The Evil Within

The buddy system. When in a twisted nightmare world remember it always use it. As much as you can anyway.

The buddy system. When in a twisted nightmare world remember it always use it. As much as you can anyway.

    Shinji Mikami has long neglected the survival horror genre, having created the Resident Evil series and overseeing the series development up to Resident Evil 4, finally returns home to the genre he pretty much created. The first title from his own development studio Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda Softworks, The Evil Within feels like a great old Mikami game… by that I mean Resident Evil 4. The Evil Within feels like Resident Evil 4. A lot like it.

    There’s an armed and active shooter in the local insane asylum. An unknown number inside are dead, including several police officers, so instead of sending in a SWAT unit to neutralize the shooter the city sends in Krimson City Police Detective Sebastian Castellanos, his partner Joseph Oda and rookie Detective Julie “Kid” Kidman. So already the suspension of disbelief is fairly high. It doesn’t take them long after arrival to find bodies everywhere and watch a supernatural antagonist, Ruvik, taking out the remaining police. Of course said supernatural antagonist immediately appear behind Castellanos. Without further ado he’s separated from his partners and in a twisted world of monsters and gore soaked walls.

    The Evil Within’s story has a panicked “We’ve made this game but we forgot to give it a plot! Throw every cliche at the wall and see what sticks!” vibe to it. The problem is that they didn’t remove the stuff that didn’t stick and nothing is really explored in an interesting way. Add to that Sebastian being a boring character to spend time with. What he lacks in personality, he doesn’t make up for in tough-as-nails-been-there-done-that-brought-home-the-t-shirt attitude. While his sidekicks are a bit more interesting they’re not explored enough for them to really matter.

Ooooohhhhh... creepy... kinda...

Ooooohhhhh… creepy… kinda…

     Dialog is as cheesy as it gets but not in the Resident Evil way. In those it’s a lovingly made cheese that fits the tone and helps make the experience, a high quality brie that would have gourmands fighting to the death for it. Here it’s more of processed cheese, it doesn’t really fit with the rest and doesn’t help anything along besides fill silence, a cheese in a spray can that gets clogged if left sitting on the table for a minute. The voice cast is… well… they’re there and that’s about it. While Jackie Earle Haley is solid as Ruvik, the man just does creepy evil bastards well, and Yuri Lowenthal gives a little life to Oda, the others are a master class in mediocrity. Maybe they’re just lazy and wanted a quick paycheck. I haven’t decided which. What makes this worse is that they’ve spent a fair amount on the voice cast and cast actors whose work is at least known to a more general audience. Anson Mount brings his full skills to Castellanos, meaning he fails to emote or even bring the slightest amount of depth or shading to his performance and doesn’t even bother to sound like the world weary character the dialog tries so hard to make him out to be. Jennifer Carpenter’s go as Kidman is fortunately brief as she only pops up a little and for fairly short spans of time, tragically she’ll be front and center for at least two of the coming DLC.

    The Evil Within’s levels look fantastic. The changes in environments from chapter to chapter offer a fair amount of interesting settings. The lighting effects are well done to highlight the environments and give each one a distinct feel. While none of them are really anything unique, they are all done with care and an eye for detail. Several of the stages are really incredible sights. It’s too bad that Mikami doesn’t allow them to do their work. Almost every area is splattered with gore and has corpses shoved into every corner to the point of overkill. Instead of letting them work as they are for effectively creepy settings. Mikami simply overcrowds them. They’re too busy to let them really do their job of heightening tension or giving an interesting experience. To make it worse is the choice to cram the screen in a letterbox format. I guess its in an effort to make it all feel more like a movie but it doesn’t. Instead it just makes things harder to see. The smaller more interesting details need to be nearly stood on and can be overlooked entirely. The traps tossed throughout each level and items occasionally disappear in the cramped frame. It makes the experience more frustrating instead of absorbing.

    Characters and enemy models all have a very dated look to them. On top of that none of them are very unique looking. The normal level enemies are all very cut and paste from every other horror title, glowing eyed zombie like creatures. The bosses are all gigantic variations on popular characters from other titles. One that you keep running into is a masked guy with a chainsaw… something that you have never seen in another Mikami game. Except, of course, Resident Evil 4. There’s a Pyramid Head knock off, this time with a safe wrapped with rust barbed wire. There’s a long haired onryo with multiple arms. While they’re still effective they just make the experience feel like a retread when facing them.

Can YOU name the film this makes me think of? Hint: 1985 Terry Gilliam

Can YOU name the film this makes me think of? Hint: 1985 Terry Gilliam

    Combat is a mixed experience. While I found the stealth to be really solid and fun when it’s a workable option. The head on encounters grew very tiring. Your character just moves too slowly when aiming, the camera zooms in ever more completely blocking out the majority of what’s happening around you. Melee attacks, which are pointlessly weak in most cases, will go wide of the mark and as just swung wildly. Precision and accuracy is nearly impossible with most weapons since the frame rate has a tendency to drop when you need it the most and enemies will suddenly vanish from your well lined up shot to be right on top of you and just to the left well outside of your view. The boss fights are more often puzzles than direct combat, which works really well and makes every confrontation interesting… except… many of them deliver one hit kills and the load time that follows can get almost painfully frustrating.

    The Evil Within is not a bad game by any means. It just doesn’t ever live up to its potential or take any new paths that we haven’t all taken before. There are several fantastic moments but they are surrounded with mediocrity or with so much frustration that just walking away often seems like the only rational thing to do. It’s definitely not for everybody. I prefer to look at it as a warm-up for Mikami and Tango. There’s enough here to give hope for whatever they have next up their sleeves, even though it’s not enough to make The Evil Within work as well as it should.

 

7.5/10- The frustration, lack of scares or suspense, some blatantly bad design choices and annoying combat undermine what has moments that could have made this a new classic in the genre… but if it is your kind of game it’s worth sticking it out. Only for die hard Survival Horror fans.

 

WIDESCREEN! for your widescreen TV... totally isn't at all annoying or a bad design choice. Nope. Not at all.

WIDESCREEN! for your widescreen TV… totally isn’t at all annoying or a bad design choice. Nope. Not at all.

Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed

You'd think they cops would be called more often with these serial clothes thieves running rampant.

You’d think they cops would be called more often with these serial clothes thieves running rampant.

    Akiba’s Trip… Akiba’s trip… Akibastip… Akiba stip. Ok. I get it. Akiba’s Trip: Undressed and Undead is brought to us by Acquire, the company behind the Tenchu and Way of the Samurai series, and published by Xseed brings a new twist to the beat ‘em up genre… ripping your opponent’s clothing off. A self aware parody light novel that is an occasionally scathing indictment of Japan’s nerd culture. It’s hard to not enjoy but it’s just as hard to recommend.

    Akihabara, lovingly known as simply Akiba, is the mecca of Japanese geek culture. Akiba is crammed full of shops and restaurants all catering to all possible branches of nerdom. If it exists, you can find it in Akiba. Which is expensive for a poor Otaku. Answering an ad for a part time job as a medical research guina pig that pays in rare collectables, Player Character, wakes up strapped to a table. He soon learns he’s been turned into a Synthister, a man-made vampire that feeds off people’s life energy. Synthisters are powerful but still unable to take much sunlight (wonder how you could possibly fight them? Huh…. I’m sure there’s a clue in the title, right?) Luckily for him, he’s soon rescued by an unknown girl and before he knows it they are leading his friends into battle against the forces of greed in the crowded streets of Japan’s nerd mecca.

    Akiba’s Trip is one of the best localized titles I have seen recently. The dialog is quick and fairly well written. US publisher Xseed deserves a lot of the credit here. It’s enough to keep the stock characters from being as boring as they usually would be. The flow of the dialog with its word choices, stops and nuances that are, as a rule, completely lost in most Japanese games lift this to be a better title than it has any right to be. The dialog options allow for some really funny anti-social comments and the branching options that has effects on how each character views you. The lead characters become almost charming, especially the lead’s younger sister is one of the most adorable characters to grace the medium (until they make it creepy… and boy is it possible to make it CREEPY). Much of the best dialog comes in the side quests. Many of them revolve around someone who has taken their fandom too far. Some of it is surprisingly progressive and doesn’t ever judge them for what the character’s particular thing is, only allowing you to try to help them get a perspective on it. It’s almost progressive and for the market it’s aimed at it takes a fair amount of guts to do.

When not fighting... there's a LOT of talking.

When not fighting… there’s a LOT of talking.

    While much of the dialog itself is solid, the same can not be said for the voice cast. The delivery is perfunctory and generic. Both the English and Japanese cast do more to hurt their characters than to bring them to live. I found myself actually muting them during the long talking scenes. The J-pop soundtrack is catchy as all hell. Almost too much so.

    Akiba is a large and open area. There are more than 100 shops to visit and thousands of sale flyers to pick up. Ads dominate the landscape, videos for other Xseed titles stream on all monitors you see, posters for different anime and cafes are plastered on almost every available surface. It’s a great place to roam and explore. The only draw back is it’s put together in bite size chunks. There’s just no excuse for this to not be an open world.

    Fighting consists of your normal high, medium and low attacks. Each targets a specific clothing item on the opponent character, so using high attacks on enemies without something on their head is just wasting your time. Each piece of clothing has its own health bar and once it gets down to about half you can wear it down even quicker with a button mashing grab for it. After having deal enough damage the article begins flashing red which allows you to pull it off. You can chain these clothes grabs for long sessions of tug and scorch. One thing that combat is missing is any kind of targeting system. So you will spend a fair amount of time lunging and grabbing at air. Usually while surrounded by a half dozen angry, half dressed Synthisters.

Tug of war is forever ruined.

Tug of war is forever ruined.

   There is little variety in the encounters which could lead to the game becoming tedious quickly. Acquire tries to make up for this with the huge number of makeshift weapons available to you. While the weapon types are fairly limited, there are hundreds of each type. There’s also a huge variety of clothing options for your character to suit up with, almost all of it is literally ripped off enemies.

    Visually Akiba’s Trip is nothing special and there are some annoyingly long delays with the NPCs in each area. Like the segmented map, there’s just no excuse for this. You’ve loaded the area and it’s completely empty for a good 30 seconds before grey shapes start to form and another wait before their skinned. The ads, on the other hand, load up fast as shit.

    Akiba’s Trip has a lot going for it. If you don’t react with automatic disgust at the stripping mechanics, there’s a pretty good title here. It’s an equal mix of male and female opponents, all with equal perv time. There was so much that could have gone horribly wrong here but Acquire pulled it off. If only the combat was a bit more varied or the voice cast gave it a little effort. If you are a fan of anything Japanese geek, you’ll have a great time. If you think that Japan is a nation of perverse sex offenders you won’t.

Team Stripping...

Team Stripping…

Akiba’s Trip- 6.8 It’s a good effort but it doesn’t quite work in general. While it’s a treat for its audience, it probably won’t win anyone over to this niche market.

Bound by Flame

Best joke in the game? The option to change the character's name.

Best joke in the game? The option to change the character’s name.

    French developer Spiders unleashes their fourth role-playing game and the first to be released for PS4, Bound by Flame. While no one would confuse a title from Spiders with a AAA release, their earlier genre entries showed a lot of potential. They took chances, were ambitious, handled their dark themes well and worked the conventions of the genre with skill despite being held down by some questionable design choices and obvious budget limitations. Most of these phrases can not be applied to Bound by Flame.

    The world is dying. The seven Ice Lords and their Dead Army have almost completely stamped out mankind. The majority of those who remain have all but given up. Vulcan, a mercenary with the Freeborn Blades, is protecting the last remaining group summoners who are trying to call up some supernatural help to push back against the tide. That doesn’t go as planned. It goes as wrong as could be expected in the situation. Vulcan finds himself sharing his body with a flame demon. Which is a stroke of luck since, in case you hadn’t guessed by their name, the Ice Lords are not fans of fire..

    Standard fantasy set up. That’s alright. This can be overcome with a strong script and solid voice acting. Spiders failed to give any of the cast personalities beyond that of “complete jackhole”. When the characters aren’t tossing out bad snarky jokes, they spew fantasy drivel that’s punctuated with vulgarity. There’s nothing wrong with vulgarity on its own. I use it all the time. There is a problem when it is so heavily shoehorned in every fucking line, when it’s the only way the writers try to show how dark and vicious this world is. While it is constant, it is still not enough to make up for the fact that almost every name is a bad pun. All your companions have a fairly dense catalog of stories to tell you if you ask but none of it really adds to their character, except maybe lead you to hate them more, or is other than dry filler. While your decisions in dialog will actually affect the game world, everyone is fairly oblivious to these changes. There’s an even bigger problem with some of the writing in this but I’ll get to that later.

The dialog... it sparkles! It crackles! It can make your ears bleed!

The dialog… it sparkles! It crackles! It can make your ears bleed!

The voice cast is… terrible. They deliver their lines in the most perfunctory manner and fail to even bring a sense of urgency or personality to the characters. The Captain of your mercenary band does heavily channel Sean Connery, and it’s a terrible impersonation but at least the actor tried. Failed, but tried.

    Character creation is only cosmetic. It doesn’t matter if your Vulcan is male or female, it changes nothing. It doesn’t matter if you change the characters name, everyone will constantly refer to you as Vulcan. There are only six options available for each category.

    Bound by Flame is an action RPG, Vulcan slices and dices through the legions of the Dead Army. There are two fighting modes to switch between. First is Warrior Stance where you wield two handed swords, which deals greater damage and can block almost any attack. There’s also Ranger Stance where Vulcan uses a pair of knives, can sneak up on the undead and is more nimble but takes considerably fewer hits. A successfully timed block in Warrior Stance or dodge in Ranger slows down time allowing you to get a couple hits in. In either Stance you can summon pyromancy skills to give you an edge. Each of the three combat options has it’s own skill tree allowing you to refine them to your own play style.

    While the combat at the core is a solid experience, Spiders couldn’t leave it at that. The lock-on function is all but useless as to which enemy on screen it will lock on and follows no decipherable rules. The majority of your companions go down insanely fast. The environments are crammed with enemies that surround you, all of whom don’t just have a bag of cheap attacks but who can pretty much juggle you like a ball at any time. Every hit you receive is also an interrupt so half the combats you find yourself not being able to fight back or knocked flat on your ass being pummeled. Vulcan is slow to get up. Very, very fucking slow.

Seriously... she's dressed pretty damn conservative for a  magic using female character in a fantasy RPG. I really wish I was kidding about that.

Seriously… she’s dressed pretty damn conservative for a magic using female character in a fantasy RPG. I really wish I was kidding about that.

Saving the worst for last. The dev team seems to hate women. Powerful women especially. The only companion Vulcan picks up who is not completely useless is Edwen. She is first found in captivity and scantily clad. While at first the game makes comments about it’s inappropriateness for fighting, they never allow her to put on something more, you know, armory. Which could have made for some alright gags on the genre. Bound by Flame doesn’t really go there. Instead every other character is constantly making sexual references to her, telling you that she’s not to be trusted for no other reason than how she is dressed. They seem to completely forget that she joyously cut out your employer’s heart while laughing giddily. Nope, that’s all fine but how DARE she dress like that? There’s no mention that she’s strong and obviously psychotic or that she’s the only option worth travelling with and they’re a little jealous. She dressed like a slut so you totally can not trust her. Yeah… they say exactly that… repeatedly. Ok, Spiders is a French developer, let’s excuse it because of cultural bias (we shouldn’t but for argument’s sake we are going to). So how do we write off the overtly sexualized Concubines or the boss fight that ends with a cutscene where Vulcan chokes her to death while grinding on her?
Right. You can’t. There are some good ideas in Bound by Flame but there’s just no way to recommend it. The fights are endless and boring, the enemies are all cheap, the gameplay is broken, the script is shit, the voice acting is painful to hear.

Bound by Flame- 3/10

Destiny

No denying that Destiny has some beautiful scenery.

No denying that Destiny has some beautiful scenery.

Bungie’s first title outside of the Halo franchise since Oni in 2001 has been one of the most eagerly awaited and heavily hyped games to ever take the medium’s stage. With that in mind, I know that nothing anyone says about it matters. No matter it’s problems or failings, it’ll be the commercial giant that Activision and Bungie have gambled and estimated over $500 million for development and advertising on. Tragically, that does not mean that it’s a game that can forgo review or if they’re not glowing that Activision won’t say that it’s only whiny internet trolls. You guessed it… this is apparently a whiny troll’s look at Destiny.

    The Traveller, a giant, possibly sentient, celestial body was found on Mars and its discovery triggered a golden age of peaceful exploration and technological advancement that lasted for a hundred years. Then came The Collapse and The Traveller’s ancient enemy called The Darkness. The only known survivors on Earth were saved by The Traveller as it sacrificed itself. Now, 700 years later, The Traveller hovers dormant above the only safe city remaining on Earth and hostile aliens have taken residence in humanity’s ruins. Taking the mantle of a Guardian, who are given strange powers known as The Light taken from remnants of the dormant Traveller, you are tasked with the daunting challenge of defending the City, reclaiming the species place in the Universe and maybe one day reviving The Traveller itself.

    Character creation offers three species to choose from, this selection only has cosmetic value. Humans have a standard militaristic look, reminiscent of the look in Bungie’s Halo series. Awoken are your basic Elven race, lighter armor and blue hued skin. Exo are self aware machines that pre-date the Collapse. After choosing a race there are three classes to choose from. Titans are the heavily armored giants, a standard warrior class. Hunters are more lightly armored and thinner, a standard rogue class. Warlocks are the lightest armored but have more special light powers from The Traveller, a standard wizard class. All classes use the same armor and weapons. Eventually, with leveling up, all the classes split into two subclasses and their skill trees eventually establishes great differences between all. It’s too bad that it takes so long for this difference to be really felt and appreciated. For far too long, class seems almost as meaningless as race selection and individualization takes almost to the soft level cap of 20 to really notice.

IMG_3858

    Gameplay is a solid, if generic, first person shooter offering. The controls are wonderfully responsive and tight on a level that is never seen on a console. Not once did it feel like everything would work better with a keyboard and mouse. Destiny offers some incredible firefights, tense and overwhelming odds as you blast your way into a Hive base… all of which become repeated so often that by the third time you start to wonder how you could have possibly found it interesting the first time around. While the first 3rd of the story missions pass quickly but even in the early stages the shadow of the coming repetitiveness starts to be cast over the proceedings once you realize you’ve shot your way through the path you are on four times already. Enemy AI is just too stupid to keep you on your toes. Enemies will take cover, try to flank or charge you directly. This never changes no matter how many times you go through these firefight. They only change up is on occasion they will deploy in a slightly different manner, it’s a nice break up if only it was because the AI was testing you and not because you’d blasted your way through the group three times already.

    The graphics can be breathtaking. When you first enter an area it is absolutely gorgeous. The background and distant views promise fantastic and unique places to explore. You never get to any of these locations. You instead spend your time on what is really one large map on each planet, running from the same starting point through the grounds your past missions took place to a new corridor or cavern. After a short while the maps begin to look their generic reality as you stumble through the same firefights a dozen times. Coming across another player on a map is one of the highlights as you can either briefly team up or sit back, allow them to blast their way through and wait for the enemies to respawn before taking your go through an area. Tragically there’s no fall in or out team ups, meaning if someone comes on into your open map firefight that you’ve spent the last 10 minutes fighting through, they can grab the lone drop your trying to get, leaving you to repeat it all over again… and sometimes again…
Boss fights, especially in strikes, are some of the most boring ever put in a shooter. Every boss is a giant bullet sponge. You can hammer away at them for nearly a half hour in story mode, and even longer in strikes. To make matters worse, after blasting away for twenty minutes, you will often get hit with a one-shot-kill blast, which requires you to start the whole damn thing over again. This isn’t immersive, it isn’t a challenge… it’s just cheap.

SHOOT 'EM!!!

SHOOT ‘EM!!!

    While there is nothing wrong with a little grind, Destiny relies on it too much as you approach the end of the story missions. If you thought that the endless revisits to areas was bad in the normal course of the game, the grinding through them for hours just get get a single level up is almost torture. Thankfully, Bungie must have realized this as they also allow you to level up, and at a much faster pace, in their PvP arena known as The Crucible. Like most of Destiny the PvP is strangely limited. There are eleven maps in the Playstation releases and ten on the Xbox releases with four modes that unlock as you play. PvP is a mixed balance. While most weapons and armor rates are balanced out, there is no balancing for special skills. So while skill can be a major factor, a splash damage attack can also wipe everyone else out in a matter of seconds. There’s also a strange lack of competitiveness in PvP. Regardless of how you do, you receive a fair amount of experience and the lack of leaderboards, an odd oversight from Bungie that the community has been quick to rectify on their own with leaderboard tracking sites, take the edge off of it. So even the most embarrassing beating your team takes is still a completely worthwhile use of time.

    Besides the beautiful backgrounds, Destiny’s strongest element is its score. It swells and falls and blends seamlessly into the experience. Martin O’Donnell has pulled off an amazing feat with it. If only Bungie had point the same amount of care into the script. It’s lazy and often nonsensical. Too often it goes for a sci-fi nonsense that they often tell you they can’t be bothered explaining. One of the first lines uttered is “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain”. It’s almost insulting how little Bungie has bothered to flesh out this universe. Almost as sad as how underused the majority of the genre favorite stuffed voice cast is. Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion, Bill Nighy, Peter Stormare, Lance Reddick and Claudia Black all have a few lines but they come and go so fast it’s a wonder that they even to shell out the cost for them. Almost the whole of Destiny’s narrative drive is placed solely on Peter Dinklage’s performance of Ghost, your AI sidekick. To his credit, Dinklage has some great reading that in a lesser actor would have just sounded as goofy as it really is. Tragically, these moments are few and far between and many of the lines you hear most often must have come at the end of a long day of recording as he sounds barely awake.
Bungie has spent many hours talking about Destiny’s social aspects. After hours of playing, I still have no idea what they were talking about. The only chat is when you are in a fireteam and only with your fireteam. Outside of it you are limited to waving, pointing or dancing. This isn’t social interaction, it’s just goofing. The social hub area is completely pointless, unless you want to just point at others. There is no sound there, no text communications to find a team. For a title that has spent so much time and effort to talk about it’s social element, it’s distinctly lacking.

IMG_3854

    To be completely fair, I don’t think today’s Destiny will be the same beast it will be a year from now. Bungie’s ambition seems to have over reached their skill but they’re also playing a long game here so maybe it’s really too early to call it a hit or miss. Maybe the future plans will raise Destiny to something resembling the experience that we’ve been promised since it was first officially announced back in 2011. Maybe no one will care by then.

Destiny- 7/10 There’s a lot of potential for the future here but it’s just not there yet.

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Drakengard 3

IMG_3822

A GIFT OF PAIN!!!!

Let’s be totally honest here. This is a niche title. It’s another in the “Oh, look how desperate Japanese games are to be weird, what a shame it always feels so damn forced” category. A prequel to the earlier two entries in the cult series, it still insists on making more than it’s fair share of winks and nods to the other titles and the whole time feels like it’s trying to be Neir… which isn’t surprising since many of the same folks worked on both. Tragically it’s no Neir and it’s no Drakengard 1 or 2.

    Zero is out to kill her sisters. Unfortunately, her first attempt fails and she loses an arm as well as her loyal dragon, Michael. A year passes when we pick back up and Zero decides to try against but this time she decides to attack each in their own lands one at a time, instead of stupidly taking them all on at once like she did the first time, supported by the child reincarnation of her dead dragon named Mikhail. While facing hordes of loyal soldiers would be a problem, Zero is an Intoner, a magical being sent from the heavens and controls the world in song. Before the end you’ll learn the secret of The Intoners, the timeline will split and all of this is will be monitored by a being called Accord. Yeah.
Unfortunately to get to the interesting parts you have to get through the rest of the game. The characters are all terribly written and insufferable. In Japanese tradition instead of being an interesting anti-hero Zero is just an insufferable bitch, made even worse when they attempt to explain her and soften her later on. The legions of enemies are all mind controlled by lust. Mikhail offers an interesting counterpoint to Zero but is one of the most annoying characters in gaming. The other Intoners are all variations on Japanese fetishizing of women. It’s all very… tedious and doesn’t once try to break free from the bonds of the standard. Though the ideas presented in the second half of the game are solid and incredibly interesting, they’re just not worth the effort to get to or play out.

Have I mentioned how much I hate this kind of cutesy shit? If you go dark, go fucking dark. Don't pull this half ass garbage repeatedly. Still better than when they do the audio drops.

Have I mentioned how much I hate this kind of cutesy shit? If you go dark, go fucking dark. Don’t pull this half ass garbage repeatedly. Still better than when they do the audio drops.

Graphically Drakengard 3 is one ugly date. Textures are muddy, backgrounds and characters look like they were taken directly out of a shelved PS2 title. The only thing here that really pops is the blood effects. I’d be lying if I didn’t say these effects are one of the best things presented here. Zero’s white outfit gets splattered as you progress, the camera gets it’s fair share of splatter as well. If only they took it a step farther and bloodied the landscape or the cluster of enemies standing right next to whatever fountain you’ve just sliced in half. Frame rate slows to a crawl in every encounter… I found myself flashing back to the days of “slow mo” options on aftermarket controllers where everything became a jittering stutter step as it wailed on it’s pause function.
The camera keeps pulling itself downward. It sticks to walls. It shakes like it’s located in the middle of an earthquake specially for it. It pulls too close to be of any use. It’s even worse when dragon riding. If everything before sounded passable to you… the camera is the most inexcusable feature here.
Of course all of this is forgivable and, as unbelievable as this might sound, can be overlooked if the gameplay is good. Drakengard 3 still doesn’t shine in this regard. The mechanics are simple, easy to pick up and there’s a fair number of combos available by the end… there’s just no reason to bother with any of it. Based on four switchable weapons, each for a specific type of enemy, there’s no reason to delve beyond your basic button mash. No matter how you play, enemies fall quickly and easily. They insist on either just circling you for the most part or running full steam ahead into a wall. At no point does anything outside of a boss battle give the slightest amount of challenge. To break up the hack and slash, Zero will mount Mikhail and take to the skies. Mikhail is a tank and destroys everything with even more ease than Zero does. It makes you wonder why she ever stops riding him.

At least there's plenty of gore in an attempt to cover the incompetence of everything else here.

At least there’s plenty of gore in an attempt to cover the incompetence of everything else here.

The graphics hurt your eyes, the fights are boring, the bosses are jokes, the camera has Parkinson’s and cutesy “edits” of graphic images and sounds. There’s just nothing to recommend here… unless you’re a fan of this niche of gaming. Then you’ll probably love it. If not, you should skip this and pick up Neir if you haven’t already.

Drakengard 3- 4.5/10… it’s just not my type of game. I get that. I’ve played through many of this niche market lately and will admit that I might be a little too hard here.

The Walking Dead: Season 2

STILL. NOT. BITTEN. First episode... single best moment of the whole season.

STILL. NOT. BITTEN. First episode… single best moment of the whole season.

Telltale Games second trip into the massively popular zombie riddled world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Telltale’s first season was one of a handful of titles released in 2012 that really helped set a high water mark for story and scripting in video gaming. The shadow it casts is still a large one. Keeping that in mind, there’s no surprise that Season 2 suffers from a sophomore slump.

    Clementine, the young survivor from season 1, is still on the road eighteen months after Season 1’s final episode, No Time Left. Rumors of a safe haven called Wellington are drawing many survivors north. Falling in with a new group who are on the run from despot Bill Carver. Tragically for Clem there are still hundreds of miles, thousands of walkers and nearly as many bandits between her and possible salvation.

    Season two’s gameplay is just like Telltale’s other release so far this year, The Wolf Among Us. Gone are the puzzles but remaining are quicktime action sequences, one or two in each episode do provide a nice break from the handholding and near endless dialog sequences. Controls are not nearly as responsive as they should be for quicktime. It’s not a deal breaker, even if it doesn’t register as it should on first attempt you get more than enough time to do it again… and again when necessary. What could be a deal breaker is how there’s no variety in the events. It only consists of two types. Type one is Zombie Action!!!, in it you dodge zombies and occasionally kill one. These should be tense moments but they aren’t. At no point does it feel like Clem is actually in danger. Type two is a normal button jam, but again, even if you are pushing through a tightly confined space with a biter right on your ass… there’s just no feeling of immediate danger, you can stop and take a couple deep breaths, maybe even get yourself a cup of coffee and a quick catnap, before hitting the final input if you want. I don’t expect this series to turn into a hard core action title, it’s the last thing anyone playing it wants, but at least some sense of urgency would go a long way.

So many dialog options. So little actually matter.

So many dialog options. So little actually matter.

    The other half of the title… I really can’t call “gameplay”. While there’s a great number of dialog options and some of the response times are really short, it’s too passive to be immersive. There’s also the fact that the constantly morphing group around Clem just aren’t very interesting. Where Season 1 really shined was in the character depths and story arcs for every member of the group, without losing site of the main relationship between Lee and Clem. Season 2 just keeps saddling you with disposables. While some have a good moment, it’s nearly impossible to care if they live or die. Ultimately, like all things in this franchise, it comes down to people acting like children and making the dumbest calls possible for cheap drama. The whole narrative relies on already caring about Clementine and if you go in without that, I don’t see it holding anyone’s interest for very long.

    While Clem has some great dialog throughout the season and a couple of actual choices in the finale, everything else leading to it feels meaningless and artificial. There are more variables in play this time around but the majority of them don’t really affect anything. For example, there is a character who can die as early as Episode 2- A House Divided. His death or survival at that point has no consequence to later episodes outside of a line of dialog or two. Events are pretty much static. While Telltale’s thing has always been a single narrative that’s only slightly modified by the player’s responses there are just too many moments where it simply doesn’t matter.

    The Walking Dead Season 2 suffers from far too much been there, done that. Honestly, the game pretty much boils down to just redoing highlights from Season 1, the TV series and the comic. There’s another pregnant survivor, there’s more guts smeared herd strolls, a violent dictator antagonist, characters acting like children because it’s easier to make drama by having everyone act like a bitch to each other instead of trying to survive. I do have to give Telltale credit for the ballsy move of putting us in Clem’s eleven year old shoes, as well as having us be largely ignored by the rest of the cast like a kid’s input would be, instead of casting players as a new protector/guardian for Clem. I can’t say that the whole short trip is worth it for the ending. Telltale seems to have made sure that this is the end of the road for Clementine’s tale, though I have no doubt she’ll pop up in someway in Season 3. No matter which of the three main variables you play out all have a nice finality to them and feel fairly fitting even if not truly satisfying. While it’s a rough patch in the series, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Season 3.

Bill Carver... like Thoe Governor but, you know, boring and not really threatening.

Bill Carver… like The Governor but, you know, boring and not really threatening.

 

The Walking Dead: Season 2
Overall- 7.5/10

Episode 1- All That Remains- 8/10

Episode 2- A House Divided- 7.5/10

Episode 3- In Harm’s Way- 5.5/10

Episode 4- Amid the Ruins- 6/10

Episode 5- No Going Back- 6/10