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Monday, 16 February 2015 00:00

Dying Light - Review [PS4]


It’s a common theme, the world is in danger of being overrun by mindless zombies. The outbreak is held at bay by a quarantine trapping both “biters” and survivors alike. The survivors band together into two groups, Runners and Bandits. And so it goes, the conflict between the living and dead as well as between the living and the living.

You play as Crane, an agent of the Global Relief Effort (GRE) dropped into to the writhing hell hole that is the Harran ona mission to secure a file from the leader of the Bandits, Rais. Early on in your campaign you’re befriended by members of the Runners faction that are lead by Brecken, a parkour instructor who’s trained his followers the art of fancy jumping and climbing to keep them one step ahead of the zombies while they scrounge the city for supplies. You’re almost immediately welcomed into the fold by the runners after coming to the rescue of one of their members. Soon you’re asked to go on missions, after a bit of fancy running and jumping about training, which are comprised mostly of fetch quests and dungeon crawls. Being a typical modern city though the dungeons of Harran are comprised of sewer tunnels and the corridors of high-rise apartment buildings. Eventually the Runners need antizen, a drug that’s used to prevent infected survivors turning into flesh eating monsters, from the Bandits and you’re volunteered to broker a deal. Of course the bandit leader is a charismatic psychopath who’s against any deals that have a potential to be fair. Rais orders you to run errands for him, reneges on his deal and a recipe for conflict is concocted. Through the course of the story you grow attached to some of the Runners and their wellbeing soon becomes your primary concern. Personally I found the story formulaic and the NPCs do what they always do, ask you to do favors for them. There are plenty of side missions available but I spent 19 of my play hours focused on the story missions alone.

The open world first-person gameplay of Dying Light is like something Dr. Frankenstein would have dreamt up. The developer essentially spliced together elements from several triple-A titles. Movement is reminiscent of Mirror’s Edge, your ability to run and jump and climb is indispispensible in traversing the city. Dungeon exploration right down to the lock picking mechanic is highjacked from Skyrim. There are several locations in the open world map that can be cleared and made into safe houses similar to Far Cry(unfortunately there are no zombie elephants). There are a lot of other features of Dying Light that are cherry picked from other games but overall they are implemented rather well. Your weapon load out can run the gamut from water pipes to hatchets to rifles. All the weapons can be upgraded to enhance their effectiveness and all behave rather different. Blunt objects will crunch and rebound as you’d expect and slicing weapons will cleave ever sosatisfyingly when upgraded properly. The gun play is a hot mess, right clicking R3 will allow you to aim down the sight but if your hungry opponents get too close you’re better off switching to a scythe and decapitate them before you’re overrun. Besides the mindless zombie drones there are some more deadly variations. Some are faster, some are stronger, some explode with little notice and others will spew green toxins at you from several yards away. In some cases it’s well advised to stick to the roof tops when running from place to place. It’s the best way to navigate the open world while the undead try their best to gnaw on your heels . When you get to the dungeon sections avoidance is less of an option but it still pays to be cautious. Melee fighting drains stamina so having a quick route of retreat to catch your breath is good practice (a la Skyrim).

The sound design and graphics are very well done. Besides a bit of open world jank this is where the game shines. I played about a third of the game with headphones on.The sounds of screams, moaning, feet shuffling and the horror music is nerve racking when you’re playing at night, in the dark, with a bit too much rum in your system. There are jump scares in the game but they are fairly well spread out so when they do happen they are effective. Also when they don’t happen you feel kind of foolish. The city of Harran really looks like an outbreak has taken place. Besides the fidelity of it all, abandoned vehicles, buildings and lunches all appeared to have been turned upside down right in the middle of life. The architecture of the city proper and the “old” city are well varied and provide a beautiful landscape from a distance when your zipping down a zip-line. Walls with blood streamed hand prints, boarded up doors, improvised booby traps and graffiti messages to other survivors depict the the gruesome struggle between living and dead. It’s a beautiful mix of metal, concrete and organic matter that you wish you had more time to explore if you weren’t being hounded awful day and gruesome night. Oh the night! When the sun goes down, you can’t see more than a foot in front of you and ultra violent zombies come out to shred you to pieces. You do get a stat boost for operating in the dark but unless you’ve leveled your weapons and character you might not make it to the morning in one piece. Furthermore, while this might sound morbid but I was very impressed with the level of detail that went into rendering severed body parts. Under close inspection you can see clearly the sinew, bone and marrow of the recently re-deceased. Anatomically, I’ve never seen another game that is its match. It may be something that goes unnoticed by most but if you do play this game, examine your slain, it’s awesome.


To reiterate, it took me about 19 hours to complete the story and there was still a lot of side missions that I didn’t get to and miles of landscape of hidden treasures that I didn’t fully explore. This game is a loot and leveling junky’s wet dream. There’s a lot of real estate to mine for swag to upgrade weapons and endless fodder to max out your character. While obviously not necessary to complete the story, if you’re into collecting this game has extra value. If you’re looking for an intense and deep story with revolutionary gameplay mechanics you should probably look elsewhere.

If you'd like to find out more about Dying Light check out the website at:
Sunday, 28 September 2014 00:00

Monkey Tales-Review

Monkey Tales Logo

Now that the Summer is over and the school year has begun young minds all over the world are hunkering down to learn the building blocks for future success. Ensuring that they master certain skills is critical and requires practice. With that being said, the current curriculum in schools is much more diverse than it once was. As a result of that diversity comes less time to practice any particular skill during the school day. That practice needs to take place at home. Getting kids to sit still long enough to do their assigned homework is tough enough but getting them to do extra practice is like convincing a cat to go for a swim. In my personal experience, making it fun is a much better tactic than withholding snacks. So, I employed my 8 year old daughter to help me review the game. 


     Monkey Tales is meant to make learning math fun but it’s actually much more than that. Developed by Larian Studios and die Keure that is geared towards 2nd to 6th grade students. It is a combination of logic puzzles and arcade based math mini-games. Players are allowed to create their own unique character that they can save their progress to. Their progression is marked by navigating levels to collect bananas and freeing monkeys by winning math challenges. All the monkeys are moved to the player’s zoo and the more bananas you have, the happier the monkey’s are. 


     Each grade level has a different adventure and theme. They all revolve around some kind of mystery and are essentially sugar coated Indiana Jones style adventures involving museums, tombs and the like. They weren't incredibly exciting stories because when I asked my daughter what they were about she told me she just clicked right through them.

     The level design is fairly simple and includes moving objects to bridge gaps or obstructing lasers to gain access to the banana collectables. As the player progresses the levels throw in enemies to avoid. The enemies walk in the same pattern over and over so inexperienced players won’t have much trouble. If players do have trouble or don’t care for collecting bananas they can move directly to the math stations, they are easy to find because their will be a monkey dancing beside them. These levels are fun for players that have an inclination towards item collecting but it doesn’t make it a hard requirement. My daughter did enjoy collecting bananas early on but as some of the levels got tougher she avoided them and went straight to the math.

     The real star of the show is the math games. They are varied and ramp up in difficulty as the player shows increasing proficiency. Some of games require the player to simply choose the correct answer by clicking it while others are arcade style challenges against the computer to get the correct answer faster. Stringing together correct answers results in points bonus to boost high scores. The mini game designs are reminiscent of classic arcade titles such as Asteroids, Spy Hunter and Centipede. When new math games are opened up the players can return to them later to improve their scores. My daughter really enjoyed the math challenges and did a few of them several times to beat her high score. 

Monkey Tales highlights 01 03

     The game isn’t a graphical powerhouse and the navigation through the games levels isn’t innovative but the math mini games are very well done. I actually found some of the math problems in the later grade levels challenging to complete quickly. My daughter’s math has improved quite a bit having played this game so that alone makes it worth it. I don’t think you’ll be able to convince your child to pick Monkey Tales over Super Mario Bros. but if you get them to play in their appropriate grade level they will be challenged and have fun. It will give them the much needed practice they need without you having to write out and grade hundreds of math problems yourself (which is what I was doing prior to downloading this game from Steam). 


First, I'm a big fan of the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies. I own the original, watched the shorts on Netflix and I’ve recently seen HTTYD 2. The art direction in the movies is a visually striking mix of Viking craftsmanship, gorgeous landscapes, colorful characters and of course, dragons. They are full of great comedy and action I want to be a part of. That is always our hope as gamers, interacting with a universes that is deep, engrossing and most of all, fun.  Unfortunately “movie games” rarely transition that hope to reality. It could be argued that these games based on animated movies are geared more towards children and not experienced gamers. Well, to figure out who this gam is for my 8 year old daughter, 5 year old son and I all played How to Train Your Dragon 2: The Game for 3DS to come up with a final verdict. So does HTTYD 2 The Game for the Nintendo 3DS live up to the hope of gamers, provide enough entertainment for children or even warrant the ~$30 price tag?

HTTYD 2  the game is essentially a rudimentary dragon riding simulator. You start off as Hiccup on the back of Toothless doing the standard “turn left, turn right” business demonstrating the basic controls. All the controls are communicated within the first 25 seconds of the game then you’re on your way. At the start you can either engage in training or simply roam around the viking island looking for collectables, and satisfying Stoic’s Challenges (this is basically a list achievements). You can choose between several different dragons and dragon riders but there are very few differences between them mechanically, although they do have different collectables available to them. The training includes such activities as flying through a bunch of flaming hoops in the shortest amount of time, shooting fireballs at targets and picking up sheep and dropping them into goals. You can also enter Warrior Rallies against your dragon riding pals which comprise of all the different training events. Points are awarded based on your place in each event and the winner is the dragon rider with the most points at the end of the rally. The trainings and rallies are tedious at best. The controls aren’t very precise and with the 3DS only having one analog control, there is no way to control the camera so turning sharply into objects or walls is frequent. I found myself often missing turns during races and it’s very difficult to hit anything with fireballs even with a lock-on mechanism. There is no character or dragon progression to speak of, no upgrades, enhancements or new abilities. The trainings and rallies are all graded and you have completion percentage for challenges. Snore, these are usually the game play types I try to avoid. If you going to make a game that relies solely on score, the controls need to be spot on, HTTYD 2 The Game doesn’t even come close. After being frustrated with the the training/rallies I spent some time exploring. The I thought flying through the village, around and up the mountains, into caves, nose diving from great heights to pull up at the last minute should be fun. But even that was disappointing. The sense of speed is just non-existent. I flew all the way to the top of the highest peak, did a nose dive and the descent  was slow and yawn inspiring. There was no feeling of inertia, it was very controlled and boring. Furthermore when I hit the water I just stop, my rider didn't fall off the dragon, and the dragon just kind of stop and flip over (then you get to fly upside down for a bit, woo hoo). In the movies the dragon action scenes break-neck fast, death defying and always on the edge of going out of control. In the game, it’s not even close.

Poor gameplay aside, There is no story and the visual treatment is awful. The menus, character and environment designs are so bad I couldn't find any screenshots from this version of the game. This is too bad because now I have to paint a word picture for you. Basically if you've watched the making of any CGI movie, HTTYD 2 looks like the very first layer mapping that goes over the wire frames. The lighting is muted, shadows muddy and you can barely see those sheep I mentioned above until you've already smashed into the ground.

My kids' reviews were mixed. My son didn’t get into it too much. He played for about 20 min and then asked to play “Mario” instead. My daughter on the other hand like it quite a bit and played for a couple hours. She told me she liked flying around the mountains and exploring caves. She didn’t like the actually training all that much. I’m curious to see how much she’ll play it going forward (I’ve been hogging it to write this review).

All that being said, the game isn’t worth the $29.99. If I had to put a price on it, I’d have to say it’s worth no more than half that. The art is bland, gameplay is bland, there’s little incentive to keep playing and no story at all. I couldn’t be anymore disappointed. Buying this game at full price is like buying bologna sandwich on generic white bread for $10. Stay away, you’re not missing anything.

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