Reviews by Ramboknife

75

Pid Is a Nightmare Disguised As a Dream

Ramboknife | April 23, 2013 | Review of PID

Pid is a puzzling game, and I don't mean just in terms of genre. At first glance, the aesthetic look fairly bland and uninspired, while the gameplay looks like a run-of-the-mill indie platformer. But after spending time with the game, you start to truly see how the game evolves into something unique and distinguishes itself from the rest of the field.

Pid was developed by Might and Delight, a team full of people who were responsible for Bionic Commando Rearmed, a notoriously hard game. They continue their tradition of making punishing games with Pid, and masochistic fans will enjoy what it has to offer. Anyone else with a normal to high amount of patience is going to be absolutely infuriated with Pid and Might and Delight's design choices.

The game really falls apart in its difficulty. The intent of the game is to be hard, I understand that, but there are levels of hardship that rival and even surpass Super Meat Boy (another well known extremely difficult game). Thankfully the controls feel tight and precise so that when you execute a tough section, you feel satisfied and relieved. It does just feel like they made the game hard for the sake of being hard.

I can only recommend Pid to people that are willing to put up with the tough difficulty, which is a shame because underneath all of that is a beautiful looking game with a really neat soundtrack that when combined together, make the entire experience seem like some sort of fantastic surreal dream.

95

Pleasant Dread

Ramboknife | April 22, 2013 | Review of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (NA)

It is hard to pull off being both beautiful and genuinely frighting at the same time. Where everything you see is ravishing, yet unnerving. In Dark Souls, From Software's spiritual successor to the cult hit, Demon's Souls, you are constantly scared of what awaits you around every corner- yet, you become absolutely engrossed in the games thick atmosphere that you are compelled to push on.

You play as the chosen undead; a character with an unknown past that is seemingly picked at random to fulfill an almost impossible task that has obliterated all of those who have come before. After testing your abilities in what amounts to the games version of a tutorial, you are carried away to the mainland of Lordran, a decrepit land that has been abandoned by the living for what seems to be hundreds of years. You are greeted by a crestfallen warrior who gives you the task of ringing the two Bells of Awakening. He explains that one is above, and one is below. You are then left to your own devices, because unlike Demon's Souls' Nexus hub world where you would load into specific levels via arch-stones, Dark Souls is set in an open world, where nearly everywhere is available to you at the start of the game. This can be very daunting for a new player, because what Dark Souls does in common with Demon's Souls is that almost nothing is explained. Other than very specific hints given by talking with NPC's and reading item descriptions, the player is left to experiment. As far as story goes, it only goes as deep as the player is willing to read into things. It can be completely ignored and the game would be still highly enjoyable, but don't think that there isn't any back story- it's actually quite detailed and deep. Most of it is quite confusing and convoluted, so it may be best to ignore it on the first play-through and look it up online and follow along for your next time through.

Along your quest you will find bonfires, which act as the games main checkpoint system. Once you light a bonfire and rest at it, this is where your spawn point moves to when you inevitably die. The bonfires are also where all of your leveling up is done. You level up by spending souls which are gained by killing enemies. Souls also act as the games main currency as well, making them the most valuable item in the game. When you die, you leave a bloodstain on the ground to mark your last death. In that bloodstain are all of the souls that you had at your point of death. If you can make it back and touch your bloodstain, you will regain all of your souls; however, if you happen to die on your path back to the bloodstain, those souls are lost forever as your new bloodstain replaces your last. This is where most of the tension in the game comes from, as all of those hard earned souls can vanish if you make a simple mistake on your path to retrieval. Along with the new checkpoint system, Dark Souls introduces the Estus Flask: a healing item that replaces the grass item used in Demon's Souls. They can be upgraded in both quantity and potency, and are refilled by resting at a bonfire. Be warned though, by resting at a bonfire not only will your Estus Flasks be refilled, by all of the enemies will re-spawn. You are encouraged to do this, however, because it is a great way to 'grind' out levels by finding an area where enemies are quickly re-spawned for you to kill them again and collect their delicious souls.

The areas that you visit are quite spectacular. The sheer amount of variety in the areas is shocking, and each of them have their own unique atmosphere and enemies. They can range from a dark and brooding forest, to a bright and brilliant place of royalty, to a virtual swamp of human waste. The level design is brilliant in that it eventually links all of the areas together by unlocking shortcuts. This makes traversing a lot more fun and takes out the monotony of walking through entire areas more than you need to in order to reach others. Dark Souls also does a great job of mixing up the kinds of enemies you will be fighting, and before you become tired of a specific kind of enemy, you're introduced to a new, more threatening kind.

In most cases, a boss will await at the end of these areas. Much like the levels, the boss designs and strategy's are unique and varied. They are absolutely stunning encounters that will keep you on the edge of your seat until their last bit of health is taken off by your weapon of choice. These fights are the real stand out moments in Dark Souls and provide a real sense of achievement when you take one down. Granted, some are harder than others, but all of them are uniformly thrilling. If you have a hard time with a boss, you can also summon either another player, an NPC, or both to help you in the fight. I never found myself stuck at a boss long enough to give up and summon for help, but having played and beaten Demon's Souls might have prepared me a bit more than a new player to the series.

Dark Souls really encourages player choice when it comes to play style. You can be a fully armored sword and shield wielding tank, a scantily clad bow and arrow ranged player, a low health high damage output mage, or some combination of all of them. The combat feels great but may take a little bit of practice to get used to. It is quite weighty and very timing heavy, but the controls are done so well that when a mistake is made, it is at the fault of the player and not the game. While there are classes, they don't confine you to anything. They really only define your starting stats and gear, and from there you can mold your character to how you see fit. A knight, for example, who starts off with low magic skill stats, can eventually spend his souls to level up to a point where magic becomes viable.

To call Dark Souls' armor and weapon variety large would be a disservice. The quantity of weapons and armor would be impressive on its own, by all of it is so thoughtfully crafted that any other game pales in comparison. For my money, the aesthetics of the apparel is top notch. Finding a new armor set or weapon is almost as exciting as defeating a boss. It can completely change up your play style and open up new avenues of experimentation. You're able to upgrade your weapons and armor at blacksmiths found throughout the game by using upgrade stones dropped from enemies. The progression of the upgrades is a lot more streamlined than Demon's Souls, but it can still be confusing at times. Again, don't be opposed to consulting the internet your first time through if you aren't sure.

I have played and beaten both the Playstation 3 and PC versions of Dark Souls. While the console version is competent, technical issues can make some areas of the game nearly unplayable. The frame rate can drop into single digits and can be the cause of some frustrating missteps or deaths. The PC version fixes this issue, as well as supports a mod that helps unlock the games native resolution. In high resolution Dark Souls looks stunning, and the mod is highly stable and recommended.

Dark Souls is one of the most rewarding games this generation, hands down. It is rare to find a game so perfectly crafted in terms of atmosphere and game-play. The only downfall is how confusing it can be to new players, which almost seems like an intentional design choice by the designers. They want you to feel alone and scared, and it is pulled off flawlessly. This isn't a game for someone who likes to pick up and play every now and then- it demands attention and effort for you to able able to succeed. With that in mind, pick up Dark Souls and know that you're about to face one of the most brutal, punishing, and profound games ever made.

97

Stealth has never been so much fun.

Ramboknife | April 22, 2013 | Review of Dishonored Nexway

When Dishonored was announced earlier this year, I had modest expectations for what it would become. Sure, the trailer was well done and quite impressive, but a great trailer hardly makes for a great game. To go along with humble expectations, Dishonored's developer, Arkane Studios, have only a short track record for making lesser known “cult hits”, so their ability to take on a big budget major release was questionable. It didn't help their cause that they revealed that Dishonored would be a highly stealth based, open world, first person game, a genre that hasn't seen a huge amount of success ever since the original Deus Ex was released over 12 years ago. What Arkane did have going for them was that the game's designer, Harvey Smith, was actually a part of the company who developed Deus Ex. With what Smith had learned from past projects, and with Bethesda Softworks producing the title, it seems likely they were set up for success.

Dishonored is set in a fictional stylized version of Victorian London, known as Dunwall. At this point in their history, a plague is being carried around by swarms of rats which are quickly infecting the whole city and leaving death and destruction in their paths. For as devastated as the city is, it still manages to be a beautiful and lush world to explore. Dunwall's aesthetics are very appealing, with a mix between steam-punk and Half Life 2's “City 17” (which is fitting, because the game world was designed by Viktor Antonov, the man responsible for Half Life 2's artistic direction). The perfect word to describe the levels in Dishonored would be “dense”, with countless ways of exploring and completing tasks.

You play as Corvo Attano, a royal bodyguard for the Empress. Right off the bat things start to go poorly, when you are a witness of the Empress's brutal murder in front of her daughter, Emily. The men responsible for the assassination immediately set you up for the murder and take Emily, the heir to the throne, hostage. This lands you in jail where you will soon be executed, knowing full well that the people who set you up are actually the ones who are quickly inheriting the Empress's power. However, there are people on the outside who know that you aren't the one truly responsible for the killing, and mastermind an exit plan for you to flee the prison and take revenge.

The story ends up being fairly predictable, although I was quite shocked at some of the revelations later on. Thankfully, the game redeems itself by letting you interact with characters that you actually care about. Without being invested in some of these character's outcomes, I don't think the ending would have meant nearly as much, and the plot ends up being the weakest aspect of the game. Dishonored lets you mould specific outcomes by rewarding you for not killing targets and enemies. It's a very simple mechanic: kill lots of people, the higher your chaos rating will be and your outcome at the end will be significantly more savage. The game offers up some non-lethal ways of taking out targets, but the player must seek out these options by exploring the world and talking with characters.

As you escape from prison you are teamed up with a group of Empire Loyalists that include former admirals, lords, doctors, and everyday Dunwall citizens. It is from here that you are given the task to hunt down the people who betrayed you, and rescue the rightful heir to the throne, Emily. It is also where you are visited by The Outsider, a supernatural entity that gives you most of your abilities that you use in the game. Some of these abilities include blink, dark vision and devouring swarm. Blink allows you to teleport or reach higher ground, dark vision shows you people through walls and their line of sight, and devouring swarm lets you summon a group of plague infected rats to fight on your behalf. You can unlock more of these abilities by collecting runes scattered throughout the world. The player is also given the choice of using more conventional weapons that include a sword, pistol, and crossbow. These can also be upgraded over time by paying the engineers at the Loyalist base in between missions.

When used in combination with the magic abilities, the combat becomes extremely satisfying, making you feel like a real assassin. In particular, the blink ability makes getting around the city of Dunwall incredibly smooth and exhilarating, thereby negating the typical clunky first person platforming that so many other games have relied too heavily upon. With quick load times, going back and retrying a specific section is easy, and makes experimenting with abilities less punishing and a lot of fun. Quite a few of the most memorable scenes in the game don't involve combat at all, which says a lot about the designers ability to take risks and change up the pace.

Dishonored managed to surprise me more than any other game from this year in the best way possible. I can find no real reason to complain about anything; the visuals were unique and elegant, the level design was full of options and exportability, and the way it played made me feel like I was in complete control of all of my actions. It lets the player play the game and doesn't feel the need to bog you down with loads of cut scenes or moments that disconnect the player with the world. I found myself being highly engrossed throughout the entire experience, and jumped right back into the game as soon as it came to a conclusion.