Thursday, December 8, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Batman Arkham City is good, great even, but it does not live up to Arkham Asylum, not by a long shot. Every review I’ve seen of Arkham City has been praising it to high heaven. Some even suggest that it is an improvement on Asylum and this makes me question if these people played the same game I did. It makes me wonder if they aren’t getting caught up in the hype.
When Arkham Asylum came out, something I kept hearing was a desire for free roaming in the sequel. I was against this from the start. What made Arkham Asylum brilliant were its pacing, coherency, and the fact that it made you FEEL like you were the goddamn Batman. The player inhabited his persona and became the Dark Knight. This is the primary strength of a videogame. It was the primary strength of Asylum, and anything that undermines this element undermines the game as a whole.
Put simply: You must feel like Batman within a Batman story while playing a Batman game.
When you add a free roaming element to Batman you invariably add a sand box element. In doing so, you remove that element of pacing and coherency and as a result; this ruins the feeling of being the Dark Knight.
The game feels so disjointed. When you’re moving from one mission to another in this sandbox, you are often distracted by side missions which seem just as urgent as the main mission. These side missions are good, in that they feel imperative, but they’re bad for the same reason. It doesn’t make me feel like Batman when I ignore the main mission and it doesn’t make me feel like Batman when I ignore Zasz, or Deadshot, or any other criminal.
Additionally, a free roaming game requires a competent system for navigation, as well as a way to get around quickly. In putting these elements in, Rocksteady effectively did what all free roaming games do, put too much opportunity for navigation failure. How many times in Assassin’s Creed did Altair or Ezio go the wrong way, fall flat on their face, or otherwise look like a loon because of automation? Now Batman is doing the same thing. Precise navigation is a chore. Sure, zipping through the City is easy, but that’s the only part of navigation that is. Numerous times, I found myself dropping from ledges or jumping on to railing when I never meant to.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that the game is bad. Baring the sandbox element and the horrid navigational controls, everything that made the first game great is back, and better than ever in many instances. The brilliant combat is back, and much improved thanks to greater variety. The predator sections still feel gratifying, more so in some instances thanks to some added elements. The boss battles are more prevalent and MUCH better than the first game. There are more gadgets as well.
Well, more gadgets may be a bad thing since it makes the controls ludicrously complex in certain instances, but it wouldn’t feel like Batman without the gadgets, so I give it a pass.
Oh, and the Catwoman sections weren’t all that bad either. I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to her at all. I don’t much care for Catwoman. Many female comic readers seem to identify with her because of the sexual power struggle that goes on between her and Batman. Supposedly, this makes her Batman’s equal. This notion has always bugged me. Not that a woman could be Batman’s equal, but that in order to be Batman’s equal, she has to use sex appeal and supposedly "toy" with him. Not only is this trait not admirable, but I don’t think that this makes her Batman’s equal. Instead, her mercurial nature seems to make her character alternate between fucktoy and annoying bitch in my eyes. Why women find this praiseworthy is beyond me. It's like saying "Yes, we love to be sex objects as long as we get to maintain an illusion of control!" However, she plays well within the game. Annoying character traits aside, she's just as fun to play with as Batman, but she has a presence all her own. (Not to mention, she has a mighty fine backside that you get to stare at. Sorry, I had to say it.)
This may, or may not be a bad thing. In my eyes, it adds to the aesthetic disjointedness of the whole thing. However, if you want hours upon hours of content, it’s here for you. Though, you can blaze through the main quest in about 8 hours that probably won’t be the end of the experience for you. Between the aforementioned plethora of content and the welcome addition of a new game plus, this is a game that you will get more than your money’s worth for.
Ultimately, the decision to make Arkham City a free roaming sand box undermines what should’ve been an otherwise universally fantastic experience. I despise numerical rating systems, but this is the best way I can relate it; the free roaming would change my score from a 10/10 to a 8/10. However, despite this error in judgment on the part of Rocksteady, this is a fantastic game. Buy it. Even with my gripes it’s too good for me to suggest that it’s merely a rental. Moreover, saying that it's not worth purchasing is even worse. Just—don’t expect an experience on par with Asylum.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Dungeon Siege 3 is a fantastic game; however a few flaws keep it from being rated the best. To begin, the most egregious oversight is the fact that the mouse and keyboard controls are so seemingly broken. If you are planning to purchase this for a PC make absolutely certain you have a controller. Moreover, even if you have a controller, make sure it will read as a Xbox 360 controller. I personally use an Xbox 360 controller emulator for my cordless rumble pad; I will link to a download for this emulator at the end of this review. I’m doing this because I’m going to be mostly praising Dungeon Siege 3, but if you play it with a mouse and keyboard, you will think I have my head up my ass. The mouse and keyboard interface is that bad.
I must admit, I’ve never been really impressed with the work done by Obsidian. I have barely played Fallout: New Vegas because every time I do, it crashes. Never winter Nights 2 suffered from the same problem. In general their work often seems like a slapdash effort using stuff that other better developers have come up with. As a result they’ve carved out a reputation as the “shitty sequel developer.” With Dungeon Siege 3, I was forced to eat some humble pie, because not only are they using their own engine and making a great game, but in 14 hours of playing Dungeon Siege 3 didn’t crash once. This shows that not only do they have the chops for original content; they can run with the best of em.
The story is fairly straightforward. You are one of the last surviving members of a group known as the 10th Legion. The 10th Legion, once servants of the King and Kingdom of Ehb, were “framed” for the murder of the King and slaughtered by Jayne Kassinder. The story begins with an attack on a mansion which held some of the last few Legionnaires. The character you pick is one of the few to survive and escape. From there you go on a journey to rebuild the Legion and defeat Jayne. For those who have read fantasy or play these games, the Narrative will hold very few surprises. As is typical for these games, you are given choices that will rate as either good or evil. In some cases, the choices are shamelessly obvious “good” and “evil” choices. Whereas in other cases, what is good and what is bad is ambiguous. All of these choices affect how the game plays out and eventually ends. All in all, it’s a well spun tale, even if it is a bit predictable.
Dungeon Siege 3 is a looker, for the most part. The environments are generally beautiful. Occasionally, they are a bit dark, and hard to navigate. For the most part, the environments and the majority of the gameplay are very good looking. That is, until the camera zooms in on the characters during dialogue sequences. Not only do they seem to be made of plastic up-close, but they have no life or expression. It doesn’t matter what is going on, the characters generally have the same expression regardless of whether or not they are happy, sad, or excited. It’s disconcerting. It's also disconcerting that the camera never changes position during conversation. It's typical film practice to frame whomever is talking, but in Dungeon Siege 3, you only ever see the back of your character. (I did encounter a bug that had my character facing the camera during one of these conversations, and it was especially creepy since his mouth didn't move.) This is especially annoying since the best looking characters in the game are the main character. Most notably Anjali and Reinhardt are especially well designed. Many of the characters you will encounter are simply uninteresting visually.
The character's general lack of "life" is only noticeable in a few cases, because for the most part, the dialogue is delivered in a very stiff manner. The Radiant Youth is by far the most wooden of all the characters but they are all fairly monotonous. That isn’t to say that the voicing acting is completely terrible. The acting isn’t as bad as say Resident Evil, but it just isn’t as good as something like Legacy of Kain.
Ultimately, what matters is the gameplay, and I have a feeling that’s either a love it or hate it affair. The game runs like an average Dungeon crawler, except for how you control your character. Your character has three stances, each with a different purpose. I played as Reinhardt. He has a range stance, a melee stance, and a guard stance. The guard stance is common to all of the characters, so the other two stances will vary depending on who you play. Each stance gives you access to three separate skills. Attack stance skills use focus. Normal attacks in either attack stance will generate focus. Guarding stance skills use orbs. If you are hit while you are guarding you will lose focus. Focus is essentially mana crossed with rage. Using attacking skills builds up a secondary resource known as orbs. These orbs can be used to empower skills or use guard skills. All of these skills are seemingly meant to be used in tandem. You’ll find yourself stance dancing to be effective. As Reinhardt, his range stance is useless against enemies that get close to him, but his early range stance spell is a point blank area of effect and his early melee stance spell is a lightning bolt. So the way early fights went was “ranged attack, ranged attack, pbae, switch stance to melee stance, punch, punch, punch, dodge away, lightning bolt, range to build up focus, repeat.”And if I ever got low on health, I’d use the guard skill which was a heal over time. The absence of healing potions forced me, as a player, to play more strategically. It was a very engaging system and I can’t heap enough praise on it. Unfortunately, it is slightly clunky, insofar as there is a definite 3 hit rhythm to normal attacks and the system prioritizes finishing an animation as opposed to your input. This clunkyness is what will lead to 90% of your deaths. Thankfully, your ai companion is pretty diligent about rezzing you
As mentioned earlier, you are forced to pick one of four characters. You aren’t allowed to customize race, sex, or anything like that. If you want to play a warrior, you’re stuck with Lucas. This may seem to really kill the RPG aspect of Dungeon Siege. However, you are given a lot of options about how to build that character. Playing Reinhardt, I focused on entropic magic and status effects, but you could focus on his lightning magic and make him a direct damage powerhouse very easily. I’d be willing to bet that there is a way to make him a decent melee character. It really depends on how you milk the system. To me, that screams RPG. Moreover, the gear you get will determine how you play your character. If you stock up on will then you are building a character that relies on their skills rather than their normal attacks.
Finally, and arguably, most importantly, Co-Op. What seems odd is that local Co-Op only allows for two players. I’m told that online matchups allow for four player co-op, but I haven’t had a chance to experience that yet if it’s true. What I can tell you about local co-op is that the second player can pick one of the other three characters regardless of whether or not you’ve encountered them in the story. That character is stuck with whatever points you’ve assigned them. As your friend plays through he/she won’t be able to keep any of the loot they earn. Once again, I am told that the online co-op features separate characters that you build online, but I can’t attest to that. The co-op is designed to be non-committal. A friend can jump in, and jump out without having invested anything. This may turn off some who want to earn something more permanent in their online play.
Two final thoughts. This entire review is coming from someone that HATED the original Dungeon Siege games. Games which I found largely monotonous. If you loved that experience there is a very good chance you'll dislike Dungeon Siege 3. Also, if you are looking for a game to satiate your dungeon crawler fix until Diablo 3 then you are quite honestly better off spending less on Torchlight or the upcoming Torchlight 2. However, if you're looking for an experience that is distinctly different from Diablo, a good story, and some decent multiplayer, then Dungeon Siege 3 is for you.
Graphics: Pretty until you zoom in on the lifeless character models
Story: Predictable, but well told
Sound: Voice acting is hit and miss
Design: Very engaging when using a controller, nothing but frustration when using a mouse and keyboard.
Multiplayer: Ephemeral, player 2 gets nothing out of the experience in terms of loot or character advancement. That being said, it’s still fun to play with someone.
All in all: Excellent game, marred by a few minor issues. I personally really enjoyed it, but I’d recommend at least trying out the demo. Or you could watch the recorded livestream I did.
Here is the first 2 and a half hours. The connection was kind of garbage, so it skips ahead every few seconds, but it should give you an idea of what to expect
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
This looks as though it is the year of the fighter. Not too long ago Capcom released Marvel Vs Capcom 3 a somewhat unbalanced but still extremely fun fighter. Soon we will get Street Fighter x Tekken, a match up that I simply can’t quite fathom. Recently, WB released Mortal Kombat 9 aka Mortal Kombat 2011 aka Mortal Kombat is easily the best Mortal Kombat game since Mortal Kombat 2. It may even exceed Mortal Kombat 2.
Mortal Kombat accomplishes this by returning to the aesthetics that made it such an arcade hit. It has eschewed much of the recent mechanics of Mortal Kombat 3D games. There is no 3D arena to fight in, no separate stances, and no adventure mode. The fatalities are brutal, and the overall art direction is much more reminiscent of the earlier Mortal Kombat games.
However, instead of being satisfied with merely remaking an old product, Netherrealms enhanced the product with competition in mind. Every change, it seems, has been made for tournaments. There has been the basic addition of a tag team mode which screams “tournament.” There has been the addition of a super bar akin to Marvel Vs Capcom. However the mechanics of this super bar are interesting and are meant to enhance the combo system in some way either by enhancing your combo or preventing your opponent from finishing theirs.
The combo system is the bread and butter of the new MK. This system has been revamped in to something which requires skill, patience, and is extremely rewarding once you get the hang of it. It allows for custom combo crafting to anyone willing to put in the time and effort to learn the system. It is not like MvC3 or even earlier Mortal Kombats where you could combo simply by sneezing. Long damaging combos are rarely, if ever, caused by button mashing.
A quick sample of the system.
Basically there are basic combos which can be chained together at various points using special moves and juggles. Timing for these transitionary moves is key to success with this system.
A quick tip: you are more likely to input too late than too quickly. If you’re waiting for each attack to hit before you start the second, third, or fourth attack, then you won’t combo.
Both gameplay wise and narratively, Mortal Kombat is essentially a reboot. Narratively, it pulls a Star Trek, by using time travel interference to screw with original events thus creating a new and alternate timeline. Events are changed, but only slightly, so it isn’t a drastic reboot.
The game is brimming with content. The story mode is the most interesting story mode I’ve seen a fighting game. You don’t pick a character and fight through a selection of fighters, instead you follow a narrative which periodically enters in to fights, and you play as the protagonist of the story at that very moment.
The single player experience doesn’t stop there. There is the traditional ladder mode, what passes for “story” mode in other games
There is also the challenge tower, featuring 300 challenges.
Then there is the online features. Unfortunately, I would feel uncomfortable reviewing those as I am using a playstation 3 (I prefer the PS controller for fighters) and currently the playstation network network is down.
I can’t say what the connections are like or what the community is like, and that is really what matters about online play. There are various modes and a spectator feature with an interesting twist. I had been waiting for the network to come back up so I could try this stuff but I'm tired of waiting. I’ll update the review once PSN is back up and I can play these modes.
But I will say, the single player features alone justify a MK9 purchase.