Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Post Game Report: Dark Souls II (Spoilers)

After spending nearly fifty hours slaying monsters, tackling giants and subduing knights, I have completed Dark Souls II! And yet...I can't help but to feel somewhat empty over my victory. Now that the game is over and I'm left to reflect on my journey before heading into New Game+, I can't shake the feeling that speaking to the entire game, Dark Souls II is fairly easier than the last game. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Last Of Us: Left Behind

Before the weekend, I took some time to play through the brief, but good, DLC for Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. While I normally latch onto anything that the studio releases, I went into Left Behind with a surprising amount of ambivalence. The Last of Us was a wonderful game, though I felt its stealth mechanics overstayed their welcome a bit, I really didn't think the game needed extra story content. The fungal-themed post apocalyptic adventure hit the right narrative and dramatic marks, using a world ending terror unique to the genre to expose the humanity (and lack thereof) left inside people struggling to survive day by day. The relationship between Joel and Ellie went to places I wasn't readily expecting, considering Joel's cold demeanor and hard line stance that carries with him for a large part of the game. 

Left Behind gives players the opportunity to learn more about Ellie by showing how she interacts with her friend Riley, a girl who grew up alongside Ellie in a military boarding school until she disappeared to join the Fireflies. The DLC tells two stories. One is set in the present, with Ellie retreating to a Colorado mall after exploring the University left Joel with a near fatal injury after being impaled by exposed re-bar. The other is set in the same mall but three weeks before Marlene sends Ellie with Joel.  

The player has control of Ellie in both the past and present, each section offering their own gameplay elements and situations. The Last of Us's stealth combat is relegated to the present day, as Ellie must tackle both the Cordyceps and bandits as she searches for medical supplies to mend Joel's injuries. Maneuvering around enemies, or taking them head on, has been left largely unchanged from the main game. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a conflicting message with how the game wants you to fight. In the main game, stealth was always an option and sometimes the only option as ammunition and weapon pickups were scarce. In Left Behind, ammo is plentiful while the number of crafting ingredients are shockingly low. This reversal isn't so much of a problem, considering Ellie doesn't do much fighting outside of the DLC's major two stage battle. In some cases, Ellie doesn't have to fight at all. Certain combat scenarios allow for an opportunity to pit the Cordyceps and bandits against each other, something the main game didn't do if I recall correctly. Watching these battles unfold can be rather thrilling as there's no way to immediately know who will come out on top, requiring the player to adjust their strategies based on the victors. 

Where Left Behind really shines is during Ellie's flashbacks to before she met Joel. These sequences are used to flesh out the relationship between herself a Riley, a girl of the same age who has returned to see Ellie after disappearing for six weeks. She takes Ellie through the same mall and is treated to an incredibly unique experience: the chance to be a child. Traipsing through the mall gives way to a wealth of childish pleasures such as goofing around inside a Spirit of Halloween-type store, smashing car windows and playing in an arcade. For a game where levity and happiness is in extraordinarily short supply, these moments offer a poignant glimpse into the lives of children who have grown up without the entertainment we so easily take for granted. The escapades of Ellie and Riley are what give Last of Us: Left Behind its heart and soul. Ellie's sarcasm and sass, which made the dynamic of her relationship with Joel entertaining during the main game, is in full force making it very difficult not to like her. However, Left Behind lets us see this young girl, who will eventually become the most important person on the planet, at her most vulnerable and exposed. 

As far as single player add-on content goes, there have been winners and losers. Unnecessary as it is, Left Behind does a great job in filling in the gaps of the game's most enjoyable and endearing character. The low key combat sequences were greatly appreciated, given my feelings towards them though mostly because it doesn't get in the way of Ellie's story.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3)

It is difficult to tell how much WB Montreal wanted to make a Batman video game. Rocksteady raised the bar on what to expect from a video game based on the Caped Crusader, implementing a battle system that was both simplistic and complex and a story scribed by a Batman veteran. Batman: Arkham Origins plays things quite safe, staying firmly rooted in the world and systems established by Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and doesn't take the opportunity to try anything new or risky. 

Arkham Origins is set a few years before Asylum, lending the game more than a few curious continuity concerns. On Christmas Eve, Black Mask has put out a contract on Batman, a "one night only" extravaganza that will award a $50 million purse to anyone who can "Kill the Bat." Crawling out of the woodwork are small number of familiar A-list baddies overshadowed by a gaggle of unfamiliar rogues. The hunt for Batman will give Bruce Wayne a busy night as he moves to and from segments of Gotham (which will eventually become Arkham City), battling low level thugs in between one on one engagements with super criminals. 

Being a prequel, much has been said about Bruce Wayne's relative inexperience as the Dark Knight. Outside a few cutscenes and dialog exchanges, there is very little to suggest that the adventure is not Batman's first rodeo. The three button fight mechanics from the previous game have returned (anyone would be crazy to change it) and continues to be visually and mechanically exciting when not screwing the player over. Fighting in Asylum and City was a near flawless experience. Controls were very fluid and responsive allowing the player to switch from offense to counter attacks with ease. I can't put my finger on it, but something happened between City and Origins as combat tends to feel a little unreliable. Maybe I'm getting slower but I don't recall the counter mechanic being so unforgiving. It's frustrating to see Batman take a punch to the face even though I pressed the dodge button before the thug landed his hit. Performing Ground Takedowns, one of the most useful skills in a combat situation, isn't always guaranteed. Even though I see the prompt to perform the attack, the game doesn't always respond to my command.

The structure of Origins is not unlike City, as it features both indoor and outdoor environments. The sequences set within buildings tend to play a little better than those outside, especially during Predatory Combat. Just like before, Batman can use his gadgets and stealth maneuvers to take out a room full of enemies one by one. This still remains the most enjoyable aspect of any Batman game, making those poor bastards sweat as you hang underneath a gargoyle, waiting for one of them to pass underneath for a Inverted Takedown. As fun as these playgrounds are, they still suffer from drab and dreary Gothic visual design. However, given the player's reliance on using Detective Vision, you'll never see much of it during combat. One area that I really disliked was the "trip" to the Mad Hatter's Wonderland. It isn't very fun and it reeks of trying too hard to emulate the "wow" factor of the original game's Scarecrow sequences. 

Though it comprises about 90% of all combat situations, the thugs and wanton criminals of Gotham are not the only villains Batman will face. Thanks to the Black Mask, the Caped Crusader will go toe to toe with supervillains in a series of boss fights that tend to run a little too long. There are a few headliner battles, such as Bane, Firefly, Copperhead (who?) and Deathstroke, while the remaining characters are treated as secondary, non-essential encounters. With the exception of Firefly, none of the fights are particularly interesting. Deathstroke was a bad choice for a first boss because of how repetitive and boring it can get. Bane ends up being a battle with frustration because the game loves to throw waves of enemies at you while fighting the hulking giant. Having to deal with Bane's overpowered attacks while fending off thugs with knives or car door riot shields is just too much. It's not fun nor is it challenging. They just get in the way of an already difficult situation. 

Batman: Arkham Origins is't all bad. The detective portions are a step up from Arkham City, with Batman acting as a walking, talking CSI lab. Each crime scene, be they part of the main story or not, tasks the player with reconstructing the scene and locating key pieces of evidence in order to create a profile and seek out the one responsible. As elementary as it all ends up being, it is still pretty cool to see him work out the crime. 

There was a point where I felt myself beginning to grow weary of the adventure. Arkham Origins, try as it might, just doesn't really make an effort to separate itself from its predecessors (does the Riddler have to be in it again?). Its technical hiccups are a surprise, considering how well put together the last two games were. This feeling of malaise was cast aside, however, when the Joker makes his appearance. In Origins, Batman and the Clown Prince of Crime meet for the very first time and when they do, it is the most powerful moment in the game. Bruce experiences what its like when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, causing him to behave outside of his comfort zone and earn a serious admonishment from Alfred. Troy Baker does a really great job with the Joker. He's no Mark Hamill (the best Joker in all the land), though he emulates his style very well, bringing in a performance that is pretty damn effective. If the game does one thing right, it is how it sets up the relationship and struggle between these two characters. From a narrative point, it the performance of the Joker was just what I needed to keep going and I'm glad I did. Save for a few Bane moments, the last third of the game ends up being the most exciting. 

Batman: Arkham Originsis a good enough game that lacks Rocksteady's magic. A surprising number of technical issues results in the most important component of the game, its combat, less fun than it used to be. Gotham as it appears in Origins is a little ho-hum with little to distinguish it from Arkham City because, well, it is Arkham City. The lack of a larger pool of big name super villains may result in a few headscratching encounters to those not well versed in Batman's entire rogues gallery. Still, the game isn't a total loss and despite its problems, it offers a safe and sane Batman experience. If you're starving for a new Batman game set in Rocksteady's world, then give Arkham Origins a go. Otherwise, feel free to leave it be. If you're simply curious about the Joker segments, you can look them up on YouTube and save yourself the $60.  

Note: Batman Arkham Origins features a multiplayer mode but I could never find a game. Nor would I want to, really. There's no need for it. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Decent Effort

After it languish for a good number of months, I've decided to shut down my previous blog, 1,001 Games Played. When I started, I thought it would be a fun and exciting challenge that I could easily accomplish. Oh, hubris! 

Life has gotten more interesting and worthwhile since I started and spending days and days playing old video games, while fun, just isn't feasible as it once was. Not that I'm complaining, though! I'm absolutely thrilled with where life has taken me. Perhaps when things slow down a bit, I'll return to the list in some capacity but for now, I'm content with just taking things easy, playing and review games here, Giant Bomb and, of course, Darkstation. To those who stopped by the other blog, I hoped you took away some enjoyment from it and perhaps inspired you to look back at video game history. 

The big thing I learned during the project was that playing 1,001 video games is a much harder task than one would think, considering the majority of the games require some tracking down, purchasing on eBay or downloading ROMs. If this challenge taught me anything, its that the state of video game preservation is a complete disgrace. Publishers should be ashamed of themselves for not taking care of classic, genre and industry defining experiences. Yes, there is no money, but a lot of the developers we know today were inspired by classic video games. It pains me to think that people have to go out of their way to experience great games, like Grim Fandango and Wing Commander. Thankfully, Good Old Games does a great job with making these older titles comapatible with newer machines. I just wish more and more publishers got involved. 

Anyways, this has gone on long enough. Thanks again to those who followed along. I hope it was in some way interesting for you!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Living Life in Los Santos

It's only been a week, but Grand Theft Auto V has already dominated my gaming sessions. Though, that is no real surprise. I want to say that I'm approximately 15 hours in the game, I don't know the exact time because the stat breaks up the time spent with each character. Some simple math would provide for a more exact number, but I'm too lazy for advanced math concepts like adding and subtraction. Long story short (too late?), the important thing to know if I've spent a long time with it. 

I have to admit, I was worried about the size of the game map, specifically Blaine County. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was truly the bast game in the 3D GTA universe and most of my time spent in game was just taking long, law abiding drives around the state. With GTA V comprising of Los Santos and Blaine County, I had felt that perhaps, those long aimless drives were over. 

Not so! Lest I forget, the map in GTA V is HUGE. There is so much to see and do in the game and I'm happy about that. What makes me even happier is, given modern video game technically, the wilderness regions of Blaine County are beautiful and a lot more fun to explore. Thanks to Red Dead Redemption, random events make hiking the mountain more interesting. I wish, though, Rockstar let Michael, Franklin or Trevor stream music from their in-game phones in order to make the journey a little less lonely. Still, trudging up the mountain is a lot of fun and affords a great view of the entire map when the summit has been reached. There's also a sense of mystery, give the strange markings painted on the side of the mountain as well as an eerie map scrawled on the walls of the cable car drop off room.  

For fun, here's a comparison of the area around Mount Chiliad. 

San Andreas (2004)

GTA V (2013)

What a difference nine years makes!