Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Google announced a new tablet. The successor to the insanely popular Google Nexus 7. It is available now in the United States and will be available in other territories “In the weeks to come”.

The additions include a full HD screen as well as a new Snapdragon processor and Android Jelly Bean 4.3. Also keeping a low price ($229). This should be great, if you are looking for a jumping in point for Android this is your device!

I have played a lot of games in my time, but oddly enough I have never played any of the Tomb Raider games. I know the reboot doesn’t share a lot in common with the past entries in the franchise but I was still curious to finally be controlling the legendary Lara Croft.

Story: The story of Tomb Raider serves as a reboot of the franchise. Lara Croft is a novice adventurer on her first expedition. She decides that the group needs to go to the Devil’s Triangle, which is like the Japanese version of the Bermuda triangle. Suffice it to say things go downhill from there. Their ship ends up crashing and the team becomes stranded on the island of Yamatai. The group quickly realize that the island has a few secrets. When Lara see’s people disappearing or dead she feels a sense of responsibility to help them. this is her motivation for the events of the game.

Eventually Lara discover’s the island has some supernatural secret’s that needs to be addressed before her and what’s left of her team are able leave. The story is what you would expect from a game like this. Although I am not a fan of the supernatural in storylines of games like this it was almost a given to see it here. It has a very Indiana Jones-esque plot to it.

Gameplay: Have you played Uncharted? good, then you know how this game plays. The 3rd person shooting and climbing feel great, and the cover system makes for some intense firefights. Lara has a variety of weapons at her disposal from bows, to pistols to shotguns. The guns are upgradeable at camps found throughout the campaign. Another addition is the rope, Lara shoots it from her bow to create a path for out of reach area’s or can pull down doors to create openings for treasure. Also the rope can be used in combat, by pulling down ledges or even enemies on ledges, this was unique and one of the stand out points of the game. I felt the the upgrade system added a level of depth I enjoyed.

Hunting plays a big part in the game for campaign, by taking down animals players acquire materials needed for upgrading their arsenal. The game features a ton of collectables including relics and treasure. Crystal Dynamics made the world into small sections, in these sections players can find a map that will lead them to all the treasure if you want them all for the trophies or achievements.

Jumping into the games competitive multiplayer did not impress me, It seemed jerky and hard to get shots on targets. As I played I couldn’t help but feeling it was just tacked on as a bullet point for the back of the box. There is a level progression system and some achievements/trophies attached to it but I bet a lot of players won’t be staying long. It just wasn’t fun and there is much better competition out there in the 3rd person arena.

Graphics: The game looks great. I really felt as I played Tomb Raider that this generation has kind of plateaued. The character models look good and the environment’s are interesting but the graphics seem like more of the same with a lot of modern releases. This is not really a criticism of the game as much as feeling a little burnt out on the extended hardware cycle.

The game features some great character movement, a lot of one off animations for certain instances of the game that help make it more cinematic. Lara gets really beat up in this game and you can see the pain she is in when she holds her side or is limping along. The game does a great job visually of telling the dark story through the characters and environments.

Overall: I enjoyed Tomb Raider a lot. The game was certainly trying to capitalize on the success of the Uncharted series, which isn’t a bad thing because they did it well. The shooting feels tight and the climbing and environments are great, I couldn’t help but feel the game was a little short though. Where is separates itself from Uncharted was the tone of the story and characters, this was much darker and it had some added gameplay elements such as the hunting and weapon upgrades. I feel even the story borrowed from Uncharted once the supernatural element came into play, and overall both Uncharted 2 and 3 are better games.

If you want a fun 7-9 hour game that is very cinematic while retaining fun gunplay and smooth animations check out Tomb Raider.


8.5/10

Always On DRM - The Death of a Brand

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Rumors are swirling about the next Xbox using always on DRM. Until the system is unveiled there is no way to know if this is true but if these allegations are correct then Microsoft will be in rough shape. Sony has already shown their hand and all indications point to the PS4 being a sweet machine, and Sony itself is selling this whole experience differently than the disaster that was the first 3 years of the PS3.

Lets just look at this in the worst case scenario, I will call this the “Xboxalypse”, day one people buy the console and get home and what? the servers will be stressed from “more traffic than anticipated” and probably malfunction. This is basically what happened with the recent SimCity game on P.C. That was bad enough but imagine this with an entire console, you can’t play ANY games on your shiny new expensive box. The publicity from this alone would sink the system. Microsoft has to know this, we’re talking about a company that is already in trouble, Window’s 8 in tanking and P.C. sales are in the toilet. If they mess up the next Xbox the entire company will be in trouble. The general public is now more savvy than ever, the announcement of this alone will put a black mark on the launch of the new console that will be extremely difficult to rebound from.

Always on DRM is a solution that can’t work and has never been implemented seamlessly, just ask the aforementioned SimCity, Ask Diablo 3, ask Assassin’s Creed II on P.C. All these launched with Always On DRM and it hurt the entire game and experience for people who were really excited for it.

Another angle about this is something that I don’t think anyone has really thought about. I have a Super Nintendo and a Sega Genesis hooked up at all times (I’m a shithead hipster I know) I enjoy playing old games, hunting them down at game stores and garage sales and reliving the glory of the past. What happens with this system? When the next one comes out do they pull the plug on it and have no way to access to old classics?

Another warning to Microsoft, if they are planning on this ridiculous scheme do you think the ingenious hackers aren’t going to make a $2.00 unit you plug into the back and bypass your entire network? Of course they will, hackers take challenges like this as a personal vendetta, especially when big money Microsoft is involved.

I have really enjoyed my 360, it has made some awesome single and multiplayer experiences, I am interested in what the next iteration of this platform brings, but if it includes always on DRM you can find me playing the next Killzone offline on my PS4.

Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon Review

Nintendo claims 2013 is the year of Luigi, that’s a bold statement to make for the third wheel of Nintendo’s power couple. The first phase of this themed year is the new game in the Luigi’s Mansion series. I have to admit I have never played Luigi’s Mansion on the Gamecube so I came into this game with no bearing on what I was going to experience and no real expectations. I can happily say that Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon impressed me and is another great title in the 3DS lineup.

The best way I can describe this game would be a mash-up between a Zelda dungeon and a 3D Mario platforming level, it borrows ideas from both but is still quite unique. One of the high points of the game is the presentation value, the characters are animated smoothly and audio is spot on.

Story: This is a Nintendo game so story is obviously not the selling point. Luigi is once again back as a reluctant ghostbuster after Professor E. Gadd (Ha, I get it) has found that the dark moon has been shattered and the pieces stolen causing all the surrounding ghosts to become hostile. This leads Luigi through five different haunted locales to collect the pieces of the dark moon and pacify the ghosts. It suffers from the overused “something has broken and you have to collect the pieces” idea that is a staple in a vast majority of Nintendo games but gets the job done.

Gameplay: The overall mechanics of the game are simple. Once Luigi is in one of the levels he has to solve puzzles and catch ghosts. Catching the ghosts could best be describe as a fishing minigame, using the Poltergust 5000 you suck them into the vacuum on your back. The Poltergust is also upgradable to make it more powerful which adds some depth to the game.

The second function of the Poltergust is a special rainbow light that can expose hidden objects in the levels. These two functions combine to be the main way to solve the games many puzzles. I found the haunted houses played out like a dungeon in a Zelda game, as you progress you get keys to open up new area’s. It is rewarding and fun.

One problem with the gameplay I had was in the way Luigi crosses beams, it uses the systems gyroscope to balance while crossing (Similar to Uncharted: Drake Fortune). It was way too sensitive leading to a lot of needless falls. I see this mechanic in several games and I never get it, it’s not fun and if you’re playing with the 3D on then tilting the system causes the screen to be out of focus.

The boss fights in this game are a treat, they are all very clever and well designed and most importantly are fun to play. Utilizing the environments and figuring out how to cause damage was super fun, I can honestly say these are some of the best, most imaginative boss fights I have played in years.

Apart from the levels objectives there are optional collectibles to find. Each level contains hidden gems and a hidden Boo.The levels are broken into 10-20 minute segments that fit the handheld experience great. The overall challenge is fun but there are times where checkpoints would have been appreciated.

Graphics: This is one of the best looking games on the 3DS. The character models are great and the detail in the movement and animation is stellar. Luigi is brought to life in this game in a way that is rare for Nintendo, he has a vaudevillian way of interacting with the game’s environments that was always entertaining. Lighting and shadow effects were also fantastic to create the moody environments.

The level design could have had a bit more variety but that is a small complaint considering they are essentially all haunted houses.

Overall: I really enjoyed Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, The game is fun and engaging with great puzzles and some of the best boss fights I have played in recent memory. It’s good to see Luigi get some respect and fans of the Mushroom Kingdom will have a small treat at the end of the game that is a long time coming for Luigi. if you have a 3DS and are looking for a fun 12-15 hour experience then look no further than Luigi’s Mansion.

8.0/10

 

Bioshock Infinite Review

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I was surprised to be excited for Bioshock Infinite. When the original Bioshock came out in 2007 it had universal praise, I bought the game day one and hated it. I was one of the few people who didn’t think it was a work of genius. I liked the story, the world and the graphics just the gameplay didn’t connect with me. Fast forward to mid 2010 and against my better judgement I picked up Bioshock 2. I instantly loved it. I don’t know if it was the refinements like the plasmid/weapon combo or if the overall game felt better but I really enjoyed it. Finally in 2012 I replayed the original Bioshock, I got hooked and finally saw the great game that had eluded me for five years.

Story: This is where this series shines. A sort of prequel to Bioshock 1 and 2, the premise of Infinite takes place in a floating city called Columbia in 1912. Columbia is the antithesis of Rapture, it’s bright and open and instead of being created to escape political and religious persecution it was designed to be like “Eden” from the bible. The ruler of Columbia is “The Prophet” Zachary Comstock, he rules with an iron fist and preaches all kinds of religious nonsense.

The main character Booker has been tasked with going to Columbia and getting a girl named Elizabeth out. He is promised this will wipe away gambling debts he has been accruing.

Elizabeth is really the star of the game, she is a mysterious girl who can open “tears” which are essential doorways into other dimensions. She is with you most of the game and is never a burden, she picks locks for Booker and during combat with give ammo and health. This was an issue for be because it made the game easy and there is almost no penalty for dying. Playing through the game and learning more about her was interesting.

It’s very hard to talk about the narrative without giving spoilers, I’ll just say that the ending is one of the best endings I have seen in entertainment, not games, entertainment. People will be talking about this end for years to come.

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Gameplay: The gameplay will be familiar to fans of Bioshock 2. There are now vigors instead of Plasmids, they work very similarly with a new option, if the user holds down the vigors button you can create a trap with them. In bigger fights this can be a real life saver. It will also be essential when playing on the harder difficulty.

The shooting mechanic is still great, Not the best but good. One beef I have with the shooting is that the aiming down the sights is handled by a click of R3, I have never found this intuitive in games and it leads me to shoot wildly as opposed to aiming. I feel that the shooting of the game would benefit from a different control setup. Also new is the sky lines, Booker has a special tool on his arm (That makes some memorable and gruesome melee kills) that can hook onto Columbia’s sky line system. The sky lines are an integral part of a lot of major set piece fights. Using the sky lines allows a lot of variety in the fighting. There is also combat options while using the lines, you can shoot and if you time it right can do a jumping melee that is a very powerful attack.

Bioshock Infinite has done away with health packs and instead uses a shield system that is very similar to the Halo series. Throughout the game the player can find bottles to increase their health, vigor or shields. Thats not all to find in Columbia, searching every nook and cranny will yield money, items and voxophones. Voxophones are the audio logs to find in the game, they are interesting to listen to and shed some extra light on the world and story.

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I did have a few issues with the game, in many ways it felt stripped down to me, there was no camera to gain advantages on enemies and the variety and number of enemies wasn’t enough. I never found fighting the people in Columbia to be as memorable as fighting the unpredictable splicers from the previous games. Guns and Vigors are upgradable but the upgrade system just didn’t have the impact on me, the guns look the same, even when upgraded they don’t receive any visual distinctions. Only two guns can be carried at any time now ala Halo. This took away a bit from my enjoyment as well. Overall I just felt more constricted in this game compared to previous entries in the series.

Graphics: Columbia is designed beautifully, the landscapes are colourful and world feels alive. Graphically speaking this could not be further from Rapture, and that’s a great thing.The art design is unique without being eccentric. Some of the vigor animations look really great. The actual quality of the graphics is a bit of a mixed bag, some animations look a little stiff and the people in the game are certainly not the best I have seen.

Overall: I am happy to say that Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game, it uses clever storytelling and a compelling world to hook players in and make them enjoy the journey. Save for a few minor nitpicks with the game play I can honestly say this has been my favourite game of 2013 so far.

9.0/10

Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch Review

JRPG’s are in a weird place right now. They haven’t been forgotten but they exist on the periphery of gaming. There was a time when the next Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest was an event and people clamoured for it. Nowadays the majority of JRPG’s see smaller releases and are relegated to iOS, Android and downloadable games. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it makes a traditional console release of an JRPG a rare event that is exciting and long overdue. Queue the release of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Level 5’s newest RPG exclusively for the PS3.

Story: The game follows a young boy named Oliver. It starts out in Motortown, a place that reminded be a little bit of a 3D Earthbound. Oliver is living the normal life of a boy when disaster strikes and leads him into an alternate world. Without spoiling anything, the Alternate world is connected with his own world and in peril, it’s up to him to save it.

Overall the story is interesting and takes some turns here and there, never anything super original or imaginative but it does a good job of pushing the story. It suffers from the “you are the chosen one” syndrome that plagues many RPG’s, this made it seem a little bit cliche at times.

Luckily the characters that follow Oliver on his journey are a memorable bunch that grow through the adventure as characters which helps the player identify with the party and their goals. One character in particular named Swaine has an interesting backstory.

Gameplay: Combining elements of traditional turn based RPG’s and a monster collecting/raising similar to Pokemon gives Ni No Kuni a unique combat system that is highly engaging. The user selects one of the creatures to fight for them, they can have up to three. Their creature fighting has a time meter and when it runs out the player needs to switch to another creature or the character who can attack and use magic. Luckily XP is shared with everyone evenly at the end of a fight. This makes the leveling process efficient.

The rest of the game plays out very much like RPG’s of old. There is an overworld with cities and caves and forests to explore. Enemies appear on screen so there are no random encounters. The game can be saved at any time in the overworld and cities meanwhile in the dungeons it uses save points. The dungeons have all been designed to be quick which I felt really helped the pacing of the game.

Aside from the main storyline the game has lots of extra side quests. They can be found on errand boards in the cities. Usually these are quick tasks to help a denizen of the game. There are also hunts that assign a challenging enemy for the player to fight. The great thing about the optional content in this game is collecting stamps. Each side-quest or hunt gets Oliver stamps for his booklet, when enough pages have been filled out he can use it to buy an upgrade for the party. The upgrades range from extra experience in battle to finding more loot after a fight. I really liked this element of the game, rewarding players for doing optional quests was great incentive to follow through.

The music is done well, the upbeat tunes fit the mood of the game perfectly. On the sound front it seemed odd to me that the game wasn’t fully voice acted. Some cut scenes have it some don’t. In game scenes usually have no dialogue but occasionally they did, it was bizarre the way it was implemented. When there is voice acting though it’s very solid.

Graphics: Straight away the visuals will jump out as beautiful, Studio Ghibli had a hand in this and it really shows. The animation is fluid and the presentation is slick and charming. My only real quarry with the visuals is there seems to be a few different styles of cut scenes, some with dialogue some without, some anime, some in game and it can feel a little bit disjointed. However jarring though they are always great looking.

The cities of Ni No Kuni really stand out, they are all unique looking with a sense of personality. From the carefree city of Ding Dong Dell (Yes, thats the name) to the industrial city of Hamelin I always felt like I was somewhere new and different. This is a great quality that not all RPG’s have (I’m looking at you Dragon Age Origins)

Overall: I really enjoyed Ni No Kuni, The world that Level 5 created is fun and alive with all sorts of bizarre inhabitants that really gave the game it’s own identity. The environments are bright and colourful with a story that never bogs down the upbeat nature of the main protagonist. Throughout the 40+ hour adventure players will encounter plenty of bizarre characters and delve through some nice looking scenery. The only real issue I had with the game was the story can sometimes be a bit on the cliche side. Anyone who has been waiting for a great JRPG needs look no further than Ni No Kuni.


8.5/10

Assassin’s Creed III Review

Assassin's Creed III

Finally Assassin’s Creed III has arrived. After 3 years of playing through the Ezio trilogy it was time for a new protagonist and time period to take the light. This combined with a promise from Ubisoft to end the Desmond storyline and generally blow your mind with the next generation Anvil engine made it a tough wait for gamers everywhere.

From the get go you will notice that this is a slightly different Assassins Creed game, gone are the sprawling metropolises like Rome and Constantinople replaced with the more modest settings of Boston, New York and the Frontier between 1750 and 1780. When this time period was announced a lot of people were skeptical about it, I kept an open mind and thought it could be cool. As far as storyline goes the setting can be interesting but when it comes to gameplay the environment is the first letdown of the game.

The problem with the setting stems from it not being visually interesting, When I was playing Brotherhood I couldn’t wait to climb around the Colosseum or explore the Pantheon. It was fun seeing historical monuments and buildings that still stand to this day. In ACIII the buildings are mostly nondescript colonial style houses, truth is they really aren’t that much different from houses that stand today. The next issue is that there is no really high points to the game, these cities had a distinct lack of tall buildings. The viewpoints are still in the game but they just aren’t the same.

Kenway, Connor Kenway

With a new numbered entry comes a new protagonist. Connor Kenway is the leading man and similar to the setting he isn’t terribly interesting. He comes off as a fairly two dimensional character whose awkward dialogue usually consists of him saying “lets do the right thing” in varying ways. Even the voice acting of Connor harkened back to the bland script reading of Altair from the original game. Connor’s Native American heritage does a little bit to ease the boredom of the character, it gives him a bit of depth but he is nowhere near the character Ezio was.

Story: Taking place shortly after the end of AC Revelations the team sets up shop in a cave in America looking to unlock the power to save the world from an impending solar flare. Desmond and friends encounter Juno who is desperately trying to warn them of their impending fate in various cryptic ways. Once in the animus players start out as Haythem Kenway. Unfortunately Conner isn’t seen for the first 5 or so hours. This time could have been better spent exploring the Connor character a bit more.

Overall the story had a very underwhelming sense of scope to it. It never felt to be as epic as ACII, I mean in that game you get to fist fight the pope. Ubisoft promised to end the Desmond story in 2012 and they did. The ending leaves a lot to be desired, without going into detail I hope the Mass Effect 3 fans don’t latch onto this because it was a disappointing mess.

Gameplay: The gameplay in ACIII will be fairly familiar to fans of the franchise, talk to someone then get your murder on. Rinse and repeat. The missions are pretty good for the most part but therein lies the next flaw with the game. An open world game is supposed to be a sandbox for the player to go where they want, when they want and do what they want. Outside of the games story missions it plays this way, giving the player lots to do from side mission for your homestead family to collecting feathers and various other time destroyers.

Main missions (and some side stuff) has the “optional objectives”. These are non-essential parameters that allow you to get 100% sync on missions. This is needed for completionists like myself and for me this has been the bane of the Assassins Creed franchise since it was introduced as a game mechanic. It forces the player into such a constricted way of playing the mission that the fun and excitement is lost and you feel as though you’re going through something heavily scripted without much creative input. What’s worse about this is that a lot of times the optional objectives make no sense in the parameters set up by the mission. Why would I air assassinate a particular person on a boat I am supposed to blow up? Why would I corner kill a few guards when I am trying to rescue prisoners and not be detected? it makes no sense and it really detracts from the main story and experience of the game. If you are a player that doesn’t care to 100% it these can be ignored which will help the game flow better. If you do want the 100% sync be prepared for a lot of unnecessary restarts.

One of the standout features of the game is the improved fighting system. Heavily inspired by the Batman games the fighting is visually slick and fun. Counters usually lead to easy kills on grunt level enemies while tougher foes will require more work. All it all it’s visually impressive and keeps the game moving quickly, unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games you won’t get bogged down in a fight for minutes on end.

The newest addition to the gameplay is the naval missions. Captaining a large vessel while coordinating cannon attacks is surprisingly fun. The fights can be very frenetic and exciting. Connor has a ship that is fully upgradable in a similar manner to upgrading businesses in previous AC games. This is a great bonus to the game that changes up the pace while adding some extra content.

Freerunning is back and as good as ever, replacing the urban vistas from previous games for the frontier and tree running. All in all it works well and feels familiar. It flows organically and allows the player to get to places on foot rather quickly.

A fine day for redcoats


Graphics: This game is pretty. It’s not the best looking game ever but it is the best looking AC game to date. Lighting is fantastic and visual detail put into the society is charming. There are times when defending against the redcoats with hundreds of characters on screen at once. It’s impressive to see a firing line followed by the fog of war from their muskets. Generally ACIII runs smooth without any major hiccups. In my playthrough there was some slight stutters occasionally, but not often.

Animations are fluid and all new, I didn’t see many reused movements from previous games which was nice. Some of the stylistic kills also look great.

The most visually pleasing parts of the game take place on the naval missions. Sailing through the Caribbean with the beautiful blue water and tropical islands around you as a tense cannon volley unfolds is stunning and one of the more memorable moments of the entire game.

While shadows are a little jaggedy and movement of NPC characters can be stiff the overall experience is impressive at capturing the look and feel of Colonial America.

Multiplayer: If you have played the Brotherhood or Revelations online kill-a-thons you will be right at home. The premise is simple (depending on game mode) you are in a map with NPCs walking around and some real players, you are assigned a target to kill, someone will be assigned to kill you. The real nuance of this mode is trying to look like an NPC and not some death dealing jerk from hell. The mode can be fun and is a nice break from the FPS multiplayer games that rule the roost. It can be frustrating at points but worth a few hours of your time.

The newest mode this year is Wolfpack mode which is a co-operative online game type that is strangely addicting. The premise is simple, up to four players can team up to score points by killing NPCs. The trick is there are different tiers, you hit a tier by getting certain amount of points all the while a time is counting down. When the timer hits zero the match is over. By getting kills and climbing tiers you extend the time you have to play. Its a mildly addictive mode and a blast to play with friends.

Characters can level up and unlock new abilities and titles along with the option to change the outfits and looks of the characters. All very standard multiplayer mechanics but they do help give a sense of customization and addiction to keep coming back.

Overall: I enjoyed ACIII but I can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more. The story feels unimportant and the ending leaves a lot to be desired. Still anyone who has been a fan of the series owes it to themselves to see it through and close out the storyline. The combat is fun and the naval additions give the campaign some legs while the multiplayer can be a viable way to spend some time.

Seeing the end of the Desmond saga could have been better.

8/10

Final Fantasy, Video Game Crack

I have recently been very jaded with video games, and as such have started to delve into my older games. I started playing Final Fantasy IX and then jumped into Final Fantasy VII. I am not sure what the draw of this series is, but I can play of the SNES or PS era Final Fantasy games and be enthralled.

I have often wondered why that is. I don’t think that it is necessarily one element as much as the sum of its parts. The music is one piece of the game that is always brilliant. I often listen to some of the sound tracks outside of the game and love them, they are melodic and catchy, on top of reminding me of specific parts of the game.

I also love the stories of the games. Yes I know some of the story lines can get convoluted. And often the game pulls a new nemesis at the last hour but the characters and stories are memorable despite them becoming the basis of a lot of stereotypes found in today’s games.

I know I am not the only one who loves this series, but lately it has been taking a shit-kicking in the mainstream media because of some game play mechanics utilized in Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. I remember the glory days of this series and still hope they return to it. 

Here’s hoping for a great Final Fantasy FFXV

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