Month: June 2013

White House Down (Movie) Review 1

White House Down (2013) Review

Remember a few months ago when Olympus Has Fallen delivered dumb action craving audiences a remake of Die Hard in the White House? Well, just in time for July 4, we’re getting another one. That’s right, just like the summer of Dante’s Peak/Volcano or Deep Impact/Armageddon, two Hollywood studios got into a war over who could make the best blockbuster out of a B-concept and released them both in quick succession despite the inevitable audience confusion/exhaustion.

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Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon’s Keep (PS3) Review 1

Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon’s Keep (PS3) Review

Skewered Nerd Sensibilities Incoming.


Deconstructing Geeks

There’s an extremely mischievous, subversive intelligence at work in the ridiculous hijinks of Gearbox’s final expansion to Borderlands 2. The last piece of DLC is ostensibly an excuse for Gearbox to throw players into a fantasy setting, but for writer Anthony Burch, it was also an opportunity to examine the psychology, tropes and traditions of the RPG and blow large, hilarious holes in them. Borderlands fans of a satirical mindset are in for a real treat with Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon’s Keep.

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The premise of TTAODK is that Tiny Tina is hosting a game of “Bunkers & Bad Asses” and has gathered the original Vault Hunters to play. In essence, players are interacting with an “in-game simulation” of what’s happening on the table as dice are rolled and players argue with a Dungeon Master about whether a particular event is legit or not. The DLC hilariously analyzes and skewers the D&D culture, fantasy clichés, geeks in general and even has one of the funniest examples of nerd exclusion committed to a videogame. In other words, this DLC is comedy gold.

There’s no point getting into mechanics or presentation here; this is Borderlands 2, it plays exactly the way it always has. As with past DLC, this gives the art team an excuse to stretch their muscles, and the result is that players finally get a chance to wander around in a magical fantasy realm filled with orcs and fairies, and shoot them with high powered automatic weapons. For anyone that ever wished they could bring an arsenal of guns into the world of Diablo, this is about as close as you’re going to get. There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing an aged, wondrous Treant roaming on the horizon and getting it in your sights with a Maliwan fire sniper rifle for a critical damage headshot.

The enemies here are tough; the DLC assumes you’ve torn through all the previous content, and have a fair amount of experience dealing with bosses and other high powered enemies with ridiculously huge health bars. So even though this DLC will be available to players straight out of the gate when they finally unlock fast travel terminals, it’s NOT recommended as a destination for new players. Get some XP, level up and get some decent guns, otherwise you will be overwhelmed when you hit this place.

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For those who have the wherewithal to brave this DLC, you’re coming here for the laughs and maybe the XP if you haven’t already maxed out the new level cap. The combat is still as fun and challenging as it ever was. The running commentary from the Vault Hunters as players, and Tina as the deranged Dungeon Master is exactly the kind of thing you’d hear in a typical D&D game, or even the sorts of questions one would ask of any suspicious plot point or mechanic in a fantasy game. If you ever poked holes at flimsy fantasy set-ups, this DLC is bound to elicit a laugh. The only real downside to this DLC is lack of loot. Most of the rewards are straight up money and XP, with little of the generosity for new guns that was shown in earlier DLC like Captain Scarlett & Her Pirate’s Booty. Of course, there are still new bosses and such to farm, but specific quest loot as a reward is in short supply here. That aside, this is a worthy capstone on the Borderlands 2 DLC, and fans of the series should enjoy their last jaunt on Pandora.

Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (PS3) Review 1

Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (PS3) Review

D&D For The Statistically Impaired.


Roll 2D10 To Save Versus Nostalgia

With Dungeons & Dragons being the granddaddy of all fantasy RPGs, it should come as no surprise that someone enterprising would eventually try to pervert its essence. In the land of arcade games, circa 1993, that perversion came via Capcom and Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom followed three years later by Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara. These games, once only available in a 1999 Sega Saturn collection, have returned thanks to the miracle of downloadable content and Capcom’s incessant mining of its own past glories. The results are about what you’d expect.

Break Out $15 Worth Of Quarters

As with many arcade games of the past, the D&D games are essentially unfair, remarkably difficult games designed to part players from their money in the span of a few minutes, so as to plunk in more change to continue playing. This is a far cry from the generous checkpoints and regenerating health modern players enjoy today, but this collection is a product of a different time.

The graphics have been cleaned up a bit from the early 90s arcade days, though Capcom has seen fit to retain the 4:3 aspect ratio of the arcade original, throwing in some status bars on the sides to keep players apprised of their progress for new, arbitrary in-game challenges like killing “X” amount of enemies and other laundry lists. For fans of the originals, the games, obviously, have never looked as good as they do now.

As far as the games themselves go, these are still the side-scrolling brawlers with a very, VERY RPG-lite element that gamers may remember from their time in the arcade during the 90s. It’s still basically go from left to right, bashing everything that comes in sight, using up some consumable weapons/healing items here and there, and occasionally being forced to make a choice as to which route to take when the path splits. Shadow Over Mystara, being a sequel, obviously feels like the more robust to the two, with more characters and slightly more comprehensive RPG mechanics. Both of them offer a fairly simplistic—and unforgiving—system of combat that is essentially button mashing combined with some jumping and special attacks. Both of them also offer drop-in/drop-out co-op with up to four players either locally or online, as well as leaderboard functionality for those that are still thirsting for the thrill of holding the high score, albeit on a global rather than neighborhood level.

Aside from the nostalgia factor, it’s hard to recommend this collection to contemporary gamers with no context. It is what it is; a beat ‘em up designed to gobble quarters, and as such, it offers little in the way of the depth or sophistication of games in the 21

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century. It’s another curiosity from a simpler era, when it was all about just hitting things with some friends, and on that score, the game certainly delivers. For those old enough to remember this game, the asking price of $15 will pay for itself if you try to play through both and keep track of how many continues you use up, then adjust the quarter consumption for inflation.

For younger gamers curious about the play-styles of yesteryear, when the design philosophy was more about killing players as quickly as possible to encourage more spending, this will be an eye opening experience. For those that remember pumping one quarter after another into the many Capcom and Konami beat ‘em up machines of times past, this is another winning conversion. Now if we could just get Captain Commando and/or Alien vs. Predator, my collection of nostalgic, college quarter munchers would be complete.

 

Hotline Miami (PS Vita) Review 1

Hotline Miami (PS Vita) Review

A Killing Streak Of Independence

Hotline Miami is the indie game that surprised everyone when it debuted on PCs last year. It’s a surreal experience, telling a disturbing tale of man in 80s Miami receiving messages on his answering machine that make genteel requests of him to go on homicidal massacres. It takes the basic premise of the videogame—shooting everything—and turns it into a puzzle, because the slaughter needs to be planned and properly executed for the… executions to succeed. And now it’s on both the PS3 and the Vita, and while it’s still a worthy experience, it’s not without problems.

Killing Is A Puzzle

Obviously there isn’t going to be much talk about the technical impressiveness of Hotline Miami’s graphics. The PS3 and Vita versions both faithfully recreate the game’s PC visuals, although the PS3 version might win out slightly because it appears a little messier, a bit muddier. The super crisp screen of the Vita version actually works against it here as the game’s tone calls more something more organic and moody, a quality better captured on the console version. The sound is still just as engrossing as ever, with the soundtrack by Jasper Byrne, Sun Araw and many others. The music adds a lot to the tone of the game and helps to maintain its disturbing, surreal momentum.

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There’s not much in the way of exclusive Sony content here, it’s essentially the same game that was played on the PC, but now with the cross-play ability for those with a Vita. This means it’s possible to move game saves back and forth online to continue where you left off. It’s always a nice touch. However, the real culprit here, which may be a deal breaker for some are the controls. Despite the fact that the ability to use a controller was patched into the original PC version, Hotline Miami is, at its heart, a keyboard and mouse game. The game is still tuned to benefit most from the precision of a mouse. On the PS3, the R2 button and pushing down on the right analog stick allows for locking on to enemies, while the L2 button takes up the scrolling duties that allow the player scan ahead. Of course the right stick can also be used for aiming, but it feels a bit slow and can feel imprecise for some of the required pixel-perfect, line of sight aiming the game can call for at times. It’s still serviceable, but not the ideal tool. The Vita version fares a little worse, with scanning ahead now relegated to the touch screen, dragging the index finger back and forth. The aiming problems on the right stick also persist on the Vita version, but this is made more problematic by the lock on relegated to either, the square button, or tapping on enemies themselves using the touch screen. This is not the type of game where you ever want your hands away from the controls since the situation is constantly fluid, but the Vita version demands it on occasion.

It’s a shame—though understandable—that some concessions had to be made in the transition from a super-precise, mouse and keyboard shooter to less accurate, controller based action. The game’s narrative is still just as compelling and disjointed as ever, but the challenge of the game may have gone up thanks to the less precise controls, a problem even more pronounced on the Vita version. Still, at $9.99, the price is reasonable enough to consider adding one of the most interesting indie games of 2012 to your indie game collection on the PS3 or Vita.

 

The Evil Within E3 2013 Preview

The Evil Within E3 2013 Preview

“Since Resident Evil 4,” Shinji Mikami says through a translator, “Survival horror has been filled with dumb, boring QTEs.” Controversial words from the man who created the Resident Evil series and watched as his changes in RE4 had a profound impact on the entire genre, prioritizing the action over the horror.

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Infamous: Second Son E3 2013 Preview

Infamous: Second Son E3 2013 Preview

There’s still no explanation at this point as to why this latest Infamous installment is called “Second Son.” What is known is that the hero is named Delsin, his brother is a Sherriff, and Delsin himself is a frustrated hipster graffiti artist—Sucker Punch’s description, not mine—complete with tight jeans and a beanie. The setting for the game is seven years after the events of Infamous 2—presumably the good ending—when anyone with superpowers is now branded a bio-terrorist, and America has shifted to an extreme security lockdown that is Gestappo-like in its severity and intolerance for anyone that falls outside of designated cultural profile.

The demo, which was strictly hands-off, took place at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center, and it showed off a lot of the differences between Second Son and its predecessors. One of the big changes is the attitude of the hero, Delsin. Unlike Cole McGrath of Infamous who was a typical, dark, gritty, brooding character that felt his powers were more a curse than anything else, Delsin actually likes his powers, and enjoys using them. The other big change is that Delsin himself is not any ordinary “Conduit,” the Infamous jargon for someone receptive to super empowerment. Delsin shares something in common with Megaman, in that he can absorb the powers of other Conduits and add those abilities to a collection of super powers. For the purposes of the demo, Delsin was confined to “smoke” abilities, which shared a lot of similarity to Cole’s electrical powers from the previous games. He was able to fire off “smoke bolts” for lack of a better term which looked a lot like Cole’s default lightning bolt attack, and when he spewed smoke out of his hands to glide, it was more or less a palette swap for Cole’s original Static Thrusters. But there were also more exotic applications like a column of solidified smoke launching enemies like rocks in a catapult, a “biker chain attack,” that seemed composed of smoke as he whipped it against enemies and even a short teleport attack that screamed “Nightcrawler” from the X-Men.

The game is looking sharp at 1080p and 30 frames per second, but the real attraction here is, unsurprisingly, the scale of the game. Open world games seem to benefit most from the increased processing power of the new consoles, and if Second Son is anything to go by, the next Bethesda game had better not start causing the same problems that Skyrim did on the PS3 because there was a frightening amount of physics going on in this demo. Where most open world games limit damage to vehicles and people on the street, everything from garbage cans to newspaper dispensers to surveillance cameras were blown to pieces during Delsin’s run against the DUP, or Department of Unified Protection, the American unit assigned to containing the “super power human problem.” Particle effects were also used to impressive effect with smoke, flames, sparks and other elemental touches coming from either Delsin himself or the ensuing destruction that erupts during combat.

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Infamous: Second Son – Sony

Delsin can also attack the environment as much as the enemies themselves. The DUP have set up a lot of makeshift decks and platforms during their occupancy of Seattle, and during combat Delsin was able to lay into these platforms and shoot them to pieces or cause them to collapse, bringing down any enemies that happened to be standing on them using them as sniping or crossfire points. There’s even a little touchpad interaction from the Dualshock 4 during combat, as Delsin was tasked with taking out a generator on the roof of a DUP truck and this was accomplished by poking the touchpad to get Delsin to start punching it. The demo then ended with the same shot as the trailers thus far; Delsin soared into the sky then plummeted back down in a power dive with an immense shockwave that permanently destroyed the dinosaur skeleton landmark, as well as taking out the surrounding DUP soldiers.

At this stage, Second Son looks like it will offer the same range of super-powered, open world fun that the previous games did, but at a much bigger, slicker, shinier scale. It’s not a launch title for the PS4, unfortunately, and is scheduled for a Q1 2014 release.



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