Agents of SHIELDcast

The Golf Club Review [Xbox One]

I’ve only been on a golf course once in my life. I’m not talking about the Putt Putt courses with a spinning windmill and an orange ball. I practically used to live at those things. But a real, honest to goodness 18 hole PGA level golf course. That count stands at one.

At the time I was a web programmer. I spent my days sitting in an office, writing the same apps over and over while our salesman convinced local businesses that they really needed a contact page added to the new website he just sold them. Suddenly, I found myself in the passenger seat of Pete the salesman’s convertible BMW, on our way to a golf course in the middle of nowhere. According to Pete, I was there to ‘check out the golf pro’s system’.

HB Studio’s ‘The Golf Club’ on the Xbox One doesn’t boast PGA courses or professional golfers. Instead it offers you the chance to create your own course via the built in, Greg Norman branded, editor. You can share your courses online and have them rated and ranked by other players. I can’t help but think that whatever HB Studios paid for the Greg Norman licence was could have been used elsewhere because the legendary golfer makes no appearances in the game. No helpful tips on what makes a good course, or a critique of your creations, or even a simple audio clip saying ‘Hi I’m Greg Norman’ show up. Instead the only impact I see from the trademark is his Shark logo on the main menu. Your choice of golfer consists of either guy or girl. I admit that I’ve been spoiled by the extensive character creators of other sports titles, but at this point it’s almost a prerequisite.

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A major part of The Golf Club is the voice of your golf buddy, John, who gives you tips on certain shots and comments on your play. He has a friendly, ‘one of the guys’ tone but unfortunately, he quickly gets repetitive. Before I had finished 18 holes I was already hearing some of the same remarks over and over again.

When we arrive it’s eerie how close the scene was to the stereotypical golf clubs you’d see on TV and the movies. You’re immediately greeted by beautiful mahogany decor with deep leather furniture carefully placed throughout the sprawling lobby. There was even a chandelier. I quickly asked where the server room was, hoping to be in and out of the building in a few minutes. Pete gave me a quizzical look and informed me that the computer could wait, we were on our way to the dining room to get lunch. As someone who was living on a diet of Subway and Rally’s I was a little out of my depth when the waiter came to our table and asked to show the wine list. I just ordered a chicken salad sandwich.

In The Golf Club, the decor is a bit more sparse. I know that actually hanging out at in the proverbial clubhouse in the game may have been too much to ask for, but John, the disembodied voice keeps bringing it up, making the absence of an (admittedly gratuitous) visual lobby even more noticeable. The game boasts local and online multiplayer, and it also allows you to play against your own best rounds or those of your friends. You may be a little disappointed when you don’t see your opponents on the screen though. I would have enjoyed the feeling of a group of golf buddies on the course together. Instead only their golf balls make an appearance.

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We had been there over an hour and I had yet to see anything resembling a computer. Finally, the golf pro appeared and we led us back to his office, overlooking the driving range. After deciphering his non-technical explanation of ‘This computer aint working’ I realized why I was there. Tech support. It turned out that he had ordered a video capture card because he wanted to tape his lessons and sell them online. The problem was, he had no idea what a capture card was and definitely didn’t know how to install one. The next thing I know, Im installing drivers, screwing in video cards and configuring the network adapter.‘Sure I got Internet, but It don’t work’ was translated into ‘I never plugged in the network cable and don’t know if I even have one’.

Controlling your golfer on the XBox One is a very straightforward and intuitive affair. Instead of the standard 3 button-press control scheme for your swing, The Golf Club relies solely on the analog stick. Pulling the stick back winds up your swing and moving it forward completes the motion. It’s the same for driving or putting. It’s a natural feel and easy to get used to. The downside is that you aren’t given much in the way of gauging how much power you’re using. You have to guess how far back a swing you’ll need for a 28 ft putt or a 53 yard chip shot. It’s frustrating and transforms each hole into a difficult series of guessing games. There’s no kinect based control options.

In the middle of downloading drivers for an ancient Creative Labs card, I realize that I’m alone in the office. I look out the window and see Pete practicing his swing and getting a steady supply of tips from the golf pro. I could hear them both in between swings, sometimes talking about how important to bend your knees when on the backswing. And sometimes discussing just how they’d split the commission if the golf pro convinced the Club to ’add this internet stuff’ to the building. And thats when it hit me. I was living a textbook example of how the world works. These two guys, puffing on cigars, playing golf, were deciding how much money they were going to make from the work I was doing. And the numbers being tossed around were way above the hourly rate I was getting. As a matter of fact, my workday was done hours ago, so I wasn’t even being paid for this.

I put down the screwdriver and announce that I’m done. I gave some technobabble excuse as to why the videocard wouldn’t work and that he needed to buy a new one. Maybe it was true, maybe it wasn’t. I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember deciding I wasn’t going to spend another second sweating over some old rich guy’s computer while he squabbled with another old rich guy about how much money they were going to make from me.

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The Golf Club is a solid golf game. There’s is no denying that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go much further. On the XBox One the game looks beautiful in still shots, but in motion, cracks appear under the surface. You can’t help but to notice the trees popping into existence during long drives or the emptiness of the course thats void of any other golfers or even a caddy. The Golf Club is perfect for a simple relaxing game of golf on the XBox One. One of the things HB Studios’ title has over the golf club I was a guest at, is with it’s budget price tag, you won’t feel like some old rich guys are trying to cheat you out of a dollar.

Score 6/10

  • Published in Xbox One

The Walking Dead Season 2 – Episode 3 [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

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

Review: Midnight Club Los Angeles Xbox 360

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you realize you're number two. The 'Backup Plan', the 'Just in Case', the 'If All Else Fails', 'Second'. Because even when you do get to step up to the plate, its only a matter of time before you're back on the bench. It doesn't matter how good you are or how well you perform. You're only there because the first choice wasn't available. It was you or boredom.


That's Midnight Club L.A. It likes to pretend it's a glitzy blinged out arcade racer. It tries hard to impress with a lot of licensed cars and a pseudo representation of L.A.'s streets and highways. But as soon as you load it up and the poorly scripted 'story' starts, it's true nature shines through. Its really just a slightly ramped up version of the driving sections in GTA IV. And you're only playing it because you've already played through Nico's storyline twice.


Sitting across from the table from someone while they wait for their cell phone to ring is not the best way to enjoy a meal. It doesn't matter if you're funny or smart or know how to order the wine in French. Because you're the second choice. They'd happily trade you in for a cold sandwich with someone else. The pasta is bland and dry as you swallow because you know that all it takes is one phone call, and you're eating alone again. Look at those eyes. They're looking through you.
Being second sucks. You're always waiting for the hammer to fall when number one decides that they're ready to take over again. You can never get too comfortable because there's nothing stopping the door from slamming on you. What will happen when the first choice stops showing up at all? It doesn't really matter, because no matter what, you're number two. Someone else will go to the top of the list while you brush up on witty reparte.


Burnout Paradise is what Midnight Club wants to be. It wishes it could have Burnout's style and graphics and falls short imitating its gameplay options. MCLA's modes consist of 'Race from A to B', and 'Race from A to B to C'. Sure, you can plow through traffic like a madman, but it lacks Burnout's wild stunts or crashes. Adding in motorcycles and a race editor don't make up for the yawn inducing treks through the city. It wants to be more, but it falls short.


Being second sucks. Your phone only rings because someone else didn't pick up. You only get invited because someone else dropped out. You're only on the speed dial until they need the room. Midnight Club L.A. is only in the Xbox because Need For Speed Undercover wasn't on the shelves. You'd rather be playing EA's version of cops and robbers than Rockstar's. The cops that roam the streets in MC:LA act like after thoughts. The car customization tool looks like it was pulled directly from old versions of NFS. Nothing is terrible, its just 'okay'. But 'okay' is only good enough until the real deal is available.


Being second sucks. You wonder how it would feel to not get dismissed. No more sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you hear the click of call waiting. What would you do if every call didn't end with 'my other line is ringing, I gotta go'. It must be staggering to have someone's full attention. Being first would be great. Intoxicating.


Midnight Club:LA doesn't do a lot wrong. The rubber band AI, uninspired gameplay, and lax graphics aren't it's biggest flaws. Its biggest flaw is that it's a second choice. And being second sucks.
Score 5/10

Ducktales Remastered Review

When Ducktales first released on the NES in 1989 I was 4 years old and whilst I probably was aware of the TV show, I had yet to make my first foray into the magical world of Nintendo (I was busy twiddling nobs to move paddles up and down on some Pong clone). So the jist of it is that I have never owned a NES and therefore never played Ducktales. 
 
Shocking I know but that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. So when it was announced that Ducktales would be given the HDifying treatment affording me the chance to play the game for the first time I was understandably excited (especially as continuous reruns of the cartoon during my childhood years have left Scrooge McDuck and his nephews and also the ridiculously awesome theme tune, engraved into my mind). Ducktales a woo-ooo.
 
It's now 2013 and this year we have the next generation of consoles coming out but still we gamers clamor for these old school 2D platformers (just check out Ali's review of the recently released Cloudberry Kingdom) and remakes of our childhood favourites like Amiga classic Superfrog HD, there seems to be a new one popping up every week.
 
This week it's Ducktales turn to be remade and exposed to all the retro gamers and a whole new generation of gamers who were either too young like me or perhaps not even born yet when it originally released.
 
The game harkens back to the days of old school Mario and Alex the Kidd playing a lot like Mario the difference here is Scrooge Mcduck the grumpy Scottish Billionaire. The main character of this game is not your atypical hero, he's a duck, he's Scottish and he has a rather misguided view on life, valuing his vast fortune of gold and collectables over all else. And it's here that we kick off our adventure with Scrooges fortune being stolen by a load of Beagles and after he rescues his nephews and reclaims his mansion we set off on the epic quest for treasure.
 
Scrooge controls much like the classic Mario however Scrooge utilises his cane as a pogo stick/weapon to bounce on enemies heads and to reach higher platforms, this can be a huge advantage but also in some areas becomes a massive hinderance to progression with spikes etc on the ceiling for you to avoid. The pogo mechanic is actually one of the most frustrating aspects of the game for me as when it works correctly it’s great fun and a useful tool in the game, however when it goes wrong it really causes you problems especially on the higher difficulties where you have very limited lives. The game almost lulls you into a false sense of comfort with the pogoing you’ll be bouncing quite happily on platforms and enemies only for Scrooge to suddenly stop dead when he hits the ground, inevitably this throws you off your game and inevitably an enemy you were about to pogo on will hit you instead. This becomes very frustrating both in the platforming areas and against the bosses however on the lower difficulties it isn’t such an issue as you have more lives (especially on easy where you have unlimited lives).
 
Graphically Ducktales is easily comparable to any recently released 2D platformer, though the backgrounds are rendered in 3d the sprites retain that classic 2D aspect and that only adds to the overall charm. This is of course a Disney title based on the cartoon of the same name from the late 80’s/early 90’s so it just oozes charm all over from the cutesy trio of Scrooges Nephews to the classic soundtrack including the famous theme song in all it's chip tune glory. 
 
The replayability for this game is actually far more vast than you would initially expect for this style of game. We have online leader boards tracking total time played, fastest completion time, most profitable playthrough and most money collected overall. In addition to this there are a ton of unlockables to purchase with the money you collect, ranging from concept art and sketches to music. In addition to this there are 4 difficulty levels, easy, normal, hard and extreme, and for anyone who hasn't played this before it is a tough game even on normal it provides a solid challenge! So to finish it on the top difficulty is going to be a real tough ask.
 
The real crux of this game is that it's just huge amounts of fun, easy to play hard to master and it does have possibly the best theme tune in any game ever, however at £11.99 in the UK it is in my opinion hugely overpriced unless you are planning to play through it multiple times for high scores and trophies, so unless you are looking for those I’d recommend waiting for a sale.
 
Overall Score - 76%

Andy Urquhart
42 Level One


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

Abyss Odyssey Review (PC)

I have no idea what to think of this game. It's really weird, but not in any quantifiable way. Or at least not one that I can easily verbalize. It is so janky with everything it is trying to do that it is infuriating to play, but at the same time I can't just dismiss it as some crap game that no one should play. I'm so confused right now.

Abyss Odyssey is about a wizard. This wizard is so powerful that he fell asleep and created the eponymous Abyss, this huge network of connected rooms filled with monsters, treasures, and weird black and white levels that come right the fuck out of nowhere. He also created Katrien, as well as the Ghost Monk and the Pincoya, who you will play as. You must journey through the Abyss to wake up the wizard and put an end to his nightmare. Along the way you'll find pages from the wizard's journal which will tell more of the story and maybe explain some of things that happen because of the wizard's dream.

This game is very stingy with information on how to play it. One of the biggest aspects of the game is its fighting system. If you've ever played a fighting game then you know that a good training mode can really help you enjoy the game more. At least for me it can. In this game we get a single page with the buttons you use for attacks that you have to navigate to inside of a menu that's in another menu. You're never told that holding the stick forward, up, down, or not at all will change the type of basic attack you do. In a way, this can be very good. Having tutorials out the ass on a game can be really irritating, especially if it's a style of game that you basically know the controls for, and it's something new then it's rewarding to be able to figure out the controls on your own. But this is a fighting game style system, where knowing what the buttons do is crucial to being able to play it.

Even when it does tell you information it can sometimes be misleading. When you die in the game, you're given a chance to come back. You immediately respawn as a soldier, which is a different soldier depending on who you're playing as, and if you can make it back to an altar you will be revived at full health and can continue on. The text box that told me this appeared when I approached what I thought was the first altar. It had a floating stone mask that broke when I got near it, I could set a check point there, and configure my skills. Going through this area I died. I came back as a soldier and made a mad dash for the altar. When I got there, nothing happened. I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to get it to come back but I couldn't. So I moved on. Turns out there's a second kind of altar, and it's this one that lets you respawn. Why the hell would the note about respawning at altars appear at an altar you can't respawn at? With this other altar I also found a merchant who sold me weapons and potions and the like. He also had camp tokens. Camp tokens are what you use to set checkpoints at altars so when you die for realsies you start from there and not the starting town. I had no idea how to get my hands on one of these things and I didn't come across the merchant until my fourth or fifth attempt because I didn't know there even were merchants in this game. It didn't help that he blended into the background, though.

This is a problem that does carry to later in the game. As you go deeper into the Abyss the levels start to change. You start out in standard dark caves, but then you get ice levels and lava levels and plant levels. In the plant levels, stationary enemies that shoot poisonous barbs at you or launch vines out blend in with the environment. I cannot tell you how many times I'd be running down a path to all of a sudden realize one of these things was in front of me. And the poison barb plant thing keeps shooting at you so you could easily get to point where he gets to juggle you a bit by having you getting damaged by the poison, making you unable to dodge the next barb he shoots, which poisons you again.

Speaking of juggling, the combat system in this game is not great. It feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point where it almost feels unplayable. I mentioned earlier that the direction you're holding the stick affects what kind of attack you do. With Katrien, holding the stick forward makes you do a two hit combo, while not holding the stick in any direction is a three hit combo. But you have to come to a complete stop before it registers that you've let go of the stick. I would be running along and stumble into a random encounter with a group of enemies, which normally I hate because fuck random encounters but here I don't mind it because it doesn't interupt the flow of gameplay, and I would let go of the stick to do the three hit but if my character was still finishing the stop running animation she would do the two hit.

But even when you get the hang of that part of the combat it still feels weird. Any time I've gotten a combo higher than three was total luck and I could never recreate it. Cancelling, which is kind of a core part of fighting games in this day and age, is a special skill that you can deplete and have to wait for it to recharge. And you start out only being able to cancel once, so if you end using your cancel to dodge out of the way of an attack and you get hit anyway because the dodging in this game only works sometimes, you have wasted that cancel and now have to wait for it to recharge before you can cancel out of an attack again. It all feels so clunky and awkward, but at the same time weirdly engaging. Around my ninth tenth attempt I started to get into a rhythm and was actually doing pretty well. It was so bizarre, but I felt like I was starting to understand it. That eventually fell through and it went right back to being bad, but that feeling kept coming back.

I only ever felt that with Katrien, though. The Ghost Monk and the Pincoya I never understood. The characters, while the control the same, have different weapons and attack styles. Katrien uses one-handed swords and is quick than the others (I think). The Ghost Monk uses two-handed swords and is slower but stronger than the others. The Pincoya uses staff weapons which gives her more range than the others. I never felt like I was finally getting the Monk or the Pincoya. I would've needed to play hours and hours of them and I just didn't have the time or the interest.

All the characters also have a magic attack. It's the exact same for each of them and does the exact same thing. Once the mana meter is full they send out a ball of light that deals a lot of damage to anyone caught in it, and when they die their soul falls out. You can then collect one of these souls and turn into that enemy. Aside from bringing you back up to full health when you turn into them, I have no idea why you would want to do this. It's just another new move set you have to figure out.

This game was also sold on the platforming, and it feels as bad as the fighting without the benefit of the clarity I sometimes got. The turning is what really kills it for me. When you change the direction your character is moving or facing, it takes a bizarrely long time. Not that long, but long enough that you can notice it and really feel it. And you can only change direction while you're on foot. Once you're in the air, you have a decent amount of air control but you're always facing the same direction. So if you try to jump up a wall that's behind you, you have to wait for your character to turn around and then jump it. It's a small thing, but it's also a very important part of platforming to have a fluidity of movement. This doesn't feel fluid. It feels like a rusty system of gears.

Finally there are RPG elements. You earn XP to level up your character which unlocks new special attacks and skill points to unlock more cancels and level up your special attacks. It's pretty basic and doesn't add much for me. But with the RPG elements comes random weapon drops or finds, which don't make a whole lot of sense in game. Each of the three characters can only use one type of weapon, and they can't pick up other types. So it doesn't make a lot of sense when I'm playing as Katrien and every weapon I find is a two-handed weapon. If you were able to pick up these weapons and sell them to the merchant for gold that'd be one thing, but since I can't pick them up at all, let alone sell anything to the merchant, it makes no sense as to why they would be there.

Even with all of that bitching I just did, I find the game oddly okay. Yes, the fighting and platforming are very awkward, it's an awkward that you eventually accept. Yes, the game doesn't explain shit to you, but if you keep bashing your head into it over and over you'll figure out what most of it means. Add to that a premise I think is interesting and graphics that look fine, this is a game that I can't say is good but I just barely enjoyed it, too. Take that for what you will.

  • Published in PC

Review - Abyss Odyssey [PC]

“To sleep, perchance to dream,” in Abyss Odyssey therein is the rub. Out now for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC Abyss Odyssey presents a very interesting story wrapped in a brawler, a platformer, and a rouge-like game.

Drop into the darkness.
The story is set in the 17th century Chilean capitol of Santiago. Evil creatures are coming up through a hole in the center of town and threatening to overtake the city. You start out as Katrien, a swordswoman who specializes in short swords. As she arrives at the edge of the mysterious hole, the soldiers guarding it tell her to leave, that this is no place for a lady. She tells them they have no idea what they are facing. That they are fighting creatures that are the result of a Warlock sleeping at the bottom of the abyss. Those creatures are being created from the nightmare he is having. With those bold declarations, she drops into the abyss to begin her journey to the bottom in order to confront the Warlock.

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Along the way you will die. Several times in fact. Such is the nature of Abyss Odyssey. The first time Katrien dies she reveals that she too is a part of the Warlock’s nightmare, that she died a long time ago. The dying part isn't as bad as it first seems. When Katrien falls she is replaced by a soldier who promises to revive her at a shrine, provided he makes it. The soldier is less powerful, but not entirely helpless. If he does fall in battle, then you are revived on the surface and have to fight your way through again. There are no save points in the game, but you can have temporary checkpoints. At special shrines you can change it into a checkpoint, provided you have the key for it. A note of caution, these checkpoints have a limited number of times you can be revived. Once used up you start at the surface again. This is not necessarily a bad thing either. As Katrien observes, the abyss, like a dream or nightmare, is never the same. Which means that every time you enter the abyss it is randomly generated, making it something new and different every time. It is a nice touch that provides for a lot of replayability.

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While you start out as Katrien you won't play as her all the time. Besides the soldier you will be able to eventually unlock two other characters, the Ghost Monk and Pincoya. Both, like Katrien, have their basic attacks, but also special attacks and weapons. If that's not enough variety of characters for you, there's a way to acquire more. You can capture souls of enemies you defeat. Once captured, you can turn into them and use their powers and abilities.
Choose your weapon wisely.

The characters have some role playing game characteristics in that you can level them up and tailor their fighting styles. You may be slow and sluggish at the start, but carefully choosing how to level up your characters will result in a lean mean demon killing machine. Weapons can be found in the abyss or bought from merchants. A small problem for me was that you couldn’t sell your old weapon. This necessitates spending your money cautiously and wisely. Found weapons can only be picked up if they match your current character's weapon style. So if you are playing as Katrien, you can't pick up pole arms, only small swords.

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Pretty as a picture.
Graphically Abyss Odyssey is stunning. It looks like someone crossed a storybook with art nouveau prints; it's colorful and beautiful. One of the touches I really liked was when you use the block move to stop a hit, a halo appears around them. The halo's design takes on the look that's almost a trademark of art nouveau prints. This art style is present in everything, from the backgrounds to all the enemies. I would love to see an art book created from this game.

Final word.
Abyss Odyssey is a downright stunning game. The art, music, story, and gameplay come together in a beautiful arrangement. Even when you finally get to the end and finish the story the randomly generated abyss makes the game different every time. On top of that the developers, ACE, have stated that at current count there are about 37 enemies are to be captured and used. ACE has hinted at more enemies and bosses to be added to the game in the future. The game also really challenges you with that rougelike system. Can you make it to the end with no saves and limited checkpoints? It's a game that I really think is a contender for my top 10 of the year. I like it that much. If this sounds like your cup of tea, pick it up now.

  • Published in PC

Injustice: Gods Among Us (PS3)

Injustice: Gods Among Us PS3When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. I wanted a cape and a secret hideout. I wanted to beat up all the bad people in the world and I wanted to fly. I didn’t want to be Batman, because even as a kid, I knew that he wasn’t a real superhero. He didn’t have any powers. He was just a rich guy who was friends with the police commissioner. Living in the projects, I knew that those traits were more out of reach for me than getting the ability to fly. Plus, I had already tried jumping off of the top of a dumpster while holding an umbrella over my head, and the results were nowhere close to the smooth gliding descent that I had seen on Batman's TV show.

In their latest fighting game, Injustice, Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios is giving gamers the chance to become their favorite superheros (and villians). Using the well sculptured fighting engine from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, players can battle each other as some of DC’s most iconic characters. And for the first time, it doesn’t feel watered down. Superman punches people into space, Batman runs opponents down with the Batmobile, Aquaman feeds bad guys to sharks. It’s the epitome of comic book wish fulfillment. The list of characters is a good mix of well known standards and fan favorites. Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash are joined by lesser known heroes like Green Arrow, Hawkgirl and Cyborg. Infamous bad guys, Joker, Bane, and Lex Luthor stand beside second stringers Solomon Grundy, Killer Frost, and Black Adam. In all, there are 24 characters in the game with more being added via DLC. Each character has the trademark powers we all know them for. It’s a true feat how the developers managed to balance the gameplay between the esoteric powers of someone like Green Lantern with the more grounded attacks of Deathstroke.

I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero. He could fly wherever he wanted. Bullets couldn’t hurt him. And he was strong enough to stop anyone from even trying. Superman was my guy. And when my mom dropped me off at the YMCA Boys Club for the first time, I was proudly wearing a freshly washed Superman shirt. In the summer, when there’s no school, some kids would get shipped off to summer camp to give their parents some rest. I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero.Others spent those off months playing outside in the neighborhood. But when camp is too expensive and your neighborhood is not a good place for a kid to be walking around, you get dropped off at the YMCA Boys Club. Think of it as a daycare center littered with makeshift weapons, filled with boys from 9 to 17 years old and with barely enough adult supervision to satisfy any government regulations. Each morning parents would drop off kids on the way to work, and each evening they’d come pick them up. Hopefully more or less intact. As soon as my mom drove away I was faced with a scene that was a mix between the Lord of the Flies and the Hunger Games. But I wasn’t worried. I was wearing my Superman shirt.

I had managed to map out a schedule to surviving each day. In the morning, before the big kids showed up, I passed the time in the game room, playing pool and foursquare. Once the older kids arrived, it was time to abandon the inside of the building and head for the playground. And once it got too hot to stay outside, I would head for the makeshift library, to spend the rest of the day playing board games and reading in the corner. In the end, the library became my fortress of solitude. But for a while, the playground was my favorite part of the day. Because that’s where I got to practice being a superhero.

Superman Batman BatcaveInjustice: Gods Among Us has all of the prerequisites for a fighting game, alternate costumes, distinct locations, flashy super moves, etc. Then it takes them a step further. Levels are multi-tiered, with the ability to knock your foe into an entirely new environment. Supermoves go a step further and deliver a cinematic punch worthy of their comic book origins. The single player offerings include the usual versus modes, but there’s also an inventive Star Labs section where the heroes are given different tasks to complete, not always involving fighting. Dodging debris, saving civilians, and breaking barriers are some of the skills you’ll master in Star Labs. Of course, there are still a good deal of ‘Beat up this guy to win’ type of missions, but the occasional change of pace is welcome after years of single player fighting game modes that are simply dumbed down versions of the multiplayer experience.

Swingsets are boring. Sure they’re fun for a few minutes, but day after day, week after week, even a goofy kid like me figured out that I was just going back and forth. That is, until I discovered how to ‘fly’. Here’s how it worked, first, you stand up on the seat. Then by bending your knees, and pushing forward, you get much higher, much faster that you can by sitting down and pumping your legs back and forth. Now, most of the other kids would sit down at some point and then ‘jump’ by sliding off of the front of the swing. That was fun. But it wasn’t flying. Flying was jumping off while you were still standing. Soaring through the air and landing further than anyone thought possible. Thats what I was doing. A lot. I was 12 years old and still invincible. And when some of the other kids began to copy my swingset superheroics, I had to find a way to take it up a notch. It’s not a superpower if everyone is doing it. So I decided to add a level of difficulty.

I stood on the cracked black rubber that passed as the seat of the swing and bent my legs. I pushed my feet forward while pulling back on the chains as hard as I could. For this to work I would need to go higher than I ever had before. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass.</>Soon I was speeding back and forth, the wind whooshing in my ears and the world blurring. The moment of truth was almost here. I couldn’t go any higher and some faint twinge of self preservation told me not to try. But it was just a twinge, and so it failed to stop me from completing the next part of my kryptonian destiny. I jumped. Just like I had dozens of times before. I figured I must have been twenty feet off the ground, no, more like fifty. And this is where I would set myself apart from all the pretenders. In mid-air, I twisted my body to spin around 360 degrees. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass. Worst case scenario...well, kids don’t really consider worst case scenarios. Plus, I saw Superman do it in a movies, so I knew it was possible.

Harley Nightwing MetropolisInjustice:Gods Among Us manages to mix casual and hardcore gaming together, so that even if you’re not veteran of fighting games, you still feel like anything is possible. You can hit a guy through a brick wall without memorizing a complete sequence of button presses and thumbstick movements. On screen indicators let you know when you can pick up that helicopter and slam it down on Bane’s head. But at the same time, it never feels crippled by it’s simplicity. It’s just as happy to have you dole out punishment via 20+ hit combos worthy of the best players at EVO or single button supermoves that send your opponent through a subway train.

My own supermove was a near complete success. When I made the leap from the top of the swing’s arc, I heard everyone gasp. When I spun, I heard the appropriate amounts of ‘WHOA!’ . And when I landed I heard the kid who was up next yell ‘Oh my God!’. I also heard someone snap their fingers for some reason. The landing wasn’t perfect. I must have over-rotated because instead of the cool superman pose I had planned on, I was sprawled on the grass with dandelions in my teeth and ears. Not a big problem. I’d do better next time. I didn’t realize that there’d be no next time.

I got up to soak in the adulation of the other kids, but they had already moved on. I decided to sit on the edge of the nearby see-saw in case anyone wanted to come and ask how I managed to fly like that. For some reason, getting from the ground to my would be throne was a lot harder than it should have been. My right foot wasn’t cooperating. In fact, it was screaming for me to stop moving. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain.I sat there for an hour. Partly trying to figure out why I couldn’t walk but mostly working out how to spin better the next time I jumped off the swing. Some kids yelled that a game of ‘Bombardment’ was about to start in the gym. Bombardment is basically dodgeball on steroids. We all loved it. And if enough of us got there fast enough, we’d be able to avoid the influx of older kids that always signaled the end of ‘fun’. I got up to run to the gym, and was immediately reminded that my foot was still off duty. It should have fixed itself by now. I wasn’t worried though. Superman never stayed hurt for too long, so I was positive that my malfunctioning foot would be better soon. I hopped on one leg to the gym. and each time my right foot even glazed the ground, a bolt of pain shot up my leg. By the time I made it to the gym, any thoughts of dodging rubber projectiles had fled my mind. Instead, I crawled to the top of the bleachers, and pretended to watch while fighting back the urge to cry for help.

Injustice: Gods Among Us succeeds where other superhero games have failed. No one wants to play a game as a superhero only to find out that your character’s powers are diminished for the sake of ‘balance’. It’s not fun to don a costume only to find out that you can be taken down by an average street thug. And it also avoids the traps that other fighting games fall into. It’s easy enough to learn, but not so convoluted that you need a guide book and months of practice to enjoy yourself. NetherRealm has done a fantastic job of allowing anyone the chance to feel how fun it would be to have superpowers, even if it’s only in a game.

By the time my mom was due to pick me up at 5:30pm, I had been in the bleachers for nearly 6 hours. It wouldn’t be until the next day that I would learn the snap I heard on landing was actually my ankle fracturing. I had no idea that I was destined to spend the next 6 weeks in a cast and crutches. I hopped to the car, dragging my useless foot behind me, each step an explosion of spikes slamming into my leg. I got in the car, shaking from the pain, and the first thing I said was ‘Ma, Today I was Superman!’

Score 9/10

Moebius: Empire Rising (PC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

  • Published in PC
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