Reviews by Endyo

97

More than a game, a standard-setting experience

Endyo | April 5, 2013 | Review of BioShock Infinite (NA)

One would imagine with the ocean of games that are churned out these days that titles raising the bar and setting new standards for quality would be quite common -much the same way that every time the Olympics roll around, records are set and broken in nearly every sport. The assumption is that more competition means consumers get a better product at the end of the line. However, as we all know, that often isn’t the case. Yet here we are with a third installment of a mold-breaking series that somehow manages to break that mold again.

There’s something about the BioShock series that’s hard to put into words. Players are thrust in to environments that they would never encounter and have had very little exposure to even as an imaginary universe. Irrational Games (and I suppose 2K Marin has some part in it) created one of the most visually striking and atmospheric locations in gaming history when Rapture was created for BioShock. We were absorbed into the dark wet corridors and 50s-styled architecture and décor and enveloped in a game that is universally acclaimed for this and so many other feats of design and gameplay. How could they live up to that, let alone surpass it? Well the choice was obvious, they quite literally flew over it… high into the sky… where BioShock Infinite takes place.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but some basic details are common even from the trailer. You play the role of Booker Dewitt, an individual in debt from gambling and who has been promised freedom from that debt if he can recover a specific girl from the city of Columbia. The premise seems relatively simple on the surface, but of course gains complexity as the story progresses. And when I say “gains complexity” I don’t mean a couple of characters are introduced or a love triangle ensues, I mean that you’d better really listen to the recordings you find and really be scour the rooms you pass through for information to keep the story clear. You’ll be participating in the same sort of weapon/spell-styled combat that veterans of BioShock are familiar with, but it’s handled in a way that is less about random jump scares and more about performing tactically effective maneuvers and attacks. All of the elements of BioShock Infinite work together to deliver an experience that will once again have you question why other developers can’t deliver products on par.

BioShock Infinite’s gameplay is one of the aspects that holds a significant portion of the appeal for the game. I think that is the nature of a truly good game, for as far as stories can take you, you buy a game to play it right? The game focuses on the mechanic of using both the left and right mouse buttons synchronized to the actions of your hands just like in the previous games. You’ll be using a somewhat wider assortment of both weapons and “Vigors” (formerly plasmids) to blast away at your enemies. A twist up from the other BioShock games is that you’ll only be able to carry two weapons at a time rather than your entire arsenal, bringing a dynamic to the game that forces you to premeditate tactics and maintain a balance between your available vigors, weapons, and ammo that you have available. This is a welcome addition for anyone that is a fan of expressing a more tactical approach to their action shooters. Another twist in gameplay from previous games is the health system. Instead of collecting loads health kits and EVE hypos, you have only your heath bar and a new shield that recharges over time (similar to Halo). You can still pick up health kits, but they only heal you directly. The same goes for the energy you use for Vigors, which are replenished by “Salts.” In addition to this, you’ll collect various pieces of clothing that fit into one of four categories, hats, shirts, pants, and boots, each of which will give you a reasonably helpful boost of some sort. These provide things like melee damage increases and shield recharge speed. While not the most impactful element in the gameplay, they are something that you can strive to collect and use to decent effect.

As you may already know, you spend much of the game with a girl trailing you around and aiding you. This is Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a prominent fixture not only in the story, but in the gameplay itself. She won’t be fighting directly, but she will be aiding you in battle, running around collecting health kits, salts, and tossing them to you when you are in need. She’ll also open up “tears” that are randomly situated throughout the game that, for lack of a better word, warp in items such as stockpiles of med kits or automated guns. You’ll never need to randomly run off to save her from an enemy or revive her; she’ll constantly be moving to safe areas and is never a target for the enemy. While outside of combat, she’ll resume her scavenging duties and find stashes of money that she’ll also toss at you. This can be a bit annoying at times as she is exceptionally good at finding these things and having to turn and endure the catching animation can get a bit repetitive. Beyond her combat involvement, she has some of the best companion AI I’ve ever seen in any game. There were a couple of moments where she’d block a doorway to a small room or something, but never did she create a game breaking moment of AI movement. Elizabeth just felt so real and alive. Her animations were akin to a Disney princess, graceful and flowing at times. Her emotions are conveyed in a way that seems surreal at times. You never feel like she’s a burden, more like an actual person who is sharing in your trials and glory, and fluidly transitioning through the often dynamic environment. Fluidity is easily the best way to describe the gameplay of BioShock Infinite. You transition straight from the chaos of battle to the serenity of the rest of the game with the same grace and flow that Elizabeth herself so aptly displays.

It’s particularly rare, even in RPGs (which is a genre BioShock Infinite could partially fall in to), that a game can build up a story with such mystery and articulation as this BioShock does. It is NOT laid bare before you. You won’t be making decisions that directly affect the story either, much as you did in the previous BioShock games. You will find yourself wanting to take sides, but soon realizing that you can't justify any side's goals or ethics. Nothing is static, there’s no right and wrong, and everything seems to be in a state of flux at every corner you turn. The game dips its hands into subjects of controversy both for the turn-of-the-century time period and every human morality. Whether its religion, racism, class warfare, greed, nationalism, or questioning life and death itself, BioShock Infinite doesn’t pull any punches. It’s an experience that can’t be rushed through and one that can’t be fully discussed without giving spoilers and ruining the experienced. It does culminate in an ending that can be confusing, even for a completionist like myself, but discussing the story with others afterward can be just as fun as participating in it. I just have to say, it is in your best interest to take the game slow and really take in every shred of the story and the environment. There is no lack of detail in what is presented and experiencing all of it will not only add length to the otherwise medium/short length game, but also keep you from losing your mind when you get toward the end.

The visual design of BioShock Infinite is exceptional. I’m not going to tell you it’s because of the latest and greatest super high polygon models or textures so high in resolution that a microscope couldn’t spot a pixel. It’s because it’s simply just a work of art. The details, even the most miniscule aspects, are present in the game from the start to the finish. From the moment you step foot in Columbia and witness the opening sequence with its soft light filtering through the glass and air and reflecting on the shimmering water, you’ll be in awe. The design of the buildings and elements within resonate with the same old world meets new world feel that existing in the early 1900s in America. Every room and hall way have just enough within them to make you feel like this could be a real place, but not so much that it inhibits the flow of the game. The people within Columbia feel like they belong there and that they’re integrated within the city. They have dialogue that strikes a keen balance between the idle banter of normal people and building upon the breadth and depth of the story. The character models aren’t the best looking things ever to grace the face of the earth, but they perfectly fit the detailed art design and timeline of the game. What you get is an engine that runs smoothly even on mid-tier machines while still looking absolutely amazing. Don’t expect some hyper realistic physics based video card melting game, because that’s just not what this is, and I believe it benefits from that both in design and accessibility.

BioShock Infinite’s music is another element that is quite unique but ultimately works out wonderfully. It’s a blend of the soft flowing strings of cellos and violins and the distinct sounds of the old ragtime-styled piano for the quieter moments and heavy bass and drum filled themes for the combat. One of the most unexpected yet fulfilling aspects of the music is how they created so many anachronistic songs. If you’ve heard anything about this game, you’ve probably heard the acapella version of “God Only Knows” sang originally by The Beach Boys, except here it’s sung by a barbershop quartet floating on an airship. It’s something that’s spread throughout the game and makes listening to the raspy record players more fun than you’d think such an action would be. There’s nothing disappointing about the sound or music within BioShock. It’s just as prominent as it was in the original games, but engineered in such a way that it not only builds on the atmosphere, but also contributes to the depth of the story.

There haven't been many games I've played in my life that have so thoroughly captured my interest at every moment. Every bit of this game, each nook and cranny, all the little discoveries that build the story, really drive home the impression that this game was developed by people who knew from the start they had a great story to tell and crafted a game around that, which lived up to every expectation. I couldn't have possibly asked for more from this franchise. Even though what few hiccups there were served to pull you out of the game, in the end, you're left with something that you look back on with great admiration. The aftermath of playing BioShock Infinite is similar to that of a great complex and deep movie, where you hash out the details with your friends and trawl through forums seeking some perspective on things you didn't quite understand. Just like with a classic movie, I think this game will be talked about and played for years to come. It will be referenced as a standard for games that deliver on all fronts. You owe it to yourself as a gamer to own and play this game, because there's just nothing like it out there today.

80

Begs for comparison, yet falls short

Endyo | March 29, 2013 | Review of BioShock® 2

It's been a long time since I played BioShock, so long that I pretty much had forgotten the whole story and had to look it up soon after starting BioShock 2. It didn't particularly help much despite them being set in the same location (Rapture) and being separated by only 10 years. A single notable character returns from BioShock and leaves early in the game, serving only to sort of kick off the story line. Everything else is new content. It can be a bit strange to have so much familiarity surrounding you in the environment as the player, but so little of the original (and quite good) story remaining. I think one of the most interesting differences, however, is that you'll be playing as the voiceless Alpha Series named “Delta”, a version of the “Big Daddy.” Regardless, BioShock 2 does offer a memorable foray into the leaky halls of Rapture.

BioShock 2 has many of the gameplay elements that the original game had. You'll still be firing a weapon with your right hand (LMB) and using Plasmids with your left hand (RMB). Plasmids themselves are very similar to those in BioShock as well – with a couple of new additions such as Hypnotize and Scout. Weapons of course are more attuned to the capabilities of a Big Daddy despite having the same mechanics as the weapons of the original. The use of these tools in the game are fairly entertaining. It is seldom expressed what differences there are between varying tactics, such as using a minigun with the Winter Blast plasmid or Incinerate, but trying out the combinations is one way the game stays a bit more dynamic.

There are, of course, elements of the gameplay that have changed from BioShock to BioShock 2. While you'll still be rescuing Little Sisters, much more of the game is wrapped around it. You'll be taking them to corpses to collect ADAM rather than simply releasing them from their mind control and letting them go or harvesting them as soon as you finish off their Big Daddys. Then you ultimately are given the choice to do the same, save them or harvest them, but it seems like a sort of ridiculous way to just slow down the game. While collecting, random spawns of enemies come after you and halt the collection process. You can choose to simply take the Little Sisters an not collect any ADAM, but of course the severely hampers your ability to progress in the game effectively.

Another change from BioShock that I felt was unnecessary was the hacking system. I always thought hacking in BioShock was one of the best mini games in modern games. It was changed into a sort of “stop the bar” thing where your task is to stop the bouncing needle in the green or blue colored marker. It just seems like a huge step down from something fairly innovative.

The majority of the game you'll be traveling from objective to objective in the standard murky hallways, some lit reasonably well while others are completely dark. Water drips and flows from every conceivable area and enemies make enough noise that they rarely surprise, but often build suspense. Occasionally you'll come across a room that acts as a central hub. This usually serves as an indication that you'll be backtracking here. I've never personally been a fan of backtracking in games, and it is made worse here by seemingly infinite respawns of enemies. At times you can simply go in and out of a door in the hub and there will be spawns of enemies. A mechanic that made me stop playing Far Cry 2 all together.

When you load up BioShock 2, you immediately recognize the environment and the design of the characters and structures. It may have some visual improvement from BioShock, but it's really hard to tell because of this. Is there more detail on the splicer's face? Maybe, but I don't remember what they looked like in BioShock. It is all well crafted though and never really leaves you feeling like the designers weren't giving 100%. It has a quality that few games can emulate or hope to achieve these days. You really get the feeling you're in a place deep in the ocean that's dark and wet and just all around uncomfortable. As much as it delivers the standard hallway-hallway-room-hallway formula that FPS games have been offering for decades now, it seems to just make sense in the design of an underwater city. Enemies have animations that are appealing and a weight that makes them seem believable. The city of Rapture and the people within it feel just as you would expect them to, and that's exactly what I wanted.

The sound of the game is a strong point. Weapons make sounds you'll come to recognize and react to and the feedback that provides pulls the player a little further in to the game. The voices of the majority of the splicers are sufficiently manic and environmentally fitting, though they sometimes get a bit repetitive. Big Daddys, just like in BioShock, radiate their deep whale-like groans through the metallic hallways giving you a chilling “impending doom” feel. It's probably one of the most recognizable and suspenseful sounds in any game. Raspy songs of the 50s return in the game as well, providing an equally creepy feeling to the game in the same way they did previously. I think that there really couldn't be a BioShock franchise without the sound department being as good as it is.

What you get from BioShock 2 is an experience that, while still entertaining in many of the same ways as the original BioShock, finds itself lacking much of the same vigor and surprise that blew so many away in 2007. It's a good game, but being in the same location with much of the same weaponry, plasmids, enemies, and visual elements kind of feels like a cop out. The story is also not anywhere near as engaging and doesn't have enough twists or turns to make it stand out. Any elements of the story that could create breadth are trapped in the recordings that are seldom even audible over the sounds of combat. I didn't choose to make so many comparisons between this and BioShock, because the game itself seems like it was specifically created to be directly compared. Still, BioShock 2 is fun and if you can ignore the comparisons thrown in your face by the game, you'll enjoy it.

70

Not a lot to it

Endyo | March 13, 2013 | Review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Hearthfire Nexway

Hearthfire is a strange addition to the base game of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It’s odd to me that something so mundane actually costs money, albeit the cost was pretty insignificant even at release. For all of the epic quest lines and lore driven scenarios and individuals, Hearthfire offers a sort of distraction from what you’d normally encounter in the game. It doesn’t do anything spectacular or give you any sort of special powers or crazy weapons, but I suppose it does add just a tiny bit more of a realistic feeling to a fantasy game.

The core element of Hearthfire is that you can build yourself a house. It doesn’t cost all that much (less than a house you’d buy in a town) to simply get it constructed, although it seems to be as large or larger than the most expensive houses in Skyrim. Even furnishing it can be done for around the same amount if you play your cards right. What you end up with after a lot of time and effort is a house with pretty much all the tools you need as a world-class adventurer and plenty more to boot. First, of course, you have to build the house itself, which is done modularly, and using materials gathered from your local environment (for free) and plenty of iron to make things like nails and hinges via blacksmithing. Once you complete the gathering process (all of 20 minutes) you can build the complete structure pretty much instantly. Of course that’s the easy part. Then you get to build all of the furniture and random junk inside. This of course requires more of the free building materials, and of course iron, as well as a wide assortment of already existing and newly added materials like metals, glass, skins, straw, and so on. It can be kind of an unnecessary burden to deal with considering you’re supposed to be saving Skyrim and all, and often all the materials you need to carry can put unnecessary load on your inventory.

A simple way to skip this is to get a steward, which is essentially just someone who takes care of your house. A follower can be assigned to do this, though I’m unsure of any requirements for that individual. I used one of my many thanes. Stewards let you buy furniture to fill a room as well as other luxuries like a cart with a driver, a horse, and a cow (for some reason). The steward basically lets you skip a lot of the bothersome hauling of junk to finish your interior. It might be a cop out, but they probably should have made the process of obtaining goods a bit more entertaining if they actually wanted me to do it.

Hearthfire also allows you to adopt an orphan child because apparently even if you’re married, you can’t be bothered to create your own little Dovababy. I didn’t actually do this because I never got married (who has time? Dragons man…) and I felt it would be improper to leave an orphan child in a massive house without parental guidance. Regardless, it is just another thing Hearthfire offers that doesn’t seem all that spectacular.

This DLC is one that you can skip without feeling like you’re neglecting something important. Building a house doesn’t do much to change the way you look at the game, especially when you have a house in every major city already built and most likely holding all the junk you wanted to keep. It is nice to have a place to go that doesn’t require loading a whole city and of course the house is probably the best one in the game pretty clearly, but it’s not enough for me to say that Hearthfire is important for anyone but the most committed group of Skyrim fans. If you do get it, it will be a moderately entertaining experience for a bit, but there’s just not a lot to it.

90

Best of the Modern Tomb Raider Series

Endyo | March 6, 2013 | Review of Tomb Raider Steam

Tomb Raider has become a classic since it's blocky console launch so long ago. Lara Croft has been the star of several games and movies and depicted in many different ways, but always stayed true to her clever and adventurous ways. This game does not depart from the classic core formula, but offers a much more cinematic and higher quality experience than we've seen of the modern titles in the series. As we all know, they have been marred by poor controls and bugs. However, this iteration, created by a a handful of quality developers under the Square Enix umbrella (primarily Crystal Dynamics) has deviated from that trend quite well.

First of all, I have to say this is a beautiful game. It doesn't have that ultra-real feel that you'd get from Crysis 3 or something like that, but there are so many exceptionally designed elements that you find yourself just sort of hanging out and gawking at them. The lighting is superb, whether its sunlight filtering through the clouds or trees or torch-lit caverns dripping with water, you really get a feel for the environment through the way the lighting is executed. Running the game on ultimate (which from what I’ve heard from others is a bit rougher on non-AMD machines) is just a delightful experience. TressFX, a system designed to animate hair, is actually pretty impressive. I never thought I’d be particularly concerned with the hair of a character, but it looks completely authentic at times. However, the physics sometimes gets a bit wonky and it takes something that looks very life-like and makes it seem… very awkward. Water in particularly has a quality that is a bit unlike other games and, while different, it does at times seem like it’s flowing and moving with properties that you don’t expect from pre-rendered things. If you have the rig to turn this game up to the maximum levels, it’s definitely worth it.

The gameplay is nothing that will blow you away if you’ve played Tomb Raider games. You’ll be solving puzzles, jumping from place to place, lighting torches and fires, climbing, sliding, and so on. However, this title offers something that the others seldom did (if at all), some quality physics based puzzles. The good kind too, sometimes eclipsing what I saw in Half Life 2. What stands out the most for Tomb Raider though, is that despite being a console port, it is done so well that I can’t even tell it wasn’t made for PC. There’s nothing wrong with using keyboard and mouse or a gamepad, in fact, I actually found the keyboard and mouse setup to be a little more comfortable. Usually console ports to PC that involve careful timing and jumping are a pain in the ass for PC controls, but this works out pretty well. It’s come a long ways from its predecessors.

Tomb Raider is one of those games that transcends its following and could certainly be one of those mainstream “must-have” games regardless of whether you’re in to the series or action-adventure titles. It has benchmark-worthy graphics that can make you really appreciate how far technology has come and how well it can be executed even on more moderate machines (like my own). It also shows that PC ports don’t have to suck, which is something that has been pervasive in the rise of popularity of consoles. I’d recommend giving this game a shot if you’re on the fence about it. It’s hard to say anything is outstandingly bad about it. It’s not absolute perfection, but it is certainly a cut above.

83

Skyrim DLC Done Better

Endyo | March 4, 2013 | Review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn DNS

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hasn’t been brimming with the highest quality DLC thus far in its track record. Even though the game has been on the market almost a year and a half, only two previous DLCs have been released and neither could really live up to the standard set by the original game. However, Dragonborn seems to have finally broken through the glass ceiling and reached for something that gives you the feeling that you’re playing something as good as the base game, if not a bit better at times.

First of all, you finally get a chance to step outside of Skyrim. We all love the frozen wastelands and driving snow and the bit of lush forests and swamplands we can explore in the base game, but it is nice to get away from the frost and highlands for something new. Sadly, there isn’t a huge level of variety in the potentially familiar island of Solsteim. You’ll land at a place that may seem a bit familiar to those of us who have played Morrowind and its expansions, but aside from the nostalgic familiarity, you are left to viewing an ash covered hazy land of broken down buildings and of course plenty more of those cheer snow driven mountains. While adventuring as one does in Skyrim, you’ll find yourself encountering architecture and story elements that will bring back some ancient memories of Morrowind. However, if you’re like me, that was so long ago that it can be quite difficult to recall. Had this expansion perhaps visited Cyrodil, the primary location for Oblivion’s story, I might have been able to recall more of what was happening. Yet, it was still a welcome gesture in the saga of Skyrim.

Much like the base game, you’ll be somewhat guided into doing the main quest, but it’s just as easy to completely skip out on it for as long as you wish while enjoying the entertaining side quests that Dragonborn has to offer. You won’t find the epic quest chains that you encountered with the Thieves’ guild or the Companions, but you’ll definitely find some engaging quest lines that are even better than those you blazed through in Dawnguard. The main quest, however is a bit disappointing. Traveling to the Apocrytha, a land of towering structures of literature and deadly liquids, may be visually impressive, but the actions you take there can be a bit boring and repetitive. Of all the aspects of this DLC, it is easily the least entertaining and often the most frustrating. I just found myself blazing through it as fast as possible. The worst part is, these areas comprise the bulk of the main quest. There is a bit more, particularly an interesting bit of puzzle solving in a Dwemer cavern/city, but those Apocrypha moments bring it all down. There is some reprieve in that the boss fight is fairly entertaining and of a reasonable difficulty.

Something that this DLC does better than even Skyrim itself is that it feels like it’s a challenge. Not only that, you’re rewarded with items that are actually of use to you in some cases. As with much of Skyrim, once you reach a certain level and have a well-tuned set of gear and skills, the game is a breeze. You find yourself challenged more by being able to carry all the junk you don’t want/need than defeating the people that are keeping you from it. Dragonborn offers up a handful of new enemies and gives them a bit of a boost in combat giving you a reason to at least pull out a potion or two.

Overall, I found this to be the best Skyrim DLC experience thus far. I don’t know if it’s the last attempt, but I guess after all this time I wouldn’t be too disappointed if Bethesda locked it down and left us with the already massive amount of content they’ve created. Dragonborn seems to be worth the price if only to see a new land and get a bit more of the story behind the Dragons and various good and bad fellows of Tamriel.

91

More Quality Elder Scrolls Goodness

Endyo | March 1, 2013 | Review of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Nexway

The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim is one of those titles that you know well before the release date that it will kick the face off of your schedule and bury you in more content than seems should fit on your hard drive. That’s just the way Elder Scrolls games work. Personally, I started with Morrowind as many modern gamers did. We suffered a bit through Oblivion, but knew that we were only at a turning point. One that made the game more accessible and lively and didn’t have you aimlessly wandering a vast landscape based on a jumbled set of journal entries. Bethesda certainly had a challenge laid before them and I’m glad to see they didn’t back down or sacrifice the core qualities that made this series what it is.

If you’ve played any modern Elder Scrolls game, starting out in Skyrim is not all that surprising. You know you’ll be designing a character and experiencing a fairly talkative introduction. Of course, Skyrim changes it up a bit by having a ridiculously over –the-top dragon attack event immediately after that, before you even get to pick up a weapon or cast a spell. You’ll find that you’ll have fewer character skill options than you did in Morrowind or Oblivion, basically none, but a wide selection of physical appearance and race options that will have some minor influence on how the game plays out for you. What Skyrim does better than most RPGs on the market is allowing you to dictate your gameplay style primarily based on what you choose to do. For instance, if you pick up a sword and shield, you’ll be gaining skill in one handed weapons and blocking. Whatever armor you choose, you’ll gain levels within that as well. All of which contribute to the overall leveling structure. When you finally do level up, having performed enough tasks with your chosen skills, you’ll be given a menu that allows you to place a single perk point into a perk tree of your choice. It isn’t wholly dependent on the actions you’ve taken to raise your level, but each perk you choose has a particular skill level (for instance 20 one handed skill) that must be attained first. This proves to allow you to do as you choose to level up, but have a bit of freedom in the skills you choose to master and at what time you choose to upgrade them.

Using your skills can be a bit of a mixture of satisfying to somewhat lackluster. You’ll find that casting certain spells feels fantastically powerful and significant while other spells and much of the melee combat can get a bit repetitive and seem bland. A few weapons, particularly the two handed varieties, feel quite weighty and give reasonably satisfying results on impact, but ultimately the hours you invest in the game, you most likely won’t even be aware of the weapon outside of recharging the enchantments. Archery can allow for some exciting sneaking sniper-like shots that will make you feel like you’re playing an old Thief game, but as many have found, later in the game this becomes so significantly powerful that you may lose interest in using it at all. One redeeming factor of all of this is that weapons you find and upgrades you can perform upon them definitely make the adventure a little more engaging from a combat perspective. Being able to create what you perceive is the ultimate weapon or armor is a pleasant experience.

Outside of direct combat skills and spells, there are plenty of skills associated with old favorites like sneaking, lock picking, illusion, persuasion, crafting, and so on. These are all leveled quite logically, by doing what you’d normally do, and add to the depth of the game. Some of the skills from previous Elder Scrolls games are gone, like athleticism and medium armor, but outside of acknowledging their non-existence, you won’t really miss them unless you found some deep satisfaction in jumping everywhere you go or having that specific type of armor. The skill and perk system is pretty well made in Skyrim and it shouldn’t leave you looking for more even though it lacks the detail of previous games in the series. The more streamlined approach is a joy for anyone who isn’t tied to spending long hours min-maxing on stat sheets and most likely acceptable to those that do and understand the reasoning behind it.

An element of Skyrim that I found appealing that often isn’t talked about much in reviews is how well some of the quests are laid out. Some seemingly simple quest could start from picking up a book and flipping through it. Then it may lead to a large arc of tracking down clues, finding specific items, and talking to certain people to get to the end. These are things that aren’t part of the main quest or even any of the side quest chains, just things that happen in the world. It is wildly impressive to me that Bethesda would take the time to invest in decent writing and recording voices and audio for a quest a player may literally never come across. Even after over 100 hours in game, I find new quests of this nature. Quests that are part of the proper side quests and of course the main quest are equal and often greater in quality than these random quests, but that is what one would expect from a triple A title. It’s the little things that really get me going.

Quests aren’t perfect though; there are some underlying issues that can affect gameplay. For instance, when I started playing initially, I wanted to get into the game as much as possible, so I turned off quest markers in hopes of having an experience more like Morrowind. However, I found that even simple quests, such as going to a place and finding an object, became incredibly difficult as some objects would blend in to their backgrounds or not be clearly marked in any way. I spend upwards of half an hour running around a small crypt of a few hallways looking for a necklace that was completely invisible to my mildly color deficient eyes. So I’ve spent the rest of the game with the quest markers on feeling like my time was spent being guided by arrows. The caverns and dungeons quests often resolve in are also a bit bland for my tastes. The vast majority are just a twisting hallway that leads to the quest resolution and a “hidden” doorway that leads back to the entrance. For a while this isn’t something you notice, but as dozens of hours are dumped in to the game, it becomes a glaringly obvious issue. I can certainly see the reasoning behind it, as even when navigating the halls of a dungeon set up in this manner, you can easily get lost and turned around for a bit. The walls of a crypt really start to look the similar in the dark.

Skyrim is receives equal parts love and disdain for its graphical quality. While it’s a massive step up from Oblivion, some textures can still be muddy and blotchy (even with the HD texture patch) and certain elements seem as though they should have some additional liveliness. I, however, stand more on the side of appreciation for what Bethesda has achieved with Skyrim’s engine. Even on a lower end computer, it can create vistas of a quality that should be acceptable, but it really shines on the Ultra setting. You’ll often be standing on one of the many mountains of Skyrim looking out over a vast wilderness with wispy clouds and blowing snow and you’ll feel the chill of that wind and the bite of that cold. While some of the vegetation is a bit sparse and features to the land seem to wither away as you view them up close, the game shines in those broad grandiose views of what has been created. The characters in particular have come a looooong way since Oblivion’s odd faces with awkward close-ups. Animations are tighter and more realistic and facial expressions actually make you believe these people are conveying emotions rather than being pulled around by strings. However, as appealing as the graphical design is, it is enhanced a great deal by community mods. These will enhance textures, add more vegetation, make people more unique and exciting, and jus t simply make Skyrim better than it is. I added a water texture that makes looking at a lake so wonderful that occasionally I find myself just standing on a dock admiring the beauty of what someone created. Mods, just as they were with previous Elder Scrolls games, are a wonderful and welcome addition to the game.

The sounds of Skyrim are of a pretty high quality. Little bits of audio really help with the immersion of the game. Weapons clashing against armor sound just as you’d expect and spells crackle and sizzle with their respective elements and properties. All that pales in comparison to the soundtrack. The score of Skyrim is more extensive and of better quality than many movies. Jeremy Soule has gone above and beyond with these tracks and it helps set the mood for the entire game. Even the iconic Elder Scrolls theme with its soft woodwinds and strings was worked over to include a truly Nordic sounding male choir that just makes it so “Skyrimmy” that you can’t help but think of the game when it’s played. It probably helps that they play it every time you’re in combat – which is often.

If there are some particulars about Skyrim that I don’t like, and there are, it’s mostly in elements that dig in like a tiny pebble in your shoe as you go along. Stuff you’d never really notice until you do, and then it’s painfully annoying. For instance, I don’t mind the random dragon attacks, but I do mind that everyone around you, even seemingly incapable citizens of towns leap to help you fight a giant deadly death-breathing beast. Why are they doing this? They should be running away to their homes and hiding like they do in the intro. I mean the whole premise is that dragons have been MIA for thousands of years and only exist in lore as terrible things. Beyond that, there are the issues that happen with the inventory and menu. The menu is clearly designed to be used with a controller because highlighting of objects and text seems to happen independently of your cursor. This leads to often misclicking choices and items because what you have the cursor on hasn’t been highlighted. There are some mods that give you a much better organized inventory, but the issue with highlighted objects is still ever-present and ever-annoying.

However, when taken as a whole, some issues can be overlooked and accepted. The game itself does a great job making you feel like you’re part of something living. Maybe not quite as much so as the hustle and bustle of GTA games, but much better than previous iterations in the Elder Scrolls lineage. Skyrim is immensely enjoyable to a point that you’ll have probably invested at least a few dozen, if not a few hundred hours in the game before you finally put it down. The fact that it is so moddable and has a stable of quite well crafted mods already available on top of a decent set of DLC means you can pretty much play this game as much as you’d like. You have a wide variety of tasks and quests all with rich story elements told through text, voice, and in-game books at your disposal. It’s hard to find an open world RPG with so much beauty and detail that isn’t fundamentally flawed in some respect. Skyrim delivers on just about every front and is a must-have for any RPG fan or PC gamer.

98

A Classic Re-Imagined

Endyo | Oct. 9, 2012 | Review of XCOM: Enemy Unknown (NA) -

It’s been 18 years since the XCOM franchise first entered the gaming realm. An early project by the ever-awesome Sid Meier, it was a classic favorite of many people old enough to have actually played it. In the time since the original X-COM: UFO Defense or Enemy Unknown or whatever it was called in your particular region, there have been only a handful of sequels and even fewer that actually even maintained the gameplay style… let alone actually held up to the high quality and entertainment value. Finally, after so long, we’ve finally got something worth talking about.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based tactical strategy game at its core. For most of the game you’ll be commanding a small squad of four to six people across various missions that mostly center around blasting aliens in the face or faces until they release their stranglehold on whatever particular area they chose to terrorize. This is done by maneuvering your (extremely fragile) soldiers from cover to cover and using their skills (or, if rookies, lack of skills) to dispatch of the alien oppressors. The system of line of sight, fog of war, and tactical cover makes for a very tense atmosphere where you’re inching your units toward an unknown (hah) enemy hoping to spot them without putting yourself in a position to be annihilated. The entire experience will leave you gnawing at your fingernails hoping that that Sectoid you just spotted doesn’t flank you and take out the soldier you’ve been honing to a killing machine over the past eight missions.

One thing that XCOM: Enemy Unknown does particularly well is that it makes you care about each soldier individually to the point that you come to expect certain performance from them and use them accordingly. Each soldier starts as a fairly weak and forgettable rookie that has no particular skills outside of moving, shooting, and using items. If they survive, they may get the chance to level up and get randomly assigned a class – heavy, sniper, support, or assault. Heavies get light machine guns and rocket launchers and excel at sort of hanging back and laying down heavy suppressive and often deadly fire. Snipers, of course, shoot long range and do concentrated heavy damage. Support work to sort of maintain the rest of your units – healing them, reviving downed soldiers, and throwing smoke grenades for extra cover and bonuses. Assaults work as the highly maneuverable front-line forces. They’re most likely to stay alive getting in close to the enemy and using things like shotguns to do high damage when they get there. As you progress with these individuals, they begin to specialize in their respective classes allowing you to choose particular skills and abilities to make them more effective.

In addition to fighting with and maintaining your little club of fragile fellows, you’ll also be running the entire XCOM base when you’re not out directing combat. Here you’ll be building various facilities and excavating deeper in the ground in order to not only equip your squad, but also to better maintain your observation of the world and all of the attacks that occur. You’ll be building laboratories to get scientists and research the tools and weapons you need, as well as the alien threat itself. Workshops will supply you with more engineers to help you build things you research and discover. You’ll need satellite uplink facilities to support satellites you place over countries in order to detect UFOs flying in that area. Power generators give you the energy you need to run all of these buildings. There are many more buildings, including those that are inherent in the game such as the barracks, that house your soldiers, and the hangar, where all of your flying machines live. The base building aspect of the game is a bit shallow, but extremely important so it is necessary that you pay close attention to what you’re doing lest you end up broke and missing out on something you need.

The actual win/loss criterion for the game is that you must maintain support for XCOM from the various countries that support it and supply it with resources. If you lose eight countries, you’ll lose the game. Now you may think, “Oh that’s not bad, I will save everyone.” No, you won’t. Everyone is getting attacked and panicking all the time. One failed mission or ignoring the wrong plea for help at the wrong time can mean a lost country in an instant. You’ll want to make sure take careful stock of what resources you have and where they would serve best. Sometimes, it’s necessary to simply give up on a particular place simply because there’s nothing you can do. And that’s part of what makes XCOM so delightfully unforgiving.

The game is nothing short of a challenge. Not a challenge that seems unfair or a challenge that is so overwhelming you question the reason you play it at all, but a challenge that forces you to actually think tactically and strategically and assess things in sort of a cost-benefit analysis sort of a way. You’ll say to yourself something like “Ok, I know that thin man is in overwatch, but if it don’t move from the position I’m going to get flanked and I’ll never get a shot at anyone… should I try to take the shot at the thin man or make a break for that more secure cover?” Or perhaps it will be more grandiose, “Canada is one block from all out panic… but if I put a satellite above Japan I can get 200 more resources and better cover Asia for UFOs.” The turn based functionality gives you as much time as you want to debate with yourself what decisions to make, yet when you make them you’ll still wonder what could have been. It’s a truly engaging experience. The only problem I could possibly note with XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that, because the controls are designed for both keyboard and mouse and a gamepad/controller (thanks consoles) the interface seems a little clunky at times for a PC title. It’s something you kind of get used to after some time, but it can be a bit annoying for at the start. Regardless, it takes very little from the game as a whole and I would recommend it to just about anyone who doesn’t want their games to hand over meaningless wins with limited content.

85

From RPG to Shooter

Endyo | Sept. 25, 2012 | Review of Mass Effect 2 (NA) dns

Mass Effect 2 is a prime example of a game in a series that shifted focus as it progressed. The original Mass Effect was set in the same vein as the earlier Dragon Age title and of course that game was inspired by the tactical action RPGs of the past like Baldur’s Gate. These games relied on the player to use a tactical and strategic approach to each battle in order to achieve victory. Mass Effect managed to retain that aspect, but also add exciting shooter elements. That brings us back to Mass Effect 2… where the tactical elements were all but abandoned and the game became more cinematic and shooter based.

My review shouldn’t be solely based on a comparison, as that is not fair and not really an accurate way to get an impression of the game. Mass Effect 2 has many positive elements that made it fun to play and complete. Probably what was most engrossing about the game for me was the rich story that had a more realistic approach as to the nature of civilizations facing against unknown threats. It’s rare that a game can so thoroughly make you feel as though you’re a part of the story while still bringing in the fireworks and maintaining interesting gameplay.

While the gameplay lacks the tactical glory that made it so important to pause and make decisions to succeed, it added a more complex cover system and a ‘run and gun’ styling similar to what you’d see in Gears of War. It adds a lot to the pacing of the battles and makes it so you’re more consistently surprised. You still have the freedom to use whatever skills and weapons you choose from the start of the game, so you can be the raw shooter, the telekinetic biotic, the Geth killing tech, or any mix between. You can also still take control of your party and have them perform specific skills and attacks if you feel the need, but I noticed that it was not really necessary given that you can be successful making use of those twitch shooter skills many gamers have developed.

Graphically, there is a noticeable improvement over the original Mass Effect. It appears to be the same sort of engine (one that always seemed to run reasonable well even on mediocre graphics cards) but the texture resolution has increased and many subtle details appear where they were lacking before. There are also a select few grand vistas that you will come across that really show off the art design of the game. The engine isn’t anything overwhelming especially by today’s standards, but it certainly would not disappoint.

Overall, Mass Effect 2 is a fun game and a welcome addition to the series. It progresses the story at an acceptable pace and provides enough mission diversity to really keep you in the game. If you were a fan of the first Mass Effect, there’s no reason not to have this, but if you were really in to the tactical and RPG elements, this game tones back on them, and you may be disappointed.

90

Fond Memories

Endyo | June 12, 2012 | Review of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 CAP

This was one of the first games I owned when I got it for my Sega Genesis seemingly a thousand years ago. Playing it again was like a slingshot right into the glorious gaming days of yore. Dashing around at blinding speeds with Tails often trailing far behind.

This game is an excellent example of why Sonic has continued to be a prominent fixture in the platforming world amongst the greats like Mario. The game's level design made every path you take entertaining and challenging. Bosses were diverse even when the methods for defeating them were relatively slim. The music is absolutely timeless and recognizable no matter how long you've been away from the game. I'd definitely recommend this to any Sonic fan or any platformer fan.

95

My Personal Favorite GTA

Endyo | June 11, 2012 | Review of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City capsule

To put it simply, of all of the Grand Theft Auto games, this one seems to have reached the furthest in capturing a time period and running with it. It was the first GTA game to implement the idea of doing things other than basic crime, such as investing in/buying businesses and houses. It was also the first to include motorcycles which were a great deal of fun. While it was still visually roughly the same as its precessor, it had a real style to it synonymous with the 80s. The music really drove that aspect home.

Looking back, the story may not have been all that different from GTA 3 and it may not have been something that changed the face of gaming, but Vice City was fun from start to finish and to this day, my favorite amongst the seemingly endless series of Grand Theft Auto games.

90

A Steady Chain of Improvement

Endyo | June 11, 2012 | Review of Grand Theft Auto IV DNS

Grand Theft Auto dates back to a time when video games were fairly simple affairs with graphics that are now bested by your average smart phone. Grand Theft Auto IV takes the same basic formulas that have been developed over this lengthy lifetime and make polished them to a beautiful shine that nearly any individual will find pleasing.

First of all, being that so many are familiar with the GTA franchise and the way it works, I'll focus on what makes this game so spectacular, the graphics. The old GTA games were designed for the Playstation 2 console. This made them somewhat blocky and bearing low resolution textures. GTA IV was originally developed for the Plastation 3 and the PC port makes that new engine look even better. Characters, cars, buildings, weather, and the overall environment have exceptional designs and detailed textures. All of the action is rendered with detail unseen in most games, such as various damage modlels on multiple vehicles and items in the environment. The PC version of GTA IV also allows you to obtain mods (if you have a computer that can manage the increased load) that make the game to appear, at times, nearly photo realistic. One of the biggest allures of this game is to enjoy the classic carnage of GTA in a whole new engine.

The carnage I speak of is of course the same car stealing, gang fighting, machine gun blastic, helicopter crashing smash fest that Grand Theft Auto has evolved in to. You can have just as much fun pushing through the story (which is one of the better stories of the GTA series) as you can running around being a wild man living out your maniacal delusions.

This game is quite simply a must have for anyone who enjoys the formula. It may lack in a few areas such as PC requirements and cohesiveness, but it makes up for it in so many areas that it's easy to just enjoy the game as it is.

94

Creator of a Genre

Endyo | June 7, 2012 | Review of Grand Theft Auto III DNS

Even in being the third iteration in a series, GTA III managed to break its own mold and create an entirely new genre in the gaming world. A large persistent world for you to explore like an RPG, but filled with all of the action of a shooter and all of the carnage of a smash up racing game.

For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid this series or any of the many copycats and clones on the market, what you have here is a third person shooter where you play a silent protagonist who is he jack of all trades in the crime world. You'll spend your time roaming Liberty City picking up various missions to earn cash and drive the story. Whether it's being a temporary hitman, stealing cars, delivering packages, being a wheelman, or just roaming around driving a cab, you won't have to worry about getting bored.

One of the most entertaining aspects of this game is that you can manage to have a great time without participating in a single mission. Just jump in a car and cause mayhem everywhere you go. The world is always at your whim and you can proceed any way you see fit.

The game may be old and the PC port does little to improve on the very aged Playstation 2 graphics, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the title was a paradigm shift in the gaming world. It single-handedly made Rockstar Games the powerhouse it is today. Even the most sophisticated gamer should appreciate that.

88

A More Intimate God of War

Endyo | June 5, 2012 | Review of Darksiders

I'll be the first to say that I had never heard of Darksiders before I saw it on sale for $5. Some people recommended it so I decided that was reason enough to give it a shot. This was definitely a good (albeit frustrating) choice.

The comparisons to God of War are certainly valid. Even the dark demeanor of God of War is present in Darksiders, however I believe it presents a much more detailed and challenging game style that PC gamers may enjoy. Visually, it's a well crafted game. Details are not only in the models, but also in the environment... and let me tell you it is a very nice environment. I don't believe I've ever seen such a detailed close up view of a post-apocolyptic city-scape as in Darksiders.

The gameplay is very much centered around a hack and slash concept, however it does present a lot of scenarios for relatively complex puzzles as well as very difficult boss fights involving the use of all of your special skills. This is where the game earns it's difficulty rating. Boss fights are not something you just button mash through. Timing is extremely important and knowing what to do and precisely when is a matter of life and death. The difficulty aspect of Darksiders can really be the deciding factor in whether you quit in a rage or love the game. The gameplay also has some solid RPG elements that other hack and slash games seem to lack.

Darksiders was originally a console game and so gamepad controls are probably a necessity. I wouldn't even attempt to play on mouse and keyboard given the reactions you need to have to be successful. This is a game that has significant content and enjoyable gameplay, a definitely buy if you're looking for an action hack and slash.

93

Best Batman Game of Its Time

Endyo | June 4, 2012 | Review of Batman: Arkham Asylum

Coming from a long line of Batman games going back to the old 2D sidescrollers, I have to say, stepping in to Arkham Asylum was a truly fantastic experience.

Personally, I was never big in to the Batman comics from which this is based. I was more of a movie person and possibly some of the cartoon from the 90s... and of course the Adam West original reruns. So a lot of this perspective was new to me. I enjoy that it is much darker than other Batman perspectives and particularly gritty. The environments feel like they're really authentic to the dark gothic qualities inherent to the Batman universe. It realy just feels like they pulled a comic book apart and made it a place to run around.

The gameplay is engaging and really pulls you into the action. Making use of the various tools Batman is known for feels fairly fluid and his combat skills shine despite being a simple button press. Chaining together multiple smack-downs in glorious bone crunching slow motion triggers can be rewarding on its own. Navigating the twisted hallways and open areas of Arkham Asylum is both challenging and exciting. Every secret you uncover can unlock a new toy to use or a bit of Batman lore.

The only complaints I have about this game are that it seems you can spend most of the game in the "Batman Vision" that allows you to see special things like clues and important objects. It sort of detracts from a very visually appealing game. In addition to that, despite the combat being entertaining to say the least, it feels like it could use a little bit more of a dynamic calling than pressing the "attack" button a thousand times only to be broken by a random toss of a Batarang.

Overall, however, this is a top knotch game and more fun than it seems to be from observation. If you're on the fence about it, I suggest you give it a try as it is often on sale and not particularly pricey for a well made game.

80

Classic Shooter Gameplay with Some Twists

Endyo | June 4, 2012 | Review of Hard Reset

If you're one of those people who spent the days of yore playing your Dooms and Quakes, this game will certainly be familiar to you. It doesn't have quite the "sea of enemies" feel, nor does it have quite so much of the arcade-y feel, but play it for a bit and you'll definitely have some flashbacks.

Hard Reset throws you into this bleak futuristic universe where humanity is relegated to a single city surrounded by a robotic world. Obviously, the story leads to conflict. Action begins fairly quickly and is consistent throughout. You only have two weapons, which sounds limiting, but each one has various firing modes and upgrades that can be applied as the game progresses. Combat involves use of the environment and taking advantage of physics-based weapons and devices. Enemies seem to be somewhat limited in diversity, but always offer a challenge given their scripted, but often surprising assaults.

The pathing of the game is somewhat linear, but still offers you the familiar "unlocked secret" zones like you'd see in older shooters. At the end of the day though, you'll be going from A to B with some minor puzzles in between.

Overall, the game is a fairly standard iteration in a genre that is quite full of similar games. It is fun enough to keep your attention for limited periods of time, but the limited enemy variety and the simple puzzles make it easy to put down.

98

Atmosphere Without the Atmosphere

Endyo | June 4, 2012 | Review of BioShock DNS

Seldom is there a game that can so thoroughly immerse the player into an environment that's both completely outlandish but stunningly believable and engrossing. Venturing into a realm that is not often explored both in fantasy or reality, the setting for Bioshock is one that inspires awe while simultaneously being infinitely unnerving.

I have to speak more about the atmosphere of this game. Taking place entirely in an underwater city, every turn features dank, dark, beautifully rendered areas that could do no more to make you feel as though you're trapped in an aging submerged structure than is presented. The enemies you face and the obstacles that must be overcome fit so seemlessly in to this that there's no way to deny that the people who put this together are at the pinnacle of their craft.

Aside from the aesthetics, this is a game and thus the gameplay must also be considered. Luckily, this aspect does not disappoint. Given that this game is a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, a classic RPG-shooter that has had few followers, it retains a lot of the qualities of using both weapons and various super-power-like abilities to dispatch your foes. As you progress, you'll get new weapons and abilities and make what you have more effective. Using these things with the various environmental tools you have at your disposal (such as sentry turrets), you can put together a fine assortment of enemy-destroying action.

Bioshock offers a solid single player experience featuring fairly dynamic combat, challenging enemies, a delightfully twisted story, and an extremely well designed environment. Put all of that together and you have a game no one should miss.

50

A Great Disappointment

Endyo | June 1, 2012 | Review of Brink (UK)

The hype around this game was more than you'd see for your average game. It looked like it would really raise the bar in class based shooters. However, dodgy interfacing and controls along with laggy gameplay and limited scope really turned a good concept into a bad game.

It had its moments of intense action that kept me playing for a little while, but those moments were fleeting and rarely occurred. The firefights were generally bland affairs with little to do but fire and respawn. The weapons don't seem to have much kick or responsiveness, nor do they seem to lose any accuracy as you'd assume a weapon of that nature would. I wish I could say more about the gameplay, but there's not much to it. Each side has objectives that lie behind enemy lines. They do require some class synergy, but even that seems to be overridden by how shallow the game really is.

If Brink has one thing going for it, it looks nice. The environments are detailed and responsive and the art style for the character is unique. The animations they perform seem to be concise and realistic given their physical structure. It's fun to look at if you can stand to play it for long.

I honestly wish the game was as entertaining as the trailer. It had me roped in from the start, but it's just not anywhere near as good as it should have been.

88

A Good Distraction

Endyo | June 1, 2012 | Review of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (NA)

In the realm of the Battlefield franchise, this game was mediocre. That's saying a great deal though considering the high quality of so many Battlefield games. It certainly exceeds its predecessor, but it served only to be a distraction in the aftershock of Battlefield 2.

What you get with Bad Company 2 is a fairly simple single player campaign that has its entertaining moments and a fun multiplayer scene that fell short of previous Battlefield glory. Multiplayer rolls along in the middle ground between the smaller maps of Modern Warfare and the sprawling arenas of other Battlefield games. The number of vehicles (as well as their breadth and variety) are far limted to those that you'd see in other Battlefield games. Jets are gone, but helicopters remain. Combat is fast and intense, but it seems to lack that feeling of being delightfully overwhelmed that you'd get in games of a larger scale.

Bad Company 2 does deliver the goods when it comes to spraying bullets across a map and ducking for cover in somewhat destructible environments. Buildings crumble and collapse under sustained explosive fire and maps make it difficult to lock down every possible route of advance, so the evironment works to improve gameplay.

Bad Company 2 also introduces the new game mode, Rush (and Squad Rush), that puts one side as the attackers and the others as defenders. The objectives are two MCOMs,which must be rigged to explode by the attackers. If the attacekrs are successful, the defenders move back to a new set of MCOMs and the cycle repeats until all of the pairs of MCOMs are destroyed. Of all the additions to the Battlefield series, I believe this is the most enjoyable.

For the price, this is game is fun enough to let you enjoy some newer Battlefield action without emptying your wallet. If you want a more entertaining game with a larger playerbase? Battlefield 3 is your best bet.

95

A Decent Addition to a Good Game

Endyo | June 1, 2012 | Review of Battlefield 3: Back to Karkand DLC (NA) dns

Battlefield 3 is at the pinnacle of high quality modern shooters on the market right now. This expansion was the first of several to be released for the game and for many, it was purchased with the original game without prior knowledge. I for one had no clue it was even possible to buy Battlefield 3 without getting the "Limited Edition" that included this DLC.

What you get in this pack are two new unlockable weapons for each class in the game (eight in total) and some new maps that, in some cases, realy exceed the original maps that were released. Some of the maps are re-imagined constructs of maps from previous Battlefield games such as Karkand (now Back to Karkand) and Wake Island. Most of these maps are set in similar environments as the orginal release maps and of course have many of the same vehicles. However, there were a few additions - such as the F35 - a vertical takeoff aircraft that has somewhat limiting controls and a front end loader that allows you to... drive a front end loader.

The weapons that were added require specific tasks to be performed for each class. Some of these are really simple, basically just doing what you'd normally do as a particular class. Others, however, pose exceptionally difficult challenges. For instance, one requires several wins in the Squad Deathmatch mode. A place where only four people out of the 24 for each round actually get a win. This means that in normal play it can take many hours to unlock.

Aside from some minor quirks, this is a good DLC to have if you enjoy Battlefield 3. I think a large number of people already have this, but if you somehow manage to get Battlefield 3 without the "Limited Edition" then it seems this is worth the investment.

80

A Mesmerizing Time Sink

Endyo | June 1, 2012 | Review of Beat Hazard

Some time after the inital release of this game, it had an update that changed some of the core aspects of the game. This review will be of the game after those changes.

Beat Hazard is one of those games you have just sitting there ready to be launched at a moment's notice to fill in that 15 minute gap when you have nothing else you want to do. There are a lot of those around especially given the prominence of smart phone games, yet Beat Hazard does the same job with more style, entertainment value, and replayability.

The game, in all modes, plays generally like a cross between Asteroids and Galaga. A more modern comparison would be Geometry Wars without all of the Geometry. You're basically using a constant stream of firepower to blast away dozens of ships fand obstacles that for whatever reason want to see you obliterated. That, on its own, is midly entertaining at best. Yet what makes Beat Hazard a truly entertaining venture is that every enemy, every aspect of firepower you have, and most of the visuals on the screen coordinate precisely to a song you select before hand. Each song sort of works out to be a "level" in a loose sense. Though you still collect various powerups, your firepower is still pirmarily dependent on the status of the music as it currently plays. It's a bit difficult to explain in text, but think of your favorite song - it inevitably has slower and lower parts and faster and louder parts. Well the fast parts mean more damage and faster enemies, the slow parts mean the opposite. This can make for very dynamic gameplay while at the same time allowing you to listen to your favorite music in a game.

Beat Hazard delivers a fairly unique perspective on an old and tired concept. It's not quite enough to make it a game you drop everything else for, but it is certainly a fairly well crafted endeavor with a twist everyone can enjoy.

93

A Few Pieces from Perfection

Endyo | May 31, 2012 | Review of Battlefield 3 (NA) dns

It's seldom a game comes along that has so much in it and does so much so well. Yet at the same time not many franchises have a track record as impressive as that of Battlefield. Coming from a long line of fantastic titles, you'd imagine they could only make perfection. Yet this title, they manage to neglect a few key aspects that really bring the game down from what could have made it one of the best of all time.

Let me begin though by telling you about what's good. The game is beautiful. Visually it's amongst the best looking games on the market even months after its release. This shines even more in the single player. However, to really take advantage of these impressive graphics, you'll need a pretty rock solid system. Otherwise you'll be turning everything to low and pouting over all of the beautiful screenshots and videos. Not only will you be seeing great textures, animations, and overall environmental glory, you'll also be able to enjoy the fruits of a fairly decently destructible environment. Buildings lose walls and ceilings in pieces corresponding to the damage. Cover can be gone in the blink of an eye. Barricades crumble and fences can be torn away. For a multiplayer game, it is a very exciting addition. It is amazing comparing a fresh map to the war torn battlefield is becomes as even the trees are knocked to the ground.

The different types of gameplay really make the game fun for a variety of players. Whether you enjoy the classic conquest mode with various control points to capture and defend that has been around since the original Battlefield games, or the more recent addition of Rush creating a push/defend style system for more focused combat. A new addition is the squad deathmatch and team deathmatch game types. In these you'll be playing in a style more like the recent Modern Warfare games. Running on small areas of the larger maps gunning down enemies with fast reactions.

While Battlefield 3 has all of the great vehiclular combat and glorious battles of Battlefield 2, it seems to be lacking some key aspects that made Battlefield 2 so great. First of all, it doesn't have in game voice communication (VOIP) and only allows you to voice chat with friends via the web interface. This makes organizing and strategizing a task that can only be done by people willing to commit to the web based system or use a third party voice server. Another seemingly needless thing to be removed was the Commander position. This, in Battlefield 2, was a position that one person on each side could possess where they'd receive a overhead view of the battle that allowed them to direct squads and individuals as well as calll down air strikes, UAVs (scouts to reveal enemies) and other useful tools. It made Battlefield 2 more authentic and fun. Battlefield 3 lacks these things and without them, it can't live up to its full potential.

Regardless of those things, Battlefield 3 is a must have game if you enjoyed any of the predecessors or any multiplayer shooters. Every person I know that has played it has enjoyed it for many hours... even if you have to deal with Origin.

100

A Classic Born from a Classic

Endyo | May 31, 2012 | Review of Battlefield 2 Complete Collection (NA) dns

Battlefield 1942 was a game that changed the landscape for multiplayer shooters. No more was it defined by deathmatches or capture the flag... but there were vehicles and objectives and a whole new realm of warfare that was more authentic.

Battlefield 2 came along with the same plan of action, but in a new time period (a modern one) and with improvements that were both fun and innovative. Fighting from control point to control point in a combination of various armored vehicles, aircraft, and with a host of effective weapons is a clinic in what makes a game fun. Climbing in a tank and with your friends and rolling to a control point to do battle is something every PC gamer needs to experience.

Being that this game came out seven years ago now, it's obviously not the most visually appealing thing on the block, but the price and the fact that you're getting an amazing game with all of the expansions makes it something you'll easily forget. Plus you can run it on that aging laptop so you can play in creative places.

If you don't own this game or one of the more modern Battlefield iterations, definitely pick it up. It 100% fun and 100% accessible to I give it 100%.

80

Shooter Looter

Endyo | May 31, 2012 | Review of Borderlands

Games like these weren't very common, though since its popularity more have come along. At it's core it's simply a shooer with a fairly neglible story. But along with that you get some mediocre RPG elements and a loot fest you probably haven't seen since playing your last hack-and-slash RPG. Taken as a whole, it's quite the show of a fairly open world with a lot of action and entertaining multiplay.

First off, I'll talk about the visuals because you'll notice straight away it's not really much like modern games. It hearkens back to a time not too long ago when cell shading was in everything... even Zelda. The cel shading gives the game a sort of cartoony appearance which, I have to say, really offsets the ridiculous amount of violence going on. I think that it gives the game a styling that is both appealing and runs well even when you don't have the best PC. It even renders distant scenes well enough that you don't get sucked out of the fun of the game.

The gameplay is kind of a mixed bag. You're pretty much just shooting no matter which class you pick. Each class has its own special skill that you build around as you level up, but no matter how you go about it - you'll still be shooting things for 90% of the game. The only thing that really pushes you forward and keeps you from being drained by the repetive elements of shooting and moving to the next area/boss fight is that there are seas of loot to be grabbed and used or sold.

While the game has a decent amount of fairly entertaining content, the repetitiveness of the combat and the simplicity of the leveling system and skill tree mean that, the only way you'll really enjoy this game is if you enjoy loot management and the things that go along with that. Being a product of a generation growing up with Diablo and many other loot-heavy RPGs, I personally found this to be a delightful mix of shooter action and picking up shinies.

95

Bastion - A Must Have

Endyo | Jan. 3, 2012 | Review of Bastion Cap

Bastion is one of those games that come along once in a while that is basically something you can’t pass up. You’re not spending a great deal of money and you’re getting a really exceptionally made game from top to bottom. For any fan of RPGs, it’s a game that takes you back to the roots of ‘hack and slash’ but departs firmly in that it doesn’t skimp on the story. Before I even get in to the details, I’m telling you – just give it a shot.

I suppose I should start with what could be taken as the weakest part of the game, the graphics. They’re not going to make you scream and cry like a Bieber fan, but the artistic design of the levels and the obvious care taken in making levels feel alive are things you can truly appreciate in a modern game. You’ll spend your time looking at an isometric view top-downish view, but it’s really something you grow to appreciate rather than ignore as with so many other games of that nature. The colors and layout express the tone of each given level and, even though this is a game designed to run on pretty much any modern computer, give you a truly satisfactory graphical appeal.

The gameplay is not particularly complex, but each enemy can provoke best strategies that become more… necessary as the difficulty increases. Increasing difficulty is kind of what makes this game so appealing. As the game progresses a bit, you can dynamically increase or decrease difficulty and corresponding reward on the fly. This allows for a fair amount of replayability (with the seldom seen New Game Plus) and an experience that one doesn’t get with a lot of overly simplistic games these days. You’ll find the PC controls to be what you expect from the game, but it’s also possible to use a controller (premapped xbox) as the game was originally released on consoles.

The absolute best aspect of Bastion is the story. Told eloquently through in-game narration as you fight your battles, the voice acting and story are amongst the best I’ve encountered in any Indie game ever and even rivaling some of the super high end games on the market. It’s refreshing to have the story delivered in a new way. Bastion’s story is certainly not one to disappoint either. Wrought with mystery and the feeling that no one is really telling you the whole story, it keeps you interested up to the very end. I won’t go too far in to it, but it’s just nice to slow down and appreciate what’s happening in it as the narrator describes it.

I hope this review encourages some doubters in to buying it. I remember when I first saw my friend playing it on a console, I didn’t think much of it – but after playing it myself – I’m a huge fan. I can’t wait to see what else this developer can deliver.

95

Not a Bad Addition

Endyo | Oct. 21, 2011 | Review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Missing Link

At $15, this is a bit more expensive than your standard DLC, but you're not getting your standard DLC. What you receive is a very significant additional chapter to an already exceptional game. You aren't going to encounter anything vastly different from your original experience and, despite the fact that it occurs in the middle of the story, it is fairly cohesively integrated.

From the start, you'll notice the game doesn't pull any punches. You'll be encountering enemies that can dispatch of you just as the enemies from the end of Human Revolution. You will need to quickly remember what skills you made use of in the original – else you'll be taken out in a heartbeat. You'll also be starting from scratch with your augmentations, so you can feel free to experiment with new tactics you didn't try in your initial play through.

It's clear that Eidos Montreal listened to their customers and made fixes in a lot of issues that were notable in Human Revolution. It is much more viable to be more dedicated to a specific style of play without a disadvantage. This is most apparent in the fact that the old style of boss fight is gone. It's certainly refreshing to be able to go full stealth with no combat skills without being mauled by a relatively powerful boss. The Missing Link delivers a better experience than Human Revolution in this respect. However, the one thing that personally bothered me the most from the original is the jerky exaggerated movement of the dialogue scenes. I feel like the animator was trying far too hard to earn his paycheck in animating those conversations.

One thing with it being much shorter (I finished a very thorough play through in six hours), it feels like the new story elements are less significant and not expressed in as much detail. What is given to you Is clear and well written, it just seems like they could have done more with a little more time. You'll still encounter a small number of twists and it's far from boring, but had it been properly integrated in to the actual game, it would have been far more entertaining.

Taken as a whole, you're paying $15 for roughly the same amount of gameplay you get from many titles that cost $60. Not only that, but it's well made and very fun. If you enjoyed Human Revolution I would definitely suggest this expansion. It's not as important to the story as it is touted to be, but it is a nice chunk of entertainment for a decent price.

80

It's Worms

Endyo | Oct. 4, 2011 | Review of Worms Reloaded

Really. Not a lot of new in this game if you've played Worms before, but it's still a fun experience. You have all of the basic standard Worms warfare with all of your standard options and a few more new modes to spice things up. Of course most people play Worms not for any amount of single player glory, but for the challenge and tense standoffs that are brought about by multiplayer games.

There's plenty of that to go around in this game, though the games can get very slow at times. Once you master some basic techniques and understand the function and basic trajectory of each weapon, you can pretty much compete with anyone playing the game.

There's not a lot to say about Worms: Reloaded if you know anything about worms. You'll be using various weapons and items to attack and defeat your wormy opposition. Often times they're whimsical and hilarious. No matter what you do, it will create some sort of ridiculous outcome that will bring you plenty of entertainment. If you don't have a popular Worms game available to you, I'd definitely suggest getting this, but if you do - it's not really anything that will blow you away.

90

Truly Entertaining Puzzler

Endyo | Oct. 2, 2011 | Review of World of Goo

World of Goo offers reasonable challenges with engaging yet incredibly simple gameplay. It's a game that a five year old could play but a full grown adult would find fun. There's not a lot one can say about this game in reviewing it that would give someone an idea of what they're in for. You're basically using small orbs to create structures that must reach a collection device that retains all of your remaining orbs. The orbs themselves are some sort of living entities that stretch themselves and stick together in various ways to allow you to build these stuctures. There are also a variety of types of 'goo' that have different properties, such as being able to be reused, floating, or dangling.

What you get is a game with plenty of length, plenty of challenge, and is easily accessible to anyone wanting to experience it. It's one of those indie titles that everyone should play because the vast majority will have a great time with it. It's atmospheric and a little funny so even if you don't really get in to puzzles, you'll have some fun just being a part of it.

60

Doesn't hold up against time

Endyo | Oct. 2, 2011 | Review of Just Cause Capsule

Some games are timeless. This isn't one of them. It's not entirely the graphics or the gameplay or one thing, it's a combination of all of them that drove me away from this game. It's full of concepts we see a lot of in more recent titles and of course Just Cause 2 has all of the qualities they did manage to achieve in this title without all of the negative aspects. The story is completely forgettable and ignorable, but even after 30 or 40 minutes of 'sandboxing' around you just feel like you've exhausted what the game possesses. I have to appreciate What this ultimately lead to, but it's really just not something that I was in to. It just seems like if you're really wanting a full arcade-like sandbox experience you have a lot of choices out there for prices in the same ball park that deliver a much better experience.

75

Not Bad, but Not an Improvement

Endyo | Oct. 2, 2011 | Review of Earth 2160 Capsule

I was a big fan of Earth 2150, even though the single player campaign could be brutally difficult. Designing your own units from parts you've discovered and purchased was fantastic. That was retained in this iteration of the series, but what was lost was the excitement and buildup of a constant overriding goal.

Earth 2150 took place on Earth as it was losing its orbit and flying in to the sun, you had to collect enough resources to get out of there before that happened. In 2160, you don't have that pressure. You're simply playing to win with the task at hand in each mission. It plays much the same and the breadh of units expanded even further which allows for some really entertaining multiplayer (though the AI doesn't aid that) and some interesting battles. Really what it boils down to once you get over the expansive tech tree and custom designed units is a pretty basic RTS with three (ultimately four) reasonably diverse factions.

One thing that I never liked is that the new faction, the aliens, seem to be far too powerful. However, part of what makes the game fun is that you must properly prepare, through various routes, the best way to defeat your enemy's preparations. Whether it be the best weapons vs their armor or the best unit movement vs theirs, or more generally, simply the best designs to best their designs. It's a solid game to pick up and play if you're in to RTS games. It does offer what few games do these days and executes quite well. It's not the best RTS out there, but it's certainly worth a try.

95

Exceeded My Expectations

Endyo | Aug. 26, 2011 | Review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Augmented Edition

After thoroughly playing through this game over the past couple of days, I have to say that I am certainly happy with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It lives up to its predecessor in both gameplay and story and will keep you playing much longer than you intended. While it's not completely perfect, I have to say it is amongst the best games I've played recently and a must-buy for any fan of Deus Ex, or the RPG/Shooter market.

First let me begin with the graphics. With my now mediocre computer I managed to set the graphical tuning reasonably high and still maintained an solid framerate in all but the most intense events. That being said, the graphics were sometimes hit or miss. I can understand the need to keep some textures lower resolution or lower some polygon counts when you want to load a huge area (which is often done) in a timely manner and avoid the constant loads you see in other modern shooters. However, there are some areas where I wish they had focused a little more to please the eyes. For one, the skybox looks like the same one you saw in the original Deus Ex 11 years ago. That was strange to me. Also, it just felt like some objects were muddy or just not at the same level as the rest of the game.

Another issue I found a bit distracting is that the animations for some characters were very wild and gestures were over the top. It seemed some characters were just flailing arms around regardless of what they were saying. Yet in all cases these can be easily overlooked as you enjoy traversing between buildings and large areas without load screens. And with the most recent patch, loading is so fast you sometimes can't even read the tips that grace each one. I assume with a faster computer they would barely show up.

Something that I found truly impressive was that, after turning off the “object highlighting,” many useful objects were seamlessly integrates with the surroundings. You might be able to pick up a bottle of painkillers, but they'll be on a shelf of other unusable items and you can't discern them from any other object without moving the cursor over them. It seems like this is the reason they included the highlight function to begin with. However, I have to admire their ability to integrate them so flawlessly. On the same note, I would suggest keeping the objective icons on because navigating the large areas can be extremely difficult if you don't know exactly where you're going. These regions are so large and so rich with random buildings, rooms, and people that you'll find yourself just wandering around looking for nice random goodies instead of doing any of the missions.

Graphics aside, the game is extremely fun. It of course plays much like the original Deus Ex with lots of sneaking (perhaps more) and plenty of action. Of course both depend on how you wish to play. You can approach a situation head on with guns blazing (though early on it might get you killed quickly), or you can skillfully sneak around an entire group of enemies and never fight a single one. Or maybe you'll maneuver your way to the proper computer and turn a turret against them without ever lifting more than a finger for a few keystrokes. Hacking was one of the routes I followed most intensely. In doing so, you can clear yourself a glorious path to your goal by simply deactivating cameras, or go on the offense by turning an automated robot against your enemies with devastating effect. You will also be able to use the skill to unlock doors and safes as well as various mission-related objectives with ease. The gun combat is as intense as any of the FPS games you'll find. You can have scenarios where you engage several enemies as once and they'll use intelligent tactics to suppress you behind cover, or clear you from it to get the kill... and kill they will. Even maxing out your armor doesn't give you a lot of protection as enemies become more resilient and use deadlier weapons. Cover is something you'll have to cling to like it's your only hope (and often it is) else you'll end up looking at the load screen for the tenth time. Taken as a whole, these gameplay aspects are the real core of what makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution a quality game.

One of the most compelling aspects of the game is how each acquired skill opens up different routes in meeting an objective. Whether you make yourself more apt to survive direct combat, or make yourself so sufficiently stealthy that no one finds you, or hack your way through door to circumvent the whole process, your skills can make each aspect of that more or less viable... or even possible at all. For instance, you may see an air vent behind some large boxes, but you can only move those large boxes if you've upgraded your strength abilities. If that doesn't work for you, you may see an area that you can reach only if you've upgraded your jumping ability and can leap to that goal. If both are out of the question, you may realize that a code you acquired from a Pocket Secretary (the rough equivalent of an iPhone) will unlock a door that lets you get to your goal without any specific skill. Often times you'll have multiple options and the path you take is entirely up to you. That, to me, is exactly what I want in any RPG.

A seldom explored but extremely interesting gameplay mechanic is the scenario where you are communicating directly with an individual to obtain information. It's sort of an interrogation minigame. What's so great about it is that you must actually listen and interpret what the individual is saying in order to select the correct response. Each response is outlined in the selection and fits the original statement. Your only indication of its success is to gauge the response of the individual. It's something that is fairly innovative and really fit well into the flow of the game.

My play through took around 26 hours which, by modern game standards is a lifetime. It also fits roughly in line with the original Deus Ex game length. There's tons of content and side quests that is essentially, but skipping it is akin to cutting out half the pages in a book just because it makes it shorter. There's so much good about this game that the minor issues like some odd animations and the occasional confusing routing through the large areas. Everything about this game screams maturity. It's the first game I've played in a long time that actually feels like it was made for adults. It isn't quite as complex as the original Deus Ex... the random bits of text you'll read is something that could be understood by your average person... but it's something you can dig deeper in to and enjoy if you set out to do so. I would suggest this game to anyone short of someone who plays exclusively bad games. Play it. Enjoy it. It's that simple.

40

Ultimately Disappointing

Endyo | Aug. 24, 2011 | Review of Post Apocalyptic Mayhem

I originally purchased this game because I've always enjoyed those battle racers and car combat games from the classic Mario Kart to the more recent Split/Second, so I assumed this game would fit somewhere in there. However, I was destined for disappointment.

The game looks and plays well enough, but it honestly seems like they just didn't want to finish it. The gameplay at first appears to be about racing with combat to mix things up, like so many enjoyable titles. However, you soon find out that racing to win seems impossible and it's actually about getting the most destructions. The whole racing aspect is irrelevant, yet you still race and still finish. But there aren't laps... just a timer. It's as if they started making a racing game, stopped, then made a combat game like Twisted Metal. The problem is that it doesn't really deliver on either. They have some great car designs and their abilities are fairly unique and entertaining, but after playing for an hour or so you have to wonder why you should continue.

I don't know why the developer dropped the ball so hard on this game, but it had a lot of potential that really got washed away poor production without any visible reasoning.

95

Unreasonably Addictive

Endyo | Aug. 23, 2011 | Review of Beat Hazard

For such a simple game, Beat Hazard will have you glued to your computer for hours if you're not careful. The lights and flashes hypnotize you while you get to listen to your favorite music and battle against foes generated by its rhythm and melody. All the while you unlock perks and bonuses that give you new and stronger weapons and better abilities. The glory of the game really comes in the fact that you get to decide what sort of game you're going to play. Since it's focused on the music, slower more mellow music will result in a slower and more mellow game experience. You can also vary the difficulty and intensity of the game manually through options, though changing it changes the amount of points you receive and thus the unlocks that you can accomplish. The core of the game is your average Asteroids-style gameplay that is more reasonably compared to the popular game Geometry Wars. I highly recommend this game not as something you play all the time every day, but a game that will please you at any point you decide to launch it.

90

Interesting additions

Endyo | Aug. 23, 2011 | Review of Sid Meier's Civilization V - Civilization and Scenario Pack - Polynesia

I like that Firaxis takes the time to add in these great civlizations to an already great game. I think this is a scenario where DLC works out a lot better than expansions in that you can say "Hey, I like the Polynesian culture, I think I'll spend a few bucks and add them in to my game." Granted if you buy every DLC individually without a sale, you'll be spending a lot more than you would have an expansion (like from Civ 4) but the ability to pick and choose makes it great

As for the Polynesians themselves, the civlization is certainly interesting. Most notably, the ability to embark ocean tiles will give you a distinct advantage on island maps as you'll be able to spread early on and acquire far more sea resources.

My only complaint is that I'd rather see the price a bit lower, but it's not anything too out of control.

60

Reasonably puzzling

Endyo | Aug. 23, 2011 | Review of Bob Came in Pieces CAP

I have to say straight away I wasn't a fan of the game. I have to admire the premise, but the physics puzzles weren't that involving or quite intuitive enough to make the game truly enjoyable. The aspect of adding parts to your ship to adapt to certain puzzle situations is innovative, it didn't strike me as all that magical after the first few additions. Ultimately you just end up trying to accomplish a task with a ship that's not ideal for the situation simply because you don't want to deal with the hassle of changing your ship setup. Being a fan of innovative puzzle games as well as building random things, I thought this might be a perfect blend for me, however it comes up short at every turn leaving me with a game in which I've invested a small amount of time and have no intentions to continue. Some may enjoy it as there aren't any glaring functional issues, but it's not for me.

80

A fairly unique fighter

Endyo | Aug. 23, 2011 | Review of Eternal Champions

Playing this game on my Sega Genesis as a kid was a brutal challenge, These days its probably a bit easier to cope with, but as a fighter it is just as unforgiving as many other fighting games of the time period. It's no Mortal Kombat or anything like that. You're going to have to work to advance through the different fights. However, like Mortal Kombat, there are special moves that deliver gruesome yet rewarding kills for each level. The move list is a little larger than some games of that time, but it's not some elaborate modern fighter with 400 moves involving 68 button combinations. In purchasing this game, you'll get a pretty basic fighter with some unique characters and some entertaining encounters

90

I hope you have friends

Endyo | Aug. 22, 2011 | Review of Magicka

Magicka is one of those games that comes along seemingly once every millennia that manages to have great production value for very little money. For the money I can’t possibly suggest a better game to play with your friends… and as simple as it seems, the subtle complexity is what ends up making it so ridiculously entertaining. At first you’ll look at it is another isometric hack-and-slash-looking RPG. That’s just how it comes across when you first launch it, but it’s less about running through a sea of monsters creating carnage and far more about trying to keep this frail little wizard alive while conjuring up spells in a horrified panic. The game does a great job of animating the various spells and effects to make you want to combine new spells just to see what they look like. Other than some pretty spells and effects, the game is relatively basic compared to other modern games. It’s pretty enough not make you cringe and simple enough that you can play with three of your friends and still enjoy a decent frame rate on a mediocre computer.
The story is actually quite funny, though it’s nothing spectacular. I found myself laughing at the gibberish Sims-like speech most of the characters generated and the jokes that were contained within. It kind of sounds like a weird Swedish drunken baby talk… if that’s a thing. It’s worth paying attention to once, but not worth holding up the universe to make sure you catch every detail. What’s truly compelling about Magicka is the gameplay. I’m going to come out at the top saying that you’re going to want to play with friends. If you have three friends that you can convince to play, then make them play. The game’s fun grows exponentially with the number of people playing. Whether it’s co-op in the campaign, or the various other multiplayer options out there, you’re going to be having a good time in the process with more people involved. In all honesty, playing the game alone is kind of boring. You’ll be purposefully and accidently killing each other and dying horribly from your own actions in the utter chaos that ensues from multiple people trying to accomplish a task, let alone the aspect of the enemies coming after you, that you will most likely spend more time dying than living. Luckily there are many checkpoints and resurrection spells are easy to conjure. The entire game is really about learning and casting spells. You can mix your own concoctions with your eight elements of spells to try and dominate on your own terms, but they are also special spells that require you to input a series of elements in the correct order and hit “space” to let it fly. Some of these are as simple as creating a rainstorm that wets everyone on the map making them more susceptible to electric attacks (though you’d better dry yourself first, or as complex as a giant black whole of death that pulls enemies (and allies) to their death. There are so many spells to be learned, created, and manipulated in to attacks as basic or tactical as you can imagine, you’ll forget that you even have a melee weapon. And of course, the melee weapons can have spells cast upon them as well giving you even more abilities. You could spend hour upon hour trying to learn these spells like an extended move list in a fighter, but in the end it’s just more fun to wing it and hope you don’t blow yourself up. Magicka is great for multiplayer, but the campaign is fairly short and single player might as well just not exist. There are also a handful of bugs remaining, though many have been patched out. However, down the line when you consider the low ball price and immense fun you can have with your friends, owning this game should be pretty easy to justify.

85

No reason to pass up

Endyo | Aug. 19, 2011 | Review of VVVVVV

VVVVVV came along with the slew of modern 8-bit styled indie games that seem to be popping up out of nowhere these days. However VVVVVV stands out amongst the crowd by having original gameplay mechanics and challenging puzzles.

If you could give one quality to VVVVVV that would surmise the entire game it would be utter simplicity. The game has only one real action other than run left or right and it’s not even jump, it’s to invert your character. You’re capable of maintaining control while doing this, but you are only able to invert back from another surface or under special circumstances. The game uses this mechanic to approach the player with tons of complex puzzles that you need to solve in order to rescue your friends. The puzzles don’t just require reason to solve, but also proper execution and often lightning quick reactions.

Another quality that this game has that is certainly not apparent from the start is that it is mind numbingly difficult at times. For me it carries the same sentiment as one of its 8-bit styled brethren, Super Meat Boy, that it can make you go from calm to rage in milliseconds. At times, games like this are so frustrating that I just have to put them down for some time. The speed at which you need to perform some tasks in a chain of quick tasks seems to be impossible. Some people enjoy challenges like that a lot more than me. I would highly suggest having a gamepad in order to play though, because a keyboard just won’t cut it. I can’t take away much for being difficult and the game doesn’t really miss on any particular fronts for the price and what you get, but I still don’t believe it’s a perfect game or anything. Realistically, regardless of whether you think it’s a five star game or a one star game, you could try it because it’s both cheap and original. Cheap and original are not qualities you generally associate with gaming these days.

75

For a rainy day

Endyo | Aug. 19, 2011 | Review of Zombie Driver

Zombie Driver takes your everyday isometric zombie shooter and adds a little original GTA to it. Many people wouldn’t remember (the now free to play) original GTA and how it started this whole crazy world we have today, but this game definitely took some design and functionality aspects from it.

Zombie Driver has a few different modes, the primary being the “story” mode where you travel around completing various missions, most of which involve going to a location, shooting/running over/blowing up a horde of zombies, picking up some people trapped in a building, and hauling ass back to your base before your timer runs out and also without getting your crazy death machine of a vehicle destroyed. Accomplishing this rewards you money you need to unlock weapons and modifications for your various vehicles. You can unlock new vehicles by completing tasks or by bonus tasks within missions. Each vehicle functions differently, some are fast and fairly fragile, others are slow and tougher, and some are just there to accommodate the largest number of passengers. Each has upgrades to make it faster, stronger, and more agile in order to accomplish your tasks. It’s up to you to decide which one is the best choice for the given situation. Obtaining weapons is done by finding pickups on the map. You can only hold one at a time so you have to be careful about randomly running over new pickups and losing your favorite zombie blaster.

The various other modes aren’t so vastly different from the original and the only way to unlock and modify cars is to do the “story” mode. The game itself is entertaining for what it is, but it’s not going to challenge you greatly or keep your interest for a great deal of time. I would however suggest using a game pad because the controls are a bit touchy and success in a mission often depends on avoiding as many obstacles a possible. It doesn’t possess any glaring problems (especially after some solid patches) so I can’t take off much for that, but it’s a simple game with a simple concept that is fun enough for a purchase if only to have around to wait for a long download to finish or mess with when you’ve got nothing better to do.

90

Turn Base Strategy at its finest

Endyo | Aug. 19, 2011 | Review of Sid Meier's Civilization® V

Early in my time PC gaming I had some bad experiences with some not-so-great turn based strategies that lead me away from them for a long time. I enjoyed Alpha Centauri, but never really took off from there. However, after playing Civ IV, I knew the genre had a certain appeal you can’t find in a lot of other games. Civilization V is one of only two in the series I’ve played, but I find it to be an endlessly entertaining path to ruling the world.

Coming from Civ IV to Civilization V is quite an interesting transition. Graphically, Civlization V is miles above previous iterations and it certainly brings in a good bit of detail you never knew you’d wanted. You can crank up the settings to include detailed unit groups, combat animations, and of course various model and environment textures – which turn the game into a real beauty if you have a computer is able to manage it. However that PC must be a beast in terms of memory and processor power because later in the game especially on larger maps, it can take a very long time to process turns. Yet even keeping the graphics tuned low will result in a visually appealing game with tiny rolling waves and fluffy clouds representing the hidden parts of the map. Unit combat results in clean (though a bit repetitive) animation that is convincing and fulfilling. In the world of turn based strategies, it’s pretty much at the top of its genre graphically.

The gameplay of Civilization V is where you’ll see the biggest changes from older Civilizations games. They’ve finally joined so many other turn based games and abandoned the square movement grid for a hexagonal. While this completely changes the strategic and tactical elements of battle, it is also compounded by another large change from previous Civ games – units no longer infinitely stack. Now only one unit can exist on each hex. This prevents the old “I have no idea how many units are attacking me” scenario. It also allows for the dynamic advantages and disadvantages of terrain and flanking to be executed with far more complexity. The game has also simplified some aspects that were a disappointment to hardcore Civilization fans, but a blessing to the newer and more causal players. Happiness is maintained for all of your lands as one instead of by individual city. The social policies and religions have been wrapped in to one cultural set of trees. And finally, the introduction of city-states and a slight revamp of diplomacy has created a more streamlined (albeit a bit more complex overall) experience in conquering the world using words as your weapons.

Beyond comparisons to previous titles, someone new to the series or the genre should understand that it is not Starcraft and it’s not something you just jump in to and you’re a pro the next day. Months after I started playing the game and even after playing Civ IV for so long, I still found myself learning new things about the game. However the game is as deep as you want it to be. The level of manual effort is determined by what the player wants to do. You can arrange just about everything to automatically function to the point where you’re basically just setting a few things up and moving to the next turn. Yet Civilization V shines brightest when you get down deep in the inner workings of city management and combat. The game does a decent job ushering you in to things, but the looking at some stuff online and in a manual will make the process easier.

The game doesn’t come without some issues, though most have been addressed through a number of large patches that fixed some big issues with diplomacy, balance, and some annoying performance and bug issues. Yet there are still some problems with diplomacy, as sometimes events seem to be completely and totally random, and some of the AI controlled units sometimes do things that don’t make sense. The most notable problem that I personally experience is that the all of that difficulty levels above four give the AI players significant advantages in the beginning and throughout the game. Instead of just making them do smarter things, they just gave them an unfair advantage. However, these issues are fairly minor and they wouldn’t deter me from recommending this game to anyone with many hours of free time they’d be willing to devote to a rich and rewarding game. I’d even suggest picking up a few of the DLCs if you ever get tired of the civilizations and leaders that are included. Really, this is just one of those games you should have for that day you have nothing to do and want to conquer the world.

100

Looking Deeper

Endyo | Aug. 18, 2011 | Review of Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition DNS

It’s hard to say something about a game that for so long has been praised as one of the greatest PC games of all time, but to really grasp what makes this game earn that title, one has thoroughly look at the real meat of the game.

Back in 2000 when this game released, it was a fairly decent graphical experience. It wasn’t the best thing on the market visually, but with the lack of load times and extremely large levels, it was certainly still ahead of its time. Looking back now it can be a bit frustrating until you get used to the now bland textures and blocky models, but for its time it was more than what any gamer ever wanted. However, playing it today with an open mind and an appreciation for the timeless qualities still leaves a bit to be desired. That’s why it’s a good idea to pick up a recently released mod that inserts new HD textures to the game. Then you can continue being blown away by some of the best writing and gameplay ever to grace our PCs.

The gameplay mechanics of this game express something rarely seen in games up until that point and what is still hard to find in recent games: freedom of choice. From the very first moment you start up the game you have the option of playing it however you feel is most fun for you. You can be stealthy and sneak around hardly engaging a single enemy… or you can quite literally run in guns blazing. You can go a non-lethal route and leave everyone unconscious and alive, or you can take out every single person that is unlucky enough to cross your path. You can approach a situation diplomatically and try to talk to your way out, or you might decide to just hack and lock pick your way into a location and rely on your skills at manipulating the environment to be your weapon. You don’t have to play this game any specific way, but no matter how you choose to play, it will accommodate for that and it will be enjoyable.

The writers for this game are easily amongst some of the best writers in the game. Not only so several characters have deep meaningful dialogue, but the story arch itself is magnificent. I don’t want to include spoilers or anything, but even against full length novels and popular movies about a cyberpunk future of government and corporate corruption and power, it is truly impressive. The way that the story is revealed and choices between alliances and enemies make for dynamic player involvement. Dynamic player involvement is what can make a good game a great game. It’s rare even today for a game to generate dynamic player involvement on even a limited level, but Deus Ex does it just as well or better than any game to this day.

What you get when playing this game is a sense of true involvement in the story. You don’t feel like someone just playing the game and watching it unfold. As extensive as it is, your actions mean something. Playing the game is fun, but playing the story the way you want is what kept so many playing for hours on end just to see what they could make happen next. I can only hope Deus Ex: Human Revolution can redeem the franchise from the disappointment of Invisible War.

80

Not Black & White, but two lovely shades of gray.

Endyo | Aug. 18, 2011 | Review of From Dust

If you’ve played previous “god” games like Black & White, you’ll have some familiarity with what From Dust is about. You won’t get the comical narrative or complexity of creature management, but From Dust delivers a solid style of gameplay in a format that will take you straight back to the days of Black & White’s scooping, dropping and miracle tossing.

If you strip away the fluff layers and look at the basic concept of the game, you’ll essentially have a puzzle game. Your goal in each round will be to have your villager/worshippers travel to various points building villages and collecting “memory relics,” but in each scenario they will be unable to do this without your divine intervention. Their path may be blocked by water, mountainous terrain, dense hostile foliage, or any number of various natural barriers or disastrous events. To combat this, you must use the forces of nature and the powers you unlock to manipulate the environment in a way that allows them to complete their task. The difficulty in pursuing this is that you will not immediately have every power at your disposal; only by having your villagers build their villages around the statues that give you this power will it be granted. While it may be easy to put out a wildfire by grabbing some water and dousing the flames, it can’t always be accomplished in a timely manner when you’re attempting to create a route for your followers to access a new village building area, so you must find more effective means.

I have to throw in a bit about the engine here. The game is decent to look at, but the glory is really in the physics structure. Liquids flow appropriately around all geometry. If you dump a bunch of sand in a stream, the sand will erode away. Waves will crash around rock and splash over the top. It’s simply one of the best simulations of these natural occurrences I’ve seen in a game… and you get to play with it. I hope that this aspect pans out into other games because I can imagine it being fun in a lot of places.

While the game does come out to be an enjoyable experience, it doesn’t exist without certain issues. The first and foremost being Ubisoft’s DRM. Currently, it requires the user to be connected to the internet at all times and to launch again from Ubisoft’s DRM launcher after your initial run. Also, it is a port from a console game – so there are the inherent issues that often plague games of that nature. Namely, you can only adjust the game’s resolution and refresh rate. There’s no ability to change any textures, shadows, or add antialiasing as one would see in PC games. The controls are also a bit off, though it’s nothing adds a great deal of difficulty to the game. Sometimes there are just a few issues with the camera and grabbing and placing items precisely. And last but certainly not least, the game is capped at 30 frames per second. As a PC gamer we’re all aware that 30 FPS is atrociously slow especially when most are used to framerates upwards of 60 fps.

However, if you’re willing to deal with Ubisoft’s desperate attempts to ward off piracy and the annoyance of a ported game, From Dust is a decent game especially for the price. I would suggest giving it a try if you’re at least impartial to the issues stated above. The game itself is both fun and visually appealing and I despite some dumb stuff that hopefully gets patched out, $15 is a perfect price for what you’re get. It’s not Black & White, but it’s at least good enough to be mentioned in the same review.