So the GA crew finished up some games recently and decided to get together and give 'em the old video review treatment! We're cool like that. Today we discuss the wild and crazy Saints Row IV, the PC horror sleeper Outlast, and the console release of the genre dominating Diablo III. Still on the fence about any of these titles? Looking for a new game to play? Just wanna look at us wearing silly hats? You're in the right place friends!
The Fulbright Company’s new PC only release Gone Home represents precisely the passion and ingenuity that characterize the indy game renaissance of recent years. Here is a product that manages to redefine our notions of narrative, character development, and even what constitutes a “game” itself across its mere 2-3 hour play time. Gone Home, available now via Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux (and with a gameplay and scope just begging for an iOS release), manages to keep one foot firmly in the past (the 90s, to be precise) while at the same time being at the very cutting edge of the art form.
Gone Home puts you in the shoes and behind the eyes of college-age Kate as she first stands on the porch of a new home her family has recently moved into. Her bags lay at her feet and the sound of rain rattles on the roof above her head. Kate has been traveling abroad for the past year, and a last minute decision to return to her family brings her to the door step of a house she neither grew up in nor has ever set foot in. Kate quickly finds the house to be vacant, with a vague note from her sister Samantha warning her not to try to find her. Kate’s parents, too, are nowhere to be seen. Moments later, your introduction to a vacant mansion with something afoot may harken the wizened gamer back to 90s classics such as the 7th Guest, perhaps the original Resident Evil and even borrows a few cues from the more recent Amnesia. But unlike these pillars of horror, it is not immediately clear if Gone Home is horror, mystery, both or neither. To say more would be to rob the reader of experiencing the game first hand. What can be said, however, is that Gone Home puts its character and narrative first and foremost, and it is the way in which it accomplishes this that sets it apart from what has come before.
Gone Home has no cinematics, no QTEs or set pieces. It offers simply a first person perspective, a house and trusts the eyes behind the mouse and keyboard will fill in the rest. As you wander the questionably empty halls of Kate’s new house, the story unravels purely by object placement, environmental details, and an immaculate attention to space and design on the part of the developers. Each room tells a story. As rooms are wandered, drawers opened, voice mails listened to, post-it notes perused, a sense of the proceedings begins to develop. Rooms stack upon rooms. A seemingly discarded possession in one bedroom you will barely take notice of will take on a new poignance when it is referenced by a letter in a dining room an hour later. The only details that are explicit are the periodic journal entries from Kate’s missing sister Sam, that pop up when crucial items are examined. Gone Home does not have what would be strictly considered puzzles. It is even hard pressed to say Gone Home has “gameplay.” Gone Home is in many ways, not exactly a videogame. It is something less and something more. It is essentially narrative tourism. The story can only unfold by wandering its corridors.
The player’s character Kate is mostly a blank canvas by which Gone Home’s two most central characters imprint themselves. The first of these are Kate’s younger sister Sam. Sam is very much a child of the 90s and any gamers who considered that hallowed decade to be their formative years will have an incredible bond with Sam, her taste in music, obsession with Street Fighter and Super Nintendo, and the flannel shirts in her closet. In truth, Gone Home is truly Sam’s story in-absentia. While I will not say whether Gone Home proves to be a ghost story in the end, a sense of Sam’s recent presence is palpable, like the warmth left behind in a recently vacated bed. The lingering scent of the absent Sam serves as Kate’s guide through a home that is foreign to her, and it is in following her rapidly fading warmth that guides the player through to the story’s final movements and revelation.
Gone Home’s second primary character is, in fact, not a character at all, rather, it is the titular mansion itself. Cavernous, stark, and musty with history, it holds an incredible sense of space and secrecy. While this is Kate’s new house, the title of “Gone Home” is one of obvious irony. Kate’s entire life is hinted at in unpacked boxes stacked in the corner of a room she has not once slept in. Anyone who has ever gone through the heart-ache of moving into a new house, seeing the uneasy dichotomy of familiar possessions arranged haphazardly in unknown bedrooms or spilling forth from cardboard moving boxes will share in Kate’s sense of alienation to the environment. The Fulbright Company constructed this mansion with bright and simplistic but effective textures that flirt with cel shading. The graphical fidelity takes a substantial step back from the true accomplishment: that of the deliberate and meticulous design. Each room is brilliantly conceived, from bedrooms to libraries, kitchens or atriums. All are adorned with both the meaningful and unnecessary adornments that any nuclear family might have in their home, from family pictures and wallets to sporting trophies and tooth brushes. All can be picked up, examined, and placed back where they were found. Post it notes can be read, cork boards convey passive aggressive messages between Kate’s parents and her rebellious sister. In this way, a central story is complimented by a sense that this home is precisely that: the outer shell inside which beats the heart of a family like yours.
To sing Gone Home’s greatest accolade, unfortunately, would be to spoil the culmination of its narrative. Suffice it to say, that Gone Home tries, at times, to be a mystery, at others to be a haunted house, and in the end is something completely else. The Fulbright Company knowingly feints in the direction of genre tropes (the red stains in the bath tub, the singular flickering light bulb in the basement), while their steady hand directs you towards an unexpected conclusion. I can say no more other than to say it proves to be intimate, relatable, and rare. It should be experienced by anyone with a computer and a few brief hours to take out of their life in order to go home.
Fun Factor: Fun isn’t the right word for Gone Home. I shall change this category to Poignance Factor and it scores through the roof.
Length: 2-3 hours depending on how you choose to explore, examine, and breathe the air of the empty house.
Difficulty: Non-existent. This isn’t so much as a game as it is a narrative tour and, as such, can be completed by anyone who knows how to work a mouse and keyboard.
On the Negative Side: No real replayability. Once you have experienced Gone Home, there wont be much to bring you back. Also, the $20 price tag for 2-3 hours of experience is a bit steep, even by Hollywood’s standards.
Bang for your Buck: I can justify the price tag because Gone Home provided me with a unique, relatable and touching experience I have not had in many games. However, I can fully understand many others objecting to its unfavorable playtime to fee ratio.
At first, A Thug in Time seems like a breath of fresh air in the mobile gaming market. The animated intro is cool and well-done: you're Kai, a former thug gangsta with a weird goatee who tried to turn his life around for the right girl after a lifetime of violence. But one day a time portal opens up and some Aztec looking dude drags Kai back into a life of violence to fix various screwed-up time lines—which include the viking era, the wild west, the prohibition era and modern day New York—by shoot his way through thousands of enemies wielding anachronistic arms (think vikings with gaitling guns) and collect the time crystals to set time itself right again.
In-game, this translates to a top-down twin-stick style shooter whereupon you mow down waves of enemies with your infinite bullets. And it's fun—the sounds of the weapons are satisfying and it's awesome to spray bullets at a big group of enemies and watch them rag doll from the impact. It's the perfect brain popcorn-style game you want for sitting around in waiting rooms or on the subway—with headphones of course, because it's pretty much non-stop machine gun sounds the entire time. There's no AI to speak of, enemies will simply walk at you while firing their weapons with pretty much zero discernible variance despite being different sizes and carrying different types of guns.
But the game suffers from what a lot of mobile games suffer from—it lacks polish and, most distressingly, hits you with a really, really hard paywall. The graphics are nothing special, and in fact can hinder gameplay at times. Weird lighting and muddy late PSX-era polygons and textures make it difficult to tell what some items are. Health packs look like glowing bricks because the red cross is too small to be seen though the glow. Bullets get lost among light colored objects. The two wheels you use to control the movement and aim of your character are overly transparent.
And the game itself, while pretty fun just shooting normal enemies, gets extremely frustrating when attempting to do anything else. I was stuck for a week on a mission where I had to escort the “Red Shadow,” a ninja whose existence and actions are never explained, around a map so he can stand near time portals while viking hordes attempt to gun him down. The Red Shadow simply follows a pre-designated path with no sense of self-preservation, and with no way to heal him, this level is frustratingly difficult. Imagine my joy when I had to do it a second time in a later mission.
The Red Shadow doing his damndest to kill himself.
Bosses are extremely difficult as well, the twin viking dudes at the end of the viking world have a horrifyingly huge amount of health and fireballs that seek you, and you can't run fast enough to outmaneuver them. After literally thirty runs on this boss, I spent the meager game cash I had on a few GOD power ups that granted temporary invincibility and stood releasing a constant stream of bullets into their bodies for what felt like two minutes until they died. I felt dirty having to purchase victory over them, but it was worth it to see the rest of the game… or so I thought. Up until that point, the next level could be unlocked by either beating the level before it, meeting the necessary amount of crystals (obtained by completing special objectives in earlier missions) or paying game cash. I'd just been going the beat it route, but beating the bosses was not enough this time.
Let me into the canyon!
Herein lies the monetization trap. To unlock this next world, I had to either get 63 crystals or pay 16 game cash to unlock it. I tried to go the free route by earning the crystals, but there's yet another freemium trap hidden among these special objectives that order you to complete a mission using a certain power up or specific gun. Guns can be bought with either game cash or gold coins, but both currencies can ONLY be earned the FIRST TIME you go through any level. Once you beat a level, you can't gain any gold or cash by beating that level again… but if you fail the level, you keep all the gold you picked up AND can do the level again. It rewards failure. You could subvert this by never beating a certain stage and grind for gold, but that's just mean to force me to do that. So I'm stuck here after only the first real boss. I dont have the cash to unlock the next level nor buy powerups, and nowhere near enough gold to purchase the weapons needed to complete the secret objectives. Sure, you can pay ten real life bucks to get 1.8 million gold and 5,400 game cash, which is probably enough to instantly unlock all weapons and levels, but it just reeks of freemium to do that. You either fight hard to reach failure, or purchase your way into completely dominating the game.
All in all, it's a game good in concept, but it's been bitten with the freemium bug. It's fun, but making it nigh-impossible to beat without paying feels unfair and reeks of nickel-and-diming is a huge turnoff.
Contributed by Associate Writer Bryan Le
I was a believer. Maybe I was a little late to the party as the Ouya team had already WAY exceeded their funding goal by the time I pitched in, but a believer nonetheless. Indie devs could finally hit the console market without massive overheads! I was ecstatic when it finally arrived, but the selection of games was sorely lacking in quality titles. I reasoned it was because it had not officially launched yet, and once it did we would see the wildly creative games that sprung out of the Game Jam.
I've been playing for weeks now and poking about the store. The mushy d-pad is starting to irk me. Good thing I can pair my PS3 controllers (and Xbox 360, if I had one) to the Ouya, but I can't reassigning the controller ports is quite another story. A rather frustrating one at that. If I have a keyboard plugged in the USB, guess which controller it's assigned as? Controller one of course. And a lot of games ONLY accept inputs from controller one. Why a keyboard at all? The on-screen keyboard is a nightmare to use with a d-pad that's like pressing an insensitive marshmallow. The wifi comes and goes like a fickle lover on some personal vision quest to find herself in the great city of New York. And the whole system freezes when I plug in my USB thumb drive (which is necessary because the Ouya's HD is so small). Dunno what's up with that either.
That said, I still have high hopes for the console. Let's not forget that it is barely months into the fledgling system's existence. I've been playing games from the library for a while, and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. The library is a huge range of good, bad and ugly. Here are a few games that stood out from the crowd, be it for better or for worse.
At first glance, you might think this game is a Gears of War clone based on its third-person, cover-based shooting gameplay with a humongous space marine lead. But you'd be wrong, as “clone” implies they're identical in some way. This game is much, much worse. The story is uninspired and the characters are bland. The aiming is clunky, but it doesn't matter since headshots don't seem to do more damage than leg shots. Bosses are a lame sidestep-and-shoot affair. And despite the (surprisingly) pretty graphics, the fit and finish just isn't there—the main character's hand doesn't match up with the lever in pulling animations, and trying to shoot during some cover animations makes the character unresponsive until you let go and hold down the shoot button again. This game is almost a parody of all the shortcomings of modern third-person shooters, a diorama of a video game at best. Duck behind some cover away from this one. This title can also be found on: iOS and Android devices.
This is the kind of thing I was looking forward to! You'll experience 2D archery battles at their finest here, keeping count of your arrows as you frantically arc them at your buddies. Jumping in a hole at the bottom of the screen makes you fall down from the top, which provides a nice retro twist as well as tactical flexibility. Victory in this game comes in many flavors—sometimes you'll pin your buddy to the wall with a single well-timed shot from a distance, others you'll grasp a clutch victory by shooting your rival right out of the air as he tries to stomp on your head, Mario style. And if your buddies aren't around, you can tackle the Trials mode and try to eliminate all the dummies as efficiently as possible. Fantastic sprite work, fantastic gameplay. This one really hit the bull's eye. This baby is an Ouya exclusive.
A Bit of a Fist of Awesome
Fist of Awesome is pretty much exactly what you'd expect when you get a bunch of nerdy creative types who spend too much time on the internet the power to create a game. It's an extremely retro-style sidescrolling brawler with Atari-inspired graphics, but features a lumberjack with an extremely strong talking magic hand beating the crap out of anthropomorphic woodland animals in their streets. That's right, you'll shoryuken afro-headed bears in front of wild locales like a ursine strip club and the Bear Grillz, all in the name of revenge. If you loved Final Fight, you'll love this. This one's a real knockout. This title is also available on: iOS and Android devices.
Saturday Morning RPG
The RPG genre can get a little stale sometimes, but thankfully this ambitious RPG is here to mix it up a little. It's not sci-fi or fantasy, this baby runs on nostalgia. To beat enemies inspired by the cartoon villains of yesteryear, the main character, Marty, uses a Trapper Keeper full of spells that let him attack with Michael Jackson's glove or that zebra gum that runs out of flavor in like five seconds. You'll even use the Ouya's trackpad to scratch scratch-and-sniff stickers for bonuses at the beginnign of every battle! With the guidance of the Wizard and his power glove (it's so bad), maybe Marty will rescue his girl from his rival, a Cobra Commander wannabe. The UI is a bit ugly, but this game is beautiful in many ways. Tune in to this one. This title is also available on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices.
This game is a tech demo at best, but it's an awesome one. It's not explained why you're a frog running on two legs in a city full of fans and explosive barrels lying all over the place, but it sure is fun to jump on them and see how far you can fling yourself around. The questionable physics mean tons of fun watching your immortal frog crash and crumple from falling from like a thousand feet in the air. The best part? You can do it with a friend. Hop on to this one. This baby is an Ouya exclusive!
It's like snake, but instead of controlling a snake that gets longer with every bite it eats, you control a bunch of heroes walking in single file killing all the monsters they can see. You start off with one hero who cannot stop running, and as you near enemies the hero will automatically attack. Occasionally another hero will appear after killing an enemy, and they'll join your conga line of murder. You know the rest: avoid the walls and avoid your “tail.” You can level up your heroes too, so they'll be stronger next time you pick them up, creating a really nice sense of progression. This is one worth getting in line for. This title is also available on: iOS and Android devices.
Yet another classic game re-dreamed for the Ouya, Wizorb is a great reimagining of that one Pong-like game where you control a paddle to bounce a ball to break all the bricks at the top of the screen. But this time, the paddle is a wizard and you can utilize spells to help in destroying the bricks (and werewolves and stuff) with your wrecking ball. A great spin on a classic, don't let this one pass. This title is also available on: Windows, PSN, Linux, Mac and iOS.
While it's not much more than a demo, it's one that has tons of potential—there's tons of fun to be had as it is now. It's a 3D side-scrolling brawler with RPG elements—not just leveling up, but gear, skills and cooldowns too. If you don't feel pure bliss in rounding up a giant group of enemies before hitting them with a combo of AoE attacks until they all die, don't even call 911—call the morgue to clean your rotting body out of the house because you're already dead. And it's by the guy who designed Diablo II. Pull this one in. This title is also available on: Browsers, mobile devices planned.
This Oblivion-alike has one thing going for it—metric tons of ambition that could fill entire oceans. But in trying to create an experience that's close to Oblivion on Ouya hardware wasn't a great choice. Despite all the cutbacks on graphics (seriously, it's a super bland affair), they could not salvage the frame rate to a comfortable level. And samey textures really get amplified when you try to stretch them across huge fields of sand or grass, or sheer canyon walls. It was probably super impressive on smartphones… here not so much. Take note, devs: it's OK to not look like a hyper-realistic triple-A title. It's OK to have a low poly count. What counts is style and artistic vision. Also, just bring something new to the table instead of clones of big budget titles. That never works out. Find something else in Ouya's open world to play. This title is also available on: iOS and Android devices.
If you're going to draw inspiration from a really awesome game that already exists, this is how to do it. Ittle Dew plays like an old-school Zelda game, except you're a kind of tomboyish gal who loves to loot dungeons, beat her enemies with a stick and eat their hearts for health. In the free demo level, you'll find a wand that can create a magic block AND teleport anything you shoot with it to the block. That's the kind of item you could base a whole game around, and it shows in some pretty clever setups showcased in the demo alone. Clever, funny and looks great—if it sounds like the one, that's because it is. Treasure this one. This title is also available on: Windows and Mac. It is planned to be on Linux, WiiU, iOS and Android devices.
Speaking of building whole games around a unique item, The Ball has players finding their way through ancient ruins using a giant stone ball and a special gun that can either punt the ball really far or slowly draw it towards themselves. It's no Portal gun, but does provide for some pretty puzzling experiences. You'd be dropping the ball not trying this one out. This title is also available on: Windows.
Deep Dungeons of Doom
Taking a page from 30 Second Hero, Ouya's Deep Dungeons of Doom pares down the dungeon crawler genre to the bare essentials, leaving only a series of button timing-based combat that you can pretty much play with one hand if you desire. The result is a challenging little number, leaving you to manage the exact moments when to attack, defend or recharge your MP. The only movement that takes place is pressing the down button to go to the next floor, fighting all the way down until you face the boss on the bottom floor. It's pretty hard to learn if twitch reactions to sprite animations aren't your thing, but the end result is pretty glorious. And the game is very pretty. Dive deep into this one. This title is also available on: iOS and Android devices.
Are you seeking a mech game with deep customization, satisfying combat and great graphics? Then look elsewhere, because despite how hard it's trying, it ain't no Mech Warrior. If you can get past the ugly-as-sin graphics, you're still left with papery combat with finicky connectivity—or is that just the processor being overloaded with too many crappy looking explosions? Either way, expect a sound shanking from enemies you can't even see from all direction once you pop into an online game (and this game is ONLY online). Way to go, camera and sluggish turn controls. Don't jack into this one. This title is also available on: iOS devices.
God of Blades
This genre of game, in which your character is constantly running forward while you time jumps and attacks accordingly—a la Punch Quest—is really popular on the Ouya for some reason (see Wind Up Knight, Kinito Ninja). It's probably a hangover from Android smartphone game design, because precise movement controls are a no go in the land of touch-screen d-pads. However, this one is pretty fun, with different attacks of varying speed, range and power to mix it up and lend the genre with some much-needed depth. This one makes the cut, but just barely. This title is also available on: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android devices.
All in all, if you got yourself an Ouya then there is a nice pool to dip your toes into for quality content. If you don't have one, there's plenty here for you as well…but don't harbor expectations of big name triple A titles. This console is all about empowering the indy developers who finally have a home of their own.
Contributed by Associate Writer Bryan Le
Welcome to a post-pandemic world where people struggle for survival day to day like many of us live paycheck to paycheck. Only in the Quarantine Zones, currency comes in many forms and limited quantities; such as ration cards and weapons. But out there, out there in the wide open world where the infection has taken hold those who must survive take what they must by any means necessary. Humans struggle and perish, mutated spore infected wander aimlessly while attacking anything in close proximity, and our main protagonist Joel remembers the world before and braves the harsh one after the turning point of humanity’s fate. This is the setting and core of The Last of Us in a nutshell, but a nutshell could never truly contain the amount of intensity, emotion, and personality the game exudes. Because of popular word going around however, it appears necessary to clarify that The Last of Us nails many aspects of its make-up perfectly…but it’s not quite a perfect game.
Coming out of the studio that brought us the very standard in combining narrative and gameplay, there would still be a tremendous amount of hype even had not one single commercial been aired nor a single demo made available to play. The history of games falling far short of their high expectations is well noted, but thankfully while The Last of Us only truly falters in few key areas it is ultimately up to the challenge.
Players will meet Joel and his daughter Sarah as the game starts, right away you can tell they have a special kind of bond; one forged by Joel’s years of living as a single father. The witty and relatable dialogue begins early, a trademark in the Uncharted games and now one here as well. Soon enough the first taste of frantic fear fills the air as the beginning stages of the epidemic that will take full form during the game’s main stay timeframe is thrust upon us in an explosive flash. Without spoiling too much, tragedy ensues and we fast forward 20 years to a much more hardened and world-weary Joel in an almost unrecognizable Boston. The transformation from the present day re-creation of a modern American city to a martial law enforced quarantine zone tells an entire story all its own and is realized quite impressively. In fact every opportunity to explore around the areas you’ll journey through is worth seizing just for how beautifully each tree, building, and giraffe is rendered. Yes, I said giraffe…well you’ll see.
When you aren’t spending time gazing upon at the world around you, you’ll be fighting for survival against human and inhuman alike. Encounters with other survivors of this twisted apocalypse, or “Hunters”, are pretty straight forward yet they lack the realistic edge Naughty Dog had promised we would see. Killing another human from the first time you do so with Joel seems little different from doing so in any other game. Even after a few close-ups on a victim’s face while being choked out doesn’t make me feel any worse than I should from having a jaded sense of morality from torturing my foes in other games like Metal Gear Solid or Infamous. Too little is done to instill a sense of guilt or to make me contemplate that I have just taken a man just like Joel away from any family or friends he might have had. The robotic script-reading like commentary by friend and foe alike do not help the matter seem any more genuine. This however doesn’t mean that killing group after group of human cronies is any less fun. It can even be quite challenging depending on just how ammo and supplies you may be short on at the time.
After about 5 hours, killing Hunters seems like a joyous vacation from the other type of foe Joel will come across. The infected play a very relevant role in The Last of Us, as they represent the survival portion of the game better than anything else. Showdowns with a group of runners or clickers does a brilliant job of making you feel threatened enough to throw everything in your arsenal into killing them each and every time. Resources throughout the game used for crafting things like bombs and health kits are fairly scarce to the point where most gamers will want to save them up. It isn’t long before the realization that each encounter is the one you’ve been saving up for embeds itself into your mind; hence why I refer to combat with humans as a vacation as some infected cannot be killed by the same conventional means. Being low on supplies at all times and constantly trying to evade or defeat inhuman foes with superior core abilities like speed and strength always sets the stage for exhilarating moments. The Last of Us has nailed the formula that other games such as Resident Evil and Dead Space have lost long ago, and is by far the best version to date.
Gamers will instantly recognize the gameplay style as it follows the very third-person rubric ND has developed for their Uncharted series, of course with minor additions to suit The Last of Us. For the most part navigation from place to place is smooth and traversing ledges and uneven terrain is a simple task. Only in combat do controls begin showing signs of inconsistency; mix these with TLOU’s share of glitches and there have been more than a few frustrating points in battle. More than once has my perspective been abruptly shifted or been the victim of wild camera angles when using melee tactics against groups of enemies, which was easily fatal against a pack of runners or a single clicker. Most puzzling is when using an upgraded melee weapon I sometimes swung clear through opponents and was penalized a usage despite doing no damage. I wouldn’t say the amount of such incidents is discouraging to the game’s completion; when everything does work as it is meant to both stealth and face to face combat is exceptionally enjoyable.
The cuts-scenes that weave the story together are the game’s finest feature. Voice acting and character design details are exemplary and is one of the very few areas Naught Dog has bested their breadwinning franchise. The game’s writing meshed well with the voices which conveyed it and there was never a moment when I didn’t feel as if I was watching an engaging movie. Some characters played their parts better than others, and while there weren’t any real failures there could not have been a more profound dichotomy between the two main characters.
Joel is a clearly emotionally tormented middle aged man who is easy to feel sympathy for, yet never begs for it. He believably lives in this new world as a survivor and yet you can’t help but feel that he would welcome death if it ever managed to sneak passed his gun and his instincts. He is the dangerous and admirable combination of a time-tested veteran of both worlds with nothing left to lose. Joel is not a witty adventurer like Nathan Drake or a heralded hero like Commander Sheppard, he’s your average Joe who does what he has to and this creates a much more intimate connection between player and protagonist.
Ellie on the other hand is terribly mishandled at key points in the game. While a more detailed explanation as to why this is can be found here, the short version is she’s much more robotic and bland than I am sure Naughty dog intended. I find it rather poetic that another realism-stripping programming oversight involves Ellie (and any other ally) being essentially invisible to detection. I even took a 10 second video during my gameplay progress of a human attacker walking continuously into a crouching Ellie blocking a doorway while I hid beside her; he barely noticed a person let alone something was impeding his path. This is virtually how I felt about Ellie overall; perhaps not invisible but certainly lacking in substance. Not devoid, but lacking. From a gameplay perspective however she is excellently incorporated. She’s quick with a bottle, brick, or fire support when she has the resources available and it has saved my quite a bit of headache. Every now and then she’ll gift a little something to Joel, albeit not as often as Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite but the scarcity in this is also quite conducive to the overall survival aspect.
Now on to something I did not expect to write in my review during my anticipatory stages of The Last of Us, but here goes: The multiplayer is one of the absolute best features of the game. What major games with multiplayer dynasties have slowly begun losing hold on, The Last of Us has forged in its simplicity and unique concept. There are only 2 game modes in which you fight for the cause of 1 of 2 factions; it may seem limited but execution wise the gameplay is flawless and fun.
The first playlist is essentially your team deathmatch style mode where you whittle down the amount of respawns the other team has while collecting supplies and other bonuses toward the flourishing of your personal camp. The other is the same basic concept only without respawns, think Search and Destroy from Call of Duty only without setting bombs. It’s the idea of building your own survivor camp as a pride mechanism that brilliantly maintains interest in always doing your best. While there is no detailed return on seeing the fruits of your efforts (your survivors are literally blips on a map), it is a much more unique way of measuring your success as opposed to a kill/death ratio or even a numeric point value. It has been a while since I’ve played a non FPS online multiplayer simply because I enjoyed it, and not for the sake of being a completionist. Ultimately it flows excellently with how the single player campaign plays.
The Last of Us is undoubtedly one of the best games of the year, but it does fall short of perfection noticeably. This does not necessarily have to be perceived as negative, because it truly isn’t. It seems to have quickly become an insulting stigma amongst the internet to say The Last of Us is anything but absolute perfection. My interests lie within honesty and the idea that perfection only belongs to titles that not only do what is necessary to present a memorable experience in every aspect from technical perfection to captivating story and every single point in between, but goes far above and beyond what even the developers believe is important. It is not an insult to say that even the best games created deserve a nine out of ten, an A out of A+, or a 90 out of 100; however you like to grade your experiences. Too often the only facet of a video game that deserves a perfect score is the hype surrounding its release.
Fun Factor: Every part of The Last of Us is fun, from the combat to just sitting back and watching the story play out. This is as beautiful a blend of gaming and cinema there is, and it's awesome.
Length: Single player campaign can be completed between 15-20 hours. Roughly the amount of time it would take to play through the Uncharted trilogy with no breaks.
Difficulty: Not inherently difficult, but glitches and awkwardness in combat can rough things up a little. A hard mode play through is a must however, as normal poses virtually no challenge.
On the Negative Side: Delivery on promise of realism a little lacking, combat glitches and camera angle oddities, Ellie.
Bang for your Buck: Buy The Last of Us. The story is one of the best of the generation, the multiplayer remains fun for quite some time, and the ending will keep you connected to the experience long after you beat it. Buy The Last of Us.
Growing up I was a huge fan of the X-Men Legends, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance games. There was nothing like donning the cape and cowl of my favorite heroes and whooping some bad guy butt all over the city. The best part of those games was being able to play with my closest friends and cousins for entire weekend marathon sessions. I am happy to say that Marvel Heroes, created by David Brevik of Diablo I and Diablo II fame, has rekindled my love of the action RPG.
Marvel Heroes is a free to play action MMOPRG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) starring a plethora or iconic heroes. Right off the bat we get to choose our first hero. I chose The Thing…mostly because I thought he would be picked the least. I’m a nice guy like that. I also knew that through in-game events and spending some hard earned G’s I could get access to more heroes later on. The Thing is a straight up Tank. For those of you who don’t know what those are: he’s a damage taker. He jumps in the middle of a group of enemies and soaks up all the damage while he and his teammates deal damage of their own. Players of other MMOs and ARPGs know the formula well.
The game opens up with a beautifully crafted moving comic strip setting the story. Hydra has broken into a prison and started springing super villains free. Heroes unite to put an end to the madness. The cut scenes are all gorgeous to look at and the voice acting is superb. I knew after 2 minutes I was in for a treat.
The game plays like you expect a game made by the visionary behind the first Diablo games. You use the left mouse button to move and use a basic attack, and your other attacks and item uses are mapped to key buttons. I mapped my powers to the number row at the top, because that is what I am used to. After a few minutes of clobberin’ time, I leveled up, and was already faced with character building decisions.
Each character has three skill trees to work on. A tank character like thing has an attack tree, a defensive minded tree, and a health tree. Choosing which tree to level is a fun decision to make. Do I want my version of The Thing to be incredible durable while sacrificing some hittin’ power? Or do I want him to be clobberin’ punks left and right with the risk of taking fewer hits than a tank should?
Using some of the funds afforded to me for this review I decided to buy a few other characters to give the other “classes” a try. You can also buy alternate costumes and items that boost XP or other stats for a period of time. For my first purchase I chose my personal favorite; Deadpool. You just gotta love Deadpool. Every other thing he is in, he constantly breaks the fourth wall and makes you laugh. At one point he yells “Hey! Didn’t I play you in Marvel vs Capcom?!….YOU SUCKED!” He always was good for a laugh…and yes…I sucked. How did that bastard know? Anyway, Deadpool plays quite differently than Thing. While he has faster attacks, they also cause bleeding damage. His secondary attack is a ranged attack using his pistols. It’s sort of a best of both worlds scenario. I can get all up in the baddies’ faces, or I can pick them off one-by-one. Oh and picking all these numbskulls off has its rewards…oh yes…it does.
Those rewards are called loot! It is what every RPG gamer loves. Just the word written on a page sends chills down my spine. I want to stop writing this review and jump in and soak some of the sweet sweet loot right now…but I won’t…things need to be written. The loot system is what you would come to expect from a game like this: many versions of the same weapon, but with augmentations and state bonuses. There are varying degrees of item rarity just like other ARPGs before it. It is a system that works, so why mess with it too much?
Speaking of messing with stuff, there is a pretty nifty crafting system. Throughout your session you will find essences and the like. You can use these to build various costume augmentations and health packs. It is a pretty cool system, but adding these essences to the loot system means your inventory will fill up pretty quickly. One way they managed to balance this out a bit is by allowing players to freely switch between heroes they have unlocked at any given moment, as long as they are not currently engaged in combat. This means that when you are playing as Captain America and you see some sweet loot for Spider-Man, you can switch to him and equip it. This frees that space up for more sweet loot.
One of the coolest things about this game is the frequency in which you fight epic battles with super villains. Most games like this will throw you some B-rate villains in the beginning, but not Marvel Heroes. Within my first 4 hours of game play I fought Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Living Laser, and Shocker. Okay maybe those last two are B-rate, but still! Those are some pretty cool enemies to take down just a few hours into the game. There are also instanced bosses scattered throughout the public areas. While travelling to an objective I came across Rhino battling a good half dozen fellow heroes. After we took him down we all got pretty sweet loot. The same thing happened just a half hour later in a different area; this time with Venom. The boss battles are intense and really a lot of fun. There is a considerable lag when there are more than a dozen or so heroes taking a boss on, but again, these slowdowns are expected in many MMOs. I expect Bazillion to hammer those kinks out in due time.
There is just so much to love about this game, but it is not without its flaws. While the voice acting and music is phenomenal, the sound effects can leave something to be desired. Some sounds are missing when in the heat of battle. In the middle of a battle with Shocker, I threw a barrel at him that exploded, but didn’t make a sound. It is a small issue that I am sure will be fixed in time. Another issue I had was seeing 12 different Captain Americas running around. I know it is an MMO, but there was something about seeing so many duplicates running around that just took me out of the experience ever so slightly.
Another small issue I had was how missions are tracked. Most of the time, like many MMOs before it, Marvel Heroes has you stacking multiple missions for the region you are in. The upside to this is that you can complete many missions for good XP while just going through the main quest. The bad part is that the side quests become more like background quests. Half the time I don’t even know I completed a task until I get hit with a big chunk of XP. It isn’t that objective are not clear, they are just too generic to really care about.
Speaking of other players, there are quite a few playing this game. For the most part, you can do most things by yourself. There are “dungeons” that put you into a team with a few others, which is cool, and the best part is that there is no item stealing. Every player gets their own loot and their own XP. There…you can exhale now.
Marvel Heroes is an incredible gaming experience. It is the addictive game play of Diablo mixed with the enthralling Marvel universe. Marvel Heroes offers deep character skill customization, and offers addictive combat. As a free to play game, you would be an absolute fool not to play this game.
Fun Factor: When you combine Diabo-esq game play with the massive Marvel universe you get a super fun experience. I had a smile on my face the entire time.
Length: While the game’s campaign isn’t incredibly long, trying out different characters and farming sweet loot is going to keep you engaged for a very long time. I was looking for something to fill the void that Diablo III left…now I found it.
Difficulty: Look, games like this are mindless in many ways. The boss fights are a bit tough, but you are a super hero. Regular mobs shouldn’t be too hard. Enemies do get a bit harder as you progress, but the good mix of powers makes it not much of a challenge.
On The Negative Side: Some audio hiccups and slowdown. Also – some side missions get lost in the shuffle.
Bang for your Buck: The core game, and everything it offers, is free. You can buy more heroes, but you can play the game in its entirety for free. I’d say its worth the “investment”. But I do thing these guys at Bazillion deserve some cash flow for this awesome game.
Post contributed by Associate Writer Stephen Fontana.
It takes a couple of seconds for a car to get to sixty. The world’s best runners don’t start at full speed. Rush Bros., the “racing platformer” by Xyla Entertainment and now available on Steam has some inertia to move past too. It takes a few levels to get warmed up, but it isn’t long before it hits its speedy potential.
When I first started up Rush Bros., I wasn’t hit with the “pulse-pounding” pace and breakneck speed that I was expecting. Nor was my character quite as quick and agile on his feet as I would have thought. After a few levels, I started hitting a few temporary power-ups and got to work on my dash-jump. Soon I found myself hitting that speed boost power-up, narrowly sliding between opposing platforms of spikes and then bounding over whole platforms. And so began the rush. Across its forty levels, Rush Bros. is mostly made up of large-scale levels that pace out wider leaping-oriented sections with more precision based wall-jumping areas or hazard-filled areas. Many levels encouraged me to fly by without too much restraint. Sure I would hit a spike or ten along the way, but it wasn’t enough to slow me down for long. If the game wants me to speedrun, well then I’m going to speedrun.
It’s clear that Rush Bros. is trying to find a spot among hallowed platformers like N+ and Super Meat Boy. These games are frustrating (and Rush Bros. can be too) but they are also beloved. They expect a sense of control and precision at all times, Rush Bros. isn’t quite as methodical and actually seems to succeed more once you’re caught in the flow and can barely prepare for what’s next. The sense of speed really enhances the overall gameplay, so it seemed strange that power-ups like Double Jump and Speed Boost were only temporary. Not having them on really hurts your finish times, but as they are often off the beaten path, there’s a sense of risk-reward at play here. The power-ups do become a bigger factor however in multiplayer, more on that later.
While most levels are focused on briskly moving in one general direction, a few levels were more exploratory in nature. Does anyone enjoy riding a bike and slowly grinding away at an uphill climb? One where there’s no downhill right after? That’s what these find-the-key levels were. I had to run all the way right to find the green key, hop, skip, and jump back to the green door, then hustle all the way left for the red key, and so on. It didn’t seem right to put backtracking in a game focused on speedrunning, but luckily these types of levels were outnumbered by the more traditional ones.
The speedrunning emphasis is further pushed by the presence of ghosts in second playthroughs and wide multiplayer offerings. Every level in Rush Bros. can be played competitively, both split-screen and online, though split-screen play can be difficult to follow along with. The online community has not taken off yet, hopefully this feature becomes more popular as more competition in a game like this could really push players further. The boosts and double-jumps also become that much more valuable in multiplayer being that only one player can grab them at any point.
The team at Xyla Entertainment did an impressive job wrapping Rush Bros. up with a slick presentation. The levels are all brightly colored, with foreground elements displayed in silhouettes or with large borders so it’s always clear what is part of the level and what is a part of the background. Having never been to a rave, I’m going to take a guess and say that if you could freeze a rave in time, add even more colors to it, and throw some hallucinogenic stuff in there, you’ll get a good idea of what the backgrounds in Rush Bros. look like. The soundtrack is a mix of upbeat house songs that, much like the rest of the game, quickly grows on you. Many of them are well-suited to the game’s fast pace and keep the energy up. One of Rush Bros. big bullet point features was its reactive feature, where level elements like spikes and rising platforms would sync to the beat. I had totally forgotten this feature for the first few hours of play and really only would notice it when I would stop in place. Not great for my speedruns.
There’s nothing terribly new or inventive about Rush Bros., but its brisk pacing and right-on difficulty make for a refreshing experience.
Fun Factor: A well designed platformer that gets better the more seconds you’re able to shave off your times.
Length: About four hours. Replay value in the form of multiplayer head-to-head and single-player ghosts.
Difficulty: A few frustration sections aside, Rush Bros. is careful not to make difficulty the focus.
On the Negative Side: Levels geared for backtracking weaken the overall pace of the game.
Bang for your Buck: Rush Bros. is perfect for those times when you want to unwind a bit, maybe take a breather from some other epic you’ve been playing. At ten bucks, it offers a solid and entertaining experience.