Reviews by bwrussell


It's Casual and Cheesy, and I'm Ok With That

bwrussell | Oct. 15, 2015 | Review of Need for Speed The Run NA Origin - PC

I'm going to say some nice things about this game, and even give it a good score so let me placate the detractors for a brief minute first. I know that the plot is cheesy and rubber-banding is in huge effect. I know there's no customization and it's all on closed courses.The thing is, I just don't care. This game is an absolute blast. Honestly the most fun I've had in a NFS game since Underground 2 or modding the config files in Hot Pursuit 2. There is one level in particular that was one of the tensest few minutes I may have ever experienced in a racing game mainly because the plot means it didn't end in the same way every other racing game does. While clearly modeled in an arcade style the handling was surprisingly drivable. Better than some of the more recent titles and for the most part believable and predictable, in a ll the right ways. There was only one or two races where the rubber-banding was an issue and honestly, in a linear point-to-point race, what's the fun in just racing off to a 12 second victory? Basically it comes down to this: The game might be flawed, and isn't the best handling racing game you'll play but at the end of the day it's joyful to play and that's really what should count.


Good Not Great In A Crowded Field

bwrussell | Oct. 6, 2015 | Review of The Bridge - PC

Over the past 5 years there may not be a more over-worked genre than "indie puzzle". There are a few stars and The Bridge is trying hard to be one of those. Unfortunately it's simply noticeable and not remarkable. The non-reality space that makes up the core of the puzzles is relatively unique and challenging but not impossible. The art style is very striking, sort of a pencil sketch in motion, but outside of that it's pretty standard fair. You rotate your view, jump and navigate hazards, move giant boulders using physics, switch between dimensions, and get the story in pieces outside of the actual gameplay. At the end of the day its definitely a cut above average but not in the upper echelon. Unless the screenshots and trailer get you really exited you can probably safely wait for a sale to pick this up, although the base price is by no means excessive.


A Classic Reborn

bwrussell | Oct. 5, 2015 | Review of Broken Sword the Shadow of the Templars Directors Cut - PC

For people that know the terms "classic adventure game" and "adventure game logic" but don't have a ton of experience with the actual classics this game may be a bit of a surprise. It takes a fairly restrained, logical (real world logical) approach to puzzles and problem solving which is a nice tact compared to the typical point and click fair. The plot is interesting enough to keep you engaged and, except for a couple of quick revisits in Paris, you don't spend enough time in any one place for it to get stale. The writing is good enough but didn't stand out to me as stellar or exceptionally funny but I did enjoy that the relationship between George and Nico didn't progress in the same cliche manner in which you'd expect. All said this is a solid game at a great price. If point-and-click or adventure gaming are your sort of thing then don't miss this.


A Natural Fit

bwrussell | Sept. 10, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Psycho Pack DLC - PC

Often DLC can feel "tacked on" or a little out of place, especially when introducing new characters. Fortunately Krieg is a perfect fit for the Borderlands universe. His dialog is that great brand of off the wall humor you've come to expect and his chaotic play-style is very natural (note that I didn't say easy). If you're the tactical, assess your options, type of player then just move along, Krieg is not for you, as you're going to spend the vast majority of your time in the thickest parts of the battle. Not that there is no thought needed to play the character, you have to balance taking damage to buff and staying alive. Also you can set yourself on fire, on purpose, as a buff. The base price seems a little steep since you'll probably be on your second playthru when you use this character so most people should probably hold out for one of the frequent sales. That said, if you're really hooked on Borderlands 2 but want some more variety then you probably will get the full price value out of this.


Certainly Showing It's Age

bwrussell | Aug. 18, 2015 | Review of Battlefield Bad Company 2 Ultimate Digital Collection NA (1) - PC

If you were buying this game in 2010 or 2011 this review would definitely read differently but the question is whether its any good now, not when it was relevant. Obviously things like the graphics and the tech is showing its age. It's not horrible but it's also not going to stand up to anything modern. Honestly though the biggest difference is the speed of play. After playing anything modern, even later games bearing the same title, BC2 feels sluggish and grinding. This isn't always a bad thing, it puts an emphasis on positioning rather than movement and reactions, but in instances when you find yourself across the map from your objective without a vehicle it's pretty brutal. The number of maps and gametypes leave you with a decent variety, if you'd like. As with any multiplayer game of this age, veteran players have found all the chinks and advantages in every map meaning new players will face a steep learning curve and on some maps an experienced team can completely break the balance. Of course with a multiplayer focused game like this, finding matches in your chosen gametype or map can be a bit of a challenge. The one thing that doesn't really change between release and now is the single player. Unfortunately this was the weakest part of this game, as we've come to expect with battlefield, and is wholly forgettable. Suspect AI, obscure objectives, stereotypical NPCs, and all the gritty brown you can handle, and then some. In full disclosure, the game deleted my save 90% of the way through and I didn't have any desire to start over and finish it. That probably tells you what you're getting into. In the end this game is 5 years old and not getting any younger. The base price point, despite including great variety of the Vietnam pack and the uselessness of the SpecAct skin pack, is a bit absurd. Luckily if you're really looking for a slightly older style modern military shooter or need something a little lower end spec-wise for a large group of friends (at the very least 3v3 on the smallest maps with 4 to 6 a side being more reasonable) this title often sees relatively deep discounts.


A Chip Off The Old Block

bwrussell | Aug. 17, 2015 | Review of Krater Dr Cerebro Character - PC

This DLC suffers the same problems as it's base game.On the surface it looks interesting but when you get into it there isn't much there. It's a character in, a game with many characters and a max party size of 3. He's pretty good but he's certainly not a game changer. In the end you're paying almost four dollars to get a medic class that comes with his level cap unlocked. That's certainly helpful but by no means worth the cost. If you're a diehard Krater player and want a little variety or need a little something more in your medic slot then wait for a sale and pick him up on the cheap.


Some Strange Decisions

bwrussell | Aug. 4, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Headhunter 1 TK Bahas Bloody Harvest - PC

First off this is a mere bite of Borderlands 2, where the other DLC were a decent meal. Instead of a string of main quests plus a bunch of side quests, this is basically a single, multi-objective quest line. The weird part with this DLC is the difficulty curve. Being released over a year after the base game, and since DLC is naturally targeted at the more invested players, it was very odd to me that the level was set so low. We're talking speed-run, super murder god, for a character that had simply beat the main game and story DLC. That being said the theme diverged nicely from the base game and almost more importantly it's priced decently fairly. Found on sale and for less than a buck this is certainly worth it for most Borderlands 2 fans.


Minor Advantage, High Cost

bwrussell | Aug. 4, 2015 | Review of Krater Character DLC Mayhem MK13 - PC

Straight off the bat, unless you're seriously into Krater don't bother with this DLC. It's a single character, and while he is pretty good (as a melee focused DPS), the asking price is much too high for what you get. Honestly the biggest advantage this character confers is a cheap and easy way to get a high level cap character early in the game. If you've played this game so much that the base characters have become boring and you would like a coupe new skills to mess with then I wouldn't judge the decision to pick this up. Otherwise just pass or wait for a deep discount, or even better a bundle with the base game on deep discount (if you don't own it already of course).


The Last, The Longest, The Best

bwrussell | July 30, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Tiny Tinas Assault on Dragon Keep - PC

While most of the Borderlands 2 DLC is on point in at least one way Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep manages to hit pretty much every BL2 sensibility while still feeling like an entirely new take on the formula. You have the writing and humor that's to be expected but with a well crafted fantasy theme and the fun addition of it playing out like you're the character in a tabletop game, complete with the "players" arguing and breaking "character". As opposed to the other story DLC TT's has a very wide variety of environments and enemies. It also includes several boss battles, that actually presented a challenge for a character that was through the main story, something none of the other DLC can claim. If you're only going to pick up one extra story mission then the Assaukt on Dragon Keep is probably the one to go for. It provides the most content, the most variety, and plenty of fun.


A Spiritual Successor of Sorts

bwrussell | July 29, 2015 | Review of A Bird Story - PC

By now most people know the about the emotional triumph that is To The Moon. This is not that. Of course the dev states that several times in the game description but if you just read the majority of reviews you may be led to believe that these games stand on the same level. A Bird Story is very short, much too short for it's price tag, less interactive, and doesn't pack near the highs or lows of To The Moon. That being said, its not bad. The portrayal of a young boys day dreams melding with the reality of life was pretty enjoyable and most of the little emotional moments worked as intended but were dulled since it felt like the whole game was just a thin web stringing us along to each of these obvious points. My biggest problem is that there is a ton of potential for a much better, bigger game here that goes wasted. A look into that daydream/reality crossover in children that was not so singly focused and exploring the relationship between the boy and his mother as well as his classmates. Basically this plays like a demo for a much better game. Bottom line, this is overpriced for what it is at it's base price. If you can find it on sale this won't be a waste of your time but at full price only the biggest Freebird fans are going to get their money's worth. It does give some hope that Freebird will be able to recapture some of their To The Moon magic in a future, full-scale release though and that alone may justify it's existence.


3D Match Four

bwrussell | July 7, 2015 | Review of Critical Mass - PC

This is a simple extension into the third dimension of a typical match-x game. You start with a vaguely cube shaped pile of blocks and then fire predetermined color blocks onto the mass attempting to connect at least four of a color, causing them to be removed. In it's base mode each fired block causes the mass to grow while matching blocks causes it to shrink. Take too long or fire too many blocks without clearing any and you'll reach critical mass and lose. The interesting thing about this game is that at it's heart it seems to want to be a competitive game. In the base mode there are only 10 levels and they have to be completed in one sitting to get a final score and attempt to get on the leaderboard and this leaderboard seems to be what the developers hoped would keep you coming back. Personally I'm not really a fan of this type puzzle game and the competitive aspects are not a draw to me. If you enjoy doing something multiple times in an attempt to hone your skill then this will be well worth the price of entry. If, like me, you're looking for a more encapsulated experience then its probably best to move on.


More Life For the Most Hardcore

bwrussell | June 25, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 - PC

This is DLC for the absolute most hardcore, long-term, high-level Borderlands 2 players. If you are just getting into Borderlands 2 and looking into what DLC to buy I'll just start by saying 'Move on for now'. To make use of the level cap increase you re going to have to beat the game at least 3 times and probably closer to 4 or 5 while playing on the slowest, grindy-est difficulty. That being said if you're looking to invest even more hours into reaching the true level cap then this is the only way. Additionally the Raid on Digistruct Peak is intended for high-level, end-game play and will not be viable until you're well past the base games level cap. In summery, if Borderlands 2 is your constant, go-to game then this is the DLC for you, extending your favorite characters end-game life and adding a challenging high-level mission. If you're going to put less than a couple hundred hours into this game then don't waste your coin.


Just More Of The Same

bwrussell | June 25, 2015 | Review of Quantum Conundrum Season Pass - PC

As expected with DLC for a level-based puzzle game, your opinion of the base game is going to be a good indicator of your opinion of the DLC. It's probably a good indication of how mediocre the Season Pass content, and the base game for that matter, is that pretty much none of it stands apart in my mind at this point. One set does include a heavy dose of the rocking bird, meaning timing puzzles and battling the mechanics and controls rather than an actual intellectual challenge. In general that is the a crux of the issues with this game. In Portal you fail because you can't think fast or clever enough. In Quantum Conundrum you fail because you didn't pulse the gravity button at just the right cadence to float a box across the room. Overall I can't recommend this game, it's just not worth your time despite a decently low price tag. Just play a Portal game or Antichamber instead. BUT if something about the aesthetic or genre means your still going to buy this game then I'd suggest just buying the Season Pass version. It's only $1 more than just the base game and the three new puzzle sets should last you at least a couple of hours.


Really Just Filler

bwrussell | June 10, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Sir Hammerlocks Big Game Hunt - PC

This definitely feels a bit like it was thrown together simply to hit the four story DLCs mark for the Season Pass. While the other additional content each have at least one strong suit, (humor, story, theme, etc.) the Big Game Hunt really is just another "find and kill the big monster" quest like a lot of others in the game except you have no real motivation and the setting is bland. I did find the power-swapping tiki-like enemies an interesting challenge because they force you into switching weapons and using ones you might not normally use. That being said, playing this after completing all of the main story meant I was a little over-powered for the area and nothing really presented any real challenge besides battling the boredom of the wide open map devoid of interesting characters or features. This is by far the weakest link in the Borderlands 2 DLC chain and I can't really recommend it for purchase on its own. If you have the Season Pass it's not so bad that you should actively avoid playing it though.


An Expansion In The True Battlefield Spirit

bwrussell | June 9, 2015 | Review of Battlefield 3 Armored Kill NA Origin - PC

The main thing that has always set the Battlefield experience apart from other modern military shooters has been it's vehicles and the expansive maps that they demand. Chances are that if you're playing Battlefield 3 and looking into buying more content for it then you'll appreciate what Armored Kill is bringing to the table. In support of the new Tank Superiority game mode a slew of new vehicles, mostly of the big gun variety, have been added. Probably most notable are the Tank Destroyers which can easily be mistaken for regular by sight but are a much different animal from the driver seat. Much less effective against personnel it makes up for this with blazing speed, for an armored vehicle, and armor piercing rounds that will quickly turn their slower cousins into a column of flame. On the surface a game mode centered around lumbering armored vehicles would seem like it might be slow and methodical but happily the addition of the Tank Destroyers, and to a lesser degree the ATVs, mean locking down a hardpoint with a tank or two is no longer viable. Thos means the battles of hardpoints can turn into seesaw affairs only broken when one team manages to coordinate several pieces of armor in one attack. If you have an itch that only Battlefield can scratch then this expansion is a longer stick so you can really get it in there. I admit, that metaphor got away from me a bit but the point is, Armored Kill is more of what makes Battlefield unique and this makes it worth considering, at the least.


The Human Side of War

bwrussell | June 4, 2015 | Review of Valiant Hearts The Great War NA - PC

Can a video game be fun, emotional, and educational all at once? The short answer is 'of course' but it's a tough combination to pull off. Enter Valiant Hearts, a narrative-first, 2D puzzle game set in the oft overlooked First World War. Lets start with aspects that provide most of the "fun". The mechanics are a smooth blend of point and click style puzzles and physics or action based puzzling. There shouldn't be any puzzles that cause undue frustration and for the most part the solutions are fairly apparent for anyone who's been around the video game block once or twice. In other games the relatively low challenge level of the puzzles would probably be a detriment but, at least personally, in Valiant Hearts the puzzles were there to simply add contrast and tension to the story. There was even a small section in the final third of the game where the complexity of the puzzles started to draw too much attention away from the story, opening some chinks in the immersion. The hand-painted artwork is very well done, especially some of the character designs, but is easy to overlook because the setting doesn't allow for much color and variety. The animation style is simple but an effective use of parallax backgrounds give the scenes plenty of motion and depth. A simple but hauntingly beautiful soundtrack is used effectively and actually provides some needed levity during the driving sections. Unsurprisingly the emotional punch is brought mostly by the story. I say "mostly" because it was actually some background NPCs that delivered one of the bigger blows personally. With that said, the story is no lightweight, as is to be expected from a game dealing with the travesty that is The Great War. You play four, really five, characters whose personal stories weave back and forth in an implausible but satisfying manner. In fact that's probably a good way to describe the entire plot. While it's clear that the story is a work of fiction and contains some obvious embellishments, it manages to remain grounded through its presentation and focus on the personal side of war. The decision to not focus on nations and figure heads is terrific and gives the frantic and unexpected ending the gravity it deserves. Now to complete the tri-fecta we have the educational aspects. Despite loving pretty much all of the rest of the game this was probably my favorite part. In the U.S. at least, WWI is almost criminally overlooked in most educational curriculums, probably due to our late entry to the war and no fighting happening on our soil, so the chance to learn more in a game setting was exciting. Valiant Hearts accomplishes this in a couple of ways. First off they use real places, real battles, and an accurate depiction of the players involved (it likely would never have occurred to me that the Canadians were heavily involved let alone how instrumental they were at times). For me though the more intriguing tidbits came from the short historical background info, complete with real photos, provided in each level and the collectible system. Scattered through each level are a number of items relevant to the level and war in general. When you find an item you can open a page that provides a little insight to the nature of the item and life during WWI in general. The combination of dramatized but immersive story and real life accounts allows for greater impact than either could provide alone and there in lies the beauty of using games for education. I really hope that the developers can find a way to give some other overlooked conflicts the Valiant Hearts treatment. As promised, that's fun, emotion, and education in one game shaped package. Usually when making recommendations there are caveats like, "probably best for fans of genre X" or "Feel free to pass this up if you don't enjoy Y" but Valiant Hearts has no such caveats. I really feel that there is something here for everyone. Even if you know all the WWI facts already or don't typically enjoy puzzle games (there is a hint system for you folks by the way), simply being reminded that wars are fought by humans, on both sides, is something we all could benefit from.


Typing With An RPG Twist

bwrussell | June 3, 2015 | Review of Letter Quest Grimms Journey - PC

There are only so many ways to implement a word-based game, searching, unscrambling, typing, so standing out of the crowd can be a bit of an issue. Happily Letter Quest has found a winning formula. A combination of humor and tried and true RPG-lite mechanics incentivise and distract from the fact that you're essentially doing primary school English homework. The aesthetic is decidedly cartoon-ish and crafted with a younger audience in mind but it shouldn't be off-putting to older players. The story is silly, lighthearted, and sparse but is punched up by the amusing and word-play filled enemy descriptions. Finally the sound track is fun and energetic but it only plays one track per level so the looping can get in your head a little if you spend more than a couple minutes on a given level. If you enjoy them though you're in luck as the soundtrack is included with the base game. Speaking of school work and a younger audience, it was nice to see the developers not pass up the educational opportunity inherent to this genre. Every time you type a valid word you can choose to see the definition and it displays the definitions of every word you actually use. At first this seems pretty useless, for the most part you'll only be typing words you already know, but it's actually a clever bit of forethought by the developers. As anyone who regularly plays word games or does crosswords can tell you, it's very easy to "cheat" at a game like this and use program to come up with the best words given your letter set. By displaying the definitions of all the submitted words it almost makes using an assist like that actually more educational than just typing words you already know. What I'm saying is expand your vocabulary by embracing the urge to cheat. As far as the RPG mechanics go they've definitely been paired down for both general simplicity and with the intended audience in mind. You can upgrade several aspects of your character (damage, armor, health), apply various passive buffs that are upgraded though an XP system, unlock weapons, buy potions, and even unlock more characters. Another interesting mechanic is the weaknesses that the bosses have. Things like multiplied damage from double letter words or words with both an E and a S, force you to really think about your word selection. Several of the enemies also will restrict your letter choices by poisoning tiles, locking them down for a few turns, or even changing several after every attack. It's a fairly unique mechanic that helps keep what could be very repetitive battles fresh. Overall, Letter Quest is very well made, especially for a two man team, and can be enjoyed by most any player but will especially be of interest to fans of the spelling genre and those looking for a light educational experience. It doesn't take terribly long to complete the main levels, 4+ hours, but the inclusion of some hard levels, special objectives to complete on each level, and a number of unlocks definitely make the non-sale price point fair.


Turning Back the Clock

bwrussell | May 10, 2015 | Review of Battlefield 3 Back to Karkand DLC NA Origin - PC

This, the first of 5 DLC for Battlefield 3, is targeted at long time fans of the series. Bringing several maps from previous Battlefield games might be considered by some to be a cash grab but it also was a decently smart move to try and bring over the old player base. For players newer to the series the nostalgia is a non-factor. Luckily the maps are decently balanced, as they should be after all this time, and provide some of the variety necessary to keep a games multiplayer alive. That being said, the aesthetic of the new maps just don't quite fit with the ones new for this game. This is purely a "feel" issue and in no way changes how they pay. They're just a little bland and empty in comparison. In addition to the maps this DLC adds a number weapons that appeared in Battlefield 2 for use in any of the Battlefield 3 maps. Since the base game is already flush with weapons ten more isn't going to be a huge deal for most players. The exception again of course is players familiar with Battlefield 2 who've been yearning for their old favorite gun. Your milage with this feature will vary depending on how particular you are about the precise look and feel of your weapons. More vehicles is never a bad thing, especially since the VTOL jet adds another dimension to air combat due to its unique handling capabilities. They've also added the Conquest Assault game type which simply is an unbalanced version of Conquest where one team starts with all of the points captured. This must be paying entirely nostalgia because I never had any interest in playing a Conquest game where one team starts with a massive unmitigated advantage. Outside of the items mentioned above the rest of the content is either cosmetic (dogtags) or part of the assignment/achievement meta. All considered this is not a terrible value for an expansion, especially if you were a Battlefield 2 fan. It doesn't change the feel much like later DLC but it's a fair whack of content if you're just looking for more. Also worth considering is that as the first DLC and being included in the Special Edition means this is the most owned and likely still the most active of the expansions.


A New Direction

bwrussell | May 8, 2015 | Review of Tom Clancys Splinter Cell Conviction Deluxe Edition NA UPLAY - PC

After a change in course in the previous installment the Splinter Cell franchise has tacked again with a completely new feel for Conviction. It's clear that the developers are trying to make Splinter Cell more appealing to a broader scope of gamers and are willing to sacrifice core stealth gameplay. So much so that this really is an action game first, stealth game second. This makes it hard to review because it was marketed as a Splinter Cell game, but that doesn't mean I won't try. Probably the biggest change comes from the new Mark & Execute system. After completing any hand-to-hand takedown you gain the ability to tag an upgradable number of baddies. Then, with the push of a button, automatically kill them all with a series of choreographed gun shots. Visually it looks good and shows some pretty cool animations but at a certain point it reduces many of the enemies to mere set pieces. In fact there is a definite increase in focus on guns and gun play, something previous titles shied away from. This is even more evident in the deluxe edition which includes a number of weapons and armor (for multiplayer). Taken out of context all of the mechanics work well and are pretty cool. If this game was sold under a name other than Splinter Cell there wouldn't be any issues. It's just that given the Splinter Cell name and my personal love of the series up to this point its a bit disappointing. Visually though this game has taken a big step forward. Obviously there are the usual graphical improvements, although it seems like the step taken here is a bit bigger than between previous titles, but the biggest change is the style. While it has gone a little brown and gritty, this series about darkness and shadow hasn't always been a burst of color anyways so no real loss, the slick new way that information is presented gives it a very clean and modern feel. It can be a little immersion breaking since enemies don't react to the two story light projections giving you objectives but this is minor and is easily ignored after the first couple of times you notice it. There is one final deviation from the Splinter Cell formula that, while subtle, is a major shift for the series. In previous games you played the plot from the sidelines, metaphorically and literally in the shadows, attempting to subvert and control plots and powers much bigger than yourself. Sure, there were some side plots that involved you personally but ultimately you were a tool. Conviction is all about Sam Fisher and while it builds from the story of Double Agent it just helps to reenforce the feeling that this is an action-hero game not an espionage one. Again this isn't a matter of the plot being especially bad, it just doesn't fit with the branding of Splinter Cell. As far as Deluxe Edition content goes, besides the aforementioned weapons and armor, you get the Infiltration mode which is a single or two player stealth mode that has you clearing maps without detection. This is a good mode for the stealth fans out there that felt jilted by the tone of the single player. In addition it includes the soundtrack for those that enjoy listening to their game music outside the game. Personally I enjoyed the game and thought the new mechanics were kind of cool but, and I'm sure you know where this is going, most of the time I wished I was playing a proper Splinter Cell game and at times it was so close to fulfilling that that it was a little distracting. Really it's about managing expectations because I think most people will enjoy this game as long as you know going in what you're actually getting.


A Giant Dose of Wacky Borderlands Humor

bwrussell | May 6, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Mr Torgues Campaign of Carnage - PC

One of the hallmarks of Borderlands has always been its sharp writing and dry humor. This DLC is not that. It feels like the Mr. Torgue character was conceived as a way for the writers to just let off steam and get out all of the asinine and over-the-top stuff that wouldn't fit in the main story, and I love it. Somehow it manages to be stupid and random yet still clever. Outside of the humor I was also a fan of premise. Even though you're still just running back and forth between places killing enemies and collecting loot it felt less contrived due to how it was set-up. Traversing the different areas really felt like you were in the middle of a long running fight-to-the-death tournament due to some pretty good world building for a piece of DLC. Overall this was my favorite of the story DLC. The reason? It was plain and simply fun. The random humor and premise all come together into a complete package that moment-to-moment is the most enjoyable extension to the Borderlands 2 world available. If the lighter side of Pandora is your jam then don't pass up Mr. Torgue and his Campaign of Carnage.


The Closing Argument for Games as Art

bwrussell | May 5, 2015 | Review of Brothers A tale of Two Sons - PC

Mechanics are something every game has but not many games manage to use them as metaphor as elegantly as Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons does. In a game with relatively simple puzzles, no real dialog, and a basic plot structure it's this integration of player input that brings everything together and elevates whole above the sum of its parts. Backing up a little, the mechanic in question is the control scheme which has the player moving each brother independently with the two sticks on a controller (incidentally this means a controller is required to play this game, at least properly). This is definitely a new experience and an utterly confusing one, at least at first and therein lies some of the beauty and elegance of this game. When the game begins and the brothers begin their journey the controls are unfamiliar and slow to use but as the characters grow and gain confidence on their adventure so does your skill with the controls. The direct correlation between player input and in-game progression is not something explicitly noticeable while playing but it absolutely is effective at maintaining immersion and points that would feel like "press button to pay respects" in other games turn into touching moments that feel natural. I could go on about the mechanics and their ties to the game but this is a review so I'll refrain. While they are terrific, mechanics alone can not carry a game to greatness. Fortunately Brothers delivers pretty much across the board. The art style hits a great sweet spot between realistic and stylized and makes terrific use of the engines power with many deep, bright scenes given center stage through out. The story, while structurally simple, is full of emotion and heart with plenty of highs and lows through out. It's also not going to pull any punches, much the same as our real lives are not full of happy endings and endless summers. The world is lush and interesting. In so many games the world and the events happening in it revolve around your character but in Brothers you really feel like you're journeying through foreign lands as you pass through places where major events have already happened, are in progress, or seem destined to happen soon. Some people may feel like they're missing out but personally I loved this. It made me think and wonder about the world much like anyone traveling through it would, imagining a great battle and speculating on the tensions that caused it. To me this is better than some exposition or pages of text with lore that's filled with places, names, and dates that have no real meaning or context. In the end Brothers: A Take of Two Sons is masterfully both poignant and subtle, uplifting and heart-wrenching. It does require that you own or can borrow a controller but it's absolutely worth the effort. Put shortly, I highly recommend this game to anyone and everyone.


Over-hyped but Still Underrated

bwrussell | May 4, 2015 | Review of Titanfall Deluxe NA - PC

I know that title seems oxymoronic but it's the best way to describe the state of Titanfall. Because it received so much hype before launch it of course didn't meet the unrealistic expectations set for it. This drove a wave of discontent through the customer base and turned away a number of players leading to it's current status of "Underrated". While some of the criticism was probably fair (multiplayer only at a full $60 price point, buggy matchmaking) most if not all of those complaints have been addressed in some way or another. Enough history though, and on to "Should I buy Titanfall?". In short yes, but the reasons why are a bit more nebulous in most cases. On the surface you're getting a multiplayer only FPS/Mech game. Born from the minds behind some of the massively successful Call of Duty games the multiplayer systems and mechanics are slick and addictive. While some people will complain that there are a lack of weapons, the progression system, in concert with the challenge system, will have you saying "Just one more match until I complete X". That perceived lack of weapons does have it's upsides though because it was much easier for the devs to hone the games balance. The auto-aiming Smart Pistol allows beginners or the aiming impaired to still contribute with AI kills but takes skill and practice to use effectively against other players. Even the skills and and kit are balanced such that each is desirable and helpful, but still flawed, there are very few obvious choices. After over a year of continual work and fixes the matchmaking system is much improved, even showing the number of players in each playlist in the lobby so you don't waste time waiting for a match that isn't going to happen. Personally I'm currently having little to no difficulty getting into matches and perfectly acceptable wait times finding them. While that's good, those aren't the real reasons that Titanfall is underrated. It isn't even playing as a Titan, which is quite good fun and a great way to diversify what the player is doing minute-to-minute during a game. It isn't the decently large number of maps or fun and interesting gametypes, such as a tricky and only-in-Titanfall mode that is essentially "The floor is lava" from when you were a kid, but with more shooting and explosions. No, the reason that Titanfall is such a gripping experience is the pilot play. I have never played a game with such natural and fluid player movement as Titanfall. The double jumping and wall running are so intuitive (to which some credit is due the level designers for sure) going back and playing anything else will feel sluggish and restrictive. As a whole the gameplay is tuned very tightly and usually delivers at least a few "wow" moments in each match. Whether its jumping on a Titan's back while calling in your own and leaping away at the last second as your metal steed descends from the heavens to flatten your opponent, out maneuvering an opponent, dooming their Titan, ripping them out of said Titan and flinging them across the map, or simply picking off a couple opponents as you race by on a wall. The list goes on and on. This being the Deluxe edition means you'll have out of the box access to 9 more maps which now are being played on all gametypes. The new maps inject some great variety, from a relatively flat jungle to a towering set of luxury high rises and more. There really was a focus on playing with the verticality of the level design in the DLC maps and you feel it in how the game plays differently on some of the new maps. The aforementioned jungle level is favorable to Titans with fewer places for pilots to get the high ground while some of the tighter maps make it easier to trap a Titan and make quick work of it. A personal favorite is the Tron-esque training grounds with vertical light bridges for wall running and areas where the gritty urban environment fades to stark white and pixelation. Simply put Titanfall is an experience unlike any other in gaming and, as a testament to it's quality and impact, has already been adapted in some aspects by other FPS giants. There is still an active player base and the inclusion of a 4-player co-op horde mode in the latest big update means you can enjoy the pulse pounding action easily with just a few friends too. If you're a hardcore FPS fan just looking for a little variety or a newbie that wants a competitive multiplayer experience that lets them contribute no matter their skill level, you're not going to find much better than Titanfall.


A Competent Mobile Port

bwrussell | April 23, 2015 | Review of Swords and Soldiers - PC

Swords and Soldiers is nothing more, nothing less. It's a pretty standard side-scrolling RTS where you collect resources, deploy units, try to push back your opponents units, and destroy their base. It's almost as if you were controlling the creeps in a MOBA. It does have a shallow but unique and amusing plot and general aesthetic that keeps it from becoming tired to quickly but at the end of the day it's clearly still a mobile game. The UI is obviously touch oriented, its relatively short, and the price is heavily inflated for PC. Regardless, if you're looking for a solid and silly, yet unspectacular, side-rolling RTS on PC then Swords and Soldiers is not a bad choice who's biggest flaw is its price point.


Speed Kills

bwrussell | April 22, 2015 | Review of Battlefield 3 End Game - PC

Continuing the line of Battlefield 3 DLC packs that have some sort of theme, the End Game expansion is all about speed. The dirt bike is one of, if not the, fastest non-airplane vehicle and the new AA vehicles are no slouches themselves. In addition the ability to air drop vehicles and players directly into the heart of the battle with the dropship gets the larger vehicles into the mix faster. The capture the flag game mode is all about quick strikes and moving as fast as possible between objectives. The maps for this mode make heavy use of the new dirt bike as well. The problem is that Battlefield at its core is not a twitch/speed game and that shows in capture the flag mode. The map sizes, movement speeds, and inclusion of vehicles (and the map design to accommodate them) just don't mesh with the required play-style for capture the flag. It basically always turns into a long grind around the flag bases with the occasional escape on a dirt bike quickly becoming an uncontested score. In the end this expansion sort of feels a little like the leftovers from the rest with a slapped on game mode to attempt to justify the price. Given the choice between only a couple of the DLC packs this one is definitely a pass.


A Natural Evolution

bwrussell | April 21, 2015 | Review of Deponia Steam - PC

The point-and-click genre is a venerable one. Dating back to the dawn of gaming, an evolution of text based adventures, and while Deponia is by no means as great a step as text to picture, it definitely feels like the refinement and modernization of the genre. Featuring high quality, hand-drawn art and smooth animation it certainly looks the part. The story is interesting enough to keep your attention through its decently long run and meshes seamlessly with the fully fleshed out world. The puzzles are classic point-and-click fare but they found a way to avoid the lion's share of the completely bizarre adventurer game logic so common in other titles. Your clicking finger will thank them. Most importantly though, to getting that classic feel, is the wacky humor that encourages trying new things just for the responses and reactions. Because it manages to do so much right, and often better, Deponia is a title that should be worthy of both the point-and-click aficionado and adventure newbies time and money.


The Pirate's Life (Is Fun)

bwrussell | April 15, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Captain Scarlett her Piratess Booty - PC

Not the longest of the DLC campaigns but still fun. The pirate theme and characters meld well with the existing Borderlands world and cast which helps the missions feel less disjointed from the rest of the experience. This is the first of the story DLC so it will be the easiest but instead of worrying about that just focus on mowing down worms and pirates in the new vehicle. It's a little on the short side for the price but sales are deep and relatively frequent. If you're looking for a way to expand the Borderlands 2 experience without retreading the main story, this DLC is a great start.


Beautiful But Divisive

bwrussell | April 14, 2015 | Review of Dear Esther Steam - PC

The debate centers around not the games quality but it's standing as a game at all. Fortunately for a review there is no reason to wade into this but the reasons why there is a debate come down to the fundamentals of what this game is. Skin deep Dear Esther is simply a story told to as you wander around an empty island, exploring abandon structures and glowing caves.It is important to understand this before playing this game, you will not be physically interacting in any way, this is all about the story. So how is the story? Well, frankly I found it a little pretentious and overly vague but those are things that it uses to draw in some people. While I gained very little from the experience others have found much more depth, including some hidden secrets on the island, and this is where any merit this game has will be. Each time you play the game you will get different parts of the story which is an ok mechanic but in Dear Esther it flounders for two reasons. First of the world doesn't really change in any significant way so visually multiple play thrus quickly become rote, despite the impressive graphics. The second, and related flaw is the dismal movement speed which means way to much time is spent walking in silence. I can not recommend modifying the game to allow for increased movement speeds if you decide to play this game (a quick search will give plenty of results for easy ways to do this). If you're the kind of person that loves digging into and trying to find the meaning in vague stories but aren't looking for the interaction seen in most games then Dear Esther will be something you really enjoy. Otherwise you'll probably want to pass.


Easily a Classic

bwrussell | April 7, 2015 | Review of Borderlands 2 Overflow 1 - PC

In a world of grey-brown serious warfare FPS, Borderlands 2 stands out as a brightly colored fart joke. In reality Borderlands 2 is much better written than a fart joke but that doesn't mean it's above them. Already we're striking right at the heart of what makes this game so popular and compelling, it's just fun, with one caveat. That is that while it's fun enough solo, the real beauty of this game is the co-op play. Stepping back a little, at it's core Borederlands 2 is an open world FPS. Layered on top are some RPG like skill trees and quest system and topped off with a heavy dose looting and, if it interests you, loot grinding. This brings us to the guns, who's quantity is accurately described as a plethora. To some extent all the gun drops feature some randomization, which is where the grinding can come in. The stat randomization also extends to your shield, grenade mod, class mod, and relic. This mean gameplay typically breaks down into: Travel to quest location, complete objective while killing many things, spend some quality time in your inventory comparing gear and doing math in your head, repeat. This might start dragging on pretty quick but the varied enemies, colorful world (with it's timeless cel shaded style), unique NPCs, compelling story, and spot on humor do more than enough to keep the game a joy. While best experienced with 3 friends, Borderlands 2 as enough to offer most any player that it's not necessary. Which is good because it's a game that everyone should play.


Top Notch Tactical Shooting

bwrussell | April 2, 2015 | Review of Tom Clancys Rainbow Six Vegas 2 NA UPLAY - PC

These days tactical shooters (as opposed to the modern military run-and-guns of certain yearly franchises), are few and far between. A good tactical shooter is almost unheard of. Luckily there's Vegas 2 which is the latest (2008!) in the venerable Rainbow Six family, which has stood the test of time. While the graphics certainly aren't up to current gen specs, it runs smooth and doesn't look so dated as to be distracting. There is one big bug still in the game which leads to a continuous sound of an enemy machine gun firing. It doesn't happen to everyone or every time you play but it can be annoying when it does. Besides this, and a control scheme that's different than every other game, it's very solid mechanically, one of the best really, and delivers a gameplay style that's hard to find anywhere else. It's also pretty packed with content. Besides a campaign that's plenty long, and that can be played all the way through in co-op, you get the terrific Terrorist Hunt 4-player co-op missions, which involve clearing various levels of enemies, and various vs. modes. The Hunt missions with 4 players are the real show stealers here and really get to the essence of the tactical shooter genre. The AI, a large part of making a tactical shooter work, is mostly strong. Occasionally they will rush a choke point one at a time or fail to spot you in an obvious location but most of the time they use cover effectively and are quick to break off and flank you. If you're longing for an old-school style game where you move slow and die fast then this is what you're looking for. If you've got some friends looking for a challenging co-op experience you'd be hard pressed to do better than this. Overall really just a great, great game.


A Little Bit of Retro

bwrussell | Sept. 15, 2014 | Review of Hard Reset - PC

Hard Reset is an FPS in the vein of the genesis of FPS. Combat is quick and based around movement and lots of guns rather than cover and patience. Unfortunately it feels a bit clunky, you have a jump but it's basically useless and there is no crouch. Sprinting is fairly limited and the screen distorts so much you can't really see anything, leading you to often rush headlong into enemies. As expected you can unlock a plethora of weapons to help you along the way. There are 10 guns in total, each with an alternate fire. The weapons are split into two classes, one firing physical ammo the other firing energy. While I didn't use a number of the weapons or firing modes it was enjoyable to work out the best gun/mode combos for each enemy type. The weapons feel decent and some are pretty fun to use, but the swap time is agonizingly slow. The level design is that of a corridor shooter but the fact that it is essentially linear is a bit of departure from the days of yore. There are plenty of secrets tucked into corners or behind destructible walls but it's not like you'll be exploring vast open levels to find them. The world is heavily cyberpunk and takes place almost entirely at night in the rain. It looks pretty good for what I suspect is a pretty minimal budget. It's an interesting world that is severely undersold by the story. Mostly told between levels by clunky animated, poorly voice acted "cut scenes" done in a graphic novel style, the story is underdeveloped and poorly explained. I wanted to to care about the story and the world but I just couldn't get drawn in. It just feels like there was supposed to be so much more. The included DLC, Exile (previously Path to Exile or Extended Edition) is essentially more if the same. There are a couple new enemy types but one of the guns completely removes them as a threat. Partly through Exile I realized I was just grinding and going through the paces. In the end Hard Reset is just a bit shallow. The potential is there for a much more engaging experience but it just doesn't deliver. If you're a fan of circle strafing this is probably a must have but for generalists or people looking for a deeper cyberpunk world this is a bargain bin/bundle pick up.


The Less You Know The Better

bwrussell | Sept. 12, 2014 | Review of Spec Ops The Line Overflow - PC

First off if you ever think you are going to play this game stop looking for info on it and while the main hook may have already been spoiled that is far from the only one so don't write it off. The things I can say about this game are the mechanics are solid and satisfying, the slight time dilation when you get a head-shot really carries weight. The controls can be a little wonky at first but they work (mine only showed Xbox prompts which didn't help). The graphics hold up well so far and while the setting dictates the brown color palette there are some splashes of color provided by the graffiti spread around the world. There are also some pretty impressive establishing shots spread throughout. The story was a risk for the developer which definitely payed off but, while it was absolutely the best choice, I feel the intentionally bland marketing limited sales a bit and pushed the impact below the radar a bit. Please hold out through the end for this one, you owe it to yourself to dig into this story and let it impact you, however it touches you. Even if you find it hard to play. There is so much more I'd love to say and discuss about this game but I've already said too much. Just play this, as soon as possible.


An Excellent Story Experiance

bwrussell | Aug. 22, 2014 | Review of The Thirty Nine Steps Steam - PC

If you're looking to take control of an action spy and punch your way to glory, turn back, but if you want to experience an excellent man-on-the-run thriller in a more compact and interactive manner than it's original form then you've found your game. Lets be clear right from the start, this is a faithful adaption of a book, you can't change the outcome, you don't become the main character, and there are no headshot bonuses. So what do you get? First off each scene is depicted in a beautiful hand-painted style. Given that you lose most of the scene description when you adapt in this manner it's very important that the artwork properly conveys each scene, and they really hit the nail on the head. You get voice acting on at least half of the text, most of the conversations or internal monologues, as well as atmospheric sound effects to add depth to scenes without voice acting. Generally the voices are unique and well done but the "heavy breathing while a character runs" was a little off-putting, at least for me. The final piece to the adaptation is the interactivity. Mostly you simply control the pace of the story but scattered through out are more interactive moments. Completing actions by drawing simple gestures with the mouse and selecting various objects of interest out of a scene make up the most of the interaction. While simple, these moments are well placed and definitely help with immersion. The later also lead to how most of the backstory is delivered. When you pick the objects out of the scene it brings up context and filler for the story often accompanied by historical photographs or newspaper clippings that add depth to the world. As someone who has not read the original text I felt like I got the whole story and it was much smaller time-sink. The balance between reading, listening, and interacting is precise and kept me interested and engaged.


The Stealth Standard

bwrussell | July 18, 2014 | Review of Tom Clancys Splinter Cell NA - PC

While maybe not the best game in the series, Splinter Cell will always be one of my favorite and most influential (in terms of who I am and what I look for as a gamer) games I've played, as well as being the bar by which all 3rd person stealth games should be measured. A good story and world, gripping gameplay that rewards patience and thought, and lots of choices and options for every playstyle. While the story isn't groundbreaking in anyway it is solid enough to keep the game moving and doesn't leave mindlessly completing levels with no reason as to why. While the levels aren't quite as varied as you'll find in later entries in the series, they certainly aren't cookie cutter or repetitive. Of course this game is pretty old at this point (12 years at time of writing!) so it doesn't look like games in the current gen but given it's age it is by no means unplayable. Just don't go into it think it's going to look as good as you remember, of course it looked better then when it was top of the line. This game features real stealth gameplay, slow and tense, but when you pull off the perfect sequence, leaving no trace and guards non the wiser it is deeply satisfying. Of course you have a variety of tools and weapons to help you out but, in a brilliant piece of design you can use a many or as few as you like (with the exception of a few missions that require no, or limited, alarms), including the ability to complete a full nonlethal run. This allows for a surprising amount of re-playability. The game will feel much different played run-and-gun vs stealth and you'll discover new paths in the levels when you're forced to figure out a nonlethal solution to a level. Once you've completed the game, crank the difficulty and don't kill anyone, it's a whole new experience and how the game was intended to be played. Something I noticed when replaying this recently was that even though you have the choice of killing or sparing most of the enemies it is never forced into some moral choice system like so many games these days. It's up to you to decide the morality of your actions. There is no body count at the end, no good or bad endings, no score. A little non-story variance based on choices in later levels and more characterization for the enemies would have driven this home better but it was nice to play a game that let you operate in the grey area that's more true to life. Personally I recommend this as a "must play" for everybody but I understand it's appeal is skewed a bit more towards hardcore stealth fans than the average gamer. That being said it will allow you to "go loud" if that's your preference so don't write it off if full on stealth isn't your bag of cats. It's also worth noting, I haven't had any issues with compatibility bugs either, which is a small miracle for a game this old.


A Unique Adventure

bwrussell | July 8, 2014 | Review of Shelter - PC

In a world of clones, look-alikes, and generic brown hallways, Shelter is a breath of fresh air. Much like the fresh air your digital badger family is undoubtedly breathing as you guide them through the beautiful and often dangerous world of Shelter. Obviously the most readily noticeable aspect of Shelter is the unique sort of washed out/watercolor/paper-craft aesthetic. It might look overly washed out in screen shots and videos but while playing it that wasn't my feeling at all. In fact there is a lot of variety between levels, scenery and color palette wise. While the game is relatively short, you can rush it in under 2 hours (not recommended) but typical length is probably 3 hours, if you're engaged it's quite tense. It does a good job of making you aware that there is danger but not directly showing it to you. It's up to you to determine what is safe and what isn't and if you let your guard down or take to big of a risk it will likely result in the death of a cub. Above all else though, finish the game. The ending has that sort of perspective shifting impact that can stick with you beyond even the context of the game. Overall Shelter is a great example as games as art, even beyond it's aesthetics and in it's mechanics and message. Shelter is a game I think everyone should play, it's well worth the time, at least once. The standard price might be a little steep for a once-through experience so unless quirky little indies are your thing wait until you find a sale price and then absolutely jump all over it.


Tense, Hilarious Action

bwrussell | June 24, 2014 | Review of The Ship - PC

The Ship is one of the most layered and unique multiplayer games I've ever played (there is single player but this is best experienced with friends). It's a hunter style game where each player has a target and at least one player targeting them. The catch is you only have the name of your target and where they were last seen and you have no idea who's targeting you. You travel around the map collecting all sorts of strange weapons, each with a kill value attached (based on ease of use and how many kills have been made with it), trying to find your target by talking to the other players and bots, any of which could be looking for you. You can begin to see why this game is so tense. Once a player has been killed everyone else has a limited time to try and get their kill before the next round starts. This is just the base layer though. On top of that you have to be careful where you kill your prey, as they're are guards and security cameras that will instantly take you to jail if you brandish a weapon in their site. Also committing a murder in front of to many player witnesses will have you serving time and paying a fee. If that wasn't enough, you also have to manage a number of The Sims-esque statuses. You have to eat and drink, use the bathroom and shower, participate in leisure activity, get enough social interaction, and most terrifying, sleep. All of these are tied into your actions, if you sprint you get hungry, thirsty, and tired. If you go to the bathroom your need to clean goes up, etc. If any of these aspects max out, you die. All of this makes for a deep experience, lots of hilarious exchanges, and tense standoffs and hunts. The biggest issue is setting up and getting connected to multiplayer games. The in-game master server list is broken but you can look up guides for selecting a server before launching a game. For private games Steam does include a dedicated server tool or you can do what I did and set-up a VPN and play as a LAN game. Whatever route you take it is worth the effort. Also of note: buying this is essentially buying 5 copies of the game. You get one and 2 gifts. The people that receive those gift copies each get one additional gift copy. Coordinate with your friends and the base price is less than five dollars a copy. If you find it on sale then the price per copy can drop to under a dollar a piece.


The Legend Returns

bwrussell | June 23, 2014 | Review of Portal 2 (1) - PC

Oddly enough it's hard to compare Portal and Portal 2 directly. The first was born from a prototype made by some students, while the second is a full fledged AAA release. Portal 2 is just the next step, if you're contemplating playing it then you should have already played Portal. This isn't an either/or situation. Portal 2 has it all, clever game play, terrific dark humor, an engaging atmosphere (Act II really excels in this aspect), a strong single player story, fun co-op multiplayer, and Steam Workshop support for almost endless content. This is a game that's hard to review in much detail as you quickly run out of synonyms for "good". This really is a masterpiece, building on everything Portal did right without diluting the experience with forced innovations yet feeling fresh and new. This is one of those few games that I can easily recommend at full price. If you haven't played the original then look for a bundle that contains it and invest the 2-3 hours in it before jumping into this.


Intense Co-op Action

bwrussell | June 18, 2014 | Review of Left 4 Dead 2 - PC

Grab some friends and settle in for one of the all-time great co-op games. While this game can be played alone or with random strangers on the internet, you're only going to get the full experience playing with 3 friends. On top of that some sort of voice communication is crucial, whether it's in-game voice chat or playing in the same room. You fight through waves of zombies, interspersed with tougher "special" infected, trying to reach a series of safe houses and eventually escape. Along the way you'll have to complete occasional specific objectives, most commonly fetch quests and wave defense/horde mode. You'll skimp on ammo and hunt for medi-kits. You'll try to not wake the Witch. You'll wake the Witch. You'll fail, formulate new strategies, and tweak those again. It's all of this that makes your final escape so exhilarating and fulfilling. On top of the great co-op campaign levels you also get co-operative and versus multiplayer modes. Of course you have your basic horde mode but really intriguing are the versus modes where teams switch back and forth between playing the survivors and the infected. When playing as an infected you spawn as a different "special" infected, with it's special abilities and attacks, each life and try to stop the survivors from progressing through a stage or collecting gas cans to power a generator. Surviving with your friends is awesome, sending them to the moon as a Charger is hilarious. Extending the life of this title even more is the extensive Steam Workshop support. From simple visual changes and user maps to complete overhauls and re-skins, you should be able to find plenty of content to extend your playtime. If you have a few friends to play this with then it's absolutely worth the price, on-sale or not. If you're a lone wolf then you'll probably want to pass (playing alone isn't really that great) or make some friends.


Simple and Safe to a Fault

bwrussell | June 11, 2014 | Review of Prince of Persia NA - PC

While this game is technically sound and interesting visually it just feels... empty. You're trying to help a princess recover her city from an evil force that's been released upon it but the entire city is deserted, even when you cleanse an area it's still devoid of people. After a while it made me a little disinterested in actually finishing because it seemed pointless to save an empty city. Even the enemies wait to spawn in until you're close. Done right this isolation can work for a game but in Prince of Persia they don't play to that or address it in any way. Similarly the mechanics are feel hollow as well. Mostly this is due to a yawn inducing combat system. For each of the four bosses (which you fight multiple times each) there is an OP combo that you repeat over and over until the fight is over and really the only move that changes is the first one between bosses. All the combos are available at the beginning of the game and you can look them up in the menu. Once again the emptiness rears it's head as you only ever fight one enemy at a time. The "free" running is actually entertaining at times but by the end of the game the lack of variety will begin to erode it. The non free running puzzles aren't bad but also don't break any new ground. The visual style of Prince of Persia is, while not exactly beautiful, interesting and different. The cel shading/illustration style works for the game but doesn't look as good in-game as the screen shots and doesn't appear to be aging as well as you'd expect from the style. Probably the biggest disappointment in the visual aspect is the lack of those stunningly deep environments and landscapes from some of the previous games. There are a few but the visual style let them down a little. One thing that has swung back and forth in the previous PoP games is the writing, especially for the companion, and it's one of the aspects that this game actually does well with. The dialog between the two is believable and has that good snarky humor from the early games. The princess is capable (actually at some points I wondered why I was needed at all. In fact the Prince needs more help from her than she does from him, in general) and has a real personality. But talking of writing leads to the games biggest flaw: the endgame. There was huge potential for this game to have a real, deep impact on the player. A chance to elevate itself as one of those games that sticks with you long after you've set the controller down. Instead you're left wondering why you spent so many hours doing the tasks you did. You could honestly cut from when the prince and princess meet to the final cut scene and have the same feeling of accomplishment. Here, once again, the worlds emptiness hamstrings everything else because a living, populated world would have at least left the ending the devs went with salvageable. In the end I didn't actually dislike the game, a more appropriate word would be disappointed. Greatness was within it's reach but it seemingly didn't even try to grab on. Simply trying is all I'm looking for. If you're a diehard PoP fan or enjoy puzzle platforming then this is a solid entry but for the average player I can only recommend it on deep discount, and if you decide to pass you're not missing anything.


Unfairly Overlooked

bwrussell | May 22, 2014 | Review of Alpha Protocol - PC

Perhaps it's proximity to the release of Mass Effect 2 is somewhat to blame for this, despite their similarities ME2 was building on an already successful IP. Given the relative success of each franchise it would be easy to write Alpha Protocol off as less worthy of your time but that would be a mistake. As much as the Mass Effect series is lauded for it's reactive story, branching dialog, and RPG elements, Alpha Protocol actually does some of that better. While the story itself is good, not great, the feeling of agency in the world is second only to The Walking Dead. While a number of the choices are obvious, and sometimes even tell you some of the consequences, there are a lot of very subtle ones that you don't realize you're making. For example, the order that you choose to do the missions will have a large effect on how the story unfolds but without replaying the game it's hard to see exactly how. When you start to realize this every choice begins to carry more weight, the true consequences unknown. It's this depth and replay-ability where Alpha Protocol really shines. The espionage setting works well and combined with the RPG elements it really delivers the feeling of a lone agent in the field. The open tech tree, with the three major disciplines being assault, stealth, and technician, allows you to build a character best suited for how you want to enjoy the game. The game play strikes a good balance between the three meaning no character is ever out of a fight. Really the best praise I can level at this game is that, even years after I first played it, I still am drawn to come back and play it yet again, just to see how else I can unravel the plot. With a wide appeal, fans of third person shooters, stealth games, and RPG-lite action games will find something intriguing here, and one of the most reactive stories in gaming to date, Alpha Protocol really is a hidden gem worthy of your attention.


Let Go of Your Preconceptions

bwrussell | Jan. 16, 2014 | Review of To The Moon - PC

To The Moon is one of those games that really shows what can be done with the medium besides bathing in blood and violence. I won't say it was the greatest game I ever played or that it even made me think more than any other game but it delivered a deep, impactful story in an engaging and tasteful way. Not calling this a game because it's story based and doesn't have much traditional gameplay is selling ourselves short as gamers. Even the basic interactivity is enough to make To The Moon more immersive and personal than simply watching the story unfold like a movie. The writing, so important to a game like this, is exceptionally well delivered. The ease at which they are able to pull out various emotions in you is simply amazing. In what is mostly a bittersweet mood the writers are able to create some quite funny moments that still manage to not shatter the somber tone. The basic graphical style fits well. There is no need for 3D models and fancy rendering, it would only detract from point. The music is stellar. Go watch the trailer somewhere and you will instantly know if it's your thing. If you do like it, then I would suggest getting the soundtrack bundle. To The Moon is bordering on "must play" territory. I can't recommend it enough. Even if, especially if, this doesn't seem like your kind of game, try it. Keep an open mind and heart while you play and you will be better for it.


Beautiful But Flawed

bwrussell | Jan. 15, 2014 | Review of Crysis 2 Maximum Edition NA Origin - PC

True to the CryEngine legacy Crysis 2 is visually a triumph but as a deep and immersive game it falls a little short. Not to say there isn't any enjoyment or fun to be had, it's just doesn't do anything that you could say was better than just good. For me this was due mostly to two main issues. A sparse/generic/confusing plot and mechanics that are at odds with each other. As far as the plot goes some of my qualms could come from not playing the original game. It's possible that the plethora of characters, that are used without much introduction, featured in the first installment. Most of your time is spent going to places to meet people who have to move for various reasons, forcing you to go to a different place to meet them in the next level. It just felt a little padded at times and a limited weapon set (or little incentive to use most of them) and not a lot of enemy variation fail to add any spice. Speaking in generalizations the plot is pretty typical alien invasion fare, with the biggest twist being your super suit which brings up my next issue. The main mechanical difference between the Crysis series and other FPS's is the super suit your character wears. The suit allows you to either cloak (invisibility) or armor (huge damage reduction) among other things like jumping higher, kicking large objects, and throwing most objects. The issue is that the two main suit modes are at odds which is really hard to design and balance as a dev. If you've played stealth games and military shooters then you'll know that level designs between the two are completely different. Things like enemy placement, difficulty and, numbers need to be different to deliver a great experience for either style. If you rush the suits stealth upgrade it almost completely breaks the game. With the fairly open levels, great for running and gunning in armor mode, you can essentially sneak past the rest of the game with ease which is pretty boring. Before the stealth upgrade I did have some tense stealth moments, an unaware enemy closing in on me in the open with just enough power to get to my next hiding spot but for the most part a silenced sniper rifle + cloaking = cake walk. After all that it may seem like you should avoid Crysis 2 at all costs but that really isn't the case. At full price it's a little hard to swallow but on sale it probably provides enough enjoyment and it certainly is good to look at. I have only played a little multiplayer but, with the exception of playing against over-leveled opponents, it was enjoyable and had variety.


Beautiful and Innovative

bwrussell | Jan. 13, 2014 | Review of From Dust NA - PC

I don't play a lot of "God games" but for me From Dust was fresh and different. Tasked with guiding a primitive tribe on a quest for answers about their past you are given control of the environment, picking up dirt, water, and lava, to clear paths or build them, while fighting off nature itself. Visually From Dust is appealing with beautiful tropical islands to arid deserts and lava crusted mountains. The way your powers mold the environment also looks very good. The campaign is just about the right length with a lot of extra content in challenges or open worlds if you're craving more in the end. For the most part everything works as expected. Occasionally you will drown or burn some of your people but almost always it's because of your own mistake. That being said, occasionally the AI has some pathing issues that lead them into unnecessary danger and get them killed. More common though is having trouble telling where the AI will allow you to go, mostly involving how steep a slope they will walk up. This can cause problems when you think you have a clear path but the AI refuses to move and reverts to complaining about how much they are now on fire. It was never bad enough for me to make me stop playing though. From Dust is a nice change of scenery and play style that is definitely worth your time.


A Little Bit of Everything

bwrussell | Jan. 10, 2014 | Review of Assassins Creed Revelations The Lost Archive DLC NA - PC

The main "attraction" in this DLC is the additional free running / puzzle sections that expound on the pasts of Subject 16 and Lucy. These sections are essentially more of the Desmond sections from the main game. I'm not sure that is what people really wanted as they were merely tolerable in the game. If you're interested in adding some depth to the Desmond lore then you might find this interesting or if you enjoyed the game play in the Desmond sections. On top of that they have sprinkled in a little of everything on top. Single Player Skins: These are merely cosmetic changes and do not effect the game in any way. Capacity Upgrades: Nice I guess but you can upgrade them pretty far already so not a huge change. Vlad the Impaler Prison: This is an additional challenge dungeon. Beating it gives you Vlad's Sword. Multiplayer Characters: These are essentially cosmetic from what I can tell. They each have their own weapons and animations but none of that actually effects gameplay. In the end this pack is probably not worth full price but when on sale it does add some actual content. It's just a matter of deciding if it's content that you actually care about.


A Compelling Conclusion

bwrussell | Jan. 10, 2014 | Review of Assassins Creed Revelations NA - PC

AC: Revelations is the bookend on the Ezio arc, tying up his story and neatly bringing it all back to Altair, from the first game. I really like the decision to give Altair a final conclusion and make it playable. It adds depth to the story and to the lore when you connect these two characters, centuries apart. It gives a nice sense of history. Then, of course, there are the Desmond sections. Personally I've never hated them as much as some, mostly it just seems like a missed opportunity. The potential is there to add a lot to the story but it's just under and/or incorrectly utilized. That being said when it isn't forcing you through inane free running puzzles you do learn a little about Desmond's past, about why and how he ended up where he is. For the most part base gameplay is unchanged. The biggest differences are the addition of a hook blade which mostly effects free running (higher climbing jumps and zip lining), bomb crafting/use (use is up to your play style. You don't have to use them but they can be useful), and a tower defense mini game that is thankfully entirely optional (which begs the question "why is this in the game?"). The combat is a little less of a grind with the counter-kill/kill-stringing system which can have you speeding through a group of enemies in a flash. Although the ability to kill an entire group of guards without breaking stride makes you wonder why they bother having the fights in the first place. Unfortunately this tweaking of the combat system has continued the trend away from actual planning and assassination toward big raging battles and waves of enemies. There are a few forced stealth sections but those are almost always very linear with a clear path and sequence of actions. It's really a shame because they give you so many weapons and skills but don't really give a lot of ways to fully utilize them in a stealthy way. Overall this really is one of the better games so far in the series. The game world is still huge and beautiful and stabbing guards in the neck from the third story doesn't really get old. If you've played the rest of the excellent Ezio story arc then this is a must play. If you haven't then you should go play the others first then pick up Revelations.


An Excellent Change of Pace

bwrussell | Jan. 9, 2014 | Review of Beyond Good and Evil NA - PC

Beyond Good & Evil is one of those games that aspires to have its sum be greater than the the individual parts. On paper it's a third person action game with heavy stealth and platforming elements, both of which work well (Once you unlearn everything from current gen free running gameplay). In practice it is so much more. From the title you can probably guess that the story tries to raise some issues not often seen in the typically black/white, hero/evil mold of games today. The writing and tone has good range, moving from humorous to heartfelt without much jarring and it features one of the better written and fleshed out strong female leads I've ever played. Also of note is an excellent musical score. Out of all this the thing that stood out the most to me was the pacing. It is truly exceptional. Upon completing the game the first thing that struck me was the how well paced the game was. It helps that the final boss is definitely a challenge but not rage quit inducing levels of hard. Just enough to give a good sense of accomplishment when you win. While Beyond Good & Evil definitely didn't go unnoticed in its time it has sort of fall off the radar since. It is a game that shouldn't be forgotten, even 10 years later. Most assuredly this is a game worth your time.


One of the Better DLCs

bwrussell | Jan. 8, 2014 | Review of Battlefield 3 Aftermath NA Origin - PC

The inclusion of a new game mode, the crossbow, and some interesting maps makes Aftermath worth consideration. The new gamemode, Scavenger, has you starting out with a humble pistol and forces you to find better weaponry scattered across the map. Unfortunately the weapon spawn locations are not randomized but the fact that each one doesn't have much ammo is a nice touch. Combine that with the partially destroyed urbanscapes that comprise the new maps and it does a good job of delivery that post-disaster feeling. Speaking of maps, the new ones are definitely worth playing. One that is played pretty consistently has an interesting vertical element that features more prominently than on almost any other BF3 map. The crossbow is a bit finicky to learn and use and as such isn't really a big game changer. That being said it can be a nice change of pace if you're looking for a challenge to mix things up. Overall Aftermath is one of the better DLCs and one that I play with a some regularity. As of writing the price hasn't fallen much, which is a surprise, and the full price is probably a bit of a stretch but on sale it's definitely worth a gander.


Don't Mistake It's Purpose

bwrussell | Jan. 7, 2014 | Review of The Walking Dead 400 Days - PC

400 Days is not meant to be the total emotional wringer that Season 1 was. It isn't trying to draw you in deep to a single character and experience. As such it won't have the same impact as Season 1 but that's fine because it wasn't supposed to. I think the problem is calling it Season 1 DLC when in reality its more of a bridge between seasons. You play 5 different, but intertwined, stories that introduces characters you are likely to meet and maybe play as in Season 2. Really the impact will just be delayed. When you're playing Season 2 and you know from experience a characters back story it gives a lot more weight to their existence, or lack their of. In Season 1 some of the early deaths didn't have a big emotional impact because we knew nothing about the character. If you play 400 Days that will change in Season 2. An early loss of one of these characters will carry some weight since you'll feel like you know them and will have formed an opinion of them. That being said there are still a couple of of those signature Walking Dead moments, showing how good Tell Tale is at this since they were able to set them up in only 15-20 minutes. If you are planning on playing Season 2 then I highly recommend 400 Days. It will wet your appetite for Season 2 and and should make it even more enjoyable, that brutal, visceral Walking Dead enjoyability.


Good Looking and Amusing

bwrussell | Jan. 6, 2014 | Review of Deponia Steam - PC

Deponia features the mechanics of a classic point-and-click with a beautiful hand drawn graphics and an interesting (if a little short) soundtrack. In typical P&C fashion you explorer various environments, interacting with set pieces and collecting items to be used later, completing various tasks that range from the mundane to the ludicrous. The first act dragged on a little and had some real out-of-the-box puzzle solutions but the last two acts really pickup and are paced a little better. The artwork really is gorgeous and does an excellent job of bringing a world full of junk and debris to life. The soundtrack is pretty good but isn't what you would call easy listening so after hearing the same few songs over and over again in each act it can be a little grating. The writing was typically funny and the voice acting is top notch although at times the main character is a little overbearing. Overall Deponia is good fun (although maybe a little overpriced for the length when not on sale) and if you're a point and click fan it will be right up your alley. Be warned, if you're following the plot at all you're going want the rest of the series, cliffhanger city central.


A Little Odd, But That's OK

bwrussell | Jan. 3, 2014 | Review of Anodyne - PC

A bit quirky but oddly familiar is another way I would describe Anodyne. It felt sort of like an inside joke that that, while not entirely in on, I could still relate too and appreciate on some level. The same goes for the plot, there is little to no back story or context given but I suspect this was a conscious decision as it leads each player to get a different meaning from various parts based on the context of their own life. Unfortunately it is a little subtle and you're never hit with that moment of introspective clarity that other games manage to deliver. Mechanics wise the puzzles are nicely balanced between single room puzzles and exploration/ labyrinth puzzles. A few of the platforming puzzles were a little rough, mainly because of bad spawn points, but overall it's straight forward but satisfying. The worlds and dungeons are nicely varied, very nicely actually, and interesting, as are the enemies. In the end this is probably not for everyone but if you're looking for a throwback to the heyday of adventure gaming or are looking for something a little different with a lot of heart to burn a few hours then this is as good a choice as any.


Puzzle (And Everything Else) Perfection

bwrussell | Dec. 12, 2013 | Review of Portal - PC

What is there to say about Portal that hasn't already been said? It's truly one of the most perfect games ever created. Perfect is not a word I use lightly and this very well may be the only time I use to describe a game. There is nothing wasted here, there is no fat, fluff, or padding and every aspect has been honed to a razor edge. The controls are intuitive and innovative, something you don't often see in first person puzzle games. The humor and wit is the right mix of dark and subtle and is aimed and timed with perfection. The puzzles and puzzle progression is spot on. Things will get challenging but not impossible or frustrating. The entire premise of the puzzles is unique which often is the challenge and really will have you thinking with portals, as the tag line suggests, by the end. The plot and environment will leave you with fond memories, beckoning for another playthrough. One thing of note is the voiceless protagonist. Often player characters of this sort are cited as being empty shells for the player to fill but in what I can only describe as a coup, this doesn't feel like the case with Chell. It really feels like the stoic silence is how she would react. I can't say entirely how they pulled it off but partly the brilliant writing for the antagonist is responsible. I could go on but if you haven't played this game and you're still reading at this point you've already wasted time you should have been playing this game.


Many Headed Beast

bwrussell | Dec. 5, 2013 | Review of Counter Strike Global Offensive - PC

When looking at CS:GO, or really any online game, there are two separate discussions, the game itself (as a collection of mechanics, story, graphics, etc.) and the community (player base, maturity, general skill, etc). All cards on the table this is the first CS game I hae played for more than a few hours. Lets first look at the game side. CS:GO plays like a marriage between a twitch shooter and a mil sim. In deathmatch or arms race modes you have the speed, respawn timing, and infinite lives of something like Unreal while retaining the health (how many shots you can take) and more realistic weapons of a mil sim. Basically its a slightly more arcade-y version of a modern military shooter. In addition there are some additional modes that play like tactical shooters. Objective based, single lives, and weapon/armor purchasing lead to a slower more careful play style. There is a decent stable of weapons but you will quickly notice that typically only a few are used given the choice of any weapon in the game and some are completely useless. For the most part the weapons feel varied and have decent impact when fired. The quick play feature for joining servers works well and is helped by the fact that servers auto-populate with bots to reach the minimum player quantity. This system, combined with the time limit on matches, makes it easy quickly jump in and play a match or two if you need a quick fix. There are quite a few maps but you won't see most of them with any regularity. Which leads us to talking about the community. Continuing the spirit of full disclosure, I have not played a single match in Competitive mode. It may be great but the sound of it just doesn't appeal to me. For the most part I didn't have any issues with the people I played with in CS:GO but I also was exactly blown away by them either. Really in a lot of matches there is nothing of note. The majority of people don't talk and there is a wide range of skill levels. Every once in a while you will run across one of a few people: The excessive chatter/whiner/trash talker, the guy that spams the voice chat with their music, someone using some sort of mod/hack (I'm guessing this is much less common on Competitive servers as VAC suspensions/bans will be leveled), or someone that is just way to good for a casual server. Luckily you can just mute players or easily jump onto a new server to solve all these problems. The one issue that you will not get away from is the end of round map voting. This is why you will only see a handful of the maps in the game. 90% of the time it is available the majority if players will vote for Dust 2 and if it's not an option there are 2-4 other maps that seem to be favored for some reason. Honestly this is my biggest problem with the game because it's hard to avoid. One other thing of note is the recently added cases and gun skins. It's important to realize that these are COSMETIC ONLY. If that's your sort of thing then skin away but if it isn't it presents a nice little perk. These semi-random drops can be sold for real money which is put into your Steam wallet. This means that if you buy this game on sale you can pretty easily make back the cost of the game and more. Not really a reason to buy or not buy the game, just something to be aware of. In the end the ease of dropping into a match and relatively short match lengths (typically 10 min max) make this a great way to pass 30 mins or a couple of hours.


Something Everyone Should Experiance

bwrussell | Dec. 5, 2013 | Review of The Walking Dead - PC

If I had to describe The Walking Dead in one word I would say "Brutal". While this sounds like a criticism it is anything but. It's brutal, raw, and unbelievably good, but more on this later. The pacing, with incredibly tense moments (the truly amazing thing is that there are probably more tense dialog exchanges then action moments) juxtaposed with gut wrenching loss and tender hopeful moments, is masterful. The fact that critical decisions must be made (or not made) quickly works terrifically and is completely immersive. On a whole the conversation system is one of the better ones out there. Almost always you can tell from the prompt the content AND tone of the response which most systems fail to do. The characters are believable, varied, and deep but there were a couple times you could see your previous interactions with the person causing some seemingly out of character moments. Overall the mechanics and graphics, combined with a minimal but very effective soundtrack, are superb. Now about the feelies... While I don't want to get into what is and isn't a game, this most certainly is a game but the goals are just different then you may be used to. There are no points, there is no winning. This is the mindset you need to be in when going into this game. If you are unwilling to let your guard down, unwilling to feel, unwilling to actually immerse yourself in the story and live with your choices then you will walk away disappointed. This game is really a pure RPG. It doesn't need all the typical mechanics because that's not what defines a role playing game. I can not emphasize enough how much you can get out of this game if you are willing to lose yourself in it and make the decisions that feel right in your gut and heart, not the ones you think will give you a better ending. Once those decisions are made you need to live with them. You will second guess them, you will wonder if things would have turned out differently, and you most likely will come to regret something you did or said. That is part of why I led with the word "brutal". There are hard, nearly impossible, decisions that you have to make and live with in mere seconds. If you play this game and don't strongly feel at least some emotions, if it doesn't wear you down and weigh on your thoughts, you are not tough, you are not cool. You are short changing yourself. You are missing an opportunity to learn about yourself. As gamers we are constantly told our hobby is mindless entertainment, with little or no redeeming value. The Walking Dead is ready to prove that wrong, if you'll just let it.


An Excellent Treat

bwrussell | Dec. 4, 2013 | Review of Costume Quest - PC

Costume Quest is a charming, fun take on the turn based RPG genre. Sort of condensed. Instead of individually swapping weapons, spells, attacks, and actions you choose costumes that change your appearance, battle abilities and attacks, and help solve free roam puzzles with various actions. On top of that you can choose one additional action or buff for each character and swap them as you choose. Instead of finding and swapping party members you can instead choose their costumes. It really is sort of a "My First RPG", which may sound dull to an adult but it works well enough to engage. My one issue with this system is that there wasn't enough difference between the costumes to incentivise change. You are forced to change to solve some puzzles but I would always switch back before a battle. The battle system is turned based and pretty simple with only a few options each turn. This style lends itself to a little repetition but I tended to enjoy them since they typically don't drag on. One twist (Maybe, I don't play a lot of turn based RPGs) is that to land more powerful attacks you have to complete a QTE. There are several variations but each attack only has one. Things like press at a certain time, wiggle a stick, or repeatedly tap a button. Personally I didn't find that it detracted from the experience and actually makes sure you're paying attention to the battle and lets you contribute in some way. In true Double Fine fashion the writing (literally because there is no voice acting. Not a problem, just a statement) is top notch. Funny, witty, and endearing with jokes for both adults and children. Don't write off Costume Quest because of its apparently juvenile theme, you'd be missing out. It's fun, funny, and really is a nice departure from what you've probably played last. It doesn't over stay it's welcome and is well worth your time.


Double Fine Delivers

bwrussell | Sept. 30, 2013 | Review of Stacking - PC

Stacking is a unique puzzle game where you use a plethora of Russian stacking dolls to solve challenges, explore, and just goof off. As far as mechanics go this game is unlike any other in it's genera but somehow is still intuitive. You almost never will be left guessing the rules of the world or fumbling at the controls. The challenges are fun, mostly intuitive, and a hint system will never leave you stumped. The world is well built and detailed and the various dolls are really works of art but they are more than just pretty. Not only does each doll have a unique ability but their size, age, gender, and profession change how other dolls react to them. In true Double Fine fashion the writing and humor in Stacking is top notch. Once again they show the rare ability to write a child main character for an adult audience without alienating younger players. The humor ranges from fart jokes to surprisingly funny jokes about child labor. The setting is similar to the US industrial revolution and the plot revolves around rescuing your family and child labor, hence the previous line. There is no voice acting so cut scenes are played out like silent movies, with cards showing "dialog" between scenes. While a little slow, it conveys the setting and feel well and overall I enjoyed it. (Contrary to other reviews, you can skip cut scenes, R-click after a few seconds, but I would not suggest playing like that. Stop and smell the story). Personally I turned off the vignette overlay and opened the FOV but I understand immersion-wise why they are defaulted the way they are. Stacking is not a particularly long but it's not too short either. With the multiple challenge solutions, unique dolls to collect, and hi-jinks (using different dolls unique interactions in various ways) it doesn't outstay it's welcome but provides plenty of value. The addition of the Hobo King DLC essentially provides a 5th chapter. As far as stability goes, I had one repeated force close issue that I solved by running the game in XP compatibility mode. Overall it ran smooth and quick with no other hiccups. My play time was split right about 50/50 between a gamepad and mouse & keyboard with both working well and feeling good. The menus are a little cumbersome at different times with both setups but in game the control prompts display for the input system you are currently using which is always a nice touch. My final word is a hardy recommendation. Unique but polished, Stacking can provide quite a lot of clever, humorous, puzzle solving fun for players of almost any age. Even the main menu is strangely entertaining.


Hard, Funny, Fun

bwrussell | Sept. 9, 2013 | Review of The Binding of Isaac - PC

This is a tough game to review, being relatively simple and procedurally generated so first a description. In it's most basic sense this is a Rouge-like (perma-death) dungeon crawler. The controls are that of a twin stick shooter, controlling movement on one and your "arrows" on the other. Your goal is to make it through six dungeons, each procedurally generated leading to a completely different play though each time, defeating a boss at the end of each level. Along the way you'll face a large variety of enemies and hazards, make some tough decisions, and in true Team Meat fashion get frustrated only to eagerly try again. The themes in this game are pretty taboo in the video game industry but somehow Isaac manages to use them in a way that shouldn't offend or upset anyone that isn't looking to be offended. In fact it's often down right funny, albeit in a kind of dark, satirical way. The art style looks very good and it's a great detail how each time you pick up changes the appearance of your character in some small, or large, way. While the game is hard, it is also fair. Enemies follow the rules of the world and you are rewarded for multiple play throughs with knowledge that will get you further next time. Speaking of learning, the way this game teaches you is subtle but effective. At some point you'll realize you've become significantly better simply by learning about the world you play in. I would urge you to not look up any items, cards, or enemies until you can consistently make it deep into the game. Learning what various items do and how enemies behave is a big part of the experience and is where a lot of the humor is hidden. That being said, when you start consistently making to the last couple of dungeons it would take a ton of time to learn every item in this brute force time. At this point looking up item effects and stats will keep you from becoming overly frustrated. In the end The Binding of Isaac is a must play (and play, and play, and put down, and pick up,and play, and play some more). The price is terrific, especially given the endless content in this game and it's just one of those indie gems that everyone but you has already played. You should do something about that.


Short but Surprisingly Decent

bwrussell | Sept. 9, 2013 | Review of Medal of Honor Ultimate Digital Collection NA Origin - PC

I went into Medal of Honor expecting another gritty, brown, cover-shooting FPS, clicking away until the brown terrorist hiding behind brown rocks stop moving. What you get is, well, that but not nearly as deary and grinding as I had anticipated and even did some things pretty well. Maybe it's because it's been a few years since I've played a single player modern military shooter. First off, the campaign is head scratchingly short. For a series that has always focused on single player it's a little puzzling that so much time and money was put into a 3-5 hour campaign. That being said, short is better than long and grindy. There is a good mix of stealth based and all out war game play, with vehicle and sniper sections scattered through out that keep things fresh. You jump between three view points that tie together nicely whcih prevents the transitions from being jarring. One of the things that I thought they did well was conveying the uncertainty of who is a target and who is a civilian, or even a friendly. I do think they missed an opportunity to put those decisions on the player, as most of those situations occur in either scripted sections or cut scenes, but still, it didn't go unnoticed. There were a few more details that helped lift this game a bit above mediocre. The guns felt varied and solid, although the shotgun is overpowered, and headshots look and sound satisfying. My favorite detail was the sound design. There's this really cool thing when you're standing near a squad member who's speaking and you can hear their voice both through the radio and normally. It doesn't actually effect anything but it's a nice detail that's realistic and helps with immersion and makes me wonder why I haven't heard it an any other games. There's no reason to run out and buy this at full price but if modern FPSs are your thing or you get the chance at a good price it's worth a quick play through. A note on the value: I didn't play more than just loading into a couple of games but the multiplayer is still up and running and there were players. You may need to go into the settings file and force the directX to version 9. There's also what they call Tier 1 mode which is just leaderboards for completing the campaign levels while hitting or beating various statistical goals (tine, accuracy, melee kills, etc).


A Bit of a Cult Classic

bwrussell | Aug. 27, 2013 | Review of Psychonauts - PC

Psychonauts is a game I very much wanted to like but a mix of poor stability, not really it's fault, and a lack of immersion or engagement prevented me from actually finishing it. I know this will upset fans of the game but it just stopped being fun for me. This is a pretty old game but, in the ways we normally define the term, it has aged well, the writing is still funny and the cartoonish graphics style is obviously older it doesn't suffer from the same issues older "realistically" styled games do. The issue I had with it's age was stability. Instances of saves not saving, stuttering, and mid session crashes (with a particularly aggravating habit of crashing right after a boss encounter before you can save) make the game start to feel like a grind pretty quickly. With a game I really like and enjoy playing this would either be viewed as a mild inconvenience or I would have the motivation to find a solution but with Psychonauts that motivation just wasn't there. I will say that the writing is quite good for a "kids" game. Think Pixar and the way they take a medium, animation, typically seen as "for kids" and make it accessible and enjoyable for adults. From what I played the the characters are children but they do not behave in the typical way video game children do, whiny and annoying and/or totally helpless. The platforming is average at best and, while better than first-person platforming, it shows that platforming is at it's best in 2 or 2.5 dimensions. The controls were not what you would describe as tight which does not help the platforming. Even with my mouse turned all the way up the camera still felt too slow. In the end I wish there was a way to play this game and experience the story with about 50% of the guff in the middle removed. The full price is not too steep but I would probably recommend waiting for a sale or bundle to pick it up due to bugs possibly preventing you from fully experiencing the game. As your experience with this game may be completely different than mine or anyone else's (hence the term cult classic) it's still probably worth a look at the right price.


A Clinic in Atmospheric Storytelling

bwrussell | Aug. 13, 2013 | Review of Kairo Steam - PC

I was completely blown away by this game given it's price and the fact that it appears, from the screenshots, to be something created in a few hours, but don't let that fool you, this game is one of the best examples of game design I've ever seen. Atmosphere/Story/Game World I can honestly say I don't think I've ever played a game with half as much atmosphere as Kairo, and the fact that it does it with the most basic of graphics, no voice acting, no back story, no cinematics, and no supporting characters is astounding. Everything, the soundtrack, the mysterious, blocky architecture, the vast empty spaces, the grain filter over everything, even the floaty controls, all of it feels deliberate and just drips with atmosphere and conveys the story in a way that is far more compelling than any amount exposition ever could be. It is so immersive, if you allow it to be, that it will actually make the hair on your neck and arms stand on end and your skin crawl, in a good way, even for someone who dislikes the entire horror genera. You know you're alone but you just can't shake the feeling that something is off, that you're being watched. I imagine this is exactly how you'd feel if you were exploring an empty, foreign world in real life. It taps straight into your human nature, you have this creepy feeling but you have to keep going, you have to learn more about this world and what happened. Truly amazing. There are some bugs or places where it isn't as polished as some titles. The biggest issue is that can see through geometry when you stand right next to it. There were also some places that I wasn't sure if there was a graphical error or just a design choice. Mainly places that seemed like there was a floor, I could walk and jump, but I appeared to be walking in space. Overall pretty polished. Puzzles/Exploration Yet another place where Kairo shines. None of the main puzzles are that hard, you may need the hints in the menu for one or two, but the way that they are presented is the epitome of good puzzle design. The full extent of each puzzle is usually not fully apparent when you enter a room but the game does a brilliant job of "teaching" you the rules as you try and solve it. You probably won't solve it the first time but the penalty for failing is very small, basically just starting over, a few seconds lost at most, but you should have learned something new about the puzzle and will do better the next time. Sometimes you need to explore to find a hint in the environment, other times you just have to start interacting and see what happens. Besides the puzzles used to advance through the world there are a number of optional puzzles and objectives that you can choose to complete. There are 18 hidden glyphs, your basic exploration collectables, 4 seals in hidden rooms, and 3 extra puzzles, much harder, with clues scattered across the world but aren't explained. From what I've heard these puzzles were designed as sort of community puzzles, where players collaborated and shared findings to discover the answers together. It was probably pretty fun after launch but at this point you may need to look up the old threads to solve them, or at least get some hints. Theses extras aren't needed to complete the game but some of them can add a little (vague) context to the story. Summery Kairo is a buy, no questions asked. It's the perfect length, the puzzles are intuitive and fun to solve, and the world and atmosphere are something every gamer should experience, doubly so if you are, or are interested in becoming, a game developer.


Storytelling From a Different Age

bwrussell | July 16, 2013 | Review of Another World 20th Anniversary Edition - PC

This game really serves as a great reminder that stories and characters can be told and fully realized with out a line of dialog or a second of pre-rendered cut scenes. The game play is pretty simple, you run until something kills you and then you go back a try again with you're new knowledge. This can lead to some frustration as you are forced to repeat sections until you find the correct sequence or get the timing perfect but in then end there is a sense of accomplishment as you've successfully navigated and survived an alien world. Another World is definitely worth playing but if I'm honest the current full price does seem a little steep for what you actually get. If you played this back in the day or really love old school action/adventure games then don't hesitate, otherwise come back with a discount.


Intense and Atmospheric

bwrussell | July 16, 2013 | Review of Mirrors Edge NA ORIGIN - PC

For a game that, at first blush, is defined by it's mechanics Mirror's Edge has a moving story, an engaging atmosphere, and some very intense sequences. While current video game technology will never be able to create a perfect parkour simulation this game actually pulls off what easily could have been a disaster with flying colors. I had initially avoided this game for a few years due to reports of the free running being frustrating and buggy but after playing it, it quickly became one of my favorite games. The free running mechanics are actually good and as a result you typically aren't left button mashing the controls or messing up a (no enemies) sequence to many times. This leads us to the enemies and combat. Most of the time you can or must avoid direct confrontation to survive which leads to some of the most intense chase sequences I think I've ever played. This is where the first person perspective really shines. Because some of the other enemies can also free run you can not look back to see where they're at. You can just hear their footsteps and shouting, right behind you, closing fast. Combined with the fact that you'll be hard pressed to take down more than a solo enemy means you really feel the need to flee and the terror that accompanies it. That being said there are several places where you are forced to confront multiple, armed, enemies which leads to some frustration as you try not to take more than the couple of hits that are fatal while working out the path and using the unforgiving combat system. The combat system has several moves but I struggled to remember and execute the more advanced ones because the speed at which encounters occur and the low amount of damage you can take (I have no issue with this, it's better than taking a clip and a half). A few more misc notes: The musical scoring is excellent, particularly during the last level where the music really conveys the mood and mind set well during lulls in action. While no end credits song may ever unseat "Still Alive" from Portal the end credits song from Mirror's Edge (odly enough titled "Still Alive" as well) is high on my list. Also, watch through the credits as there are little audio clips that act as an epilog. The 2D animated art style for the cut scenes is interesting and seems to work well. Overall I highly recommend this game. With Mirror's Edge 2 finally confirmed you may see deals popping up but if you need a break from hiding behind walls, shooting people that are different from you then Mirror's Edge is a terrific choice.


More Than Just a Mindless Cover Shooter

bwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Mass Effect 2 NA Origin - PC

I think many that level bad scores and a list of complaints at Mass Effect 2 have fallen into the trap of looking at games purely as a collection of mechanics. Sure, it's another cover shooter, which taken alone is merely decent. They're right that the RPG elements are simple and at times are obtuse and too black and white. You can, at least partially, break the upgrade system by grinding resource collection. Given all that it would seem there is no reason to even play this game but you'd be wrong. This game, and the whole series is trying to be more than just mindless entertainment. It's trying to to tell a deep, rich story, trying to get you to really care about it's characters, and it's trying to get you to think beyond the mechanics, beyond the game even. By no means is this just a story with some game attached but story and how your decisions effect it and it's characters are a huge part of this game. When you play this game, because to be clear, you should play it, I would urge you to try and actually role play the choices. This game brings up some pretty serious issues in some of it's choices. Issues that should stop and make you think, not just about how this will effect your game but about how you would actually feel about this in your everyday life. You can always go back and play it again and make all the "good" or "bad" choices but at least once you should really put yourself in Cmd, Sheppard's shoes, make the choices you would be comfortable making outside the game. Don't worry about what the game says your moral score is, play it to learn something about yourself.


The Batman Game We Needed

bwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Batman Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Overflow 1 - PC

One part stealth, one part brawler, and 100% fun Arkham Asylum is pretty much everything you could want from a Batman game. You creep through the shadows, silently eliminating thugs. You get in big, brutal fights with gangs of baddies. You have a large, upgradable, arsenal of gadgets and toys that let you do things your own way. Top it off with a healthy dose of colorful, classic villains and you have everything you need to truly become the Dark Knight. The combat in this game is truly a masterpiece. It's deceptively simple and people unfamiliar with the premise should be able to finish the game with little more than punch people until they stop moving but for more advanced players the options are dizzying. You can approach most fights in a large variety of ways, none of them wrong. I think the best word for the fighting is, satisfying. The attacks carry weight and impact while flowing superbly and running up a huge combo, enemies flying to and fro, is just plain awesome. Other the other side the stealth is tense and intelligent. You aren't penalized for taking your time and setting up precision strikes and traps. There are always a number of options available if you can think through them and upgrading your equipment in different ways will open even more possibilities. At the end of the day what few minor flaws there are (Why does running require holding a button down, there isn't much reason to turn detective mode off except it looks weird) are blown away by what it does right. This is a game everyone can and should play, Batman fanboy or not.


A High Intensity Change of Pace

bwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Battlefield 3 Close Quarters NA Origin - PC

First off, this expansion is a definite change of pace from the usual, huge, wide-open maps that you see in BF3, so if that is your favorite part then give this a pass. If you sometimes weary of the long range tank battles and often disjointed team effort on the huge maps then this is the change of pace yo are looking for For me this expansion was something BF3 needed more of. There were all ready one or two small tight maps but since these were designed from the ground up as CQ maps they work even better. Because the maps are tighter, although not necessarily small, you end up being able to work as a squad much more often. Which is good because if you try to go lone wolf if probably won't work. The level designs can give easy access to your rear and flanks so it is of utmost importance that your squad is properly outfitted works as a team, and moves quickly. For this reason, the increased teamwork, I feel that these maps, and the concept behind them, belong in the Battlefield experience. The new game type, Gun Master, is essentially Gun Game, where getting two kills with your current weapon moves you to the next weapon and you race the other players to get the final kill with the final weapon. I know a lot of people don't like this mode, and it definitely has it's flaws, but I honestly enjoy it. I think running the gauntlet of weapons is a Gun Game standard and it forces you to build your skill in all weapon types. Having it just be SMGs and assault rifles would defeat the purpose and essentially turn it into team deathmatch. The fact that there are teams but only one winner is clearly a mistake though, as it cuts the available targets in half with no benefit. In an attempt to justify this the top 5 players are actually credited with the win and the winners ribbon. For me this is probably my favorite expansion and one I would recommend if you are looking to purchase only a couple of them, even if you aren't interested in Gun Game, I mean, Master.


You Know What You're Getting

bwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Battlefield 3 NA Origin (1) - PC

This is really the tale of two games, the single player and the multiplayer, and it's clear which the developers favor, and rightly so. The single player is forgettable. Lots of dark, grit, and shouting of military sounding things. Honestly DICE should have just left it off and just went 100% with the MP/CoOp because that's the reason you buy this game. (Reflecting this dichotomy, my score on this review reflects MP only since the current price justifies buying it for that alone.) The multiplayer is fun yet intense due to an emphases on team work. The majority of the games are team based, with each team often broken into smaller squads, with objectives outside of just kill-or-be-killed. In fact the best way to increase your score is make your kill count secondary and instead focus on completing objectives and using your classes support skills (healing, resupply, vehicle repair/attack, recon). My highest scoring rounds were spent providing suppression and resupplies. It's that focus on support and objectives that really help balance this game. You don't have to be able to get huge kill streaks or even get many kills at all to be able to contribute and feel like a participant rather than just a target. On top of the team play there are some other aspects that help the multiplayer stand out. Things like bullet drop and suppression effects add immersion and balance. Of course it isn't perfect but if you don't have the time to make waiting to pay $60 for BF4 worth it but still want a robust MP FPS at a discount price then this just could be the ticket.


Great Use of Mechanics

bwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Tiny Big Grandpas Leftovers - PC

This game is really a wonderful example of what the indie community can bring to the table. The art style is superb, I never tired of the 3D, comic book-esque, sound effects popping up and the cel shaded graphics works well. The mechanics are unique and solid. You can interact with way more of the environment than necessary to complete the tasks which leads to quite a bit of goofing off, tearing things down and blasting them around. The story actually ends up having a bit of depth once you get through a few slow bits in the middle. Given how this game was developed and published it is unsurprising to see a few issues, like some occasional control bugs, but all the things it does right gloss them over. I can certainly recommend this game but I would caution against buying the soundtrack until you've heard the music.


Fun but a Bit Trite

bwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Quantum Conundrum - PC

This is a game a lot of people, including me, were pretty exited about when it was announced. Unfortunately it falls a bit short of the expectations it set. It just feels like the developers were to concentrated on making a game like portal but different and as a result it comes across as forced. Go look at the descriptions for Portal 1 & 2, nowhere does it talk about how funny the game is. As a result it catches you off guard and is quite hilarious at times. On the other hand you have QC which makes sure you know their trying to be funny which takes away the edge, the surprise. I eventually just turned the volume for the voices down. I feel part of the problem is it seems the dev fell into the trap of having a child main character causing the tone, and subsequently the humor, to tend towards childish. Everything about the game just feels like it was made for 8-10 year olds. All that being said it is still probably worth a play. The mechanics do make for some interesting puzzles and it is different enough from other games to be of value. Just don't expect it to be comparable to the gems that are Portal 1 & 2.


Good Looking but Bland

bwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit NA Origin - PC

This is an odd entry to me in the NFS franchise. It's a reboot of an old series, the last of which was one of my favorite childhood games, with some of the elements of later games and very little of the fun from the originals. It feels like they tried for realism (more on that in a bit) and sacrificed fun in the processes. Hot Pursuit 2 (2002) had you dodging flaming barrels dropped from helicopters while this one has dramatic crash cams. There is no customization, absolutely no reason to jump into the open world, and zero plot. I'm sure this is an affect of the move to Criterion who seem to think every racing game fan wants nothing more than shiny cars and big crashes. Perhaps the strangest issue is the driving physics. They are just plain wrong. Essentially they are setup to slide around every corner which makes fine control something of an impossibility. This really becomes a problem when the game starts penalizing you for touching walls and traffic in time trials. The games saving grace is the ability to play as a cop and bust up races. In these cases the constantly interrupting crash cams seem justified and are satisfying compared to frustrating when you hit an oncoming car for the n-th time while your car slides instead of turns. In the end I can't recommend this game, even on sale. There is little depth so it quickly becomes bland and repetitive, getting to the end turns into a grind.


Sci-Fi Stealth/Puzzle that Pops (and Splatters)

bwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Warp NA Origin - PC

You warp into people and turn them into geysers, is there anything more to say? Usually in stealth games I always try for the path of least aggression but not in this game. The RPGesque upgrade system is nice and allows the player to better play the game in their preferred style. Good atmosphere, nice sounds, good looking animations. Unfortunately this is pretty much a direct 360 port so the controls are not as tight as they should be unless you have a 360 pad, there are no video setting outside of resolution and vsync, no mouse usage, and mixed control prompts. It's a shame about the lack of graphics options because this game could go from nice looking to gorgeous with ease. Overall the mechanics,unique, well executed, and so much fun, make it well worth the full price and a steal when on sale.


The Definition of "Must Play"

bwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Bastion - PC

I'm sure you've heard all about this game already and if you haven't then welcome out from under your rock. Bottom line first: buy this game. You can get it for less than $5 on sale, which is essentially stealing, now skip Starbucks once and just buy it. The star of the show is the reactive and persistent narrator. This is probably the best game narration ever, period (Thomas Was Alone might actually be a tie) and combined with a compelling story and world this game should be talked about as one of the best of decade. Then top it all off with a memorable music and beautiful graphics, I definitely recommend picking up the soundtrack. I wasn't not a huge action RPG fan going into this game and the combat did take a little practice but once you find a loadout you like it's an absolute joy.


A Good Looking Arcade Experiance

bwrussell | July 3, 2013 | Review of DiRT 3 - PC

First off, if you are looking for an authentic rally experience this is not the game for you. There are rally races but for every rally you run you have to complete 3-5 other race styles that, for the most part are pretty bland. Eventually I just ended up racing the rally, trail blazer, Xcross events in every event to avoid driving the trucks/buggies and having to complete the awful Gymkhana events. Speaking of the Gymkhana events, it's clear that the physics engine was not built with this style of driving in mind and they quickly become an exercise in frustration. The Trailblazer events are actually quite fun once you find a good car. These high speed events gave me the greatest feeling of speed in a video game I've ever felt. They felt harried and breakneck just like it would in real life. As we've come to expect from Codemasters this game is quite good looking. The cost of this is the load times are a bit out of hand, I would suggest running this from an SSD if possible. Overall this is a pretty good arcade off-road racer but repetitive level design and use, frustrating game types, and sometimes puzzling physics and controls will probably sour the experience for more hardcore racing fans. That being said it is really fun to be able to drive both a classic Mini Cooper and the current WRC version.


Truly Open World

bwrussell | July 2, 2013 | Review of Just Cause 2 - PC

Most open-world games should start having to use the term open-city because one of the most striking things about this game is the size of the world. It is absolutely HUGE. You really feel like you are on a small island nation because scale wise you literally are. A quick cruise around this world will quickly reveal the second selling point for this game. It is absolutely stunning. Just drop dead gorgeous. You have to see it to truly grasp it. Once you're set free in this jungle hot box you really are set free. You don't have to progress any further in the somewhat bland and repetitive story and can instead spend the rest of your days blowing everything to pieces. The final real stand-out feature of this game is the ease and support for modding. There is a robust modding scene with some really great mods that do everything from fix annoyances to turn you into superman. Probably the most intriguing mod is the currently in-work multiplayer mod which, even in it's semi-closed beta state allows well over a thousand players to play on the same map at one time. That is not a typo so keep an eye out for that at some point in the future. All-in-all this is a must play for open-world fans always and a no-brainier for everyone when on sale.


A Splash of Color in a Sea of Gritty Brown

bwrussell | July 2, 2013 | Review of Saints Row The Third - PC

The often cited, for obvious reasons, comparison between Saints Row and GTA don't really do this game justice. Short if open-world, third-person, gang/crime game there is little else that can be said is the same so that's as far as I'll compare them. The best part about this game is that it knows what it is. It knows it isn't gritty or realistic and it panders to that crazy over-the-topness that you know you occasionally want from a game. While there are of course many elements that are "normal" (escort missions, forced vehicle "sections", etc) the tight game play and bright, colorful world and enemy design makes them enjoyable. Besides as soon as you're done you can go play in traffic or drive around with a tiger in the passengers seat as much as you want (both actual mini-games). The game really does a pretty good job of pacing. You start out feeling pretty weak, avoiding conflict and fleeing from bigger fights, but by the end you are running into a military compound because you have an extra case of rockets laying around. It also does a good job of avoiding the trap of over stimulating the player with too much too soon and I really never felt like it was dragging or tired. Of course there are issues (you can break the money system using an age old method) but at the end of the day this game is just plain FUN, like games should be. I wholeheartedly recommend buying this game although the best method is probably to wait for the Complete Package to go on sale.


A quick, humorous jab at the industry

bwrussell | July 2, 2013 | Review of DLC Quest - PC

First off this game is about the message and the jokes not the game play, which is generic, if not well built, platform hopping. Luckily the humor and message deliver in spades. Some times making you laugh, like really laugh, out loud and everything, while other moments will bring a flash of real world revelation, often evoking memories of specific games or publishers. Just don't blast through it or you will miss many of the jokes and references. It's about the journey, not getting to the end fastest. This game has started making the sale rounds and I would definitely recommend spending the couple of dollars it costs to play it.