Month: December 2013

Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry DLC (PS4) Review 1

Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry DLC (PS4) Review

Virtually Emancipated

In some respects, Freedom Cry, the first major DLC released for Assassin’s Creed IV is superior to its parent. By the nature of its DLC origins, it’s a smaller, more focused experience that takes all the major features of its parent, and distills them into more refined experiences. But there’s one area where Freedom Cry absolutely trumps its elder; this is a better story, and a better historical experience.

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Freedom Cry takes place 15 years after the events of AC4, and focus not AC4’s protagonist, Edward Kenway, but his former quartermaster, Adéwalé, who is now an Assassin himself. Stripped away are the modern day elements; the first civilization conspiracy, and even the focus on the age old Templars vs. Assassins conflict. Instead, the game focuses on Adéwalé’s growing sense of outrage over the continuing enslavement of Africans in the West Indies during the 18th century.

The game bears all the hallmarks of its parent; there’s still sailing the seas, naval conflict, melee and gunplay on land, and even surveillance and assassinations. But all of this is confined to the area around Port-au-Prince, the city that would eventually become the capital of Haiti a nation forged in the fires of slave rebellion. Here, Freedom Cry steps out of the comforts of simple good guys/bad guys conflict and presents a virtual recreation of a slave culture in full swing, complete with plantations and authentic work songs sung by the slaves as they toil in the sugar cane fields.

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The AC series has always been at its strongest when it ignored its own plot and allowed the natural appeal of history to shine through. Freedom Cry embraces this, creating a minimal MacGuffin in the form of a Templar package to act as the engine that drives players to see a world in which a person’s musculature is touted as a literal feature or selling point for the purchase of that person in labour. Ubisoft Quebec has taken the stand that the unpleasantness of the slave period in Caribbean history should not be erased, or ignored, it should be acknowledged so that people have a better understanding of why it is so horrifying to the people of today. It’s one of those rare occasions when a game—better than any other medium—offers an opportunity to people to not just watch or read about the subject matter, but explore and interact with it. It’s one thing to hear about slavery, it’s another thing see it in action and be given a chance to do something about it.

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That’s not to say that Freedom Cry is an improvement in every way. Some people will miss the huge scope of AC4. Others will moan at the fact that tailing/eavesdropping missions are still present. There’s even a rather unfortunate (and, I’ll keep telling myself, unintentional) irony in which the merchants that sell Adéwalé his ship and weapon upgrades are black people with the word “BUY” hanging over their heads. It’s also clear that it wasn’t as thoroughly optimized (at least on the PS4) for more powerful systems as NPC pop up occurs with alarming frequency while running through towns, a gaffe largely absent in current gen versions of the main game. However, from a gameplay and thematic perspective, the smaller scale and missions focused around emancipating slaves carry a greater sense of urgency, perhaps even appeal, than Edward Kenway’s eternal crusade for riches. Adéwalé is a compelling hero, and one of the few black protagonists in games that isn’t simply a gangsta with a heart of gold trying to protect his hood. This is a game that is both fun to play and sobering in its unromantic view of slavery in the 18th century. It’s a weird claim to make, but Freedom Cry is a recommended DLC purchase because it’s both fun AND educational, and at $9.99 for between 4-8 hours of gameplay (depending on how thorough you are), it’s fair amount of value as well.

Game Of The Year 2013 1

Game Of The Year 2013

It was a spirited debate that somehow managed to avoid bar fighting with shattered bottles, but the CGM office hashed it out to find out what was our 2013 game of the year. This year was a bit different as guests also participated in the debate in addition to regular staff, and contributors. The result was a bit of a surprise. The discussion was deadlocked between Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us, and with the numbers evenly split, and no way to break to tie, the award is going to both. They are two very different games that are being recognized for very different reasons.

Grand Theft Auto V

GTA 5 is, in many ways, the pinnacle of what a traditional game can be. Rockstar has shown the entire industry what happens to an established franchise when the time is taken to do a sequel right, without watching the clock to make sure it ships in November, EVERYSINGLE NOVEMBER. This is the anti-Call of Duty; a game where the management thinking only about the yearend financial report and the developers are allowed to tweak, iterate and innovate to their hearts’ content until they have a game they are proud of.

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GTA 5 takes everything that is familiar about the GTA franchise and makes it bigger and better. A more focused, engaging story, more diverse, likable characters, more vicious satire, a bigger world, more side-quests, refined combat, the ability to switch between characters in a story with more than one protagonist, and a large, detailed world begging for exploration. This isn’t a game that throws its winning formula out the window; it cranks everything up to “11” and shows the entire industry what happens when you make sure you get the basics not just right, but vastly improved. Grand Theft Auto V may be one of our 2013 Games of the Year, but the sheer size and scope of it guarantees that many will be playing it into 2014.

The Last of Us

If GTA 5 is the pinnacle of present game design, The Last of Us shows the future of the medium. This is a game that challenges what the notion of a game is creating a lasting, sobering, unforgettable experience that reaches out far beyond just gamers. The story of Joel and Ellie can stand proudly with the best examples of fiction and cinema, but at the same time it provides a nerve wracking—and often saddening—exploration into a world where humanity is facing the twilight of its existence. The Last of Us is ostensibly a zombie survival story, though in this case, the zombies are humans fallen prey to a new strain of Cordyceps virus that turns them into vicious, sonar-enhanced cannibals. Beyond the zombie trappings is a story of loss, rediscovery and even greater fear of loss that turns into one of the most divisive and moving stories of the year.

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This being a Naughty Dog game, there’s a refinement to the controls, the shooting and action setpieces that screams quality from beginning to end. Make no mistake, this is a game that plays as great as it looks. But beyond that, it creates a world and characters that anyone can be pulled into, can enormously about, and go on an emotional, exhausting journey with. The Last of Us joins the ranks of Shadow of the Colossus, Journey and others to go beyond mere gameplay and mechanics to make players ask questions about what it means to be a person, and what kind of choices we’d make. In an industry where the normal convention is to feel only the adrenaline rush of combat and killing people, The Last of Us makes us confront love, both the noble and ugly sides of it. It’s an astonishing accomplishment that simply should not have come out of a top-tier, AAA studio and yet Naughty Dog didn’t just attempt it, they succeeded beyond all expectation.

Looking Ahead to 2014: video games to look forward to 1

Looking Ahead to 2014: videogames to look forward to

Flipping the calendar over makes most of us start thinking about what’s in store for the year to come. Will you keep your New Year’s resolutions for more than two weeks? Of course not. Will Toronto get a new mayor? Maybe. Will the neighbours keep their Christmas lights up until April? Quite likely. Of course none of this is anything more than informed guesswork, but it’s fun to make them just the same. So, it’s within this spirit of prediction that I wanted to run down a few of the releases that seem most worth looking out for in 2014.

Broken Age

Broken Age, whether Double Fine likes it or not, has become the poster child for crowdfunded games. The project has grown enormously since it was first announced as a humble revival of classic adventure games. Now it’s a major release, highly anticipated by Kickstarter backers and general videogame players alike. It certainly looks good right now, the hand painted visuals and a voice cast that includes Elijah Wood, Jennifer Hale, and Jack Black promising a level of quality that should make good on Tim Schafer’s talent for storytelling and world building. It’s unlikely that Broken Age will live up to the unbelievably high standards accompanying Schafer’s return to the point and click adventure genre, but Double Fine’s track record makes me believe that the game will at least be both unique and very well written.

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Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes

I love Metal Gear Solid. It is still the only videogame series that can announce itself with a completely ridiculous gameplay trailer and make me truly excited. I want to believe that Ground Zeroes, the prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, will be as good as I hope, but I always remember that after the end of Metal Gear Solid 4 it kind of seemed like the series was truly finished. Sure, Peace Walker was a surprisingly interesting prequel, but it felt smaller in scale than its predecessors. Not a true sequel. Regardless of anything else, series creator Hideo Kojima is nothing if not interesting and, for that reason alone, Ground Zeroes is worth keeping an eye on.

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Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs‘ delay was a big hit to the excitement surrounding the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Just the same, I’m still extremely curious as to how the game will shake out whenever it does get around to hitting shelves. Ubisoft Montreal has been on a roll for the last few years, developing what are perhaps the best open world videogames on the market. The urban, modern day setting of Watch Dogs and its emphasis on the extremely relevant topic of cyber surveillance looks extremely promising. Hopefully the decision to push its release back from last fall to sometime in 2014 ends up leading to a game that lives up to its potential.

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Titanfall

Videogames need a new multiplayer model that will appeal to mainstream audiences. The innovation offered through games like Assassin’s Creed and The Last of Us is great, but they seem to appeal to a fairly niche audience. Everyone understands the fun of robots, wall running, and fast-paced shooting, though. The last time the minds behind Titanfall set out to transform multiplayer games they made Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Seven years later we’re still playing variations of that experience. Titanfall looks like it could shake things up enough to truly change the future of multiplayer and that makes it a very exciting release.

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The Surprises

If past years have proven anything it’s that the least expected games are often the most memorable. I had no idea that two of my favourite games of 2013 would be Papers, Please and Gone Home and fully expect 2014 to see some truly excellent titles released with little to no fanfare. Ubisoft’s traditionalist role-playing game, Child of Light, could end up being something special. The same applies to Airtight Games’ forthcoming Murdered: Soul Suspect. Games like these (alongside others with names we’ve never even heard before) may be far better than any of the titles I’ve listed above. And isn’t that sense of the unknown a large part of what makes looking forward to a new year so exciting? 2014 is filled with projects from renowned developers and sequels to beloved games, but it’s also bound to be a year where younger studios gain recognition and previously unheard of titles become new favourites.

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Child of Light
Best and Worst of 2013 -- Wayne Santos  4

Best and Worst of 2013 — Wayne Santos

2013 was, by and large, a pretty good year for games. There was more stuff that challenged the medium, as well as the usual polished, established stand-bys that gave audiences exactly what they wanted. Then there were games that managed to do both. The Last of Us is my game of the year because it did that. I’m a huge fan of Grand Theft Auto, and I’ve always loved the satire of the series (possibly more than the actual gameplay itself), but GTA V is “more of the same, but bigger and better.” The Last of Us, however, is a unique title that doesn’t just appeal to survival horror fans, but literally ANYONE looking for an engaging narrative that leaves you emotionally drained at the end of the experience.

GTA V
GTA V

The Last of Us is one of those rare games entered into the history book of the medium as a significant title, a touchstone, a reference point. The gameplay is polished to an astonishing level of quality, with never a dull moment, even when you’re just exploring, but it’s the overall experience, the characters, the world, the story they find themselves in that sets the game apart from everything else out there. The Last of Us is not just one of the best dramatic experiences in games, it’s one of the best of the year, holding its own against the best that cinema, novels and comics offered this year as well. It is a game that I would tell anyone—even people that don’t play games—to just sit down and experience whether as a player or a spectator. Either way, the trials of Joel and Ellie, and the divisive conclusion to their journey will provoke the same level of thought, feeling and debate that substantial works of art should. This has raised the bar for what games can be, and I’m recognizing that.

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The Last of Us

Disappointment: Aliens: Colonial Marines

What an utter waste of potential. Gearbox is a developer that has proven they can craft a quality first person shooter, and the Alien franchise has been a fan favourite for decades. The combination of the two could have been a watershed moment in the same way everyone doubted a decent comic book game could exist until Rocksteady proved everyone wrong with Arkham Asylum. Aliens: Colonial Marines looked like it was on track to do the same thing, especially after the promising demo that was shown at E3 in 2012.

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Aliens: Colonial Marines

Instead, we found out after the fact that the demo was never made with real gaming specs in mind, that Gearbox handed off the majority of the development to TimeGate studios, (Gearbox was too busy making the amazing Borderlands 2) and there was simply not enough time, or resources to actually MAKE the game the 2013 demo had promised. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a buggy mess that failed to capitalize on the respected franchise that had been handed to it. There are occasional moments of Alien promise, like seeing the “space jockey” or even the unique multiplayer that pit marines and aliens against each other. But overall, it was simply another nail in the coffin of the franchise, leaving even more about Alien: Isolation and the fact that Creative Assembly, a company best known for RTS games, is now making a first person horror game. I love the Alien franchise and wanted this to be great. It wasn’t.

Best and Worst of 2013 - James Griffin 2

Best and Worst of 2013 – James Griffin

GOTY: Grand Theft Auto V

2013 was a special year for games. With a front-loaded first quarter, and some of the biggest names getting sequels (God of War, Metal Gear), it was clear there would be some heavy competition for top honors. But one title stood on a higher pedestal than the rest: Grand Theft Auto V. Let me be clear, GTA IV was a catastrophe. While there was a solid story, the unbridled freedom was gone, straying away from  what made GTA the pinnacle of open-world games. Grand Theft Auto V changed all that by bringing in an exceptional script, an expansive area with tons of things to do, and a sense of a true living world. It would be a fruitless effort to try and name all the things you can do here, but know that it will take over your life. Aside from that, Michael is one of the best characters ever in a video-game, bringing players into his complicated, mid-life crisis. Add tons of biting satire, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide masterpiece.

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Biggest Disappointment: Beyond: Two Souls

This is a heartbreaker. Heavy Rain pushed the idea of a strong interactive narrative, and represented a lot of potential for the future of video-games. Adding Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe sounded like a winning combination, but Beyond’s narrative fell on its own ambition. Too much cliche, not enough originality. Too much movie, not enough interaction. These games are something special, and them existing is great in itself, but I would have liked Beyond to live up to its expectations. Despite this, I look forward to David Cage’s next title, and I imagine he will keep things a bit more grounded this time around.

Ni no Kuni and Kids' Games: Simplicity without Patronizing

Ni no Kuni and Kids’ Games: Simplicity without Patronizing

Over the last few years my brothers have started to have kids. Becoming an uncle has not only made me feel, suddenly, a great deal older, but it has also made me think differently about the kind of choices I would make if I were to be a parent, too. It’s scary to consider the kind of lifestyle changes that that would entail, so I prefer to concentrate on one of the easiest ones: the sort of videogames that would be appropriate with a kid around.

Taking this viewpoint forces you to reconsider a lot of what you currently take for granted. It makes the violent content many of us have grown accustomed to seem a lot more suspect for one thing. I mean, I sure wouldn’t play The Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed, or even one of the Batman: Arkham games with a child in the same room. So, in a lot of cases that doesn’t leave much on the table save for so-called “kids’ games.” Unfortunately, a good many of the titles that fall within this category aren’t very good. Media Molecule, developer of Tearaway and the LittleBigPlanet series, offer a few exceptions. Nintendo’s various Mario games provide several others. But what do you play if you want something with a lot of lasting substance you can dig into with a kid around? Or, for that matter, when you want to pass the controller back and forth without worrying about objectionable content?

I’ve been playing Level-5 and Studio Ghibli’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch lately. Aside from finding the incredible visuals and refreshingly straightforward gameplay enjoyable, spending time with Ni no Kuni has made me want to buy a copy of the game for every parent with young children in my life. There aren’t many games with the type of charm that it has, let alone the willingness to engage with the complicated subject matter that is so often missing from children’s stories.

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Ni no Kuni opens with the death of its child protagonist’s mother and continues onward to navigate sadly commonplace problems like emotionally abusive parents. Like most classic children’s stories, though, the game provides rays of light amidst this sort of darkness. There are lessons to learn, truly awful situations to overcome, and recognition that trying to be a good person often requires coming face to face with terrible things. Kids’ entertainment is often unnecessarily toothless, as if children aren’t capable of processing anything darker than a frowning adult. The fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and the allegorical fables that have endured centuries of telling have always offered a counterpoint to this idea. The stories that have passed the test of time aren’t relentlessly cheerful. They’re willing to show children that the world is complicated — that bad and sad things are unavoidable — while offering ways to deal with it. Ni no Kuni remembers that childhood isn’t as extraordinarily happy as we choose to idealize it. For the great majority of kids, growing up is a bit melancholy. The death or divorce of parents, the fear that comes from hyperactive imaginations running amok in the dark, the realization that some people just aren’t nice — these experiences are just as much a part of childhood as the pure happiness of playing with a friend or celebrating a holiday.

It’s testament to Ni no Kuni‘s quality that it captures childhood in much the same way as Studio Ghibli’s highly acclaimed animated features. Next to the ridiculous amount of imagination on display in movies like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, it’s the fact that the characters in Ghibli’s stories must overcome fear and death that makes them stand out amongst animated features aimed at children. Ni no Kuni fits in with these films because it also refuses to talk down to kids, instead offering them a story that they can understand even if it can be emotionally challenging. That’s the kind of entertainment that children should be exposed to if their minds are going to grow and their sense of empathy is going to develop. Ni no Kuni will have the same type of staying power that our most cherished fables possess because it isn’t simpler than it needs to be. At different points in its narrative it’s scary, it’s sad, it’s funny, and it’s uplifting. It’s a good story that, ultimately, has a lot to say about living in the real world, even if it takes place in a very colourfully imagined one.

The Best and Worst of 2013 -- Brendan Frye

The Best and Worst of 2013 — Brendan Frye

With the end of the current console generation, never has there been a better time to be a console gamer. All the new games released are polished and are using the hardware of the PS3 and XBOX 360 to the fullest. Yet it is a PC port that kept my attention most this year, Diablo III. Even though it was only a “port,” Blizzard had made enough tweaks to the overall experience that it felt like a new game. The couch co-op option was a new and fantastic way to play the experience. The new drops and overall streamlined nature of the experience makes it one of the best dungeon crawlers to date. They have fixed all aspects that made the PC version cumbersome and made a masterly crafted game that everyone who loves the genre needs to pick up.

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The experience of sitting down with up to four friends made Diablo III oddly one of the most social games I have played in recent memory. Everyone worked together to face a common enemy, all from the comfort of the couch. The fact it was a top down experience, rather than the now ubiquitous FPS made it much easier to play with more people, no one’s experience seemed compromised to allow for more players and the ability to replay the experience countless times made for days of enjoyment. I for one am excited to see what Blizzard does with the expansion and to see how the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the games come out. If Blizzard keeps this level of quality up with console development they will be a force to be reckoned with not just on the PC.

The Most Disappointing:

Where Diablo III on consoles exceeded expectations, SimCity failed to meet even the mildest of them. The overall experience was hindered by server issues that not only stopped many gamers from being able to jump in and play, but as EA started to fix the issues, features of the game were turned off. Beyond the issues at launch, some core aspects of the game made for an experience that let many players, including myself down.

The choice to make the map smaller meant it became a necessity to rely on neighboring cities for select resources. This also hindered the always fun city sprawl that SimCity is known for. But when you get right down to it, the fact the core game was so good made all these issues more apparent. I wanted to sit there for hours and play the game, yet the bad design choices made it such a tedious task to play, I eventually had to put the game down and have only picked it up a handful of times since. Yes with recent updates, the game is getting much closer to the experience fans deserve, but with so many people given a bad taste by the launch, it may be too little too late for Maxis and EA.

 

Terrible Warriors Holiday Special: Cards Against Humanity 1

Terrible Warriors Holiday Special: Cards Against Humanity

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Merry Christmas everybody!

On this special December 25th, we here at These Warriors Are Terrible wanted to give you something a little special in your digital stocking. So today we bring you our adventure into the now classic card game, Cards Against Humanity! Gather round your earbuds and listen as our Terrible Warriors Steve, Julian, Justin, Cassie, Bre and new player Shane sit behind the mics kicking back and relaxing and just having great fun on Christmas!

Thank you all for a wonderful year of Terrible Warriors, stay tuned in early 2014 for Season 2 of These Warriors Are Terrible!

Happy Holidays!

OH, almost forgot, here’s a special little bonus audio for you, taken right from this episode.  We bring you “Storytime with Bre”.  Share around if you like.  Also, be forewarned, this audio contains EXPLICIT CONTENT.

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Also, are there any settings or RPG systems you’d like the Terrible Warriors to visit? Do you have your own shameful, awesome or just plain silly RPG adventures? Tell us with a comment below or e-mail us at [email protected] With your permission we’ll share these stories and play your suggested settings for upcoming games for the Terrible Warriors.

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Knack (PS4) Review 1

Knack (PS4) Review

As an early PlayStation 4 adopter, there weren’t many games for me to sample in order to get a good feel for what the system could actually offer beyond futuristic shooters, racing, and sports. Knack seemed like the quirky gamer’s choice, with its colorful cover and marketing that likened it to Katamari Damacy or some equally whimsical adventure. I jumped at the chance to play something other than a triple-A blockbuster.

Perhaps I should have stuck with the blockbusters, as they offered much more of a spectacle and overall delight than Knack did. Knack’s problem is its insistence to stay mired in archaic conventions that do little to propel the genre forward. When Sony hinted at wanting to return to a more “innocent” time in gaming, I never could have imagined this was what they meant — clunky mechanics, an uninspired narrative, and characters who looked as though they were ripped straight out a budget CG-animated film.

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This mediocre tale that unfolds via linear beat-’em-up segments in which you follow a strange monster created by an inventor known as “the Doctor” — the titular Knack. Knack is on the warpath to protect humanity from the oncoming goblin threat — goblins? — and joins forces with the austere security bots of billionaire Viktor in order to stave the malevolent goblins off and out of the humans’ hair for good. If you’re bored simply reading this recounting, it doesn’t get much better in-game. A motley crew of characters like the Doctor’s assistant Lucas and his uncle end up pursuing a secret ancient power that delves into territory so silly it loses steam less than halfway through. It’s so by-the-book it hurts — but with gameplay to sort through, you’d assume this would be something simple to bolster.

That’s not the case, unfortunately, as the game is a frustrating amalgam of dated platformers like Super Mario Bros. and licensed movie games. It moves at a plodding pace, leading you from area to area as you fight off waves of advancing baddies to continue to the next. Lather, rinse, and repeat: grab robots and goblins, beat them to a bloody pulp, and then go on about your business.

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The unmovable camera is frustrating enough to contend with without a seemingly endless parade of enemies running in to irritate you, and by the time the force field has dropped to allow you into the next area, your patience has been shot. The platforming segments slipped in between each brawl are incredibly basic, scattered throughout heavy-handed environments like forests, lava-laden areas, and frozen tundras. Yawn — we’ve seen all this before! Bring on something impressive, already!

Knack himself, while cute in an Iron Giant sort of way, has a few tricks up his sleeve, but they can’t make up for the lackluster game built around them. He can absorb relics and other items to grow in size, earning new abilities along the way. There are “a-ha!” moments, like when you were previously unable to roll over a larger item in Katamari Damacy and suddenly you pick it up with no trouble (that’s what it feels like to conquer tougher enemies), but there’s nothing interesting that comes of this ability. Knack collects crystal shards, which allow him other augments throughout the game, but none of these gameplay ideas are exactly exciting.

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Perhaps it wouldn’t be such an issue if you weren’t finding yourself forced to replay specific segments over and over, thanks to some particularly cheap deaths that feel like little more than obnoxious roadblocks on the way to making Knack last a few hours longer than it should.

There’s little in the way of originality or impressive visual prowess in Knack either, though it can be awe-inspiring when you note Knack’s body is indeed comprised of individual relics that are rendered on their own. Environments, levels, and the same bland and recycled corridors, however, are no more entertaining than games from the previous generation, and given there are no truly original character designs here, it’s definitely not the game you want to choose to represent your shiny new console purchase.

It’s clear Knack was brimming with some interesting ideas at one point, but anything that may previously have given it any kind of real personality was either swapped out for elements that were meant to make the game much less of a “modern” platformer and more simplistic, as Sony seems to have intended. Unfortunately, it’s bland, repetitive, and uninteresting



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