These are just some examples of the problems in the combat system in the game.
Probably the only thing this game has going for it is the fact that, if you're a The Godfather fan, you can have a sort of parallel story to the whole anthology and see how some of the events in the book and films fit within the game. Also, Robert Duvall plays Tom Hagen in the game too, so that's two good things.
In closing, The Godfather II is a great idea poorly executed. The result is a frustrating game, sequel to an already not-so-great title, which you should only play if you are a die-hard fan of the Corleone universe. Otherwise, there are far better alternatives out there.
Gray Matter (2010)
A decent game that doesn't have the flare Gabe Knight did.
Jane Jensen is one of those names that revolutionized the industry of graphic adventures in the good ol' days of Sierra On-Line. When she decided to fly solo and came up with Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, inadvertently, she set the bar really high for gaming developers across the board, but also for herself. The sequel, Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, also became a breakthrough in that it was one of the first games that used full motion capture. The GK franchise was that stupidly good.
It's inevitable to compare Gray Matter to the GK series, not only because they share the same author, but also because many elements are similar. The genre is the same, gameplay is similar, some general aspects of the storyline will seem familiar, the game is broken down into chapters (or days), there's a male and female protagonist and so forth.
The story is not great, and considering Jensen's curriculum vitae, this is a huge flaw. The narrative is downright linear, you can see the plot twists from a mile away and the character development is not really deep enough to relate and care about the little pixel-breathing guys. That being said, it has that appealing, mysterious and somber thing going on, which is yet another thing that shares with the GK universe. There was a clear effort to add content to the story by creating secondary objectives and bonuses that you can strive to clear before progressing with the main plot-line. For example, you can find out more about the supporting characters. Sadly, it doesn't really add anything substantial enough to be worthwhile.
The gameplay is basically point-and-click. You hover the mouse over something and it changes to the appropriate cursor. It feels comfortable enough to become organic and natural, but, like many adventure games, that's basically all you do: you click stuff until something happens, which can become a bit dull. Jensen's latest title also implements the "hotspot" system, popular in many adventure games to date, which is a not so subtle way to get hints as to what you should interact with next by placing a label on objects. If you still need more help getting through the game, each location in the map has a certain coloring if there's something that you still have to do there or it turns gray if the opposite is true.
Puzzles, for the most part, are easy and unchallenging, especially the ones that involve "magic tricks". Sam, the female lead in Gray Matter, is a street magician by trade, so you will reach certain points where you have to execute a trick from your magic book to get an item from someone, or persuade them into doing something. This was a feature that promised a whole lot more than what it actually delivers, which is basically just reproducing something that is already written in said magic book, being corrected if you got it wrong and repeating the process until you can pull the trick off successfully.
The voice acting and general style of the game is probably its strong suit. The actors do a good job delivering their lines and sound like high quality professionals. Stylistically, the cutscenes follow a sort of graphic novel, alla Max Payne, that becomes really enjoyable to look at. Sadly, they are not abundant.
Graphically, the game looks pretty good for an adventure game. It's 3D models over 2D backgrounds, which might seem like an ancient way of doing things with today's technology, but it's really well accomplished and some of the scenery is just plain beautiful to look at, especially towards the end of the game.
In the sound department, Jensen's husband and the man behind the memorable music in the GK series, Robert Holmes, graces us yet again with his talented ear and compositional talents. The music is just plain good. Unsurprisingly, it seems to share the same general direction of the entire project: it falls just a tad short of being as awesome as Gabriel Knight's soundtracks.
Summing up, Gray Matter is a decent adventure game. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, and it's unavoidable to keep comparing it to its spiritual predecessor, partly because the New Orleans-based writer was a landmark in graphic adventure, but also because it feels like Jensen's stuck to a known formula for success and played it safe, most likely not meeting the expectations of a long-awaited title for a considerably-sized fanbase.
All in all, an okay game.
Quite possibly, one of the best attempts at storytelling through an adventure game.
Mashing up two iconic characters such as Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes, or just blending facts with fiction, is an experiment that can go terribly wrong and often does.
Frogware's attempt to reconcile Conan Doyle's beloved detective and one of the most gruesome serial killers in history works better than you might expect.
The strong point of this title is, without a doubt, the story. Storytelling is an art that seems somewhat lost in modern video games and is definitely refreshing to see a game developer go all out in this department. The game follows Sherlock Holmes and his trusted sidekick, Dr. Watson, in unraveling the identity of Jack the Ripper. Here's the kicker: pretty much every single detail in the story, from character's looks, their names, the killings, to items you might find during the game are carefully contextualized within the real life events that took place when Jack the Ripper was active in London. This makes people who are familiar with this piece of history to enjoy the game a thousand times more than those who might be completely clueless. The game's intention is to tell the "real" (fictionalized) story of what happened behind all the killings and the investigations, tossing Holmes and his unique skill-set into the mix. Evidently, it draws many licenses and this might put off hardcore scholars of one of the biggest mysteries of the 19th century. From the narrative side, even though you might feel like you're not making much progress at times, the plot twists are really well placed, the story flows naturally and everything falls into place right when it has to.
Graphically, the game looks pretty slick. It's not Crysis, but then again, it's not really about graphical awesomeness and special effects. Still, everything looks smooth, detailed, the textures are well made and landscapes seem pretty genuine. Also, the gray, foggy atmosphere that London is said to/does have is a very tangible element throughout the entire game, which adds to the immersion of the whole experience. On the other hand, animations do seem a bit out of place sometimes. Watson talking at the same time he sips on some wine comes to mind. Neat parlor trick.
Music complements the graphical counterpart of Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper really well. It's not over-the-top, and you probably won't finish the game and think "hey, I gotta get me that soundtrack!", but it really adds to the experience when it has to. Climatic moments are usually accompanied by the appropriate melodies in the background, adding to the general ambiance and even causing the occasional goosebumps.
The voice acting is great, overall. After seeing so many depictions of Holmes on TV, films and media in general, it might take a bit of getting used to, since it's a more sober, austere approach, probably closer to what Doyle originally had in mind for his character. In the context of this specific game, it works almost flawlessly. Again, some snippets might make your eyebrows raise, but given the length of the game, is understandable. Just don't expect to encounter a witty, Downey-esque, lady-killer badass inspector.
Gameplay-wise, simplicity is the keyword. You can pretty much play the entire game from start to credits roll by just using your mouse and left click. There's also an option to switch the camera from third person to first person at any given time, which is a nifty feature. For those of us who hate getting stuck in adventure games, you can tap space bar and see the hotspots, which are basically item labels that hint objects you might have missed on the current screen. Puzzles come in many different flavors, from cryptography, jigsaw puzzles, to drawing deductions and conclusions of the case so far, and everything in between.
In closing, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper is a great adventure game that pulls off what most games can't: telling a damn good story and making you feel part of it; solid and polished in every respect. References to Doyle's novels are abundant, so if you're a Holmes fan, this is a must. Alternatively, if you enjoy mystery, crime thrillers or if you just enjoy a good story, you definitely should give it a go.