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Titanfall Review (Xbox One)

 Leave it to Beaver was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Everyday I’d sit and stare at black and white reruns of a show that had been off the air for decades yet still managed to spark a laugh and speak the truth. My favorite character wasn’t it’s namesake, Beaver Cleaver, and it wasn't his stoic older brother, Wally. My favorite was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s near delinquent friend. Eddie Haskell was the catalyst for a lot of the problems that the Cleaver boys would get into. Cheat on a test? It was Eddie’s idea. Cut school and go fishing? Eddie was behind it.My favorite was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s near delinquent friend Go to a party instead of the library to study? All Eddie. It wasn’t his bad deeds that drew me to the miscreant Eddie Haskell. I was fascinated by the fact that he never got into trouble. Whenever the boys would do something wrong, they would, of course, inevitably get caught. Back then, parents were always right and were never outsmarted by kids. But still, Eddie would slide away unscathed and slither back into the house the next week, none the worse for wear.

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The mom on the show, June Cleaver, must have known this kid was doing his best to put her sons on a short path to jail or a long life filled with bad choices. The patriarch, Ward Cleaver, had to have known that every word from Eddie Haskell’s mouth was at best a bold face lie. But still they welcomed him into their home. Why? The answer was simple. Because Eddie Haskell was charming.

He never missed a chance to remind Mrs Cleaver how lovely she looked in her pearls. He would be polite to a fault, something that must have been sorely lacking in her day to day interactions with the male-centric world of the 50’s. He made her feel beautiful, respected, and appreciated. He would make a point to congratulate Mr. Cleaver on raising 2 fine boys. And at a time where there was no higher goal than to provide for and build a strong family, Ward Cleaver had to have enjoyed the recognition given to him. Both Ward and June Cleaver were more than willing to overlook the shortcomings of Eddie Haskell, as long as he stroked their egos and made them feel good about themselves.

Titanfall is the Eddie Haskell of next gen games.

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Titanfall is pretty straightforward, taking the well worn genre of futuristic first person shooters and adding giant robots to the mix. You can fight on the ground with assault rifles and grenades, using parkour skills and jetpacks to run up walls and perch on buildings or you can call in a Titan mech to stomp grunts, let missiles fly, and even self destruct in an atomic mushroom cloud. Titanfall is mostly a multiplayer affair with the campaign seemingly only there to tick off a box on the back of the case. The core of the title is made up of 6 vs 6 online game modes. While 12 players may seem like it would make for a sparse battle in a world where 64 player skirmishes aren’t out of the norm, don’t worry because space on the field is taken up by AI grunts who do their best to get shot instead of you.

Titanfall looks great on the Xbox One. The levels are filled with detail and the Titans inspire the appropriate amount of awe when they drop into the fray. While the levels look fantastic, they quickly reveal how lifeless and static they are.Titanfall looks great on the Xbox One. You would expect that a huge battle taking place within a few city blocks would leave some type of impression on the environment, especially with giant robots lobbing missiles at one another. But after a battle, you would be hard pressed to point out any evidence that a war was going on, much less one involving 30 foot tall robots. Trees survive megaton explosions without losing a leaf. Structures that look like they’re barely holding themselves upright manage to survive multiple rocket impacts without the paint getting chipped. For all the power you wield on the field, you have surprising little effect on it. The titans are epic and the transition from scurrying along the ground to being placed inside of one is seamless. It would be nice to have more variety in the types of mech you can pilot. Aside from the 3 main body types, your customization options consist mostly of switching out the types of guns they carry. If you had dreams of dropping into battle with a customized battlebot, then you will need to scale back your expectations.

The 6 vs 6 player limit is frustratingly low, especially when you realize that MechAssault on the original Xbox was 4 v 4, and that was one of the first Xbox Live games ever. All of the advancements over the past decade have led to just 2 more players per team.Titanfall is the best last gen game you can play on a next gen system The upside to the low number of players is that you’re almost always in the middle of the action, mainly because the levels themselves are so small. Each map is roughly the size of just a few city blocks. These are limitations that you would have expected to be a thing of the past on a next gen system as powerful as the Xbox One. Instead of plowing through an entire metropolitan area, you will be battling over a small patch of land that quickly becomes repetitive. These limitations are ones that I expected to be a thing of the past. And being so early in the life of the Xbox One, maybe it’s understandable that Titanfall feels like it would be just as much at home on the Xbox 360. The more time you spend with it, the more obvious it is that Titanfall is the best last gen game you can play on a next gen system.

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Titanfall may have it’s shortcomings, but still, it’s fun. Charming. When you’re running past the near brain dead AI, you don’t care because they yell encouraging phrases to inflate your ego as you dash by.Titanfall may have it’s shortcomings, but still, it’s fun. You won’t get frustrated after being blown up repeatedly by another player because you can always go mow down a few squads of enemy AI, replenishing any feeling of power you may have lost. Eject from your doomed Titan and look in awe at the magnificent landscape below you. The leveling system is so forgiving and generous that your rank will soar up faster than you can say ‘Prestige’. Despite everything else, the bottom line is that playing Titanfall makes you feel good. Good enough to make you overlook it’s faults. Eddie Haskell would have been proud.

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Score 8/10

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

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.

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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

Forza Motorsport 4 (X360)

 

Forza4 LogoEvery year, a couple of the local Mercedes dealerships get together and rent out the Richmond International Speedway. They then spend a full day attempting to convince ‘VIPs’ to buy a new overpriced luxury car. They do this by letting you speed around in an assortment of Mercs on an assortment of courses specifically designed to make you want one right now. And being a VIP just means that they’ve sold you a car in the past or they’re pretty sure they’re gonna sell you one on the next week or so. Today, I was a VIP. So that there’s no suspense, I’ll jump to the end. I didn’t leave that day with a new Mercedes. I’m very happy with my Crown Vic, thank you very much. But I did leave with the knowledge of what it means to love driving.

  • Published in Xbox 360

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

Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter (PC)

Most epic fantasy has a lot of thanks to give not only to Tolkien, but to his inspirations: mythos and lore. In this same way, much of modern fantasy that occupies tabletops and gaming consoles can tip a hat to Forgotten Realms for the depth of their universes. It's hard to escape the influence in most games set in medieval or high fantasy. Expecting Perfect World and Cryptic to bring something new to the table when presenting their free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, is a bit much considering this framework defined the genre. Yet they still brought innovation to the table, just with focus on MMORPG functionality.

This isn't to say Perfect World changed how they monetize FTPMMOs. They have a solid structure that has worked with their many other titles, and they know better than to mess with that. For those new to the program, however, things can be a little daunting. I get that the urge to rush into the gameplay is strong, and you probably feel you have a pretty good grasp on MMOs in general, (at least I did), but it's important to pay attention in the beginning of the game. Not everything you need to know is spelled out for you, but the game offers access in game to wikis and provides tips in load screens. You can also do a quick search and find plenty of fanmade wikis to aid you, as well. Learning as much as you can as early as you can will benefit you, because there are a lot of things going on here.

First, there is normal gameplay. The controls here are decent once you get used to a targeting system that is a little unorthodox for third-person RPGs. (I did, however, much prefer the controls here to the ones found in D&D Online, but maybe I just didn't give those enough time.) My biggest gripe with a targeting system where you aim instead of click on targets is how often line of sight is easily broken. (This is especially a headache if you try to heal an individual in a full on battle.) When targeting enemies, however, there is a bit of an auto-aim that adjusts your character's focus while you are in attack mode. The controls are fluid and responsive. I have always been a double-click the mouse runner, but learning to use WASD full time was not difficult, especially since it's pretty standard. The rest of the key-mapping is intuitive and easy to remember, and also entirely customizable.

Speaking of customization, the character selection screen is pretty darn good. Players can choose between some of the most prominent races in Forgotten Realms, such as halflings, half-orcs, dwarfs, and even the drow eventually, with more races to come. Tieflings are also an option, creating some of the most impressive looking wizards you'll see running around in game. Individual tweaking of character appearance is detailed (though not quite as much as in PWI or other Cryptic titles) and impacts both facial structure and body structure. A wide range of tones are available for skin, hair, and other features. There are also three body types available, including a “heavy” preset, which can be altered using individual sliders for each body area.

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Class is not limited to race, though different races have abilities consistent with specific class types. There are also more classes that will be added to the game over time.  Attributes are chosen by rolling, which is a nice touch. One of the best parts of creating a character is choosing their background and deity alignment. You can also add a character history while creating a character, or at any point during gameplay. Just be sure to save this text in another application, because I encountered a glitch that repeatedly erased the character history I wrote for all of my characters. Only two character slots are available per account, with additional slots available for purchase. Some gamers choose to create multiple accounts to get past paying, but keep in mind that purchases made on one account with real money will not transfer to other accounts.

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Speaking of the many forms of currency, how do they work? Well, the Zen currency is used in all of Perfect World's game incarnations. It allows you access to exclusive items, but there is also a variety of game currencies that can be achieved through different means as you progress in the game. Each currency relates to a specific market, granting access to things such as augmentations, profession items, and potions. Astral diamonds are the in game currency that can be acquired and traded for Zen to be spent on exclusive items. The amount of astral diamonds needed for these items is very high, and it takes a lot of work, but there are ways to avoid spending real money to get some of the real money items.

 

Astral diamonds/Zen also help to unlock Nightmare Lockboxes that are found in the game. While most of the drops in the game at lower to mid level are good, they all lack a certain legendary quality. The character will have many chances to collect these dropped lockboxes. They contain very rare items at random, but require a large about of astral diamonds or the purchase of Zen to open. At this point, there are aspects of the game that resemble a pay-to-win structure. I personally prefer when games stick to purely aesthetic purchases for real currency. On the other hand, you are required to pay nothing for a game that will likely provide you weeks upon weeks of enjoyment.

I had no real issue with the currency system because I've always been more of a PvE player, but there is a PvP arena that allows party vs party combat. It can be really invigorating provided you're in a solid team. If you prefer solo or small group play, the game is set up for that, too. I found the rogue and cleric to be very fun in solo play. You can also unlock the ability to use a computer controlled companion that you train and summon to help you. Keeping up with the timing of their training, on top of timed profession building, means your character has a lot to focus on while they strive for the current level cap of 60. Professions work like time-based quests found in social gaming apps, so they can be performed in the background at all times. There are dungeons and skirmishes available, each performed with a full party of five players. Queue up for these events while you work on other parts of the game.

All of the things I'm describing are achieved at level ten and higher, but you can only realize how fun these things are if you make it past the beginning of the game. Granted leveling is quick, and the beginning is relatively short, but the story here is drab, dry, and a sorry follow-up to the awe-inspiring opening cinematic. The story and fighting abilities vastly improve as the player levels, and my personal favorite feature of the entire game is introduced at level 15- The Foundry. The Foundry allows players to create their own quests and campaigns within the game. Some of the stories you can play, created by individuals from all over the world, are varied, creative, and an excellent way to level outside of the main quests. You can create your own campaigns, but this varies from the tabletop version. Even with a vastly adaptable tool kit and a cornucopia of base content to configure, there are limits simply by using the visual representation required in game. That's not to say the limits prevent any worth- the Foundry is an amazing addition to this gameplay format, and does a fantastic job at resembling the creative nature of tabletop itself.

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The truth is, as a lifelong fan of the Forgotten Realms and nearly every game released from this universe, I had high expectations. In some ways, I was disappointed. I maybe expected too much from the story given my nostalgia for other games set within Neverwinter or Baldur's Gate. Neverwinter is a game that takes a little time to ease into, but it's worth the investment. I'd even say that in-game purchases with real money are warranted, provided you like the game enough to keep playing as it grows better and better. Beware of glitches that can cause things like character histories to be erased, or even prevent you from using an ability or potion here or there during battle. (I encountered the latter infrequently, and I'm sure the game is constantly patching and fixing these things.) One of the most compelling features of Neverwinter is the constant attention to improving the game and adding more features, including endgame PvE and PvP opportunities. This, along with character created Foundry campaigns and a seeming desire to incorporate the essence of tabletop magic, lead me to highly recommend at the very least trying this game if you are a fan of Forgotten Realms and MMOs.

  • Published in PC

Retro City Rampage (PS3)

 

retro city rampage 01When I saw her, the first thing that went through my mind was that she doesn’t belong in a place like this. She’s leaning up against the bar, drink in hand and facing the crowd, oblivious to the mass of people. Her blood red dress contrasts against the dull woodgrain of the world around her.

Her curves. Every line on her body forms a flowing curve. Her shape forces your eyes to make the journey from floor to ceiling. My eyes take note of each destination. Legs. Hips. Chest. Face. It’s as if she was created from the molds of the women I’ve known in the past. The best parts of them sculpted into the work of art thats taking inventory of the room from the bar.

It’s a methodology shared by Brian Provinciano, who has taken iconic traits from legendary games and managed to form them into a fun, expansive title that can be as deep or as straightforward as the player wants. There are the obvious nods to well known classics like Duck Hunt, Contra, and Frogger. But there are just as many influences from lesser known but just as deserving games like Bionic Commando and Top Gunner. From the moment the opening title screen appears, Retro City Rampage makes it clear that its about to take you on a ride into the past.

Her legs. The thin red fabric of the the dress outlines the long supple shape of her legs. Her pose accentuates their tone, creating an angle that allows the slit in the dress to do it’s job, exposing a single, tanned thigh to the world. Exposed is the wrong word. Revealed is better. The cloth separates and is replaced by flesh. It’s an immediate and yet barely noticeable transition. It’s revealing.

retro city rampage 02Hidden in each section of Retro City Rampage are layers of reasons to replay each level. Not so that you can get extra power ups or max out your point total. Instead you want to make sure that you’ve seen every little in-joke and bit of pop culture that was crafted into the area. Provinciano has taken his time in dotting the game’s landscape with layers of memories from gaming history.

The dress. It was from a different era. A vintage relic from the past that made me question why things had to change. Sheer skirts, low cut blouses, tight jeans, they are all just pretenders to the throne that this dress reigns over. Its fabric hugs her body without being greedy. Instead of being skin tight and trying too hard, the cloth just kisses her skin, tracing the form that nature sculpted for her. The neckline dives down her chest, just barely promising a glimpse at the arc of her breasts.

Like that dress, Retro City Rampage is a piece of the past that has been forced into the modern era. It calls itself ‘retro’ and proclaims that it’s a parody, but thats not true. It’s not a mockup of what people think gaming used to be like. It actually is a game from those times. Its nonsensical story, exacting controls and multiple gameplay styles have created a game that doesn’t parody gaming history, it celebrates it.

Her face. Everything else was just a prelude. Her hair cascades over her shoulders, catching what little light that was in the room and framing her cheekbones. Her pursed lips show only a hint of a smile. It’s a sly expression that lets you know that whatever she’s about to say, it will be about you. Long lashes cast shade over her eyes, and yet their sharp, silver tone still flashes through. She’s scanning the room, like a predator bored with the hunt.

retro city rampage 03The seconds that I’ve been mesmerized by her feel like hours. It’s as if I’ve been standing in a museum, examining the brush strokes of a Matisse, with more details uncovered every moment. She wasn’t perfection. But she stood there with a smoldering confidence that dared you to notice any perceived flaw.

The faults with Retro City Rampage may be there because they’re inherent in the style of game it is. But they’re still there. No matter how detailed the pixel art is, it’s still pixel art. The reduced color palette may be authentic, but after spending a lot of time with this game (and most likely , you will be spending a lot of time with it), it drifts into being gaudy. But those are shortcomings that can be happily tolerated. Because in return you get a rare title that even though it takes pride in being wholly unoriginal, is one of the most original games released in years.

Score 9/10

Rise of the Triad Review

 

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I didn't get really into gaming until the early 2000s, so I missed a lot of the classic stuff that some people remember about the early days of gaming, including Apogee. They eventually turned into 3D Realms, but they put out some stuff before then that people really liked like Wolfenstein 3D, the Blake Stone games, and Rise of the Triad: Dark War. ROTT was a prime example (at least from what I've heard) of the old school style of shooters, with crazy enemies, weapons, and power ups. Also you could turn into a dog. So it would make sense that someone would want to reboot a franchise like this. It's unfortunate that they had to reboot like this, because it's not very good. 

In the new Rise of the Triad, you once again slip into the leather boots of H.U.N.T., the High-risk United Task-force, consisting of Taradino Cassatt, Thi Barrett, Lorelei Ni, Doug Wendt, and Ian Paul Freeley. They are sent to San Nicolas Island off the south coast of Calfornia, which has been taken over by a terrorist group/cult called The Triad. Once there, the team gets discovered and their boat is destroyed, meaning the only way off the island is to fight your way through the Triad. And beyond that I honestly couldn't tell you anything more. The only story bit I saw was at the very beginning of the game. It was told in a motion comic style cutscene, complete with pretty decent artwork and absolutely terrible voice acting. You'd think that last bit would be a negative, but it got me really excited to play the game. While some of the characters' voice-work was just the bad kind of bad, most of the main five have the kind of bad voice acting that just makes laugh and feel good about things.

Then we get to the actual game part of the game. You can play as any of the five characters listed above and each come with their own stats, like endurance or speed, meaning some guys are tougher while other guys are faster. But honestly I couldn't tell you the in-game difference between any one of them. All of them seem to take the same damage, which is really inconsistent depending on where you are, and they all move at one speed, which too fast to be playable. Every character moves at half the speed of sound and the mouse is so sensitive even at 50% that trying to look around while walking down a straight becomes a huge ordeal that will probably end with you running into a wall repeatedly or being stuck on some piece of the world geometry. The movement speed is especially crappy for searching for and collecting coins and secrets, which the game scores you on. A lot of times they are on walkways or platforms that you have to jump to or use jump pads to reach. Since you're in first person the entire time, you can never see your feet to judge when you're above it. Add on to that that your movement in the air is just as fast as when you're on the ground, it becomes a game of trial and error trying to get these items. If you want to avoid these annoying platforming bits and forget about the collectibles, some levels force you to platform in order to finish a level. To top it all off, some of these sections result in instant death if you mess up even once, meaning you have to go back to the last checkpoint, which there are only two of in every level.

original

But you don't come to a game like this for the platforming, you come for the guns and shooting which kind of work. You got your standard stuff with your pistols, machine gun, and rocket launcher, but then you have some of the cooler stuff. You've got the heat seeking missiles, which home in on enemies. You've got drunken missiles, which can be fired like a minigun or just flying off in random directions. You've got the heat wave, which shoots out a wall of fire that incinerates your enemies. And you've got Excalibat, a magical baseball with an eye in the center of it that kills enemies in one hit and fires energy balls. The weapons themselves are actually kinda weak and don't really have any kind of punch behind them, but they can make the game bearable for a brief few moments. But these weapons come with very limited ammo and once you run out, so long interesting weapon. You can pick up more of them and if you know where to look you can be rolling with these for a good chunk of the game. If you aren't looking carefully, though, you can miss these weapons and be stuck with your standard stuff. The pistols and machine gun are total jokes, with enemies soaking up bullets and barely even reacting to being shot by these guns over and over again. It makes you feel completely powerless and these weapons, along with all the other ones I mentioned, can be stolen very easily by the enemy leaving you with a solitary pistol until you can find something interesting again. The cool thing I will say about the pistols and machine gun is that both of them have infinite ammo but you can still reload them. So you can just stand there for twenty minutes reloading your dual-wielded pistols with an awesome animation. It won't affect anything and is entirely pointless, but it looks great.

The enemies will be shooting at you, too, so you'll need to know where their shots are coming from to find them. Good luck with that, because the damage indicator is a joke. It barely reacts when you're being shot, so you only get a notification when you're being shot every fourth or fifth time. It also doesn't dynamically move to show where the shots came from relative to the way you're looking. Combine that with the movement speed problem and you will have no idea where most shots are coming from unless you stand still and just wait while you're getting shot to find the enemies. Also, have fun finding the enemies. All of them dress in grey and brown, and since this is an Unreal Engine game, all of the environments are grey or brown, so enemies can very easily blend into the background while spinning around trying to find them. It gets especially fun in the poorly lit corners when the only way to see them is their muzzle flare. Plus, enemies can just randomly spawn in. Multiple times throughout the game I'd be walking along and all of a sudden an enemy just appears before my eyes.

Speaking of environments, they are quite bland in this game. Every level I played was interchangeable with every other level in a given area, just with a different layout. Because of this it can be difficult to figure out which way you're supposed to go. A few times while playing I got turned around and ended up running back to the start of the level before I realized I was going the wrong way. From what I've seen of later levels this gets better, but they still look incredibly boring. One of the later levels gets lava and it looks just awful.

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This game is also bugged up the butt. I already mentioned the enemies magically appearing in front of you and being caught in the world geometry, but that's just the tip of the iceburg. Many times while playing through the game, I was forced to reload my machine gun. The machine gun, need I remind you, has infinite ammo and no need to reload. But still, I would walk in to an area, running out of my rocket launcher or special rocket launcher ammunition, and switch back to my machine gun. I would click to fire, but instead I would reload, giving the enemy a chance to shoot me to death.

The cheats are bugged as well, because yeah there are cheats. Twice when I was in god mode, you know, the mode that makes you invincible, I was killed. And this wasn't an instance where god mode just randomly turned off (although that happened a couple of times, too). I was in the middle of a god mode massacre, when all of a sudden this big new enemy or boss would show up, fire off one shot, and kill me instantly. Even if I wasn't in god mode, I was at 100% health. Either those enemies have one-hit kills or I got screwed. On top of being buggy, the cheats just aren't really that great to begin with. Sure, god mode and no clip and stuff like that is fine, but all of the cool stuff brought over from the original game are just power ups, even with cheat codes. The god mode power up is way better than the god mode cheat, but that and dog mode and every other cool thing from the original game can only be used for a short amount of time before they run out. Then you'll have to jump back to the command console, which doesn't pause the game when you pull it up, enter in the code again and pick up the power up it spawns. That is, assuming it even summons the power up at all. I've had to enter codes four or five times to get the power up to appear.

Finally there's multiplayer. But I couldn't tell you anything about it. I waited in the lobby for 10 minutes while the game searched for servers. It never stopped searching.

Rise of the Triad is not a good game. It is a pretty bad one. While some of the weapons and power ups are kinda cool and it's nice to play this style of shooter again, the game is buggy and bland and too damn fast you to enjoy any of the nostalgia this kind of shooter will invoke. If you're a huge fan of the original, I can maybe see you getting some enjoyment out of this. But you have no love for the original and are just looking for a fun, old-timey shooter, DOOMSerious Sam, and Painkiller are all available on Steam. Get them. Don't even bother looking at this game. it's not worth your time.

  • Published in PC

Call of Duty : Advanced Warfare Review [PS4]

Call of Duty. The game people love to hate. The Michael Bay movie of the gaming world, everyone will complain about it but everyone will play. This year’s addition to the franchise Advanced Warfare is brought to us by COD new comers (not including their help on MW3) Sledgehammer games. In this COD Sledgehammer have brought the franchise to the future. Exo skeletons and Minority Report stylisation galore.


From the offset you can be sure…this ain’t your daddy’s COD. The introduction of the double jump alone has created a whole new beast, let’s take a look shall we?


The campaign mode, while not any different from any previous year’s campaign weighs in at around 6 hours gameplay (for the average gamer) and this is what we have come to expect from the Activision shooter franchise. However this time, more than applicable to any previous iteration, it is advisable to play through the campaign first before delving into multiplayer as Sledgehammer have shaken the very foundations of the COD series that have remained relatively unchanged since the first major shake-up in Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare.
Story wise it is more or less the same length as previous CODs, you have your team, you have your buddies and you have your mission. While not quite as engaging as perhaps the Ghosts campaign, the jump to the future certainly changes the game significantly in location settings and looks, and also the equipment available. While playing the story, even in the opening chapter, you are witness to a ‘Matrix’ esque swarm of drones and walkers that look plucked straight out of Metal Gear Solid 4. A standard tale of power and corruption helmed by Kevin Spacey himself is enjoyable, but it won’t take the whole weekend to complete.

COD AW UN-Speech


In campaign mode, visiting the pause menu will greet you with a set of EXO challenges such as, get 50 kills or, collect 5 pieces of Intel. This gifts to the game a set of side quests to accomplish alongside your main objective. The introduction of the new arsenal such as the threat detector grenade, gives Advanced Warfare’s campaign even more reason to be played as it gets the player fully comfortable with the changes this time round. A short stealth section aside and some ninja like grappling, the campaign is an easy 6 hour blast, needed this time before hitting the multiplayer. While short and sweet like most COD campaigns, the main story proves more as a necessary training ground for the COD elite.


Controls are shaken up a tad with the dodge mechanic, clicking L3 down and flicking down, left or right will make your character dodge in the corresponding direction. While a nice touch, having it in the multi-player is quite redundant giving the fast paced antics you find in there. Clicking R3, knife kills are replaced with insta-death punches which feels immensely more satisfying than knifing. Finding the beam weapon instantly brings the Ghostbusters theme to your head and is gratifying to use to cause more devastation.

COD AW Biolab-EM1


Weapons are much more fun to handle, the aiming and feedback are a whole ton better than we had in Ghosts last year. Bringing the franchise to the future has seemingly brought the fun back to COD. Getting used to the new mechanics and the level layouts is a breath of fresh air to the series and something that needs to be recognised by the teams making next year’s iteration.


Onto multiplayer, while it’s always nice to play your favourite COD map (Nuke town right?) having a complete fresh feeling set is always better. Yeah sure most new CODs have their own set of maps, but never before has such as sense of freshness occurred in venturing into online multiplayer. Thanks to the ingenious (and about 5-10 years overdue) double jump mechanic, playing COD online is a very different game from ANY game previous. Maps have suddenly become much more open as reaching high places is as simple as a double tap of X. That one guy who used to be carefully placed in an unapproachable nesting spot can be quickly dealt with by a few timed double jumps.


Multiplayer seems a lot more frantic this time around. While standing pumping rounds into the guy in front, his buddy is generally only a corner away with a loaded fist. Fast paced has never been a more astute phrase, but this time you will need your wits about the multi layered levels. As granting players the ability to leap buildings and walls means you are never a minute away from the action.


For the old hard-core, online mode does feature a classics section, where you can play online with all the new-fangled young kids double jumping is negated for good old fashioned shooting and being shot at. The extra mile has certainly went into making Advanced Warfare feel as different while familiar as possible.

COD AW Riot-Slam-Dunk


On to the not so goods – graphically the character models in the cut scenes and in game are absolutely superb. Kevin Spacey being a natural highlight in the story but, each characters facial expressions have had some amount of work put into them. Hats off to Sledgehammers talented studio for that. However the downside is while looking very nice in cut scenes, when the game actually hits the backgrounds just can’t match that cut scene quality and somewhat detracts from the immersion. Getting new items and equipment this time around sadly is not up to the player and is assigned automatically after each online match. This leads to a sense of less customisation than the previous installments that have allowed the player to pick their rewards after matches.


All in all COD is a great package, it’s a big shake up in the way the games played and is visually impressive despite the shortfalls in the way the backgrounds look in gameplay. This is the game to bring back the COD doubters and is the game for any Kevin Freaking Spacey fan to play as he is fantastic in the campaign mode. It’s big dumb fun, but this time… it’s futuristic big dumb fun that might require some getting used to.
For more on COD Advanced Warfare, check out 42 Level One every Tuesday at 9:30pm GMT right here on All Games.
9/10

The Good
It’s the freshest COD since MW 1
Kevin “freaking” Spacey
The guns

The Bad
Campaigns still short and unsurprising
Scenery could look prettier

Rush Bros. (Mac/PC)

rush bros review

If you would like to play a fun, energetic, competitive  type video game, then you may want to play Rush Bros. In the multiplayer mode, you play against your friends and find out just who is the better player.  Rush Bros. is essentially a platform racing game, where your video game character travels and avoids or conquers several obstacles before reaching the finish.  The gameplay consists of about 40 levels, with you as the video game player choosing the specific level you want to play. You do not have to traverse each level in sequence -- you have the freedom to choose whichever level you prefer to play.  There is also a survival and fast forward mode where the gameplay is basically the same; however, your character will move more quickly.

 

Rush Bros. Gameplay Before I get into the specific gameplay, lets talk about some preliminaries.  Rush Bros. is a PC/Mac game, so it is playable on either the PC or the Mac.  I played this video game on my Mac, and did not experience any problems having the game added to my Steam library for gameplay.  So it goes without saying that before you play this game, you must already have a Steam account or be prepared to set one up.  I'm thinking that if you are an avid video game player, whether you play games on your favorite consoles, PC or Mac -- that you more than likely already have a Steam account.  If not, why not set one up so you can play Rush Bros. with your friends?

 

Rush Bros.!Rush Bros.!

 A big part of video games in addition to gameplay is the graphics.  This game did not disappoint in this area.  I believe you will enjoy the bright graphics as well as the colorful backgrounds as you play the different levels of this game.  Even though Rush Bros is a racing game -- the race to the finish may not be as simple as you may think.  On your way, hopefully to victory, you will encounter spikes and other obtacles that you have to avoid if you want to clinch the win.  

 

Need help in getting to that next higher structure while you are racing?  Simply, use the springs to propel your character to the next higher height.  If the springs do not do the trick, then you may have to scale the side of the structure before jumping over the spikes to continue your journey for the win. My points here are there are a multitude of ways to move your character along the platform.

 

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 You may say to me -- "Well, that's all good, Ms. H, but were there any negatives about this game?"  My response would be the positives of this game outweigh the negatives -- but there were some.  When I loaded the game and saw the graphics on the main page, I thought this would be basically a music game.  I saw two figures wearing sunglasses who appeared  to be DJs.  And what do DJs do?  Among other things, they play music.  So I was getting excited about playing some sort of music game.  However, that was not to be the case.  Music is a big part of this game -- in fact, you can change the music to listen to different tracks as you play the game.  However, music is more of a by-product of the game -- instead of being intricately woven into the gameplay -- at least on the parts of this game that I played.  Once the gameplay started, the music was more of a backdrop to the game itself.

 

I'm not sure if this was a glitch in the game; however, while trying to get my character through a maze of blocks, I got him actually stuck in a block -- and he could not get out.  Try as I may -- the little figure stayed in the confines of the block until the challenger, of course, obviously won the race, since I could not get my character out of the block.

 

Another possible glitch is at one time during gameplay, I stopped pushing buttons during the game; however, the figure continued to run back and forth across the screen. Mind you, this was a character that should have been following my directional commands -- but that was not the case. He kept moving along, without me pushing nary a button.

 

There was also what I would call a "tedious" part of the game. The gameplay involved the character needing a key to open certain doors.  In order to get the key, the character had to backtrack over areas that had already been covered to retrieve the key -- and then go back to the door with the key to open it.  I found this part of the game to be tedious, because I felt that I made progress in getting to the door that required a key -- only to find out that I had to sometimes retrace my steps to get the key and return back to the door to open it.  Some may see this as a way to win the race, especially if your challenger is not fast at locating and using the key; however, I found it tedious to go back and forth in this game.  My suggestion would be to position the key at a checkpoint that is very close to the door to be opened instead of having the player to retrace his or her steps.  

 

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From a PC/Mac playing standpoint, versus the video game consoles, i.e. the current Xbox 360, and the PS3, I had to get accustomed to using either the directional arrows or the specific alphabet keys to move the character. In my opinion, this game would be more enjoyable to play using a controller instead of the keyboard.  In fact, I believe it is recommended that a controller be used along with your PC or Mac.  Unfortunately, during the game, in my zeal to win, my fingers would sometimes become overly taxed, as I pounded the keys to move the character.  Thankfully, my fingers returned back to normal after I stopped playing the game. Of course, you may or may not experience this discomfort while playing the game.

 

Now back to the positives. I liked  getting co-op help on certain parts of the game via challenger on Skype. I also liked the upbeat music that played during the gameplay, as well as the different environments that changed with each level. 

 

Sounds like a video game you would like to play? If so, you can play Rush Bros. now since it is available on Steam for the PC and Mac. 

 

Rush Bros. was released on May 24, 2013 by Xyla Entertainment.

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  • Published in PC
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