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

 

The Witch and the Hundred Knight

The camera is often useless. Especially in the early stages where trees overwhelm all of the map off the main path.

The camera is often useless. Especially in the early stages where trees overwhelm all of the map off the main path.

The Witch and the Hundred Knight is a stage based action JRPG from Nippon Ichi Software, the developers of the greatly loved Disgaea series, and published by NIS America, who have unleashed Time and Eternity and the Hyperdimension Neptunia on the world at large. It’s also the single worst gaming experience I’ve ever had. I won’t lie and say that I’ve had a lot of love for the JRPGs that have come across my path in the past couple of years and most of the worst have been brought to us by NIS America. In theory there’s some good stuff hidden behind the massive amounts of just tossed in garbage. The dark material could really work if it wasn’t presented in such a desperate to shock and with an unwillingness to actually go as dark as it needs.

    Assuming the role of the mythical Hundred Knight, whose legend of being an all powerful monstrously large demon warrior turns out to actually be a tiny and fairly cute demon… who will eventually be an all powerful blah blah blah. You’ve been summoned by the Swamp Witch Metallia to spread her domain by unlocking the Pillars of Tolerance, giant flower like things strewn all around the world that are for some reason stuffed with toxic swamp, and to destroy her enemies. Of course this means her enemies are all the goody two-shoes who most games annoying you throw you with. Let’s take over the world! Who doesn’t love a little domination and subjugation? This should at least be fun, right? Nope.
The biggest problem of the many with this is the character of Metallia and the endless dialog. Most of the dialog brings nothing to the game. It doesn’t establish the characters better or bring their motivations to light. It’s just lengthy set ups for incredibly bad jokes. Whole chapters of the game are just set ups for throw away punchlines. That will be repeated endlessly. Metallia is a tiring character. Throwing out insulting names for all, none of them even passingly humorous and often making sexually violent comments, she’s tedious. By the end of the tediously extended instructional stage I was already bored with her constant screaming and annoyingly censored vulgarity. That’s right. They won’t let her say “fuck”, even though she says it CONSTANTLY, but summoning horny rats to rape her just defeated foe is ok. It’s a strange line this game makes for itself to earn it’s T rating. The game seems to constantly congratulate itself for being about an evil character but doesn’t have the grit to actually make it more than a jokey boring snittiness.

One joke... twenty minute unskippable scene to get to it.

One joke… twenty minute unskippable scene to get to it.

    Of course this is a game and even the chore of the cutscenes and putting up for Metallia would be ok if the gameplay were up to snuff. Guess what? It’s another let down. While the basics work well enough, it just gets too convoluted with a dozen mechanics that do not ever really do anything. While there’s nothing wrong with deep gameplay there is something wrong with making it mostly optional. Every enemy has specific weaknesses which are flashed on them when they approach. The idea is that you will then quickly switch to a weapon set that works best for that enemy. This idea doesn’t work out because not only does the constant having to fall back to get what the game considers enough space for you to open the inventory to do this start taking up too much time but even bothering with it gets dull. Before the end of the first stage I had just made a cycle of my five best weapons of various types and rode them throughout. It’s really the only way to work it. Yes, most of your attacks won’t be terribly effective but stopping the flow every 10 seconds to change your loadout simply isn’t fun or engaging.

    The stage maps are all of decent size and exploration isn’t awful. The problem here is that you have to make multiple trips and the Gigacal mechanic. Gigacals are basically a forced time limit. Every action, even just standing there, burns them at different speeds and running out forces you to return to Metallia’s lair, the only way to refill them in one go. While there are items that will refill a small amount of it, they’re the rarest items and don’t really make enough of a difference to bother with unless you are in a boss fight and about to run out.
I really don’t want to waste more time with this. To quickly proceed in brief. There’s also problems with the controls, they’re just too complex to be really workable on a controller without often triggering the wrong thing in a fight. The voice acting is awful across the board. The camera is too often obscured. The graphics are poor and the particle effects are eyesores. The credits play after every stage for absolutely no reason I could figure out.

Hey! It's Final Fantasy and Star Wars characters Biggs and Wedge. Nope, their inclusion like this doesn't reek of cheap fan wank. Not at all.

Hey! It’s Final Fantasy and Star Wars characters Biggs and Wedge. Nope, their inclusion like this doesn’t reek of cheap fan wank. Not at all.

There’s just no reason to bother with The Witch and the Hundred Knight. I don’t get why companies insist on porting out these titles that don’t have any appeal. I know there are some great games being made in Japan that never see but completely deserve a release to the whole world. Why do the companies that are willing to bring them out only bring these pieces of shit over? There’s no way the small but dedicated JRPG fanatics can make this a sustainable business model. Give us some of the good stuff guys, not this terribly made crap that will appeal to no one but will sell a couple hundred copies because the press doesn’t cover them and the fans will buy sight unseen.

The trees... THE TREES! THE TREEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!!

The trees… THE TREES! THE TREEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!!

2/5- 1 for making it out of Japan and 1 for some interesting concepts.

Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2

Some of the castle's scenery is fantastic.

Some of the castle’s scenery is fantastic.

MercurySteam closes their Castlevania reboot series, the 35th entry in Konami’s franchise, with the interesting idea of placing us firmly in the shoes of the prince of darkness himself. Tragically, their view of Dracula is a whiny, guilt ridden little bitch. This horrible character view isn’t helped any by the game’s repetitive, boring combat or it’s awkward stealth section or the terrible character designs or the linear and boring level design. It’s not all bad but I like to get the negatives out of the way up front.

    Gabriel Belmont has long ruled as Dracula when his castle is attacked. After quickly dispatching the invaders, Dracula wakes up a thousand years in the future to find a city built over the ruins of his castle. Weak, mostly powerless and almost dead he is confronted by his old enemy Zobek who informs him of the impending return of Satan. Satan has been unable to revive before because of the powers of Dracula. Zobek offers to kill Drac if he will regain all his powers and take out Satan’s three acolytes before the can summon the Big Evil back to life. So… in order for Dracula’s guilt ridden existence to end he needs to get healthy, insanely powerful and then let his oldest enemy just kill him after removing the only other being that is equal to him in power? Yeah. That sounds reasonable and not at all like a set up for awful. It’s ok though, since Dracula is incredibly stupid he jumps at the offer and never once thinks twice about it until he’s told otherwise.
Now this story could have been a lot of fun if it didn’t take itself so damn seriously. The director of Lord of Shadows 2, Enric Álvarez, takes this inanity far too seriously. It feels like he convinced himself that he was telling an important story here. The game feels that it’s convinced itself that it has something to actually say about redemption and fate and he nature of mankind. It doesn’t. It offers a rambly and incoherent meditation on nothing. It’s really too bad that no one could take this project in hand. Where the original Lord of Shadows embraced its silliness, thanks to the guiding hand of Hideo Kojima, this follow up is in denial of it. You can’t fault Álvarez for his ambition but you can fault him directly for it’s bloated failures.

Same can not be said for the City.

Same can not be said for the City.

The voice cast is stuffed with heavy hitters. Patrick Stewart’s Zobek is a solid and standard Stewart voice performance. He gives both gravity and a feeling of much needed self-awareness to the part. It’s what he does in games and he still does it wonderfully. This can’t be said for the rest of the cast. To be fair they mostly do the best with what they are given. Except Robert Carlyle’s Dracula. Carlyle is a damn good actor and often elevates projects he appears in. That is not the case here. His Dracula is flat and boring. He’s obviously just not feeling the material and has decided to not even try. It’s a shame since so much of the game’s heavy handed story needed a seductive or engaging performance of this part to even remotely work.

    Lord of Shadows 2 splits your time between the series standard castle and the future city built upon the castle’s ruins. Both settings are linear and you’ll visit each section repeatedly giving the illusion of a more open world than there actually is. The castle’s sections are each unique and punctuated with some incredibly stunning backgrounds. It’s the only real highlight in the game. The city, on the other hand, is one of the most boring and derivative environments I’ve seen. Every part of it is flat and offers nothing that has not been copied out of a thousand other titles.

    Lord of Shadows 2 really shines in it’s combat system. The combos flow nicely, the controls are responsive and the quick switching between weapons offers the possibility accommodating every play style. Sticking with Castlevania tradition your main weapon is a whip-like weapon with a nice range and speed. Complementing it is the Void Sword that, while the weakest of the three, replenishes Dracula’s life a small bit with every hit and can blast ice magic at targets to slow down enemies or freeze water to open a small area to explore. The third option is Dracula’s fingernails, the Chaos Claws, which shred through armour and enemy defenses. Chaos Claws can also fire bombs for crowd control and to knock down chandeliers to open more of the path. Each weapon has it’s own leveling and mastery system based on usage. When a skill has been used so much the total experience of it can be dropped into an overall mastery for the weapon which makes it stronger and unlocks longer combos. The boss fights are all highlights of the combat system, it’s almost a shame that all the other fights in each stage are all so wash, rinse, repeat.

Or the endless number of elevators and hallways that hide the shocking number of loads.

Or the endless number of elevators and hallways that hide the shocking number of loads.

    While the combat sings at times the forced stealth drags. Each part feels identical and doesn’t offer any real challenge. It feels shoehorned in to just pad playtime. Stealth is even more linear than the rest. Change into a rat and run along the course. It doesn’t offer any challenge or anything  on interest.

So many load hallways. Here's one made of blood. Blood hallways shift you between time periods. Oh... ew... I just got that.

So many load hallways. Here’s one made of blood. Blood hallways shift you between time periods. Oh… ew… I just got that.

     Padding, like the stealth sections and constantly having to revisit areas, is really Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2’s biggest problem. MercurySteam has taken a short game and inflated it to epic proportions. It bogs down under its own weight. There’s some great stuff at the cold black vampiric heart but we’re only given glimpses of it under all the fatty tissue. It is a prime example of what happens when no one is there to say that you’ve gone far enough. Maybe if they’d cut a couple of hours and fetch quests out or if they’d had a stronger grasp on the emotions they were going for at the heart of the narrative all of these problems would be easy to overlook. As it is though it’s a mediocre and ponderously pretentious title that has a nice place if you need something to fill the time between the next God of War or Devil May Cry title. it could have been worse.

6.5/10 – While you have to respect the attempt, there’s little doubt that it just doesn’t succeed. Not bad but not actually good. Worth picking up on the cheap if at all.

IMG_3736

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.