Category Archives: Videogames

PlayStation 4 Pro – Review

I’m thoroughly convinced that Black Friday and the shopping season in the month before Christmas is inherently evil, like the same sort of evil that tried 638 times to put Fidel Castro into the ground. And my reasoning for this has nothing to do with the midnight doorbuster customers trampling over each other like a flea-bitten hyenas, exposing just how close we are to the animal kingdom after all. Nor am I referring to the guy who got shot, or the fact that capitalism drives mortal men to engage in horrible actions. (Though ‘capitalism’ would be an acceptable answer to the proposed question.) I recently purchased my PlayStation 4 about a week ago due to the psychological compulsion factor of a reduced price, and since then I have seen my life slowly unravel as I found myself losing hours in front of my new gaming system.

I got the Pro model of the system for two major reasons. The first being that the hardware that the system runs on, as advertised, is more powerful than the base PlayStation 4 system that launched three years ago. Certain games that already exist on store shelves, as well as all games moving forward for Sony, are going to include patches where the Pro owner will see noticeably better performance and graphics from their games. And even though how that exactly is done is up to game developer discretion, it still is the most powerful system on the market, and is the more future-proof version of the system.

Secondly, the system comes with a 1 Tb hard drive, doubling the amount of space that the original system came with. I’ve heard and read far too many accounts of players having to diligently micromanage their hard drive space with only 500 Gigabytes to work with. Which makes sense considering the final version of the PlayStation 3 came with 500 Gigabytes of on-system hard drive space. The “Super Slim” model, that I currently own, is capable of storing a mountain of downloaded PS3 titles (so many of which I never even got around to playing) but that’s not the case with PS4 games. The necessary hard drive space of a current generation title is usually between 45 and 50 Gigs. That’s ten times the amount of space needed for a last generation game. That Terabyte was an absolute MUST for me, seeing that I’ve already filled up the hard drive half-way with just the games I bought from Black Friday or got free from PlayStation Plus.

And I really couldn’t be anymore pleased with the system. It is a great console, perfect for pick-up-and-play. A small feature that I’m really impressed with is just the simple ability to actually leave games on stand by, then open another application like the web browser or YouTube, and have the ability to jump right back into the game with no noticeable load time. I know this is something that has technically been on the PS4 since the first release, but it means a lot for someone who has been living the life of a last-gen peasant for three years.

I feel the need to add that this console has really rejuvenated the gamer in me. No lie, I’ve found that I can’t ignore the black box for very long. It’s just a fun thing to own, especially if you have some friends on hand to throw down in Mortal Kombat with. Ripping your friend’s spine from their body has never looked better. As I’m writing this, I actually want to just go turn on the system and dive into the beautifully rendered worlds of Uncharted 4 and Fallout 4. (what is it with all the 4’s this generation, anyway?) Some, like my dad, would probably say that I’ve become a video game junkie again… and, uh, I don’t have a problem. I can quit any time I want… ahem.

In conclusion, I’d say I’m thoroughly pleased with my altogether very-expensive purchase. I honestly haven’t found anything to complain about yet. The controller feels nice, the system flows very easily between tasks. Downloads can occur even while powered down. And it’s got the horse power to really deliver that “wow factor.” It may not be sporting the specs that a PC elitist demands from their gameplay experience, but I’m someone who keeps things relative. I played a few games on an old Nintendo 64 with friends over the Thanksgiving weekend, and really getting to step back and see how much gaming has evolved over the years, allowed me to not only appreciate the PlayStation 4 Pro, but praise it as well.

I can not f**king wait for The Last of Us 2 to come out.

Obligatory Number at the End – 9/10

 

The Best E3 2016 Round-Up of All Time


It’s no secret that the Electronic Entertainment Expo is the grandest and most decadent circle jerk in the videogame industry. The annual phenomenon known as E3 is notorious for a cavalcade of reasons. 

  1. Corporate press conferences noise polluted with marketing buzz words spewed unironically from suits utterly out of touch with their audience.
  2. The showroom floor packed with expensive one-of-a-kind props and elaborate sets that have nothing to do with the actual quality of games.
  3. Flashy reveal trailers that surprise and excite the inner fanboy within the hearts of manchildren. (also poor indicators of final game quality)

It’s an entertainment industry finally blowing its load all over its own smiling face after months of edging, before grabbing a towel and returning to tepid normalcy. It’s a pretty big load, though. Lots of news. Lots of hype. Lots of cringe. It’s what makes E3 so spesh. These are the 10 Most Important Takeaways from E3 2016. (List is in no particular order, except the number one spot, for obvious reasons)


  1. God of War – Demigod decides to dadimage

Despite the climactic finale of God of War 3, it would appear Sony’s investors aren’t ready to let the angry Greek’s money train pull into station. In God of War, Sony Santa Monica is now finally doing that stupid thing that people have talked about for forever now – Norse mythology. The change isn’t exclusive to the setting, either. Nearly every aspect of the game has been changed to suit modern gamer focus testing. No chain blades. No cinematic camera. No TC Carson to voice Kratos (easily the most egregious change). Instead, our anti-hero now wields an axe and babysits his young son, clearly riding on the coattails of Joel and Ellie’s dynamic from The Last of Us. Nearly every bone in my body is telling me to run, to just accept that God of War ended and that this is just banking off the title and familiar character to sell copies (cough Ghostbusters reboot cough), but there is one saving grace. And that is Cory Barlog. The director behind God of War 2 has returned to work on this project. Though the game still looks like a step in every wrong direction possible, knowing Barlog is steering the ship gives me enough hope to elevate this unnecessary sequel from a complete write-off to a position of cautious optimism. Who knows, maybe the game will be great and I’ll eat crow for having doubted it. But probably not. This game looks wack.


9. Battlefield 1 – make The Great War fun again

After blowing Activision’s prized Call of Duty series out of the water when both released their reveal trailers earlier this year, EA only has to make sure it doesn’t do something impossibly stupid (like holding back the entire French army as DLC) to pop their over-inflated hype balloon. If they can manage that, the execs and shareholders are sure to have cocaine parties every weekend. Because the game does seem pretty sweet. I mean, what more perfect irony for a meaningless and shitty war than to turn it into a game for 13-year-olds to say shitty things to one another during meaningless rounds of CTF…  The graphics are sharp, maps will have varying weather, destructible environments are back, and the WWI setting is a much needed change from the neon purple clown camo and whip-naenae whatever-the-fuck emotes in CoD. But it is EA. Which means we’ll be ripped off by DLC and microtransactions. Hopefully they release a full game at launch, unlike what they did with Star Wars: Battlefront. I ain’t having that shit.


8. Fallout 4 – Don’t make me hate you, please

Bethesda showed off the goods again this E3. Dishonored 2 and the Prey reboot both caught my interest with their intriguing worlds and mysterious tones. But both of those games are still in the tank right now, with not much to pick apart. Todd Howard did divulge on what to expect from his studio however. And that was… kind of lame. Fallout 4 will be receiving its final DLC expansion, Nuka World, later this year -making for a total of 2.5 worthwhile add-ons. This, plus more contraptions for settlement building, like elevators and conveyor belts. “Disappointment” is a word that springs to mind. Also, “Rage.” “Fuck” and “You,” as well. After Fallout 3 and New Vegas’s precedent of 5 expansions per game, hearing that all that DLC season pass money culminated into the weakest offering to date, it’s hard not to be upset. Nobody asked for settlement building. Nobody wanted this watered down game. But that’s what we got. And for some reason (easy money), we’re also getting a re-release of Skyrim. Thank Buddha for mods.


  1. Project Scorpio and Playstation Neo – uhh…

With the rumors of new Xbox and Playstation consoles confirmed, the biggest question mark in the industry just became the biggest exclamation point, too. This is because despite what Xbox execs and the like will tell you, it’s unlikely (not impossible, but improbable) that these new consoles will comfortably exist alongside their current iterations. Developers will have to make games work across one or two more platforms than they already are. Either they put more focus on cutting edge tech, or they stick to the current player base with millions more potential customers. Are the current gen systems dead in the water? What will be major selling points to differentiate the consoles? 4K resolution? More RAM? Will it matter? These are questions that need answers. Meanwhile, that feces-feathered goose that occasionally squats out a golden egg, Nintendo, still has nothing to show except for more Zelda. Show the NX, damnit! I’m so tired of seeing your faces on the milk carton, every E3.


6. Injustice 2 – DC comics Dress-up

Ed Boon and his eyebrows brought a demo of  Mortal Kombat Lite 2 to E3 this year, with a new customization feature to boot. Injustice 2 includes a Gear system that affects gameplay as well as allows players to gussy up their heroes as they see fit. Unlocking new loot is already addicting as is, but the best part is how players have the ability to make a character’s uniform look how they think it should look. This is an incredibly welcome change when considering some of the design choices made in the original game were less than perfect. Just look at this egg:imageLiterally as intimidating as a limbless panda. With the new Gear system however-Yeah. You heard that noise? That noise that sounded like a damp rag just hit the floor? Well that was the sound of every Batman nerd in the world collectively dropping their panties. I’m excited to see how much customization there is across all characters. Boon wants a huge roster of fighters, and of the six confirmed, three are new to the series. Supergirl, Gorilla Grodd, and Atrocitus all look like great additions, but now comes the speculation. Will we see Darkseid playable this time around? Can I have a Penguin that looks like Danny DeVito? I’m personally rooting for a playable Starfire and Beast Boy, but even if they don’t make the initial cut, WB and Netherrealm Studios are cranking out plenty of DLC fighters after the 2017 launch, so this game will be huge when all is said and done.


5. Watch Dogs 2 – The Ubisoft dilemma

Lying to the public is Ubisoft’s calling card. E3 trailers for their games are all but completely irrelevant at this point, due to how consistently disingenuous they’ve been in recent years. Watch Dogs, Rainbow Six: Siege, and The Division have all had their E3 demos exposed as flat-out misrepresentations of their final retail versions. So it really hurts seeing so much potential in Watch Dogs 2. I want to be excited about hacking everything in Silicon Valley as a parkour master, but I also don’t want to be hurt again. I’m tired of the lies – the empty promise that things will change. And no, Michael Fassbender in your Assassin’s Creed movie won’t win me over. We’ll have to wait and see. Maybe in a few months I’ll be okay again, but until then, the South Park game is about all I’m ready to commit to. (Seriously, The Fractured but Whole has the potential to be the best superhero game this year.) Goodbye, Ubisoft.


4. Indie games – Like hipsters, but less awful

Microsoft isn’t new to great independent games. On 360, Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, and Fez all started as Xbox exclusives. The keyword there is “started.” The same logic should apply to this next batch of indies. Cuphead has drawn a lot of well-deserved attention for its 1930’s cartoon-inspired art style. Everything in the world is animated with a bounce or sway to it, and the gameplay is largely centered around devilishly hard boss fights that border on bullet hell. On the opposite end of the color spectrum, Inside’s bleak greys drown players in the spiritual sequel to Playdead’s Limbo. Again, players will explore a morbid and deadly world of darkness and mystery as a small boy. This game has released since E3, but I’m holding off my judgement until I can get my hands on a PS4 version. Lastly, We Happy Few is a 3D first-person game set in an eerie, 1960s-esque dystopia where everyone is Brady Bunch happy, wears white face paint, and are forced to take a drug called “Joy.” In the demo, the player character doesn’t take their medicine and is subsequently targeted by an Orwellian police force. This is EXACTLY the type of thing I want from indie developers. More ambitious worlds and risk-taking stories? Yes, please. It’s just a shame Playstation gamers are going to have to wait even longer for these titles. In the meantime, Double Fine’s Headlander will be on PS4. Published by Adult Swim (and thankfully not left to Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter habits), the game is about a head. A head that can attach itself to robots to control those robots. The 2D game will feature Metroid-like level progression and Double Fine’s sense of humor, for better or worse.


3. Gravity Rush 2 – I hate Skylanders.One of the biggest letdowns at E3 happened during Sony’s press conference. We all saw the shadow of Crash Bandicoot on the stage. We all had our hairs stand up in anticipation. But before you could even say “my body is ready, I am lubed, take me, take me now,” it all came crashing down. Sony’s big Crash announcement was that the familiar face would be slapped onto Activision’s next Skylanders bowel movement. The HD remasters aren’t worth getting excited over, either. There’s nothing exciting about playing games we could play for 20 years now. And whoever decided to throw in a trailer for the upcoming Lego game should really consider throwing themselves down a well. Sony’s press conference did not include even one mention of Gravity Rush 2 – a Playstation brand EXCLUSIVE that has more originality and charm than either of those bird shits combined. Why was this shafted? Is it because it isn’t marketed to dumb children with shitty taste, perhaps? Or because it was made by developers who don’t secretly wish a shooter came into the office and ended their lives? Who knows. What we do know is that it’s a beautiful sequel to a well-reviewed game. The main character has super powers and the game world looks stunning! But that isn’t the kind of game Sony wanted us to see, apparently. And quite frankly, I’m not sure I’ll get this haunting image washed from my brain any time soon.

 Thanks, Obama.


2. Virtual Reality – Real Gimmicky

A couple years ago, the hype surrounding the Oculus Rift made it seem like the futuristic technology of the future would finally come to the present times. Well, VR is here now, and it’s expensive as hell, makes you look stupid, and few games actually implement it well – so of course we got to see a ton of it at E3. No, John Carmack, I really couldn’t give a rat’s tits about “living and breathing in a Minecraft world.” At $400+ dollars a piece, no co-op in mind, and games featuring obvious limitations on character movement, this trend will die just like motion control and 3D TVs. The only legitimate reason for these things to exist is to see Dashie scream while playing VR horror games. Playstation is the console brand currently advocating the hardest for it, but nothing outside of the X-Wing simulator they showed off had the “wow” factor something like this needs in order to sell. I’ll wait another decade for technology to catch up before I take this seriously. Until then, I’m gonna keep that $400 in my wallet.


  1. Spider-Man, the hero E3 deserved 

I’m a shameless Spider-Man fanboy. The Tobey Maguire movies were my childhood fantasies on the big screen, and the videogames let me recreate what I read in the comics. So it should come as no surprise that the biggest E3 moment for me was seeing the trailer for Insomniac’s Playstation-exclusive Spider-Man game. Can you say “system seller?” Insomniac seems like a less obvious choice  for making a superhero game than Sucker Punch studios (devs of the Infamous series), but the tone in the trailer felt like they perfectly captured the feel of Spidey heroics. The cinematic trailer showed off some scripted action, including a part where Spider-Man ran on the tables of a cafe before bursting out its window. I’m curious to see if the final game will feature such detailed interiors. Aside from that note, I actually like the new suit, though I hope more costumes are unlockable in the game. Overall, this is my most anticipated game coming out of E3 2016. I had almost begun to think E3 would have no true stand-out game for me this year, but Spider-Man came to the rescue, as usual.

The Last of Us: Left Behind – Review

It’s no secret that I am a Naughty Dog fan boy. My first reviews on this site were for the unquestionably amazing Jak and Daxter titles. The only games I have ever spent more than a week playing multiplayer in were Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3. And in my opinion, The Last of Us has one of the best, if not the best, narratives in all of videogaming.  Even when Naughty Dog has been complicit in practices I’ve actively boycotted, such as the online pass fad and the nickel-and-diming of customers via microtransactions, I have generally been able to turn a blind eye to these offenses. (It helps when you’re a developer that eventually makes all your game’s DLC free to all players) That being said, my obvious fandom doesn’t detract from my ability to judge their games fairly. So does Left Behind manage to live up to the large expectations set forth by the base game?

Left Behind alternates between two points of time. Taking place during the second half of the game’s main storyline, Left Behind flashbacks to a time before protagonist Ellie ever met co-protagonist, Joel. What players will find out very quickly is that this segmentation of the timeline effectively creates a distinct separation of the two major draws of The Last of Us. The “current” portion of the game is where the game’s combat and stealth gameplay returns, as Ellie must make her way through desperately violent apocalypse survivors and Cordyceps infected zombies alike. The flashback content however, is where the compelling character writing and relationship building makes a comeback, and features no combat whatsoever. To use what videogame scholarship I’ve acquired: though this dichotomy makes for some jarring transitions, it works for the purposes of ensuring neither narratologically-inclined nor ludologically-inclined audiences feel left out. (And makes for any easy method of reviewing the game.)

Though some argue that the combat situations in Left Behind are just filler to pad out its length, I’m glad either way. The fact that the gameplay time is only slightly longer than a movie allowed me the opportunity to play against the game’s intelligent and deadly AI again, complete with resource management and crafting, without feeling like I’d have to invest a lot of time. Sometimes it feels good being able to just enjoy a slice, rather than gorge down a whole pie. This is especially true when that pie’s filling is me exhibiting expert levels of archery like a tiny, ninja Katniss Everdeen that also isn’t impartial to viciously sticking aggressors with a switchblade in the throat. It was cool to play through encounters with both human and zombie enemies, as well. Being able to have both enemy types fight each other for your own gain was a neat addition to the formula. Aside from this though, the gameplay isn’t all that different from the Ellie stages of the initial release. One aspect I’m more critical of now than when I first played through the main game however, is the hyper-sonic hearing/Spider Sense thing that grants players X-ray vision. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of being able to hear enemies through rooms (I found this superpower very useful in both games), but I somehow feel it’s a stretch to be capable of deducing that exactly four squatters are coming down that hole in the ceiling 50 feet away, in addition to the squad of exactly three fungus heads one room over, all with a precision that surpasses the echolocation of bats. I’d like to see this element return in a future release, albeit toned down – not just turned off altogether. Okay, rant over.

Now, what people really ought to care about is whether or not the story of Left Behind is good enough to warrant a purchase. I was initially pretty wary of whether or not Naughty Dog’s writing team would be able to create a significant connection with new character, Riley, especially since prologue and prequel stories so often feel like auxiliary and unnecessary nubbins. (Or tumors in the case of the Star Wars prequels.) But whatever expectations I could have had, the events of Left Behind still managed to blow away.  It obviously does not compare to Joel and Ellie’s bond that formed over 16 hours of intense trials and tribulations in the base game, but Ellie and Riley actually managed to create one of the biggest highlight moments of The Last of Us as a whole. And considering all of the shocking twists and turns of The Last of Us, that’s saying something. Gameplay-wise, exploring the mall alongside Riley is mostly comprised of walking, talking and interacting with objects. It felt a lot like a Quantic Dream game in that way, if David Cage somehow managed to write dialogue that sounded even 60% human. And though the banter was interesting enough, the payoff in Left Behind‘s final hour is something that is only rivaled by the main game’s ending. Seriously, if Joel’s morally opaque decision at the conclusion of The Last of Us  hits like a shovel to the back of the skull, then Left Behind’s big moment is comparable to being trash canned and thrown down a flight of stairs. You might still be conscious at the bottom of those steps, but your world is undeniably turned on its side for a bit, and you’ll still be left wondering “what the hell just happened? Who am I? What is life?” afterward. And for this reason, I give Left Behind‘s story a resounding two corndogs way up.

If there’s one thing that could keep fans of TLOU away from this add-on, it has to be that it only provides about 3 hours of extra gameplay to the overall TLOU experience.  Small things like the occasional blurry texture here and there, and the ridiculous videogame cliche of collectible audio recordings, didn’t keep me from being engaged with this excellent example of downloadable content done right. At no point did I feel like this was a creation of exploitation meant only to shake a few more bucks out of fans. This is obviously the intended result, but it doesn’t have that gross, cynical, have-to-scrub-yourself feeling you get from games like Destiny and EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront. Unfortunately, Left Behind is still $10 on the Playstation Store. Of course, I got it while it was on sale, but all options considered, I would just recommend picking up the Remastered edition of The Last of Us on PS4 with all the extra content included. It’s definitely a must-play for fans, but preferably at the right price. Sorry ND, but I am very stingy with my shekels. Maybe next time let me play the multiplayer for more than two hours.

JK, I still love you. XOXO

Obligatory Number at the End: 8/10

X-COM: Enemy Within – REVIEW

It’s been a long, torturous drought. The crops have all but died, and the livestock have grown terribly ill. What’s it been? 5, 10, 15 years? I know. It’s been a long time. There’s been many a trial and much strife. Trouble in paradise, to be certain. But rejoice, friends. The prodigal son has returned! Toil those dead soils no longer and follow me into the future. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Okay… I think that simple “I’m back,” just rang up the entirety of my extended metaphor budget for the rest of this review… But whatever, you only get this one life. Swag it as hard as you can. Am I right or am I right? Okay, unless you’re Hindu as a mug and believe in samsara. In which case, you still only get this one life to swag, but can pretend like you don’t. Unless you’re on God-King Xerxes level like me, in which case your reign will last another thousand years. Damn. It feels good to be a gangster.

Oh yeah, right. I had a review to write… I knew that. You think I didn’t know that?  Why are you looking at me like that…? Wow. I just came here for a good time and I honestly just feel so attacked right now. Here. Here’s your damn review. Don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful. *rambling, ego-fueled gibberish ends**review begins*

Not unlike eating a hundred Twinkies or getting a winky in the stinky (allegedly), X-COM: Enemy Within (Firaxis, 2013) is one of those things that you never truly comprehend the difficulty of until you attempt it for yourself. But unlike those two things , the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile doesn’t also entail a vague, intangible sense of self-loathing  and disgust. Enemy Within is the re-release of X-COM: Enemy Unknown (2012), and comes packaged with all the DLC and expansion content as well as the base game, making it the most complete version available. After sinking in an almost embarrassing amount of time shooting E.T.’s in the face, I can firmly say this is one of the most criminally overlooked console games of the ps3/Xbox 360 generation. For those who can appreciate a slower, more methodical and strategically focused experience from a game, this is one that not only delivers an awesome campaign, but is very accessible for newbies to the genre.Premise: Aliens have invaded our planet. It is up to you as the commander of X-COM, a black ops military organization funded by Earth’s national super powers, to fight back against the hostile invaders and save our species from being eradicated. A bit of a tall order for the average person, some might say, and the game reflects that in its gameplay. After the relatively simple tutorial missions, the game takes the training wheels off and doesn’t take long before asking you to race that bike in the Tour de France. Jumping between two different modes of play – combat and resource management – the game constantly forces the player to weigh decisions between short-term and long-term gains/consequences. The micro level of this occurs in the game’s strike team operations, where you take the reigns as armchair general and command a squad of up to six soldiers. Playing these missions on the game’s “Classic” (aka: hard) difficulty is no walk in the park. Though you see the battlefield from a bird’s eye view, the maps are shrouded in darkness until you move a soldier into the area. And after losing soldiers by being too overzealous in my approaches, bum rushing them into rooms where 2 or 3 aliens were apparently just playing tiddlywinks waiting for us to show up, I learned pretty early on that this is a game where being overly aggressive is about as good for your continued health as being black near a police officer. (ooh topical)This is easily where most of your time in X-COM will be spent.  Because, unless you’re either Rain Man or someone who finds sick pleasure in throwing lambs to the slaughter, excelling in this game requires a thorough understanding of your soldier’s classes and strengths, smart utilization of your non-replenishing resources (like rockets and smoke grenades), and a little bit of luck. Since it is a turn-based game, any shots you take at enemies are based off percentages, which are based off a soldier’s distance from a target and if the target is in cover, which is based on whether or not you suck. But of course, you can still get f*cked when you line up a 90% successful shot and still miss. Because probability. Because math. Because go f*ck yourself. Nothing says elite martian-killer like missing the large, floating tentacle beast hovering five feet from your face. This is  probably the most annoying aspect of Enemy Within. It’s in those moments when I would lose immersion in the game. And I feel the need to add that the load times in this game are insane. Literally insane. Like, they’ll put you in a psyche ward because you’ll have lost your mind waiting to take back that seemingly ingenious flanking maneuver that ended with three of your best soldiers dead. These two things can combine to make some very frustrating moments. I recommend saving often if you plan on keeping any hair on your head.Since this is the expanded version of the game, there’s a lot of new customization options that make this version of the game stand out from the original. And I’m not just talking about painting your squad to look like the Power Rangers, though it is true that not doing that is to play the game wrong. Enemy Within has another currency/resource called “Meld” that is specifically used for  enhancing your soldiers. Meld can be spent in a gene lab to give your fighters useful new abilities, like being able to live past an initial death or the ability to leap to the roofs of buildings. This is an excellent way to tug the rope in your favor as the game’s enemies become more resilient (read: a bigger pain in the ass). In addition to genetic modification, Meld is also able to be spent on the new MEC class. Unlike the typical Sniper, Heavy, Assault, and Support classes of the base game, MECs cannot hide behind cover, but can become walking tanks through upgrades. Wielding Rail Cannons and being able to literally rocket-punch foes through walls isn’t cheap however, as MEC costs are considerably larger than gene mods.  And thus, not only is it challenging to collect Meld (which is found in missions, but is only acquirable during a short number of turns), but knowing how to spend it wisely is also an ordeal in itself. Is it better to save up for that sweet MEC upgrade or spread the love around to the rest of the recruits? In the end, it’s seeing how these decisions pay off that raises the quality bar of Enemy Within, as it makes the decisions of the player impact the game in ways they might not see immediately. Making tough choices is an important part of leadership, and the game does an excellent job of capturing that sense of player agency. X-COM: Enemy Within has a couple rough edges here and there. For one, it’s possible this game doesn’t even have a soundtrack, or at least, an unmemorable one since I literally can’t remember if there was ever anything playing outside of the corny cutscenes. This isn’t a major gripe, but as someone who appreciates a good OST, as demonstrated by almost every other review I’ve written, it’s a plus I sadly cannot bolster onto Enemy Within‘s resume. In terms of technical performance, the game is generally fine, but sometimes levels would load in with muddy textures and I would puke and it was a mess and nobody cleaned it and now I’ve been evicted and I live in the Gaylord Stadium. So yeah, that sucks. Especially (!) considering those heinous load times. Like, what were you even loading? A troll face? Speaking of trolling, let’s talk about the ending of the game. Can you say “underwhelming?” The final mission is set up to be the most “awesomest thing evarrr” and then when you kill the big bad, it’s just like “congrats, homie. Here’s some stats on how you did.” I mean, the story is never exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a pat on the back is not decent closure for having just saved the human race. At the very least, give me  one of those quirky credits sequences with the aliens dancing or something. Like damn. Got me feeling like Rodney Dangerfield over here. No respect, I tell ya.

(God bless you, Rodney. May your soul Triple Lindy in eternity.)

That all being said, it would be heretical to rate this game low. The flaws aren’t all that apparent, and so long as you play on a difficulty level on par with your skill level, the overarching experience makes X-COM: Enemy Within worth at least one playthrough. There’s even a secondary mode for sadomasochists called “Ironman,” where you play on the hardest difficulty and can’t take back any of your mistakes because it just hurts so good. Essentially, it’s the gaming equivalent of the Christian Grey experience. Personally, the appeal of pulling out my own fingernails weighs slightly more favorably on the scale, but to each their own. Enemy Within is an incredibly deep and engrossing game with a lot of content on offer. I didn’t even get to mention the optional Exalt side missions where you fight against human cultists who seek to aid the aliens, and I didn’t play any of the online multiplayer. But that really just adds to the argument doesn’t it? There are a couple of small issues, and it’s certainly not a game for everyone, but there’s a lot of game to enjoy and it’s an exemplar of its genre. To quote from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers: “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.” So go out there and scalp yourself some little green men. For queen and country! Obligatory Number at the End: 8.75/10

 

Hey there. Just a little nugget right here for those who are still reading. If you liked what you read, why don’tcha be a pal and leave a comment? Even a racially insensitive one that will offend my Tumblrina otherkin sensibilities like, “Hey, this was purdy good,” or “wow friggin about time you posted, scrub.” It feels good to be kicking it in the driver’s writer’s seat again (which is actually just my bed while I bump heavy ass trap music like a damned fool in my headphones), and I appreciate all feedback. Thank you!!

And finally, here’s a taster for my next piece, in which I’ll discuss how Korean pop music has ruined my life for the better:

 

Counterspy – Review

Before saying anything actually of critical value, I just need to ask: Why does this appetizer small indie game have a 20 minute update? It couldn’t have been any sort of actual patch work, right? Because that update was way too large to be just glitch and bug prevention. Was it just the actual game put into patch form even after the game had supposedly been downloaded and installed? Anyway, it was a relatively minor quibble. Just push that to the back of your head alongside the other forgotten thoughts, “huh, this chicken I’m eating probably died in the dark, slathered in its own excrement” and “If this plane went down right now, this oxygen mask isn’t going to do anything.” Transitioning lube smooth into the actual warm, moist substance of Counterspy, I’ll start off by saying that this game is fun. (<Pulitzer prize winning segue right there) You play as a spy working for the neutrally aligned C.O.U.N.T.E.R. agency, performing covert operations of military espionage on both the Socialist (USSR) and Imperialist (USA) nations, infiltrating their bases to steal launch plans, in order to prevent nuclear armageddon. Counterspy employs 2.5D gameplay, a very jazz trumpet-heavy, mood-setting soundtrack, fluid gameplay that’s easy to comprehend, a decent amount of variety in its randomly generated levels, and lots and lots of style. I applaud the unique choice in aesthetics. The art style is comprised largely of bold, polygonal 50’s and 60’s design. Rooms are often massive multi-tiered chambers with grandiose flags and missiles on display in the background, emphasizing the inflated egos and hubris of each nation. It’s not surprising that the game looks great considering the fact that Dynamighty, although technically an independent developer, is comprised of former members of Pixar and LucasArts. Hence, the reason why you’ll occasionally get the  feeling you’re playing in the world of The Incredibles. The vibe often verges into the realm of stereotype, but the game executes nearly perfectly the cool, James Bond feel of being a spy at the height of the Cold War.Counterspy, like other indie games I’ve reviewed on this site (Spelunky, Titan Attacks), is light on story. To be honest, Counterspy’s wafer thin plot is a little anemic. It would be untrue (a dirty, stinkin’ lie!), and rather dismissive, to say Counterspy doesn’t have anything to say about patriotism, conflicting ideologies, and the arms race, but these themes are generally found in-game. The extent of the story in Counterspy is literally comprised of 4 or 5 instances of text blurbs between yourself, the nameless Spider-Man Noir lookalike, and C.O.U.N.T.E.R HQ. More often than not, these  are little more than the game’s way of saying, “good job; keep going; you’re getting closer.”  The game is also extremely short, relying mostly on your own desire to continue playing on all three of the game’s difficulties. Gameplay transitions between 2D stealth and 3D shooting galleries. You traverse levels in a side scrolling fashion, but levels have z-axis depth to them, as well. If a room has too many guards to get away with simple neck snaps, then going into cover will switch the perspective of the game and allow you to shoot to your violent heart’s content.Before embarking on any mission in Counterspy, it’s important to properly equip yourself for the job. Cash can be acquired by completing missions and finding intel within lockers. You’ll then be able to spend this cash on ammunition in addition to new weapons and formulas; blueprints for which are found in special safes hidden in the levels. Weapons are relatively straightforward – as you progress, you will have the opportunity to purchase more powerful and unique firearms to take on the increasingly difficult levels. Any new game will start with an initial purchase of the suppressed Diplomatic Pistol, but eventually you’ll have access to some more exciting armaments such as the golden Luger that can one-shot tough enemies (appropriately named the Golden Girl), a launcher that fires globules of explosive gel, and a dart gun that can turn a soldier against his comrades. Similarly, Formulas are abilities that can be purchased but only once per mission.  Endurance can boost your ability to sustain gunfire, Persuasion lowers the starting alertness level (DEFCON), Silent Running does the obvious, etc. The player is only allowed to have three of these gameplay modifiers in play at once, though. This restriction sounds annoying, but in the end, it keeps the game from losing its challenge, since it is entirely possible to eventually have more than enough money to fully load your favorite guns as well as purchase more than three formulas.Counterspy is marred by a small handful of imperfections. The most likely one to negatively affect gameplay is the game’s random level generator. 95% of the time, it manages to create an engaging and unique mission for you. The other 5% is when it sometimes creates rooms that will be absolutely infested with guards that notice you the second you enter. However, these roaches don’t scatter, they fire assault rifles at you and your cover is blown. Being forced into unintentional scenarios like this is exactly what you don’t want in a stealth game. I also had plenty of great times <sarcasm> trying to make out where the hell security cameras were pointed at. I’m not really sure if it was a conscious design decision to have the advanced cameras emit a hard-to-distinguish, faint orange color that can’t be told apart from the white floors, or if it was just a questionable choice in color. Perhaps it’s just my eyes that got bothered by it, (you know, because i rinse them in lye), but getting unnecessary Defcon level rises was reason enough for me to always allocate camera destruction in one of my formula slots. Furthermore, the O button is used for both rolling and getting to cover. If you’ve played a 3rd person shooter, you know where this is going. Trying to roll out of cover is an impossibility for the spy. Like some sort of weeaboo and his waifu anime girl poster, he can’t seem to find it within himself to stop sniffing the wall. It ruined the smooth flow of my ninja-like spy and eventually just had to give up on the idea of rolling around cover. Finally, the ending is abrupt. There’s a short cutscene with no dialogue whatsoever, that was more or less the picture book version of a mission accomplished. The game has a little bit of a “well, that happened” feeling upon completion. Then again, the developers were looking to make a fun, downloadable game and not The Last of Us, so it’s to be expected.Overall, Counterspy is a fine option to blow away a lazy Sunday. It’s not a deep well, but it’s far from shallow. The lack of more unique rooms to slink through eventually gives way to the feeling of repetition despite the rogue like level assortment. At its goal of creating an enjoyable, cartoony Cold War stealth game, Dynamighty did succeed. But, I would add the caveat that this is a game you’re going to want to pick up for $0, while it’s free on PSN. I had a good time with Counterspy, but it’s really not a game I would spend more than a few bucks on. If there were any sort of special recommendation I could make, it would be to definitely get it if you’re a PS Vita owner. The game’s mechanics and pick-up-and-play quality make it a perfect fit for mobile players. “Timewaster” can often be a bad, unhealthy descriptor for a game like World of Warcraft or League of Legends, but in Counterspy’s case, it’s exactly the right niche.Obligatory Number at the End: 8/10

South Park: The Stick of Truth – Review

The Stick of Truth is a special game. No, not like that guy who’s dream car is a forklift and showers in his socks. And not necessarily special in the endearing way that Mario 64 or any Zelda is to so many gamers. Nah, it’s special in that it is the only game that has allowed me to fling human fecal matter at Al Gore, and where doing so was actually a viable strategy at winning that boss battle. The game is laden with these sorts of crude, lewd, and otherwise unthinkable acts, often to the point that it gave me that feeling many probably did when watching Bigger, Longer, and Uncut so long ago – that there would be no way in hell this wouldn’t get an Adults Only ESRB rating if it wasn’t just a bunch of cartoons. There is a gratuitous amount of, ahem, “rectal exploration” throughout the game, and in more ways than one. In fact, South Park’s typically satirical commentary is kind of cluttered away under the grade school poop and sex jokes, as well as a lot of references to the show that are somewhat hit and miss. There were plenty of times I found myself laughing out loud, especially at the hilarious character reveals toward the end, as well as by the Mister Hanky cameo and David Hasselhoff easter egg, but don’t expect too much high brow shit here. Rehashed gags and referential humor aside, South Park: The Stick of Truth is an entertaining, if somewhat slow starting, RPG that will appease both fans of the show and those who enjoy shock humor. Stick of Truth behaves like a D and D parody right from the start. The game establishes the initial fantasy plot of elves vs humans through an expository, and realistically drawn, opening cutscene (narrated by Cartman, of course). The two factions are at war over whom should rightly control the titular stick, which endows whomever wields it with the ability to basically have whatever they say, go. From there, you create your mute fourth grader and then battle with yourself on whether or not you want to play the Jew character class. Because you know you want to, but you’re not sure since you made your fourth grader look like you in the fourth grade, and since of course you’re not Jewish, (because why would you do that to yourself?), you kinda don’t want to be a Jew, but then you tell yourself it’s just a game, and the idea of having Jew power sounds hilarious to you, though in the end you just decide to go ahead and pick Thief and resolve to play as Jew in your second playthrough… (If your experience wasn’t word-for-word like this, then you did it wrong, try again) From there, you’re free to roam through pretty much all of South Park, picking up quests and adding all the characters as Facebook friends. Facebook is the all-in-one menu that you’ll be spending a lot of time in, further upgrading and customizing your character. You’d think Matt Stone and Trey Parker were actually just trying to make 2D Skyrim, considering all the time you’ll spend going through all the minutia in those menu screens. 2014-03-01_00010You’ll also come to meet the true villain of the game despairingly early in the game. No, not Clyde. I’m talking about slow-down and load screens. This game’s subtitle should be Load Screens Galore, it’s so bad. At least in Skyrim you could play around a dozen or more hours before the load times started to creep up. The Stick of Truth goes in to Waiting Room mode nearly every time you go in or out of a building. Adding to that, the game also stutters like it’s trying to imitate Jimmy’s speech impediment whenever it autosaves in the town. Again unlike Skyrim, there was no way to turn off the unnecessarily constant stream of game saves, which meant I would have to just not move for 10 some odd seconds every now and then lest I risk the game looking like the original stop motion pilot of the show. How a game this graphically simple could be that hard to run is beyond me. This potentially could have been because the copy I played for this review was the downloadable version, but even then, it’s still poorly optimized. If the Stick of Truth’s experience could be compared to the experience of an episode, then this is like trying to stream “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe” over a  dial-up internet connection, complete with all the buffering that brings. It eventually came to the point where I was more surprised when there WASN’T a loading screen between rooms, and because of that, real immersion was something I never ascertained. If that sounds sad in this day and age, that’s because it is. (If it sounds “chad,” invest in a Q-tip)One nice thing about The Stick of Truth is that, aside from those times you’re forced to just twiddle your thumbs and play the waiting game, is that the time spent in the 15 to 20 hour campaign never feels wasted. The game isn’t padded with dozens of fetch quests, and there’s none of that JRPG “dude, you gotta wait til the 50 hour mark for it to get good hurr durr” bullshit to give nerds a falsely inflated sense of value for their dollar. The game packs in as much politically incorrect shenanigans as it can within its play time. From the first tutorials, it’s made clear that a lot of the action you’ll be engaged in is turn-based combat. These instances usually pits you and one interchangeable ally against 1-5 enemies whom you must vanquish using your repetoire of melee and ranged attacks, Power moves, “Magic” spells, and one-use-per-day Summon abilities. A few fights against boss characters can prove challenging if you’re unaware of their weaknesses,  but most battles were easy enough to be won on the first try simply by relying on a few favorite Power moves to clear your path.  Magic spells (i.e.: farts) were something i used rarely outside what i needed to do with them to get Trophies. To keep things interesting, your attacks and blocks are determined by your ability to perform timed button presses. Precision timing is required for the most effective strikes and to reduce damage. Comparisons to Paper Mario have been made regarding the combat, so at least they’re ripping off a lesser known, quality game. South Park: The Stick of Truth - Ass of FireWhat I ended up doing more often than not though, is trying to limit the amount of time you’ll spend in combat at all. Opportunities to do this are represented by obvious glinting in the environment. Before engaging in combat, by interacting with objects near certain enemies, like dropping something that was precariously dangling over their head on to them, you can eliminate multiple enemies from a fight or the fight altogether. It’s not necessarily that the combat isn’t fun or that it’s boring, it’s that in a game where the big draw is the jokes, you want to get back to them fairly quickly. The combat is serviceable and not broken in any way, and often times enemies (like ManBearPig) will be the joke themselves, but you’ll generally want to dispatch foes quickly. There’s tons of weapons and equipment to experiment with to help you do this, as well as stat-buffing Badges that can quickly turn you into an overpowered god amongst mortals given the right setup. For instance, equipping the new ninja stars you bought with the Ginger Pubes badge for Gross-Out effect, is a good way to make yourself OP AF OMG WTF BBQ. Being thorough in scouring the game world, and returning to previously unreachable areas because you didn’t have the right Dragonshout (i.e.: fart) for the job, is rewarded and recommended. If deriving laughter from jokes about abortion, rape, pedophilia, and AIDS is something you’re uncomfortable with, or you can’t appreciate a massive “Nagasaki” fart power simply “for teh lolz” alone, then South Park: The Stick of Truth should probably not be the next game you play with your grandma, who just wanted to do a little Wii bowling but is now crying for having let you expose her to this. If you don’t like the show, then this isn’t going to change anything. It’s weird, really. The game is so dense with shit that any parent with half a brain wouldn’t let their kid play (like all the atrocious slow down, oooh burn), yet at the same time, I feel like I would have enjoyed this game 10x more if I was still a 13 year old with an incredibly immature sense of humor. Its most receptive audience is that tween demographic who can’t even purchase the game without a parent there with them. As I said before, a lot of the satire is rehashed. A bit of it is unoriginal or isn’t timely anymore (seriously, a Matrix reference?), while other portions are exchanged wholesale in favor of “easy” comedy (i.e.: farts). It wasn’t particularly all that clever or surprising for instance, that after so many characters  have told you no less than 76,831 times throughout the game to “never ever fart on another man’s balls,” that lo and behold, you defeat the final boss by releasing pootchus gas on their crotch region. In fact, it was more anti-climactic than epic. The phrase, “Sooo… was that it?” best sums up the ending of SoT. (why they would tell you to not do this one thing when it solved every problem all at once doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense, either) That being said, without the South Park coating, this game would seriously be in need of some work. The gameplay is decent enough, but really only serves as a means to an end. It’s the videogames equivalent of Saltine Crackers; eat it with a soup or salad, you cretin. If you can put up with that, and with a purgatory of loading screens so draining you’ll need to pull your phone out to save you from losing your soul to boredom, then Stick of Truth is well worth playing. To quote the late, great Rosa Parks: “Go now, and embrace your farts.” Obligatory Number at the End: 7.25/10

Remember: Nagasaki.

Lone Survivor – Review

So somewhere towards the end of last year, on a whim, I downloaded a game I found for cheap on a PSN sale. As with most indie games, I didn’t hear much pre-release buzz about it. Post-release, I think I might’ve heard someone somewhere say that they liked it, but aside from that in-passing nod of approval, and the creepy trailer I watched right before clicking “Buy,” I had little to nothing to go on. And that intrigued the hell out of me. Especially since “side-scrolling horror game” sounded so strange. Like the phrase “financially-irresponsible goat,” or “eco-friendly oil corporation,” it’s comprised of two ideas that sort of just make your brain go “wait, that’s not right… stop touching me there, can I please just go home now?” And here I am today to tell all you fine and not-so-fine people that this is a game that you should definitely let touch you. Just do it. In the dark. Preferably with no pants on, because this game will make you shit yourself constantly. And in the best way too. Jasper Byrne, creator of Lone Survivor, clearly put a lot of dedication into crafting this story of one man’s struggle with sanity and isolation. From the ever-present creepiness that lingers throughout the game’s environments, to the fear-inducing sight of the game’s shambling, twitching “Thinmen”,  Lone Survivor provides dread on the level of any good 3D horror game. The plot is so wrapped in ambiguous mysteries and open-ended threads that for the majority of the game, you’ll be kept curious as to what has happened to this world and this nameless man. Towards the end, it does wrap up in a somewhat predictable way, but the journey provided more than enough thrills to make up for the somewhat expected destination.As soon as the game starts, the game goes over “the ritual,” of turning out the lights before playing and adjusting the audio for the most spoopity spooks possible. I enjoyed that dedication to the experience, and I also enjoyed the curveball it threw with the opening monologue. (By the way, this game’s dialogue is all text, so I HOPE you’re literate) The protagonist begins with “My name is…” and I assumed it would let me RPG it up and put a name of my choice in, but he instead finishes with “not important anymore.” Which is interesting for two reasons. One, the game isn’t exactly called Lone Survivor because there’s so many friendly NPC’s around to talk and trade with, so a name isn’t really necessary. Secondly, the game’s story is told more or less in second person. For the next 5 to 6 hours, you’ll live vicariously through him. The plot kept my interest, but for some, the way the game relies almost entirely on cryptic notes, moments, and items to tell the story like a jigsaw puzzle that’s still missing a few pieces, (which ultimately lead to some theory digging online), could be a little too disjointed for some players. I enjoyed the sense of only knowing what little I could put together on my own. However, this means the game sacrifices having a distinct narrative identity apart from what ever the player can get out of it. Considering the fact that there’s multiple endings as well, that are affected by your ability to manage resources and whether or not you were violent in your problem solving, means that some players will REALLY not get anything from this. Which is a shame. However, the experience of going through that first hole in the wall, or when you reach the end of the town, or go to Chie’s Place, or any of the multitude of times you are face to face with a thinman, is ample scare value for your dollar. The game starts you off with next to nothing  in your apartment. You’ll soon realize it’s the only place you can actually find respite from the monstrosities that roam the halls and streets. Little is explained to the player either. The “hand-holding” complaint many gamers have of modern games is not present. In fact, maybe more could have been told. I was carrying canned food in my inventory for the longest time, wondering when the hell I would find the can opener, only to realize that it was in an early room I had not checked thoroughly because there was a spastic, white noise-emitting flesh eater the first time I went. If I wouldn’t have been allowed back there, it would have been pretty much a shit to the face for the game to have let me starve like that. But more so, the game would have benefited from an explanation regarding the pills you find. There are Red, Green, and Blue pills. I ingested many in order to try and discern what effect they had. The Red pill, I was able to piece together was a combat or health buff of some sort. But the blue and green ones remained an enigma. Little did I know at the time that they actually were used in conjunction with the bed in your room (where you go to save your game), in order to have one of two dream sequences. An ominous man with a box on his head waits for you in the first dream, and an on-stage interview with a man in blue is in the other. These figures ask questions of you that you cannot rightly answer, before you wake up and find that you have bullets (blue dream) in your backpack. Yep. I guess it’s just an obvious gaming trope that when you find an unnamed pill, that you ought to take it so you can sleep/save in order to have the recurring dream sequence that gives you the resources you were desperately lacking. Totally obvious. It was also totally obvious that my attempts at experimentation with them at the beginning of the game pretty much screwed me out of any chance of the “best” ending. But hey, at least the game gives you an infinite supply of pills, meaning that you are never screwed should you run out batteries for your flashlight. When exploring the world of Lone Survivor, you’re often doing so to accomplish standard videogame goals. Find key. Find object that will work like key. Get power on. Get the things in order to get the other thing. There’s also some hidden side quests that perceptive players can find and subsequently complete, but nothing is really mind blowing objective-wise. There’s a nice side quest related to getting a cat as a pet. The cat doesn’t necessarily do much to alter anything, but  in this eerie game, the moments of mild tranquility between all the harrowing encounters with death are appreciated. You can shoot your way out of those situations, or go non-lethal through the use of flares or good ol’-fashioned sneaking. Personally, I went with the extermination route because there’s a good amount of backtracking in this game, and the unsettling nature of the bizarre zombies was not something I wanted to put up with in areas I’d be crossing through multiple times. Plus, bullets were no concern once I finally figured out the blue pill’s purpose. There are mirrors throughout the game which act as fast travel points back to the safety of your own apartment. The game remains tough but fair in this way. You can’t save anywhere, but it gives you the opportunities. Seeing as you can die from a few thinmen swipes, saving is crucial. There’s no one to blame but yourself when you decide to not save before exploring areas you know will be full of freaks and end up losing 30 minutes of progress. Learn from your old man’s mistakes, kids. Save often. One would think that when a game is just a bunch of blatantly retro pixels, it would lack the capability to capture terror. This game proves that notion wrong. Similar to the way a blurry sepia-toned picture of children in old Halloween costumes or of a man in an Easter bunny outfit is sometimes more fear-inducing than the latest and greatest special effects Hollywood could use in a big-budget film, so to does this indie game trounce traditional AAA. Dead Space is freaky, yes. But after a while, it really does become just a dimly lit shooter. All the weapon and armor upgrades start to butt heads with the design team’s horrific monsters. Resident Evil games lately have all but severed ties to their genre roots, and the Silent Hill sequels have played like ass for a while now too. If you’d like some relatively inexpensive scares that actually required some modicum of effort and respect for game players on behalf of the developer [read: NOT Five Nights at Freddy’s], then this is a good suggestion. It’s ACTUALLY a game. No wandering in the woods waiting for a still Slenderman rendering to show up and send you to the game over screen. No mindlessly opening and closing doors literally just waiting to have an insipid 2-second jump scare of an animatronic you can’t defend yourself from to happen. This is a genuine horror game made by someone who obviously was passionate about the games that influenced him, and wanted to create a quality experience. The game’s excellent sound and music will chill and surprise you. The persistent dread of trying to stay alive will terrify you and warp your mind. The story, or lack there of, might not impress those who don’t like to be confused or those who often think things with symbolism are being “pseudo-intellectual,” but there are worse ways to spend your little money. So, should you play Lone Survivor? Yes. The answer is yes. Pants are optional, but Lone Survivor is yet another welcome addition to the greats of independent game development. Obligatory Number at the End: 8.75/10

Spelunky – Review

Like finding out that the attractive girl or guy you’ve been trying to look good in front of is actually disturbingly moronic and thought George W. Bush was an awesome prez, Spelunky gave me some serious mixed feelings. Enough to eventually point me away from it in favor of greener, gaming pastures. (which, in this case was Magic: The Gathering, and not a videogame at all) Spelunky as we know it today is actually the second iteration of the original Spelunky freeware title. The game took the indie scene by storm, suddenly becoming the “most perfect game ever created” in the eyes of hipsters everywhere. Derek Yu’s cavern exploring rogue-like lures in newbies with its simplistic premise and cartoony art style. The deception here is that Spelunky is really a consistently challenging, pain-in-the-ass that can be at the same time, rage-quittingly frustrating, addicting, and also immensely rewarding. Underneath the happy-go-lucky charm of it all, Spelunky reveals itself for what it truly is: a 2D, randomly-generated Dark Souls. The game has a steep learning curve due to the way it thrusts the game upon you without properly introducing anything more than the most basic of actions, and in this way, is actually surprisingly deep and full of content. (Something the developers of Evolve intentionally forgot to do with their own game.) However, Spelunky’s randomness and unforgiving lack of mercy does have the potential to turn off many gamers. Spelunky tasks the player with traversing downward through four worlds, each consisting of four randomly generated 4×4 levels, in order to claim the massive treasure located at the center of a long lost, ancient civilization’s temple deep underground. The catch is the game starts you off with only 4 hit points and death means starting over from the beginning. Oh, and many of the enemies and traps in Spelunky hurt your little explorer for more than 1 hit point. In fact, there are certain traps and enemies that will be able to kill you instantly, as well as plenty of instances in which something completely unpredictable will lead to your eventual demise. Armed with some ropes, a few bombs, and a very short range bullwhip (which can be replaced with better weapons should you find/purchase them), it is not an exaggeration to say this game is difficult. All the characters control the same and none have any special abilities. The two movement speeds are too slow and too fast. The whip feels awful to the point of unreliability, especially against flying enemies like bats. The inability to zoom out in any capacity or look down further than a few inches also led to some stupidly avoidable deaths. I couldn’t see what I would be landing on and died on some spikes. By the way, the deaths in this game, particularly that “falling on death spikes” one, are more uncomfortable in Spelunky than in other more mature games, like say, Mortal Kombat. At least there it’s expected. Here, seeing the whimsical whip-toting spelunker slowly sink onto a pit of blades feels weird. Not necessarily something I’d dock points off for, but it’s just a strange crossroads between the game’s tone and its content. There’s only a few game modes in Spelunky. There’s two single player options, and a chaotic multiplayer one. Didn’t get to try too much of the multiplayer, but it’s certainly not the main attraction. (And neither is the unorganized mess that comes from trying to cram four players on the same screen in Adventure Mode) There’s a challenge of the day sort of thing going on here too, but that also isn’t what every indie game lover is creaming their pants over. Nope, it’s the “perfectly designed” single player. I’ll just say it now. This game is far from perfect. The game’s fans will often fall back on “it’s not the game that’s unfair, it’s just you that has to get better.” Really? What about when the levels form themselves into something you cannot traverse without taking some form of fall damage? Or when the shopkeeper randomly calls me a terrorist and is suddenly obsessed with gunning me down because something hurt him off screen? That’s my doing? Why are there shopkeepers anyway? And why make their wares randomized too? Can’t I just pay more for the things I specifically want, instead of having to struggle on because the store was selling nothing of use to me? That seems like game design from an iPhone free2play, except here there are no microtransactions, so what’s the point? Just to screw me? To emphasize that this is a game of luck regarding whether or not i can get my cape/shotgun combo? Why is there no mode in which players can place a limited amount of saves? The Impossible Game even had one of those! Why does the game allow you to build shortcuts to worlds 2, 3, and 4 if the further you go, the less prepared you’re going to be to face their challenges anyway? Why do the ‘dark levels’ even exist? The game takes place in a cave underground, shouldn’t they ALL be dark levels?!? Let’s not forget to mention the inclusion of utterly useless pick-ups like the uncontrollable teleporter, or the ‘why-was-this-put-in-the-final-game?’ web gun. The game places a strong emphasis on player responsibility ; it’s up to the one holding the controller to figure out the mechanics and ways things in the games interact. (More often than not, this just means dying whenever you come across a new enemy.) In theory, it’s a good idea that works well with the gimmick of the rogue-like genre. Instead of getting better at specific tasks, you get better at the game as a whole. However, I still managed to create a decent sized list of BS, that exists outside of my own control. On paper, Spelunky sounds nice. Things like “I should throw the pots instead of whipping them, just in case they have a snake in them,” is a good examples of this. Dying instantly on the final level because you had no idea the little purple circles that can follow you and go through cover are actually the hands of the grim reaper himself, is not a good example. Things I liked about Spelunky: the feeling of accomplishment that came from completing my own miniature goals, the anticipation and excitement of getting to see what creatures and traps await in the next levels, the ability to adjust a setting that makes the “Damsels” (which can be brought to the end of a level for 1 extra hit point) into adorably empty-headed pugs, and of course, the phenomenal soundtrack. (I feel like I use that word a lot to describe good OST’s) I came into this game not sure of what to expect, music wise. The main menu screen’s use of accordion wasn’t exactly a confidence booster either, though it did set the tone for the kind of oddball discoveries the game had in store. It wasn’t until I reached World 2, the jungle, when it started to click for me. World 1’s soundtrack began to grate on me after a while, (and is honestly one of the reasons I don’t want to go back and play) due to the fact that I had to hear it over and OVER and OVER, death after death. Many of the tracks in Spelunky’s soundtracks are synth keyboard tunes, coupled with atmospheric effects on certain levels that combine to make the game feel both fun and tense at the same time. My favorite tracks though, were the ones that had jazz. There I was, playing the game, trying not to die and thanking Dog for every level I managed to get past. Then out of nowhere, I’m suddenly hearing the smooth sounds of a saxophone, taking me away to a picturesque winter wonderland.  “Smells Like Wet Fur” is now one of my favorite videogame songs thanks to Spelunky. The soundtrack is so fresh, I could honestly recommend it just to reach World 3.Spelunky is pretty much that asshole professor every college student eventually has. (complete with the group of sycophants trying to brown nose) He discusses jack in class, expects most of the content to be learned from the homework, and then tests on things that were covered in neither. BUT! he might every so often pull a Ron Burgundy in the middle of class and give everyone a taste of a hot lick on the jazz flute he had hidden up his sleeve. Except it’s an entire sax he had stowed away, and sometimes you can get extra credit for finally figuring out a good way to kill shopkeepers… or… whatever a good classroom equivalent would be. Recommending Spelunky isn’t very hard. It’s got style and generally well-oiled design, but I would not say it’s a must buy. The repetitious nature of the game, and the dominatrix levels of punishment it’ll unleash could lead many to just quit on this game without even making it past the first world. The lack of any sort of practice mode or mode in which you can save progress, means that for many gamers who prefer a linear experience, or would simply rather not get screwed out of their perfect run because of instant death beams, are going to be wasting their money on what is essentially a glorified flash game. However, for those who are willing to spend enough time on one game to master its systems, Spelunky is a well spent purchase. The flavor of the game’s soundtrack adds a lot for me personally, so for those who don’t enjoy jazz or music that sounds super 80’s, this isn’t gonna blow you away. As for longevity, I obviously can’t stick to one game, but even if I could, I’m definitely not one of the people who can go spelunking for hundreds of hours and not feel like I wasted about 340 more hours of my life than I needed to on it.

Obligatory Number at the End: 7/10

Titan Attacks! – Review

Not to be confused with the similarly titled anime, Titan Attacks does not feature even one skinless, giant person. WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT! This game gets a 0/8. Remove this from the PS Store at once! What a lousy cabal of hack frauds they have working  at Puppy Games. All we get from Titan Attacks is a 100 wave romp through Space Invaders for the ADD audience. (Ok, I’m turning the sarcasm off now) Titan Attacks is not ashamed of where it drew its inspirations from, and it does so tastefully. In a world where so many “new” ideas don’t know where the line between homage and rip-off is, this game does a fine job of making something flashy and new out of an old concept. Though technically not a true, licensed Space Invaders game, Titan Attacks has a lot of retro flavoring that does a better job of capturing the old-school, tank commander feeling than the official Space Invaders HD title. (though I did enjoy the slick, modern vibe that game had too) Titan Attacks is incredibly simple to play and won’t require you to invest any more than a few hours of your life to complete. It’s not much of an entree, but does an admirable enough job to at least merit a couple packs of your favorite flavor of Pop Tart.As soon as the game starts, the aesthetics speak volumes about the kind of game you’re in for. It has that indie game 8-bit thing sort of going on, because well, why the hell wouldn’t it? The obvious connections to two button arcade games warrants a befitting style. From the pixelated saucers and lazer blasts, to the vector asteroids, the game could easily be mistaken for something played with a joystick. The game isn’t even played in wide screen, opting for 4:3 to complete the look. The progressive electronic soundtrack isn’t chiptune as one might expect, instead relying on a quick tempo beat to keep players engaged. It’s nothing too special, but does compound the techno, extraterrestrial style the game is going for. Overall, there’s generally pleasing sights and sounds to be found here.Titan Attack’s core gameplay never changes. You move from left to right, smash on one button to shoot upwards, and then press another button every so often to use smart bombs. It’s exactly the sort of thing one would expect from a new age Space Invaders. The game starts you out with a dinky little box that can maybe shoot once every other second, but once you can spend some of the money earned by shooting alien goons out of the air, the game begins to amp up. The store menu is accessed automatically after every wave of the game. It’s here where you can purchase shields, bombs, upgrades to rate of fire and damage, as well as equip auxiliary weapons. The catch is that shields (which are essentially hit points) and smartbombs (screen clearers) do not regenerate in any way during the game. You might get lucky and earn a few by doing well in some of the game’s shooting range bonus rounds, but for the most part, getting rekt by the increasingly difficult waves means having to fork over what you might have been saving up to attach another gun to your tank. In this way, the game both rewards good play and keeps things from getting too easy too fast. Players who know what they’re doing can earn more money by collecting the parachuting aliens that sometimes eject from their ships, as well as by picking up money drops. This becomes the key to future success, as the levels do evolve into softcore, bullet hell later in the game.Titan Attacks features five, 20-level worlds, each with new enemy types and gameplay variations in addition to simply new, pretty looking back drops. The story is all completely told through the text at the end of these worlds, and even then, much of the story is left to the imagination of the gamer. Why are the aliens attacking? When does this take place? Who thought one tank would be sufficient enough to quell a hostile invasion and eventually win an entire war? These sorts of questions never get answered, but they don’t need to be, either. The game recognizes what it is, and instead builds a universe in which the player puts together the pieces on their own. The slowly demolished cityscapes, on the moon and Mars as well no less, implies human civilization has reached interplanetary colonization. I enjoy that sort of subtlety. Traveling from Earth to the Moon, Mars, Saturn, and eventually Titan itself, the player is tasked with new challenges. The Moon will introduce incoming asteroids, and the Mars enemies will fly around in Galaga-esque patterns. These sorts of call backs to other arcade cabinets were a nice touch. (For those that don’t know what those are, put down the Call of Duty, you cheeky scrublord, and go play an arcade game)For all it does right, Titan Attacks is not without its fair share of drawbacks. The five bosses are an area of missed opportunity. They appear at the end of each world, and could have offered a challenge similar to the way other bullet hell shooters do, using intricate patterns of fire from which the player must dodge, but as they are now, are really just bigger normal enemies. The difficulty they present is akin to Mortal Kombat’s Shao Kahn. The big baddies will have a bigger health bar, and will be able to shoot four shots as well as mines. Bullet sponges are generally a lackluster way to go when it comes to boss battles, and these were no exception. Also, the game is too short. There is nothing to do after beating the campaign other than to do it again and try to get a higher score on the leaderboards. Titan Attacks would have benefited from some sort of Infinite Mode unlocked after the main campaign. The game doesn’t have too much replay value once you get all the trophies for it. My final and strangest complaint: I’ve never played a game this naturally loud before. The game’s volume is unbalanced, and makes listening to the sound effect of the rocket launcher firing just a terrible mess. (Get that upgrade last to save your precious listening holes) On HD televisions, turning the volume really low made the game sound normal, but even when I brought the volume to zero on an SD TV, the game was still louder than it needed to be. Beware of Titan Attack’s weird audio problems.Overall, I felt like my 3-4 hours with Titan Attacks was well spent. The game is definitely a one-and-done title if playing this on your PS3 or PS4, as it is more well-suited to the lighter consumption. playing on the Vita is your best bet if you have the option. If not, the console versions won’t disappoint either. Just be aware that Titan Attacks will tide you over only for a few hours. One ought to seek further nourishment elsewhere, lest ye starve to death trying to suck the marrow from this game’s bones.

Obligatory Number at the End: 7.75

Mirror’s Edge – Review

Since it went free on PSN, I went ahead and did a second play through of Mirror’s Edge. And boy does this game try to be “edgy.”  The 2008, under-the-radar release about a free-running female in a world where every building has been painted in mono (and every gamer seems to wax nostalgic about on the internet) still has its moments of brilliance. The game is definitely one that made innovative gameplay its first priority. Unfortunately, having a memorable art style was its second priority, and there is no third priority to be spoken of. The game has a few good things going for it. Ultimately however, Mirror’s Edge is like having an awesome dog that can do  really cool tricks… that also makes a point to take dumps in your house, humps the leg of every  guest you ever have, and occasionally tries to smother you with a pillow as you sleep.  This review could get ugly, so it’s best to start with what Mirror’s Edge gets right. The shoulder button control scheme can seem pretty funky at first, but actually functions intuitively with a little play time. Wall running over incredible heights and looking down was the highlight of my time in the game. Playing ME is fun when things are working as they should. That’s a pretty general statement for all videogames, but it’s crucial here. The game feels slick as a pubescent boy’s greasy forehead when the game lets you know what you’re supposed to be doing. And being able to see the path and execute it perfectly had me feeling like a parkour master. But that is something the game rarely does a good job of expressing. The gimmick in the trailers and pre-release coverage about the game’s “Runner Vision,” which would dot the way forward by making certain things in the world an obvious shade of red, was awfully misleading. The game decides to completely forget about this mechanic in many levels, most notably within the frustrating interior areas. Mirror’s Edge often devolves into a not-so-rousing game of “where the fuck do you want me to go?!?” In a game about parkour, a form of movement literally centered around getting from point to point in the fastest manner possible, that’s just unacceptable. Here’s some of the game’s broken logic: “Okay, I’m in a room with 3 different doors. Since none of them are red, I can’t go through them, despite the fact that every time I’ve gone through a door before, I had just kicked it open regardless of locks. So I need to find a way out of this room via vent in the ceiling in the most elaborate and unnecessary way I can think of.” The game’s lack of direction isn’t exclusive to the interiors either. Plenty of rooftop areas, and once in a particularly badly designed scaffolding section, had no clear indication of what to head towards or how. The button that points the camera in a general direction you want to go would often spaz out and point towards radically different locations, none of which were right. Don’t you just love when things don’t work the way they should?At least the game looks good, right? How could it ever go bad with style like that? To be fair, the game does actually look very, very nice. The relatively sterile environments and the use of the pop art color scheme does allow for some surprisingly good looking graphics for its time. The level of detail put into the game’s textures and aesthetics is worthy of praise. The way in which far-off surroundings blur when something is up close to your face was a small detail I appreciated DICE having the attention for. However, the palette swapping levels grew tiresome eventually, and certain areas literally hurt my head looking at them. The hell that was the fiery red-orange warehouse was not only full of the aforementioned feelings of being lost, but started to strain my eyes to the point where I literally had to stop playing. It was taking me an absurdly long time attempting to figure out (yet again!) where the game needed me to go, and I just could not look at the game any more. (Pro tip: the vent you’re looking for is on the floor and only visible when you’re standing right over it!) Mirror’s Edge had me thisclose to a “The Yellow Wallpaper” style breakdown. Turns out that just like everything else in this game, there are sections that are really nice, and others that had me sacrificing goats in the hopes that maybe Satan might rescue me if I sell my soul. I just can’t wrap my head around the need to drench some areas in bold colors, when they’re used as nice accents in others. I highly doubt that fluorescent blue carpeting will ever be considered good interior decorating.  I suppose Mirror’s Edge is commendable for having tried something new, even if it is just glorified concept art.MirrorsEdge 2008-12-16 01-27-46-40So far, the things I’ve described are problems that can kinda-sorta be looked past. They’re the kind of things that make you go, “huh, well it is the first entry in a new series trying some new things. They could probably fix that in a sequel.” Sure, the ultra intense bloom lighting (and the fact that your in-game eyes never seem to adjust to brightness) will fry your retinas. Sure, it’s a little sad that even for someone who has played the game before, knowing where to go and what to do is often a guessing game. But the real stinker here is the convoluted, confusing, poorly addressed, flat, cliche ridden, Esurance commercial-looking excuse for a plot. Not only does this game completely lack any worthwhile narrative motivation for the player throughout the course of its length, but this game might just have one of the worst endings in videogame history. I mean that with a completely straight face. If you’re not willing to just accept that the story is terrible and just laugh at how nonsensical it is, you will be angry when you reach its lackluster, lifeless, incomprehensible conclusion. Be prepared for that going in. I recommend just skipping all the cutscenes (which look dreadful, by the way) as soon as you can, so you can get back to wall-running and getting stuck because you don’t study the game like speedrunners do. I’ve gotten prizes inside boxes of Cracker Jacks that were more engrossing than this.I bet you thought I was done ranting, didn’t you? Well you’re wrong. So, so, so wrong. I just need to point out how poorly utilized the Faith character is in this game. She’s become one of those instantly recognizable videogame characters, and is always looking like a right badass in any artwork she’s in, but she is a woefully empty shell of a human being. This game had a lot of potential to make a relatable (or at least mildly interesting) female lead. Somehow, even as the protagonist of the story, Faith manages to have no arc whatsoever. The game literally puts you in her funny looking ninja shoes, and the most the audience ever gets out of her is a sort of vanilla, tough chick trope. It’s more than just missed opportunity, it’s bad writing. Faith has about as much personality as a slightly damp paper towel, and seems to be impervious to conveying any emotion. On a couple occasions, I think she might have accidentally had feelings, like when the stereotypical guy-in-earpiece-who-tells-you-to-run dies a bloodless death toward the end. But then she’d quickly correct that and go right back to being as one note as the walls she walks on. It turned out that I unintentionally began giving her a persona due to the way I played. Since I took every opportunity I had to gun down almost every optional enemy in the game, Faith actually became a character. Weirdly though, that character was a cold-blooded, sociopathic rebel/terrorist with no qualms about murdering duty-bound security and police forces (probably with families), all without a shred of remorse for her victims… Normally, I laugh at the hipster notion of Ludonarrative Dissonance, but when a character is this bland, it’s much easier to project different connotations in place of a real personality. It made me laugh, so I guess that’s one thing.MirrorsEdge 2009-01-18 17-30-05-86This is a genuinely difficult game to recommend. Probably more so than it was when this game was actually fresh. Oddly enough, I still feel like the sequel that’s currently under development has potential to make amends for the sins of this game (so long as the rumor of Anita Sarkeesian’s involvement isn’t true), but for now, it really depends on what you’re willing to put up with from a game. The game can be a clunky eye-sore sometimes, but it’s relatively short and the first-person platforming is an intriguing break from the mold. You might find this game easier than I did. You might find it harder, too. To be perfectly honest though. The only thing that will keep you going forward is to see the way the next area is colored. The plot is just unspeakably bad. I’m talking M. Night Shamalamadingdong level trash. (If anyone tells you different, they are lying to you and you should never speak to that liar again.) Before writing this review, I thought about how poetic the game’s title is. Most games have pretty straightforward names concerning what their game is about. Now I realize that just like the game it’s for, “Mirror’s Edge” is just something that’s meant to sound nice and doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s all a lot of gimmicks and cliches. Tentatively, I say go ahead and give it a shot. Maybe just start with a demo of it even. If the gameplay doesn’t grab you somewhere within that span of time, nothing in this game will.

Obligatory Number at the End: 6/10