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Ethan Christopher Clevenger's blog

7:55 PM on 06.17.2013

"Remember Me" has the makings of something spectacular

When new IP rolls onto the market, it can be exciting and terrifying. The trailers all look fantastic and everyone gets excited, but it's not the kind of safe bet we're used to making on established franchises. Remember Me is one such game, hotly anticipated with very little to base said anticipation on. I was certainly on board regardless.

But how does it hold up?

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature (Blood, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Violence)

Remember Me puts players in the role of Nilin, a memory hunter operating in Neo-Paris in the year 2084. Climate change, memory-based technology, and global conflicts have dramatically altered social class, geopolitics, and culture. Nilin wakes up in the reconstructed Bastille Prison in the heart of Paris with her memory wiped. After a quick jail-break, she has to figure out who she is.

Nilin is applaudably regular. She's certainly attractive, but not the bombshell that the new Lara Croft remains. She feels in no way sexualized and is from a multi-ethnic background. Not only is this fitting for the time period, but says a lot about the maturity of the developer. It's no secret she was a tough sell, so props to Dontnod for sticking to their guns.

The premise of the game is fantastic. Nilin's story is engrossing, as are those of the entire world. Unfortunately, I'm not sure the game alone does a very good job of establishing the latter. The developer, Dontnod, put together an interactive online journal chronicling the life of Antoine Cartier-Wells, the founder of Memorize, the company at the forefront of memory technology. Additionally, they produced an intriguing mock speech given by Cartier-Wells.

The story of the Cartier-Wells family and the dystopia they have fueled in 2084 is compelling all on its own, but if the player didn't embrace what has been, in my opinion, the single greatest PR campaign we've seen this generation, most of this would be missed. The 7-8 hour game simply can't encompass all of these characters effectively while still telling Nilin's story. Whether or not you plan on playing the game, I strongly recommend exploring both of these items.

In fact, it can feel like the game intentionally steered you away from really exploring the ramifications of Memorize's technology, the Sensen, and what it's done to the world. Despite being ripe for exploration, Dontnod keeps you on the straight and narrow while moving through Neo-Paris, and very few events are scripted bringing to light these issues, and most conversation is directed at "Get Nilin's memory back".

That being said, the game doesn't miss the mark entirely. Nilin does take a genuine interest in the Leapers, semi-human monsters corrupted by memory addiction, and Scylla Cartier-Wells's reconversion project highlights many ethical dilemmas that give the player something to walk away with.

At one point, should the player notice, a preacher stands in front of a group of people speaking about religion and God, but it's fascinating to see that Dontnod considered how memory technology would shape religion in 2084 and explored the idea of religion adapting to culture, and not the other way around. The whole event may last only a few seconds, but was one of my favorite parts of the game.

For every compelling story, however, there's a not-so-compelling one. The game ends flatly and awkwardly with an antagonist who's story feels out of place and generic next to those that shined so brightly in Neo-Paris. Additionally, many of Nilin's allies make very brief appearances, practically disappearing a short cutscene after their introduction.


This occasional spottiness from the wet-behind-the-ears developer is much more apparent in the actual gameplay. The combat system as a whole is a really cool idea. While button combinations for the player's four combos are set in stone, the effects of each button press are fully customizable with tokens called "Pressens". These pressens can be used to design combos that recover health, cut buffer times on special moves or deal massive amounts of damage. Enemies and encounters are well-tailored to draw the player to the combo lab where these are customized and to decide how best to approach each situation, and it all works together very well.

Unfortunately, executing on these can be a hassle. Despite looking and feeling a bit like the combat we've all come to love from the Arkham series, kicking enemies around in Remember Me does not play off nearly as smoothly. Despite the heavy focus on combos, large groups of enemies prevent the player from stringing them together, as chaining from enemy to enemy is a tough task. The combos in general are intermittently effective. Players may find themselves resetting combos for a few seconds when they thought they were in the midst of one, and other times may not pull it off despite it feeling like all the buttons were there. The building blocks are here, with Pressens and special moves called "S-Pressens" giving combat a distinct flavor and variety, but it just doesn't play well off the fingers, and is the biggest problem with the game.

That being said, perhaps the best gameplay aspect is the memory remixes. Nilin physically manipulates people's memories, scrubbing through them to trigger bugs that alter the way the memory plays out and convince the victim that events transpired differently than they actually did. This process is fun enough in itself, but its results are much more rewarding. In one instance, the process is used to turn an impending enemy into an ally, and it works like a charm. The first feeling is accomplishment as the new ally offers a hand in the quest to upheave Memorize, but is quickly followed by hollowness in realizing that the entire partnership is manufactured on lies.

While these remixes offer quite a bit of independence and can result in multiple scenarios, the game can otherwise be quite forward. Hints lead you to every stat upgrade, intrusive combat tips intrude upon most encounters and bright orange arrows point you in the right direction. The arrows are forgivable, as most platformers do this in one way or another, but I would prefer to find my own collectibles and fight enemies in peace. Journal entries about people and places in Neo-Paris are littered around and not so blatantly pointed to, and these are perhaps the most valuable collectibles. Taking the time to read them expands even more on this fantastic world.

Remember Me is an ambitious game. It's just as much not about Nilin as it is, and is best at painting a brand new sci-fi dystopian society for us to enjoy. I feel a sequel could more effectively capitalize on the themes laid out both within and outside of the game, and film or book entries could be fantastic additions to round out the world and, in ways, better dissect its many facets. For now, we have a perfectly adequate game that could be a jumping off point for a magnificent new multimedia franchise.   read

12:26 PM on 06.06.2013

Tomb Raider fails to embrace all it could be

Crystal Dynamics picked up the Tomb Raider franchise and turned heads as early as Guardian of Light, but it was clear they were itching to do something more. Breathing life into a near-dead franchise, Crystal Dynamics has reimagined Lara Croft as a new kind of hero.

The new Tomb Raider is nearly unrecognizable from its roots and could be passed as a new franchise. A young Lara Croft and the rest of the Endurance crew are shipwrecked on a mysterious island with hostile natives.

The biggest change is the absence of Angelina Jolie in exchange for a more toned-down, younger Lara Croft. Many people appluaded this, and the move deserves praise, but let's be real - Lara may be less objectified, but she's still an idealized bombshell. At least we're now par for the course with other mainstream media.

The other big change is an entirely new style of gameplay. With a significant lack of supplies on hand, the beginning of the game is much less focused on dual pistols and more on survival. Experience is doled out for finding rations and fruit while boxes of salvage fuel the weaponry fire. This survival gameplay is really engrossing. As opposed to putting bullets into everyone she encounters, the player must avoid altercations and limp through the shadows after the latest stab wound. It's an approach that not many games take and immediately hooked me.

Unfortunately, as gameplay progresses, the facade drops and the video game equivalent of Michael Bay rears its ugly head. The player quickly realizes that rations and fruit are an illusion and the player will survive with or without them. Lara can only run so long and finally takes up arms against droves of enemies. It was fun while it lasted.

This doesn't mean that the rest of the game isn't fun - just not as unique. Lara can feel a little clumsy getting around, lacking the polish that treasure-hunting vet Nate Drake has, but nonetheless offers a different experience. Lara is usually on her own and this resulted, for me, in a very intimate relationship between protagonist and player in which every time Crystal Dynamics beats the crap out of her, it feels like a limb went through my own throat.

On the same intimate level, set pieces are not necessarily massive, but are fantastically contextual. I love racing out of buildings or climbing tall spires and despite merely shoving the control stick forward and tapping perhaps one other button, thousands of things happen around me. Floors fall out and handholds collapse, but instead of taking the reigns from the player, the game changes the way it reacts to you.

It's a fine art, and not all of it is finely polished in Croft's new outing. When it's not so hot, it's usually in the vein of quick-time events. These are impossible at first because you assume the input might change. Once you realize it's always the same button, it gets easier, but feels cheap and unsatisfying. Gripes aside, when Tomb Raider's contextual moments sparkle, they shine.

Despite all this being new ground for the Tomb Raider franchise, the player has the opportunity to raid tombs in traditional fashion. To widen appeal, these portions of the game are completely optional, giving the player the reigns to play the game he or she desires - bask in the guns and platforming or explore the puzzle and survival aspects underneath.

And all of this would have been enough - really it would have - but to round out the obscene budget spent on this game by Square Enix, making it a financial "failure" despite selling over 3.4 million copies, a multiplayer mode was tacked on. The offering includes four game modes - Team Deathmatch, Cry for Help, Rescue and Free-for-All.

Overall, the game's mechanics don't hold up well with the increased pace of PvP multiplayer. You can also constantly jump up and down to gain practical invulnerability. The two objective-based modes, Cry for Help and Rescue, are brutally awful. The sides feel lopsided, removing any fun that may have been there. Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All aren't the best things I've ever played, but tolerable as something to do with my brother online. Two months past launch, however, the servers are predictably barren.

Succumbing to the multiplayer trend and gaming trends in general effectively sum up all that is wrong with the new Tomb Raider, which isn't a whole lot, but enough to hold the game back from being something truly special.   read

3:18 PM on 04.03.2013

Bioshock Infinite: Breaking the circle

Platform: PS3/360/PC
Genre: First-person shooter
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Mild Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco)

Video games have constants. Common themes and elements that happen, generally, every time, some more than others. For this reason, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut as you play through a backlog – shuffling from one to the next without much thought. Bioshock Infinite manages to manifest these constants while rising above them at the same time.

The game tells the story of Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent also present at the Wounded Knee massacre who has incurred large amounts of debt, and must now pay them off by rescuing a girl named Elizabeth from the floating city of Columbia.

“Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt”

It embraces historical tropes of fiction and those of video games. The flawed hero, Booker, struggles with his checkered past, and Elizabeth is poised to play the damsel in distress in need of a big strong man to save her.

But from here, things unravel. Infinite becomes a commentary on these tropes and mirrors Columbia both in exceptionalism and rising above them.

Elizabeth is in no way constrained to the damsel in distress role. Players who feared one long escort mission may find themselves on the other side of that coin, as Elizabeth revives the player and tosses Booker supplies in the midst of firefights. Her incredible power to open tears in space and time force the question -

“Booker, are you afraid of God?”
“No, but I am afraid of you.”

Irrational has done a wondrous job of creating the most compelling character ever imagined in a game. Elizabeth’s wide eyes are a stark contrast to the enemies rushing at you, reminding us of her depth of character. That intensity can’t be captured by cosplayers – it can only be conveyed properly in this Bioshock art style. Her relationship with Booker is complicated, taking many turns over the course of the game as she copes with your violence, much like our parents cope with the violence in our video games – just one example of the game’s commentary on games. To say much more would involve discussion of the ending, a can of worms that not only goes beyond the scope of this review, but feels sacred enough to keep out of reach of those who didn’t experience it first-hand forever.

Sacred. Playing the original Bioshock, many people were stunned by Rapture’s presence as a character. It’s hard to believe one could create a surpassing environment, yet Columbia captures that same magic. Before Booker has a gun in his hands, Columbia presents itself in the middle of its glory days, every nook begging exploration. The hymn “Will the Circle be Unbroken” permeates the entire experience and becomes impossible to shake. It complements the gold-plated and sunbathed city. However, we peel back the layers of Columbia and get a taste of the exceptionalism, the disturbing merging of patriotism and religion, the racism and the class warfare, and the hymn takes on a new role as a strange and haunting juxtaposition.

The game does a stupendous job of drawing your attention to the right corners of Columbia, and all of those corners are important at the end of it all. From a barbershop quartet rendition of “God Only Knows”, a 1966 tune from the Beach Boys somehow finding its way into 1912 Columbia, to seemingly meaningless lines from passerby have an entirely different context upon completion. The sheer number of similar instances simply on recollection are staggering and beg a second playthrough to capture them all.

However, a second playthrough won’t be required to illuminate some of the themes, the interpretation of which are left up to the player. In the original Bioshock, Rapture painted a picture of individualism gone wrong – Ayn Rand having her cake and choking on it. The game questioned player choice, but had an obvious agenda when it came to its objectivist critique. Infinite overcomes this with Elizabeth’s tears in space and time. The player gets to experience several realities with various incarnations of the Vox Populi, the working, minority class of Columbia. These multiple explorations of an “Occupy Wall Street”-esque sequence of events suck any “liberal agenda” out of the game.

Behind this ironclad wall of narrative and thematic elements, we’re reminded that Infinite is still a game, if only for the sake of advancing those elements. This manifests itself in the form of what is, astoundingly, a very tight first-person shooter. It would be easy to expect sacrificed gameplay in exchange for everything else Infinite offers, but such expectations would be folly.

Reminiscent of the first Bioshock, Booker is equipped with vigors – essentially super-powers – and guns. There are many of each, and instead of feeling overwhelmed by options, the player is encouraged and rewarded, especially in the 1999 mode tailored to those with a glutton for punishment, for paring down their specialties and focusing on a style of play. Juxtaposed against the game’s commentary on the medium, we wonder when player choice is really most important?

These are supplemented by the Skyline mechanic, allowing the player to fly across various islands of the city via rail and shooting down enemies from a distance before swooping in at breakneck speeds to twist the neck of their comrades. I found this part to play extremely well in some areas as a way to buy time, but to actually engage in combat from the lines can be difficult. You’ll move quickly, and targeting enemies from these distances can be daunting, especially without explosive weapons forgiving a bit of error.

Pair the offense with a memorable defense. Outside the rabble of police and Vox Populi flying at the character, the game is peppered with enemies that are not simply in Columbia, but are part of it. The Handyman is emblematic of the industrial age Columbia finds itself in and garners sympathy via both voxophones, audio logs scattered about Columbia, and dialog. Motorized Patriots echo the religious worship of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, expanded by spouting claims of their ability to judge actions as a deity might. The only hiccup may be the Boys of Silence, who lack a backstory. Hopefully we’ll see some expansion in DLC.

Infinite garners every ounce of hype it has received and praise pouring in. We’ve seen many games professed as advancing the medium, but very few of them take advantage of the medium like Infinite does here as opposed to trying to emulate others. Infinite embraces the shortcomings of games, and then turns them into an incredible narrative tool that will be arguably impossible to imitate without being completely derivative. Infinite treads new ground while paying homage to the old. On a personal level, this game exemplifies everything I believe games can and should be to solidify their revolutionary position in story-telling and immersion. If you play one game in your life, let it be this one.   read

3:48 PM on 04.02.2013

Hitman: Absolution - A personal mission

I’m not usually one to replay a game much. Online multiplayer is lost on me, and local multiplayer is only valuable insofar as my girlfriend or roommate is interested in the game (in my girlfriend’s case, rarely). The campaign of a game is often a narrative journey for me, and with the sheer number of adventures out there, it can be hard to replay a story just to read it again. But with Hitman: Absolution, the do-it-yourself campaign keeps drawing me back.

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Third-Person Shooter, Stealth
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs)

The story revolves around Agent 47’s own rogue operations, which make it very compelling. The game opens with 47 betraying the Agency, the covert group that bred him to be the ultimate assassin, by failing to complete a hit on his former handler, Diana Burnwood, and running off with the young girl she had kidnapped from the Agency. After a brief fetch/favor takes the momentum out of the story, the game recovers nicely on 47’s terms and rules. He’ll be pursuing his own targets for his own reasons to keep the young girl Victoria out of both enemy and Agency hands – alluding to the independence the game offers.

Each level usually culminates in one or more assassinations on your part, hence “hitman”. Agent 47 is no stranger to the game, and so a slew of options are available with every level. For your average patrolling enemy, a piano-wire strangulation may suffice, should you choose to kill him or her at all. However, main targets beg for a little more creativity. From gas-stove explosions to poisonous seafood to exploding disco balls, Absolution offers a plethora of options for fulfilling the hit. These various paths to success are supplemented by challenges and score bonuses for completing them. Rarely will an in-game challenge draw me back, but I found myself replaying levels over and over again to earn various styles and even complete them unseen or without disguises. Never have primary weapons felt so useless.

The voice acting and writing are also superb. Backwoods business magnate Blake Dexter is detestable in all the right ways, delivering the highlight of the experience. 47 is cold, sometimes in an almost humorous sort of way – a facet the game capitalizes on with outlandish disguises ranging from a chicken costume to a tin-foil-hatted conspiracy theorist.

The Glacier 2 engine looks beautiful, even running on the PS3’s cell processor, which is at this point not only unwieldy for programmers but also quite outdated by tech standards. The facial capture is acute and particularly eye-catching. I can’t wait to see what this puppy will do with the next generation.

Where does Hitman fall short? The game seems overly-sexualized at times, something the maturing medium is working on. Male antagonists seem to dig near-bare-breasted BDSM to an overzealous extent. However, this certainly lends a hand to creating a level of detest for them and perhaps is trying to lift the veil on an underground skeez culture we aren’t aware of, so I’m not ready to criticize it as an artistic decision in all instances. I recognize its value as a character development device, but it certainly warrants the game’s M rating, one that should be considered heavy-handedly.

Artistry cannot save the entirety of the game, however. The scantily clad Saints sent to eliminate 47 have no explanation for their skin-tight habits. Victoria and even Burnwood, in her small role, are both strong and admirable, but other female characters are largely relegated to secretary-like roles with stereotypical features to match.

These debatable missteps do little to draw from what is otherwise a fantastic game for both the Hitman faithful and newcomers to the franchise.

A note: I’ve decided to forgo the use of scores from this point onward. I, personally, appreciate scores in a review and understand why the scale works the way it does, but in the end, it doesn’t change the content of the review itself and if anything, draws people from actually consuming the text.   read

10:29 PM on 02.25.2013

XCOM: Enemy Unknown and breaking into a new genre

As a teen, I watched both American Beauty and Super Troopers in the same night. I loved Super Troopers and I hated American Beauty. Everyone in the room hated it. Years later, several of my friends that were around that night have rewatched it and claim it to be fantastic - a result of matured taste I suppose.

Similarly, my first experience with turn-based strategy games, not including a slew of Pokemon titles, was back on the Gamecube with "Future Tactics: The Uprising". It doesn't help that this was already a pretty subpar game, but it certainly turned me off of the genre. But years later, here comes XCOM and its universal acclaim, begging me to sit down and have a taste.

And it tastes good.

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Players: 1 (Online: 1-2)
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown casts the player as commander of XCOM, a military project spearheaded by a council of the world's most powerful nations fighting off alien invaders.

The player’s primary job is to direct troops in combat. Each mission begins under a fog of war, and the player must lead their troops across the field, find the enemy and eliminate them.

Troops come in a variety of classes with many weapons in tow. Kills on the field result in promotions in the barracks as troops earn perks depending on their class. Devastating perks at higher ranks are paramount to keeping any individual soldier alive on the field and make it hard to level up young squaddies without late-game armor and weapons at their disposal.

This is countered by varying stages of alien opposition. Early on, rookies stand a chance against mere Sectoids and Thin Men, but later on the game, should the player lose high-ranking officers in a disastrous mission (permadeath, anyone?), the challenge can be insurmountable. Unfair at first glance, punishing a poorly-rounded team is vital to the tooth-and-nail style of the game.

The enemy forces are one of the shining points of this game. Beyond individual enemy abilities, weapons and traits, each enemy species has behaviors not spelled out in a menu somewhere, but available only by observation and vital to success. While the first encounter with some strains of opponents can leave a player decimated, a little retooling to the strategy and some heavier weapons and armor will always solve the problem. Every kill feels like a massive accomplishment.

Between battles, the commander is in charge of resource management – facilities, research, engineering and UFO response. How well this is conducted dictates monthly funding. High panic will cause countries to leave the council, and with it, their funding and full-continent benefits.

This portion of the game is just as large if not larger than the combat aspect, and just as fun. The first playthrough can be brutal, as money is tight and the player has to figure out how to effectively allocate it early on to keep every country around from month to month.

In fact, everything about this game can be punishing in a wonderfully satisfying way, even on normal difficulty. Fortunately, the player can save at essentially any time. The brave will tackle Ironman mode, which forces saves at every turn, leaving the player to deal with losses permanently.

All of this is so engrossing, it's easy to forget the overarching story, dictated only by a few scripted missions. Random encounters fill in the holes as you complete the story at your own pace. That narrative, of course, is trying to overcome the alien invaders and uncover their motives, but the more compelling narrative results from the permadeath and turn-based play allowing you to soak in every move. Memories are made on the battlefield with individual soldiers. "Colonel Zimchenko is a damn hero" might sum up my game, but even other XCOM players may not know what I'm talking about. Stories of that time you were cornered by Ethereals when your veteran assault made a critical shot at 10% odds make XCOM special to each player.

Graphics aren't really a point of contention for this game. Characters are detailed enough, but the player will spend most of the time looking at a larger portion of the map and not focused on individual troops or opponents. There's one battle audio running on loop when enemies are in view, and otherwise simmers down to ambient background noises from the playing field. Rarely will the player notice either, as there's a huge amount of focus being dedicated to the battle itself and the accompanying strategy.

Occasionally, indicators will signal a troop has view of an opponent when none are actually in view. Additionally, shots will sometimes fire through objects in the environment and hit the opponent. The maps that crop up are varied enough in size and environment, but aren't necessarily representative of the locale in which the mission is supposed to take place. English storefronts can be found in Beijing, and forest-surrounded streams aren't uncommon in Egypt.

These, of course, are merely aesthetic gripes. On a more substantial level, troops are subject to panic when mind-controlled enemies are killed, since they are "allies" at the time of death. This seems silly. Panic will also sometimes result in troops literally doing an about face and shooting an ally behind them, which also seems outrageous. There's also tell of a teleport bug spawning enemies behind your line of troops - a bug that will decimate any Ironman run.

It would also be nice to have an idea of what the field of view will look like in a new position before actually moving a troop. Often a position seems to offer a better vantage point, when it actually prevents view of the enemy entirely.

These mild issues aside, XCOM is a beast of a game perfect for anyone who enjoys a challenge. Even for people who object to a slower-paced game, XCOM is high-tension enough to keep you on your toes anyway. This is a must buy for anyone and everyone, and it can't be stressed enough.

Guess I should go back and rewatch American Beauty...

Bottom Line: 9.5/10   read

8:41 PM on 02.20.2013

Obligatory PS4 thoughts

After a couple weeks of buzz, the PS4 surfaced at Sony's February 20 press conference to no one's surprise. What did we learn?

A lot, but at the same time, not much.

The Good
A big talking point was the user experience in buying and downloading games. Not only will downloads be playable as they download, but the console will pre-download games it thinks the user may one day purchase.

Of course, the system is going to be chock-full of new tech. Sony confirmed 8GB of RAM and lots of other techie stuff, but despite that, gamers have been concerned that the graphical leap won't be comparable to what we've seen in the past from succeeding generations of consoles. And they're right, so the big focus was on features - social, mobile and the like. The biggest news on this front was the "Share" button on the front of the new Dualshock. This button will allow players to broadcast their play session at any time and even trim up footage constantly being recorded to be posted...somewhere.

The Bad and Concerning
We don't know where that somewhere is. Notedly absent from the conversation was the Playstation Network and where its headed. Recent leaks have expressed that we might end up paying for it a la Xbox Live, and for that not to be addressed is a bit concerning. It'll be interesting to see the kind of overhaul the network gets to support user video, a sort of RealID and integration on the mobile front that Sony dug at during the conversation.

Also missing was the hardware itself. We have no idea what this console is going to look like. It doesn't much matter, but we're curious to say the least. Predictably absent were price points and release dates, but we'll probably hear more at E3.

Big surprise - the console won't play PS3 games. The company suggested that they hope to stream PS1, PS2 and PS3 titles to the PS4, but we've gotten empty promises at these events before, so don't get rid of your PS3 quite yet.

Finally, the Dualshock has gotten some kind of overhaul. The 'Share' button is super cool, but tossing in a Move sensor and the touch pad will likely lead to features shoehorned into launch games.

The Games
On the note of games - we didn't see a lot of them. In the vein of new titles, we saw footage for a new Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack, a third-person action game. Killzone looked pretty and gets me excited, but Knack was obviously a game designed as a tech demo and I don't expect much from it. "Look at how many polygons we can get on the screen and manipulate!"

A few other new titles from Sony studios were announced as well, including inFamous: Second Son and DriveClub. Capcom dropped a video for something called Deep Down, which served more as a tech demo. We also got some new footage from Watch Dogs, which was confirmed for PS4.

The biggest news on the game front for me, however, were from non-Sony studios. I've always felt that Sony's biggest advantage over Microsoft was their stable of games, and Sony is going full-court press. Blizzard confirmed Diablo 3 coming to both PS3 and PS4, although it's certainly possible we'll see this on Xbox 360/Nextbox, and we also got an announcement for Johnathan Blow's new title, The Witness, which Blow has suggested will appear on multiple platforms as well.

The real nail in the coffin is not only the confirmation of Destiny on PS4, but the announcement of exclusive content for it. This one will surely show up on Nextbox, but Bungie has gone from being Microsoft's flagship Halo studio to a multi-console developer. This could really dent Microsoft.

The Verdict
I don't think anyone is disappointed by what we saw tonight. We've got a long way until launch for more games to get announced, and unless the hardware is obscenely obtrusive, it probably won't turn the tides. The big thing to note here is that the pressure is on for Microsoft. We haven't heard a lot from them on the new console, especially concerning the social and mobile front that Sony stressed so much. Their ace in the hole at this point is Kinect, keeping Xbox Live ahead of PSN and Surface.

Kinect, unfortunately, hasn't seen massive adoption from the hardcore crowd. I will say that I'm excited to see what it can do with the full-room projection system we've been seeing patents for, and I can see this being a real focus for Microsoft as the Nextbox gets its own inevitable press conference.

And should that come to fruition, it'll be interesting to see the schism it could potentially cause. A product like that doesn't seem to compete directly with Sony's gamer-focused PS4, but at the same time offers way more than the Wii U, which has, as I predicted, been a pretty hard flop, not only in capturing the 'hardcore' crowd, but in selling at all.

This means keep a close eye on Xbox Live. More than hardware, each companies online and social services are going to be the bigger players.

So more questions than answers, perhaps. I think everyone will be keeping a close eye on all the offerings as we near E3. Drop your thoughts and anything I missed in the comments! I'm sure you have lots...   read

3:04 PM on 02.07.2013

DmC seemed fine to me...?

Full disclosure – never played a Devil May Cry game in my life, so to speak to the traits of the reboot in relation to its predecessors might be overstepping my boundaries a bit, but in terms of a singular game, DmC is stellar. Also, I usually don't post my reviews here and save them for my personal website while just leaving the interesting stuff for Destructoid, but with all the controversy over this title, I figured my two cents was overdue.

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Hack ‘n Slash
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language)

Players bemoaned a reboot of Devil May Cry for quite some time, fearing that Ninja Theory would destroy the series. I didn’t have much to say on the matter, since I’d yet to play any of them. For the same reason, I didn’t find myself overly excited about this new one. On a whim, I downloaded the demo and was immediately hooked.

Come full release, the game is everything the demo promised and more. DmC circles around Dante, a Nephilim born of a demon father, Sparda, and angel mother, Eva. His twin brother Virgil makes himself known and enlists Dante on a mission to destroy Mundus, the demon king at the head of the demon hold on mankind. He also killed their parents, so there’s a personal stake in the matter as well.

Right off the bat, the game is blindly bloody, inappropriate and sharp. It is my understanding that it grasps the intricate button mashing of its roots with admirable accuracy. Combat is nearly spotless. Dante is always acquiring new weapons, all of which can be cycled through swiftly in the midst of battle and all of which are valuable in their own way. Where many games present you with myriad weapons only useful as environmental tools for the level in which they were introduced, DmC keeps all the weapons relevant, tailoring only boss battles around their use, and even these don’t narrow your options for slaughter.

Additionally, enemy types are varied from start to finish, then appropriately amped up as you hit the higher difficulties on multiple playthroughs. These help to focus your attention and force all the weapons to be utilized, training you in the varied combat necessary for higher style rankings without you even knowing it.

Collectibles also make an argument for tackling the game at least once more. There are lots to be had, and many of them in early stages can’t be accessed until the player acquires weapons from later levels, paving the way for those secret missions and health upgrades.

I did encounter a progress-halting bug as two weapons seemingly disappeared from my inventory. An internet search found only one other soul encountering the problem, and after turning off the system and booting up another level, they returned. I can only hope the other guy had the same luck.

Graphically, this is a really pretty game, but shadows can be blocky, especially across faces, and it’s hard to say if this was an artistic decision or a glaring ugliness. The soundtrack is also killer. Under no other circumstances could I tolerate the heavy punk lining every level, but while tossing enemies to the skies and ripping them to shreds, there could be no other way about it.

The story, while somewhat predictable, is engaging enough. Ninja Theory recognized there wasn’t much to it, and so paced it pretty quickly so the player could go back and do it again. No one is very deep and Dante’s affection for the human Kat isn’t touching, but it’s better to take it for what it is, especially considering even Dante isn’t taking it very seriously. His conversations often consist of “Fuck you!” before tearing into battle. He does spin off a great one-liner once in a while, and it all rolls together to keep the game from being too dark and mundane.

More prevalent are the literary allusions. Using the Divine Comedy’s character’s names makes the game’s roots obvious, but the nature of the game can keep it subtle at the same time. While no one is surprised that Virgil is the leader of the Order that comes to recruit Dante, just as the writer Virgil led Dante Alighieri through hell in the Inferno, the relevance of Dante’s ascension of Mundus’s tower towards the later stages of the game didn’t resonate with me until Kat said “You’re going to have to go up five floors of hell.” Finance is located on the eighth floor of the building, and while fraud on this floor was likely, perhaps they would have been more appropriately located on the fourth floor with gluttony. Nonetheless, the more well-read of the game’s audience will appreciate the nod to 14th century Italian literature.

This is a game I’d love to get through again on a higher difficulty or two, so hopefully my backlog will allow it sooner than later.

Bottom Line: 9.5/10   read

2:27 PM on 01.07.2013

Games I bested in 2012 and a look at 2013

A little late, but here's what I managed to get through in 2012:

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
The Darkness 2
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
LittleBigPlanet Vita
Lollipop Chainsaw
Lord of the Rings: War in the North
Mass Effect 3
Metal Gear Solid 2
Papo & Yo
Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale
Resistance 2
Saints Row: The Third
Sly 2
Twisted Metal

I'm currently playing Borderlands 2 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, both of which are fantastic. You want my game of the year? Toss up between XCOM and Mass Effect 3, staying strictly in games that were released in 2012. Mass Effect gave me that feeling you get when you finished Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, and XCOM has managed to pull me into a genre I never thought I'd enjoy and get me thoroughly hooked. It's fantastic. You'll see reviews for it coming, and you'll notice a couple on here I haven't written up yet. They're coming.

A little disclaimer - I still haven't played Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution or Max Payne 3, not that I'm optimistic of those besting either of the two titles I mentioned earlier.

Looking onward, 2013 promises to be packed full of stuff. Despite the fact that the next generation of consoles could be here next holiday, we're seeing lots of new IP crop up. So what am I most excited about?

Let's get the little guy out of the way - my Vita has been getting plenty of playtime as I catch up on the notedly few titles out there for it, and fortunately for me, looks like there will be plenty of time to catch up. Ignoring Sony's cross-buy titles, Media Molecule's Tearaway is the only title really catching my eye, and in a really good way. This is one of my most anticipated of the year as a whole.

Onto the home console - what aren't I excited for? The spring is full of stuff that got bumped out of last year. Next week is the new Devil May Cry reboot, something I wasn't particularly interested in until I got a hold of the demo, and it looks like it's going to be fantastic. My only qualm is Ninja Theory producing on the narrative end. DmC has always been known for its combat, and I immediately fell in love, but if they try stretching this thing out over 14 hours, there better be a good reason.

Next on my list is Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. I saw Spirited Away for the first time this year and I was surprised just how much I loved it, so it'll be cool to have Studio Ghibli's narrative chops behind a video game. This is another one that had a demo selling me - I've never played much of a true RPG a la Final Fantasy, so this will be my first adventure. Look for this January 22nd.

Man I wish Rayman Legends was coming to other consoles. It doesn't justify me buying a WiiU. I loved Rayman Origins, and Legends looks to be even more of the same.

March kicks off with Tomb Raider on the 5th. I'll be the first to admit I have limited experience with the old Lara Croft, but this new title is dripping with pretty. Sure, it's taken some blatant inspiration from the Uncharted series, but no one is complaining. Some survival aspects should keep it sufficiently different from the infallible Nathan Drake, not to mention the grittiness the trailer is oozing.

In like a lion, out like an...eagle? Bioshock Infinite has all my attention. Ken Levine is my kind of guy - an English major designing video games based on political philosophy. Doesn't it make your spine tingle? I love that this entry will maintain the spirit of Bioshock, but still be a completely different game. Barring any more delays, I expect everyone to be knee-deep in Columbia come March 22nd.

We get April to calm down, but then back in the fray come May with The Last of Us. Naughty Dog has been turning heads with Uncharted for a long time, and truth be told, I don't think The Last of Us will be much of a departure. We'll see what happens. If nothing else, Naughty Dog is putting together an absolutely beautiful game unlike anything we've seen thus far.

Into the stuff without release dates. Quantic Dream really won me over with Heavy Rain, and so I can't wait to see what they do with Beyond: Two Souls. David Cage is another guy in the business I have a lot of respect for. Very cool to see an actual actress completely immersed in the game, and I love Ellen Page.

I don't know a lot about Puppeteer, but it looks like it'll be doing some different stuff, and I've always loved different. It's easy to get burnt out on those action/adventure titles.

Remember Me is the first game from developer Dontnod. It's a new IP that promises a lot of ingenuity. Not only is the story promising something a little more personal than a bad guy taking on the world with all this memory mixing, but the personalized combat system also has my attention.

Next up, South Park: The Stick of Truth. I've never been a huge fan of South Park, so I'm certainly a bit tentative here, but it's cool to see Matt and Trey actually behind the scenes on a South Park game and the rippy-bits art style faithfully represented. With Obsidian at the helm, I think we're in for a strange and exciting, if not a little buggy, adventure.

Finally, there's Watch Dogs. There's not a lot of information out there on this either, but it looks like it'll be exploring some possible conspiracy theories surrounding modern technology and the dangers of connectivity. Another new IP with lots of promise.

From there, I'll be waiting it out for the inevitable PlayStation 4.

But certainly there's more than that coming out next year! Yeah, so let's talk about those real quick. If it's not on here, I'm pretty "meh" on it, and there are a few I'll talk about specifically.

Dead Space 3 - looks like Lost Planet (the third entry also coming out this year). I don't need a big monster shooter and I don't need a co-op partner. I play Dead Space for small corridors and being scared out of my mind. EA promises it'll still be scary, know...EA.

The new Sly Cooper will be good, I'm sure, but I need to play the third before I decide whether or not I care.

Crysis 3 has a big focus on multiplayer, so I'm curious to see what happens from a single-player standpoint. I'm also a little sore about this budget not going to a TimeSplitters there's that.

Metal Gear Rising looks nothing like Metal Gear Solid. I'm sure I'll play it at some point, but I'm not itching to get at this button-masher, especially until I know if it's going to do anything for the Metal Gear canon.

I'm all God of War'd out, and I haven't even played the Origins collection, so the last thing I need is another one with Ascension - especially one with a new-fangled multiplayer that will get played for a month after release before everyone goes back to whatever they were familiar with before.

I've never liked Grand Theft Auto. Sorry.

Oh, and if The Last Guardian even gets a trailer this year, you know, that'd be awesome, too.   read

4:04 PM on 11.29.2012

Video games, art, an acceptable hobby and bringing the world together

Without much thought, art brings to mind paintings and sculptures, and over time it's grown to include music, and perhaps more begrudgingly books, while film continues to carve a niche in the world of "art".

Why have the last two come so late in the game? Film is a relatively new medium that continues to gain ground and dish out "classics" to be regarded in future centuries, but handwriting has been around just as long as any form of recording music.

Consider the ubiquity of more accepted forms of art. Anyone across the planet sees the Mona Lisa and generally agrees "Yes, this is art!" But more importantly, they may also exclaim "Sí, esto es arte!", "是的,這是藝術!", "Oui, c'est de l'art!" or even "جی ہاں، یہ فن ہے!".

Not sure what those mean? Roughly translated, they all recognize the Mona Lisa as art. Any person, any language, can glean something from the Mona Lisa. For that matter, Bach is also appreciated by more than just English speakers. Try that with "Casablanca".

So what's the significance of this on a blog about video games? One of the biggest hurdles facing the industry is legitimacy. While it spreads day by day, those of us not surrounded by other enthusiasts and industry analysts are well aware of the stigma that can come with the hobby and the glossed-over stares that a video game discussion tends to garner.

But bring up "The Dark Knight Rises" and the majority of the room can relate.

Does this mean "Arkham City" is less ubiquitous than it's film counterpart? Is the caped crusader less accessible to the masses in video game form than on the silver screen? While films translated for various languages overcomes these difficulties to most extents, I think there's something else to consider.

The English language consists of 26 letters and several pieces of punctuation that can be combined in seemingly infinite ways to mean seemingly infinite things. To the untrained Pakistani eye, Faulkner's use of those letters and punctuation means nothing.

Now consider Mario for your SNES. The controller had 12 buttons, the effects of which could be seen when activated. Death was met with a downtrodden ditty and dropping of the screen while victory meant riding a flagpole and trotting into the castle.

More importantly, anyone could figure this out. Without any help.

It might have taken a little while, but an afternoon was likely ample for anyone to get the gist, while learning a language without metaphorical training wheels will probably never happen.

While we've gained a couple buttons and the nuances may be more intricate, games today reflect the same attributes. One might not follow the plot all that well, but anyone can pick up Okami, take less time to learn the controls than it might take, perhaps, to acquire a taste for freeform jazz, and recognize that the scenes being played out are magnificent and wondrous.

And do we ever really do much with art other than enjoy it? Some art sends a message, but scores of people hang Monet in their living room because "it's pretty", and we enjoy "pretty". By that logic, even Mortal Kombat fits the bill as a way to have a rip-roaring time ripping your friend's throat out.

Speaking of multiplayer - does anyone really enjoy art as a group? We can both look at it or listen to it, and should we share a dialect, have a conversation about it. It's not unlikely, however, that the patron next to you at The Louvre doesn't speak much of whatever it is you're speaking, so good luck having a meaningful conversation about just what it is that Mona Lisa is smiling about.

Regardless of what language you speak, however, two people can really bond over a game of Smash Bros.

We overcome gaps in generations, culture and language. That's what paintings, sculptures, music and yes, video games, share. Meanwhile, without help from a translator, films and books struggle more to accomplish this, but it's unlikely anyone will groan and proceed to hide your gift to them to cover up the nerdiness if you bought it at Barnes & Noble.

But even if video games acquire recognition as art, a theme you may have noticed here, does that justify dumping hours of time into them? Not all that much. Additionally, does it grant grossly inappropriate games like Saints Row: The Third a free pass? Despite how much we may enjoy it, not really. There will always be the Hobby Lobby wall furniture we hang simply because we enjoy it - not because it's moving the medium in any significant way or making contributions as "art" is wont to do.

No, my point is that we enthusiasts clamored out of our parents' basements long ago. Schools for game design cropped up, we started playing Angry Birds in front of people on the subway and if nothing else, some of us gamers even make a living doing what we do.

And beyond all that, just like the girl on the train reading Tolstoy today and Dickens next week, we're more than that. That girl probably enjoys partying or hiking just as much as I also enjoy rock climbing or cooking. It's not defining to be an enthusiast, but gaming beyond your smartphone still seems to imply that.

If we recognize games as art or even just a legitimate hobby, maybe we can start moving past that.   read

12:56 PM on 11.26.2012

Brotherhood makes a case for the Assassin's Creed series

Consistently two years behind the curve, it's time for my annual Assassin's Creed review!

Platform: PS3*/Xbox 360/PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Players: 1 (Online: 2-8)
ESRB: Mature (Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence)

If you're a frequent reader, you're aware that I'm not the world's biggest fan of the Assassin's Creed series. That being said, the story continues to pull me back - "I gots to know!" So I cracked the cover on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

Desmond is beginning to more strongly feel the effects of the bleeding as he begins to gain some of the skills his ancestors so often utilize, which led me to realize why everyone really started to love this series. Sequences with Desmond are Nolan North climbing on stuff and creating witty banter with a cute blonde. It's Uncharted! So much explained.

Of course, this is not the girth of the game. We meet up with Ezio Auditore da Firenze once again, who has lost the Apple of Eden to Cesare Borgia, a Templar. The rest of the game consists of building factions, procuring knowledge and getting the Apple back.

This title feels much tighter than the last two - a very good thing. Gameplay finally feels like it's found its footing, letting the entire experience mesh much better. Guiding Ezio through the city feels much less frustrating than it has in the past. This is not to say that there aren't moments where I'm rolling my eyes because jumping backwards is nigh impossible to gauge, but all in all, a much more pleasant experience than past outings.

The story continues to impress, though sometimes dialog and Italian names go flying by, so hopefully you remember faces well. Ezio is often tied up in someone else's problems, not actually making strides towards getting the Apple back, but such is the nature of being one of the most popular men in Rome.

That being said, the main path is not all that long. You'll spend much more time getting lost among the many other tasks available in the city. As before, Ezio will be renovating the storefronts of Rome to gain an income. Flags have taken the place of feathers as the collectible of choice, though there are still ten feathers floating around somewhere. There's some sweet armor to be had by tracking down a religious cult, quests for each faction and Borgia strongholds to usurp.

Unfortunately, all of this side-questing can be cumbersome. The map is littered with things to do, and some waypoints don't even disappear after being addressed. Repaired aqueducts and bought up landmarks stay on the map in the same form after the fact, so it can become confusing keeping track of what's been done already. Additionally, many of these things have no inherent reward. Do all the courtesan missions you want - I'm not sure there's a payoff. Playing through the entirety of Ezio's teenage love story is cute enough, but doesn't give much to the overarching cause.

One sideline of the game that actually performs very well is the "brotherhood" aspect. Ezio begins recruiting rebellious townsfolk to his cause and must train them to fulfill contracts across Europe. When they aren't out of town, assassins can be called to aid in battle. This is an extremely useful mechanic in many cases to keep cover while getting guards out of the way. The death of a comrade can feel like a real loss after training them to a high level, however, so one must weigh the chances of failure before calling them in.

All in all, it's really more Assassin's Creed, so there isn't a lot to say. The team at Ubisoft really colored inside the lines this time so that the game is genuinely fun and not as frustrating at a platforming level like the other games could be. That is, until the last forty-five minutes or so.

It's as if the team realized that release was impending. Most games, you simply delay the release date, but Assassin's Creed is an annual entry - no sir. For the last portion of the game, the player must wield one useless weapon that can't be switched off. The story begins fast-forwarding in time extremely quickly, bouncing months at a time. Suddenly, there's a siege. I'm not sure anyone knows where or why, but it's there. Ezio heads for a nameless castle and starts climbing things, but it takes a while to realize why or what's happening. Not only does the story start unraveling, but things start getting buggy. I got caught both in the corner of a catapult and the middle of a courtyard, enemies would ignore me and the game froze altogether at a couple points.

Fast-forward back to Desmond, who begins climbing about the Roman Coliseum. How he knows where he's going, we're not sure. The apparitions that lead him earlier in the game are altogether missing, but the camera points us in the right direction, so as the player, we roll with it. This portion is heavy on platforming, none of which lends anything to the story other than to be an obstacle to overcome. While playing as Ezio, platforming is part of who Ezio is. It develops his character. We know little-to-nothing about Desmond, and this isn't growing him in any way, shape or form. After an extremely redeeming game for the series, these last portions undermined a great deal of it, so if you're wondering why the score seems low for the praise I've given thus far, you can point to this section of the game.

Ignoring that, there's a lot to be said for Brotherhood bolstering the series. I may not be able to stay away as long as before. Revelations might just have to happen sooner than later. While I'm still not sure it warrants an annual installment, Assassin's Creed has me pretty well roped in now.

Bottom Line: 7.5/10   read

9:53 AM on 09.14.2012

The WiiU won’t increase market share – a stop-gap at best

This morning, Nintendo unveiled a slew of details about the WiiU, officially due out November 18th. Here’s the important stuff:

There will be two versions available. The base $300 model comes with the system, a GamePad, and HDMI cable, sensor bar and all the other goodies you need to get started. It’ll have an 8GB HDD, and it’ll play Wii games. This means no standard WiiMotes, which are necessary for multiplayer, and must be Wii Motion Plus controllers.

The $350 model upgrades to a 32GB SDD and tosses in a charge cradle for the GamePad and a console stand. The bundle will also come with Nintendo Land, the big launch title featuring your Mii, and a subscription to Digital Deluxe Plus through 2014. Currently, all we know is that it will discount your digital downloads, which will be available for all games.

The WiiU is going to have processing power similar to the PS3 and Xbox 360, which means its getting a ton of third-party titles shipped over including Assassin’s Creed III, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, Black Ops II and Darksiders II among others.

Nintendo TVii is a new feature that will ship with all consoles and be free to use, giving users the ability to direct streaming services to the GamePad, even if someone else is using the main TV. This includes Hulu, Netflix and even your DVR.

There will also be a social network for WiiU users called MiiVerse, which will support real-time communication among other things and will be accessible through your PC or smartphone as well.

So where does that leave the skeptics?

Overall, we have to look at the fact that the WiiU is still just catching up to current-gen systems. What’s Nintendo’s plan when Sony and Microsoft roll out their next consoles in a year or two? Rumors currently have Sony utilizing 4K resolution for the next generation, and while those TVs are way too pricey now to be mainstream, it’ll be interesting to see what the next year or two brings.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is filing patents for projection-based gaming technology that may well take over your living room. Should either of these come to fruition, the WiiU will be right back where it started, and third-party developers will have to scale back their dreams if they want their titles to work on the WiiU.

Speaking of third-party devs, while it’s great that the WiiU is getting ports of solid titles at launch, there’s no guarantee they’ll do well. To start with, few other than the Nintendo faithful can pick up a WiiMote and go – it takes a little getting used to. While some titles will make unique use of the GamePad, there are bound to be some straight ports. Why would someone want to buy an entirely new console to play the games they can already get on the consoles they already have with controllers they already like?

Things like Arkham City: Armored Edition are also disheartening. Similar spin-off titles of AAA blockbusters, such as the Wii’s Modern Warfare: Reflex Edition, have proven watered-down and sub-par.

Additionally, we have very little information on how the WiiU’s online will work, which will significantly hamper many of these titles. Look at Mass Effect 3, a game with, what I consider, one of the best online multiplayer experiences to date. How well will this work on the WiiU? It’ll already be hurting since Wii players won’t have played the first two titles.

Another of these third-party titles that has been confirmed is Bayonetta 2 – a sequel to a combo-heavy button-masher from Ps3 and Xbox 360. This is an interesting move by Platinum Games, considering other hardcore third-party titles exclusive to Nintendo’s latest consoles haven’t done so well. MadWorld and Red Steel were generally well-received by critics, but didn’t sell nearly as well as even the most average Mario titles.

Nintendo TVii is a great idea, but not a make-or-break feature by any means. TV is universal enough that the whole room is usually content watching.

The memory available is paltry, especially considering the whole library is supposed to be downloadable. Not including any WiiMotes with launch bundles simply means that it’ll be tough to get newcomers to the Nintendo brand – they’ll only have to pay more.

Speaking of paying more, the low price-point of the original Wii was a big draw to the casual gamer. While $300 or more for the WiiU isn’t unreasonable for the hardware you’re getting, it’ll be a turnoff to casual gamers anyway as smartphones absorb more of that market share. Where the Wii had a defined audience that no one else was targeting, the WiiU looks as though it could appeal to a slim niche.

So good news for Wii owners looking for HD graphics – it’s going to get the job done. And they’ll get more of the Nintendo IP they love with a healthy dose of third-party tossed in – for now. But it’s not going to get people who currently own a PS3 or Xbox to make the switch – but has that ever been Nintendo’s goal? We’ll see if Nintendo can keep pace when the new consoles hit, and that goes without paying heed to new players on the scene including Valve’s console rumors and the Ouya.

Be sure to comment with your own thoughts and anything I missed!   read

9:37 AM on 08.28.2012

Lights, Camera, Party struggles to break into a stalemate genre

From the inception of the Wiimote through the latest Kinect developments and even the in-between PlayStation Move, consoles have been plagued by shovelware – games designed to take advantage of a new and in many ways gimmicky feature. Red flags include low production value, poor or no voice acting, short development cycles, a collection of mini-games and release day price-points that cause you to raise an eyebrow. Little kids love them – they aren’t seeking any kind of artistic stimulation. While the game claims to target the party scene for any age group, it’ll never actually catch hold of the college crowd hanging out on a Saturday night. Mario Party remains the only franchise to ever overcome the party game stigma with Nintendo’s watchful eye separating it from the piles of shovelware.

Lights, Party, Camera from Frima Studio is looking to change that. Taking full advantage of the PlayStation Move controller, LCP is offering a set of games with a tad more polish that will hopefully gain it a following from those who can’t enjoy Mario Party.

Platform: PS3*
Players: 2-8
Genre: Party
ESRB: E10+ (Mild Fantasy Violence, Crude Humor)

In the face of a market that hasn’t fully embraced the Move controller, LCP gets off on the right foot by using a pass-and-play method instead of requiring each player to wield a Move controller. Not only does this facilitate up to eight players, but it also means that PS3 owners don’t have to invest in multiple controllers to make the party happen, opening up a wider audience. This is supplemented by the $30 price point – a tad higher than your average non-AAA collection of mini games, but still low enough to constitute a gamble.

This is where the accessibility ends. A party game is at its best when anyone can pick it up and play off the bat, and LCP isn’t always fitting this bill. Don’t even consider the hard difficulty for first-time players (and often even for veterans). Additionally, instructions for each game fly across the screen at breakneck speeds, sometimes not even covering the entire premise (there’s still one game involving dodging cream pies that I don’t quite grasp). This can be frustrating for newcomers who just want to play. While the Move functionality is very cool, it means more complex games as opposed to mashing a button as many party gamers are used to.

Some games require a bit of finesse, or at least give the impression they do. The Move controller is extremely intuitive, and so it reflects that no person can really hold themselves completely still, especially with a controller in hand. This can make intricate tasks seems abysmally difficult, especially on a 3D plane, which is still a fresh way of playing for many people. It’s hard to deem this as inherently bad, since this is the direction that gaming seems to be headed, but for the time and place, it might be a little much.

The story mode offers next-to-nothing and doesn’t even justify the time that may have gone into it. As many players as desired can participate to build a house for the Funzini family as they partake in a game show, Lights, Camera, Party! The characters sit in a couple different places that have no bearing on the festivities and then segue to strictly single-player mini games, many of which you’ll play multiple times, as there aren’t really that many. Whichever player wins the round gets a portion of the house built in their character’s fashion. The whole process takes about half an hour. With no script and paltry humor, time would have been better spent elsewhere.

Of course, it’s a party game, and so we’re much more interested in the party modes. LCP offers three, all of which balance a little bit of luck with a little bit of skill, meaning any player can win - a smart move to give experts confidence and newcomers the drive to become a dark horse. The mini games remain one player at a time, which eliminates some competition, but also helps to eliminate stratification of guests and the party host who has already played the game a thousand times.

Overall, LCP rises above the shovelware stigma, but is still trying to bust into a generally monopolized genre. Without popular IP, it’s a lost cause on gamers who don’t make a habit of browsing the PlayStation Store, and this is only kind of a bad thing.

Bottom Line: 7   read

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