Tales of Symphonia Collection

Well... you aren't that ugly in HD if that helps.

Well… you aren’t that ugly in HD if that helps.

Bandai Namco Games revisits a classic RPG and brings its spotty sequel along for the ride. Remastered by tri-Crescent, the former audio studio that made Eternal Sonata, slaps a fresh coat of HD paint, and a nicely remastered soundtrack, on a title that has never received the appreciation it deserves. Eleven years after Tales of Symphonia’s original GameCube release it still stands as the pinnacle of the Tales series and a highlight of the genre.
Tales of Symphonia:

    When Collette is given the title of Chosen and tasked to save the world by restocking the life giving force known as Mana, her long time friend Lloyd Irving is quick to take up his sword and volunteer to help. Along the way they are joined by a large vibrant cast of characters on their, admittedly fairly standard issue, epic quest. To say much more would lead to inescapable spoilers and Symphonia is a title to best go into as cold as possible and let it unfold at its own pace..
Tales of Symphonia really shines in it’s characters. Employing the series trademark Skit mechanic to great effect. Unlike most entries in the genre there’s no overt reliance on GRAND MOMENTS or painfully long cut scenes to drive the story along, not that they are completely absent. Instead the Tales series unfolds its story in quiet moments of dialog between the characters as they explore the world, giving their back stories, personalities and motivations in a way that feels natural. It goes a long way in bringing the characters to life and drawing the player into the experience.

Chillin' in a cave with the gang. That's old skool RPG right there, son.

Chillin’ in a cave with the gang. That’s old skool RPG right there, son.

    To make it really shine the voice cast is excellent. The performances should all be praised. the only thing wrong with it is that not all skits are voiced and which one don’t receive this treatment are odd choices. Many of the truly emotional ones are silent while the more frivolous the more voices there are. I understand that much of this has to do with limits at the time of original release but even back then they must have known that some of these should have been switched.

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World:

Richter has some really complicated feelings for Emil... but that doesn't stop him from constantly starting to attempt a homicide.

Richter has some really complicated feelings for Emil… but that doesn’t stop him from constantly starting to attempt a homicide.

    Taking place two years later, we join Emil and Marta on their journey to awaken Lord Ratatosk and give us a look at the aftermath of Lloyd’s quest. Again, I’m hampered by not wanting to spoil the first entry. The story this time around is not as strong. The whole Symphonia gang returns but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Dawn of the New World never lives up to the original and never steps out of it’s shadow for even a moment. All of what was done so well the first time around feels too forced this time. The cast doesn’t have the same life or personality they did previously and the new characters are not very good additions. At the heart of it there’s a great concept for a follow up but in execution it just fails to deliver.
The Skit mechanic returns and there are some nice bits. The whole just never comes together. The characters that were so vibrant are stripped to sketches of themselves, each having a moment or two that highlights what the developers saw as their defining characteristic. It feels like fan service, which is exactly what it is, and not for anything beyond that. You can almost hear the writers planning out exactly how we should react to each of these moments but they never elicit the demanded response. It all feels too lazy.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's not really anything that interesting...

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s not really anything that interesting…

To make it all the worse the voice cast here just is not up to par. None of them stand out. The new characters lack any unique sound, they cast them to generic character design. The returning cast’s new voices have the same problem… especially disappointing is Lloyd’s new voice actor. There’s just no excuse for this problem in any title. Just cast better, people. Should not be that hard… I’m guessing anyway.

Chronicles:

    Both titles receive wonderful HD upgrade. Both titles are vibrant, detailed and obviously done with great care. The texture work is impressive and at no time were there any glaring problems which often plague HD releases of older titles. There are some new icons and extra costumes for returning players to enjoy.

     The audio has been remastered and sounds fantastic. Both titles give you the option to hear the English or Japanese cast. Tales of Symphonia had a fantastic score on release and here it’s made even better. Every track fits where it’s played. The quiet emotional tracks are wonderful and can easily hold up against the more showcase tracks. Like the rest of the title the Tales team really outdid themselves on the score. Again Dawn just doesn’t stack up. Though in this case there’s nothing egregious but there’s nothing really fantastic either. The whole score is taken from the JRPG stock music trunk. It’s serviceable and that’s about it.

In case I didn't make it clear just how much Japan loves this game, and the whole series in general, here is a picture from Tales of Festival 2013.  We stole this from http://www.abyssalchronicles.com/ I hope they forgive us for that.

In case I didn’t make it clear just how much Japan loves this game, and the whole series in general, here is a picture from Tales of Festival 2013. We stole this from http://www.abyssalchronicles.com/
I hope they forgive us for that.

    The combat system is the same for both titles. The real time turn-based action hybrid still works wonderfully. It stays engaging and fun to play through both titles. Since there’s a fair amount of grind in both it’s really impossible to overpraise how well the combat is done. Controlling one of the four in your fighting group, the other controlled by AI, the action is fast and easy to get into the swing of. While early on just hacking your way through is a valid option as the titles progress you will have to learn how to use the AI orders and parameter options to the best effect. Learn how to time special moves precisely and just when to activate unison attacks where you get back up from the rest of your team. At no point does it feel overwhelming and the difficulty ramps in Symphonia that you never find yourself panicked or in above your head in tactical terms (you could be crazy under-leveled though but that’s not the game’s fault). Of course once again I have to point out how this just is not quite true for Dawn of the New World. In that case the difficulty has a tendency to swing crazily to an extremely higher setting which sets off incredibly long grind sessions, which would be annoying but acceptable if the difficulty did not crash immediately after a single fight. This makes the grind to advancement ratio more than a little out of whack.

    Really this release is all about the first game, showing that it’s still a fantastic game worth going back to, and giving the audience the best possible version of it. Tales of Symphonia is easy to recommend and easy to call one of the all time best RPGs. It’s well worth the price of admission and, despite it’s flaws, the sequel is a nice bonus for fans of the original. Though if you don’t want to bother with the second game, the original is available as a standalone title in the PSN store. If you have any interest in the genre there’s simply no reason to not get this one.

tales_of_symphonia_ps3_001

Tales of Symphonia- 9.5/10 Still stands strong with it’s engaging world, great combat and wonderful characters

Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World- 5/10 Deeply flawed and only of interest to those who simply HAVE to have more from Symphonia’s world.

 

Tales of Symphonia Collection- Overall: 8.5/10

 

Magus

DIALOG TREES! Sorta. Doesn't matter what you pick really.

DIALOG TREES! 

There’s just nothing nice to say about Magus. Honestly, there’s not much to say about it at all. Magus is the second title from Black Tower Studios and co-developed by Aksys Games who are best known for publishing the Guilty Gear series. Magus never shakes the feeling that it is a game that wasn’t made by professional developers but from a school project from a community college that got released because the class somehow got a hold of compromising pictures of a Sony executive.

    Magus has spent his whole life in a dungeon. His existence to this point seems to have been mostly made up of sitting in a cell and being tortured. Until, against all odds, a female assassin who has just killed the kingdom’s heir is thrown into his little pit. She has with her the words that will unlock his true nature as a new god. As soon as he utters this godly passphrase he becomes an unstoppable killing machine and brings magic back to the world. Now all he has to do is get revenge on the king who hasn’t been the most gracious of hosts and let his powers grow by slaughtering everyone else in the kingdom.

    It wouldn’t be fair to single out Magus’ terrible script. The dialog is stilted, at no point does any of the dialog sound natural or do the characters speak like individuals. It’s the worst writing to grace a disc release I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. To make it worse the writer decided that Magus would stand out from the rest by being snarky. Not a witty kind of snark or as a humorous alternative line of dialog. Usually being a pissy little bitch is the only option. It wears quickly. Kinna, your indestructible female assassin sidekick, gets painfully googly eyed and smitten with your godly avatar incredibly quickly. Their dancing around each other is boring and unavoidable since she is also your only guide to the world. All information flows from her and she doesn’t really have much knowledge about anything either. Never have I heard the phrases “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure” and “That information is not in my possession” so often.

Green fire burns so good.

Green fire burns so good.

    Magus is graphically dated. It looks old and bad. That’s really all that can be said for it. Magus moves oddly stiff. It’s like his joints don’t bend. He just doesn’t look at all comfortable. The other characters slide on around the screen, their foot steps not in anything approaching sync with how they move. The models often not even bothering to move at all.
The area maps are all bland. This might make navigation difficult if they weren’t so linear. Navigation comes down to just running from point A to B, with the occasional tiny branches to wonder off in rarely offering any real reward of it.

    Gameplay is a third person shooter with light RPG elements. There’s a main fire and alternate fire for each of Magus’ three powers. Each spell is also based on this color system. Green is a basic rapid fire with special elemental powers such as fire and earthquake. Blue is a slightly slower and more powerful rapid fire with gravity and navigational powers such as teleportation and black holes. Red is the slowest standard fire but carries the strongest punch at the start with power over the dead like reviving dead enemies to help you in fight and spread illness disease among enemies. The strength of each increases on how much you use it and bonuses from armor or scrolls. It’s all wash, rinse, repeat. There’s no variation from stage to stage and all enemies act identically. Glitches are everywhere. The only deaths I suffered were from my character falling through the ground after teleporting or landing after levitating.

    Some might be tempted to compare Magus to a bad but still fun low to no budget cult movie. That would be a lie. There is nothing in Magus that could be considered so bad it’s good. It’s not competent enough to do any interesting and it’s not bad enough to be unintentionally humorous. Magus doesn’t even try and that’s it’s biggest problem. It’s a lazy poorly made title. Fortunately it’s short. Tragically, it ends with a set up for sequels.

Mighty tough, this guy. You could even say he's godlike.

Mighty tough, this guy. You could even say he’s godlike.

2/10- 2 points for whatever creative deviousness they used to get this published.

The Wolf Among Us

Our heroes. Little dumb, often bloody.

Our heroes. Little dumb, often bloody.

Telltale Games, the long time developer of episodic game series who finally broke into the mainstream with their fantastic first season of The Walking Dead in 2012, have brought The Wolf Among Us to a close. Based on Bill Willingham’s long running Fables series published by DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, The Wolf Among Us, divided into five episodes, drops you into the quick time button mashing events and timed dialog treed world of Bigby Wolf. At times it’s easily Telltale’s strongest release to date but it also has some tragic wheel spinning and taking some incredibly simplistic shortcuts with characters.
There’s trouble in Fabletown where the inhabitants are the living basis of all our myths and folktales and apparently all fictitious characters ever have settled after being driven out of their Homelands. This trouble has been brewing for a long time and has mostly gone unnoticed by those who could or even would do anything about it until someone’s head is literally left on their doorstep. This surprising gift leaves Sheriff Bigby Wolf, short for Big Bad Wolf, no choice but to find the killer with the occasional help but mostly sternly barked orders from assistant to the deputy mayor Snow White. Bigby will unravel the seedy side of life in Fabletown and face off against a highly organized criminal network that has been undermining their government for decades. Which Bigby and Snow never had even a passing inkling about before. Yeah… Fables are kinda, sorta, really damn stupid.

    The Wolf Among Us is built on an updated version of Telltale Tool, the studio’s proprietary engine, and gameplay is near identical to all their previous titles, especially The Walking Dead season 1 and the currently releasing season 2. It’s divided between quick time action scenes and long dialog driven exposition scenes with dialog trees. The players actions in both will influence events. Some of the variations lead to some great alternate takes on scenes and the best based on a decision in episode 1 won’t finally play out until the denouement in episode 5.  Unfortunately, like all of previous Telltale titles, none of it really changes how the game’s ending finally plays out.

In the days after GTA V a message came down from on high that all games must now include at least one torture sequence.

In the days after GTA V a message came down from on high that all games must now include at least one torture sequence.

Pierre Shorette’s script isn’t just capable but has such a strong handle on Willingham’s characters that at times it even surpasses the source. At no point do any of the characters seem to be speaking with a single voice and point of view, a basic problem that for some reason plagues not just bad fanfiction writers but even those who write blockbuster movies and games. Characterization has long been one of Telltale’s hallmarks and the studio’s mastery of their source material is in full evidence here. No long time reader of Fables will find a false note in any of the characters that appear in both. That’s the good news. The bad is that The Wolf Among Us doesn’t feature the strongest of stories. While the basic premise is solid, it too often relies on Bigby just being able to add two and two or being easily distracted by connected side events which will clear all his thoughts on what he’s learned so far and think that whatever he’s dealing with is the main answer. It’s annoying how determinedly stupid Bigby can be at times.
The voice cast is a mixed bag. The lead characters all fit well and give fine performances that make even of the most awkwardly stilted dialog work. The secondary cast is more of a mixed bag. Even if their accents are occasionally goofy or slightly shaky, most at least give a little life to their performances and try to make it work.. Tragically the same can’t be said of all of them. Especially in the antagonist character camp. Tweedledee and Tweedledum come off as cartoon heavies and lack any real threat at any time. Bloody Mary is one of the most painfully voiced antagonists to ever hit video gaming and her voice actor does one of the laziest jobs she could have, lacking any nuance and instead going heavily for “generic psycho voice B” that works to make an already derivative character who feels like she was sandwiched in to give the game an actual threat to Bigby more boring than intimidating.
The nature of episodic content can lead to problems in development springing up after the series has began release. In the case of The Wolf Among Us there was a large delay between the first and second episode. The reason for this hasn’t been publicly discussed by the studio but whatever caused it has left obvious effects that echo through the bulk of the episodes. While episode 1 sings along nicely, the next three suffer from strange pacing and short lengths but also what often feels like just filler. It’s almost as if whole subplots have been ripped out without bothering to really fix what their removal did to the whole. Episode 5 does regain its footing nicely and the ultimate payoff is satisfying.

Talking pigs. Seriously... isn't that enough for you to run out and buy it? Twice?

Talking pigs. Seriously… isn’t that enough for you to run out and buy it? Twice?

Telltale did a fine job with The Wolf Among Us. Even if it doesn’t reach the highmark that the first season of The Walking Dead did, it offers an interesting world and a just good enough story to make the title worth exploring. While another season of The Wolf Among Us is up for debate the final product as it stands should more than give most gamers complete confidence in Telltale’s ability to make their next two titles, Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones, work even if they find themselves up against a wall with their licensing partners.

Final Rating: 7.5/10  … A decent attempt that doesn’t quite work as well as it should but gives more evidence of Telltale’s ability to make series that should not work as games completely enjoyable experiences.

Remember when I'd said something about whole subplots just ripped out? This early promo image for Episode 2 is more evidence of this.

Remember when I’d said something about whole subplots just ripped out? This early promo image for Episode 2 is more evidence of this.

Deception IV: Blood Ties

In the nine years since Tecmo’s last Deception title little has really changed for the series. The tone has shifted from it’s dark and bloody origins to a more goofy aesthetic but gameplay is still strategy based consisting of setting as complex a chain of traps as you can muster to kill all-comers. Unfortunately it doesn’t do this basic concept any better than it originally did eighteen years ago on the PSone, arguably it’s handled considerably worse.

This right here is what Deception IV should be all about. A simple sadistic joy of finding new ways to inflict pain on digital characters. If only they didn't bog it down with so much garbage.

This right here is what Deception IV should be all about. A simple sadistic joy of finding new ways to inflict pain on digital characters. If only they didn’t bog it down with so much garbage.

    You are the Devil’s daughter, Laegrinna, born from a piece broken off of his soul, tasked with killing the descendants of the Twelve Saints who sealed him away thousands of years ago and collect the twelve pieces of the Holy Verses that will free him from imprisonment. Unfortunately you are not alone in this task. Your demonic father has also dispatched three demon “servants”, each with a specific form of murderous traps they preside over. They spend most of the game barking orders at you and generally leading you around by the nose.

    Where the original Tecmo’s Deception was a darkly violent and brutal game, this sequel follows in the traditions started with Kagero: Deception 2. It settles for niche with standard juvenile Japanese humor bracketed with tediously long yet still completely meaningless rants about various motivations and cartoon breasts. There’s a lot of it and none of it is really worth paying attention to. It all just slows down the pace of the game and makes the wait between stages a trudge through drivel. Fortunately, a lot of it can be skipped.

    Traps you can set are divided between three categories. Elaborate traps consist of knockdowns, pop ups and sliding walls. Sadistic traps are all about blades, be it a pendulum from the ceiling, a wall of spikes or circular saw blades ripping through the floor. Humiliations are goofy traps that often give bonus effects, pumpkins fall on your enemies heads to blind them, saw horses that pop from the ground for a nuts shot and rakes to be stepped on. In theory many of these should lead to great combinations of joyful brutality. Unfortunately, there’s not much freedom with these traps. The limited enemy types, all introduced fairly early and repeated without variation for the rest of the game, and bosses all come down to setting the exact same traps in every room and running through them until the specific one you’re currently working on finally dies. To make it worse all traps have to be manually engaged, they rarely act as your meticulous planning tell you they will and even with traps used the most the timing is often unpredictable. There is nothing more frustrating then spending so much time meticulously setting your Rube Goldberg of death into place, waiting for them all to set and finally luring your target into position only for them to land a square or two off from where they should be making the everything else useless.

I CRUSH YOUR... well... everything, really.

I CRUSH YOUR… well… everything, really.

The graphics low resolution and lack of detail make the game look old. The only detail put on any of the models is the swing of female characters breasts after running. Enemy AI is in need of a complete overhaul. They will freeze on spots requiring you to literally have to push them into position. Enemies will attack away from you as if they are aware of the hidden traps you have yet to spring. The trap button does not always respond in the proper manner, causing delays of several seconds and giving more than enough time for it to miss it’s target.
The extra modes are just more of the same.  Though the ability to upload your best kills and download other player’s best kill videos is a nice addition. Being able to see what others did in the same situations would be a real highlight if only the game was more open to variation and improvisation.
I want to like Deception IV: Blood Ties more. It’s a unique series with real possibilities but refuses to live up to any of them. It settles for being just a niche title designed to appeal to only the hardest of hardcore Japanophiles who are happy to overlook all problems and missed opportunities for the Japanese only voices and the anime styling. Hopefully this is just a game to shake the rust off of Tecmo’s inner need to inflict digital sadism of an extreme nature. Hopefully the next time we see Deception on these shores it’ll be a glorious return to the original’s demented glee. I wait for this like the giggling fanboy that I am. It’s your move Tecmo. BRING IT!

And what review would be worth reading without a little ass cleavage? Certainly not this one.

And what review would be worth reading without a little ass cleavage? Certainly not this one.

Score: 55/100   Bonus points for being different but doesn’t ever embrace it’s concept as well as it could and never gets above mediocre.

Murdered: Soul Suspect

Apparently this game takes place in the Harry Potter Universe.

Apparently this game takes place in the Harry Potter Universe.

    Airtight Games and Square Enix’s trip to highly haunted Salem, Massachusetts is a nice departure from the usual console release. Unfortunately it suffers from the usual problem that plagues Airtight’s previous titles like Dark Void and Quantum Conundrum, it’s an ambitious title with a couple clever ideas but it lacks polish and doesn’t live up to what it should be.

    Heavily tattooed reformed con man turned detective (how does that work exactly?) Ronan O’Connor is dead. Thrown out a window and shot seven times, with his own gun no less, by the serial killer he has been hunting. Of course Ronan can’t cross over to the Other Side until he’s solved the case, which is helpfully explained to him by the heavenly illuminated appearance of his long-dead wife Julia. Luckily for Ronan he immediately meets the far too young ghost of original Salem Witch Trial accuser Abigail Williams who explains that being a ghost probably isn’t the best way to conduct an investigation, Ronan can no longer pick things up or enter consecrated buildings (and every building is consecrated in Salem) without someone kindly opening a door or window for him but once inside he can walk through walls, possess people to hear their thoughts and unveil ghostly objects from the past. Another stroke of undead luck quickly drops in Ronan’s lap, seriously for a guy who died in such a stupid way he’s one fortunate son of a bitch, in the form of Joy, a young medium whose looking for her missing police helping medium mother.
Ghost Salem looks great. It’s nicely atmospheric with the long dead and not wanting to be bothered spirits all over the place. The same can’t be said about the living inhabitants of Salem. The city feels empty and flat. People never leave their locations, staying stuck to a bench or swing, forever examining a door or pumping gas or walking around the same short route. It’s odd and really breaks the feel of the city. Since it’s a level based game, there’s no reason for Salem to not have some changes after each with new ghost to help or the living moving to another spot on the map. Of course if it did that, it is unlikely that you’d notice since everyone who is not a ghost in need is identical.

Just like real life all the important questions hang in the air like smoke. I love it when fiction imitates life.

Just like real life all the important questions hang in the air like smoke. I love it when fiction imitates life.

     Murdered mostly consists of walking through Salem to the next area of investigation, wondering a new building which usually holds one area with a pair of ghost eating demons that Ronan must dispatch with stealth, a simple navigational puzzle and a couple collectable items that either fill in details from Ronan’s life with his wife or will open a location specific ghost story. Finally triggering an investigative phase when you reach the top of the building, a floating ghostly question appears and Ronan wonders around a fairly small area to find clues that are used to answer the question. None of the puzzles or questions require much thought or more than basic reasoning, you don’t need to find all the clues and there’s no real penalty for missing the answer repeatedly. There are a couple spirits who need Ronan’s help to move on but it’s just like the normal investigative phases and while the little side stories they  Taking away any penalty and the repetitively simple nature of each level really detracts from the experience placing all the emphasis on story.

    Which would be fine if the story was as strong as Airtight seems to think it is. It isn’t. While the basic premise is great, the details are not. Ronan and Joy are a bundle of nonsense and cliche. Ronan is a hipster with a chip on his shoulder… and, again, how the hell did he become a cop??? Joy is the kid from The Sixth Sense in a female runaway package but even more reluctant. Their relationship consists solely of exchanging tedious quips and Ronan completely forgetting that she needs his help as much as he needs her, which she reminds him of at the end of every investigative phase. The secondary characters are all far more interesting than our leads but never given any real personality beyond a rough outline and Ronan’s thoughts on them. The solution is obvious from the first for the player and wrapped up in a rush after a long time, for a game so short, dwelling on a painfully obvious red herring. Every character could use a considerable amount of fleshing out, which would have been easy to do and given the game some much needed extra length.

Trying on the corpse's hipster hat is the first lesson in Securing a Crime Scene 101.

Trying on the corpse’s hat is the first lesson in Securing a Crime Scene 101.

Murdered: Soul Suspect isn’t a bad game. It isn’t a really good game either. It’s an interesting game that does not deliver on its potential. I hate saying this because the industry really does need more variety these days. Easily worth a rental or picking up at a heavy discount, definitely not worth the release price. Though those looking for a challenging mystery game with a strong narrative might be better suited waiting for Frogware’s next long delayed entry in their Sherlock Holmes series.

 

Review by Dave Gray

Watch Dogs

I'm sorry but you look REALLY familiar.... huh...

I’m sorry but you look REALLY familiar…. huh…

    Ubisoft Montreal’s long hyped new franchise Watch Dogs has finally been released. After months of hype videos, teasing and swearing that Watch Dogs would deliver a new experience that will change gaming it washes up on the shores like a dog that fell off the Assassin’s Creed boat that someone glued a smartphone and an infographic explaining IBM’s Smarter Cities program to as it doggy paddled past. There’s nothing incredibly terrible about Watch Dogs but, aside from a handful of dark noir moments that must have somehow held on through the long delay, there’s nothing really good in it either.

    It’s the near future and Chicago, and many other cities, has embraced full implementation Blume Corporation’s ctOS to control everything in the city from the powergrid to bridges to ATMs to car door locks. ctOS is basically 1984’s Big Brother but dumber and easy to hack and take control of. I mean… disturbingly easy. Players assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a fixer who acts as the legman for hacker Damien Brenks. After what should have been a simple job rodding the Merlaut hotel goes tits up someone, most likely the mob boss who owns the hotel a well known bit of information that seems to have completely elluded Aiden because he really is painfully stupid, places an order to teach the pair a lesson about messing with things that don’t concern them. Tragically Aiden’s lesson is delivered in having his tire shot out while he’s driving with his niece and nephew to go fishing. The niece dies and Aiden goes all revenge mad becoming a vigilante until he learns who put the contract out. Again… job at Merlaut goes wrong, Merlaut is owned by mob boss. Seriously. He doesn’t make this connection, instead he blindly runs around and stumbles on a “conspiracy” that’s not really secret or difficult to unravel. This isn’t a spoiler, if you listen to the news breaks you learn it in a couple minutes of play. Aiden is just a real fucking idiot.

    While you’d assume that Aiden’s mission is one that would be easy to identify with and would make for a compelling experience, it does not. Watch Dogs largest problem is the characters. Aiden isn’t just stupid, he talks like a first round loser at a Christian Bale Batman Sound-Alike Competition. His dialog is so stilted and blandly generic. It’s painful to hear. It isn’t made any better by the majority of the secondary characters. His first side kick is so desperate to make us think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Lisbeth Salander that it’s an eye rolling moment when she first appears on the scene with as terrible a voice as Aiden’s. T-Bone, side kick number two, could work but instead is just as cliched and tedious. The villain of the piece is just as rambly and pompous for no good reason as your average Bond villain. There are actually some interesting secondary antagonist characters, who are well voice acted, but they are only in a handful of scenes and collectable audio logs that they just can not swing the balance in the game’s favor.

The ctOS spy cam footage is easily the highlight of the game.

The ctOS spy cam footage is easily the highlight of the game.

    Nearly every mission in Watch Dogs plays out exactly the same. Infiltrat area stealthily or dynamically, hack mini game and escape or have yourself a nice murder spree. While occasionally there’s an escort mission located where the hacking would go it’s just not enough to keep the game fresh or interesting for it’s near interminable story length. The controls for on foot are a standard third person scheme and work fine. Driving takes a little getting used to, all the cars handle terribly even while just coasting. It feels like in the future roads will be made of ice and the only comfort to these future drivers is the knowledge that boats are far worse. Hacking mini game never changes and is a basic pipe puzzle. It’s an odd mechanic. They spent so long hyping it and it’s ultimately an incredibly easy and standard puzzle. Open world hacking is a whole different beast and the best thing here. Being able to cause havoc at almost every turn with the push of a well timed button is just great fun. There’s so much to hack. It’s obvious that this is where Ubisoft has spent the most amount of time. The conversations you get from hacked phones run the gamut from the tedious day to day all the way to the hilariously deviant. If only they’d put as much care into the profiler system, a fun idea that runs out of steam fairly early, whole blocks of Chi-town are inhabited exclusively by former Abstergo employees and people who made porns in college.

    Online play is a take on Dark Souls always online player invasion type. At any time while connected you can be invaded by another player or invade their game. It keeps you on your toes and is one of the highlights of the game. Though a slightly better warning system or delay between possible invasions would be nice since I only found out it was happening after making a mad dash across the map to the next objective, only to be told that I couldn’t start until I ran to the far side of the map and deal with the invader… only for it to happen again as soon as I made it back to the objective again.

    Graphics are a mixed bag. While the city itself, and the landmarks that have been faithfully translated, looks great. People outside of Aiden and the story characters, and they aren’t so great either, not so much. There’s a fair number of slow loading textures in cutscenes or when speeding around the city and anti-aliasing issues. The old sandbox problem of forgetting the car which just passed you once out of camera view is present but not enough for it to be an issue… except when it forgets where you put your getaway vehicle.

Don't stop! Get it! Get it! YAY for VOYEURISM!

Don’t stop! Get it! Get it! YAY for VOYEURISM!

    Ubisoft made large promises for two years before Watch Dogs finally surfaced. It didn’t deliver very well on any of them. It’s a passable time but not the groundbreaking killer app we’ve been promised. Though it doesn’t need to be, it only need to fill the sales quota to make this a franchise and so Ubi can make a movie, the film rights were sold immediately after the game was announced, and it’s done that. So… good job, Ubisoft Montreal. You’ve released an incredibly mediocre game that had a huge following and defenders before anyone had even seen it.

 Review by Dave Gray

Battletoads/Double Dragon

"Dat Ass Tho"

“Dat Ass Tho”

     A Tradewest/Rare early 90′s smash em’ up, combining both Jimmy & Billy from the arcade classic, Double Dragon, and the froggy trio, Rash, Zitz, & Pimple from the just as successful, Battletoads. Five players to choose from, punching, climbing, racing, shuttling, shooting, swinging, and spin-kicking your way to the end to fight vicious vixen, the Dark Queen.

Graphics

Pretty straight forward Tradewest style. The animations, such as giving a buried opponent a big boot to the head, are down right hilarious. The sprites are acceptably smooth. However, it would be nice to see some undies or boxers on the toads, who prefer to rock it in the buff. The power-ups are kinda gimpy. For instance, the invisibility is like this grey dot thingy, and the energy for player two is tan. Yes, TAN! They couldn’t choose blue and green (which are the colors of both players energy, and lives containers), but fucking TAN!?

Sound

Painfully forgettable soundtrack. I’ve recently played through this game three times, and literally just paused it a minute ago, and I forget everything about the music. I’m upset that they didn’t throw in that sick little beat from the pause screen of the original Battletoads (NES). The sound effects are so hokey pokey stinky dinky. Genesis did always struggle, but to have the NES version of this game sound better, that’s gotta say something.

Gameplay/Controls

Controlling your character is so intensely touchy. You can fall off the map quicker than rabbits bang. Playing two players on Game A will result in the worst collateral damage ever dished out in any multi-player smash em’ up. Thankfully there’s a Game B with no friendly attacks, otherwise this review wouldn’t be happening, because Game A is deal-breakers.

We always react like this to muscular blondes in windows also.

We always react like this to muscular blondes in windows also.

Either playing as a toad or DD brother will have a different set of fight moves. It is an absolute laugh riot to see the two different styles of attacks on that ratchet whip wielding, Linda, from both parties. Bimmy is serving up domestic violence in such a fashionable way.

There are some extremely tedious spots that require climbing on ladders while dodging flames, or electro-balls. These spots take patience, and a fuck-ton of it, especially with two players. If you aren’t a very patient person, you won’t get far, because BT/DD thrives on tedium.

     The rope swings, spaceship shooters, ladder climbing, and hover bike chasing require copious amounts of coordination. If you skip a beat, you’re fucked, literally. Practice makes perfect, but timing is everything.

It’s nice to have loose controls to where you can run and attack. There are quite a few different moves your character has. Lots of jump attacks, spin attacks, run to jump attacks, and comical growth power attacks. It is also humorous seeing the toad characters do their shadowboxing by simply tapping the punch button repeatedly.

Did ANYONE pick the Brothers Lee when the other choices were the Battletoads?!?!?!?*

Did ANYONE pick the Brothers Lee when the other choices were the Battletoads?!?!?!?*

Last Words

This is a game that I played when it was first released. Many from my generation know of this title, but for those who missed it, go for it. I only warn you that this is a very tough game to complete, and without proper patience, and timing, you will crumble. Enjoy.

 

Review by Derek Hogard

* Editor’s Note: After writing the caption I was informed that Derek ONLY plays with Bimmy Lee.  He’s wrong for doing that but to each their own, I guess.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I love this disclaimer.

I love this disclaimer.

    B.J. Blazkowicz is still a giant human tank that can soak up bullets like a sponge and whose only hobby worth thinking about is killing Nazis. Wolfenstein: The New Order, surprisingly, is a direct sequel to 2009’s deeply flawed reboot. It’s also stronger in every respect. B.J.’s seventh outing and the ninth in the series, and developer Machinegames first title, published by Bethesda Softworks, is an incredibly fun return to old-school run and gun style. While it’s not perfect, the ideas are usually better than the execution, it’s a valiant effort that focuses on the core single player experience and completely forgoes any multiplayer or online modes.

    The game starts in familiar territory for the series, World War II. It’s July 1946 and the Nazis have gotten their hands on some bizarre and mind bogglingly advanced technology. Blazko is leading an Allied on a fortress that houses an advanced weapons research laboratory ran by his nemesis, Deathshead. Things don’t go as well as B.J. and history would have hoped and the failed raid ultimately ends with a desperate escape and a large chunk of shrapnel nearly giving our muscled hero a lobotomy. Fast forward to 1960, the Nazis have won the war, the whole world has been subjugated and Blazkowicz has been a vegetable in a Polish asylum.

    Blazkowicz and his underground band have some of the better attempts at characterization from a shooter in recent memory. It doesn’t always work. Blazko himself gets some great cut scenes, fascinating allusions to his background and strong dialog in these moments, which tragically make the lines he spews in levels that much more disappointing. All of this could have been better implemented throughout the whole game and it’s a great disappointment that it isn’t. Though there is some tonal jarring when going from the quiet and contemplative B.J. between scenes and blood soaked death orgies B.J. throws in each level.

Yeah...

Yeah…

    The alternate history of Wolfenstein: The New Order is strong and well drawn, mostly through newspaper clippings found in resistance base that you go to between missions and scattered around the levels. It doesn’t just tell you that the Nazi’s won but you get some nice glimpses into what happened to England and the US because of it. There are collectable Neumond Records, German for New Moon,  that give a look at the effect on music and pop culture. The Nazi versions of House of the Rising Sun, Boom Boom and Nowhere to Run being highlights.

    Where the game really shines is in fights. It’s bloody, brutal and over the top in ways that only old id titles could be. The guns are all satisfying to use and the ability to dual wield most of them is great. There’s few experiences of late that’s as satisfying as turning a couple of Nazis into puddles with a long range shotgun firing ricocheting rounds in both hands. While gamers have become used to a huge variety of weapons and upgrades, Machinegames goes against this trend. There’s only a few weapon types and each only has, at most, a single attachment to be found. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s simple and it works.

    Stealth is surprisingly solid and worthwhile. While the maps aren’t vast, they do offer a couple different route to you and all lead to something worthwhile. If you want to scout around for area commanders, there by removing the enemy ability to call for reinforcements, and save yourself a couple thousand rounds.

    The perk system is based on your playstyle by using a challenge based system the game quickly adapts to your personal style of play. Like to just run in and kill everything that moves? You’ll get bonuses for assault weapons and be able to soak up a couple more rounds. Prefer to scout around first? Your step will become as quiet as a mouse and your silenced pistol will pack a stronger punch.

    Controls are very much based on older styles. Instead of just walking over some ammo or armour and picking it up you have to press the pickup button. It can get a little annoying in a large firefight when you run out of ammo and have to deliberately walk to more, find the icon, press the button and get a couple thousand rounds in your ass. It does make sense with the return of the series’ standard health overdrive system. Still being able to pump yourself with health, which slowly ticks down on it’s own once over 100, can give you a nice edge in a large fight. If they had kept the pick up button for just health and new weapons…

IMG_3663

You can tell this is a flashback because it’s all washed out and there’s glare. It’s a nice touch, in case you forgot where you were in the shot immediately before this.

    Graphically The New Order isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind. It doesn’t look bad and some of the cutscenes look great. It’s just doesn’t look like a next gen game. It’s passable. There are some anti-aliasing and texture issues, especially in the later levels. The enemy AI is far from genius. Dead bodies don’t always bother them at all. The patrol routes are rigidly followed and they will run out of cover for you to shoot. Enemies will also occasionally get stuck on doors.

    Wolfenstein: The New Order doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t hold to a lot of the modern shooter stylings either. It’s a loud, violent, ham fisted action blast. It’s fun, which is something that CoD: Ghosts and the other shooters have forgotten to be. It’s easily the best shooter to show up in the early days of this console generation. It is short, roughly 10-15 hours for a playthrough and has enough plot branches and collectable to support at least two playthroughs. So while I can’t say it’s completely worth the price of admission at launch, it’s definitely one to play at some time. It also leaves me eager to see whatever Machinegames will be bringing us next.

Earth Defense Force 2025

Ranger_Verses_Ants
Have you ever found yourself watching an old Kaiju flick and thought “You know those guys rushing at Mothra there? Sure, they are going to be completely useless and wiped out in droves but… Damn it! That’s the character I’d love to see a game with!”? If you answer yes, thank the universe for the Earth Defense Force series. The fourth series entry by Sandlot is finally your chance to strap on the goofy pseudo Sci-fi helmet and strange armor that for some reason never seems to protect any actual vital areas and blast these giant bugs back to where they came from.

    The year is 2025 and the Earth has finally finished rebuilding and picking up the pieces from the 2017 invasion of the Ravagers and their giant pet bugs that came complete with Godzilla cameo. Just as the last piece of the last rebuilt structure in Tokyo is slid into place the Giant Bugs return, spending the last eight years breeding somewhere below the planet’s surface. Fortunately, the EDF has not spent the years since the last invasion sitting around. They have been expanding their arsenal and developing new insanely overpowered anime inspired warrior types.

    The four character classes to chose from are Ranger, Wing Diver, Fencer and Air Rider. The Ranger is a basic well rounded soldier that offers solid game play but no special abilities or unique skills. Wing Divers are an all female unit that can fly for short distances allowing for access to roof tops and other areas that the rest can not reach. They’re the most nimble class but tragically overpowered, even though there are attempts to balance them it doesn’t quite work. Fencers are heavily armored ground troops, their almost painfully slow speed is balanced with the best weaponry in the game. Fencers take a lot of getting use to and player trial and error to find the right load out for you but once mastered are the most fun class in the game. Air Riders are a support class that can call in air strikes and vehicle drops. Tragically the vehicles are not as good as the should be. Most air vehicles are impossible to control. Tanks and ground support are missing targeting reticules. Getting used to them just does not feel worth the effort for me but maybe I’m missing out.

wing_diver_staring_at_ravager_ships_us_12.16.13.jpeg

    Since weaponry is key, EDF does not disappoint. With over 175 weapons to collect, each of them actually being useful, and being dropped at a rate that never leaves you feeling too overwhelmed against the next aberration that’s charging toward you to eat your face. With the ability to replay earlier missions on harder difficulty to give yourself better weapons for future levels the replay value is incredibly high. There’s a lot to say about leveling a city block because you can or because you find yourself stuck in a giant spider web that’s tearing you apart.

    There are two completion tracks for EDF2025. Offline and online have separate progress. So if you’re having trouble clearing a stage you can’t jump online and get a hand. You CAN invite a friend over for some split screen co-op to get past it. It’s a little annoying and doesn’t really make any sense to have done it like that. Regardless of that both co-op modes are great. While playing solo is a lot of fun it doesn’t compare to slaughtering your way through hordes with some others.

    The only criticisms that I can throw at EDF2025 are the graphics are dated and it might wait a little too long to really start for those who played EDF2017. While I don’t think graphics make or break a title, many do so I have to acknowledge this. It’s a B title that embraces that fact and knows how it best use it to its advantage. There are no 20 minute cut scenes of boring whiny heroes or tedious gloating baddies.

edf-2025-fencer-10
Earth Defense Force 2025 is just crazy fun. It’s arcade style action at it’s finest. It has a lot of surprises under its oddly heavily armored hip protectors and knows how to pull off some great twists in a simple way. Easily the most fun title to see release on US shores so far in 2014. Get it, you won’t regret it… unless you just hate fun then you can go ahead and skip it.

 Review by Dave Gray

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Yeah... I never mastered wed swinging.

Yeah… I never mastered wed swinging.

No matter how you cut it, web slinging through Manhattan is fun. Beenox comes back to develop their fourth and Activision’s FIFTEENTH Spider-Man game. In the two years since the last Spidey outing no one thought to really change the formula from the last Amazing Spider-Man tie-in game, a formula that’s been hanging on the Wall Crawler’s back for more than a decade now and has long since passed its expiration date.

    After a brief introductory tutorial set during Uncle Ben’s murder, we jump to two years later and the Webhead is still looking for the trigger happy thief. After, at long last, discovering who shot Uncle Ben Spidey gets pulled into a fair number of connected story arcs that come together as a cohesive whole. That’s not saying it’s all bad. The re-imagining of Kraven the Hunter is a solid plot point, the tracking of the Carnage Killer and how his terrifying acts of violence is the main impetuous for an all out war among the gangs of New York is well handled at first as well. Unfortunately at some point in the development process someone pointed out that they’d have to introduce at least two of the movie’s villains. Suddenly everything gets rushed. The Kraven plot arc is pushed through way too fast to be satisfying, all the rival gangs and their bosses are quickly forgotten, Carnage is pushed aside until the end and a lot of what should have been steadily built up is thrown at you in collectible voice recordings strewn around the levels just so you’re not completely surprised when the last four missions of mostly boss fights are thrown at you from out of the blue. Despite it’s problems Beenox knows Peter Parker well and they play the character right, even if moving at a breakneck pace, he sounds like he should and reacts in ways that never feel false to the character.

    Like all of Beenox’s Spider-Man titles the fights are based on the system in the Batman Arkham series. They’re much faster paced, which is a good thing. Spider-Man’s controls  respond well. The finishing moves and stealth take downs are classic Spider-Man style, jumping flipping webbing. The only downside of combat is it gets incredibly repetitive. You fight the same group of street hoods when doing a side quest. In main mission levels you constantly find the same groups just waiting around for you to show your masked face.

    Also like Batman Arkham, and pretty much every other game these days, you can switch Spider-Man’s Spider Sense on and off to highlight enemies and objects in the environment. It works fine, though the filter is awkward and occasionally it’s hard to tell if there’s a wall right in front of you or not. Since all enemies have the same outline planning how to approach any situation is more based on having physically scouted the room… which makes using Spider Sense for much more than finding hidden items not the boon a power like that should be.

Behold... my sandbox. Spidey looks great, the buildings are fine... the rest not so much.

Behold… my sandbox. Spidey looks great, the buildings are fine… the rest not so much.

    Manhattan is a great sandbox. It’s large and there’s plenty of opportunity to just roam around. The web slinging mechanic has been refined to perfection. With each hand controlled with a different button it takes some time to master. Also returning is the Web Rush that allows you to pick a point and the Webhead will take himself to it. Both modes of getting around the city feel right and are wonderfully implemented. Unfortunately besides floating comic pages and collectibles scattered throughout the maps, New York feels pretty empty. There are only a couple pedestrians, traffic seems to mostly move in a solid block in certain areas of the map.

    Spider-Man himself looks fantastic. All of the costumes are textured, unique and move incredibly. The rest of the named villains look passable. The buildings are gorgeous and show Tragically I can’t say this for the legions of disposable generic enemies or for the same three or four civilian models you constantly run into. Those look lifted from the old Spider-Man movie games from the PS2 era.

You know, I always wondered how Aunt May never noticed the closet full of Spider-Man costumes in Peter's room. I mean both doors are always open just begging for some snooping.

You know, I always wondered how Aunt May never noticed the closet full of Spider-Man costumes in Peter’s room. I mean both doors are always open just begging for some snooping.

    The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not the great Spidey game that we have been waiting to come along to finally answer the challenge DC laid down with the Batman Arkham series. It’s not a bad game either. It’s a mediocre game. A step up from the first Amazing Spider-Man but not on par with Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man or Beenox’s own Shattered Dimensions. It’s worth a rental, if not a buy when it hits a discounted price point, for Spider-Man fans. Maybe next time, Beenox.

 

Review by Dave Gray