Young Justice: Legacy

The cover image. Best looking image in connection to the game.

The cover image. Best looking image in connection to the game.

    Starting in 2009 Warner Brother/DC Comics has released a string of games that finally broke their long record of mediocre and just plain terrible cash grabs. Starting with the truly great Batman: Arkham series from Rocksteady, teaming with Lego (always a wise move), the purchase of NetherRealm Studios bringing in Mortal Kombat back to a fine form and Injustice: God Among Us giving DC it’s first solid fighting game and with TellTale’s episodic Fables adventure The Wolf Among Us. Tragically the end of 2013 saw this streak come to a close with taking their tentpole franchise to a new completely in house development studio for Batman: Arkham Origin and the farmed out Freedom Factory Studio’s Young Justice: Legacy.

    Young Justice: Legacy is based on the Cartoon Network series of the same name. Following a band of young sidekicks in the years between their Teen Titans phase and full on membership in The Justice League. As the junior team they get all the jobs that their mentors just don’t feel like handling, in this case rescuing a kidnapped archaeologist and stumbling on to a conspiracy run by a group of supervillains.

    Legacy’s story takes it’s time building up despite there never being any real momentum. Fortunately, the voice cast from the series has returned and all give fine performances. This is the best part of Young Justice: Legacy. They are familiar enough with their characters to be able to add a little life to the proceedings. It might even give fans of the series hope that there’s something here worth bothering with… let me burst that bubble right now and tell you plainly and bluntly… there is not. The musical score tries to be stirring and grand in the tradition of music befitting superheroes taking on all forces of evil and emerging triumphant. It doesn’t succeed. By the end of every level you’ll have it muted because you just can’t stand to listen to it yet again.

    Young Justice leads our sixteen member band, eleven by the end of the first playthrough, Beast Boy unlocked for the second and four season two characters as downloadable content who should have just been unlockable in game, in a squad of three through fifteen levels of filler. The maps all feel identical, just with changed settings. Not well changed settings either, it’s just flatly reskinned. There’s a handful of hidden areas but these only lead to one more room that feels like just more of the same. Each map only has one encounter that you’ll have to face copy/pasted about seven times. It all feels unfinished also. Every treasure chest I encountered was empty… at least, I think it was empty. I wasn’t informed that I’d found something and there were no visual cues to my having picked something up. None. I guess they’re just decoration that you can interact with for no reason at all. Yeah… that makes sense.

*shudder* The characters are all disjointed stick puppets and things like audio sync are beyond the devs abilities.

 

bmUploads_2013-10-17_6144_cheshire_001    I wish I could inform you that only the levels looked awful. I can not. The characters are painfully outdated looking. Like some refugees from a long forgotten title that were plopped down on modern hardware. They are eyesore stick figures with sorta recognizable costumes being the only way to tell them apart. Like the maps and empty treasure chest, they just make it all seem to be half done.

    Combat consists of basic light and strong attacks and character specific super moves. The super moves are actually the best part, it’s the only time characters can actually be distinguished from one another. Superboy pulls up the earth and tosses it at enemies, Nightwing throws batarangs, Artemis has a bow for long range combat, Beast Boy can turn into any animal (don’t turn into a skunk as the load screens endlessly remind you). Outside of those, there’s no difference between the characters. Their medium attacks do little damage and using a high strength character only means you have to smash the button slightly less. The heavy attacks need to charge for any effectiveness. Any character can lift throwable items in the map.

    Young Justice: Legacy ultimately commits the worst act a game like this can. It’s boring. Painfully, tediously boring. There’s no reason to experiment with squad members, only the level designated team leader has anything to say. Stacking the deck with members of the Bat family, for example, gives no new dialog when it would be appropriate. There’s no exploration since it’s all running in a straight line. There’s no replay value unless you need to play as Beast Boy. While multiplayer helps a little, you just can’t fix the problems with this game.

Just get a Marvel Ultimate Alliance game instead.

Just get a Marvel Ultimate Alliance game instead.

I see this as an experience that is designed to be shared with others. Something that the target audience, the show’s child fans, could enjoy with an older sibling or parent. Now if only there was something that was like this but wasn’t terrible… huh.. oh wait… there is. Marvel released a series of squad based, large roster RPGs just like this! They are everything this game isn’t. Fun, well made and replayable. If you were thinking about picking up Young Justice: Legacy take a detour instead to the used games section and instead pick up a copy of X-Men: Legends or Marvel Ultimate Alliance.You, and everyone around you, will be glad you did in both the short and long term.

Time and Eternity

Does this picture make you laugh? If so you'll love Time and Eternity... you get to see it over 40 times (I gave up counting around the 43rd time.)

Does this picture make you laugh? If so you’ll love Time and Eternity… you get to see it over 40 times (I gave up counting around the 43rd time.)

    Imageepoch does not have a great track record. While several of their titles have had interesting concepts, they have never been able to pull it together in a cohesive title. Time and Eternity has this same problem. While there are moments of interest and some interesting ideas buried in it you have to tunnel through one of the most painfully boring Role Playing Games to hit the international market.

    The day of Princess Toki’s wedding, to eye rollingly tedious pervert knight Zach, should be the happiest day in the kingdom’s memory. Tragically an attack stops the couple from finding their happily ever after when Zach gets a sword through his gut. While annoying this doesn’t prove to be a catastrophe because the royals are born with the ability to time travel. Even more helpful Toki shares her body with a completely separate soul, Towa. The dual souled princess travels back six months to Toki’s meeting with a fortune teller who had predicted the attack, unknowingly bringing dying Zach’s soul back with her to reside in her pet dragon.

    It doesn’t take long for players to understand that Imageepoch had no intention of telling a good story. They throw everything at the wall and keep throwing the same ideas and jokes repeatedly after they fall flat the first time. Repeatedly… often… non-freaking-stop. Holding cliches and misogyny close to it’s heart Time and Eternity fails to elicit a single chuckle, unless your idea of hilarity is repeatedly hearing someone beg to take a bath with his fiance’s best friends. After every single moment like this, and they make up roughly half the spoken dialog, we’re treated to some inane gush over how much Zach LURVES Toki. It makes almost every scene awkward and frankly hurts the whole point of the game, Zach having to choose between Toki or Towa (because realizing that in order to really love her he should be able to accept both sides of her personality… since that’s really what they are… like schizophrenia but with magic changing hair.) Zach is one of the most deeply hateable protagonists to ever make a blight on the media’s landscape.

Ah. A prev dragon and tea with his fiance's friends. Yeah... this happens... a lot...

Ah. A prev dragon and tea with his fiance’s friends. Yeah… this happens… a lot…

    Ok, so the story isn’t anything to talk about but that’s not a deal breaker if the gameplay and graphics are worthwhile. Yeah… they aren’t. Time and Eternity’s 2D characters in a 3D world could have worked really well and made the characters pop. The animations are flat and often choppy. The main characters lack any distinctiveness. Their animation is choppy. There are only a handful of character designs and relied on resizing and color pallet swaps to cover this. You will see the same four enemies an uncountable number of times. The environments are mostly empty with only a handful of the exact same trees, bushes and standing ruins scattered around haphazardly.

    Even with the pallet swaps the enemy types do not vary any any other way. They all use the same attacks and the strategy never varies. Encounters are in real time which should lead to dramatic and interesting fights. Though, like I said, the enemies never change. After the first couple encounters with a specific type you should have everything you need to know to take out every other one you see. All the attacks are telegraphed in such a way that one is never surprised by an attack and giving you ample opportunity to dodge. The battle system offers distinct special moves for both Toki and Towa but there’s no reason to even bother with most of them. Just stand back there and jam on the normal attack button dodging when the animation prompts you to. Going in close is rarely an option worth considering since it takes forever to carve them up. Ranged weapons are stronger and spells are ridiculously overpowered. It’s almost as tedious as the drooling monologues from Zach.

    Side quests are just fetch quests or “destroy monster X!”. Of course all the items you’re sent to find are plentiful and the special side monsters are just more of the standard one with special names. That’s it. There’s little reason to even bother with them. The rewards for fighting and completing side quests are trivial.

Every map looks pretty much like this. Lot of empty, a save or way points thrown in to break up the bland.

Every map looks pretty much like this. Lot of empty, a save or way points thrown in to break up the bland.

Time and Eternity is one of the reasons Japanese RPGs get such a bad reputation in the west. There has to be better ones that never see international distribution so why waste the time, effort and money to port this? It’s not even going to register on most gamer’s radars and it’s too painfully pandering and poorly made to make anyone except the most hardcore Otaku even passingly entertained. I keep giving JRPG’s the benefit of doubt because of cherished childhood experiences with the classics… though if I were honest… it’s not worth it. Digging through 30+ hour piles of excrement for the rare diamond just doesn’t hold the satisfaction in this genre as it does in almost any other, be it games or movie or books or whatever. Come on importing publishers…. give us something good and let’s all forget that Time and Eternity ever fucking happened.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

So... does this look a little familiar? No? Are you SURE???

So… does this look a little familiar? No? Are you SURE???

     Kojima Productions and Konami try to squeeze every dime out the franchise with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. A short mission, and five even shorter side missions, located on the same U.S. Marine base located on leased land in Cuba. There are positives throughout… though they never balance against the negatives. There’s not much here so we’ll keep this short.

    Snake/Big Boss needs to infiltrate the Camp Omega Marine base to rescue two of the former members of his  Militaires Sans Frontières private army. While he’s on the ground for this op, his MSF headquarters is undergoing a UN inspection for nuclear weapons. Of course Snake/Big Boss and his second in command are completely aware that the UN inspection is just a cover for new group XOF to infiltrate their Mother Base. XOF and it’s leader Skull Face appear to be set for the big bad roles in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

    Ground Zeroes looks fantastic on all platforms. It’s opening cut scene is among the best to be put on current generation systems and it’s last gen counterpart is still impressive. The near seamless transition into gameplay is greatly impressive as well. There’s no pre-rendered dodges and misdirects here. The amount of detail in the level is jaw dropping.

BOOM! MSG PS1 screenshot! Yeah! Awesome! *sigh* This really is the reward you  get for hiding in the spot in the first picture in the Deja Vu Mission. AH... FANWANK!

BOOM! MSG PS1 screenshot! Yeah! Awesome! *sigh* This really is the reward you get for hiding in the spot in the first picture in the Deja Vu Mission. AH… FANWANK!

    Embracing an emphasis on observation of your surrounds, over the gadget drive previous titles, is based on a tagging system similar to those found in the Far Cry series and recent Splinter Cell titles. Audio comes to the front as one of your best tools, the footsteps of patrolling soldiers crunch satisfyingly and give a great indicator of their distance and position. Unfortunately this doesn’t hold up to all audio, Snake/Big Boss often sounds like he’s dragging himself along gravel no matter where he’s crawling. Of course all of this is useless for guards who aren’t moving. The stealth gameplay is incredibly solid. Tragically, the guards vision detection is spotty. Sometimes they’ll spot you full on and drag yourself on the ground but they’ll miss you completely if you run past while they’re facing you directly.

    To make it worse, once you’re spotted, Ground Zeroes practically falls apart. First once you’re detected the game slips into Reflex Mode. You’ve assumed correctly. Snake immediately slips into a bullet time mode, allowing you to take out several enemy targets before they’re able to sound an alarm. It completely breaks the stealth focus and goes far too long. It’s one of the worst possible additions to the series. If you fail to take out all the guards who’ve spotted you in Reflex Mode, they jump into alert mode and either swarm you to attack or begin a search for you.  Once again the game’s faults become a highlight. Weapons feel janky and ineffective and the guards are just blind. Lay in a single bit of scrub brush and guards will walk right past you. It’s horrible. There’s just no excuse for it.

    Ground Zeroes length is actually a bit of a problem. The main title mission can easily be completed in an hour on a first play. To make it worse, it’s also fairly boring. The map isn’t large enough and doesn’t offer enough variety to make the two halfs of sneaking to one area, rescuing and extracting prisoner, sneaking to other area and doing it again, much challenge. The routes you take are all fairly open and getting through unspotted only takes a small amount of patience. The side missions never take much longer than five to ten minutes. Though they offer more interesting challenges it almost feels like the main would be better if they’d integrated at least parts of the side ops into the main Ground Zeroes.

Full disclosure. I love Metal Gear Solid: Ghost Babel/Color. So I actually DO give bonus points for all nods to it.

Full disclosure. I love Metal Gear Solid: Ghost Babel/Color. So I actually DO give bonus points for all nods to it.

     The two platform exclusive missions are a mixed bag. Jamus Vu, the Microsoft exclusive mission, is a great action level. It’s not very long or challenging but taking control of Raiden and getting your kill on, in an interesting story concept that bares it’s nods to Kojima’s past work, is a great counterbalance to the rest of the title. Unfortunately, Sony exclusive, Deja Vu is the complete opposite. An excessive amount of fanwank as Snake takes a stroll around map playing Hot and Cold to “recreate” events from the original PS1 Metal Gear Solid. It’s terrible and thoughtless and a little insulting that Kojima and Konami thought this was an acceptable mission. At the end of it… you have to take a test on your MSG knowledge before you can unlock the PS1 Solid Snake skin or the Grey Fox skin depending on difficulty level. It’s crap.

    There’s some great things in here. They’re just not fully realized or implemented in a way that really works. Now it could all be perfect when The Phantom Pain finally releases, though playing through Ground Zeroes doesn’t actually make me any more interested in it. It’s just not worth the price of admission for this proof of concept demo. Of course if they’d released it as a free download with reservation of The Phantom Pain, I’d probably like it more. Not a fan of the cash grab demo.

 

Dark Souls 2

IMG_3552

    From Software’s Souls franchise returns in it’s punishing glory for a third time. Dark Souls 2 takes cues from both Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, the surprise hit PS3 exclusive title that started it all. It also for the first time actually bothers to explain some things to the player. For those looking for a rewarding experience and for some insanely unreasonable factor has avoided the series, these are very good things. Dark Souls 2 is just as unforgiving as it’s predecessors and, ultimately, just as rewarding. The Souls series experience lies in an idea that seems to be lost in modern gaming. You have to actually get good, learn to never approach any encounter as not being dangerous and finally overcoming an obstacle or foe without having the game take it easier on you is the most rewarding feeling a player can experience.

    Dark Souls 2 sends you to the ruined and hollow filled land of Drangleic. Starting in a tutorial stage that clearly sets the stage for what is to follow. The atmosphere is grim and oppressive from the start. Approaching a lonely cottage inhabited by a group of mostly old crones you will have your Undead Curse explained to you. You are doomed to die repeatedly until every last shred of your humanity is lost. You WILL die repeatedly. You WILL join the masses of mindless murderous Hollow. There is no hope for you… unless you strive to find and consumer ever larger souls. Then maybe, JUST MAYBE, you can find an escape from your destiny and from the curse.

    Gameplay is mostly the same as the previous games in the series with some tweaks. Backstabbing an enemy is harder to pull off, is no longer an instant kill and leaves you really open for getting a sword or arrow in your own back. Dual-wielding and ranged combat options are tuned better than in previous titles, more effective and efficient. Magic characters have been toned down and no longer makes you an overpowered magic missile tossing machine of death with a silly hat. The combat is balanced in such a way that even the most basic enemy can kill you at almost any point. Sure, you get strong enough to mow down waves of them without batting an eye but one small misstep and it’s reviving at your last bonfire and struggling back to retrieve your lost souls. At no point does Dark Souls 2 take a cheap route. If you die, it’s always your own fault. You took a path to a boss that you just are not ready for, you did not read the environment correctly or you heedlessly mashed the attack button and left yourself open for a reenactment of the murder of Julius Caesar.

Ah... the warm glow of a bonfire...

Ah… the warm glow of a bonfire…

Taking some key aspects from Demon’s Souls, characters can only level up at the hub area Majula and every time you die in an Undead state you lose a percentage of your life bar, up to 50%, until you restore your humanity. To make it worse, enemies only respawn so many times. It’s not just possible, it’s likely that you will find yourself in an area with a boss where you desperately need to farm enemies to level up in order to take on but with your life at only half what it could be and every enemine in the area permanently dead. Fortunately, there’s always another path to take. Dark Souls 2 offers so many paths from the start that it’s unlikely that any two players will have the exact same experience through it. The exploration that rises from this is breathtaking and richly rewarding. Also returning from Demon’s Souls is the ability to fast travel to areas, this time without having to stop at the world hub.

    There are eight classes to pick from, all standard RPG stock, ranging from heavily armored Knights to pointy hat wearing Sorcerers and the naked, unarmed and amazingly customizable blank slate Depraved. While all classes have customizing option to make every gamer happy, the Depraved offers a special experience that is worth taking on a second play through, or a first for veteran players.

    The levels are all unique and decently varied, surprising because you’d think once you’d seen one ruined castle or deep cave you’d seen them all. While there are still areas gated off early on, the sheer amount of land that one can cover at the start is pretty damn impressive. Granted, all of them will kill you. A lot. The world has a larger population than the previous games. They all know they world better than you do and are happy to give you advice. Though it usually comes down to give up because you’ll soon find something or someone who you won’t ever be able to overcome. Some of their warnings might not come to fruition until hours after you were warned.

Running around, begging to be invaded. Oh well... soon enough the game will be full of players slaughtering each other. Soon enough.

Running around, begging to be invaded. Oh well… soon enough the game will be full of players slaughtering each other. Soon enough.

    The in-game multiplayer is still fantastic, though since it’s the games early days still, much of it is not being exploited to it’s fullest. There are few invaders at the moment and that stops several of the game’s covenants currently meaningless. That will change as events are brought into the world and as player’s become more comfortable and, therefore, aggressive towards others.

    Dark Souls 2 is an incredible experience and a great addition to one of the best franchises on the market. It’s oppressive and bleak world will make you want to give up more than any other title out there. It’s violent and brutal inhabitants will murder you hundreds of times before the end. You will want to set your controller on fire, throw it out a window and into traffic with frustration. Though, like a lesson in life, you will eventually overcome all obstacles and see all opponents fall to your attack and the moment of victory makes all the struggle that you endured before worthwhile. Rewarding and wonderful. Why haven’t you pick it up yet? Go. Now. Do it.

 

South Park: The Stick of Truth

There are zombies in the barn. Nazi Zombie Cows in the barn. Yes, barn zombies ARE better this way.

There are zombies in the barn. Nazi Zombie Cows in the barn. Yes, barn zombies ARE better this way. This is one of the edits made to the German and Austrian versions of the game.

       Obsidian, working in conjunction with South Park Studios, have done something that’s been thought impossible for the past 17 years… They made a good South Park game. I know. I didn’t believe it either. This time with the full force of South Park Studios behind it, cut scenes were directed by long time series lead animator and director Chris Brion and written by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the humor of the series translates perfectly to interactive media. So perfectly I wonder, well, why didn’t they just do this before? Why sell your license repeatedly to companies that won’t make a decent title and you won’t have anything to do with? Oh… right… money. My bad… don’t know what I was thinking. Full disclosure, this is going to be a short review because I, for one, really do not want to give away too much. If you like South Park and enjoy massive levels of fan service, you will love the game. If you hate South Park, do not bother.

    You control “The New Kid” who has just moves to the quiet mountain town to escape his forgotten past. Quickly thrown out of the house, ordered to make new friends, you quickly align with Cartman and his Kingdom of Kupa Keep in a fantasy war game against the Drow Elves, led by Kyle and Stan, for control of The Stick of Truth. Quickly taking you into the KKK’s fold, you are dubbed Douchebag and sent forth to rally Cartman’s army. From there events spiral quickly into other territory that South Park has stomped through before, from Anus Exploration to Alien Abduction.

Guess where the boss fight for this stage takes place? Anyone? Anyone?

Guess where the boss fight for this stage takes place… unless you are playing an edited version? Anyone? Anyone?

    Stick of Truth looks great. As great as anything South Park could at any rate. It looks just like the series, which after all the weird 3D games from the franchise’s past is a welcome sight. The map is completely open from the beginning and it’s fairly large. You can enter almost every building, get lost in the woods surrounding the town and eventually make your way to The Northern Kingdom of Canada in all it’s glorious 8-bit RPG splendor.

    Gameplay is solid. Using a turn based combat system with timed attack commands, giving you a range of strategies to use in each turn. The game’s class system is fairly useless as every one of them can use every weapon or armor you come across. Their special attack animations vary but that is really the only difference, they ultimately do the same damage and each has an attack with the same effect attached, so don’t expect much replay value with them. The summon characters are not usable in boss fights because bosses are “too hard” for them, only usable once each game day and you have to recharge them by talking to the character the next day.

Seven scenes were censored on the console version of the game in Europe, the Middle East, and African regions. The PC version is also censored in Germany, Austria, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Seven scenes were censored on the console version of the game in Europe, the Middle East, and African regions. The PC version is also censored in Germany, Austria, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

While Stick of Truth doesn’t offer much challenge, and honestly it’s not why anyone is there for, it offers plenty of humor. Jokes and visual references fly quickly and constantly. There is barely a single screen that does not hold at least one reference to an episode and several of them hold enough that you’ll probably not catch them all until a little way in. Chinpokomon are discarded around town for you to collect, almost every major character turns up somewhere. Thankfully Towlie is only on a load screen.
When you come down to it, it’s really just a question of do you dig South Park? Yes? Pick it up and have one of the most hilarious gaming experiences in recent years. No? Pass on by and never look back. That is it. I enjoyed the hell out of South Park: The Stick of Truth and can’t wait for the DLC expansions.

So here's a small look at a mini-game that was edited out.  It appears twice in the game. Because there's something offensive about a kid pretending to preform and abortion on a man in a wig so they're not gunned down by Men in Black? Damn, we live in an uptight world.

So here’s a small look at a mini-game that was edited out. It appears twice in the game. Because there’s something offensive about a kid pretending to preform and abortion on a man in a wig so they’re not gunned down by Men in Black? Damn, we live in an uptight world.

Thief

Bad things are going to happen to her. Not interesting things. There's a difference.

Bad things are going to happen to her. Not interesting things. There’s a difference.

    It’s been sixteen years since the Thief series was first released and created, with fellow 1998 release Metal Gear Solid, the modern stealth game with it’s immersive, rewarding and unique gameplay. Followed by two solid sequels Garrett and The City, his steampunk stomping grounds should have had a string of sequels, like his fellow Eidos flagship series Tomb Raider, Legacy of Kain and Hitman. Instead Thief was shuffled to the back of the deck and left untouched for a decade. When Square Enix bought Eidos, there was a flutter of hope for the future of Eidos’ classic series. In the past three years this flutter has been justified and reinforced with strong entries for Deus Ex and Hitman and an incredible reboot for Tomb Raider. Eidos Montreal announced they were developing a new Thief in 2009, shortly after that Arkane Studios’ Dishonored, which was heavily inspired by Thief, proved there was still life in first person stealth games. There’s not a chance Square Enix and Eidos Montreal’s new entry would not live up to the standards set by the other reboots, right? Right?
Wrong. Thief is a lazy, aggressively boring slog through tedious, often empty, maps. Occasionally opening to give a handful of approach options, most of your time is spend sprinting through long straight tunnels with no turn offs and no alternate ways to go. This is made more aggravating because there are the bones of a solid stealth game with strong mechanics underneath it all.
Thief’s shadow detection system is passable and intuitive. If you’re in shadow, they can’t see you very well, if you’re out of shadows you stick out like a sore thumb. The new swoop feature would make a great addition to future stealth titles, allowing you a quick dodge from cover to cover. Chapter environments look great. Tragically these are the only nice things I can say here. To be honest with you, I’m probably going to run out of ways to say “it sucks” fairly quickly.

Good looking environments.  Terrible character models.

Good looking environments. Terrible character models.

    Enemy AI is pathetic. They don’t ever even look up when on full alert. Garrett won’t be seen when standing directly next to an enemy walking past with in inches if he’s standing in the dark but if in a pool of light with an unobstructed view they’ll see you on the other side of the map. Studying patrol routes isn’t needed after the second chapter as they never vary. All guards walk in either a line or a box pattern with a long stop at both ends giving you plenty of time to get wherever you’re trying to get to after the briefest of pauses. Once fully alerted, if you stay in your hiding place for only a couple seconds without moving the search will be quickly abandoned. All have long stretches where other guards will never walk, giving you plenty of time to dispatch everyone of them with little need to worry about leaving bodies just laying around. It would be too kind to call them a trivial obstacle, guards don’t even rate as minor annoyances.
Character models are eyesores. Fortunately, you only really get a good view of them in cut scenes. Their features are generic and lack any animation besides a mouth bouncing puppet effect. There’s simply no excuse for this today. It might be acceptable if there was an obvious focus on another part of the game, there isn’t. The engine list screen at the start of the game says that Shroud Simulation Cloth Engine is being used here… I saw nothing that would need this. Clothing on characters don’t move, hanging banners are limp. Why did they even bother with it?
While the chapter levels look good, the central hub of the City that you spend the majority of playtime in is a bland, brown march. There’s nothing interesting out in the open and it’s so massive that by the time you get where you’re going you have lost all interest and emergency in what you were going there for in the first place. Every inch is stuffed with something to pick up. So much so that there’s no sense of having accomplished anything when you get your hands on some loot. Even a lot of the unique collection items are just laying out in the open. Searching for them isn’t fun, it’s tedious. There’s just too much of it crammed in and it’s too easy to find for it to mean anything.

A cult... why did it have to be a cult?!?!?!?

A cult… why did it have to be a cult?!?!?!?

    Audio is ghastly. In the original Thief series aural cues were incredibly important to track your enemies and for situational awareness. Here it seems that every guard is incapable of making footstep sounds no matter what they’re stepping on, even if Garrett’s slow soft steps sound like gunshots on the same surface. Voices are an abominable mix. Some voices boom while characters in the same, shouting at the booming voiced character, are barely loud enough to hear. Lipsync in cut scenes is nonexistent, worse than your average cheap 70s Kung Fu film dub. It’s distracting and world breaking.
Not that a single character has anything worth hearing. They’re all flat and uninteresting, all made worse by terrible line readings. Having brothel guards talk about cock rings isn’t funny, it isn’t interesting. It’s desperate. Garrett’s asides don’t give him any better a connection to the player. For a master thief in a world like that, he’s oddly flat and uninteresting. The side characters aren’t any better, there’s not a single one who doesn’t feel incredibly familiar and you weren’t expecting to run into as soon as the game started.

    Thief’s plot isn’t even worth wasting time talking about, so I’ll keep this short. Evil Baron, blah blah blah, mystery illness, blah blah blah, mystical garbage, blah blah blah…. whatever….

This is really the only image you need to see from Thief. YOu don't even really need to see it. It's boring and desperate to get a reaction from people. Seriously... this game is complete shit.

This is really the only image you need to see from Thief. YOu don’t even really need to see it. It’s boring and desperate to get a reaction from people. Seriously… this game is complete shit.

    There is just no reason to even bother with this game. That Square Enix allowed this to be released makes me wonder about the inner workings of the company. Is there a group of higher ups actively trying to kill the Eidos properties? If that was the case, why didn’t they as actively torpedo the other titles? I honestly feel bad for anyone who shelled out the $60 for this game. It’s not worth it. Go pick up Dishonored if you haven’t already or, even better, go download and support The Dark Mod, an open source stand alone fan-made game that is fantastic. I’ll even give you a link to The Dark Mod. Have fun. http://www.thedarkmod.com/main/

 

Payday 2

Masks, masks and more masks. Don't think about how many people and cameras usually see you before you put it on. I guess they're just painfully nondescript.

Masks, masks and more masks. Don’t think about how many people and cameras usually see you before you put it on. I guess they’re just painfully nondescript.

    Overkill Software’s first box release, Payday 2, the follow up to their blockbuster digital download game 2011’s Payday: The Heist, shares the same problems and lack of refinement that was found in the original. As part of a four man crew you’ll pull off jobs in the nation’s capital. Payday 2 is great setup for a game that suffers from a tedious lack of variety and long amounts of grind that takes any real enjoyment from it all.
Payday’s crew of Dallas, Hoxton, Chains and Wolf resurface in Washington, D.C. for a number of new scores. Jobs ranging from quick single day jobs of trashing a mall to intimidate the management into paying for protection to hitting a safe in a crowded club to long multi day schemes of providing protection for a large shipment of cocaine to setting up a politician’s rival to take the fall for an art heist. Between these you have large paying jewelry store and bank heists which you have to pull off to pad your bank account to pay for new weapons and items that will give you an advantage in other jobs. These are the missions you’ll play the most because you’re going to need tons of cash, I mean millions upon millions, for almost everything in the game.

    Payday 2 heists are divided into three sections. First is planning mode where you can change your loadout, take a look at blueprints and purchase extras to give you a slight edge. Casing mode where you can walk around the map and casually plot out your course of action while trying to avoid bringing suspicion to yourself. Finally, you pull on your mask and the heist begins. Heists play as a standard first person shooter. It doesn’t offer anything new in terms of controls or basic gameplay but it does it all well. The controls are intuitive and easy to master if you’ve ever played a first person shooter. Objectives are well communicated so you’ll never find yourself at a loss for what to do next, though they tend to be repeated so often that they become annoying.

This it the image you'll see the most.

This it the image you’ll see the most.

    I know that so far, you’re all chomping at the bit to give this game a go. Well, just hold on a second. Now for the bad parts. Enemy AI is painfully stupid. Sometimes they’ll just completely forget about you in the middle of a fire fight. They run the exact same patterns on every stage as well so by your second or third play through all the surprises are gone. To make up for this the game will throw special enemies at you. Tragically these are just as stupid but will take a couple more shots to put down. There’s little more immersion breaking than running out a banks backdoor, an insanely heavy duffle of cash on your back and the seven shielded FBI SWAT members in front of you refuse to turn around as you execute the guys next to them. Playing offline your bot back up is just as stupid and will get you killed more often than not.
It’s an ugly game as well. Looking like something from the middle of the PS2 cycle, this would be forgivable if this was an obvious sacrifice for something else. It’s not. You will storm the same nightclub repeatedly, the only variation is which safe has cash and which has a massive drug stash. The bank layout only ever changes the position of the vault door. I never saw any changes at all in the other maps. The game’s suspicion mechanic is unpredictable. A side glance from a security guard and all hell breaks loose. Being too eager to enter the club after being told to by the bouncer bring Russian mob and SWAT down on you like you’d just shot up the whole dance floor.

    The four tier skill tree is full of great upgrades and bonuses, making the choice for what to go after a real choice. Tragically it costs not only experience level awarded skill points to upgrade but it also costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for each one as well. It makes upgrading a chore. Endlessly grinding for the needed cash is tiring. New weapons and upgrades have this same problem. I have no problem paying for them but you shouldn’t have to play a dozen jobs to be able to level up or buy the unlocked gun you’ve been eyeing for hours.

50 game rounds later and you're still looking at it. Yeah...

50 game rounds later and you’re still looking at it. Yeah…

Payday 2 is a real mixed bag. It definitely has appeal but the flaws are so glaring that they take any fun out of the experience. Since it’s really the only game that really embraces the crime gameplay, even more than Grand Theft Auto ever really has, I have to give it credit for trying. The execution is just too poor and the jobs just too boring to let me really recommend it.

 

Review by Dave Gray

Code Name: Viper (1989 NES)

At first glance I thought Smith was having a wardrobe malfunction.

At first glance I thought Smith was having a wardrobe malfunction.

     Developed by Capcom, Code Name: Viper is arguably the best shooter on the NES that you probably have never heard of. You start out as Mr. Smith (how thoughtful) receiving a briefing from Commander Jones to go and throw a wrench in the gears of an evil drug syndicate, spread across seven locations in South America. You must shoot your way through several types of enemies, varying different styles of defense, opening every door in search of power ups, women & children to save, and an injured ally who gives you a grenade to breach the next level. All while being half nude. Now I know he has a green jacket, and tan pants, but Mr. Smith really looks like he forgot his pants back at base.

Graphics/Presentation

Capcom nails it like always. There is very little to piss and moan about here. There has got to be a word for how good the graphics are…Fan-tubular-tastic!

Sound

I enjoy the music so much. This has a very memorable soundtrack. I received the game Christmas of 1990, and still to this day, remember each and every song.
Every two levels the music changes, so it’s definitely not overplaying anything. The shooting is a bit hokey sounding. Also when an enemy dies he shouts out this hurt sorta whistle. Yeah, not too big on that. Hell, what else would I expect from such an old game?

While they're architecture is a little drab, their colorful uniforms are fabulous.

While they’re architecture is a little drab, their colorful uniforms are fabulous.

Gameplay/Controls

As Smith moseys through the levels you can’t help but notice this is a modified and glorified clone of the classic arcade shooter, Rolling Thunder. That isn’t too big of a deal, not for me anyway. Our pants-less hero can jump forward, or up to a higher level. Unfortunately you lose control when jumping, so there is practice to be had in order to navigate Smith like a pro. There are parts of levels that require jumping platform to platform with much to lose in the fall. If you haven’t hit the one and only checkpoint per level, you will start back at the beginning losing any sub machine gun ammo you have acquired. This will happen often as the jumping is all fucky.

The enemy will have a certain color of uniform to alert you to his unique battle style. For instance, if the enemy is dressed in blue, you will need to shoot him twice to kill him. He does not shoot. If they are dressed in pink, they can shoot you, but die after only one shot. There’s several unique styles to memorize and make the game easier to function.

     Shooting is pretty straight forward. Dodging fire is a must, but manageable. The enemies tend to jump a lot, and have a bit of a clustered method of movement. They are incredibly unorthodox, and unpredictable. It would have been nice to see more weapons. Smith only rocks a pistol, and you can get an SMG with up to 300 rounds. That’s the fuck IT! No LMG’s, high powered rifles, or rockets to help Smith have a little fun. Sads.
There's gonna be a showdown... THERE'S YEAH YEAH YEAH GONNA BE A SHOWDOWN!

There’s gonna be a showdown… THERE’S YEAH YEAH YEAH GONNA BE A SHOWDOWN!

Last Words

     Code Name: Viper is a solid shooter for the NES, and one helluva title to have in your collection. It’s worth every penny when searching for new games for your retro system. There are some rough spots that will take a lot of memory to get right. A ton of trial and error, but no one said this would be easy. When you complete each level you meet the injured ally that Smith rescued at a nearby campfire. He will reveal a letter that has missing words, each level will reveal more of the letter, resulting in a bit of a twist ending. I’m almost positive most gamers have overlooked this title for the twenty five years it’s been out. Do yourself a favor and check this bad boy out. You might just have a blast. Enjoy.
Review by Derek Hogard