Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Wolf Among Us Episode 2 "Smoke and Mirrors": Review


As a first introduction to the world of Fables, the first episode of The Wolf Among Us was a fascinating beast. Moving away from the knee-jerk intensity of The Walking Dead to focus on something dramatically slower, it edged closer towards a TV show formula by trading interaction for an extra scoop of style.

The stunning cliffhanger we were left with last time seemed to set solid foundations in place, but after Episode 2 the future of the series doesn't appear nearly as secure. The Smoke & Mirrors moniker sadly couldn't be any more apt: Telltale has a gift for creating roller coasters that forge an unlikely illusion of control, but it's a spell that fails to take hold here.

Episode 2 features no major decisions, focusing on small choices that boil down entirely to good-cop/bad-cop stuff. Be nice to a man, punch a man, try a bit of both. You're reminded that characters will remember your decisions, but somehow that doesn't feel like enough – the strings on the puppets seem obvious, giving you a sense that there's a right and wrong way to approach any situation you face.

This is most notable in the crime scene sections, where the correct conversation choice is always the one that shows you have an understanding of what must have occurred. Without complex clues or red herrings in play, it all feels a bit Detective Fisher Price.

Stylish aesthetic and cinematic flair still keep the overall experience enjoyable, but my initial spark of love for the series has largely disappeared. After a shoddy narrative decision revealed within the first 15 minutes of Episode 2, my trust in the series has diminished. Shorter – and seemingly far less interactive – than what came before, the finale of Smoke & Mirrors will leave you wanting more, but it will also leave a slightly sour taste in your mouth

Overall Pros:
  • Excellent atmosphere makes it easy to buy into the plot and characters.
  • Detective work that's believable and matters.
  • Top-notch voice acting.
  • Element of choice helps to invest you in Bigby's story.
  • Visual style is well-developed and gives the art team a chance to show it can keep up with the series' writers.

Overall Cons:
  • Some dialogue inconsistencies.
  • Fight scene seems tacked on.
  • Shorter than Episode 1.
  • What happened to the time mechanic?
  • Lacks some of the first episode's intensity.

Should I Buy?:
The game is surprising shorter than the first, which could leave you with the feeling of disappoint and being ripped off for how long you waiting for this episode to come out. It took me a hour and fourty five minutes exactly to finish it and I was like whoa it is over, and not the good kind of whoa ether, although with that said. For the price of 5 dollars is it still worth it if you have the first of the series or even better if you have the season pass. But if are looking for a new game to play and haven't played the first one I would wait until the whole season comes out, because right now it is kind of lackluster.

Does swearing make a better game?

After playing a lot of recent titles, I’ve noticed a lot of heavy hitters will either have a lot of swearing, or none at all. It might be something that has never crossed your mind before, but for me it has, and sometimes too much swearing can be a bit overbearing.

First, let’s compare two games

Bioshock Infinite, a remarkable game that even got perfect scores on some gaming sites. With such a mind-blowing ending and terrific writing, his game has potential to win game of the year. So with that said, let’s look at last year’s game of the year juggernaut.

The Walking Dead
, (Telltale) TWD really brought a true point-and-click adventure like experience and didn’t rely on crazy special effects, action, or skill in order to enjoy it. What it had was a brilliant script, amazing voice acting, and a comic book aesthetic that really came to life.

Bioshock Infinite has absolutely no REAL swearing like you see in a lot of games today. Look at a lot of big titles in the past few years like your Call of Dutys, Gears of Wars, your Battlefields, your Assassins Creeds, your Far Crys, your Tomb Raiders, need I go on? Sure, what these games have in common is they’re all shooters besides Assassins Creed, but these games all swear enough to make your mother’s cry themselves to sleep at night. These games do somewhat well, but in the long run, they’re all just the same mediocre titles that shout at you and have awful writing that needs swearing to get their point across.

There is a lot of swearing and big bad cuss words in The Walking Dead. Hell, almost every sentence Kenny says has the word fuck in it. However, look at the situation, it’s the apocalypse, everyone is dead or is dying in front of them. People are losing their families and a lot of them are having to put down the people they love themselves so they don’t become some sort of monster they’re trying to avoid. I think in a situation such as this, cursing and swearing the worst of words is kind of a waste to get upset over. The writing in TWD is done so well that when they do swear, you can get a real sense of emotion that the characters are trying to convey. In most games today like the Call of Duty games, the F bomb is dropped all over the place in the writing, because the script is just bad. The need to overpopulate a game with swearing only proves that you can’t come up with anything better to say.
We are in a day and age where people have become so desensitized to swearing that you even hear your fucks and shits and even nudity on prime time television. Does this mean that they are slowly becoming not much of a big deal anymore? Or are we just getting stupider? I for one don’t appreciate something as much when it swears so much that it starts to become all you hear. The Walking Dead did a decent job in giving each of the characters their own personalities, so some characters swore more than others. The swearing in TWD didn’t bother me one bit, because of how well the entire game as a whole was written.

Bioshock Infinite does take place in the early 1900′s, when cursing and swearing was some real serious taboo. Could that be the reason why it wasn’t present? I don’t remember off the top of my head, but I would have to play Bioshock again to see if they swear a lot in that one which takes place about 30 years later. This could be said for almost any game.

Take notice in the games you play, pay attention to what you hear.

If you have more than 2 fucks per minute in a video game, I feel like the writer’s had nothing else to rely on to make their story more entertaining.

“For every ‘fuck’ you write in your script, I give one less.” I like to think I’m pretty clever sometimes.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dark Souls Review; Feel the Darkness in our soul!

It's 2 AM and I'm ass deep in sewage frantically fighting off giant frog-like freaks of nature that are constantly threatening to put an extremely detrimental and pain-in-the-ass to remove curse on me. In addition, I'm carrying an inordinate amount of souls and humanity which could all vanish into thin air at the slightest mistake with absolutely no idea which direction I should head to find the closest bonfire. It is moments like these that Dark Souls excels at: heart pounding, adrenaline laced, sweat inducing moments.

Dark Souls, at its heart, is a very brutal hack-and-slash RPG based in an extremely dark world. Like its spiritual predecessor, Demon's Souls, it is well known for how punishing it can be. Player's are challenged with mastering the tight combat controls, traversing treacherous terrain and overcoming cunning enemies. The game favors a high risk to reward design and excels at creating scenarios where you constantly fear for your life and are elated when you accomplish the smallest of tasks. It is certainly not a game for the feint of heart casual crowd.

At first glance, Dark Souls looks extremely similar to Demon's Souls and at the core, the two games are almost exactly the same. The combat, stats, multiplayer and many other features are carbon copies. Anyone who is familiar with the mechanics of Demon's Souls will find themselves immediately at home. Despite these similarities, Dark Souls is very much its own complete experience and absolutely does not require someone to play its predecessor to get the most out of it. There are, however, a few key differences between the two games that I believe actually makes Dark Souls the superior experience.

One of the biggest changes between the two games hinges on the fact that Dark Souls has an open world. In Demon's Souls there was a central hub, The Nexus, where the player did all of their equipment and stat upgrading and management. From this hub, the player could choose to enter any of 5 linear worlds in order to gain souls, equipment and down bosses in order to progress the game. Dark Souls only gives the player a basic objective (ring a bell) and lets them loose on the world. Not all of the zones are open to the player in the very beginning, be they barred by locked doors or more commonly monsters that will rip your spine out of your colon. However, as you progress through the game you will open up shortcuts that will allow you to bypass a lot of the more inconvenient sections.

It may seem a bit strange hearing this, but I believe that Dark Souls is a more forgiving game compared to Demon's Souls. I am not saying that it is easier, only that it is more convenient in certain aspects and helps you from preventing some very detrimental mistakes. For one, there were these crystal geckos in Demon's Souls that when killed would drop the various stones you needed to upgrade your weapons with. The number of these geckos was greatly limited and if they managed to escape (they were fricken fast) then you would lose one off of the total number of geckos that spawned. This is not the case, however, in Dark Souls; if they escape, you still have a chance to kill them later.

Another aspect that makes Dark Souls more forgiving is the bonfires. Being able to repair your equipment, upgrade your equipment, store items and level up at any of these bonfires makes it less likely that you'll be walking around with a large chunk of souls. For those of you who are unaware, souls are your only currency in the game for increasing stats, repairing/buying and upgrading items; they are also lost upon death. If you are barely able to manage in a given area, it only takes a couple short trips back to the bonfire before you've leveled up enough to take on these new foes. In addition, having Estus flasks (the healing tonics of Dark Souls) and spell charges get refilled when you use these bonfires, you're very unlikely to get into a situation where you are left entirely helpless. I'm not saying that you can't fricken yourself over in Dark Souls as Jack certainly has proven it is possible, but you have to at least make an effort at it. There were also certain NPC driven decisions that can make your life entirely fricken miserable in Demon's Souls that do exist in some form in Dark Souls but are possible to recover from. I really can't say more without spoiling the experience so I'll leave it at that. Dark Souls may be fricken hard compared to Demon's Souls but it is certainly not unfair.

The online component that was found in Demon's Souls is present in Dark Souls and has been improved upon. Players can see spectral versions of other players flitting in and out of the world and can leave messages warning others of danger or pointing out hidden treasure. When players are in human form, they can be invaded by enemy players and in certain zones there are even NPC black phantom invaders. In addition, there are now covenants that when joined give players access to new equipment and abilities. The covenants also provide a flavor to the PvP aspects of the game, charging players with killing others that have broken their covenants, invaded the forest or some other criteria based on the specific covenant you belong to.

While up to this point, it may seem that I've been glowing about the game and yes, I have. It is a very well crafted tense experience that has made many improvements on an already amazing experience of its predecessor. Dark Souls, however, is not without its problems, but almost all of these issues lie in technical performance. While I played the game on both the XBox 360 and the PS3, I dedicated most of my time to the PS3. I could not visually distinguish any major differences between the games, but there were moments when the frame-rates dropped like a dress on prom night. It only really got bad and incredibly noticeable in one location; when I entered The Depths and was fighting the undead with torches, everything went slow motion. The game was still responding to my input, but everything was greatly slowed down in about a 10 to 20 foot square section on the stairs.

There were also situations in an area called Blighttown where my camera would get lost in the numerous scaffolds that littered the zone. When locked onto a large, club wielding, festering horror which can poison you, having your screen go entirely black because the camera has discovered its love of clipping inside objects, it can become very difficult to not die. It did not necessarily break the game as I had to then treat that location as a very dangerous spot and attempt to lure the enemy away from it. A lot of these technical problems, however, are things that can hopefully be improved in a patch later on, but we won't credit From Software for that until it actually happens.

Dark Souls is a very deep game. There are many aspects of it that I haven't even gotten a chance to touch on yet. I haven't even finished the game yet and I'm 40+ hours in and have cleared almost every zone save for a handful. Given the amount of content that is provided, I can easily see myself spending another 20-40 hours just exploring the world, unlocking the best items and digging into the PvP. I still fully intend on finishing the game in the next couple days, but in the interest of letting everyone know what a fricken amazing experience this is, we opted to jump the gun a little and get this out early. If you've played Demon's Souls, enjoyed it and haven't bought Dark Souls yet, then what the hell is the matter with you? If you've never played Demon's Souls and have the patience to learn from your mistakes and become a god among men, I cannot emphasize enough how amazing Dark Souls is.

Final Score: 9/10
Phenomenal and transcends all issues

Peggle 2 Review

The ‘casual game' that even ‘core' gamers love, is BACK! For those familiar with the joy of PopCap's Pachinko-like puzzle game: read this while it's in the download queue. Truth is, Peggle 2 is simply more Peggle, but better than it has ever been. No surprise, really. For everyone else with curiosity: prepare for fun

Peggle is a simple premise: aim a static cannon, that shoots a ball, down thru a playable game-board filled with colored pegs. The intention is to clear – having the ball bump pegs - the board of its orange bumpers. Clear all the orange to win. Sure, it may sound boring and lame but it quickly proves to be easily playable and a lot of fun. Watching the ball bounce around pegs is entertaining and the moment-to-moment gameplay is always exciting. It is as if every shot you take embodies the excitement of a 4th-quarter buzzer-beater in a basketball game. This is because there's also a moving basket at the bottom of the board that saves you from wasting a shot - of which you have limited - if the ball finds it.

Then there are the master characters. Master characters – like Bjorn the Unicorn, whose ‘special-shot' reveals the angles of deflection once the ball is fired - animate on screen and allow you to use their unique ability when your ball hits a random green peg, adding some depth to Peggle's source of excessive fun.

Single player - 1 of 2 playable modes - progressively trains you to use each of the games 5 ‘Master characters' through 6 worlds of game-boards. The 6th world allowing the player to choose between the 5 Master characters, adding a sprinkle of strategy to the later game-boards. Tossed into the mix of traditional Peggle screens are ‘Trial' boards that task the player with increasingly difficult challenges. Challenges like: clearing a 40 peg board with only one ball, chaining together a string of wall-shots, or staying BELOW a score quota are insanely engaging and really kept me coming back for more, no matter how hard the task-at-hand.

Clearing each world rewards you with a chain of Trial Challenges to wonderfully struggle over, as well as a new Master Character to use. Also, clearing each optional challenge, on each board, rewards you with rainbow pieces – an in-game collectable. Clearing those Trial Challenges, too, rewards you with Golden Unicorn Shoes - another in-game collectable. Reward, rewards, reward – everything about Peggle 2 is rewarding. Even the achievements pour-in to constantly remind you of your awesomeness. Gratifying, indeed, and another reason this game is so hard to NOT play when you have 10 minutes to burn.

The thing about Peggle is it is easily a companion to your everyday trot around the house. You can play it in-between folding laundry, cleaning up, or even wrapping holiday presents. Its charming and colorful art, music, and animations make Peggle 2 a joy to be around. Topping it off, Level-design continually grows more interesting and the optional objectives, in each level, give you a reason to come back to enjoy each of them.

[There's also a multiplayer mode to play, which I struggled to find matches in; due to a lack of fellow reviews-press to play with. I will update my review, once the masses have moved in on the peg bumping action, to report-back on how it shaped up. I don't feel a lack of multiplayer would hurt the product at all, though. And it does have it, I just couldn't review it in time for the embargo lift ]

Above all that PopCap did to make Peggle 2 as great an experience – if not more – than their 2007 original is avoid the recent trend of implementing micro-transactions. Honestly, I expected to see them. I expected to feel the lurking nag of pay-for-this-cool-Peggle-Master, but was never greeted by that disgusting face. Bravo, PopCap.

Peggle 2 wastes no time cooking up fun. The minute-to-minute gameplay rests with a bit of both luck and skill, rewarding you with exhilarating highs and depressing lows in a non-abusive manner. It's nearly perfect at being everything it intends to be. When my only complaint with a game is its lack of a leaderboard (to score-chase alongside friends on), it is hard not to recommend. Want to end the year with bright smiles and fist-pumping moments of greatness, without the need to dedicate too much attention to a video game? Get Peggle 2!

The Banner Saga Review


he moment I laid eyes on indie developer Stoic's The Banner Saga, I wanted to love everything about it. The art-style is simply jaw-dropping, calling to mind classic Disney—Sword in the Stone comes to mind—and other older animated films like The Last Unicorn or The Hobbit.

What we see in the game is novel in video games—no AAA attempt at realism, but no 8-bit indie production either.

Stoic crowd-funded the game via Kickstarter, where it raised an impressive $723,886—far above its $100,000 goal. A good thing, too. While The Banner Saga is not without its flaws (which I will touch on momentarily) it's still one of those games that's worth playing. A game that tries something new and isn't afraid of ambition on a budget.

The Banner Saga is a viking game on the surface, though it takes place in a purely fantasy world filled with giants (Varls) and invading, alien creatures called the Dredge.

(I've always been obsessed with vikings, ever since I was very young and learned of all my Norse ancestry, so this game naturally sparked immediate interest in me.)

You take on the role of several characters within the game and lead your caravan(s) across the expansive icy frontier, in a land where the sun never sets, running from a mysterious apocalypse.

It's a beautifully realized world, filled with mystery and danger. There are many moments when you just want to stare at the screen in awe.

Watching your lonely caravan march slowly over the snow, under massive godstones, past abandoned villages. It's great even when you aren't really “playing” those bits.

Of course, this visual trek is aided enormously by Austin Wintory's truly lovely musical score. Wintory, of Journey fame, weaves together an epic soundtrack for this epic tale, the perfect companion to Stoic's fantastic artwork. Singer Peter Hollens adds voice work, along with a handful of other indie musicians and a full orchestra.

The soundtrack alone, like the artwork, makes the game worthwhile.

The Banner Saga is comprised of three primary mechanics.

We'll talk about the narrative progression first.

You take on the role of various leaders in this story, leading your straggling caravans to safety—or at least away from danger. Safety proves quite elusive in this tale.

As a leader, you'll make various choices as your journey progresses. How you deal with rowdy drunks, runaway treasure carts, and battle against the Dredge all play a role in how the story progresses. Some small choices have big consequences, while some big choices don't. It's sort of like life that way, and there's a lot of uncertainty.

The game doesn't really focus on “moral” vs “immoral” choices. It's more a matter of priorities and leadership style.

Do you physically punish a troublemaker or banish them from the caravan? Or do you give them another chance while ordering forced sobriety? Do you let go of the treasure cart or fight to keep it from careening over a cliff? Do you rest or do you help guard a besieged city wall?

These aren't choices that confine you to a “Paragon” or “Renegade” persona. They're just choices, some of which have good outcomes and some of which make you grit your teeth. While there is no permadeath in regular combat, your choices in the game's narrative can result in the death of a character.

Beyond the choices you make as the story unfolds is the broad scope of resource management. You don't have many resources to manage in The Banner Saga, but scarcity plays an often brutal role in how those resources shape your progress.

Actually, here is where I'll enter, for the record, my first official gripe. As someone who enjoys games that take resource management seriously, I find the system in The Banner Saga almost too stingy for its own good. Perhaps this is simply because we're only privy to about the first ten hours of what will eventually be a longer overall game, but I think it's fair to treat this as a game unto itself. And as such, I'm left feeling too squeezed.

In the game, “Renown” is your only currency. You use it to purchase magical items or level up your roster of heroes, and you use it to purchase supplies for your caravan. It's a simple system. There is no home base to worry about, no trade system, and “supplies” encompass everything your people need to survive as the days pass.

The bigger your caravan, the more supplies you consume, and so on the UI you simply see the number of days of supplies you have left. Left unfed, your caravan's Morale level drops. The lower the Morale, the worse you'll fare in a fight since it directly affects your supply of Willpower (which we'll come to later.)

Camping halts progress to your next destination but allows you to rest, which boosts morale (and consumes however many days worth of supplies you spend resting.) So there's some juggling here. The problem I encountered was that the doling out of Renown seemed stingy, even for a game like this. It's nearly impossible to level many of your heroes up, purchase any trinkets, and still feed your caravan.

Sure, that means you have to make hard choices, but I still like to feel as though I have some options, especially in my heroes. If I can only afford to level up a handful of a couple dozen characters, I just end up using those characters exclusively in fights.

To make matters worse, there are two separate stories that you play and in one you have quite a few resources and in the other next to none. And you end up playing the more difficult story quite a bit more than the easier one, which is a bit unfortunate for a variety of reasons. By the end of the game I didn't feel like I had much of a chance to really explore many of my characters or the numerous possible items I could have purchased (I never actually purchased any of them actually, sticking with what I found instead.)

All told, I think the resource management could benefit from better balance, or at least some other opportunities to scavenge for food (at some risk, of course) or engage in more Renown-bestowing activities. I don't claim to have any magic bullet or perfect solution, but the fact remains that more could be done to make this aspect of the game more rewarding while still maintaining the trade-offs and tough choices.

The final major game mechanic is the turn-based combat.

I have decidedly mixed feelings about the combat. We'll start with the good.

What I love about the system in The Banner Saga is its simple elegance. Here's how it works. You have six heroes (you can often pick whichever of your heroes you'd like to use, assuming you have more than six) and can place them in various starting points before the match begins. The enemies are shown in their starting locations.

All heroes have two primary stats: Strength and Armor.

Strength represents both physical might and the ability to do damage, as well as vitality or hit-points. The lower your strength, the less damage you'll do. If it runs out, you “die” (or are injured, rather, and down for the count.)

Armor represents your ability to ward off damage. If your Armor is higher than your attacker's Strength, not only will they only be able to inflict paltry damage against your Strength, they have a chance of missing (10% per point difference.) The twist here is that an attacker can choose to do damage to either Armor or Strength, and some characters will have higher Armor Break than others, making them formidable against heavily armored opponents. If your Strengh is lower than your opponent's Armor, it often makes more sense to attack their Armor instead. But then you're left open to a potentially heavy attack when it's their turn.

So in this very simple system you have a lot of choices to make. Do you attack Strength and make your opponent weaker or do you take out their Armor so that a subsequent attack on Strength will do more damage? It opens all sorts of tactical doors.

Add to this Willpower, which is affected by Morale and other factors, and you have a sort of magic bonus that can be used to do more damage or to unleash special attacks and powers specific to each hero.

Players can move and take one other action per turn, and the battle unfolds with one character from each side making a move (as opposed to games where an entire team moves and then the other team moves, and so forth.)

In one difficult battle, I figured out how to line up my enemies just so after two or three moves to have them positioned perfectly for my Mender's chain-lightning attack (Menders are basically wizard/clerics) which travels across diagonals hitting both friend and foe should they be touching corners. It's a bit like chess in this regard, in that you can start to hazily anticipate the enemy and set them up as you go.

So all of this is great. The whole system works wonderfully and is very enjoyable. What really makes the combat far less stellar than it could be is the tedious lack of variety.

We are treated over and over again to perfectly flat grids in pretty similar environments which may be better-termed mere backdrops. There are no environmental factors to consider. No obstacles, no higher and lower terrain, no cover, etc. It's a flat board each and every time. This is a terrible shame. But not the game's biggest sin.

Worse still are the enemies.

I have to admit, I really dislike the Dredge. A lot. I loathe them, actually, not because they're the enemies of my people, but because they're boring and feel really out of left field.

We have this wonderful viking world filled with bearded giants and mead halls, but the enemies look like Aztecan robots (or something.) Totally out of place.

That would be fine if they were just one enemy among many, but by and large the only enemies you fight are the Dredge and there are only a handful of different types of Dredge to begin with. And you fight them over and over and over again until you're basically dying to fight a troll, a goblin, something, anything other than more Dredge. My kingdom for a skeleton knight.

There's even a big serpent thing that shows up that you never fight and basically disappears from the action until, one assumes, Part Two of the game sometime in the future.

So this lack of variety is a real drag. Here we have this gorgeous looking (and sounding) game, with one of the most refreshing art styles I've seen in years and a pretty cool system of narrative choices and tactical combat, that's not only bogged-down in terms of its combat, but sort of bogged down all over by this Dredge menace.

Let's face it, as boring as fighting the same bad guy over and over again is, when that nemesis is the driving force behind the narrative itself, we've got problems. While the way the story unfolds is interesting, the story itself hasn't hooked me yet, largely because I find the Dredge so deeply uninteresting and overplayed.

There's obviously more going on here, and the story isn't finished yet, and maybe in Part Two we'll see much more interesting villains and monsters and enemy combatants. That serpent is bound to return, one hopes, and maybe other enemies, too.

But right now this is a game that gets so much right, it's almost painful to see where it flounders. It's really hard to fathom why Stoic would spend so much time making such a tremendously visual game with a really cool combat system, and then just ignore how boring it is to fight the same enemy over and over again.

All that being said, I still give this one a Buy rating. For all my gripes, I remained pretty engrossed in the experience throughout and I fully intend on playing a second time and making different choices and decisions.

As an audio-visual experience, The Banner Saga is hard to beat. Tough choices and an elegant combat system help make the game fun and engaging right up to the end. With a few tweaks to the resource management system and some real soul-searching on enemy variety, Stoic could have a really terrific game on their hands. They're not there yet, but they're on the right track.

Resogun Review

With all of the big retail releases, both multi-console and exclusive, sometimes it's easy to forget that there were some interesting digital releases at launch on the PS4 and Xbox One. Microsoft got the bigger roster of exclusive digital titles overall, with Killer Instinct, Crimson Dragon and Lococycle among others, but Sony might well have gotten the best game of the lot in RESOGUN. Part of the reason for this is because, along with Contrast, it was (and still is as of this writing) completely free to PS Plus users at launch, giving PS4 owners two free games at launch if they signed up for the service. The other part, however, comes from the fact that RESOGUN is an engaging, beautiful, and surprisingly accessible shooter that manages to do quite a lot that's unique to it while still being a familiar and enjoyable experience. Granted, the game certainly has its issues here and there, and it's probably not going to be the first game you latch onto for your shiny new PS4 whether it's free or not, but that's part of the charm of the game, as it manages to be one of the best games for the PS4 at launch, if not the best, by sheer personality and force of will, if nothing else.

From a presentation perspective, RESOGUN is essentially a modernized take on the classic shooters we've come to love. The plot is very minimalistic, amounting to “SAVE THE LAST HUMANS,” to the extent that the game tells you this every stage, but you don't really need for there to be an extensive storyline when there's so much shooting so that's forgivable. Visually, the game is intense, and has an outstanding visual flair to it that takes good advantage of the PS4's capabilities. The environments themselves are largely similar to one another if you pay attention to them a bit, but the different color palettes make it less noticeable than you'd expect and the game is frantic enough that you likely won't unless you're doing it on purpose. The visual contrast between the well designed backgrounds and the voxel-esque ship designs is interesting, especially when things are exploding everywhere, and the game makes very good use of bright colors and visual effects between the enemy explosions and the special weapons you can unleash to level the playing field when needed. The game also makes good use of its audio effects, starting with the fact that it uses the speaker in the controller to shout out instructions and power-ups, which gives the game a surprisingly arcade-style feel that helps it out a lot. The music is also outstanding, which isn't much of a surprise for a shooter given that this is almost a requirement in the genre, but it fits the tone of the game well and really compliments the action. The audio effects are also well designed and assembled, featuring lots of futuristic effects and plenty of great sounding explosions to compliment the carnage you leave in your wake, and nothing sounds out of place or awkward.

At its core, RESOGUN is your standard shooter in thought and deed; the left stick moves your ship around, while you can use the right stick to fire in the direction you want, though you can only fire left and right. The entire game world is based on a rotating cylinder, and as you fly around said cylinder, enemies pop in for you to blast into oblivion. Your objective in each stage is to, as noted above, “SAVE THE LAST HUMANS,” who are imprisoned around the stage in energy prisons that you have to break open. As enemies spawn around the stage, occasionally green glowing enemies, dubbed Keepers, spawn, which you have to kill to break open a prison; doing so frees the human inside, while failing to do so kills the human outright. Once a human is freed, you must then fly to them, pick them up and carry them to an evacuation station on the map, which (if successful) gives you additional points, extra lives, more bombs and other goodies. The enemy forces will try to stop you, mostly through the old war of attrition method, IE, by throwing everything they have at you and hoping something kills you, but you have plenty of tools to fight back with. Each of the three ships you can pick from has its own regular bullets, which can be powered up repeatedly by picking up power ups as they appear in the level, allowing you to fire more powerful and useful shots based on the ship you've chosen. You're also given three extra tools for shredding enemies into pieces and saving of the aforementioned last humans, in Bombs, Boost and Overdrive. Bombs are as you'd expect; you press a button, they wipe everything off the map in record time. Boost allows you to rocket around the level quickly as you deplete the automatically recharging meter, allowing you to get out of harm's way, get to Keepers and humans quickly, or otherwise move somewhere else in a hurry, and you can even destroy enemies if you boost through them, though this drops your speed in a hurry. Overdrive is your all-powerful beam weapon, which is powered up by green energy you collect as you kill enemies, and when deployed, also obliterates everything on the screen, just less effectively than Bombs.

For those who might be wondering, “Well why would you even use Overdrive if Bombs kill everything in one shot?” that plays into the scoring system, which is surprisingly involved and interesting. Basically, as you kill enemies, you get points toward a score multiplier, and the more you kill enemies, the higher it can go. The catch is, when you stop killing enemies or otherwise doing productive things (saving humans, breaking power up containers, and so on), the multiplier begins to atrophy, and if you go too long without paying into it, it drops back to the default. As such, those who want to get the most impressive scores will want to keep killing enemies as quickly as possible, which puts a different spin on the game entirely. In a normal shooter, your objective would be to simply kill everything and move on, but in RESOGUN your objective is to kill everything in the most productive way possible for the most points, which actually makes the experience a lot more thought provoking than it might seem. Should you use a Bomb to clear out the enemies on the map to get some breathing room and risk losing your multiplier if enemies don't spawn fast enough? Are there enough enemies on-screen to make using Overdrive profitable, since it pays into your score far more than anything else and the more enemies you can kill with it the higher your score rockets? Is it worth saving that human to aim for the Human Savior bonus, or can you ignore it to keep yourself safe for better scoring opportunities? Make no mistake, RESOGUN gives you a lot of potential scoring opportunities, and for those who love being the best on the Leaderboards, this is going to be a lot of fun, because the game knows just how to keep you coming back.

You can basically clear an entire Arcade run inside of an hour or two, but there's far more to the game than one Arcade run for those who want to go for the best scores possible or just have fun. For those who want to goof off, the game lets you go into any stage you like for a single run, and you can take the game online with a friend for two-player chaos, which is generally handled well, as power ups affect both players and there's no friendly fire so you can totally go nuts. For those aiming for the highest scores, there are four difficulty levels to play through, with each offering a higher multiplier, and a “Hero Challenge” once you complete Master without continuing that offers a massive multiplier and a much harder play experience for those who are looking for a real challenge. There are also plenty of Trophies to unlock for doing various things, regardless of how you want to play the game, and whether you're looking to get the best score or to just goof off, there's a lot to keep you coming back to RESOGUN. It's paced well to encourage you to keep going for the gold, offers a lot of tools to help you do so, and generally offers an experience that anyone with a passing or diehard love for shooters can appreciate.

On the downside, casual players may find that the game doesn't have a lot to show them if they're not at all interested in being the best around, as three ships and five levels doesn't amount to a whole lot of content on the whole. For serious players, on the other hand, the experience is hobbled in a slightly different fashion, as those who are trying to get the best possible score out there will probably find that they're sticking to the Phobos for its large Overdrive reservoir, which is limiting in a different fashion. A couple more stages and ships might have made this a little easier to work with for casual and diehard players alike. Still, when the worst thing you have to say about a game is that there's not enough of it that's not a terrible thing, especially since what is here is very well balanced, such that you'll likely find that you don't mind all that much.

RESOGUN ultimately works as a shooter that is all things to all people, offering an experience that's tuned for both casual and serious play, in a way that anyone can really find what they're looking for from it, no matter what their opinion of shooters is. The game is a technical marvel visually and aurally that takes good advantage of what the PS4 can do, and it takes the concepts we're used to in shooters and expands on them with the Boost and Overdrive systems, as well as the “SAVE THE LAST HUMANS” objective that isn't required but pays dividends for doing so. As a casual shooter, it offers fun multiplayer and a good learning curve, and as a serious shooter for score fanatics, it offers large multipliers and multiple ways to use the tools it gives you to earn amazing scores, and with multiple difficulties to play around with and Trophies to earn you've got lots of reasons to keep coming back. The game has no plot to speak of if that's a thing that bothers you in a shooter, for some reason, and there's a limit to the variety here depending on your genre interest, as the lack of ships and stages (for casual fans) and high-score viable ships (for diehard fans) is less than ideal. All told, though, RESOGUN is one of the best launch titles to come out for the next-gen consoles, and is arguably the best one for the PS4, and if you have a PS4 there's absolutely no reason not to pick it up as soon as possible.

Short Attention Span Summary:
RESOGUN is an outstanding shooter in general and is arguably the best launch title for the PS4, and if you're looking to get a PS4 it's one of the first games you should get, period. It looks and sounds awesome and does quite a bit with the PS4 technology, and it takes the core concepts shooters are known for and expands them noticeably, between the score multiplier, Boost, Overdrive and human saving systems. It's great as a casual shooter thanks to its excellent difficulty balance and multiplayer options, diehard fans will love the ability to jockey for high scores with the higher difficulty multipliers and numerous tools the game gives you to jack out your scores, and there's plenty to do here between the multiple difficulties, Trophies and more. There's no plot here if you care about that, and the game could've used a bit more content for casual fans (who will find the lack of ships and stages saddening) and serious players (who will find that there is a “best” ship to use for scoring), but overall these are minor issues at best. If you have a PS4 and haven't played RESOGUN yet you need to, and if you intend to get a PS4 this is one of the first games you should play, as it's basically outstanding no matter what your skill level is, and it's a hell of a lot of fun, period.

Dragon Dogma: Dark Arisen Review


There are games that offer you rich well-written stories, with deep and developed characters, plot twists and cinematic flare that makes you feel like you are in a wonderland of video-game magic. Your Bioshocks, Heavy Rains, Uncharteds, Metal Gears, whatever “triple A” titles you can name off. Then there are games that are flawed with flat, boring characters, poorly developed plots, but so darnn fun that you really couldn't care less about the actual motivation behind the story… If you are confused, Dragon's Dogma falls into the latter half.

For those of you who have yet to experience the Dragon's Dogma experience, a refresher might be in order. Released a little under a year ago, Dragon's Dogma is a third-person action RPG developed and published by Capcom. Directed by Itsuno (the brilliant mind behind some of my favorite games, including Power Stone 2, SMT Nocturne, Devil May Cry 3, and Resident Evil Outbreak) the game features a lot of his signature style, very evident in the gameplay. Some have compared it to Demon's Souls, having a very action oriented feel, though focusing a lot less on blocking and parrying.

It's a tradition RPG in the sense of progression and classes. You create your own character and a pawn (a weird race of spirit slaves), pick a class from the usual list of fighter, mage, ranger, etc., and then going along your way murdering everything that gets in your way. There is an attempt at a story, you are an Arisen, someone who has had his heart taken by a dragon and are now destined to fight it and get your heart back..or something. There is some side-plots of treachery and love and all that typical crap and, for what it attempts, it works in a sense. The plot makes sense (to a degree) and the ending is pretty cool… But the game never blows you away, and I don't get the idea that it's really trying to either. It's just trying to be fun… And god darn does it succeed.

There is a lot more to the game, the job system is very flexible (you aren't tied to just one and are encouraged to learn / master as many as you can) and there is a system of upgrading equipment. While the game lacks traditional multi-play, you can send your main pawn into this magical realm where he or she can be hired by other players. You can do the same as well. What this means is that on top of your main character and your main pawn, you can hire two other pawns from other players. These pawns have the same equipment and “progress” their players had obtained for them, meaning pawns from further in the game would give you hints on how to solve quests if they had already beaten them. It's a pretty cool system that incorporates a “multiplayer” aspect with out actually doing so. Party of me would have liked for the game to just go the extra step and allow friends to join your game as their main pawns but I can understand why they didn't do this, it's fun none the less.

Now this brings up to Dark Arisen, an ‘expansion” of some sorts that includes the original copy of Dragon's Dogma but also a plethora of tweaks and fixes to the game, make this a kinda of “Game of the Year” edition. Now there is some crap around the whole release… Capcom refused to release the DLC and tweaks by themselves, because apparently you can't “patch” the original game and put this into it… I don't know if that's true, and given Capcom's recent history with DLC, I'm going to assume it isn't… It's poo, we can call it how it is but that doesn't make Dark Arisen a bad game. It's thankfully priced pretty low to begin with, and a simple trade in of the original game can go towards the expansion, which includes the original (as previous stated) so it's not ALL bad. But that aside… How is Dark Arisen?

It's pretty fantastic. The biggest addition to Dragon's Dogma is Bitterblack Isle, an “end game” dungeon that the player can explore for some powerful new gear and the opportunity to level up equipment even more, thus making everything much more powerful. Truthfully there is just a ton of new crap in this expansion. The end result is just simply this, if you liked Dragon's Dogma… There is now more for you to do.

The unfortunate nature of the core original game was that after a certain point, the game became too easy. Your levels became too high and almost everything you ran into was a pretty easy slaughter. Bitterblack changes this. Everything in Bitterblack is designed to murder you. The monsters and bosses are harder (possibly even unbeatable depending on your skill) and you'll realize this as soon as you enter the first set of rooms. Almost as if to laugh at people hoping to “smooth” along, Dark Arisen throws Death at you, quite literally, right off the bat. My first encounter resulted in my entire team of four characters being instantly killed in a second.

While not everything is unbeatable, there is defiantly a large difficulty spike but it gets easier as you get better equipment via the new dungeon. Equipment is also obtained a slightly less conventional manner than the original game. You obtain items in the dungeon (marked as “Gear / Equipment” of a certain level) and then must have it identified by an NPC which will allow you to equip and use said gear. I'm personally not a fan of this method. It eliminates a lot of “skill” from finding new equipment and reduces it to luck. It seems to encourage just simply quitting the game when you don't like rewards you obtain and trying again.

As a whole though, Dark Arisen is a fantastic game and clearly the definitive version of Dragon's Dogma. If you have yet to play the series, it's clearly the version to pick up. If you already own the original, it's tough to be forced to re-buy it, but I would heavily recommend it, especially if you enjoyed the first journey through it. The game still has it's flaws… It's a tough game, it requires skill, patience, and most importantly, time. It's got a pretty dumb story and the DLC's story isn't much better, but it's an impressive game with wonderful gameplay and an adventure you'd be foolish to miss.