Obligatory Lists at the End of the year ~ Part 1

Well, it’s that time of the year again. (< the 14,583,766th time that phrase has been used in writing) The time of reflective thinking and list making is upon us. And like any gaming site worth its salt, it’s time I made some “best of” lists of my own. For Part 1, I will be looking back on the year of 2014. Since the majority of the games I played were from various years not including 2014, these lists are going to be more personal. Think a bit more blog, and bit less review site for this. Also, they don’t follow any preferential order. If I’m considering them to be in the list, they’re already preferred.

TOP 4 GAMES I PLAYED IN 2014, PRIOR TO WEBSITE’S START       As the title implies, I did play games this year prior to starting up this website. And since I don’t plan on doing full reviews for them, I figured I’d at least share my impressions on them in some way.

– Batman: Arkham Origins   

I’m in the minority when it comes to the Batman games. It seems like the generally accepted truth amongst those who’ve played them is that Arkham Origins is a weaker game than Arkham City. I beg to differ. I was turned off from City for 3 reasons. For starters, the premise is absolutely ludicrous. Am I really supposed to believe that the DC doppelganger of New York seriously just portioned off a section of their city in order to make the comic book version of Escape From New York? I mean, if you’re going to rip off illogical, implausible, wouldn’t-happen-in-a-million-years ideas from 3rd graders, at least don’t be so serious about it too. Segueing to problem 2: Joker’s death. In what was probably the easiest “twist” ever written, the attempt to be edgy just ended up feeling lazy to me. Plus, we all know Joker dies in The Dark Knight Returns, so this story has already been told before anyway. Finally, and most glaringly, the Catwoman content was the first time single player content was given the Online Pass treatment. I don’t support the business practice of cutting content in order to “fight” second hand purchases. All it does is hurt the consumer and identify miserly companies. Origins didn’t have these problems, and was welcomed with open arms because of it. It also didn’t hurt that it looks and plays damn good. And, after playing Arkham Asylum again recently (review coming soon), I’m willing to say it’s the best Batman game so far. How edgy of me.

– Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood 
AC: Brotherhood, AKA: the last good one, was a game that I had been meaning to play for about 4 years. It was a series I was dreading jumping back into, considering how many AC sequels were beginning to pile up in my backlog. At some point though, I think it was when the word ‘assassin’ had suddenly been replaced with ‘pirate,’ that I realized this series was quickly nose-diving and resigned myself to give up on it, and instead, just play that one I had already bought the Da Vinci DLC for. So then I did, and I was pleasantly satisfied. The combat of AC2 was refined to allow more aggressive play in combat, the addition of light RPG elements in leveling up a squad of like-minded killers, and lots of worthwhile side content to keep one busy. The game could definitely look better, but the gameplay did more than make up for the technical problems. Also, the story still had intrigue back then. Now, in more recent entries, Ubisoft has pretty much all but abandoned the subplot regarding the first civilization and the future of humanity. I suspect that they’ll eventually bring that back up, but not until sales start tanking. For now, I think they’re content with cruising along with a very fluid sense of the word “assassin.”
The Last of Us            
This one is pretty much a gimme at this point. If you’ve played it, then you know why this is on my list. (It’s because homeless people are cute) I actually do plan on doing a full review of this one once I get my hands on the Remastered version on PS4. I can tell you right now that this is not a perfect game. In fact, I was kind of wondering what the hell was so special for most of the first act. But it did not fail to impress. So expect a critique of the game and its DLC in the unspecified future.
Dead Space 2/3  
Yeah, I’m aware that this is technically cheating and this is now a top 5 list, but the fact is I played these two games back-to-back and they’ve kind of blended in my memory now into one entity. The key thing to take away here is that the Dead Space games are quality horror titles. The third game catches a lot of flak for having a large portion of the game take place in open air, what with the snow planet and all. But it still had plenty of the dim, dark corridors and ambient noises you’d come to expect from the first two games. And the addition of customizable weapons was actually a well-implemented change to the framework. However, the co-op campaign left much to be desired. Overall, these games were fun and had me on the edge of my seat more than I thought they would. (Set the difficulty to the hardest possible for extreme levels of tension) Dead Space is one of the few things EA has done that I’m actually okay with. That’s saying something.

THE TOP 4 GAMES OF 2014 THAT ARE NOW IN MY BACKLOG
I’ve stated before that this year had not exactly been the best in terms of new game releases. There was a serious drought during the summer months, and many of the big name releases not attached to a company named Nintendo ended up being “meh” or worse. That doesn’t mean it was entirely barren however. These are the 4 games of 2014 I most look forward to playing.

South Park: The Stick of Truth
It feels like anything Trey Parker and Matt Stone touch turns into comedic gold. I love the satirical, self-aware humor of the show and I have only heard good things regarding the writing in this game. Knowing that there’s stuff in this game so bad that Australia had to cut it out and have it replaced with a placid koala bear instead is just icing on the cake. Throw in the fact that I can make “Jew” my character class and consider that a copy sold. In fact, why haven’t I played this game yet? Why is this in my backlog?? Oh yeah,… money is still a thing. Damn. (If only I could get some of that precious Jew gold)
Wolfenstein: The New Order
I’m pretty much the only person in my age demographic who has ever played the original Wolfenstein 3D. The franchise that had created the first person shooter has had a pretty rough time in recent years. The mediocre reboot, simply titled “Wolfenstein,” (because f**k continuity) was not the answer the series was looking for. The New Order had gotten positive reviews, though, and I’m genuinely glad about that. A game that doesn’t shoe horn in multiplayer and makes shooting Nazis in the head cool again is something the videogame world has been missing for a while.
Alien: Isolation
This is probably the most polarizing game of the year. It seems as though everyone either thinks poorly or very highly of this game. And because of the debate, I’ve only felt like playing it more and more over time, just so I can finally have my own opinion on it. I want to be in that second group. I don’t generally want games to suck and I’m also a fan of the Alien franchise. (I actually liked Resurrection, too) After the s**tstorm that was Colonial Marines, I’m hoping the atmospheric, mano a xeno gameplay can deliver on the promise of a true Alien experience.
The Evil Within
Yes, another horror game, and yes, another game that’s generated plenty of mixed feelings. I have never played through a Resident Evil game, nor do I intend to, but from what I can gather, The Evil Within is a lot like Resident Evil 4. That’s good news to me. I’ve not yet experienced a Shinji Mikami title, and like Metal Gear Solid, there’s just way too much catch-up involved for me to go back and play RE4. I’m expecting gore, horrific imagery, and stupid dialogue. As long as I get that, I think I could put up with gameplay that’ll punish me for playing stupid.

 

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin – Review

2014 has been a relatively disappointing year in videogames. Underwhelming releases like Watch Dogs and Destiny, as well as a continual disregard for the customer by releasing unfinished messes like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and the Master Chief Collection simply to meet corporate quota, made this one of those “clear the backlog” type of years. Just when I was thinking that I managed to dodge out of the way of the over-hype/upset train, The Hitman Collection went free on PSN. At first glance, this was a great thing. I had not had the opportunity to play these highly-rated games when they were new, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to see what made this series popular. What I ended up getting out of the 2002 stealth title was a tough lesson in historical game design. I had to learn (the hard way) a truth that many others who’ve revisited older stealth games, like the original Splinter Cell and Thief, already have: that stealth games age like cheese, not like wine.

http://xboxmedia.ign.com/xbox/image/hm2.jpg

The game begins with a couple of cinematic opening cutscenes. The one before the start menu appears is where the mixed feelings began. The VO work sounded laughably amateur. It felt like the two mysterious figures, who discuss some slight exposition regarding the main character, were actually just a couple of the developers talking into a microphone. Fortunately, that changed once the game started. Player character and protagonist, Agent 47’s voice has that dangerously soothing characteristic of heroin. 47 is a man of relatively few words, but every time he opens his mouth, you want to listen to what he has to say. Especially considering the surprising depth which he conveys thoughts with. Judging by the way he looks (white, bald, suit with red tie), I figured he would be the most cliche assassin type ever penned, but as his philosophical conversation with a priest indicated, the book is not just the cover. The aforementioned priest is actually the catalyst for the story of Hitman 2. Upon Father Emilio Vittorio’s kidnapping and subsequent ransoming for half a million dollars, Agent 47 digs up his past in order to rescue him. But after the first mission, in which 47 fails to find him, he is quickly forgotten about. However, the game wasn’t the only one who found themselves dismissing this mystery of the missing priest. I soon found myself wrapped up in Det. 47 and the Case of the Anomalous AI.

Hitman 2’s mission structure is really quite simple. There are 20 levels, each one with a unique map and a designated target for Agent 47 to hit. The player is tasked with getting from point A to point B, and back to point A again, without dying. There is only a couple minute deviations from that formula throughout the whole game. I honestly would be fine with that if not for two things: The game too often looks and feels bland, and the frustration. Oh, the frustration. Unless the difficulty is set on the easiest of the three options, you will spend hours reloading saves because the game will work against you at every turn. There are problems regarding every single thing that moves in this game. First off, Agent 47 controls in 3 speeds, all of which are too painfully slow for what they need to achieve. His normal walking speed,which he’ll have to go at for most of the game in order to not draw suspicion, is approximately somewhere between the pace of grass growing and paint drying. The crouching crawl necessary to sneak up on guards is marginally faster than a snail. With brain damage. That was stepped on.  Luckily 47 can run infinitely. Technically though, his “run” is really more of a brisk jog and even then the cost outweighs the benefit, as being seen moving at a speed faster than absolutely still will capture the attention of guards. You see, Agent 47’s utter lack of tempo isn’t the only test of patience Silent Assassin will have in store for you. AI problems abound, ranging from simply annoying to absolutely infuriating. Minor stupidities include not being alerted by piles of clothes (which can be changed out of in favor of disguises) to nonchalantly going about their business as bullets literally whiz past their head. More severe grievances generally involve sixth sense levels of detection on the part of guards. You’d think that being  crouched behind a guard, amidst some foliage 50 yards away, would be ample distance and obscurity to work with. Well, you’d be dead wrong about half the time in this game. Because instead of lurking like the human predator you’re supposed to be, the guards can randomly be granted the power of omniscience and down you with their best Billy the Kid quickdraw before you can say “Get Noscoped.” This only gets worse when levels have snipers in them. The worst part of that whole scenario is the “half the time” clause. The fact that the AI is so inconsistent means there’s something of a dice roll as to whether or not something that worked once before will work again. The other mechanic Hitman is well known for, donning disguises in order to hide in plain sight, had just the worst implementation it possibly could. Even dressed up head-to-toe in ninja garb (obscuring the head and face), I was approached by literally every guard who caught me in their peripheral vision. Is this game seriously entertaining the idea that every guard is paranoid to the point where they have to check each other’s ID every time they see one another? Why are they questioning me? I looked EXACTLY like all the rest, had all defining features masked, was walking the insipidly slow walk, and was still being confronted. Logical? No. F**king annoying? You bet your sweet gaming ass it was.

It was once I began questioning just quitting on the game when I decided to look back and actually see what the reviewers had deemed praiseworthy about the game back in the day. What I found gave me a mild surprise. Much of the talk was about how ‘realistic’ and ‘detailed’ the graphics and animations were. Just looking at these screenshots, you can tell that one of those compliments can be chucked right out the window now. As for animation, I had no choice but to laugh at this review of yore, considering I’d actually been jarred on multiple occasions by how stiff and clunky Agent 47 is. (Seriously, the animation to get on a ladder going downward is so bad that I thought the game was glitching out the first time I saw it.) The reviewer also spoke of how the game felt rewarding on harder difficulties, which I can now confidently say is 101% false. The amount of trial-and-error repetition forced onto the player, mixed with the Eagle Eye AI, had the end of every mission feel more like the sweet release of euthanasia than the thrill of victory.  The reviewer did mention the ridiculousness of the ragdoll physics in the game (I can attest to having seen enemies do multiple cartwheels upon being shot), as well as the tendency for random shoot outs, but overall, they stood with the consensus that this was a vastly superior game over its previous entry for having fixed what the last game lacked. Here are a few standouts  of the “new” features in Hitman 2: crouching. silenced weapons. THE ABILITY TO WALK BACKWARDS.

It dawned on me once I finally had enough of the game, and stopped playing it before having beat it (something I can’t even remember the last time I had done), that this particular entry in the Hitman Collection is only for two kinds of people. Those who want to see some of gaming’s history and should not be attempting this on harder difficulties lest they develop stress-related brain aneurysms at the same time, and those who actually played this when it came out. Stealth games have just come so far since then. Not only is Hitman 2 boring by comparison to modern stealth games, but it’s constantly trying to push away those who were willing to look past the flaws. I wish my complaints were limited to the terrible draw distance and bad graphics, but the meat and potatoes here soured and grew fuzzy long ago, as well. A couple of slight commendations for its orchestral score, and the inclusion of a first person mode which showed your feet (something first-person shooters still weren’t doing in the ps3/360 generation), are nothing more than lipstick on a very ripened and musky swine. If you really, really want to see this game in action, just watch the videos of people who mastered this game on Youtube. I guarantee it will be more fun.  I will have no negative feelings about deleting Hitman 2: Silent Assassin from my hard drive.

Obligatory Number at the End: 4/10

Review – God of War Saga

Amongst all the games revealed and available to play at Sony’s Playstation Experience event in Las Vegas, many of which looked incredibly promising, was a small confirmation that there will be another entry in the lauded God of War franchise. Considering there are already two trilogies and a comic book miniseries, this news could come off as very exciting, or smell like the curdled funk of a publisher milking a successful property. Nothing can ever have finality in the videogame industry. Regardless of your outlook, what better reason to look back on the titles that have built the story of Kratos (and his need to put a sword through anything moving on screen), into one of the premier videogames available on Sony’s console. I’ll be looking at the Complete PS3 Collection for the purposes of this review, as well as in chronological order. (*included at the bottom are some trailer links for the unfamiliar)

God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008)

Coming second chronologically in the series, Chains of Olympus did exactly what it needed to do as a portable entry in the series, but not much more. The gameplay revolves around mixing the two attack buttons together to create combos and juggle the variety of mythology-inspired enemies until you can press the O button, alternatively titled the “Be the most brutal badass in the room” button. It has the fast-paced, hack-and-slash style of combat, the brutal finishing moves, and upgradeable magic attacks and weapons that are cornerstones of the franchise. However, in retrospect, this outing comes off as the weakest in the series. This isn’t due to it being bad or having any particularly obvious flaws (nothing is fixed that wasn’t broken), but it’s clear that this one is the lite beer of God of War games. The story mode doesn’t take very long to reach the end (about 6 hours), the fights don’t reach the same “Epic!” level of all the others, and the game doesn’t really have that much replay value. The plot starts off with Kratos having to don his Sherlock hat in order to uncover who or what incapacitated the sun god, Helios, and ultimately return the deity to the sky. It’s only within the last hour or so where things get really interesting, story-wise. Kratos is  loses sight of his original objective and is forced to make tough decisions. Following the final boss fight, a tie-in occurs with a character from God of War 2. Some highlight moments like the monster fake-out at the beginning, a brutal boss kill including a chest full of treasure, and going toe-to-toe with Charon on the River Styx, are entertaining and help the game stand out. But for the most part, it is a simplified God of War game. The gameplay is fun on the whole, but this one is easy to go one-and-done with.

8/10

God of War (2005)

The original game still holds up incredibly well. Many of the recurring motifs found in every other game all started here: Epic first levels/boss fights, getting into a scrap with a sea monster, taking a trip to the Underworld, Quick Time Event sex minigames, collecting phoenix feathers and gorgon eyes, the spiral staircase downward camera shot, and bumping a bitchin’ soundtrack whilst putting deities in the ground. The chainblades which became the distinctive staple of Kratos’s combat repertoire still feel incredibly satisfying. They are easy to figure out how to use, but the game has some punishing higher levels of difficulty for those looking to be challenged. (The final boss on God mode still gives me war flashbacks) The game also allows the player to cast four different magic abilities upon acquisition. Poseidon’s power is given within the first level and players can look forward to receiving those of Zeus, Hades, and Medusa. Separate from those is a Rage of the Gods berserker mode, as well as a secondary weapon in the Blade of Artemis (which is so comically large that its only competition is with Cloud’s Buster Sword). There are only three bosses in God of War, but the journey is peppered with iconic beasts to mame and murder. Cerberus mongrels, minotaurs, cyclopes and satyrs will contest you all the way up to the final showdown with Ares. The game mixes in some puzzles and platforming sections for good measure, but to mixed results. Puzzles are generally decent breaks from the action, but platforming is a different story. Anytime Kratos has to carefully maneuver around spikes (found in the Hades portions of the game), it is an absolute nightmare of game design. It’s during those parts when you realize how much Kratos is NOT Jak and Daxter, regardless of the fact that he can double jump. Also, the Desert of Lost Souls level, which has the player wandering around a screen obscured with sand until you find and kill 3 moving Sirens, is the definition of tedium. Fortunately, these problem areas are few and far between. They don’t bring down the otherwise amazing game, but do require the player to grit their teeth and push on to get back to the good stuff.

9/10

God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010)

Kratos’s life has never come even remotely close to something that can be called cheery, (seeing Kratos smile would be like hearing Kate Upton fart) but beginning with the Ghost of Sparta, everything starts to tumble even further downhill for the cursed warrior. Visually, the game is the best of the titles not initially made for the PS3. ReadyAtDawn studios took the “leftover” ideas from Sony Santa Monica, and constructed a truly awesome side story for the newly-crowned god. (The Atlantis and Sparta levels, as well as many of the story elements, originally started as either unlockable bonus videos from God of War 1 or content that didn’t make it past the cutting room floor of God of War 2) No longer wielding the Blades of Chaos, Kratos now uses the golden, yet functionally-identical Blades of Athena to carve his path through Atlantis and the realm of death in order to find his long lost brother, Deimos. For the most part, everything’s still working as you would expect. Notably however, the Rage of the Gods system, which previously worked upon collection of red experience orbs from slain enemies and acted as a one-time burst of invincibility and enhanced moves, is replaced with Thera’s Bane. The new ability imbues the twin blades with flames and allows Kratos to do more damage and break through certain armors which are otherwise unaffected by his normal attacks. It’s not as flashy or cool, but it’s good to see new ideas being tried out. Likewise, the secondary weapon, Kratos’s old spear and shield, can function as both melee and projectile attacks. Like Thera’s Bane, it’s neither offensive nor showstopping, but works to make GoS unique in the series. Kratos has always been a belligerent antihero, dangerously mixing emotional instability (bordering on bipolar disorder) with dogged hubris and unstoppable willpower, but the character’s descent starts to become noticeable with this entry. Kratos really stops giving a f*** about anything he does or who he offends on Olympus. A pot on the brink of boiling over is the perfect material for a pre-sequel. It should be noted that Ghost of Sparta has what may be the most utterly depressing ending in the series, On the positive side, the sex minigame is the best of the series. How can one not be amused by somehow managing to bed an entire, goddamn brothel? Exactly, it’s impossible.

9.25/10

God of War II (2007)

If there were ever the case being made that Kratos was an ass, God of War 2 would be exhibit A thru Z. Beginning once again in appropriately epic fashion, Kratos fights an animated Colossus of Rhodes statue hundreds of times his own size. Soon after, Zeus reveals he doesn’t really like the arrogant mortal-become-god, and swiftly shanks Kratos. Things begin to go off the rails once time travel is introduced into the plot. Because of course, in order to get revenge on Zeus, Kratos is told to seek the Sisters of Fate and change his own destiny. Upon the initial playthrough, it’s pretty easy to be enamored by the Rogue’s gallery of Greek figures the game brings to the table, and never pay too much mind to the logic at play. Because this game has holes like swiss cheese when you start to put even a modicum of thought into it. So Kratos is set out on another journey to a place from which no mortal survives, fraught with terrors abound, and the god of gods hates him. It’s an uphill battle to say the least, but overcoming the adversity (which in his case includes Greek heroes like Perseus and Theseus), and watching the final cutscene, feels exceptionally victorious. Bust out a Kleenex box, because the twists at the end, to say nothing of the epic cliff hanger of all cliff hangers ending, will have you crying tears of awesomeness. (Like when Batman climbed out of that hole in DKR) You love/hate Kratos for what he’s doing. On one hand, it’s incredibly selfish and destructive, yet on the other hand, you have to give him his props for standing up to literally GODS and seeing his vendetta through. When the guy puts his head to something, get out of his damn way. GoW2 is nice and varied with its level structure. I enjoyed fighting Euryale (Medusa’s sister who loved cheese puffs and lard, apparently) and the Kraken. Riding Pegasus and fighting off griffins was also a pleasant addition, but weirdly, he just sort of disappears from the game. Oh, and the three alternate weapons are a disappointing lot. The cumbersome Barbarian Hammer is too slow to be effective, the Spear of Destiny moves too quickly for its own good, and the Blade of Olympus can only be used in minor instances at the start and end of the game. Dabble with them for a fight or two, if only just to realize how much better the blades feel to control.
8.75/10

God of War III (2010)

The crescendo finally reaches its ultimate climax in God of War 3. (You know it’s serious business when there are James Bond-style opening credits) The only one of these five games to have been developed for the PS3 truly embraces the larger-than-life reputation set forth by its predecessors, as Kratos is flung from one jaw-dropping moment after another. GoW 3 is as impressive as it is ambitious. Part of that is because of the immense scale many of these levels/bosses are capable of realizing due to the increased console power. (PC elitists can go crazy now) Things that simply couldn’t happen on the PS2 happen and happen often in Kratos’s PS3 debut. Fitting, since the plot revolves around the assault and subsequent devastation of Olympus itself. Like how the last game saw the death of so many Grecian figures, so too does this one, however on a heavenly level. Hades, Hercules, Poseidon, Cronos, and the 4-part Zeus battle, are all memorable boss fights. Each one harkens on different mechanics to highlight each Olympian’s unique traits. As well as incredible visuals and technical prowess on display, the story and gameplay are also very strong, outside of some minor nit-pickings. The main theme of GoW 3, that hope can overcome all obstacles, courses through the story framework pretty harmlessly up until you meet the Pandora character, who is just two conversations away from being gratingly annoying. Seriously, the end of the game hammers the word “Hope” into your head almost as much as Kratos hammers his fists into Hercules’s face. Oh, and remember how I said that Ghost of Sparta had the most depressing ending, well… that was a lie. After building a strong connection to Kratos, spending so many hours living out his doomed life (assuming one has played all the games to this point), the ending could leave you feeling wrecked for an hour or more. It’s a good ending, to be sure. Honestly, it’s the only one that would fit thematically and realistically. But, it has the strong potential to leave some devastated (and fortunately not in the Mass Effect 3 way). Up until that point though, Kratos gets to go ham with four different types of chain blade weapons. Ditching the chainblade+something you might not like combo of previous titles, GoW3 allows the player to get familiar with all the weapons as they all play similarly but simply in different styles. The only time one might find themselves going “wtf…,” gameplay wise, is when one of the “puzzles” in the game is actually Lute Hero and has the actual PS button icons IN the game. Aside from that trivial quibble, it’s one of the most memorable action games ever put out by Playstation and is a definitely a must-play for owners of the system.

9.75/10

Obligatory Number at the End for the entire series (so far): 9/10