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About
Welcome, its me Neon, also known as PrinceofApathy, or by my actual name, Xavi'. My thoughts and ideas tend to be abit polarising, but deep underneath it all, I'm an enthusiast gamer, and I have been gaming practically all my life.


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NeonBlade
11:06 PM on 05.16.2012

What is hype? What does it mean? The dictionary describes the word hype as follows.

Hype; Verb - to stimulate, excite, or agitate.

However, I prefer a more concise definition.

Hype; Noun - a swindle, deception, or trick.

That is what the true nature of the word outlays to me. In paramount fashion. The fervent illusion, the inescapable truth that we as humans, sometimes, even the best of us, fall prey to its brutal, unyielding tide. Only the best of us are able to overcome, many fall, few rise. I suppose, when it comes to hype, I try to always stay grounded, to stay rational. Think rationally and not allow myself to be swept up into frenzy. I particularly pride myself on the ability to see through the fog so to speak, but I wasn't always emotionally stable when it comes to this. I suppose, every man has a breaking point, mine was the advent of Grand Theft Auto IV, being caught in the tumultuous epicenter of that hurricane. Bonded stronger by other like minded forum members at the time, the enthusiast media cracking the whip further, advocating and urging and pushing the madness. The feeling is almost rapturous, its actually a gamers high, an intoxicant we all dabbled in, like pleasure seekers in an opium den.

However, I am not here to speak about me being caught in the hype, I have been there, I was young once. I'm not here to speak about how Grand Theft Auto IV was a crushing disappointment, an abomination that shook me to the core, and made me the cynical scoundrel that I am to this day that looks scornfully at the enthusiast press with disdain.

I am here to speak about the dangers of hype. Especially when wielded irresponsibly by those we look to direction for. As a voiceless mass, gamers, believe it or not, look to their favoured reviewers, editors call them what you may. Gamers sometimes hang onto their very word, and trust their opinion so devoutly. Some gamers entire habits, be it podcast, purchasing choices and discourse are inextricably tied to their opinions. I really don't think many of them understand how impressionable they can be, especially on young teenagers. However, what happens when those that are still tied to the teats of the enthusiast press, driven headlong into frenzy, don't realise their guide has drank from the poisoned chalice themselves? The blind now lead the blind, or should I say the asylum is now run by its occupants. What happens when no one decides to apply the brakes? One word.

Calamity

Lunacy ensues. Severe lack of critical judgement. When I read a "journalist" has become hyped for a title, especially a blockbuster release. I become afraid. I hold onto my testicles and brace for impact. Destination? Planet Hyperbole. Sometimes it can be quite entertaining, from a comedic point of view, other times, downright embarrassing. For e.g. Excerpt.

"GTA IV gives us characters and a world with a level of depth previously unseen in gaming and elevates its story from a mere shoot-em-up to an Oscar-caliber drama".

IGN - GTAIV PS3 Review



The generation has yet to run its course, but hype defies logic. Bombastic claims are made.

"Mass Effect 3 is so much more than a game. It blends genres and transcends the video game medium to offer up an experience unparalleled in this industry. This game will easily be a front-runner for Game of the Year and is in my mind a serious contender for being the best game of this generation"



Playstationlifestyle ME3 Review

I could continue you on in thos vein with every "AAA" block buster release, but I'm sure everyone has lives to return to. When hype infests, clear thinking is tossed aside, and a fragmented shell of folly that was once a human emerges. When rationale, judgement and critical analysis is abandoned madness descends. As a professional, it is of the utmost importance to remain stead fast, factual, analytically sound and apply common sense and understanding to design and mechanics, where flaws aren't brushed aside by unbridled emotion just because a vortex of hysteria has now been created around said title. When these paradigms are forsaken the landscape is damaged. I understand the press are human and can easily err. Sometimes outside influences, internal pressure, and as we know location and publisher presence can cause rifts, but when atleast one side of the industry, the one we gamers and press can control, spirals, common sense shatters. Everything is bloated, nothing proportional, everything inflated, there is no median and everything becomes savage and unbalanced. Then more pressure is added to keep the status quo, when this side of the industry itself is in need of dire repair, as much as Publishers and their nickle and dime schemes, multi-player planned exploitation and enormous budgets. Everything becomes grotesque.

I am sure there are many good people, but hype can eat away at the best of us, and I understand. I know everyone is different from I, and everyone handles emotion for their favorite thing differently, but cooler heads sometimes must prevail. If gamers want to run amok with hype let them, but it can be corralled and managed better, by us all.

Is hype innately bad? I don't think so, it can stir passions, bring together fans, but when mismanaged and fervor comes. Lookout.

So what is hype? Hype is the beast best repelled by the callous or intelligent, while the ignorant are left to be ravenously devoured.








NeonBlade
4:32 PM on 05.14.2012

I was spurred to write about this topic, postponing my Siren: Blood Curse review. So please bare with me, my thoughts are a tad frayed and I am simply typing as I think. The main point is how "gamers" somehow equate time spent with a game to justify quality. Infact as I am writing this, I am having a feeling that the post would veer wildly from point to point. Encompassing a few so called hot topics. Floating around the forums, gaming sites and blogs.

Look, I am a gamer and I understand wholeheartedly, and can relate to titles being seen as too expensive, and I understand this. Infact I am in the growing number of gamers that do not buy on day one only in exceptional occasions, I usually allow a backlog to tide me over until a figure catches my eye and becomeís attractive for the title, but that is not what this blog post is about. Even though I chose to save money on titles, I understand their value. The true value to the gaming habitat if you will.

I understand there are consumers however that place value of a product based on the longevity. Cliff Blesinski of Epic Games did a respectful and wonderful interview on Gamasutra ( http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/170144/what_if_cliff_ran_the_world.php ) and was speaking just generally how more games need to incorporate multi-player ( among other things ) to survive in this volatile climate publishers have created for us.



While I read the interview and understood what Cliff Bleszinski was alluding to, it echoes, that sadly, some "gamers" won't consider the title unless there is some form of multi-player added, so that they will have a reason to purchase the title, as supposed to renting, or buying used. This is understandable as I said; the industry structure as it stands to prices are slightly in-congruous, and can seem unreasonable to what the consumer is sometimes receiving, and it needs to be addressed, however that specific is a topic for another day, and I am not here to tell people how to spend their money. I am not a fool.

My point here is that we have lost perspective on what is the true value. The time spent is not the value. It never was and never will be. It is the design, structure, narrative, mechanics, musical and experience based nature of each specific title that is of true value. When I started gaming in the early 80s, I never played to waste time. I am sure my Mother wanted me to so she could cook or sleep in peace, but I played for entirely different reasons, and that is what I have kept to this day into adulthood. I played to be entertained, and as I grew and my mind grew. I began to understand more, I played to be engaged, challenged, and offered varying perspectives and ranges. From the platforming nature of Mario, to challenging games at my age of Mega Man 2, to the adventure mentality of games like Maniac Mansion, and I appreciated all of them, because they all brought something wildly different to the fore.



It is madness to measure superiority over another title based on an in game clock, mindlessly wandering around Morthal, your clan or the number of nights you have spent shooting people on Xbox Live. To me, this type of thinking couldn't be more illogical, deranged or dangerous to our medium. Attempting to solely create a game based on what is popular now, or what can easily be asserted to with a multi-player mode will with murderous intent, stifle creative vision, not every director sets out to make a game that is inherently tethered to multi-player such as Modern Warfare 3, and to push for such homogenisation is perilous and downright frightening for someone with a distinct goal or imagination for their project.

It all comes down to respect and perspective of how we view our passion. No other form of entertainment has successfully blurred the lines of interactivity, which can be taken in many passive or direct forms across numerous genres. I understand games are made to be sold, but not every game needs to have layered multi-player exploitation plans in mind, and itís disheartening to believe that this is what it has come to, and this is known simply from early as the concept phase of a production, or atleast I hope it is now.

Thankfully we do not live in a world where every studio is looking to make a new Modern Warfare, Gears of War or Battlefield, atleast not yet. In the interview on Gamasutra Cliff was annoyed that Vanquish did not have a multi-player mode, but should a game like Vanquish need one to be successful? Outside of very base and rudimentary mechanics of a cover based third person shooter, there are few to no games on the market in that genre that play like Vanquish, in any form. The free flowing, challenging in depth mechanics bred into Mikamis game has not been duplicated in its pattern, and therein lays the true value of a so called "silly narrative title" as Vanquish. Which is a hardcore, score attack game that pushes the creativity and expanding elegant, reletentless aggressiveness of the player in strategic bursts to succeed. Those six to eight hours of that game offer immense value. From its intrinsic and molded gameplay. Of course, when looked at in its proper light, and itís sad gamers and some members of the enthusiast press have lost sight of this. Especially the enthusiast press who need to breed confidence among the sometimes rabid gamer climate. I am not telling anyone to over rate or under rate a franchise, I am simply saying that value must be seen in the art. I know that is the "no-no" word in the community.



Based on Vanquish's nature, I suppose a multi-player mode comparable to Max Payne could be added, but what happens to games like Fez? To Journey? Games like Heavy Rain, Dues Ex: Human Revolution, Darksiders? Castlevania? Amnesia? Do they die or wallow to the wayside because they won't or don't offer extensive longevity? No, they should not, they must not. Even more backwards some games with the mode are relased as efforts such as Binary Domain, Dead Space 2 and still struggle immensely in the market. Multi-player is not the one shot pill to save us all. The industry is suffering from a form of stagnation, publishers bullying creative leads, ridiculous budgets and me too, tacked on modes that only serve as mere distractions before the so called heavy financial hitters arrive and sweep the Xbox Live and PSN charts? Why drive them out, or look down on inspired titles when the situation is becoming increasingly desperate to see new gameplay traits emerging each quarter much less each year?



If you are playing games simply to waste time, or to see how long you can possibly strecth the game clock. I suggest you find a new "time wasting" hobby, so that you can stop being disingenuous to yourself and the medium. I have spent 127 hours on Fallout New Vegas and enjoyed them immensely before I suffered a Fallout burnout, but that doesn't for a second devalue the experience I had with the vastly shorter Uncharted 2. We enjoy our passion because of the gameplay variances they bring, sometimes for their raw emotional experiences, others simply for the heart rousing spectacle. I am of the firm belief that every game, no matter how good or bad, offers something explicitly authentic within its design. From the creme de la creme of the industry to clunkers like I am Alive, I was highly appreciative of the vertical nature of the unfinished Sky Scraper level and the High Rise level, despite most of the hideousness that masked the entire package, but I digress. I will never forget the ending sequences of short titles such as Journey or Closure, in that same regard I will never forget games like Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 3 for their strong gameplay mehanics within its structure tied to their out there stories, or my favourite RPGs with less than solid overall mechanics, but offered at the time fresh ground for the medium in combat and story lines such as Xenogears and Vagrant Story.

With that said, I finish my rant and leave you kind people this.

"But what minutes! Count them by sensation, and not by calendars, and each moment is a day" - Benjamin Disraeli.







NeonBlade
7:58 AM on 04.18.2012

Somewhere inbetween lies the correct summary of That Game Company's latest creation, Journey. When a title such as this comes along in this recent doldrums of game design, where risk can mean the end of a studio, new intellectual properties or franchises are dashed callously aside for the safe option, it is difficult to offer a catch phrase, or general description to interest the player base for this title, especially considering it is not easily explainable in words. So I suppose we are fortunate that developers have avenues such as PSN or XBLA were varying attempts can be made to expand the medium. Let us take a Journey, shall we?

Graphics and Presentation.

Artistic to its core. Simple, clean, vibrant are the words one can begin to use to describe Journey. Sun bleached and the shimmering gold sands will astonish. The use of different lighting effects, and color palettes in what is essentially, just initially sandy environments will leave the player awe struck and stunned at the sheer simplistic beauty and magnitude. From the sky to sandy crevices. The graphics and presentation serve a purpose here to wildly vary the players emotion, from sometimes curiosity to pensive tension in dark and mysterious areas. In addition it seems each area was carefully and painstakingly realised to blend into the overarching past accounts of this strange world. Littered mass graves, abandoned structures, they all are expertly meshed with the correct visuals and the correct layout in progression to the narrative of your own and the environments, not only to offer a visual stimulus, but to show record that something once was, but has long died. That Game Company were always rising masters of visual media, and they should be heavily commended for their approach to the aesthetics of Journey as they clearly understand how strong imagery can supplant emotions and understanding in the structure of a title. From depiction of your avatar and the wind gently blowing its gender-less cloak and its amazing scarf. To the Cloth-Rays, Cloth Whales and other delightful creatures that populate the land. They all are intentional to invest the player emotionally and invite them to be absorbed in this splendid world. A feast for the eyes has been created, and you are free to take your fill. Some of the chapters simply must be seen to be appreciated.



Gameplay.

This is where extreme contention will lie with Journey. As with all other titles made by The Game Company simplicity of the mechanics has always been a stronghold. Once given control of the scion, who is inextricably beckoned or on the other hand, simply left with no other option to investigate a bright light behind the peaks. There are two buttons in Journey in complement to direction. The float button and the chirp. Float or Jump does as much as you would expect, but the Scion can only activate a jump when his scarf has been replenished with the symbols. As tied into the visuals, you will have a clear indicator of when your jump has been depleted, when it is in the process of being depleted while floating through the air. In that essence, it is in the players interest to look for ways to extend their scarf, done so by the strange runes that populate each chapter. Once again tying into the visuals, to give the player an impetus to explore areas and take in the sights. Along with the float there is the Chirp/shout action. Which when burst can activate ribbons throughout the stages that will enable the objectives to progress. In addition the chirp is the only viable way to interact with fellow travelers you will meet along the way. Which at times can be endearing, or sometimes frustrating especially if you are trying to lead someone to a rune, that is to say, we assume they haven't already found it. I know this may sound like blasphemy, but I wish there were simple button taps that would signify a yes, no, or I have found this already.

Chirping also replenishes your fellow travelers scarf when nearby to allow each other to fly in tandem or simply negate the need to look for stray torn ribbons, or other animals. When grounded, huddling together with a companion, the scarves refill by themselves. I suppose in this regard is where Journey shows its genius with the intended social engineering means. Some players will simply be about progression, others will try to lead you to hidden areas assuming you haven't found them already, others are just content to follow your lead. So every play through of your Journey will never be the same according to companion. However the game is very short and extremely linear, that is what will stay the same with each play through. I attempt not to call Journey a shallow game in regards to mechanics, but I struggle to find a better word. There are no obscenely difficult platforming elements. There are no player interactive puzzles to solve, they are no expounded elements or game play mechanics. Journey simply is content to be. The experience is the driving force here. While that can be commended to an extent, because I have always defended experience based titles to coincide with strong game play titles that are released, as I believe gamers need both ends of the spectrum in the industry if creativity is to thrive. Journey is almost base in its means. Which to me is infuriating, as so much more could have been done here to tie into the mechanics to offer magical game play scenarios, that aren't a part of the story or artwork. In addition to runes, there are hieroglyphs hidden away in each chapter that tell the apologue of the people, that coincides with the knowledge that is passed down to you by a humongous, what I am led to believe is a spirit elder when you finish an area. Also a few hidden bits for the player to track down if they so wish it.

Sound.

An accompaniment to the brilliant visuals. The music in Journey can at times be touching, wondrous, and at other times spread dread and uncertainty in an instant. From the howling winds, violins compositions in the background. The sound of your avatar gliding along the sands, the whale and dolphin like sonances of the creatures all tie in to create a sumptuous experience, as you and your companion chirp away in a lost land.



Closing Comments.

At its lows. Journeys overtly base and simplistic nature to me, is a missed opportunity. Combined with its relatively short playtime, its is compounded. At its highs, Journey is a rousing, emotional jaunt. That clouded this graying, old cynical gamers eyes with its powerful climax. It is an experience that should and must be had by all, and shows once again that our medium can be art. It can be used to weave fables without uttering words, it can be used to drive and stir feelings successfully and adeptly. Your knowledge in Journey won't be complete on your first play through, what once was cryptic images passed down or discovered you will become illuminated, and washed in understanding. Structures, fossils and things in the environment will make you go. "Ah-ha, so that is what they were". In its essence Journey is human, heart felt, connecting, and deep on one end of the scale. I am privileged to have visited and enamored titles like this can exist in this generation, even if the message is one we as a people already know. It shows that when directed well they can be captivating.

Score.
7.5/10.








Welcome to Closure. An original, innovative and brilliantly designed puzzle game from Eyebrow Interactive where the darkness serves as your perverse yet ever looming and stifling enemy, and faint light sources in the corners of each opaque prison signal and are needed for not only mere hope, but their slight luminescence serves as vital tools to progress throughout the numerous areas.



Graphics and Presentation.

Immediately what will catch ones eye is the monochromatic style of Closure, seen in games such as the platforming masterclass Limbo, however the darkness here serves a purpose more insidious than that a simple evocative and emotional feeling of the latter title, in similar yet vastly contrasting way. Yes. The palette of Closure is wholly oppressive, mysterious, and serves the atmosphere it was going for in two fold combination of aesthetics and blended gameplay. Yet the varying art, stage design themes and background images of each respective location is varied, creative, surprisingly so. From the feel of the cold factory/mine, to the rain soaked outdoors, and even the snowy solitude. Each area is painstakingly realized. The darkness completely obscures not only platforming essential steps, but eerie, bizarre and sometimes startling artwork is hidden within the blackness that wonít be readily available to be seen, only once a light source as has been gleamed towards it. I can imagine, some players may miss the background imagery entirely as they attempt to focus on the task at hand. What you have here is slick mesh of art, creativity and functionality, never before tackled in this way. As you would expect the menus in Closure are easy to navigate, simple without much fan fare. Not much else can be expounded.

Gameplay.

The light is the truth, what you can see will be and the darkness is the foul liar. If the stark visuals begged for curiosity, this is where Closure shows another set of brilliance. From the beginning tutorial, we are introduced to a four legged entity, which you will guide through the initial trial. This tutorial will highlight the very basic mechanics of Closure. Such as carrying your light source, jumping, how the water mechanics react towards your light source and activated switches that you need to scurry and scuttle along lit pathways to use as elevators. This is the pure necessity that at first betrays the title, but is fundamentally needed if you are to understand the laws and nature, donít think for a second that the tutorial has shown you everything, as I said these are the foundations of which you will need. As you progress further the game does a great job of pacing the puzzles. From showing you how lamps work, to spacing gaps in the darkness. There are no deaths in Closure, each time you have fallen into a bottomless cavern, lost a key you can press reset or youíre restarted automatically, allowing they player to experiment and learn from previous errors. There are only two buttons in Closure. Jump and interact such as pick up, drop or hold, the rooms are creative and while I donít consider myself to be a puzzle game aficionado some rooms, in my opinion were simple, however there were a few that were simply diabolical that require great thought, an inventive mind and patience. You are sure to never see light used in some of these ways. Each area will add a new mechanic on top of the next that builds the pyramid that you will need to add to your mental toolset. From boxes and barrels that need lights sources, glowing orbs strung to vines, ďiceĒ based walls and targets which needs to be hit Closure stays constantly refreshing, engaging and thoroughly addictive. No puzzles feel reused as in other puzzle games, the challenge here was to keep each stage unique not only from an artistic point of view and it shows and I greatly appreciate that, especially in the puzzle genre where rooms or often reused. This was not the case here. The standard and bar has clearly been raised. Each character of the Factory worker, Woman and Little girl contain twenty-four stages each, with the creature gaining an additional ten. However the challenge doesnít stop there, in certain rooms there are moths cleverly hidden, thirty in all. If you locate the Moth cave, finished areas will highlight where a moth is present, only after you have finished the level. This can be mitigated by listening to their tell tale jingling sound, so pay attention as you enter each new room. You will need to figure out how not only to obtain these Moths, but how to escape the area with them, because one fall into the abyss, one key dropped, or if the players is crushed you must redo the level as well as obtaining the Moth again. I wonít spoil what occurs when you achieve this, but all I will say it is beautiful.



Sound.

Somber and sometimes bombastic the music in Closure adds to the overall feeling of the game well. Each area/character has its own specific theme to accompany the areas they attempt to traverse. Special mention to the warbling distortion the music undertakes anytime the player is submerged. Some pieces are quiet and faint, lulling you; others are more to the forefront and blaring all used in an effective manner. The environment here when it is used will have thunder storms, rain drops and other sounds used in specific instances that heighten the effect dramatically.

Closing Comments.

Closure is an excellent puzzle title that never rushes or abscond the player. There are no pointís totals, yet it is punishing and highly rewarding. Lastly Closure manages to tell a tale here, without a single cutscene or a word. Iím sure at the end of the title; depending on if the player finishes the game completely there will be many questions that you will be asking yourself or searching for answers for. Simple yet open for endless debate what was the creature, what was his purpose? Other narrative points, I simply cannot go into any deeper detail without spoiling the review. Those questions, analysis and introspection I will leave to player. Those who seek out this magnificent title, even if you arenít a fan of the puzzle genre, you will be challenged by the gameplay and left touched by the events.

Score
8.0/10








Castlevania, is one of the most beloved and long standing franchises in the industry. We have thrown axes at bats, jumped from platform to platform, and indulged in the series iconic eight and sixteen bit soundtracks. As the classic console era died. The series was reinvented by then a brilliant mind Toru Hagihara, giving us a blend of Metroid and Castlevania with Symphony of the Night. One of the greatest games to have ever been made, but as with every blessing, pardon the pun, there must be a curse. Curses are what Castlevania seems to have, even in the real world, and at that time Koji Igarashi, picked up the baton of the franchise. I call this period. The Dark period. We have been subjugated to clone after clone of the formula, series retcons. Iga even writing out one of his stronger efforts Circle of the Moon, and the general madness of this mans mind. In this time, Castlevania had degraded from cult wonder, to handheld shovel ware, stocked away on the dark recesses of Nintendos handhelds. When the series did venture outwards from their handheld stockade, the entires ranged from abysmal; Castlevania 64, Curse of Darkness on the Playstation 2. To the mediocre but serviceable Lament of Innocence. We were firmly in Igas prison. Devoid of creativity, the series looked to have been staked, in the heart. No one even knew what Castlevania anymore at this point was. Was it about a White cropped haired fluff boy inheriting powers? Was it about a man controlling Innocent Devils? I'm not saying all of Igas game were mockery's, Circle of the Moon and Order of Eccelsia were fantastic entires, but TWO good games from an almost ten year span is troubling, but it was clearly time for someone to get rid of this man, Castlevania Judgement being the final straw in his legacy of compounded ignorance.

Konami heard the cries, maybe inwardly, as the franchise was languishing. When we heard that Castlevania would be outsourced, to unknown developer Mercury steam, and it would be 3D, initial thoughts weren't positive, we had so many unhealed scars from Igas 3D ventures, fans were tentative. Has Kojima and Mercury steam finally laid to rest the issues that plagued the series jaunt into 3D? Kindly read my detailed review as we venture towards the gothic night.





Graphics and Presentation.

From the title screen alone, we are presented with an intricate detailed locked diary, which will serves as the log or journal for our hero, Garbiel Belmont. This alone should hint to the artistry, craft and extreme lengths Mercury Steam has gone through in presenting Lords of Shadow as a work of art, attempting to bring the world they are about to lay before the player to life with exquisite vision. This alone from the borders of a simple log. Prepare then to feast your eyes upon the new land Gabriel will have to traverse. Sprawling vistas, crumbled monuments, forests and much more. This particular Castlevania is positively stunning. The lighting in the environments are immaculate, the views breathtaking and jaw dropping. Each area surpassing or rivaling the next in sheer splendor. I'm sure everyone who sees through Gabriels trek will have their favourite environments. My brother loved the Bogs, the Bone Forest, Three Towers. Mine being The Waterfalls of Agharta, The Hedge Maze, Crow Witchs level and the Vampire Castle, outside so hauntingly beautiful with its snow, and the inside, depressing gothic, chaotic. Each area is blessed with hues, and colour pallets that attack the sensory perception. Totally magnificent and gorgeous, Mercury Steam have done everything in their power, to create a strong atmosphere with varying each environ.

Gone are the days of the bland walls as in Lament of Innocence, draw distance "fog", gone are the cubed rooms of previous entires. This world, actually feels alive, or should I say was alive, and ravaged. The old making way for the new world. It actually feels like a world now. As opposed to what have had to suffer before.

Mercury Steam has opted to wrestle control of the camera away from the user. Areas are separated with fixed or static cameras to an extent. Much as you would see in the God of War titles, or the Devil May Cry series, with every design choice, there are positives, and weaknesses. The camera allows them to express the beauty, hide secret items in the world, and as usual with any title, this form of camera can sometimes hinder combat. From my experience, the camera was never a major factor, with the exception of few occassions when enemies would go off screen and be difficult to attack or read their incoming attack. This would account for 5% of the trouble I personally encountered, all the times seemed to have me fighting Sword Masters. So mostly the camera does a good job while you battle.

One of the most spoken about topics seems to be the titles framerate. While the engine used allows for extravagant graphics and lighting, the flip side of the coin is the frame rate dips, from decent to bad. For those who do notice the shift, it can be irritating, but for those who are less sensitive this issue is a nonfactor. As the frame rate will never hinder combat.

Gameplay.

At the beginning of the title. We are introduced to Gabriel and we are given a brief tutorial to face down an incoming Lycanthrope raid on a fear struck village. Gabriel has two main attacks, direct attacks which act as horizontal lashes and the other area attacks, where Garbriel will swing his "whip" or aptly dubbed the "combat cross" around in arching circles to tear the flesh off of enemies who attempt to surround him. He has access to secondary weapons which the player can use, the first being simple knives. As you would expect there is a jump, dodge mechanic, grabs, blocking, quick recover and air stomp only available to our hero. In this meager state his combat options are minimal.

There are QTEs in the game for varying enemies. None as in God of War however. They mostly serve as one button presses, during the right time as the circle flashes, any button can be pressed, to finish enemies, preventing you from falling off a certain Mount, opening mechanisms. To the usual mash one button as fast as you can to get desired result. They don't become annoying.

As you rip gashes into your foes, you are rewarded with experience points to upgrade our warrior and get him into tip top monster slaying form. Upragdes are purchased from the travel log, once again, animated for our convenience. To how our new desired move will look before we purchase it. This type of mechanic is similar to what you would see in DMC or God of war, experience just being swapped out for souls or orbs.

Enemies range from small such as Gobilns and Trolls, to medium and to large, and in occassions gigantic. An array of enemies and bosses await you. Some very easy, others very troublesome.

Initially I had heard that the combat itself would be similar to God of War, when infact, that is the furthest thing from the truth. In LoS combat is a bit more cerebral than in God of War. Gabriel has no bread and butter launcher combo like Kratos, taking to the air initially in the beginning to middle of the game; will not make Gabriel safe as it does with Kratos, allowing you to spam air throws. Enemies in LoS will routinely knock you out of the air, stronger enemies will do it with alarming regularity, so have to pick the opportune moment to juggle in the beginning stages. LoS is far more restricted not in the fact that moves are limited, but in the ways you can exploit the engine. More thought is needed here. Wild slashing will get you nowhere. Especially on the more difficult enemies.

Enemies seem very good at blocking, dodging your attacks, so mixing it up is paramount. It is also important not to become too greedy with your attacks, as enemies employ painful dodge and smack routines. Other enemies have varying attacks, although tougher enemies will seem to have unblockable moves where you must dodge, ground splashes were you must jump, and a normal attack. Much more than opposed to a typical grunt in God of War.

Extreme importance must be paid to Gabriels counter attack, two of which you can use. Direct and Area, but the initial block is the most important. As you time your block just as an enemy attacks you.

As you progress through the game, and unlock more combos, functions for your secondary weapons, and moves. Gabriel will also attain Light Magic and Dark Magic. Light Magic gained none too soon. Gabriel cannot carry healing items, and fountains serve as the only alternate way to replenish depleted energy. When light magic is activated, every swipe of the cross that connects with an enemy that hasn't been blocked by them and will restore partially some of your life bar with each lash. Light Magic however is not infinite, and if an enemy is killed with any form of magic with the whip, they do not release neutral orbs for you to replenish the magic you consume. Dark Magic acts as a buffer to increase damage to your foes.

Here is where the tactics of the battle begin, especially on the last two difficulties, where enemies can be brutal to your health. You can attack, but if you want to heal you can activate your light magic, heal quickly, deactivate. Did you score a perfect block and have a counter attack oppurtunity? Mash the Dark Magic during the block to bust out massive damage in the counter. To further elaborate on your thinking, and not to get reckless and sloppy. Gabriel attains focus during combat. Each successful hit with magic deactivated produces neutral orbs on a full focus bar for you to absorb. So that you can replenish either bar, activating magic during a focus depletes the gauge slightly. So its good to activate magic; while it dips a bit, score your healing or damage, then deactivate. Time some more slashes and blocks that will refill your bar. Brilliant. Its a risk reward system, so the better you perform in combat you gain a bounty of neutral orbs.

Dark and Light Magic combos become available, and they can also be applied to your secondary weapons, which allow different properties for each.

How important it is to effectively learn to counter attack? Very. Not only does it raise your Focus meter a ton, allows you to hurt bigger enemies. Light magic can even be applied to blind surrounding foes for a time. For those with slower reactions it can be frustrating. For those that can judge a hit and take time to study your enemies patterns to know when the counter block is feasible will be rewarded. Its not as lenient as God of Wars, were Kratos had time upon time to lazily counter, nor are you invulnerable during a counter, so even sometimes if you are surrounded its best to just get the foucs and dodge out, do an area attack, do a direct counter, or just keep blocking. Whereas a counter attack with Kratos makes you invulnerable to everyone as long as you activate the splash on the floor. So its not as lazy as God of Wars, nor is it as close to the wire as Dantes "Just Guard'. Its somewhere in the middle, but not as loose as Wars counter in the fantastic Zelda-esque Darksiders. I suggest raising the sound effects, because only then can you hear positive confirms for a counter, from enemies such as the Dolls, the default setting is too low, and you can barely hear the unblockable charge up moves to dodge, so adjust the volume accordingly.

Streaming back to artistry. Your intricately drawn and bordered travel log also keeps track of enemies encountered. Giving you small descriptions or tale of each, for e.g the fantastic writing of the Naiads. In addition it shows you which secondary weapon with or without magic is most devastating to them. One would take care to remember this, and check it, to help deal with enemies quickly, especially stronger ones. Also in the travel log you can read the scrolls of your fellow fallen brotherhood, which adds a nice touch to the encompassing level, some are tips about puzzles, while others are personal thoughts, before their lives were taken; but also begs the question how on earth did some of them get there? Guess they were bad-ass too, but not bad-ass enough.

The gameplay stretches further outside of combat. Our brave Belmont, has a fair sheer of platforming to do, and with some traversal to break up the clobbering, it functions as you would expect. It does not claim to be Mario Galaxy, or claim to be Unchartered 2 in that territory, but its satisfying none the less. Even more surprising is the platforming and traversal is not as automatic as Enslaved, a poor game built on platforming. Castlevania actually outshines that title, in base implementation mechanics wise. Gabriel will gain relics, and upgrade his Combat cross with accessories, that will also aid in truly exploring of the landscape further.

Some of these will come into play. As many hidden gems, such as Life, Dark, Light and secondary weapon upgrades can be seen, but will require this upgrade or relic to return to acquire them. As you would expect with any Action Adventure game worth anything, puzzles are liberally littered in certain areas, allowing you to solve them before you progress. Some of them can be easy, some can be vague. It depends on your gaming expertise. I found some to be easy, and some to be hard, and for others, vice versa will apply.

After every level has been conquered. You can return to try again to gain hidden items, or even attempt some of the various trials the developers have laid out to test gamers. My only disappointment is, they should have employed a Golden Eye N64 system, with each difficulty level new trials would be there, so that if you are pathetic and begin on the easiest level there is only one trial, the normal difficulty yields two trials, all the way to the last difficulty which would yield 4 trials to complete. Just to set objectives for players to better themselves and experiment after they beat a fantastic level.

Sound.

For me, I could envision this would have been one of the most difficult and heated talking points in the studio. Should they go along with tried and true staples of the franchise? Or do they create to what I refer to as "orchestrated mood music". I personally believe, and I think I may be lynched for my view, by my fellow Castlevania acolytes, they made the correct choice. Thinking about it, "stage themed" music would not have gone along well with this title. Where it benefits the older titles such as Super Castlevania 4 with top class music, looped themes might have brought down the atmosphere or even some of the battles in this particular game. For e.g magnificent games like Vanquish benefit from "stage themes", the structure of LoS best suited this type of "OMM". Truthfully some of the tracks are haunting, serene and beautiful, while others are eerie and ghastly. I must commend the composer, Oscar Araujo, for these tracks, he had a monumental task, and a rough one, this could not have been an easy decision, but in retrospect it was for the best. Although for old Vania heads such as me, there is still a theme there for us, if ever so small.

The voice acting in the game is superb and impeccable. Of note we cannot say enough about Patrick Stewart, who oozes professionalism and brings definitive class to the voice overs. He reads each stage entry with dramatic flair and highlights to us our heroes inner thinking, one which I wish Mercury Steam had shown us, as Gabriel never emotes these feelings to us during play. A missed opportunity I feel. Laura was also wonderfully voiced, and although her part was brief Sally Knyvette did an amazing job with the little she was given. She nailed it, how expertly did she deliver the line " You have been betrayed, there is no resurrection, only this living death you see before you"!. Full marks. Robert Carlyle did a good job on Gabe, and other characters such as Pan, Baba Jaga all expertly voiced. Only Claudia I feel was the weakest of the lot, but still this was very good work, and I'd like to congratulate everyone.

Closing Comments.

So. Has Kojima Production, and Mercury Steam done this franchise justice? Did this title earn the Castlevania moniker? Indefatigably! Is it perfect? No. A few levels showed bad design, by hiding progression with blind corners, the frame rate is inconsistent, and borrows elements from a few titles, a few latter levels do drag; but the game never feels lacking in ambition or derivative.

Is it the best 3D Castlevania ever released? You better believe it. A stocky quest, an interesting story with a heart shattering ending, tons of depth, artwork to purchase, and there is even a Vampire Wargame for two players ( lets see if they can patch in network play for that baby, too much to hope for ), and more.

Mercury Steams latest attempt aims to run with the big boys. Is it better than DMC4, Enslaved and Dantes Infeno? Without a doubt. Better than God of War 3? Yes and No. God of War 3, its beginning was at its most epic and cannot be matched, but the last quarter was one of the most disappointing aspects. So that is left to debate further my friends. I'd also like to see classic themes revisited in a sequel if allowed but I know they would need extensive reworking with an orchestra to fit into the tone.

However I cannot wait to see where they go next and how they expand everything, and learning from the mistakes in this title. The sun is rising, and Castlevania definitely has a bright future ahead of it.


Score
8.5/10
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Once again for better or worse. The mass gaming community has gotten it, whatever it may be, absolutely wrong. What is it you speak about Neon? Well friends I speak about GTA4: Episodes from Liberty City. Specifically this piece of the one of the superior episodes.

First off let me say, I was no fan of the original GTA4: Vanilla, I found the game to be an affront to humanity, an absolute abomination, that failed in every way possible. From the poor and clunky dated game mechanics, to its storyline which still offends me, to this very day when I think about it, and the most unlikeable drone, one Niko Belic. How the game managed to score so many nines and flawless tens, when titles that exist today are punished for said flaws is mind boggling. It still shows the gaming journalism has miles to go after the GTA4 debacle. Quite simply put, the game was not good, but that is an issue I will leave for another day.

As a Ps3 owner, when the Episodes from Liberty City were announced exclusively for the Xbox 360, I felt no qualms about the matter, I was actually pleased that the prehistoric filth game design that was GTA4 would never blemish another mans soul, atleast primarily Ps3 only owners. Needless to say Rockstar announced the games after Microsofts shameless money hatting time exclusivity was deemed over. I was in dread. Rockstar were going to rob Ps3 owners blind, again, with a shoddy game as they robbed our 360 brethren and laughed all the way to the bank with our money.

Months went by without me purchasing, and on the behest of one of my friends. He pleaded with me to give the episodes a shot. He convinced me that the Ballad of Gay Tony was a superior offering to the original GTA4. I of course protested. Vehemently. Finally his constant pleading weighed heavy on my soul, and I reluctantly, payed my thirty dollars. Convinced I would be bamboozled again, struggling to finish either game, and actually hating myself for being tricked.....again. I finished the Ballad of Gay Tony, it was fun, off the wall, cooler and bouncier than Vanilla, but it somehow never set my world on fire, considering some of the more frustrating mission elements.

Then I discovered The Lost and the Damned. Deemed by the community to be the weaker of the two episodes. Oh how wrong they were. To me, in short. The Lost and the Damned, is probably the best GTA title I have ever played, since the slick Vice City. It is simply a fantastic narrative.

The Lost and The Damned, for me was a gritty walk through a violent sub-culture of 1% motor cycle clubs. It never compromises. Utterly bleak, needlessly violent men bound together by their brother hood. In an uncompromising romp through an under belly that never strays. This is not a coming of age tale, this certainly is not a rags to riches story. Definitely not the pristine lavishness that is Gay Tony. This is a view into a blackened world of one Johnny Klebitz. In the end of the tale, there is no turn for the better, no wealth, just the story of men caught up in their chosen lifestyle.



Comparatively. Johnny an American, his living conditions alone, of the two places he choses to lay his head. Roman Belic, an immigrants apartment seems like a five star suite to Johnnys abode. This is a hard man. A hard man that still has a code. That went through all the tests of his brother hood, even his leader using his loyalty.



I must commend Rockstar on this character and the world they established for him. From the very beginning, it is clear that Johnny belongs to something, he and his friends believe in something, something that may be fading due to the changes of the world, but they still hold steadfast in their principles. Even as their jailed leader returns.

I found it important to the overall experience, as to other GTAs where you started, not knowing much people, but we meet Johnny at a point in his life that these elements are already set, and it adds to it. You have Clay your road captain that brings you varying choppers, Terry a complete red neck that I could see shut off from the world in the woods if not for the Lost, with an unholy arsenal of weaponry not meant for one man to carry, and of course Jim.

Not to mention throughout the tale, you can form stronger bonds with these men through Gang Wars, and the outings introduced in the GTA series. It never feels unnatural to ride with them, as you and them hold formation and go on a drinking binge, as opposed to Roman nagging you on the phone to go see some big American titties. You can tell this a close knit group of friends. It helps the illusion of you and your crew being total bad-asses.




Even further down in the game, you are allowed to call them for backup. Which I found to add even more depth and layer to some of the missions. I didn't call them all the time, for e.g I didn't ask for assistance on the Museum mission, and survived just fine, but I did call them for backup when Bocino sent his goons after to me, it totally changed the structure of the mission of me fending them off myself, to my boys inviting me to climb the ladder and lay hot lead into my enemies for even trying to mess with me.

To me, in the Lost and the Damned, it was a far better mechanic than in the other GTAs that allowed backup to be called, because they guys were your brothers.

Lest not even start on Johnnys so called love interest, Ashley. A woman so dusted out of her mind and a slave to the ice, its unlikely she will ever recover. Infact reading emails after the completion of the game, it only shows she never will. Phone calls with Angus and Stubbs after the main game is complete sheds light on the already dark world Johnny inhabits.

There is not much left for this man at the end of the title. After losing mostly everything.



I do believe that Rockstar missed an important opportunity to expunge upon the fate of Jim. Yes, we know what happens to him, even making us hate Niko even more, but personally it should have been visualised in a cut scene. Even if it would not have been accurate, it would have helped to detail this loss even more.

The Lost and the Damned for me, was almost perfect. The length of the game was is often criticised for me was just right, as it did not allow the main story missions to become overly repetitive, a pitfall for most of the sprawling Grand Thefts I have painfully endured. Infact my final clock time was well over fifty-hours, including finding those darned seagulls ( Rockstar needs to create a better motivator to explore citys ), bike thefts, races and gang wars. If the game had dragged on, it probably would have only detracted from it overall.

The Lost and the Damned was a grim experience, one the players only got to gloss over with a magnifying glass, and I don't know if Rockstar would ever allow us to return, but in the general scale of things. TLatD was a dreary affair, almost authentic and thoroughly uncompromising. Showing that in life, things change, but often for the worse, and Rockstar should be applauded for the narrative in this title.It is probably one of their best scripts along with Red Dead, and I am blown away by how the community sold this marvelous romp into the seedy grits of life short. Considering, neither Gay Tony, which had more content yes or Vanilla ever reached this games heights. Simply.


The Lost.