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Name's Josh. I'm 25, play pretty much any kind of game, and have since I was old enough to hold a controller.
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5:07 PM on 06.13.2014

Well friends, E3 is now out of the way. The excitement can begin slowly dying down as we return to waiting patiently for the many announced games to finally release. Huge events like this really make you happy that this is your hobby and past-time of choice. This entire industry, both the game development AND the journalism surrounding it, is one that I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for. I love to write and create things for others to experience, whether it's meant to inform or simply ignite discussion and creative thought, and I love video games so combining these two is something that I'm passionate about.

As someone who has such reverence for this, I've recently been trying to get in the hang of writing more frequent and more varied material. I've posted a few pieces around here, mostly reviews but a couple of editorials as well. From this point on I hope to really expand on that. I usually play through games in relatively short fluid experiences, in most cases I'll have games finished within a day or two of release, so reviews come pretty easily to me. However, over the next couple of months leading up to October when our wallets are murdered, there are relatively few big releases coming so I'll be attempting to write more unique and personal content.

I have a few ideas for the kinds of things I want to write, from personal opinions on IP's that I love or even ones that I think have a lot of potential, to revisiting classic games to see how they've held up, to helping spread the word about fantastic games that many people may not have experienced like Shadow Tower Abyss. I was also lucky enough to get into the alphas/betas for Destiny, Battlefield: Hardline, and Playstation Now, so I'll have a bit to say about each of those soon.

If you're still reading at this point then I'm guessing you're not someone thinking to yourself “Why should I care?” If you are then here's the deal: while I love to write how I feel about things, it's so much more rewarding when readers like you write and comment on it. Even when someone leaves an opposing opinion I'm just glad that he or she took the time to stop by.

Without readers who are willing to get involved then all of this is for nothing. My goal from this point on is to, hopefully, put out at least one fleshed out piece of content every week. The last few things I wrote were Wolfenstein, Watch Dogs, and Murdered: Soul Suspect reviews that I wrote for my personal tumblr, but it seems a bit late to worry about moving them over here so I'll be starting fresh next week. If you've stuck around for this whole article then I thank you and I hope you'll stick around over the next few months to check out what I write about and hopefully leave feedback for me. Thanks for your time!

Transistor is the second game from Supergiant Games. Their first, Bastion, came out in 2011 and was an absolute marvel. To this day Bastion stands as one of my favorite games for its fantastic combination of narration, story, gameplay, and visuals. It goes without saying then that I have been extremely excited for Transistor ever since it was announced. Now that its launch has finally come, does it stand as a worthy successor to Bastion? Absolutely.

There are two things you'll notice upon starting Transistor up for the first time: that the visuals are as gorgeous as you'd expect from a Supergiant Games release, and that it knows how to drop you straight into the mood of the game. This game starts off in such a beautiful and fitting way. No main menu or any of that nonsense; you're immediately greeted with a shot of the heroine, Red, and the titular Transistor and are then thrown straight into the story.

The plot revolves around a singer named Red, who has taken an extremely powerful weapon called the Transistor from a group called the Camerata. It takes place in an amazing sort of cyber city called Cloudbank. The Camerata has taken Red's voice and have seemingly released a robotic force known as the Process, which is slowly wiping out the city. The Transistor acts as many things: a guide, a key, and above all, a weapon. The voice of the Transistor will have Bastion fans feeling right at home as it features the fantastic voice work of Logan Cunningham, who manages to make the narration feel both familiar and unique at the same time. The weapon speaks to you as a friend and has the ability to absorb deceased citizens of Cloudbank you meet along your journey, supplying you with new abilities. 

As amazing as each individual part of Transistor is, it's the combat that takes center stage this time around. The game features a very unique combination of ARPG combat and turn-based combat. By default you run around freely and can use any of your abilities on the fly. However, with the press of a button, you are taken into “Turn” mode. This freezes time and presents you with a long bar at the top of your screen. The idea is that while time is frozen you use up that bar, one action at a time, and then exit Turn mode and watch all of your planned actions play out incredibly fast. The downside to this is that after exiting turn mode the amount of the bar that you used will be missing, and you will be unable to use most abilities while it is recovering.

Speaking of abilities, the ability system in this game grants an immense amount of depth and customization to the combat. Red has 4 slots available for active abilities at a time. By leveling you can obtain 2 upgrade slots for each of those 4 active slots as well as 4 passive ability slots. Now here is where things get interesting, every ability you obtain within the game can go into any of these slots. For instance; there is an ability called Bounce. When used as an active ability it fires a projectile that ricochets between enemies in a cluster. If you set Bounce as an upgrade to any other ability, that ability gains a ricochet effect. If you decide instead to set Bounce as a passive ability, Red gains a deflective shield.

There are about 18 abilities in the game, and they are kept in check through the Memory system. Simply put, each ability has a memory cost to equip it, and you have a set amount of memory available to you. Don't fret though, your memory is upgradeable as you level. The game also takes a unique approach to player death. Upon losing all of your health you will, in most cases, first get an emergency turn, which immediately activates the turn system for you and allows you to run to safety. If your turn function is unavailable, you lose one of your 4 active abilities and are returned to full health. This can make continuing the fight more difficult as you are now down an ability, and upon losing all 4 abilities you get a game over. These abilities aren't lost forever though, they can be reequipped after a time.

In addition to its in-depth combat system, the game features what is probably best described as a customizable difficulty system. As you level you can unlock what are known as Limiters. These limiters each make the game more difficult in a unique way, and allow you to level a bit faster as a reward for undertaking them. These range from making the Process spawn in greater numbers to making them more powerful altogether. Transistor also takes a bit of a different view on new game plus. After beating the game, you are given the option to return to the beginning of the story but you maintain your levels and abilities, with stronger enemies to match your skill. This is by no means a brand new concept, but it does give you a way to replay the story while maintaining the challenge right from the get go.

If you've played Bastion then you've already experienced the undeniable talent of Supergiant Games' composer, Darren Korb and vocalist Ashley Barrett. If you haven't, then you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't play this game with headphones on and no one around to bother you. The music in Transistor is phenomenal and it continues to offer something new without fail as you continue through the game.

Honestly there's not a lot I can say negatively about the game. The story is excellent, though you may need to take a bit to think after completing it to piece all the information you've gathered together. The environments are beautiful. It isn't the longest game, clocking in at around 5-6 hours for your first playthrough, but it makes the most of those few hours and is only priced at $20. Overall Transistor is an absolutely amazing game, and I would urge everyone to give it a shot. Supergiant Games may have only put out 2 games so far, but the quality of those games speaks for itself. I can't wait to see what they do in the future.

People have a habit of becoming very attached to games they enjoy. Nowhere is this more evident than on sites like Destructoid or IGN where games are the main subject. This attachment, however, can turn out to be a bit counter productive if taken too far. Everyone is guilty of, or at least knows someone who is guilty of, having a game that they really enjoy and therefore think that it is beyond criticism. People can have the silliest excuses for this as well. Tell someone the story in a game isn't very good and you may get the reply “No one plays these games for the story.” Mention that a game's graphics are under par and you'll hear “Graphics don't matter, gameplay does.”

This sort of behavior is especially prominent in the comments of reviews as people tend to put far too much stock in the number score at the end of said review and how it compares to what they consider “fair.” The first thing that many people fail to understand is that a game should be critiqued on all of its merits, not just the ones it considered a priority. Just because Monster Hunter focuses on you hunting monsters and making armor and weapons from those monsters doesn't mean that you just ignore that the story is mediocre at best.

Video games have basic pillars that hold them up. Gameplay, visuals, story, controls; these are things that should always be taken into account. The ideal video game, I'm sure most would agree, would have a good combination of these things. That's not to say that a game lacking in one of those departments is suddenly a bad game though, there are plenty of fantastic games whose story isn't that great or whose visuals aren't up to snuff. But just because a game is good doesn't mean that the parts of that game that could use improvement should go unmentioned.

Here's another example: when Resident Evil: Revelations began making the rounds on 3DS and  then consoles and PC, there was a lot of talk of how it was the Resident Evil game that people had been waiting for. After playing it for myself I mentioned in the comments of an article about the game that I personally wasn't a big fan of it. It was a solid enough RE experience, but I had a few problems with it, namely the writing and the fact that the second half of the game became 'back track a lot and shoot all of the things.' Someone replied to my comment (one of the writers from the website actually) saying “I must have missed the Resident Evil game that had good writing.” Then surely now would be a great time to start working on that.

If you've made a series that includes over 10 titles and not a single one is memorable for its story or writing then maybe you should consider working on your writing. This comes back to the argument “people don't play these games for the story.” Of course they don't, they don't have a choice in the matter because there isn't one with a good story. A good game with a good story is automatically better than a good game with a mediocre story.

This is where this story wraps around to become directed at you, the reader. Yes, you specifically. If you enjoy a game, even if you think it's the best game you've ever played, it never hurts to offer constructive criticism. The Souls series is one of my favorite game series ever but I'm not going to deny that some of the bosses in DaS2 proved to be way too easy, or that the second half of DaS1 was much weaker than the first half. 

Giving feedback helps show that, while you enjoy a game that has been created, you still want the developer to keep trying to get better. That's the mark of someone dedicated to what they do, they constantly try to improve on themselves. You as the consumer should want games to improve, because you're the one spending money on the hope that you'll get your $60 worth. No one worth your money is going to create a piece of art, sell it to you, and then tell you they don't care what you think about it. Help them help you. Go forth and critique!

Infamous is a series that I've had mixed feelings for over the years. I played the first game a while after its release in hopes of catching onto the hype that surrounded it, but it just didn't stick with me. There were a combination of things that kept me from really enjoying it, but at the same time there were things that I knew had the potential to take me in and I quite liked the story. The second game did a far better job at reeling me in. The new powers, more interesting setting, and a host of other things placed Infamous 2 firmly into my pile of really good games. I wasn't sure what to expect from Infamous: Second Son and that's probably for the best, because having no real expectations meant that I was all the more blown away by how much fun I've had.

Second Son comes off as part sequel, part reboot. It's tied to the previous two entries in that Second Son takes place 7 years after the events of Infamous 2's good ending. At the same time however, it makes no effort to mention those events in more than passing and if you want any sort of real ties to the previous games you'll have to play the Cole's Legacy dlc that comes with the preorders. I didn't mind this, and in fact I think this was probably the best course of action because it serves to be an excellent entry for those who have never played an Infamous game before while still being familiar to those who have. 

Second Son is the story of a delinquent by the name of Delsin Rowe, a young man of Native American descent whose place in life becomes infinitely more significant when a military vehicle carrying “Bio-Terrorists” (the government's brand for the powerful Conduits of previous games) crashes and he comes into contact with one of them. Delsin soon learns that he himself is a conduit, and one with quite a unique gift. While up to this point we've mainly seen powers of lightning or ice, Delsin has the power to absorb the powers of other Conduits through skin on skin contact. Your protagonist's new powers unfortunately attract the worst kind of attention as the DUP, the government agency who has been keeping tabs on all Conduits, comes looking for the escapees and stumbles upon you and your Akomish tribe. From there the story escalates into one of corruption, empowerment, and taking down the oppressors.

This entry sees the return of the Karma morality system as you remember it, and this is certainly one of the elements of the game that could have stood to be improved. It's really cool to have the option to take different choices and obtain powers depending on the way that you've built your character and the decisions you've made, but the evil choices don't seem to fit the character. While Delsin is a bit of a rebel and always seems to be up to no good, you never get the impression that he's a bad person. He's such an excellent and believable character, whether he's being a brat or helping people out, that I wouldn't want to see them remove that for the sake of you having a blank slate to project your morality choices onto, but maybe one day someone will discover a way to combine having a fantastic character with a good/evil morality system.

Your first power is that of smoke and embers and by the end of the game you'll have four powers to swap between. Sucker Punch clearly sought to give each power a unique feel while keeping them similar enough so as not to get overly confused by any sort of potential control change. Each power uses the same control scheme but varies the outcome, for example using your Smoke L1 will lob a nonlethal smoke grenade which throws enemies into coughing fits, while your second power, Neon, causes an equally nonlethal explosion that sends enemies into the air while slowing down time for them. Each power is fun to use, especially once you learn the best scenarios to use it in, and they allow you to vary up the already enjoyable combat at your leisure.

There's only one thing with the power system that I didn't particularly enjoy and that is the fact that if you wish to swap between powers you have to go over to the desired power source in the world and absorb it. It would have been nice if it kept track of how much of a given power source you still had absorbed while using a different power, but I suppose that would have also made Delsin a bit TOO powerful. 

Each of your powers has a skill tree assigned to it and you can gain new skills, or power up existing ones, by obtaining and spending blast shards. There are a few skills that are tied to your karma and some of them enhance your powers in very interesting ways, for instance with good karma you can give your basic smoke projectile the power to instantly throw an enemy into a coughing fit when you get a headshot. The previously mentioned blast shards can be found all over Seattle, and are made easier to locate by taking out the DUP in each of the districts. By taking out the mobile command center in a given district, the locations of all blast shards and side objectives will appear on your map, making 100%-ing the game both accessible and enjoyable.

Speaking of Seattle, you've probably noticed this from the various screenshots and gameplay videos that have been released but the setting for this game is absolutely gorgeous. It does a wonderful job of showcasing the power of the PS4 and can lead to you simply wanting to wander the city and take in the amazing visuals on display. The models, voice work, and facial capture are all excellent. The framerate is solid as well, with noticeable drops only ever occurring if there is just an absolute mess of things going on onscreen, and even then it's rare. Delsin himself controls well, but there are occasional issues with some of the parkour elements when it comes to trying to grab onto specific ledges, as well as a few clipping issues when speeding up the side of a ledge-ridden building with one of the more transportation oriented powers.

Overall Infamous: Second Son is excellent and just what the PS4 needed to pull in some more early adopters. It's fast paced, dramatic, and most of all: fun. Regardless of your feelings on previous entries in the Infamous series, Second Son is a fantastic way to spend 10-20 hours, depending on how much of the city you want to take back. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Sucker Punch and their Infamous series.

This includes major story spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It is merely an opinion piece and is in no way meant to attack anyone mentioned within.

There seems to be a fad going these days where people go out of their way to search for ways that any given game could possibly offend someone. Even if an event in a video game could offend someone, is that really cause to change or remove it? On Tuesday we saw the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, a game that has attempted to take the previously part serious part camp series into a new mature direction.

Prior to the game’s release, Hideo Kojima spoke about his goals of wanting to help further both his series and the medium as a whole.”If we don’t cross that line, if we don’t make attempts to express what we really want to express, games will only be games,” Kojima said. “If we don’t try to go beyond that, we won’t be able to achieve what movies or novels have achieved. I didn’t want to stay away from these things that could be considered sensitive. If we don’t go that far, games will never be considered as culture.”

If you’re curious as to how this ties in and what sensitive material he’s included in MGSV then here are where the spoilers begin. The main story mission of Ground Zeroes sees Snake infiltrating an enemy camp to rescue two children he is acquainted with who have been kidnapped, Chico and Paz. Making your way through the camp you learn that they aren’t the only people to have been kidnapped, and upon finding Chico you discover that nails have been driven into the backs of his feet to prevent him from escaping on foot. You then learn from a recording that Paz has been tortured and possibly killed, so after getting Chico to safety to go to search for her. She is found in a basement strung up and having been tortured but still breathing. Getting her to safety is your final goal and from there you’re treated with a long scene that contains what has people talking.

As you, a medic, and the two kids escape on a helicopter, you discover that Paz’s stomach has been recently stitched up and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you’ve been set up. Snake and Chico hold her down as the medic removes the stitches, opens her up, and you watch a graphic (as video games go) scene of the medic reaching inside of her, moving her guts about, and removing the bomb, which is then thrown out of the helicopter. After a bit more cutscene and more story details come and go, Paz wakes up and, disoriented, moves to against the wall of the helicopter muttering and saying to stay away from her. She mentions that she has a bomb inside of her, and Snake assures her that it has been removed. “There’s another one,” she replies as she then willingly falls out of the side of the helicopter and almost immediately explodes before your eyes, causing the helicopter to crash and the game to end.

Now, is that event intense? Absolutely. Has Hideo Kojima gone too far? No. This is a story of war, of treachery, of possible child slavery and definite child warfare. Regardless of the camp nature of any previous games, this is an obvious attempt to push for more mature and sensitive material in video games, and it does just that. As far as I am concerned, nothing should be out of bounds or too sacred to be brought up in any medium, let alone video games. If it can happen in real life then it can happen in a video game. There always seems to be one group of people saying that video games can’t be taken seriously because they are all either about humor or murdering for no real reason and another group shouting that you can’t approach serious subjects because games should be for fun happy times. Obviously everyone doesn’t fall into one of these categories, but both seem to be pretty prevalent.

You’ll also hear talk of those who say “these subjects should only be approached if they can be done in a fitting way” which really means “a way that I find fitting.” Here’s the thing though, we can’t demand that games shy away from sensitive material until they can do it perfectly. You have to let developers and writers try and make mistakes so that they can learn from those mistakes. IGN’s review for Ground Zeroes called the ending “unearned,” but I would argue that it wasn’t trying to, nor did it need to, earn anything, because this ending isn’t really an ending. Ground Zeroes, while a standalone product, is not a standalone story. The “ending” of this is really just the beginning to the bigger story of Metal Gear Solid V. If anything, this is letting you know what to expect in the story to come. There is no easing into warfare and death. It happens when you least expect it; whether you’re ready for it or not.

Another, less intense, example of searching for controversy in a game is an article that was published on U.S. Gamer prior to the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Kat Bailey wrote about her time getting to see a preview of LoS2 and meeting with producer Dave Cox to discuss what they call the “family scene” early in the game. This is a scene, again very early on, where a recently awoken, incredibly weak Dracula wakes up in a locked room with a family (a father, mother, and daughter) on whom he is to feed to regain his strength. In the scene he wakes up dizzy, looks over at the scared family, and before he does anything is immediately attacked by the father. He then kills the father, grabs the mother, and drinks her blood. He then turns to the daughter and reaches for her as the screen goes black.

Bailey writes “First, the way this scene is constructed isn’t accidental. When Cox talks about wanting to take risks and arguments with the marketing team, it’s clear that the scene was constructed with the intention of evoking sexual assault. It’s ostensibly there to show that Dracula is evil; but really, the imagery was chosen for its ability to provoke a strong emotional reaction. That it’s being used almost exclusively for shock value serves to trivialize a very real horror that women must deal with every day.” I feel that this is another grab for more controversy than is actually there. The idea that it is “clear that the scene was constructed with the intention of evoking sexual assault” is a bit of a stretch to me. He murders the father because the father attacked him, which shows the others what they should expect if they fight back. He then sucks the woman’s blood and is done with her. There’s nothing there that implies anything sexual. It’s a tough sell to a marketing team because you have a character murdering a family on screen.

She goes on to talk about how you’re not even meant to sympathize with the victims because the woman is given neither a name nor a personality (for the sixty seconds or so that she’s there) and how because Dracula is the hero of an action game he is meant to be cool and so “any ambivalence about the hero is bound to feel superficial, and in the case of the Family Scene, gratuitous.” She ends by stating that she hopes they remove the family scene from the game before release, which in my opinion is the biggest mistake of the entire article.

Now I am by no means saying that these events, or anything that takes place in any game, is beyond criticism. I believe that everything is open to criticism, and I’m sure that most developers happily accept constructive criticism, but saying that something shouldn’t exist or just that “it’s not done well” is NOT constructive.

Essentially this entire piece can be condensed down to “Let developers and writers create what they feel fits into their vision of their game, and if it’s not done as well as it could be then help them to make it better next time.” We partake in one of the most fascinating mediums ever contrived. Don’t put it down, help to make it even better!

The Souls series is a strange one. In an era where video games generally tend to be more “hand-holdy”, or always tell you where to go, or restrict what you can do, the Souls games focus on giving you no more than you need but allowing you access to everything at the same time. Want to be a slow heavy tank with the ability to hurl lightning? Go for it. Want to be super nimble with a weapon in each hand and the ability to cast spells? Sure thing. Dark Souls 2, the newest installment in the acclaimed series, brings back everything I loved about the series and even improves upon it.

Dark Souls 2 is the first actual sequel in the series, and while it does connect to the previous game in a few ways, it is completely stand alone in that anyone can start with this entry without finding themselves lost. If you've never played a Souls game then this is what you need to know: each is an action RPG that, while difficult, will never present you with anything that you are not capable of handling. On your first attempt through a given area or boss you may feel that it's cheap, or impossible, or bullshit, but if you put your mind to it and think about everything at your disposal you will ALWAYS find a way through any hardship the game presents you with. 

Just as in previous Souls games you are able to customize your character and pick a starting class. These classes do not lock you in to any particular way of playing, they are simply a starting point. Every character is capable of doing anything that any other character can do. In previous games it was possible, if you didn't know what you were doing, to mess up your build by putting points in places that you may end up regretting. This entry however has a certain item that you can obtain that will allow you to have those points returned to you so that you can “respec.”

Combat, and actions overall, have undergone a bit of a change, one that is tied to a new stat. In previous games your ease of dodging through rolls was tied to your equipment load (the percentage of your maximum weight capacity that you have made use of, the lower that percent the better your roll), your shield was raised immediately when you pressed the corresponding button, and your estus flask (the default, autoreplenishing healing item) was consumed at a set speed, but this game introduces a new mechanic called Agility, which is leveled up through a stat called Adaptability.

Agility determines a few things. When you roll, there is a mechanic referred to as “i-frames” which is how long you are essentially invincible while dodging. In DS2 i-frames are dependent on your Agility, your equipment load simply determines how far you roll. Agility also allows you to raise your shield faster and, if enough points are spent in the stat, drink your estus every so slightly quicker. Overall an extremely useful stat.

Another change to combat is that dual wielding weapons is now viable. This is made possible by the new “power stance.” If you have a weapon in each hand, and you have 1.5x the stat requirement for those weapons (ex. If you have two longswords and they require 10 str and 8 dex you'll need 15 str and 12 dex.) and then holding down the triangle (PS3) or Y (360) button you will swap into power stance, which changes your L1/LB and L2/LT to attacks that make use of both weapons at the same time. This adds even more customization to the already incredible amount of re-playability of the Souls games. There are a few other changes as well such as fire damage now scaling with int and faith and the new dark damage scaling off of whichever of those two magic stats is higher, but for the most part you'll feel right at home with this game if you've played either of the previous.

The new landscape presented, known as Drangleic, is fantastic. It's gorgeous, atmospheric, and haunting. It doesn't always have quite the same sense of “wrap around” that DaS1 had in that areas would often bring you back to the starting area, Firelink Shrine, but it still feels like a well realized world and still has the same sense of freedom in which direction you can go. In fact right from the beginning of the game out of the four directions that you'll need to go from the starting area of Majula for the main quest, three of which can potentially be taken almost off the bat. This entry has also taken the ability to warp between bonfires that was given to you halfway through the first game and made it available right from the start.

The story, while not on the same godly scope as the first, is still extremely interesting in my opinion. Rather than the story of great lords with equally great powers you get what feels like more of a dark personal story of the land of Drangleic and its King. You'll still only be given the vaguest hints from characters, the world itself, and the descriptions of items, and it's still a blast to try and piece these together into a coherent whole.

Many have been worried about difficulty of this installment, mainly that it might be too easy compared to previous games, but that is certainly not the case. In many areas of this game I would say that it is in fact more difficult, but nonetheless still challenging in a way that makes you want to keep at it for that incredible feeling of satisfaction you receive when you see those words “Victory Achieved.” As someone who put quite a lot of time into the first game I was pleased with the difficulty offered this time around.

Overall Dark Souls 2 is an incredible game, both in its own right and as a sequel to the equally fantastic Dark Souls. It's challenging, interesting, and rewarding. Whether or not you've immersed yourself in a Souls game before I urge you to pick it up and give yourself the challenge that you may not have even realized you needed.