Agents of SHIELDcast

Forza Motorsport 5 Review (Xbox One)

Forza-Motorsport-5 review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


forza5 race

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

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


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

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

forza5 boxScore 7/10

 

Street Fighter 4 Review [X360]

 

There is something extremely satisfying about a well thrown punch. The feeling of contact between your fist and bone. The sharp snap it makes. The tinge of pain in your forearm from the shock of the impact. I'm not talking about justhitting something. I'm describing what happens when you use everything your body has, directed through your fist, in an attempt to destroy whats on the other end. Its addictive and dangerous. Most people never really experience that. But those that do, know exactly what I mean.

When I was younger, I was very familiar with that feeling. Growing up in the projects meant that when someone pushes you, you push back harder. It's a simple rule that worked amazingly well.I didn't get pushed that often, andwhen I did,I made sure it didn't happen again.

That rule changed when we moved to the suburbs, but no one told me. Being one of the few Black kids at Linkhorn Park Elementary School, I got pushed a lot. And I pushed back. Punched back. And when I'd get pulled into the principles office, I couldn't care less what she had to say. She obviously didn't know how things worked. Her rules weren't my rules. Even when Chris, the only other Black kid in the school tried to explain things to me, I ignored him. "Derrick,the kids here are wimps, you can't hit them like that anymore'. He was right, the kids were wimps. A shove on the basketball court was a reason for tears. A kick at the playground was a reason to run to the teacher. Why were they crying? They have 2 parents, nice houses, and didn't have to use a free lunch card in the cafeteria. Wimps.

I finally got the message when my mother was called in for a 'conference'. I waited outside while the teachers recited my crimes to her. When my mom came out of that room, I expected a smack to the head and to be shoved into the back seat of the car. That what was supposed to happen. But it didn't. Instead she refused to look at me and headed for the bathroom.Tears streaming down her face. I had never seen her like that. When the teacher appeared, she looked at my blank expression and accused me, 'You did that to her.You're the most apathetic child I've ever seen, do you know what apathetic means?' I nodded my head. I knew exactly what it meant. It meant 'boy who makes his mother cry'. That's when I decided to change. What beatings, and restrictions, and suspensions failed to do over the years, was accomplished in a split second by the image of a strong woman reduced to tears.

But deciding not to hit other kids doesn't mean the feelings go away. And they needed an outlet. When I saw a new game at the supermarket called Street Fighter 2, I asked my mom for a quarter and played it while she shopped. When another kid joined in, it was a revelation. I could punch him, kick him, throw him to the ground. No punishments. No crying. This was a good thing. Very good.

Over the years other ways to channel those feelings have come and gone, and Street Fighter faded into the background. Each new version seemed to get farther away from allowing me to throw a punch and enjoy it connecting. Instead of an outlet, it turned into a way to watch a combo meter count upward. I just wanted to hit someone.

Street Fighter 4 brings that back. The visceral thud of a punch is conveyed in beautiful images that make the violence seem like a work of art. The controls have been simplified so that I don't have to search online for a 13 page move list to enjoy it. And most importantly, when a punch connects on screen, I feel it. And it feels good.

Score 9/10

 

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

Beatbuddy Review (PC)

beatbuddyYou probably haven’t heard of THREAKS before. It’s more than likely because they’ve never released a game before, so here’s their first game ever, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians. Just because it’s the first game for the developer doesn’t mean there aren’t some industry veterans behind it, including Austin Wintory, composer of Journey, who has contributed songs for the game and Rhianna Pratchett, who is the writer for such games as Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge. So despite THREAKS being relatively new, there’s plenty of experience behind the team of Beatbuddy. Beatbuddy is a puzzle adventure game where your character, who just so happens to be called Beatbuddy, has been awakened from a deep slumber and then finds out his musically driven world is being the threatened with ultimate destruction. It’s up to you to puzzle solve your way through the game and find out why.

Beatbuddy is a rather simple game, your character Beatbuddy is a floating ghost-like character who moves around with 8 directions of freedom. It plays like you were a spaceship in a 2D world. You go through from section to section where you run into different obstacles that stop you from advancing. For example, one the most common puzzles elements are bounce pads which send you flying backwards and you have to orientate various mirrors to send you in a different directions from where you bounced from. The point is to send yourself flinging at top speed at clearly marked destructible walls which you hit and destroy after successfully orientating the mirrors correctly. You then move on and advance to the next section of level from there. Honestly it’s usually rather obvious what direction you’re supposed to line the mirrors up and so you spend an excruciating amount of time trying to line up mirrors correctly rather than solving actual puzzles.beatbuddy

Another central mechanic found within the game is that it’s supposed to be all about the beat where the music drives the environments and the environments drive the music. Honestly on this score, the game doesn’t quite live up to it’s hype. While there are definitely reasons that the music matters, like when the music is affected by touching items in the environment and even some enemies that have to be killed to the rhythm of the music playing, however there is no compelling use of the beat mechanics for the most part. It’s really just a gimmick that never gets used to its full potential.

Rhianna Pratchett is flaunted as the star writer, however the story really isn’t all that central to the game. You do have a reason to go from point A to point B but you’ll never get all that involved in the plot. The game’s story is mostly told through boring text bubbles that can be kinda funny sometimes but usually aren’t.

I’ve spent plenty of time bagging on the game but I feel I should highlight its positives as it’s not a bad game. While not innovative, you do have on your hands a solid puzzle adventure game that is not very difficult but is still fun. The primary mechanics are compelling enough to make you want to play through the game despite the few annoyances I mentioned earlier. There are constant checkpoints making it easy to jump in and out of the game between sessions. The game has plenty of options for controls (Keyboard, Gamepad, Mouse) and all of them play well. The musical score for the game is great. There was much attention paid to making a great electronic orchestral for the levels so I’d definitely recommend picking up the soundtrack once it’s available. I did notice the volume options can’t mute the game and only goes from somewhat low to high volumes, so keep that in mind. The “hand-painted” characters and environments look awesome and much kudos goes to the art director for the unique and beautiful game that they crafted.

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Beatbuddy is a fun little game that warrants it’s budget price. You’ll get a solid 5 hours out of playing it which could be seen as short to some but it was enough for me. You won’t have your socks blown off playing the game but it’s got a unique vibe and all in all it's worth a look.

  • 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

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
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