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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has become victim to repetitiveness on an annual basis, and many view it on the same level as Call of Duty. As the yearly titles roll out, many wonder if AC has lost its edge, and has fallen into the trap that annual franchises do. But that is just not the case with Black Flag, as Ubisoft delivers another astonishing addition to the AC universe. A mix of what made the original games great and the modern style of Assassin’s Creed III combine to help make AC IV one of the best games you’ll play this year.

Black Flag dumps you into the Golden Age of piracy, in the shoes of Edward Kenway, last year’s assassin Connor’s grandfather. You work as a privateer in the Caribbean, plundering ships and taking control of islands. You’ll find yourself in the company of other notorious pirates, with the likes of Blackbear, Charles Vane, and Calico Jack. Assassin’s Creed titles have always had two parallel story lines, one set in the past and one in the present. While the last game ended Desmond’s storyline, AC IV still features a modern day setting, in which you play as an intern at Abstergo Industries. These modern missions are a fun break from all the pirating you’ll be doing, and are quite a neat diversion.

The story of Assassin’s Creed IV won’t blow you away by any means. It’s more of an excuse to go and do some badass pirate stuff. There’s no problem with this, but I would have liked some more interesting supporting characters. Edward Kenway is great, however, as the central protagonist. While not as suave as Ezio, but not as dull as Connor, Edward has a charm of all his own, and is quite the jokester. You’ll quickly grow to love him and the world of the Caribbean within a few hours.

Assassins-Creed-4-Black-Flag-hello-thereUbisoft takes the excellent pirate gameplay from AC III, and expands that to a full-blown open world adventure in the Caribbean. Black Flag’s map is massive. The scale is impressive. Countless islands litter the map just waiting to be explored, and you’re free to do whatever the hell you like, even avoiding the main storyline as necessary. While in some games, this kind of freedom can be a hindrance, I didn’t feel that way in Black Flag. All of the side activities, from harpooning whales to assassinating targets, feels fun and unique, and doesn’t detract from the main story missions. There are possibly more side activities here than in GTA V, and these are even more fun and rewarding.

When you’re not invading fortresses, synchronizing viewpoints, or hunting animals, you’ll be sailing in the Caribbean aboard your own ship, the Jackdaw. The ship controls are excellent, and the weapons and upgrades you can equip add quite a bit of strategy and complexity to the game. When you attack a neighboring ship, you can choose to sink it to the depths or climb aboard for some plunder. A spyglass can be used to identify enemy ships and see if they contain anything worth taking. You’ll come away with some awesome rewards, that can be used to upgrade your ship. You can add new cannons, upgrade the hulls, set up a new sail, and the entire experience feels personal and fun.

That’s not to say you’ll be spending your entire time out exploring the open sea, however. You’ll also explore island villages and big sea ports like Kingston. Dense jungles also populate the region, allowing for some fun stealth sequences as you make your way through these beautiful rain forests. The main hub city, Havana, is gorgeous, full of crew members to recruit and shops to visit. The city is more detailed than AC III’s Boston, and more fun to explore using AC’s signature free running system. Even more upgraded from AC III, the free running allows Edward to perform parkour jumps and climb things like an animal. You’ll be spending quite a bit of time on the rooftops and in trees, so free running is an essential part of the experience. Sometimes it doesn’t work as well as you’d like, however, leading to some frustration as occasionally you’ll make a jump you didn’t mean to, and then get spotted by guards, ruining your entire plan. AC III was also plagued with these problems, and they are still aplenty in Black Flag, which is a shame.

The combat in Black Flag remains largely unchanged from the previous title. You can counter, disarm, and break enemy’s defenses. The enemy types you encounter mimic those that you found in AC III. There is still little variation in the combat system, unfortunately. The weapons you can use still feel fun though. You can buy new scabbards and rapiers, increasing the damage dealt, and you can also wield a wide variety of pistols. The pistols are seamlessly interjected into the combat, as you’ll be pulling off double kills and using your dual-wield pistols to great effect, chaining together spectacular kills worthy of the slow-motion finish. Stealth is also a big part of Black Flag, even more so than in previous games. You can still stalk enemies from above, eliminate them from haystacks, and silently pull them from ledges. Sometimes you’ll even need to be stealthy while aboard your ship, as you tail enemy ships in order to find out where they are headed. These missions became frustrating, as sometimes you’ll become engaged in combat with other ships, and have to restart the mission. The constant stalking missions became tiresome after a while, and some more varied mission structure would have been much appreciated.assflag

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag is gorgeous, and made to be played on next gen systems. I played on the PS3, and the game still looked stunning. From the beautiful open sea, to the populous cities, there is no shortage of eye candy in Black Flag. Characters on the whole look solid, and the universe is very well detailed. However, at a price for such beauty are the occasional graphical glitches and texture issues. The draw distance is limited, adding some strange pop-ins when islands appear out of thin air. Cutscenes are also a mess, as character’s voices don’t match up with their lips, and the cutscenes feel more like loading screens as they are poorly rendered and look unpolished. This is a shame really. A few extra months of work would have made the game even more beautiful, but it still is an visually enjoyable experience all around. The soundtrack is great, featuring high-adventure songs reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. Your crew even sings a variety of sea shanties while you sail, and these are a lot of fun.

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag is everything you would have hoped for out of a pirate game. From the expansive world map to the massive number of diversions to take part in, you’ll have no shortage of activities to do in the Caribbean. Beautiful visuals carry frequent visual glitches, and the missions still need a bit more of polish, but on the whole, Black Flag is another great addition to the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Overall: 8.8 out of 10.0

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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in Game Reviews

 

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Batman: Arkham Origins Review

Batman: Arkham Origins was doomed to fail the moment it was announced. When it was announced that Rocksteady, the studio behind the first two hugely successful Arkham games, would not be creating Arkham Origins, fans went wild. Arkham City was my 2011 Game of the Year, and one of my favorite games this generation. I have been hugely anticipating Origins, and while it is nowhere near the level of the previous two games, it comes pretty damn close, delivering another solid Batman action-adventure title.

Arkham Origins’s story may be the best of the series. This is a prequel, following the adventures of the Dark Knight two years after his arrival in Gotham. He is still at odds with the police, and still hasn’t attained hero status just yet. Arkham Origins finds Batman on Christmas Eve. The villainous Black Mask has hired eight assassins and has placed a price on Batman’s head. This causes the Dark Knight to spring into action to defend both himself and the city of Gotham, as he must defeat each of the eight assassins and stop Black Mask.

The confines of the story work brilliantly with the characters and setting represented. Black Mask has hired eight of Batman’s most villainous current enemies, ranging from Deathstroke to Anarky to Copperhead and to Bane. In Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, I felt that the random villains were placed very sporadically, with barely any service to the plot at hand. That isn’t the case here in Arkham Origins. Every villain plays an important role, whether they be a small side quest or a part of Deathstroke’s major plan.

The setting once more is Gotham City, sending us back to the beautiful open world that Arkham City so brilliantly portrayed. The entire map is available from the get-go, and a whole new area has been unlocked just for Arkham Origins. The open world setting that worked so great in Arkham City works just as great this time around, too. You’ll stop countless groups of thugs, interrogate enemies, solve puzzles, and much more. New this time around are crimes-in-progress, which are intercepted via the police scanner. You can stop these crimes for extra experience points. A new fast travel system has also been implemented, allowing Batman to hop in his Batwing and travel to different areas on the map, provided you have unlocked the fast travel point by solving radio tower puzzles, similar to Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoint system. A staple in the Arkham franchise is side-quests, and there’s no shortage of these in Arkham Origins. The Riddler is back, this time called Enigma, and he has a lot of puzzles and collectibles scattered around Gotham for you to solve. Other side quests find you investigating crime scenes and helping out the GCPD.

The perfect combat system receives some upgrades thanks to some difficult new enemy types.

The perfect combat system receives some upgrades thanks to some difficult new enemy types.

The perfect combat system is once again back, allowing Batman a wide variety of ways to dispatch his foes. You’ll be striking, countering, and using the Bat’s various gadgets in no time. New enemy types shake things up, like the martial artist, who actually counters Batman’s attacks. These new enemies feel welcome in the increasingly large group of foes you already face, and offer new challenges for seasoned Arkham veterans. Stealth is also a huge part of Arkham Origins. Batman sometimes finds himself dropped in a room with ten armed enemies, and must avoid being seen and take them out one by one. Old gadgets return such as the classic Batarangs and Exploding Gel, but new items like the Remote Claw, which allows Batman to tether his foes to items like fire extinguishers, and Concussion Grenades, which do what you’d expect, feel right at home amidst Batman’s ever-increasing arsenal.

A big focus this time around is Batman’s detective mode. At times in the story you’ll find yourself among various crime scenes. You must use the Bat’s detective vision to scan and analyze clues within the environment, and then piece together the crime scene to see what happened. You can fast-forward and rewind the crime scenes as you piece them together, in a sort of augmented-reality type vision, which makes Batman feel like a CSI agent. It’s all a lot of fun, and a nice change in pace from all the fighting you’ll be doing.

All of this would add up to yet another perfect Batman game, but unfortunately there are a few flaws in the formula this time around. The game doesn’t feel very polished, or brand new. At best, it feels like an expansion to Arkham City, something that should have been priced at $40. Nothing has been drastically changed here. The transition from Asylum to City was massive, but you don’t get the sense of surprise this time around in Origins. The story is great, no doubt, but the new additions do very little to justify the purchase of a full-priced new Batman game. There’s a certain lack of innovation in Arkham Origins, and it definitely shows.

Arkham Origins look solid overall, despite a few graphical hiccups.

Arkham Origins look solid overall, despite a few graphical hiccups.

Batman: Arkham Origins has solid presentation overall, but a few bugs and graphical glitches make the game feel rushed and a bit unfinished. Gotham City is beautiful. There wasn’t too much improvement of Arkham City’s already-beautiful world, but small changes make the game look great. It is constantly snowing this time in Gotham, and the game is wonderfully detailed. One reviewer I read complained about the lack of easter eggs and hidden secrets for Batman fans, but that is a blatant lie. There are plenty of fun visuals and gags for Batman veterans to find and explore, and they are a lot of fun. While the gameplay looks great, the cutscenes do not. The Arkham series is notorious for poor cutscene rendering and bad lip-syncing character models. Those are once again back in Origins. Sound glitches and audio bugs abound as well, with the fast travel animation constantly stuttering, and characters sometimes not moving their mouths when they talk. This lack of polish makes the game feel unfinished, and may turn off some fans. The voice acting is great of course. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy both opted not to return for Origins, to many fans’ disappointment. But their replacements, Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith, do an excellent job, and I don’t even miss the original voice actors. The soundtrack is good, too. An intense menu theme sticks out, and the ambient sounds among Gotham sound great. A multiplayer mode has even been tacked on, but I have not had a chance to play it yet.

Batman: Arkham Origins is already getting a lot of flak for not living up to expectations, but when the previous two titles were perfect, how can they top perfection? Warner Bros. Montreal has done a fantastic job of creating another great Batman title. Despite a few bugs and a lack of polish overall, Arkham Origins is a stand-out, and should not be passed up by fans of the past two titles.

Overall: 8.0/10.0

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Game Reviews

 

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Grand Theft Auto V Review

It’s finally here. After nearly two years of waiting since its announcement, and watching the hype levels rise and rise, Grand Theft Auto V is finally upon us. Rockstar’s huge open world series is back in a swan song to this generation of consoles. Making big gameplay changes and with a less serious tone than its predecessor, does GTA V live up to the hype? Let’s find out.

The addition of three main protagonists keeps things engaging and fun.

The addition of three main protagonists keeps things engaging and fun.

The story of GTA V centers around three main protagonists. That’s right. Breaking tradition, Rockstar introduces us to three main heroes, rather than focusing on one. First we are introduced to Franklin, a street thug who wants more than a life of crime in the hood. Next there’s Michael, a retired bank robber who now lives a depressing life in the rich part of town with his resenting family. Lastly, there’s Trevor, a crazy psychopath living in rural San Andreas.

Various events bring these three men together in the city of Los Santos. Franklin is taken under Michael’s wing, sort of as a son. The dynamic between these two is fun to watch as it unfolds. In contrast, the relationship between Michael and Trevor is rocky, to say the least. The two have quite a history together, and until now, weren’t even aware that the other was alive. The three have a good group energy, but neither character is all too interesting. Having three main protagonists unfortunately doesn’t allow time for three main fleshed-out characters or personalities. Unlike GTA IV’s Niko Bellic, or GTA: San Andreas’s CJ, these three guys just aren’t as interesting, without clear motivations or goals. Sure, they have their own struggles, be it with family or work, but on the whole they aren’t as fascinating as other Rockstar heroes.

The new mechanic of having three main characters adds its own unique touch to the GTA universe. For one thing, it keeps the story fresh, and there is always something exciting going on in one of these guys’ lives. If you get bored playing as one character, or don’t want to travel across the sprawling map, you can switch on the fly, zooming out in a Google Maps-type loading screen, which then zones in on the other character’s position. They might be in a crazy situation since you last left them, or they may have new missions to tackle. I like the new system of multiple protagonists, but would I want it to return in future GTA iterations? Probably not.

After an opening prologue, you are introduced to the world of San Andreas, which has seen an update since we last visited. The bustling downtown of Los Santos mimics Los Angeles perfectly, and the resemblance is uncanny. Furthermore, you have backwoods and countryside to explore, mountains to scale, oceans to dive in, and much much more. The initial feeling of having too many overwhelming opportunities eventually subsides, and you are soon left to explore the world at your will. The entire map is unlocked from the get-go, and it is a blast to explore. The diversity in the many locales you venture keeps things from getting stale, and the many diversions will keep you busy when you aren’t on missions.

Speaking of diversions, San Andreas is not lacking in activities to take part in. From golf or cycling, to hunting animals or customizing cars, to base-jumping or scuba diving, you will always have something to do. There are cars to customize, clothes to buy, weapons to upgrade, and a lot more. There is rarely a dull moment in San Andreas. In addition, random events occur quite often, akin to Red Dead Redemption, where you can choose to participate or flee the scene. You may stop a cutpurse, or even save a barber shop from being robbed. These random events keep you on your toes, and sometimes even have unexpected rewards.

The city itself is the star of the show. Los Santos is dense, and jam-packed with people and cars. The concept of a living-breathing world has never been as fully realized as it has here in GTA V, and Rockstar did it best.

Grand Theft Auto V represents a sort of conditioning at work here. Rarely do I cause mayhem as Michael or Franklin, only when necessary. As Trevor, though, I go crazy: stealing cars, killing pedestrians, and the like. The stark contrast between the three characters make things like this matter, even if it isn’t a big deal in the long term. Because the city feels so alive, I feel more inclined to drive with the flow of traffic, and park in designated parking spots. Of course occasionally I’ll speed through red lights or cause heavy crashes, but in GTA V there isn’t much of a point. It’s an interesting thing, and I can’t quite explain it, but at times GTA V feels more like The Sims than it does GTA V. With so many things to do in the city, and with things to do around the house and with friends and family members, GTA V feels like a life simulator. It’s a strange effect, but when not on missions, you’ll feel it, too.

The heist missions are the standouts, allowing for multiple methods of success.

The heist missions are the standouts, allowing for multiple methods of success.

In terms of missions, GTA V isn’t lacking. With over 65 story missions, and plenty of side-missions, you’ll be busy for a long time. GTA V has made great changes to mission structure, and they’re for the best. For one thing, checkpoints are now here, so you avoid frustration and having to drive to these locations over and over if you fail.  Another new feature allows you to skip a mission entirely if you fail three times. This is good if you are stuck on just one mission, yet want to continue with the story. The biggest change is in mission variety. GTA IV had a lot of “drive here, shoot these people, get this thing, and come back” kinds of missions, with the exception of an awesome bank-robbing heist. Rockstar has taken that with a grain of salt, and expanded on the mission variety immensely. Early on, you’re still doing small jobs, but these are a lot of fun and don’t feel like they’re tacked on just to teach you the ropes.

The biggest and best part of GTA V comes in the form of heists, huge missions that your gang tackles, in order to make big bucks or make a big score. These require careful planning, and you must plan each element of the heist meticulously. Your pal Lester helps you here, advising you on whether to go in smart, or go in guns blazing. One jewelry heist gives you the choice of gassing the customers and then breaking in, or going in Rambo-style and take no prisoners. You plan these heists straight down to the getaway vehicles, and you choose who you want to take with you on these missions. You need hackers, getaway drivers, gunmen, and more, and these come in the form of gang members you recruit, or old friends from past games. The planning of these big missions make each attempt feel unique, and they allow for repeated attempts, so you can see each outcome.

On these big heists, you can switch to any of your three main characters, to see their perspective on things. The game tells you when you might want to switch, but its entirely up to you. Michael may be holding a man hostage, while Franklin provides cover fire, and Trevor flies a getaway helicopter. By giving you three different points of view to see through, Rockstar has given you more freedom in execution, and this is a welcome change. You can also replay missions at any time to try for a better score, and there are even optional objectives to complete during the mission, similar to Assassin’s Creed’s synchronization challenges.

New gameplay changes help to refine the third-person, open-world experience. The gunplay this time around is more akin to Max Payne 3’s gunplay. A weapon wheel lets you select your weapon of choice, and the snap to aim feature is a welcome addition. This can even be turned off entirely for those who want a challenge. The cover system has been greatly refined, being less sensitive and more tactful this time. Sometimes you even have the option to be a bit stealthy, and you are often rewarded for keeping a low profile. Melee combat also feels tighter, with more options, and character movement is less floaty.

Of course, being a GTA game and all, you’re of course going to run into some cops, and they’ve been made smarter and more aware since the last time they graced Liberty City. Now, instead of escaping a “zone” of police sirens, you can break their line of sight. If you go around a corner, they may lose sight of you. After this, they still search for you at your last seen location. Each cop has a small cone of vision which you must stay out of if you want to avoid capture. It’s a small change, but it makes you think before you act, and gives you more options in evasion. The police officers themselves are now smarter, and they’ll flank your position and take cover in addition to ramming you off the road to spin you out. This nice AI upgrade is definitely a needed and welcome change, as the GTA IV cops were sometimes bumbling idiots.

In addition, each character has their own set of stats, which you can improve as you play. Franklin is the driving expert, Michael’s great with guns, and Trevor can fly planes very well. Stamina, stealth, lung capacity, and more skills can be upgraded as you play, making each character feel useful in specific situations. Each character also has their own unique special skill, which they can use when their special meter is full. Franklin can slow down time when driving, and Trevor goes into a rage mode, boosting damage and defense for a short time. These unique skills allow you to choose which character is best for the job, be it combat or driving.

There is no shortage of things to do in Los Santos.

There is no shortage of things to do in Los Santos.

The driving, too, has been more refined. Cars and vehicles now stick to the road better, and don’t fly past turns or tumble over upon hitting a small bump. Driving is tight, precise, and feels great when you’re flying at high speeds down the freeway. There’s no shortage of vehicles either. From sports cars to bicycles to ATVs to jet skis to choppers and even blimps, the options are endless. Most vehicles can be customized to your need, fine tuning the engines, adding better brakes, or a completely new paint job. You can then store these in your personal garages to take with you when you cruise around or take part in street races. One small gripe I have is with driving and shooting. The reticle is super small, and you use the same button to shoot as you do to aim. This is a hassle when there is a lot on the road and you can’t focus your aim precisely.

San Andreas is visually arresting, and hugely populated.

San Andreas is visually arresting, and hugely populated.

You are given a smart phone, as well, to communicate with NPCs and fellow characters via email or text message. There’s no relationship system this time around, so don’t expect to be pestered by other characters asking to go bowling or get drinks. You can set these up yourself, and plan a night of darts or visiting the strip club, but you won’t be penalized for not socializing. Also on the phone you can take pictures, helpful for heist set-up missions. You can even take selfies and share them via Rockstar’s Social Club, and show them off to friends. An in-game stock market is also present online, allowing you to buy and sell shares of stock in big companies, and their success is determined by in-game events. You may hear financial predictions on the radio as you’re driving, and then its up to you whether you want to risk it all or not.

Rockstar has never been known to shy away from controversy, and their entire game worlds seem to be littered with satire and sharp jabs at pop culture and the media. In GTA V, sometimes they take things a bit too far for their own good. One torture scene has Trevor waterboarding a victim, which calls to mind the CIA’s use of waterboarding on Al-Qaeda suspects. This scene is uncomfortable to say the least. Get ready to hear the media’s reaction on this one.

When will we see smart and capable females in a Rockstar title? It's about time for that.

When will we see smart and capable females in a Rockstar title? It’s about time for that.

All of Rockstar’s main protagonists are smart, capable men, while the women are portrayed as nothing more than sex dolls or bitchy wives. When will we get a smart, cool female protagonist? One that doesn’t need men to push her around and can make her own decisions. The closest they have ever come to that is Bonnie MacFarlane in Red Dead Redemption, but even she was nothing more than a farmhand. I’m not docking points for controversial statements or misogynistic views, whether intended or not, but these questions and criticisms definitely come into mind when you’re playing.

Grand Theft Auto V’s visuals are subtle, less grainy and more detailed than its predecessor. Colors are brighter, helping the city feel more alive, and its hard not to marvel at the view of the city’s skyline from on top of a mountain. Unfortunately, due to hardware limitations, texture pop-ins are frequent. Characters, too, don’t look all that great in cutscenes. This makes me wonder where the technological potential used in L.A. Noire went. The voice acting is astounding. The characters are funny, and have fun things to say around town or when interacting with NPCs. Many guest stars also help give the city some flavor. The soundtrack is great, as always, featuring many radio stations to listen to while you drive around, with hit songs from great artists. The score is also good, although it didn’t standout from the crowd. There is even an online play mode in the form of GTA Online, which isn’t available until October 1, but I will tackle that in a separate review.

Grand Theft Auto V is the king of open-world games. The best open world in recent history can be found right here in San Andreas. The city nails the feel of a bustling, alive metropolis, and there is no shortage of stuff to do. The gameplay changes keep things new and fresh, and the entire engine has been refined for the better. Despite some graphical hiccups here and there, and protagonists who aren’t as interesting as they seem, GTA V is a champion.

Overall: 9.5/10

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Game Reviews

 

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Second Thoughts: The Last of Us Multiplayer

The Last of Us shocked everyone by delivering an impressive, narrative-driven action game. Naughty Dog took it to the next level by including a fantastic multiplayer mode. This wasn’t necessary, and the game would still get a 10/10 regardless, but Naughty Dog squeezed it in there. Many people thought it would be like Tomb Raider’s multiplayer: unnecessary filler after to make up for the lack of single-player content. Boy were we wrong. The Last of Us totes the best multiplayer mode of any console game I’ve played.

Crafting is included in the multiplayer, allowing creation of items such as smoke bombs and molotov cocktails.

Crafting is included in the multiplayer, allowing creation of items such as smoke bombs and molotov cocktails.

By channeling the feel of the single player into multiplayer, Naughty Dog has created a tense, thoughtful environment. You plan out your moves before executing them, because resources are valuable and supplies limited. The teamwork is unbelievable here, with teams sticking together and backing each other up. Everyone starts with limited ammo, so no one is overpowered at the start of a match. I’ve run out of ammo multiple times, and had to resort to crafting, and this is why the multiplayer succeeds. A microphone is almost essential here, as teams can communicate, plan out their attacks, and watch each other’s backs. Because the multiplayer’s gameplay is so similar to single-player, The Last of Us’s two game modes are made even more fun.

Before I dive into the two game modes, let’s talk about the clan system. Upon signing onto multiplayer for the first time, you are given the choice to join two factions, the fireflies or the hunters. This choice doesn’t affect much, as each faction is given the same gear and outfits, but it lets you identify with a group and gives you a reason to play through it again. I say that because the multiplayer is structured very uniquely, with an overarching metagame adding a sense of urgency and heightening the overall intensity and feel. You start with a few survivors in your clan. They have names, and you can even import your friends list from Facebook. As you play through multiplayer matches, you gain parts which convert into food for your survivors. As your clan population goes up, so does the amount of food needed each day, making it harder as you progress. The overall goal is to survive twelve weeks, and if you don’t perform well enough in matches, things could get deadly. It adds a new feel to the multiplayer genre, making each match feel important. On top of this, there are random events such as disease outbreaks which lower your population if you don’t complete a goal in time (say, get 10 kills in three matches). It keeps you on your toes and keeps things interesting.

The first game mode is called Supply Raid. This is your classic team deathmatch, yet each team

Multiplayer maps are well designed to fit the gameplay style.

Multiplayer maps are well designed to fit the gameplay style.

depletes a pool of twenty lives. The first team to lose all twenty lives loses the match. In teams of four, it keeps things interesting, because you can see who used most of those lives and see who is responsible for your team’s loss.

The second, and far more interesting game mode, is called Survivors. This is classic elimination. Each player has one life. You die, and you’re left spectating. It’s best of seven, so if your team loses the first few rounds, they can definitely come back, and this makes for some fun and tense moments.

A progression system is even included. As you earn parts per match, you unlock new weapons, perks, and outfits. The weapons aren’t too interesting, but they get the job done. For your loadout, you are allowed 10 loadout points. Weapons, secondary weapons, perks, and unlockable weapons use up these points, so you must make important decisions regarding what you want to include in your loadout. Perks range from increasing explosive radii to allowing you to heal and gift items to teammates. There are different levels to each perk, too, and they get more interesting as you go up. Unlockable weapons allow you to purchase weapons during matches using your earned parts, and these range from flamethrowers to machetes, putting a spin on the regular assault rifles and pistols. On top of that, you can also purchase armor during matches to give you extra support. It never feels cheap, which is nice. The players who do best in matches get access to the best stuff. Character customization is also included, allowing you to add hats, goggles, and more to your player, which are unlocked as you progress.

The Last of Us is already a masterpiece, a 10/10 in my book. But the multiplayer is in a class of its own. Rather than run-and-gun, Call of Duty multiplayer gameplay, The Last of Us’s multiplayer is calculated and smart, forcing players to make brash decisions concerning their clan and their loadouts.

 

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Other

 

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The Last of Us Review

I finished The Last of Us last night, and I’m still reeling from the ending and the overall experience as a whole. This is a game that every gamer should play once in their lifetime. Games like these don’t come along very often, but when they do, they are something special. The Last of Us is PS3’s best game, and one of the best games I have ever played. It tells an emotional tale of two survivors and they bond they form, all while asking questions about morality and violence in a plague-stricken world.

The Last of Us starts 20 years after an apocalypse scenario and a plague that turns humans into zombie-like infected creatures. Quite the premise for what is to come. We meet Joel and Tess, two survivors living in a quarantined zone in Boston. Through a turn of events, in exchange for weapons and gear, Joel must sneak a young girl named Ellie out of the city and into the hands of the Fireflies, a resistant group. Ellie is immune to the plague, and she may hold the secret to creating a vaccine. Thus begins Joel and Ellie’s trek across the continental United States, as they encounter old friends and familiar faces.

The strength of The Last of Us doesn’t lie in the game’s premise, but rather its characters. This tale has been spun before, in different variations on a similar theme; apocalypses are nothing new to the medium. But its the characters who drive the story here. Joel is a hardened survivor. He has a dark past that he keeps to himself, and he is reluctant to take Ellie on this journey. Ellie, on the other hand, has been born into this world. She doesn’t know what life was like before this infection, and through Joel she pieces together what life was like back then. It’s an interesting dynamic between the two main characters that isn’t seen in many modern games today. The ending is fantastic, and I didn’t want to put it down once I got 3/4 through the game. From then on, it’s a thrill ride, both physically and emotionally, and the ending is perfect.

The Last of Us's world is beautifully detailed.

The Last of Us’s world is beautifully detailed.

Naughty Dog is an expert at their craft in terms of storytelling. The creators of the other PS3 smash hit series, Uncharted, they know how to tell a tale. The world is filled with broken-down buildings and fallen trees and dead bodies, and everything you see in The Last of Us tells a tale. You may see a broken down toy store, or an abandoned train station. In these many locations you visit along your journey you come across artifacts which help you piece together what happened in these locations. The attention to detail here is astonishing, Pixar-level astonishing. You may notice something different your third time through the game, whether be it through an item you missed or an interaction that just now makes sense. Point is, The Last of Us is beautifully detailed and you’ll want to play it again to see things the second time.

The Last of Us totes a gameplay engine similar to that found in Uncharted. Through heavy use of cover and stealth, you battle your way through waves of enemies and in this case, infected. Different here is that Uncharted was a more run-and-gun, killing machine kind of game, and Nathan Drake didn’t think twice about what he was doing. The Last of Us is drastically different. Stealth is much more of a focus here, so is conservation of resources. If you don’t have enough pistol ammo to take out a guy, you better rely on stealth to take him out so he doesn’t alert his allies. You may even want to avoid enemy confrontation altogether because you don’t have proper equipment. This makes the game into a great strategy lesson, as you wonder if you can finish the job with your resources. Luckily, you aren’t left to your wits alone. Joel is given a Listening Mode, which allows him to focus his hearing and see enemy silhouettes through walls. This helps a lot, and you can turn it off completely if you like. Since enemies react on sound, you can throw bottles or bricks to distract them, then run to safety, and the Listening Mode gives you additional help with locating enemies.

Crafting is a big part of The Last of Us. On your journey, you’ll come across all kinds of collectible equipment such as bandages and knives and alcohol, and you can craft in the craft menu to create things such as moltov cocktails, smoke bombs, or med kits. All of this happens in realtime, also, so you’re constantly trying to hide so you can craft a med kit and heal before you’re torn apart by the infected. It creates a suspenseful tone, and adds even more strategy to the game. You can also find gears and workbenches to upgrade your weapons, such as adding a scope to your hunting rifle or increasing your clip capacity. Joel also has upgrades of his own, and you can upgrade his healing speed, listening mode distance, and his overall health. The Last of Us is violent. Very violent. Joel and Ellie are survivors, and they learn to kill, but as a player, I’m here being grossed out by these kills. Joel will bash an enemy’s head into the wall or stomp on his face, but this all adds to the experience and it makes sense given the scenario.

Stealth is important, and very tense.

Stealth is important, and very tense.

All of this would add up to a 10/10 in my book, but Naughty Dog takes it a step further with multiplayer. Unlike Tomb Raider, another single-player experience, The Last of Us’s multiplayer is astonishing. It’s one of the best online multiplayer modes I’ve ever played. You choose to either side with the Fireflies or the hunters, and from there you start building your clan of survivors. There are two game types. Supply Raid has you and your team play deathmatch against the other team, and you all have a shared pool of lives, 20 to be exact. Whichever team’s pool is depleted first, loses. Survivors is more interesting. No respawns, and you must try and eliminate the whole enemy team. The game’s single player gameplay translates perfectly over to multiplayer. Crafting is still here, and it works perfectly. Listening mode is helpful, as well. But as a whole, given the quiet tone of the game itself, it makes you and others want to be quiet too and plan out their tactics, and this allows for some excellent teamwork and strategy. It’s a beautiful thing. As a metagame, after each match your points convert into food for your clan, and if you don’t perform well in a match, you may not have enough food to feed your clan. The goal is to survive 12 weeks, and it’s a very interesting concept which works quite well.

Visually, The Last of Us is stellar. Like I said earlier, the attention to detail is phenomenal, and the graphics set the tone for the tale. Pre-rendered cutscenes are also beautifully executed and shot, and allows for some great character expression in their faces and body language. Sound is also a big part of The Last of Us. The infected make loud noises, you avoid making a sound, and it helps to immerse you in the experience. When there is music, it’s beautiful, and very fitting.

The Last of Us is one of the best video games I’ve ever played. It tells a beautiful and emotional tale, featuring one of the best duos in gaming history. The gameplay is excellent and very strategic, and it has one of the best multiplayer modes ever. You owe it to yourself to give The Last of Us your time.

Overall: 10/10

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Game Reviews

 

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Assassin’s Creed III Review

Assassin’s Creed III – Ubisoft (PS3/360/PC)

My time with Assassin’s Creed III has been interesting to say the least. I’m still new to the franchise, and my first game in the series was Brotherhood. I wasn’t a big fan of Brotherhood or Revelations. I found the combat to be confusing and frustrating, and overall I was a little lost in what to do or where to go. That said, I came into AC3 expecting more of the same, but what I got was an entirely new experience that is full of things to do and excellent gameplay and design.

Now, if you’ve played the previous games in the series, you know Desmond Miles and his story. He has been kidnapped and forced into the Animus to take control of his ancestors and stop the Templars’ plot. I was never a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed story. I never liked Desmond and his tale. But the bulk of the game will have you playing as Desmond’s ancestor, Connor Kenway. Whereas previous installments put you in settings such as Rome or Constantinople in the 12th century, AC3 puts you right in the middle of the American Revolutionary War. It’s the setting that makes the game here. You spend your time split between big cities like Boston, and the wilderness of the Frontier. These settings are the base for the story, and they’re a marvel. Connor’s story has him protecting his Native American heritage while the British Redcoats infiltrate the Colonies. Along the way, Connor meets up with many historical figures, including George Washington and Paul Revere. You get a bit of a history lesson here, and it’s a lot of fun to play through what you learned in 5th grade. You’ll play through historic moments like the Boston Massacre, The Battle of Bunker Hill, and visit locations such as Concord and Lexington.

Murdering the British has never been this fun!

Connor is very nimble, and his particular set of skills sets the tone of what you’ll be doing. Free running has been improved since last games, allowing you to perform parkour-style moves along the Boston rooftoops or in the Frontier canopy. It works well for the most part, and it looks pretty badass. There were some times when Connor jumped to the wrong branch, or jumped off the roof altogether, but these mistakes aren’t as common as they were in Brotherhood or Revelations. The combat has also been improved. In fighting the Redcoats, Connor can block, counter, and attack in a wide variety of ways. One reason I wasn’t a fan of the first AC games was their combat. I found myself confused in what I could do, and enemies always blocked my attacks. For this reason I avoided direct confrontation a lot. Here, that’s not the case. Combat is a breeze, and follows a simple pattern of push one button to dodge, and then you have a split second to counter, disarm, or roll away. It’s simple, effective, and a lot of fun. You won’t die too much, but mistakes are common. Connor’s arsenal consists of his tomahawk, a bow and arrow for ranged takedowns, the classic hidden blade, rope darts, and a lot more. Experimenting with these weapons is a lot of fun, and it allows for a good amount of player choice in determining which weapon is right for the job.

In addition to the main quest, you’ve got plenty to do on the side. The Homestead allows you a metagame of managing your land’s economy. You recruit settlers by rescuing them or meeting them in the Frontier, and they’ll set up shop at your home. You can then buy their products and craft new items, or trade via convoys to make a little money. It isn’t explained very well, but once you figure it out, you’ll be making solid revenue in no time. There is a wide array of collectibles to pick up along the way. Benjamin Franklin’s pages of his almanac have been lost and are spread all over Boston and New York, and it’s your job to find them. Also, eagle feathers and treasure pieces in the Frontier will keep you on a constant treasure hunt. Speaking of hunt, hunting is a very deep diversion that can be very addicting and rewarding. Animals are spread out all over areas of the Frontier, and Connor can trap and kill them in a variety of ways, using bait, setting up traps, or simply shooting them with a bow. You can skin these animals and trade them for profit, and it’s a lot of fun, even more fun than Red Dead Redemption’s hunting sidequests. Naval missions allow Connor to take to the seas aboard a naval vessel, and engage in some ship battles. These are easily one of the best parts of the game, and upgrading and commanding your cannons as captain of a ship is a blast (get it?). Also, assassin recruits are back, but these aren’t as full-fledged as they were in Brotherhood, which is a shame.

Assassin’s Creed III is a technical marvel. Boston and the Frontier are brimming with detail and movement. The colors shine, and particle effects are beautiful. The campaign is set in different seasons, and the snow forests are literally a sight to behold. At sea, your boat rocks back and forth amongst the waves, and the view distance is incredible. Enemy attacks are as gruesome as ever, and you’ll have a lot of fun finding creative ways to kill a Redcoat. All that attention to detail in the environment, however, is lost when it comes to characters and cutscenes. Characters are a blocky mess, especially in the faces, and it’s disappointing when a cutscene loses its luster because of poor attention to detail on characters. Cutscenes are a mixed bag; some are beautiful, others are a mess.

You don’t want to mess with this badass.

Surprisingly, Assassin’s Creed III is full of bugs and glitches, and it makes me wonder if there was any debugging of any sort at all. At one point, a character’s mouth didn’t even move when he was talking. In another, Connor got stuck in a rock and I had to reset my PS3. It’s disappointing when freerun doesn’t work because of a glitch, and it almost breaks the game to be honest. The soundtrack is nothing special. Voice acting is good as always, and some intense battle music is pretty good.

Multiplayer is back from Brotherhood and Revelations, and it’s been switched a bit for the better. Deathmatch is back, along with Team Objective and a variety of other modes I have yet to play. Multiplayer is fun, and it’s a unique way to approach the Assassin’s Creed gameplay with multiple players. Basically, you have to kill one target, while another target is hunting you. You can use a variety of diversions, and it helps to blend in with the crowd and keep hidden. It’s a lot of fun, and can get very intense. Wolfpack is the new co-op mode, where you and friends hunt NPC targets, and you try to coordinate your kills and gain more points.

Assassin’s Creed III changes up the AC gameplay for the better. Connor is a joy to control, combat is much better, and the sidequests will keep you busy for a long time. Graphics are great, but a few game-ruining bugs are present, and multiplayer is a fun diversion from the main campaign. If you gave up on the AC franchise for whatever reason, AC3 is a great place to jump back in.

Pros:

Excellent Story and Setting

Refined Assassin’s Creed Gameplay

Bajillion things to do

Fun Multiplayer

Cons:

Game-Breaking Bugs

Some things aren’t explained very well

OVERALL: 8.9/10.0

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Game Reviews

 

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