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Thursday, 17 September 2015 13:40

Win 2 tickets to Panic Mountain from Zombiecast

Zombie Cast and Panic Mountain are sending 12, 2-man teams in the Los Angeles area to HELL! You could win two tickets for the “Panic Mountain” zombie apocalypse survival event, including free cabin accommodations and meal (a $350 value!). Camp overnight in San Bernadinom CA and see if you have what it takes survive a Zombie Apocalypse. Avoid the horde, run for your life, and use a 700-foot zip line to escape! If you're in the Los Angeles Area and over 18, send us your team details and let us know why you want to go at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Enter now – you may be one of the lucky ones! For more, check out this Panic Mountain video

Published in ZombieCast Blog

talesfromtheborderlandsep1 review

Developer / Publisher: Telltale Games

Tales from Borderlands is rich with wonder and mystery, but the most nagging question you'll be asking throughout this point-and-click version of Pandora is, what's the point?

There's the obvious answer, of course: this is a Telltale game; and after knocking it out of the park with The Walking Dead (and to a lesser extent The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones), the studio has earned a reputation for spinning pop culture franchises into point-and-click gold. Then there's the fact Gearbox Software's Borderlands universe – like Telltale's past muses – is teeming with new and interesting stories to tell.

This explains why Telltale picked Borderlands and why any gamer with good taste should feel compelled to check it out. Still, after 4 hours of half heartedly tapping one or two buttons through the series' debut episode, Zer0 Sum, you might yet have trouble determining what kind of game Tales From Borderlands wants to be (or if it even wants to be a game at all).

Borderlands Rhys

Whatever it is, Tales from Borderlands has style. Gearbox's off-kilter universe is captured with almost pitch perfect accuracy, and Zer0 Sum sets up an odd-ball, over-the-top, sci-fi adventure that fits in snugly with Borderlands lore. In it, you'll split your time between playing two characters, Rhys and Fiona, who cross paths after a Vault Key purchase goes south. Despite their seemingly disparate backgrounds – Rhys being a Hyperion employee out for petty revenge and Fiona being a Pandoran scam artist out for a quick buck – both are the kind of lovable rogues who have a knack for falling ass-backwards into ridiculous situations. Which they do. A lot.

Borderlands Fiona

To say anything more would be giving away some of the game's many satisfying twists and surprises. Needless to say, events in Zer0 Sum have a way of snowballing from bad to “holy crap we're dead” real fast and you'll run into more than a few Borderlands celebrities along the way (spoiler: one of them is in the episode's title).

It's a good thing the story is so strong, too, because despite the game's efforts to cast gamers in a meaningful role, Zer0 Sum saves the best scenes for itself. Yeah, you'll see loads of interesting people and locations and you'll witness a fair share of action scenes, but your actual part in the whole mess is largely reduced to bare-bones QTE events, extremely light puzzle solving (move box, enter vent), and pointing Rhys or Fiona in the direction of the next dialogue sequence.

Borderlands Talk

To be fair, when Zer0 Sum takes a shot at being a game, it does it well. An intense Loader Bot battle at the beginning hints at more twitch-shooting sequences to come, and the final “boss” encounter succeeds at making rote QTE actions feel important. Aside from these rare moments of gameplay, however, Zer0 Sum still feels as though it's happy doing its own thing while occasionally looking back at the screen and saying, “Oh, you're still here? Fine, press this.”

Borderlands LoaderBot

More troubling still is that when the game remembers you're in the room, your actions don't appear to amount to much. In one seemingly do-or-die stealth scenario, for example, you'll be instructed to sneak up on a guard, subdue him with a QTE sequence, and hack a nearby terminal. That all sounds dangerous and game-ending, except failure to correctly pull off the QTE event (or even press a single button) results in the enemy killing himself. Oh, and that potentially cool hacking mini-game? Here's a protip: select “hack”.

Borderlands Weapons


Even your dialogue choices don't appear to have much influence – at least, not yet anyways. Despite the game's warning that everything Rhys or Fiona says will have a ripple effect on the events to come, and even though the game displays a “so-and-so will remember that” reminder after nearly every dialogue scene, there's little evidence that anyone is listening.

For instance, in one scene I was role-playing Rhys as a complete asshole, yet was later told I couldn't be trusted because I act too professional. In another, I was given an elaborate background story that I was told – in no uncertain terms – was vital to earning the trust of a Pandoran outlaw. Out of curiosity, I decided to flunk every one of his questions to see how he would react and if it was indeed possible to “lose”. Sure enough, instead of eating a bullet or failing the scene, an excuse was made on my behalf by another character and the game continued along as if I'd bothered to take my objective seriously.

In short: if dialogue choices really matter, Zer0 Sum does little to prove it. Likely, my idiot role-playing will come back to bite me in the ass later, but in this episode they don't carry much weight.

So if the most of the real action leaves players sidelined, and there are virtually no puzzles to solve, and the dialogue mechanic is more-or-less window dressing, the question remains: what's the point? After all, there are not shortage of Borderlands games that scratch the itch for real action, and there are plenty of Telltale games that offer more to do. The optimist in me believes the point is that Zer0 Sum is merely laying the groundwork for what will become a larger, more involved adventure (and indeed, you get the impression it is). The cynic in me, however, thinks Telltale coded a wonderfully engaging Borderlands movie and remembered at the very end that they were suppose to be making a game.

Borderlands Boss

Thankfully, Zer0 Sum's story is strong enough to generate interest for the next episode, and those brief flashes of gameplay are compelling enough to keep fans on the hook. That said, if this debut episode is indeed supposed to be an opening tutorial of sorts, here's hoping Telltale takes the training wheels off soon.

6.5/10

Published in Xbox 360
Friday, 02 May 2014 00:00

Moebius: Empire Rising (PC)

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interest. She is the writer behind many classic Sierra Online games and the creator of the Gabriel Knight adventure games. Recently she has taken to Kickstarter to back two games. The first of those two games has been released, Moebius: Empire Rising.

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interestMoebius: Empire Rising is a point and click adventure that tells the tale of Malachi Rector, an antiques and art appraiser. He is very intelligent and sharp eyed in his chosen profession. He is also something of an aloof snob and an ass. He is hired by semi-secretive organization (F.I.T.A.), run by a man named Amble Dexter, to go to Venice to investigate a murdered woman and determine what historical figure her life most resembles. While there he is attacked by ninjas who then scan all of the information he has on the murdered woman. He reports back to Dexter that, while her life closely resembled Livia Drusilla, she did not match completely.

moebius 07

Working for himself again Malachi is next in Cairo to appraise ancient artifacts from a mummy's tomb. While there he saves ex-special forces American, David Walker, from the same ninjas who attacked him in Venice. He decides to hire David as a bodyguard. In many ways David is a typical American, blonde haired, blue eyed, jock, who likes to tell bad jokes. (How many Special Forces soldiers does it take to change a light bulb? Sorry that's classified information.) When the ninjas attack a third time Malachi and David are able to stand their ground and fight them off. He finishes his business in Cairo and returns to New York.

Malachi believes the ninjas are part of something bigger and asks to meet with Amble Dexter. He is surprised when Dexter insists that Malachi bring David to the meeting. At the meeting Dexter reveals that F.I.T.A. believes in Roman philosopher, Paramedes’, theory that everyone is an "echo" of someone in the past. From there the story takes some strange twistsNot like reincarnation where a person was someone else but now living a new life, but that same person living the same life event for event in a new generation. Their overall goal is to make Senator Markam, whom they believe is the echo of Augustus Caesar and will bring hundreds of years of prosperity to America, the next United States President. Malachi agrees to help in their endeavor.

From there the story takes some strange twists from a detective adventure towards one of a more supernatural vein.

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The mechanics of Moebius: Empire Rising is pretty standard and sound for a point and click adventure. No major problems arose when I used the controls. It does have a quirky playing feature. In most point and click adventures you can pick up and carry almost anything. In Moebius: Empire Rising, you can’t just pick up whatever you want and carry it around. Certain items needed for a puzzle can’t be picked up until you hit the right “trigger point” that will allow you to pick up that item. This causes a lot of backtracking during game play. The oddest of which is when you try to get into a VIP tent to meet Senator Markam. You practically go from one end of Manhattan to the other, working back and forth gathering the items you need. By some strange coincidence the Senator's rally lasts just long enough for you to do all this and then ends the moment you walk into the VIP tent. It's a slight stretch of your suspension of disbelief, but it’s not a game breaker.

The graphics are where the breaks start happening. Moebius: Empire Rising has anexaggerated comic book look that turns into the late 2000's video game style. All the characters have long thin limbs, except David who looks in normal proportion. The style is fine. It's clipping and other effects that fail. Feet go through floors, legs sometimes twist in unnatural ways, and at one point Malachi moves a chair, but he doesn't actually grab the chair as it magically moves, his hand floats on top of it and the whole thing shifts. Little things like this took me out of the game. The worst offender was the water reflections. Now in the background things like trees and buildings that didn't have as much definition are reflected fine. It was when characters stood next to the water with their backs to it. The reflection was not their backside reflected, nope. It was a complete recreation of their front. So unless everyone has their face on the front and back of their head, something's not right here. The first time I saw it I thought the game was going into a dream sequence of some sort.

moebius 08

I do have to give great praise to Moebius: Empire Rising's voice actors. They turn in some fine performances. I think the real audio gem though is Jane Jensen's husband, composer Robert Holmes. Robert provides a great soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place in a Hollywood spy thriller.


Moebius: Empire Rising's story starts a bit slow, but by the third and fourth chapters things start getting interesting enough that I want to see how it will end. Malachi is a really hard hero to cheer on. His aloof attitude never really endears himself to the player. The only thing that makes him seem to have a heart is subtle underlying relationship between him and David. At one point David tells Malachi that he is meeting Malachi's assistant, Gretchen, at a nightclub. Malachi asks that David not get involved with his only other employee, to which David replies, "She's not my type." At the nightclub David hints around that he's not interested in Gretchen. Towards the end of the conversation Gretchen tells David point blank to not get too close to Malachi, that, "he will break your heart." The possible gay romance never really moves up from a subtle possibility. It gets to a point where you wish it they would either just come out with it or drop it.

Jane Jensen can tell an interesting tale in a video game still, but there seem to be some stray parts to Moebius: Empire Rising that just doesn't pull me in. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good gameA main character I have a hard time caring for and a subtle romance that doesn't go anywhere are things that push me away from a game. Throw in graphical elements that completely take me out of the game and we are starting to have real problems. I have to say the puzzles hold things together fairly well, but an adventure game needs more than just puzzles to engage a player. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good game and you can see where Jane Jensen wants to take it, but as a whole it falls to the middle of the road. If you're a fan of Jane Jensen or point and click style games it might be worth it, but it's a pass otherwise.

Published in PC
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 10:07

AG @ E3 : The Walking Dead 400 Days

TellTale Games has released a suitably creepy trailer for their next episode of the Walking Dead adventure game, 400 Days. It takes a look at the characters you'll be meeting in the episode along with a glimpse of a few of the action scenes. {youtube}

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{vsig}stories/walkingdead400days{/vsig}

Published in All Games Blog

After the phenomenal three episodes of Telltales “The Walking Dead: Season 2”, it was about time that we experienced our 'breather' episode. Just like any form of episodic storytelling, there comes a time where events seem to slow down in order for the audience to catch their breath.

Although this episode has turned down the excitement factor a notch, that doesn't mean to say that we weren't treated to a lack of drama. The stakes were as high as ever for Clementine and her rag tag group, but for the majority of Episode 4 we were experiencing the calmer side to the zombie apocalypse with intermittent bursts of violence and difficult choices.

Throughout the episode, we experienced Clementine dealing with loss once more. Telltale has become renowned for making each death feel purposeful to the narrative as well as the consequences. As an audience we become attached to the supporting cast, which in turn makes each decision all the more gut wrenching and saddening.

However, 'Amid the Ruins' fails to capitalise on the successes of previous episodes, and manages to make each consequence feel cheap and lacking any form of emotional depth. It's almost as if the writers realised the supporting cast was too big for their story, and used Episode 4 as an excuse to get rid of the extra baggage.

twd ep4 standoff

Characters were dropping like flies left and right in rapid succession. So rapid in fact, that there was hardly any time to dwell on the choices you made; and in some instances the characters vanished off screen, leaving you feeling unsatisfied and previous episode choices hollow and unnecessary.

Moving on from the unsatisfying take on character deaths, we see Clementine spending the majority of the episode with the unknown character Jane who we met in Episode 3. Through Jane we get a chance to witness the pros (and cons) of surviving as an individual, which brings up the question of how important it is to have family in this new world. Should Clementine be bogged down with the groups responsibilities or take the route of Jane? It's almost as if Jane is what Clementine would be if she went alone and turned her back on the group.

The majority of tensions and conflicts that arose in previous episodes were disappointingly swept under the rug as the group began to focus on new problems. Unfortunately, that made me question whether or not my previous choices made an impact and dampened the idea that previous decisions would effect future episodes.

On top of these minor inconveniences throughout Episode 4, there were some brilliant scenes between Clementine and specific characters. One such scene revolving around suicide and the other concerning the decision to leave someone behind. Again as brilliant as these scenes were, they were never fully resolved and instead swept under the rug and replaced with new dilemmas.

twd ep4 kennysarita

Overall, Episode 4 of Telltales 'The Walking Dead: Season 2' was a lacklustre effort from the storytellers. Previous decisions and consequences felt useless and evaporated without resolution, only to be replaced with new problems that Clementine had little influence on.

These nagging problems overshadowed some key scenes that proved once again how brilliant the writers of the game are. Although the suspense from the previous episodes has all but fizzled out, I am still hopeful that the Season 2 finale will do the game justice.

 

Published in PC
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 00:00

The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter - Review [PC]

 Please Note: This review does not contain any spoilers.

Lately there has been this push in game development to move beyond the formulaic nature of what big name publishers think works in video games.  It doesn't take too long to see the slew of complaints coming out of major titles these days: the explanation of game mechanics is too long, pacing is terrible, show don't tell, cutscenes are not a great method of storytelling.  From the presence of these forumlas and subsequent gripes, there has been born a new style that I like to refer to as a "just play" game.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter doesn't tell you a back story, it doesn't tell you what to do, it simply has one initial message that tells you it's an unguided free-form experience and then lets you go.  While I'm sure most gamers will get the jist of what's expected and what to do, I'm sure there are some people out there who will simply freak out and not be able to handle a game where their progress isn't being tracked, where there are no goals or achievements, and where at any given moment you have no idea what to do.  If you are one of those people, just turn away now because you will never find solace with Ethan Carter.  On the other hand, if you just want a lush, gorgeous world to explore and in the end get rewarded with a thought-provoking experience that almost never has to concede to game mechanics, then this could be up your alley.

voec 1

You enter the game on a forest-covered path as detective Paul Prospero, who immediately explains that he has supernatural abilities that assist you in discovering what has happened in the town of Red Creek Valley.  It was just as easy to imagine myself as the protagonist and the voice of Prospero merely lending the narration,  but regardless of how you want to view it this is the point where your journey begins.  It's a bit jarring to be dropped into a forest with no indication as to what's going on or what you are supposed to do and with each clue of the game's handful of mechanics and potential puzzles I found myself getting more confused and a bit overwhelmed.  Don't let this discourage you, enough people have played through it and made it out on the other side to assure that eventually you will make the progress you need.  Exploration in this title is so wonderful thanks first and foremost to the game's gorgeous graphics.  Built on the Unreal Engine, it looks almost photorealistic.  Everything from the backdrops to the textures of the ground are handled with the utmost care and the attention to detail must have been a pain for developer the Astronauts to assemble, but the payoff is a world that looks alive and never pulls back the veil to reveal its artificial nature.  The trade off for such wonderful graphics is that you will want a decent graphics card to support them, which my GTX 760 2 GB did a decent job of keeping up with in 1080p although I had to drop a few settings from the highest.  You may notice a random stutter or framerate drop, but the forums on Steam have found a decent solution and the rest can be chocked up to limitations of the Unreal Engine streaming in the next area.  If you're moving at a regular pace and trying to take in everything it's not all that noticeable, but if you find yourself having to backtrack - which you should prepare to have to do - it can be a bit of a nuisance.  Graphics aside the accompaniment of ambient sound effects and a subtle ochestral music assist in the richness of the world, yet again encouraging you to get out there an explore.  

voec 3That's not to say that The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is all about wandering about in the woods looking at minutia, because I would have led that this was an art exhibit instead of a game if that were the case.  It presents itself as a mystery and that comes with it the inclusion of investigation, puzzle solving, and naturally wandering upon grounds where you might not be welcome.  Something has clearly happened in Red Creek Valley and it isn't long before you start to see hints of the past emerge to make your earn the title of detective.  It's at this point that one of this title's main flaws appear in full effect: without guidance you have almost no way of knowing when you have completed an area or puzzle.  Logic dictates the game will give you some sort of indication that you are done, which this game does, but when you go in blind and with no direction you could easily assume it may not.  Couple that with the initial tasks of the game being somewhat complicated and you almost wonder if the point was to eventually have you backtrack to complete what you started.  I don't like to return to areas I've already been and I view it as even more of a misstep when the backtracking works to remind me that I'm playing a game, complete with its experiential limitations.  For all  the work The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does to immerse you, it almost seems misguided when a player can bypass a significant mechanic and plot point only to be forced to spent long stretches returning to clean up that mistake later.  Perhaps it was a concious decision or perhaps the Astronauts were unsure how to balance explaining these early concepts without breaking the ultimate goal of letting the player lead the experience, but either way it's quite a setback.  In all honesty I had to restart the game within the first two hours when I realized what I had left behind and thought about how long I would have to retread my steps to clean things up.  I also discovered from breaking my experience into three different sittings that the checkpoint system is a bit broken and works more like a bookmark of new accomplishments as opposed to the save location that you will begin when playing again.  What I mean is that I could see the familiar "scene saving" message on the screen (there's no direct saving or loading on this game) and quit out, but when I restart later I'm dropped in a completely different part of the map where I last accomplished something new and might have to spend minutes if not tens of minutes returning to where I left off.  If you perform all the duties that an area has available to you before moving on the system should work like a true checkpoint, but from my experience you will often have to return to clean things up and at that point may checkpoint yourself far from where you want to go next.  It might surprise you to discover that as annoying and blasphemous as these factors may be, they hindered but didn't ruin my experience of what is otherwise an enchanting work.

voec 2

Once these intial hiccups are overcome and you are getting work done in Red Creek Valley, the subsequent events make it all worth it.  Each encounter or puzzle will make you think, but I never found myself stuck for too long nor was I unable to figure out what I was being asked to do.  You realize just how much testing must have gone on to throw people into an unexplained situation and yet give them enough subtext that they are able to easily navigate provided that they just allow themselves to stop and think about it.  As my momentum through the campaign grew I was rewarded with both plot and design twists that kept me hooked.  If you can't already tell from the screen shots it's a slightly eerie and ominous game from start to finish.  I also never worried about how much I had played or how much game I had left while traversing the story.  I just kept playing as long as I was entertained and when I got tired I would stop, but it wasn't long before I felt the pull to return and complete the mystery.  By the end of the game's approximate 4-6 hour journey, I was pleasantly pleased with the outcome both in terms of the story and looking back at The Vanishing of Ethan Carter from a macro perspective.  Some may find that this length is short, but I felt it was as long as it needed to be and may have been in danger of wearing out its welcome had it been padded down with additional content.  There's no doubt about it, this is a thought-provoking experience that will leave you wanting to talk about it with someone. If you're craving something fresh, look no further than The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

Final Score: 8/10

A review copy was provided by the developer for review purposes.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is available on Steam for $19.99 and should be released on PS4 early 2015.  It took the reviewer 5 hours to complete with an overall playtime of approximately 7 hours.  

Published in PC

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Episode 3 “In Harms Way”

After the bombshell that was the second episode in Telltale's stellar video game series The Walking Dead, we immediately move forward without being able to stop and think about the choices you chose previously. Which is a good thing, as the second episode did shake me up a little and I began to question my own moral compass and how devastating the narrative has been on poor Clementine.

twd 203 hoard

Episode two was all about the action and raising the stakes, where as episode three is more focused on the psychological and emotional breaking points of each character. All seems to be lost as Carver has captured the group and is taking them back to his place of safety.

The writer of this episode (Pierre Shorette) really does push the player to his/her own emotional brink, and has created some brilliantly sadistic and uncomfortable scenes that again not only questions Clementine and the supporting casts actions, but also the players actions and moral compass.

The episode itself manages to be fresh and unpredictable. Even right up to its climax it still wasn't apparent if the group were going to make it to safety. The shift from all out action to the emotional and psychological was handled superbly and was just as gripping.

twd 203 captured

I feel that In Harms Way was probably the most bleakest of any of the franchise episodes to date, and any form of optimism is immediately quashed by the continuous moral choices faced by Clementine.

The ever present, menacing character that is the brilliant Carver continuously raises the stakes for our group and provides the necessary roadblocks that Clementine and co have to overcome, not only to plan an escape, but just to survive in general. His ruthless control over the community is brilliantly played out through the entire episode. Every interaction with Carver was unpredictable and an uneasy affair.

Carver has been such a huge presence on and off screen that I found myself playing Clementine in a slightly different light. I originally set out to sculpt her into a cold hearted, bitter eleven year old who never trusted anyone. However, with the introduction of Carver I found myself siding with the group and being a little warmer to her relationships with each group member.

All because of the huge effect Carver has on the episode as a whole. So huge in fact, that for the first time in a long time I genuinely wanted to see this character dead and wiped off the face of the earth.

This then sets up a fantastic ending to the character and you genuinely do find yourself throwing all compassion out the window and dishing out cold blooded justice.

twd 203 carver

The episode itself ends openly in that as the player, you have literally no idea what's in store for Clementine and the rest of the group. That made the ending all the more unnerving and your choices more important as the unpredictability of the series continues.

Overall, episode three was a different beast to the action packed episode two. Your moral choices and dialogue options felt more important in this episode than ever before. The unpredictability of Carver heightens everything to its maximum, and the episode itself ends in such an open way that I will be worried for Clementine's future until episode four is released.

Published in PC
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 00:00

Thief Review (PS4)

thief review 

By Matt Bradford

The City is in shambles, its leaders corrupt, and its people are dropping like flies. One thief possesses the skills and guile to set things right, but he (and by extension, you) will have to wade through a hot mess of an adventure before the day is won.

And yes, Thief is a hot mess. It's the kind that offers just enough to keep you interested, but ultimately leaves you wondering if you're enjoying the ride or holding out for the game you think/hope it can become. To be fair, Square Enix's Thief revival has its bright spots. These, however, are few and far between, and only hardcore fans (or those who haven't played a stealth game in ten years) will stick around long enough to see them shine.

This game again...?

thief 1

The setup is enticing (if not entirely familiar). After a botched job puts Garrett and his partner Erin out of commission, our hero awakes from a year-long coma to find Erin missing and The City in ruins. A disease called the Gloom is eating away at its (very few) residents and the powers-that-be seem more concerned with plotting nefarious deeds than doing their jobs. Can you guess which grumbly-voiced criminal reluctantly decides to save the day?

Swap Gloom with Rat Plague, The City with Dunwall, and Garrett's “focus” powers with Corvo's supernatural abilities, and the comparisons to Dishonored are hard to ignore. Both share a breezy, first person style; embrace similar themes; and accommodate the same “choose your own playstyle” approach to mission objectives (hell, both even have a brothel, mansion, and derelict factory mission to boot). But where Dishonored injects its dystopian fantasy land with a sense of energy, color, and style, Thief remains relentlessly bleak and lifeless at nearly every turn.

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Take, for instance, The City; Thief's central hub wherein Garrett will spend his downtime running odd jobs and filling his pockets with shiny objects (don't bother asking who he's selling them too or why everyone is poor and yet The City is overflowing with expensive silverware). While nicely detailed and peppered with secrets, it is aggressively bland and void of life. It is a bleak patchwork of locked doors, empty rooms, dead ends, and random loading screens; and its districts offer little variety beyond “dilapidated row of buildings” to “dilapidated row of buildings with a gate”. What few NPCs you will encounter are barely animated puppets who offer little aside from repeated lines of dialogue and the occasional pickpocketing opportunity.

On the upside, The City contains a great number of hidden rooms and secret areas. On the downside, you'll find it hard to give a crap. Truly, the first time you crack open a window and slip in to rob some poor schmuck's bedroom, you'll get a sense that Garrett has hours of thief-like instances just waiting to be found. And then, once it becomes obvious none of these areas are inhabited or pose any real threat beyond the occasional lock or trap, robbing these areas of their valuables becomes more of a chore than anything else. Once you see one empty living room with a nightstand and valuable watch, you'll have basically seen them all. Eventually, you won't even bother.

This sense of lifelessness extends to Garrett's missions. Like The City, Thief's mission locales are barely memorable, offering little to do beyond scour for scraps of paper (plot!) and whatever McGuffin you've been instructed to nab. Even The City's brothel, which should have been one of the more lively and enticing hotspots, is a boring maze of boring rooms, boring hallways, and “hostesses” who aren't so much skilled in the art of seduction as they are with rubbing awkwardly over their clients (and in some cases not moving at all). Here again, you'll spend a bulk of your time eluding the same guards, rummaging through the same drawers, opening the same treasure chests and eventually stumbling across a “hidden ancient secret” which--surprise surprise--is filled with ancient bookshelves, ancient drawers, and dustier versions of things you've seen before.

thief 2By the time Garrett's journey is through, you'll struggle to remember what it was all about. Mostly, because it gives you little reason to care, but also because Garrett himself is about as unlikable and compelling as his world. On brief occasions, you'll engage in an interesting puzzle or exhilarating (albeit heavily scripted) escape sequence. And sometimes you'll resist the temptation to skip a somewhat interesting cutscene (assuming you can put up with the noticeable frame rate drop). In the end, however, all these positive moments will do is make you realize Square Enix had the ability to make something impactful out of Thief, but fumbled along the way.

The lights are on, but no one's home

This being Thief, one would expect any shortcomings to be overshadowed by an expert stealth experience. After all, this is Thief; the series that inspired numerous stealth series when it debuted in 1998. By extension, this reboot should remind everyone how it's done. I mean, that's kind of the only reason a new Thief game should exist, right?

Yeah...about that...

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Stripped to its basics, Thief is barely more than a inflexible game of shadow and light. Move between the shadows and the world is yours for the taking (or clubbing). It doesn't matter if guards are looking directly at you, if said shadow is cast by one barrel in the middle of a bonfire, or if you're kneeling behind a waist-high statue. Thief's dark areas are magical zones that are invisible to enemies despite the fact that there is a full-grown human who is clearly squatting one foot away from you rifling through a noisy drawer.

On the occasion you do step into the light, expect everyone within a square mile radius to notice. Thankfully, Thief's enemies are mostly idiots, so these situations will rarely end in failure. It's entirely possible to skip stealth altogether and run directly towards the objective, as enemies are easily duped and will always give up the chase for very little reason. Guards on your tail? Duck into the nearest room. Rebels on your back? Climb a ladder and watch as they forget what they were searching for. Better yet, just hightail it for that glowing ball or important door standing between you and the next area. Guards are a-OK with letting you slip through to the next sequence without raising alarm or continuing their attack. Maybe they're union guards? Who knows. Except one of the lines you'll hear time and time again is, “He 'aint my problem anymore”. But actually, yes, he's your only problem.

In some ways, Thief is unintentionally funny to watch. On one occasion, a jeweller caught me red-handed in his dimly lit workshop. As I crouched in place to plot my escape, he back away in fear and soon returned to pacing the workshop in search of the dastardly thief who barely escaped his grasp. This happened four more times as I proceeded to rob him blind, and even when he finally called a guard to come investigate, I was able to scale a nearby walkway and shake my head as both he and the guard gave up the hunt after zero investigation. And then, on another occasion, I stormed the side entry of a mansion with my crossbow a-blazing, only to lose every last one of my pissed-off pursuers by ducking behind a crate. In a dead end.

In short: Garrett's enemies are morons. Or lazy. Or both. Even the game's paranormal foes who can sense Garrett's focus moves are easily avoided with slow movements and shadow hopping. It's sad, too, because judging by the abilities and weaponry Garrett has at his disposal, you're constantly aware that you can (and should) be trying harder. In actuality, the game has a way of making you over-confident in your ability to outwit enemies and find paths which may as well read “Stealth Route Here.” Don't want to deal a room full of guard? Look an inch to your left for a shiny blue grapple point or one of the many conveniently placed vents. Better yet, just run for it; it'll all be over quicker.

Thief's AI was so lacking that I started wondering if the real game was hidden elsewhere in either its Master Thief or custom difficult mode (the latter of which lets you define your own rules). And while guards do adopt heightened senses, they are still easily tricked and outrun. So you'll still be compelled to run around, but you'll likely suffer more bolts to the face than usual.

thief 3Death from a thousand annoyances

It's not just problematic AI and uninspired design that bury Thief's rare moments of inspiration. It's the little things. Things like choppy cut-scenes (on a digital download for PS4), characters that repeat the same animations ad nauseam during conversations, or the countless times you'll hear voices that sound like they're in the same room only to discover you're hearing rogue snippets of dialogue from someone outside and a street away. It's the abnormally long load screens which you'll never see coming, waist high objects you can't scale, arrow abilities that look cool but are never needed, and a slippery PS4 touchscreen inventory system that'll discourage you from using items altogether. It's side quests that offer more of the same, bonus thief challenges that break all the rules in all the wrong places, unituitive mission objectives (curse you, vault!), and brief moments of “hey, this is kind of neat” which last just long enough to keep you on the job.

To steal a line from one of thief's own guards, “I have better things to do”. Surely, Thief is a functional game—and it'll do in a pinch--but there are better games to play. Games like Dishonored, which has oodles more style and finely-tuned gameplay; Assassin's Creed, which has richer worlds to explore; Uncharted, which has a better story and characters to latch on to; and Splinter Cell or Metal Gear, which outpace Thief's stealth mechanics in every way.

Truly, Thief should have been the game that redefined its genre, as its ancestors did years ago. It should have been the technically superior next-gen title early adopters could wave in the face of their last-gen friends (who also have their own version). It should have been...better? Instead, Square Enix's reboot barely comes off as a half-baked Thief clone, which is really the biggest crime of all.

 5.5/10

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Published in Playstation 4

Poor old Clementine. Those three words sum up the entirety of The Walking Dead's young heroines premiere episode of Telltale's astounding episodic video game. Season 2 opens with a brutal introduction as to how Clementine has lost her innocence in the post-apocalyptic zombie infested North America. At first I was apprehensive about starting Season 2 of the Walking Dead, mainly because my original choices from Season 1 were locked away on my dusty Xbox360.

Reviewing these episodes on the PC, I began to wonder if the lack of a previous save would hinder my game play experience. I was wrong. The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1”All That Remains” gives the player an opportunity to create a new version of a beloved character that you once thought you knew inside and out.

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Telltale Games has managed to create a wonderful blend of cinematic storytelling with interesting game play. The foundations from Season 1 are still there, but now seem polished and easier to navigate. It seems like Telltale have used the success of their other property, “Wolf Among Us” to evolve their 'bread and butter' franchise into something better.

As The Walking Dead is leaning more towards a storytelling, cinematic experience, the existence of visual bugs is something I could easily forgive. However as episode 1 progressed, I did begin to feel that the storyline itself was becoming a little too vague. It was brilliant to be able to search through every scene and piece together some form of back story to each location; and the frantic button bashing that's deployed during the zombie fights were highly entertaining and did push me to the edge of my seat.

But, as each scene ended I did feel a little lost in the sense that I had no idea where this story was going. Once Clementine finds herself part of a rag tag group, it's difficult to try and gauge the wants and needs of each person. Being the eyes and ears of Clementine does limit the player into trying to figure out what's really going on in the bigger picture.

It is of course understandable that you cannot be privy to everyone's motivations by the end of the first episode, but a little more should have been handed to the player, if only to wet their appetite for things to come. It is apparent that a major threat is on the horizon but the ambiguity, mainly caused by controlling such a young character, forced the first episode to lose its sting out with the usual shocks of people dying and decisions being made.

Although in saying that, Telltale has done a wonderful job of pushing and pulling the main protagonist, Clementine, in ways that I never expected from a video game. After one episode, they truly have created some haunting scenes that rival any of Season 1's highlights. Dog lovers, watch out.

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Clementine herself is slowly shaping up to become a fully fleshed out character, no matter your choices. Some of the most satisfying dialogue options come from making Clementine sound like a mean badass. You really do see yourself creating a young, crazy, killer reminiscent of Natalie Portman's role in Leon.

Again, Telltale has pushed the boundaries of the players moral thinking via subtle conversational hooks. In season 1 we were faced with Lee having to either cut his arm off or execute a friend. In season 2, we find ourselves having to decide whether or not to execute a dog and also maliciously blackmailing a pregnant woman that you just met.

Overall, episode 1 has been a strong start to Telltale's season 2 of The Walking Dead. It's a brilliant insight into the struggles of a young woman dealing with the moral choices of a post-apocalyptic world. However, the overall story arc lacked substance and hopefully the up and coming episodes will flesh that area out.

Published in PC

 

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Tomb Raider:  Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider:  Definitive Edition - Unboxing

After playing part of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition video game for the first time, I have a three letter word to describe it --  "Wow!"  I preordered this game awhile back and have just now had the opportunity to play part of it.  When I received Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, starring Lara Croft on the release date in March, 2014 from Amazon.com, I did an unboxing of this game complete with pictures. I was that impressed by the artistry of the video game packaging which included a hard cover book with artwork from the game that is worthy of framing.  What was missing was a poster of Lara Croft in action as she braves the perils and tribulations of what it takes to survive.

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Tomb Raider Unboxed (game and book) with Pixelbot robot courtesy of DPL looking on 

Of course packaging is just that -- packaging.  What really counts about a video game, in my opinion, is the enjoyment that you experience from playing the game, whether your excitement for the game stems from the action, characters, story line, creativity of plot, or any number of other reasons.  If you ask me which of these choices Tomb Raider: Definitive Collection excelled in, I would have to say the character and the action.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Expectations 

When I slipped the physical video game disc in my PS4, and the Tomb Raider cover art showed on the screen, I was unsure what to expect.  I saw the previous version of this  game played during the holidays by my family member, and at that time, I was impressed by the realistic graphics, as well as the requirement to use logical thinking skills to advance in the game.  At that time, I was a bystander, just looking at the video game playing action, listening to the realistic sound effects as Lara Croft splashed her way through the deep seas, roamed forests, etc., to accomplish her missions.  Just as there is a saying "Seeing is believing" -- regarding video game playing I think there should be a saying "Playing is believing."  It is only by actually holding a video game controller, controlling and experiencing the actions of the video game characters yourself that, in my opinion, you can truly decide if you will not only play the video game again, but will also recommend others to play it as well.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Spoiler Alert

I am going to give you a spoiler alert here, just in case you have not played the game and want to experience the gameplay with the surprises and suspenseful moments in tact.  If you have not played Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, you may want to stop reading here, because the next sections I will be talking about my experiences with this video game, including how Lara Croft got through certain obstacles during the first part of the game, that you may prefer to figure out on your own. I played this game in the normal mode, vs. the easy or hard options. Also as a disclaimer, this review does not cover the complete video game -- only the first parts that I played.

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Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Actions/Adventures

I liked the action-packed movie introduction which included actions where Lara Croft seemingly spirals down a long drop before she reaches the bottom. She is visibly in pain, her clothing is soiled and she has blood all over her, including her face. Unfortunately, she also is hurt and has a sharp object jutting in her left side.  My first action in the gameplay was to use the controller to remove the shart object from hurting her -- which I succeeded in doing.  From then on  -- for the part of the game I played, Lara Croft moves throughout the video game environments, clutching her side with her right hand over the wound while in some cases holding a torch in her left hand.  But not to worry, as I played the game longer, eventually she felt well enough to remove her hand from her side, to regain use of both of her hands.  

As I continued to move her along the terrains, I had already decided that this was an exploratory type game, where you use the character to discover the surroundings. However, I stood to be corrected.  I found out soon enough that Lara Croft does a lot more than move around the environments.  Just when I was getting comfortable moving her through parts of the dark cave where she had landed, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, an enemy apppeared and tried to capture her.  I literally jumped when this happened, because this was totally unexpected. From then on, I knew this game would be adventurous and suspenseful.  After about three tries, I was able to get Lara Croft to fight off her enemy, and breathed a sigh of relief when within the small cave she was in, a door closed that blocked the enemy from entering.  

That one particular unexpected action got my adrenalin going.  I kept thinking what would happen next.  I had Lara Croft continue her adventures in the cave by having her to traverse treacherous waters where there was fire on one side of a waterfall and barrels of fuel on the other.  The problem was that in order to get out,  Lara Croft had to go through the waterfall while carrying her torch -- which of course did not work. The water would put out the fire each time, as expected.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Strategies

Throughout the game, you are given pictures of which buttons on the controller to push as well as information on the mission or environment that Lara Croft has entered. Also, when you push the L1 button on your controller, the environment turns to black and white and items that can help you to escape, etc. are lit up brighter than the others. Once you release the L1 button, the game actions, including the colors return.

I studied the environment and saw a hanging apparatus, as well as a street car-like vehicle on another level of the cave area. Both were lit or shined  brighter when I pushed the L1 button so I knew these items were required for her to escape. Also the square button would appear on the screen to push as barrels and boxes floated in the water. When I did so, the barrels would start burning and continued to float in the water.  To give you a visual of where she was during this part of the video game -- Lara Croft was in thrashing waters, among lots of burning boxes and barrels, with debris, old bottles, shoes etc. floating around with loud sounds of waves of water crashing through several areas.

To make a long story short,  I was unable to get Lara Croft to push the street car off the ramp or get her on the hanging apparatus.  This is the first part of the game where I got stuck.  After a phone call for advice, I went back to the game and tried again, this time using different actions to get her out of this cave-like atmosphere that had water and firey barrels and boxes everywhere.  I was unable to pile barrels beneath the hanging apparatus as suggested, so I tried a different strategy which surprisingly to me -- worked.  Somehow I got her into the hanging apparatus. She was unable to swing back and forth -- so I had her to jump from this apparatus. Then I had her to try once again to push the street car which by this time was full  of burning barrels.  Lo and behold -- this time the street car actually moved out of the way.  Previously, it would move just a little and then return to its original position.  When the street car moved, a multitude of actions seemed to happen all at once which resulted in her being in a totally different mountainous environment.  I had Lara Croft jump over mountains where she hung dangerously off tall cliffs. She also had to fight off another enemy in this environment. As a disclaimer -- The apparatus/street car scene actions I did when I played this game, may or may not work for you.  It may depend on the level of game that you are playing, i.e., easy, normal, hard -- or even some other reasons.

Now for the next adrenalin moment I experienced when playing the first section of Tomb Raider:: Definitive Edition.   When Lara Croft reached the mountains, she had to actually climb the mountains, by frantically clawing her way up.  To keep her from falling, I had to keep pushing the L2 and R2 buttons quickly at the same time.  I also had to move the left stick on the controller either right or left to have her dodge large, gigantic boulders before I got her to the top of the mountain.tombraider4  I tried numerous times to keep her from falling by pushing these buttons, even at one time turning the PS4 controller around so the L2 and R2 buttons were facing me.  However, I got her on the mountain-top and kept her away from the boulders by using the controller positioned in the normal way.  My fingers got a true workout here, and with the controller rumbling, the sound effects of her climbing up the mountains, and her gasping -- when she finally reached the top of the mountain, breathing heavily, I was doing just about the same thing.  I felt as if we had both shared a victory at that point, and felt quite exhilarated that she had made it up the mountain safely.  

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Likes and Dislikes

Here's  what I liked and did not like about the part of the game I played.  I liked the realistic video game graphics, where the grass moved with the wind. I liked that the game started over close to the part where you may have tried to complete a mission, instead of starting all over again.   I liked the sound effects including the sounds of the rushing waters that in some ways can be a nice sound to listen to, but can also be frightening as well -- especially if the character is on a high mountain, looking down in deep, thrashing waters.   The voice acting, was ok; however, in some of the scenes, the voice actor was difficult to understand, and when the character fell from a tall mountain, I personally think that she could have screamed more realistically.  Also the illustration of the character can be improved in some of the scenes, because in some, her face seems to be swollen at her jaws -- not in all scenes -- but in some.  I liked the realistic movement of the character's eyes, as well as the expression she had which signaled that she was at a loss as to what to do in certain situations -- however, she was able to figure things out. I also liked the voice commands where you actually speak your options, such as showing the maps, pausing etc. 

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition - Highly Recommended

If you have not played this game, and enjoy playing adventure, action games, I highly recommend you play Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on your PS4.  If you do not have a PS4, you may be interested to know that Tomb Raider is currently free to play on the PS3 for PS plus members.  I also have a PS3 -- but I was happy to play this game on my PS4 where I was able to use the new features of the PS4 and experience the improved graphics and sound qualities.

I'm looking forward to playing more of this game as well as seeing and experiencing via video game play the other adventures/missions Lara Croft will encounter in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is rated M for Mature and is playable on the PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows PC and Mac.

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Published in Playstation 4
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