Reviews by bwrussell
Let Go of Your Preconceptionsbwrussell | Jan. 16, 2014 | Review of To The Moon
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 Flawedbwrussell | Jan. 15, 2014 | Review of Crysis 2: Maximum Edition (NA)
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 Innovativebwrussell | Jan. 13, 2014 | Review of From Dust (NA)
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 Everythingbwrussell | Jan. 10, 2014 | Review of Assassin’s Creed® Revelations – The Lost Archive
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 Conclusionbwrussell | Jan. 10, 2014 | Review of Assassins Creed Revelation
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 Pacebwrussell | Jan. 9, 2014 | Review of Beyond Good and Evil (NA)
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 DLCsbwrussell | Jan. 8, 2014 | Review of Battlefield 3: Aftermath (NA)
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 Purposebwrussell | Jan. 7, 2014 | Review of The Walking Dead: 400 Days
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 Amusingbwrussell | Jan. 6, 2014 | Review of Deponia
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 OKbwrussell | Jan. 3, 2014 | Review of Anodyne
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) Perfectionbwrussell | Dec. 12, 2013 | Review of Portal
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 Beastbwrussell | Dec. 5, 2013 | Review of Counter Strike: Global Offensive
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 Experiancebwrussell | Dec. 5, 2013 | Review of The Walking Dead
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 Treatbwrussell | Dec. 4, 2013 | Review of Costume Quest
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 Deliversbwrussell | Sept. 30, 2013 | Review of Stacking
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, Funbwrussell | Sept. 9, 2013 | Review of The Binding of Isaac
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 Decentbwrussell | Sept. 9, 2013 | Review of Medal of Honor Ultimate Digital Collection (NA)
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 Classicbwrussell | Aug. 27, 2013 | Review of Psychonauts
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 Storytellingbwrussell | Aug. 13, 2013 | Review of Kairo
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 Agebwrussell | July 16, 2013 | Review of Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition
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 Atmosphericbwrussell | July 16, 2013 | Review of Mirror's Edge (NA)
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 Shooterbwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Mass Effect 2 (NA)
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 Neededbwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year
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 Pacebwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Battlefield 3: Close Quarters (NA)
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 Gettingbwrussell | July 9, 2013 | Review of Battlefield 3 (NA)
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 Mechanicsbwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers
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 Tritebwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Quantum Conundrum
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 Blandbwrussell | July 8, 2013 | Review of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (NA)
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)
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 Cap
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 Experiancebwrussell | July 3, 2013 | Review of DiRT 3
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 Worldbwrussell | July 2, 2013 | Review of Just Cause 2
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 Brownbwrussell | July 2, 2013 | Review of Saints Row: The Third
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 industrybwrussell | July 2, 2013 | Review of DLC Quest
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.