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farmingsimulatorreview

With games like Euro Truck Simulator and Goat Simulator out there, it’s easy to be dismissive of the growing simulation space.  Simulator games are making quite the comeback but, as with anything else, you have great content and then there’s the stuff that’s…  Questionable.  Farming Simulator 15, I would say, is of the foremost camp.  The game may not be on most gamers' radars but, if you give it a real shot, you may very well fall in love.  So let's get into the nitty-gritty of this wonderful country romp!

 This gem by Giants Software comes from a long line of blue collar simulation games, particularly Demolition Company and Ski Region Simulator.  Farming Simulator is their flagship property and it shows.  If I’m not mistaken, this is only their third or fourth installment in the increasingly popular franchise.  The depth and attention to detail is significant and you can tell this is a game developed with love.

Farming Simulator is significant to me because it is representative of a paradigm shift in video games.  We’re going back to games that are not shooters or visceral, visually-pleasing experiences with no substance.  Simulations were huge in the 80s and 90s (arguably during the 70s too..  like that space simulator on the Atari 2600 with the really nifty peripherals), particularly with flight and war simulators, but then they disappeared, alongside point-and-click adventures and FMV games.  This excites me and the fact that gamers are voting with their wallets is even more encouraging.  We need more innovation, risk-taking, and variety in the video game industry because, let's face it, all the big studios are regurgitating the same old thing.  To that end, Farming Simulator certainly delivers a unique, memorable experience.

Today, simulator games seem to be on the rise, much like we have seen with MMOs, MOBAs, and TCG/CCGs.  While the space is rather saturated, it seems like the demand is there and Farming Simulator does a great job of carving out it’s own little niche.  Can you name another game that lets you operate over 140 different vehicles and brings the farm of your dreams to life (virtually)?  I can’t.

 

Farming Simulator 15 First Impressions

Going into Farming Simulator 15, I was worried the skill cap would be too high yet I was more eager than anything else.  While I will always be a New Yorker at heart, making me a city slicker for life I suppose, I spent a lot of time on farms and the countryside as a kid.  Some of my fondest memories include watching chicks conga line with their mother hen, waking up to the coos of a very eager rooster (at aroun 4am every day), and having an angry chicken poop on my shoulder.  Oh, we can’t forget the time that a goat tried to eat my little brother...  Sadly, he did not succeed.  All jokes aside, I truly appreciated the opportunity to review this game and revisit simpler times.

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

In any case, jumping into the game was easy.  In Career mode, you have two regions:  Bjornholm or Westbridge Hills.  The former is best if you want to go through the tutorial and get a full tour.  The tutorial did a good job walking you through the basics without becoming a total drag.  Westbridge Hills is better if you want freedom - ‘MERICA!!!  Bjornholm offers a persistent tour with tool tips and in-world prompts to walk you through the various features, locations, and core mechanics.  If you want more challenge or immersion, Westbridge Hills is the way to go.  You don't have to be American to appreciate this region - look how purdy it is!

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

After choosing your region, you can choose a difficulty.  I recommend Easy if you want more creative freedom and opportunities to explore.  Normal and Hard increase the amount of debt and, by extension, operational overhead you have to offset with revenues.  If you ask me, I don’t want to simulate my own life so starting off in debt doesn’t sound like fun.  For the masochists out there, sure, go with Hard mode.  Oh, and easy means you can hire illegal immigrants or outsource jobs overseas to save a buck.  That's the American way, amirite?

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

I spent my first hour or two cultivating land, sowing seeds, harvesting, and then going across town to sell my crops.  Along the way, I noticed different icons on the minimap and HUD.  There are places where you can drop off surplus items for quick cash (more on that later).  Everything else you either store or sell right away in the appropriate buildings.  The strategy here is to sell when the rates are good but not wait so long that your storage maintenance and crop freshness get ruined.

 From what I could gather, the initial run in any career will revolve heavily around sowing and harvesting corn and wheat.  Radishes and other crops require more specialized equipment and investment thereof.  You also have livestock/cattle in the form of sheep, chicken, and cows.  Chickens are your best bet due to their low upkeep and the steady supply of eggs that you can resell.

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

After going through a few cycles of the basic cultivate-sow-harvest, I did more exploration.  My suspicions seemed confirmed.  The game only opens up fully once you repeat the core farm operations and expand into other livestock and crop options.  Buying new plots of lands and woodcutting is also an option, though I am not sure how the latter works...  It’s also quite awkward when you try to work a field that doesn’t belong to you.

My close to four-hour first romp came to a screeching hault quite literally when my tractor got stuck in traffic.  Darn jerkface drivers. *muttering to myself*  Wow, this really is a simulator.  Bad drivers with no consideration for those around them - so realistic!  I mean, let’s be honest: most people with licenses don’t really know how to drive properly..  Those gumball machines must be chock-full of driver’s licenses!

 

Farming Simulator 15 Review AllGames Yogizilla 9

 Kids, this is why it's important to obey the rules of the road!  Stick to your side of the road and always observing incoming traffic... Especially in the countryside (trust me, I'm in Georgia and the drivers out here are SAVAGES)!

Farming Simulator 15 Review AllGames Yogizilla 7

*** Regresamos A La Finca! ***

After some focused E3 2015 viewing (how about that Bethesda presser, folks?) and getting over the initial butthurt (of the traffic jam situation, not E3), I was able to salvage the session after reloading and cleverly getting off the road before the cars came in to pile up again.  I almost opted to start a career on Westbridge Hills.  Fortunately, I used better judgement there because this mode does not hold your hand at all..  Instead, after dabbling with Career a bit more I decided to dive into multiplayer a bit and have someone carry me instead.

...Well, maybe not.

All the good servers required DLC.  BOOOOO!  I finally found some vanilla FS15 servers but then it took forever for the hosts to realize someone was joining their servers.  Ultimately, impatience took over and I went back to Career (this time on Easy because Normal made me feel like a scrub).  BTW, DLC for the game currently runs between .99 to 9.99 USD.  Not a bad deal if you can spare the scrip.

I would say the game does a fantastic job at balancing depth and accessibility.  That’s no small feat, either.  There’s enough opportunity for mastery and perfection without making the game hard to learn or play casually.  As such, Farming Simulator is equally good as a palette cleanser or simple escapism; you can play a quick 20-30 minute session or get lost in it for hours on end.  The graphics are not mind-blowing but the locations are quite picturesque.  The little touches like watering troughs, phone booths, and houses really helped me escape and get lost in the world, even if only for a little while.

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

Farming Simulator 15 Review AllGames Yogizilla 4

It’s worth noting that the game is called Farming Simulator, not Farm Simulator, and that branding makes sense.  The focus here is more on the operational side of a farm, rather than the farm itself.  You are tasked with cultivating, sowing, and harvesting.  The more minute details seem to take care of themselves so it doesn’t seem like your animals will die nor do you have to clean up after them.  This frees you up more to be creative and play the resource management meta game.  That means you don't have to worry about building sheds, barns, silos, or any of that more granular stuff.

The game’s web site boasts over 40 licensed vehicle brands and 3 livestock options so the variety is there.   I barely made a dent in the game in terms of unlocking new equipment but I was able to get more cattle in the mix; after all, 7K only goes so far!  Anywho, this game has some serious brand power and it's a brilliant way to gain sponsorships and subsidize development.  The Giants Software team knows what they're doing!

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

Now to be a typical gamer and complain for the sake of complaining...  I was disappointed that I was not able to run a baler in my runs with the game.  There are over 100 tools and vehicles in the game, which seems about right from my extensive window shopping.  They start you off with the basics and, from there, it’s whatever you want it to be.  I must say, though, machinery is super expensive…  Did I mention I’m a cheap bastard?  Well, I am.

One of my favorite things about the game is that you don’t feel rushed.  You can pace yourself however you see fit.  The game takes place in a pseudo real time but the clock stops when you quit.  This gives you time to explore and take in the scenery.  This also averts the pesky aspects of, well, just about every mobile game these days.  For me, any video game that respects your time is automatically a cut above the rest.

The controls are responsive and intuitive.  There are lots of controls to learn but it’s about as simple as it gets for a simulator.  Control schemes pretty much carry over across vehicle types, too.  My only gripe is that I have become so accustomed to pushing the left analog stick in to run so, whenever I go into first-person view, I keep bringing up the stats screen.  This is handy and, well, I’m just bitching because I can...  That’s what we geeks do!

So, back to the plethora of licensed brands in the game, I actually recognized a few of these names, mainly because I live in Georgia and can actually drive up to some of these companies.  New Holland comes to mind and  Husqvarna you’ll see everywhere these days, possibly more than John Deere.  Is it me or are all these agricultural manufacturers in Europe?

All these nifty items can be purchased using virtual currency and there are no microtransactions - YAY!  The in-game store can be accessed by going to the physical location or pressing Y anywhere.  Overall, the HUD and global functionality is super intuitive and informative.  You have all the information you need, including a mini Farmer's Almanac type screen.

 Farming Simulator 15 Review AllGames Yogizilla 10

On top of the vehicles you can get,  there are a lot of attachments and tools too..  Like these strange contraptions.  I don’t know about you but these things are scary - and I’m not just talking about the price tags!

Farming Simulator 15 Review

 Fantastic multiplayer is something I look for in any game I play these days since I have limited gaming hours; alas, I was not able to dig into the multiplayer here.  From what I understand, the host can control how income is distributed but, essentially, all players in a session help the farm owner out on his property.  Servers seem to support up to 6 players, which means you can get a lot more done in the course of an hour or two.

So, who is Farming Simulator for?  I think this game will resonate with anyone with fond memories on a farm, love for agriculture, an affinity to any sort of simulator experience, or mobile gaming addictions.  The latter I say lovingly because most mobile games are about completing mundane tasks and keeping an eye on a your recharge bar/clocks.  Farming Simulator has that level of repetition and minutia but not to the obscene degree where it stops being fun and becomes a job or obsession.

Overall, this is a game I can very much see myself getting lost in since it has a good balance of resource management and creativity.  There’s more structure and guidance than in, say, Minecraft…  Huge plus for me.  I love games that are flexible and dynamic, but it’s also nice to have some default activities you can do almost completely on autopilot or at least in the midst of heavy multitasking (like watching E3).

Second Look & Tips From An Avid Farmer

Well, technically, this is a fourth or fifth look but I decided to approach the game from another angle thanks to my pal, podcast co-host, and simulator enthusiast, ObioneX2.  He was a little jelly that I got a review copy of the game.  Full disclosure: Obi  has a good relationship with Giants Software and they have hooked him up in the past but his love for the game is authentic, believe me!

 One thing Obi recommends is focusing on woodcutting if you want to raise money fast or at least have a nice head start.  I revisited my first save game and started off with a $1000 Husqvarna chainsaw.  You can use your starting vehicle to collect logs so the initial investment is easily recuped.  Obi cautions against focusing on livestock/cattle initially as it is the slowest way to earn money.  That aligned with my relatively limited experience.  I noticed early on that livestock has high upkeep too, but not nearly as much as storing surplus.  Chickens cost around $1 a day, whereas cows are the most expensive at around $40-100 a day.  Chickens are a good place to start since they produce eggs..  And they're delicious.

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

Tree stump cutters will be a good investment if you get into woodcutting.  After a while, tree stumps will make pathing hard but be careful: the tree stump cutter is treachorous (just watch my video clip on XBox LIVE, my gamertag is Yogizilla).  Each tree will average you between $3000-5000 a pop.  Drop them in the pond by the lumber mill and you get instant cash.  Some trees can get you over 20K in munnies!

Woodcutting is a super efficient way to generate revenue because you can take the wood chips left over from chopping down trees and store them.  After you get a nice stash, you can sell them.  The same thing goes for all surplus (like hay bales) in the game.  Obi adds that you have to wait until the Bio Mass factory wants to buy wood chips.  One shed full of wood chips can net you around 100K - WOW!

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

One of the really nice things about Farming Simulator is that crops grow quickly so you don’t have to wait several days or weeks.  In Farming Simulator, seasons don’t really matter as much as they do IRL.  You do get bonuses for growing during good weather and using fertilizers when cultivating land.  This helps with the sense of progression and rewards, which feeds into the overall immersion of the experience.  If you think that you might lost track of your crop yield, don't worry: the heat map makes it quite easy to know what is ready to be harvested.

 Farming Simulator 15 Review

Out of the box, a lot of core features seem to be missing.  For example, unless you have the Bank Transfer mod, you can’t transfer funds across save games or game modes.  This seems like a missed opportunity to me but it’s not a deal breaker.  Of course, it’d be unfair to compare any console game to it’s PC counterpart but it’s worth noting.  The benefit of not having the extra mod availability is that the game is more challenging and less overwhelming at the same time.

 If the controls escape you even after the brief walk-through/tour, press Start and RB one time, you’ll see the basic controls..  One more time and you can get into the Settings.  The amount of customization throughout these screens is nice.  The most notable options are Timescale (defaults at 5x), Mission Frequency (default: every 5 minutes), Plant Growth (default: Normal), and Plant Withering (default: On).  Obi recommends turning plant withering off if you want the freedom to explore and switch jobs often.

 For a more automated experience, perhaps to accommodate multitasking, you can hire help.  Whenever you hire help, they seem to take over the last activity you were doing.  So, if you are sowing, the help will sow until there’s nothing left to do.  If you’re cultivating, they’ll cultivate the land until it's ready for sowing.  I didn’t play with this option much because, like I said, I’m cheap.

 The last featured I only discovered towards the end of my last gameplay session is the job board (there’s one by Field 1, BTW).  This is the game’s way of including challenges and missions without breaking you out of the simulation or overall immersion.  The jobs I first came across included clean-up and transportation gigs.  It’s pretty much what you would expect a farmer would do to supplement income.  If you need more structure or objective-driven gameplay, the job board has you covered.

Farming Simulator 15 Final Review & Scores

When judging simulation games, I think it’s important to temper expectations and realize that these are very specialized games for specialized tastes.  Judging within the proper context and with the right expectations is key, especially when it comes to graphics and overall technology.  As such, I wouldn’t compare Farm Simulator 15 to a sandbox experience like GTA V or the coming Fallout 4, but I can see the appeal to fans of the franchises.  This is not a big studio release so the amount of polish we may be accustomed to is not there but that is not to say the game is not amazing in it’s own way.  With that in mind, my scores and assessments will take these special considerations into account, as well as the standards set within this very special genre.

  • Graphics:  It won’t blow the socks off those seeking bleeding edge but the environments are detailed and pretty to look at.  The nice little touches to livestock behaviors, tool operation, and other animations are brilliant.  There are no jaggies and frame rates are smooth but you could definitely tell there is a compromise due to the multi-platform release catering to the least common denominator.  9/10
  • Audio:   I noticed somelack of environmental sounds and spatialization but, other than that, the audio is good.  Vehicles and tools murmur, clank, buzz, and toot, as expected.  There’s not much music to listen to, which is fine since this sort of experience caters more to we heavy multitaskers.  I do wonder why the title music so jazzy but it definitely got me in a good mood. *jazz hands*  Ths is a perfect  BYOM opportunity - Bring Your Own Music (May I suggest an AllGames.com podcast?).  On sound bit side, the rooster and chicken sounds really sold me and brought me back to simpler times.  8/10
  • Controls:  Game controls are fairly consistent and intuitive across all vehicles and tools.  Vehicles do pull a bit but that only adds to the realism.  Even the camera controls are solid and you have full 360-degree control!  9/10
  • Immersion:  There’s plenty to keep you busy and you can easily get lost in the world..  But it’s also easy enough to play the game on autopilot (i.e. while multitasking) and not be fully-engaged with it.   Once you learn the conventions, locations, and core mechanics, you’ll find that there is always something to do or somewhere to explore and admire.  8/10
  • Progression & Feedback:   Farming Simulator seems to favor immersion over feedback, though I’d say they go hand-in-hand at times.  In my 6+ hours, I did unlock any achievements and feedback seemed limited to prompts and hints triggered by map points and key events.  This kept me immersed in the world but not as driven as most modern games make you feel, either by force or just good ‘ol “sticky” content.  Lack of a sense of rewards or progression (e.g. Destiny) can make the grinding less tolerable for some, which is a common complaint with gamers.  7/10
  • Fun & Replayability:  The replay value is there and there’s tons of fun to be had if you appreciate a more open, less hand-holding gameplay experience.  As with most simulators, repeating mundane tasks over time is rewarded.  The experience does lack some stickyness until you open up your options.  9/10
  • Originality:   I don’t know many farm simulators..  Farmville doesn’t count, though some may argue that point.  This is an original concept that has been cultivated into something with quite a massive scope.  If you love the subject matter, you’ll find it refreshingly original.  Across the franchise, Farm Simulator seems to be on the path to keep evolving and building upon a solid foundation.   10/10
  • FINAL VERDICT:  Farming Simulator 15 is a solid simulation experience that has a promising future if they build upon the strong core and foundation.  If you want to work a farm without actually breaking a sweat, there’s no better solution.  This game would be a fun thing to stream or do videos on while you share commentary or engage with a live audience.   8.7

     

    Published in Xbox One

     Introduction to Black Desert Online: A Ms. H Video Game Review

    I was pleasantly surprised at what awaited me when I downloaded the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Player Game (MMORG) Black Desert Online.  Black Desert Online was different from the video game I imagined it would be.  I've played quite a few MMORGs and was ready to experience the same type video gaming experience as I did before.  However, I quickly realized Black Desert Online wants to be clear that it is not your ordinary, run of the mill MMORG video game.  Here are my thoughts and views of the Black Desert Online video game.

    Video Game Customizations in Black Desert Online Video Game

    It didn't take me long to find out that one of the many high points of playing Black Desert Online was the customizations.  In fact, I spent an inordinate amount of time first of all on naming my characters -- then customizing them to the Nth degree.  There were numerous choices of how I could customize my video game characters which included not only the facial features and body types, but also the horoscopes and other aspects that were provided to me.

    There was a minor downside to my customizations. When I logged back in to play Black Desert Online, I discovered the specific character I customized was tied to a particular server.  Of course I had not made note of the server I chose, so I was unable to retrieve my customized character.  No problem.  All I had to do was to pick another server, customize another video game character and be sure to use the same server to bring her back up.

    I believe I customized about two or three characters before I decided that it was time to get into actually playing the video game.  When i concentrated my efforts on playing the video game, instead of using my customized characters, I decided to use the character that was provided in the game with no customizations whatsoever.  That's not to say that I will not maybe later retrieve my customized character and play the game from her vantage point.

    Graphics in Black Desert Online Video Game

    At first glance, Black Desert Online graphics had the cookie-cutter look of other similar type video games.  However, some of the close-up rendering of the enviornment was quite impressive, and appeared to look realistic.

    Choices in Black Desert Online Video Game

    The developers, in my opinion, did not economize when it came to giving gamers choices when playing the Black Desert Online video game.  In addition to the wide variety of customization features available for the video game characters, there were numerous choices within the video game itself.  As I completed quests and other adventures, I was given options to interact with other video game characters in the game by simply pushing the "R" key.  There were many other choices as well throughout the video gameplay.

    If I was stuck in some way in the video game or needed help, I could summon the assistant called the Black Spirit by simply pressing the comma key on my laptop.  The assistant would appear as a black flowing cloud with red dots for eyes to instruct me on what I could do.  Interesting enough, I found out if I summoned the assistant while I was in combat with enemies, this assistant was not immune and could get temporarily destroyed.

    Black Desert OnlineBlack Desert Online

    Violence and Gore in Black Desert Online Video Game

    Speaking of enemies, many of the quests in Black Desert Online video game involved fighting or destroying enemies.  Some of the enemies included grass beetles, weasels and other creatures.  I think it was creative how the developers would oftentimes camouflage these enemy creatures in the foilage and other areas where sometimes they were not easily visible.  A negative was the blood splatters in this video game which I am not a fan. I think the video game would be even more enjoyable to play if there were no blood splatters in these battles.

    Leveling Up in Black Desert Online Video Game

    I think leveling up in Black Desert online was not difficult.   When I reached level 10, I was no longer considered a beginner in the tutorial stage. As I leveled up, I begin to notice other aspects of the video game.  For example, I noticed the attention to detail in the environment as well as other video game players' characters in the game.  There was also the usual dialogue among players appearing and scrolling sometimes on the left side of the screen.

    I was leery of being tempted to get loyalty points by logging on to the video game Black Desert Online daily.  For the first two or three days, I gave in to signing in daily, and in turn boosted up my loyalty points.  However, I still limited my video game playing time.  I resisted the urge to log on to Black Desert Online for loyalty points as I did other things instead of playing this video game.   My caution is to not get lured into having this video game take up a lot of your time by playing it for long periods of time, not only because of the temptation of the loyalty points, but also because Black Desert Online is such a fun video game to play.  As I've cautioned you before -- always strike a balance between playing video games and doing other real-life non-video game activities.

    Black Desert OnlineBlack Desert Online

    Assessment of Black Desert Online Video Game

    In my opinion, Black Desert Online is a video game that is worth your time playing in moderation.  I think you will enjoy the different type environments and the feeling that you are actually a part of this video game world and making video game accomplishments. There are lots of quests you can choose to take as well different adventures you can embark upon.  Black Desert Online video game will keep your interest in part because of the wide variety of characters and the real-world look of the video game backdrop as well as the various missions and quests.   As with most online video games, there is also an online forum you can consult as required if you need help in getting to the next level or getting further into the video game.

    Black Desert OnlineBlack Desert Online

    I believe I would have rated Black Desert Online higher if the blood splatters were eliminated, if it was easier to get the video game launched in the first place and if the characters retained their customizations once you got a far-away view of them in action, if profanity in the video game was eliminated and on top of all this if there were no instances where the server timed out during the game play.  When this happened, I had to start playing the video game all over again. That being said, I think the positives of the Desert Online video game far outweigh the negatives.

    Rating of Black Desert Online Video Game

    On a scale of 1 star to 10 stars, with 1 star being the lowest and 10 stars being the highest, I rate Black Desert Online video game 8 stars.

    Availability of Black Desert Online Video Game

    Black Desert Online is a buy-to-play video game developed by Pearl Abyss and is playable on the PC.

    Published in PC
    Monday, 13 October 2014 00:00

    Asus GL551j Laptop Review [PC]

    When I was younger, I put a pair of house speakers in my used 1979 Mustang . I did that because I was a kid and kids like loud cars. Plus I liked telling people that I have house speakers in the back of my car. A couple of years later, I spent way more money than I should have installing a full blown audio system in my Audi 5000. I did this even though there was a flashing red light on the dash telling me the brakes didn’t actually work. I did that because I was a kid and kid like loud cars. The other night I was riding down the road in my Crown Vic listening to some radio station that claimed to be ‘Hot’ through the stock speakers and I kinda missed having a trunk full of bass. But not really. Because I’m an adult.

    It may sound like I’m lamenting the path to adulthood, but I’m actually not. I can fondly look back on the days when it was important to let everyone I drove by know what type of music I was enjoying. These days though, it’s more important to me that I enjoy the music. Because I’m an adult.

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    A few weeks ago, a package was left at my door containing a shiny new ASUS gaming laptop. A GL551J to be exact. Since it was a ‘gaming laptop’ I had certain expectations when I opened the box. I expected a firebreathing, neon clad, vent covered, wildly shaped beast of a machine ready to rip the throat out of anything I could throw at it. The GL551J did not live up to those expectations. And that made me happy. It seemed to have been built for a group of people that are often overlooked when it comes to high end gaming hardware. Adults. I have no aspirations to lug around a 10 pound machine whose first purpose is to let everyone around me how extreme it is. There’s a demographic of people who like to set up shop in Starbucks, flip open their PC and make sure that anyone within earshot knows that they’re in the middle of an intense firefight on ARMA at 60 frames per second. But I’m an adult, so I don’t go to Starbucks to pimp by computer to strangers. Hell, I don’t even go to Starbucks. I have a Keurig which makes a great cup of coffee in under a minute right in the comfort of my own home. The GL551j is a powerful gaming laptop that does it’s best not to call attention to the fact that it’s a powerful gaming laptop.

    The Asus doesn’t fly completely under the radar though. It’s still sports a Republic of Gamers logo on the case along with a keyboard backlit in red. But it’s a far cry from the boy racer looks of offerings from other vendors. You could easily get away with sitting down in the office breakroom and finishing off a few levels of Defense Grid 2 while your co-workers think you’re catching up on some late reports. At 6 pounds the laptop isn’t svelte, but it’s still a good traveling companion. Sitting on a plane while exploring the realms of Dragon Age won’t leave you with a scorched crotch, since the single side exhaust vent does a good job of shooting the heat over to the traveller in seat 15B. As far as power goes, it’s a gaming laptop. So you can play games on it. But if you’re into running benchmarks trying to reach 120fps at 4k resolution, then this isn’t the machine for you. The Intel i7 cpu and Nvidia 860m GPU do a great job at getting you up and running at 1080p all day long (or about 3-4 hours on battery), but you won’t be bragging to all of your friends about your incredible 3DMark numbers at 4k resolution. But adults know that 1: 3DMark isnt a game, and 2: You didn’t just drop $1,099 on a laptop to look at statistics.

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    At a little over a thousand dollars, the GL551J won’t force you to sit down with your kids and explain to them why they won’t be going to Disney World this year. Asus has managed to pack a lot of performance into the unassuming satin black finish for a price that won’t force you to put in overtime at the office. It’s difficult to find which, if any, corners were cut. Although the 15.6 inch display has a slightly washed out look to it that kept me angling it away from the light. My time with the Asus did have one hiccup. I don’t know if was because I had a well used review unit or because of some other reason, but every so often the screen would go black when I set it down. And it would only come back when I pressed the latch on the battery case. At first it was an annoyance, and then it became frustrating. I’m an adult. I don’t have time to be fiddling with battery latches.

    The Asus made me wonder how the kid version of me would have liked it. The version of myself leaning against a mechanically dangerous Audi with a sound system that cost more than the car. Wondering if I should spend my latest paycheck adding another amp or chrome exhaust tips (spoiler, I did both). That kid would not have looked twice at the GL551j. He’d be asking ‘where’s the neon?‘ and ‘why aren’t there more vents all over it?’ The kid me would not have liked it. The adult me however, likes it a lot.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through a neighborhood revving my engine while blasting the radio in a car with no brakes. Now my car has more power under the hood, and can stop on a dime and my ears don’t ring when I turn the radio off. Being an adult doesn’t mean you give up all the fun stuff kids have, it just means you don’t spend time and money trying to impress everyone else around you. I don’t have time for that. Because I’m an adult, and I have games to play. And the Asus GL551j is just the machine to play them on.

    Take a look at our unboxing of the GL551J
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    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.

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    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.

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    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
    Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

    Review - Divinity: Original Sin [PC]

    Growing up, I always felt western role-playing games on the PC were underrated. Maybe it's due to the fact that I was only two years old when Wasteland was released. Ten years later when I was enthusing about Baldur's Gate, most of my twelve-year-old buddies were busy anticipating the release of the next Final Fantasy game on console. I mean, yes, I love Japanese RPGs as much as the next gamer, but the communities for the computer games I grew up loving always seemed scarce or closed in by comparison.

    Fast-forward to the current era of gaming where we have the introduction of Steam and crowd-funding websites, and a different picture is emerging. In an arena where consumers can have direct involvement and influence on the types of games they want to play, there has been a reemergence of these very games. And while the Divinity series of games may not span as far back as some others, they certainly have harkened to this earlier era of RPGs in their latest release Divinity: Original Sin.

    The game was completed and enhanced through Kickstarter funding. Different aspects of gameplay were unlocked as levels of the funding were reached, and thanks to all of those who contributed, the game is intricate and vast. The self-published title from Larian Studios also runs on their own engine, complete with a tool kit for designing customized levels. While the game is available on Mac and coming soon for Linux, mods for the PC version are available and can be published through the Steam Workshop.

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    The first thing you'll want to do with the game is decide whether to play the campaign in single-player or drop in multi-player mode. Both modes require you to create two characters. You will choose the name, sex, appearance, portrait photo, and class for each character. Advanced players can mostly disregard the pre-built classes, as the Divinity gameplay allows fluid and complex class building. Don't feel like you must limit yourself to be strictly caster, ranged, or melee. Various items found in the game, along with perks, traits, and skills, allow you to reach outside of basic class structures. Customization is more involved than the RPGs the game emulates, but it's still more simplistic than a lot of modern RPGs. The game offers a variety of skin tones and hair styles, but sadly falls short in offering any variation in body type. Once you have your character looking stunning, it's time to give them a voice (three options per gender) and most interestingly, an AI personality. AI personalities, such as Loyal, Knight, or Rascal, are more than just clever fun for dialogue- they offer unique insight and development for your playable characters.

    You start the game with only two characters, but you can add certain people you encounter to your party. You have the ability to change their gear and assign skill points, as well as control them in battle. However, they are still separate from your main characters, as you cannot speak for them. If you choose to play multi-player, LAN or internet connection are available for drop in/drop out gameplay. The person hosting the game can assign characters to those who join and also determine whether they can change certain aspects such as gear or skill points. I absolutely loved the simplicity of playing in multi-player. However, it would be great to have the option of more than two original characters for a team. Events in the game don't just happen to your characters, your characters also take time to reflect upon events and even their own actions. This is where the exciting addition of the AI personality really shines, allowing the player to create exchanges between their characters. The options chosen in many dialogue exchanges not only shape the character in the player's mind, but they also contribute to certain traits gained through gameplay. For example, if a player chooses kind options, they can receive the Compassionate trait, which gives them a bonus to critical hits. If a player chooses to be cruel, they can receive the Heartless trait, which increases their chances to hit while backstabbing.

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    Another unique aspect of the game is the bartering system. The game still offers vendors for particular items, but player purchases are not limited among them. Every person in the game offers not only a chance for better information and possible quests, but a selection of items they are also willing to trade. This is one of the ways that the game really emphasizes thorough exploration. And if talking to every person in the game isn't enough, there is also the option to take on the Pet Pal perk, which allows your character to speak with the various critters found throughout the game. Aside from humorous banter and the realization that the animals are more pleasant company than most of the humans, this perk can also help provide solid clues to solving quests and puzzles.

    Talking to every creature great and small isn't the only thing that will take some time. Turn-based battles set the pace at self-determined and much slower than an action RPG, especially if you're playing multi-player. This, along with the ability to see rolls for each action, really give the game an old school tabletop feel. The battle system is quite easy to learn, which allows the player to focus on customization and tactics. With every move and attack costing action points, it's important for players to understand what each spell and skill can do. It's also vital to pay attention to the hit percentage that will pop up, along with the area of damage, since friendly fire is very possible and likely with certain magical and elemental attacks. The battle system here allows the player's inner strategist to really shine as they discover attack and elemental combinations. There are many barrels filled with water, oil, etc, but spell casters can also create elemental changes, such as rain. Use these abilities together to create poision gas clouds or electrically charged steam. The creative battle techniques are really what set this RPG apart not only from action RPGs, but also from other turn-based RPGs that place far less emphasis on atmosphere and status effect combinations.

    The basic gameplay is straight-forward and great fun to explore, and once you've felt your way around most of the game (which will take many hours depending on how thorough you are) you might get the itch to take your creativity to the next level. Divinity: Original Sin does a fantastic job of merging the organic feel of tabletop with the best offerings of contemporary gaming technology. The next step in staying true to these roots is to allow players the ability to build levels within the game's engine. The engine is solid and provides for smooth gameplay even on less advanced set-ups, though my one small complaint is load times, which of course vary by computer. The Divinity Engine Toolkit is far more advanced than many level editors in other games of its ilk. As a player who loved to create levels in games like the original Warcraft games and Lode Runner, I had all the creative will, but very little of the modding and world editing advanced knowledge. Larian has provided many videos to help those who are newer to level editing on this scale. The step by step guidance was extremely helpful for me, and while building levels this way is definitely more complex and time consuming than in other games, it also creates a more detailed and personalized product.

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    Divinity: Original Sin is a sampling of some of the best offerings from both old and new schools. A fitting homage to the games I grew up playing, it also establishes an identity of its own and can be grouped in among the best of the genre. It's a fine example of what can be achieved when a good balance between a development/publishing team and players is created. Between all of the creative ways to construct in the game and the sprawling world to explore, the game brings apt innovation to an already solid genre.

    SCORE: 9/10

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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

     

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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
    Thursday, 17 April 2014 00:00

    Forza Motorsport 5 Review (Xbox One)

    Forza-Motorsport-5 review

     

    A long time ago in Art Class, I had a specialty. Whenever we were given a project, I’d draw, paint or sketch pretty much the same thing every time. It was an image of a house with a tree in front with a mountain in the background with the sun peeking through. I got pretty good at creating this vista. Each iteration was slightly different from the one before. Sometimes there would be smoke pouring out of the chimney. Or the sun would illuminate the tree and cast a shadow in a different direction. When we studied Monet I even did a pointillist version of the image using nothing but dots. That house/tree/mountain was my touchstone.

    Turn 10 Studios have become masters at delivering a solid racing experience. For years they've sculpted Forza Motorsport into showcase of beautiful cars and race courses. Forza 5 looks great and drives even better. Turn 10 Studios have become masters a delivering a solid racing experienceTwo hundred gorgeously rendered vehicles and a driving model that has been top notch for years is all that's needed to make it one of the best games on the Xbox One. Each car has a stunning interior view and even the guys from the famous TV show Top Gear lend their voices and test track to the game.

    Near the end of the school year, the Art Class final exam included the assignment of creating whatever image you wanted using the techniques we had learned. So of course I dug into the well worn well of the house/tree/mountain. While I was going through the motions of creating the house, I glanced around the room to see what my fellow students were up to. The guy to the left of me was trying to sketch a barely decipherable animal, either a cat or a horse. The girl in front of me was working with seemingly random blotches of paint that might as well have been finger painting. I was clearly at the head of the class, secure in the knowledge that I was leaving with an easy ‘A’.

    forza5 topgear track

    For the first time, multiplayer in Forza allows 16 players to race against each other at once. When racing against the AI, you are actually going up against ‘drivatars’ that have been built using traits from other online drivers and people from your friends list. Turn 10 has even added a multitude of gaming modes for drivers to compete against one another. Standard events like drag racing, and circuit racing are joined with less common affairs like cat and mouse and tag virus. The Rivals section has returned from Forza 4 that matches you up against a single person’s drivatar to compete against.

    The next week, I returned to the classroom to receive my test score. I was stunned when I opened my portfolio. ‘C’. A big post-it note with a ‘C’ was stuck on my painting. It had to be a mistake. I quickly surveyed everyone around me. ‘Do you see anything wrong with mine? Be honest, is this painting just average?’ Each person agreed with me that I had been grossly wronged and that my house/tree/mountain was definitely worthy of an ‘A’. As soon as the class was over, I went to the teacher’s desk to rectify the situation.

    The balding old man with black rimmed glasses was buried deep in his gradebook. I stood there for a while waiting to be acknowledged. He glanced up slightly and I saw that as my cue.
    ‘Yeah, Professor, I got a ‘C’ on this, and come on, it’s not a ‘C’ painting.’
    Before he could respond I started pleading my case.
    ‘I mean, compared to that cat thing that Ronald did, it’s way better. And the splotches of paint that Marie turned in, she even said she had no idea what she was doing and she got a B. You can’t tell me that this is a C. I have shadows, l added smoke. Check it out.’ I laid the painting in front of him, cementing my point.

    forza5 rs200

    He stared at me for a beat before fixing his gaze on the painting I had placed on his desk and speaking.
    ‘I’m not grading you compared to the work of others. I’m grading you compared to you. You’ve been doing that scene all year long. And yes, you use light well, and yes the composition is fairly balanced. And so was the one before that, and the one before that. It’s a good scene. I was hoping that you would challenge yourself this time. Take a hard look at the work you've done and ask yourself, is it the best you can do?’

    That question hit like a brick. He had called me out on something that I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was coasting. I knew what was needed to be considered a success and thats what I did. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured the work was good enough to get by and so why do more? Thats why I got the grade I did. Not because the work wasn’t good. Not even because it wasn’t good enough. But was it the best I could do? No, it wasnt.


    forza5 race

    Forza 5 knows what it needs to do to get a passing grade, and thats exactly what it does. And that's all it does. The 200 cars included look and sound fantastic. Even though for a series that has spanned 3 consoles, the low car count raises some eyebrows. As dozens of DLC cars were quickly released over the past few months, you realize that the low car count was a thinly disguised money grab, nearly doubling the price of the game if you want to get close to the levels of previous iterations. It’s even more telling when you hear the detailed descriptions that once accompanied each car have more often than not, devolved into a lukewarm overview of the car manufacturer instead of a history of each individual vehicle.

    The race courses included with Forza 5 look incredible, although it seems odd that it’s always the same time of day and weather is non-existent. Especially considering some of the tracks included are well known for their night races. Lemans, Sebring, and Yas Marina all go hand in hand with night racing. With this being the fifth version of Forza running on one of the most powerful consoles available, the omission of night racing or any type of weather is very noticeable.


    With so much emphasis placed on the multiplayer side of Forza 5, it falls short on closer inspection. You aren’t allowed to create a public room or even search for a specific race type. If you want to find a race with a certain number of laps on a specific track to join, it simply isnt possible. Instead you’re restricted to pre-created hoppers or private matches which you have to fill yourself. And since the ‘Car Club’ feature from previous Forzas isn’t included, finding and staying in touch with a group of like minded racers is difficult at best. 

    Somewhere along the way the franchise has started coastingForza has been doing what it does extremely well for years. But somewhere along the way the franchise has started coasting and has done just enough to get by. It’s good. It’s even good enough to be the best racing game on the XBox One. But it's lost many of the features that made it exceptional. The game has relied on higher resolutions and framerates instead of expanding on the features and capabilities that would make it great. It's almost like the game got to a certain point and just stopped evolving.  Forza Motorsport 5 needs to take a step back, look at what it’s done and ask the question, “Is this the best you can do?”

    forza5 boxScore 7/10

     

    Published in Xbox One
    Tuesday, 04 February 2014 00:00

    Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition Review [PC]

     

    Christmas is over. The two super hyped "next generation" consoles have released to massive sales even with very limited libraries. Everyone has finished the launch titles they were interested in and the rest have not come down to the magical preowned pick up price yet. There is nothing new on the horizon with naught but a trickle of ports and indie games to keep gamers going until the tail end of march when the next big system sellers Titanfall and infamous: Second son come out.

    Looking at the respective stores for new releases each week is like looking for a snowball in the desert.
    So these next gen consoles are relegated to being pretty dust collectors for the time being as gamers look elsewhere for the next gaming fix.

    PC & iOS seem to be evergreen sources for games however this January again both are rather sparse on the release front. However there is one shining beacon through the bleak winter: Baldurs Gate 2: Enhanced Edition.

    baldursgate screen02Originally released back in 2000 (14 years ago at time of writing) based on Advanced D&D mechanics Baldurs Gate 2 managed to sell over 2 million copies, no mean feat considering how complicated this system is.

    Combining the original campaign Shadows of Amn with both add ons Throne Of Baahl and Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay, there is a massive amount of content contained within, encompassing hundreds of hours of gameplay.

    Baldurs Gate 2 features the traditional Isometric RPG with movement and actions controlled via mouse clicks and hot keys (if you so desire). It's very simple on the surface but as soon as you dig into the menus and all the options available for each character within, things start to get real complex, real fast. This is not a game for the casual gamer.

    This is further reinforced by the steep difficulty curve, beginning in a dark dingy dungeon (as is common with many RPGs these days) with a group of up to 4 (depending on conversational choices) facing off against ever growing groups of goblins swiftly becomes tricky if you don't have your wits about you. Upon finally exiting this dank dungeon you are greeted with a diverse interesting world to explore and the adventure can truly begin. I wouldn't like to spoil the story for those reading this review but I will say that it's not exactly Lord Of The Rings in terms of quality but it is a compelling story nonetheless that is well worth playing through and has more than a few twists and turns along the way to keep you guessing.

    baldursgate screen01

    For this enhanced edition, several new areas have been added into the main game which are all presented organically into the main quest and extend the playtime still further, if you were to attempt to see everything in the game you probably wouldn't need to play anything else till the summer.

    Yes there's nothing groundbreaking or particularly new here but this is the best version of one of the greatest RPGs ever and that in itself is to be applauded. The graphical update is noticeable and more than acceptable but can't quite quite match the polish of more recent games of a similar ilk such as Diablo 3. The soundscape is well crafted and everything is as you would expect sword clattering, box opening noises are all present and correct and the score is well realised. The voice acting is fairly good though the characters aren't quite as well realised as they could have been.

    Throne of Baahl adds more of the same adventuring contained in the main campaign but here it finishes up the story started in Child of Baahl, which can be found in Baldurs Gate: Enhanced Edition.

    Black pits 2: Gladiators of Thay is the weakest part of the package focusing on gladiatorial combat confined within an arena whilst it looks and plays just as well as the rest of Baldurs Gate 2, the lack of freedom holds this section back with it's lack of a sense of scale and without a particularly compelling story it's rather a damp squib when compared to Shadows Of Amn and Throne Of Baahl.

    Overall this is a great package and unlike other so called enhanced/definitive/Goty packages it is fairly priced at $24.99.

    Baldurs Gate 2:Enhanced Edition is available now on iPad, PC, Steam and Mac.

    8/10

    Andy Urquhart
    42 Level One

    http://www.42levelone.com=

     

    Published in PC
    Wednesday, 18 December 2013 00:00

    LocoCycle Review (Xbox One)

    LocoCycle review titleSuper-intelligent motorcycles, smarmy weapons dealers, and a mechanic literally dragged along for the ride. Lococycle has this and more for you to try to process into something coherent, unfortunately "Loco" is more than just part of the title.


    Lococycle starts out with a live action movie that is scripted, budgeted, shot, and acted like a B-movie. This really isn't a surprise, as it has long been known that developer Twisted Pixel was aiming for that feeling. Given the plot it fits beautifully.

    LocoCycle review 6A shady weapons company, Big Arms, has built two super-intelligent assassin motorcycles I.R.I.S. and S.P.I.K.E. They show off their newest creations at a party attended by six stereotypical characters, three of which will probably offend a few people; there is the smarmy, fast-talking weapons dealer CEO, the Korean Supreme Leader, the African King, the American General, the Russian General, and the macho biker with the "cybernetic hand."When a storm rolls in and the party moves inside, the Dealer has some underlings move the motorcycles to a different location. As the motorcycles are being moved I.R.I.S. is hit by lightening. Thinking that she might be damaged she is brought to Pablo. While Pablo is checking to make sure she is not damaged, I.R.I.S. scans the "outlaw biker" magazine Pablo was reading earlier, and then she watches a commercial on the T.V. The commercial is for the "Freedom Rally," a motorcycle fan gathering, kind of like the yearly Sturgis Rally but with more outlaws and less corporate sponsorship.

    Taking all this information in and processing it through her now fried and faulty computer I.R.I.S. decides that she needs to throw off the yoke of Big Arms and ride the roads of freedom to the Freedom Rally. She also decides Pablo has to come along and somehow attaches his leg to one of her tailpipes, literally dragging him along.


    After finding out that one of his two super bikes has flown the coop the Big Arms dealer does the only logical thing an evil C.E.O. in a B-movie would do, send his entire private army after it; including the other super bike, S.P.I.K.E.


    LocoCycle review 7
    While I can appreciate a good B-movie, Lococycle tries too hard. It's got some good bits, especially during the live action cut scenes. They even got some name actors and a B-movie legends; Freddy Rodriguez plays Pablo, James Gunn is the Big Arms CEO, Tom Savini is the leader of the motorcycle gang, Robert Patrick is the voice of S.P.I.K.E., and Lisa Foiles is the voice of I.R.I.S. Each sound like they are having a lot of fun in their roles, so that helps make the storyline a little more interesting. Especially Robert Patrick and Tom Savini, between the two of them I thing they get the lion's share of meaty off-the-wall dialog.The live action encapsulates the best parts of the crazy story. It's in the game where things start falling apart.


    LocoCycle review 3Pablo speaks nothing but Spanish. I have to applaud Twisted Pixel for wanting to promote a minority character, even though he's just being drug behind a motorcycle and occasionally used as a weapon. The problem is they try to have both I.R.I.S. and Pablo say lines of dialog and witty one-liners during gameplay. For folks that don't speak Spanish the only option is subtitles for Pablo, which if you are concentrating on the battle onscreen, you miss a majority of what he says. So while I know Freddy had some excellent dialog outside of gameplay, I had nary a clue if he had any winners during. I.R.I.S. does not help either, because while early on she states she can speak over 50 languages, her fried computer misinterprets everything he says. So while Pablo may be stating the amount of pain he is in all I.R.I.S. hears is "lollipops and rainbows" or maybe the "love for the open road.”


    A majority of the gameplay falls into the action brawler/shooter category, which is a bit odd for a game based on a motorcycle. Driving is the lower end of the spectrum here. You can move left or right, but the only acceleration is a limited turbo boost and there are no brakes. Most of the shooting and brawling sections are tight and fun for the first few times, but they get repeated early and often. The brawling sections do have combo multipliers you build up that get big fancy lettered names that start out as typical fodder like "AWESOME" and eventually move into the silly and fun of "POETRY" and "BEARDED." It's boss battles and some of the mini-games that really make the gameplay a mixed bag of "meh." The "targeted" shooting sections aiming felt way to loose making it very frustrating to have to play through multiple times. Some of the boss battles even pay homage to classic arcade games, but here too the controls are either "right on" or "why bother."


    LocoCycle review 2Sometimes the mini-games didn't even give you a clue as to what to do. At one point I.R.I.S. conks out and stops. The game goes into a split screen showing an oncoming enemy with a "distance from me meter" on one side and Pablo sitting on the road behind I.R.I.S. on the other. I started pushing buttons, nothing happened. I started moving Pablo around, still nothing. It wasn't until I start moving Pablo to the extreme sides that I finally got a button to flash onscreen to start me into a simple mini-game. After trial and error I learned that there are three parts to the mini-game, but again, I had to find the next hotspot to activate the next mini-game. Needless to say I became very familiar with the restart. I think that was my biggest frustration with the game, a lot of redoing sections because of lack of information, guides, or just plain poor game mechanics.


    TwistedPixelLogoTwisted Pixel is a developer that has created some really good games for the Xbox 360 like The Maw, 'Splosion Man, and Ms. 'Splosion Man, they even created one of the best Kinect games with The Gunstringer. With Lococycle they may have strayed a bit. Ithas some good bits and some bad bits, although Twisted Pixel created craziness it wanted to capture, in the end the bad outweighs the good. Throw in a B-movie story and now you are on a trip to a very niche audience. Lococycle may have been better suited as a straight to DVD B-movie rather than game.

     

    Published in Xbox One
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