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Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is more than just a remaster

Feb 05 // Alessandro Fillari
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (PC, PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: From SoftwarePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesRelease date: April 7, 2015MSRP: $59.99 "It's about the rediscovery of the Dark Souls II experience, from the director's perspective," said Yoshimura during his presentation on Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. "That was something that the team at From Software in Japan really wanted players to experience." The developers and publisher Bandai Namco have kept many details close to the vest, in part due to the studio working on another Souls-esque experience with Bloodborne, and wanting to keep fans in suspense. It's easy to think of this as nothing more than a remastered game-of-the-year edition, which is totally fair, but From Software wanted to set the record straight. In the cursed kingdom of Drangelic, you play as an afflicted traveler looking to find a cure to end their suffering. With the kingdom filled with monsters and other nefarious foes, you'll discover that the curse, and those crazy enough to remain in the defiled lands, are all linked in the fate of Drangelic. Granted, you know this if you played the original Dark Souls II. You might even be comfortable with what lurks in the cursed lands. But what if I were to tell you that things are a bit different with the coming of Scholar of the First Sin? With this release, From Software wanted to spice things up by adding characters as well as overhauling and retweaking gameplay. "If you played Dark Souls II on Xbox 360 or PS3 all the way through, then you would think of this game, Scholar of the First Sin, as roughly the same game with all of the DLCs," said marketing director Brian Hong. "But what we're really trying to get across with players is that with [current-generation systems], we have a completely different experience for Dark Souls II." A common criticism of the original release last year was that it was much easier than its predecessor. While there is an argument for that case, even though it was still an immensely challenging game, the folks at From Software want to address those concerns head-on. Scholar of the First Sin is to Dark Souls II what Master Quest is to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's not only for newcomers looking to see what the Souls experience is all about, it's also for those who may think they've mastered Dark Souls II. In my brief time with the game, it was apparent the game wanted me to feel very uncomfortable with what lied behind the corner even though I've already cleared the previous title. But of course, the feeling of discomfort is a normal part of the series' experience. One of Scholar of the First Sin's most apparent changes is that enemy and monster placements have been reworked. Foes you encountered at certain points in DSII will appear much earlier, and in greater numbers. During my session in the Forest of Fallen Giants, Ogres were wandering throughout, and Hollow Infantry are in larger groups. Surprisingly, the Heide Knights were nowhere to be seen, as they've been moved to other locations. With the increased number of foes, and different placement of them, I found myself having to effectively relearn aspects of areas I was quite familiar with. What's even more surprising was that the A.I. was not only improved, but the enemies of Dark Souls II had also lost their fear of Bonfire spots. They will have no qualms about chasing players down to their safe havens. To put it simply, you're more vulnerable in Scholar of the First Sin than in the original, which means you'll be using your hoards of lifegems far more often. As any fan of the Souls series will tell, mastering your environment and knowing the limits of your enemies is everything. So it was especially interesting to see that Scholar of the First Sin pulls the rug from under the players. From Software has especially had fun in placing monsters in areas that were not present in the original game. For instance, elevators that lead to bosses or shortcuts now house enemies that lay in wait for the player. With the technology that the current-gen has brought, the developers were very keen on getting the title out on the new hardware. With the increased horsepower, From Software was able to bring a visual boost to the Souls experience. In addition to the title running at 60 frames per second and at 1080p, the texture quality and lighting are improved to give the atmosphere an extra kick. Moreover, online multiplayer has also seen a boost with a maximum of six players during engagements. Much like another upcoming remaster, the developers were also inspired by much of what PC modders were able to accomplish, and wanted to offer the same level of content boosts (like textures and lighting) to the console releases. "Thanks to those players online, we were surprised by what they came up with," said Yoshimura. "Just one week after the release of [Dark Souls II], we saw all these mods being released, and the team at From Software were surprised and like 'This mod is awesome!'" Surprisingly, the producer was candid about the state of parity between each version. As there was some controversy over the differences in the original game to the one that was ultimately released, Bandai Namco was very adamant about what's in Scholar of the First Sin. "All [current-gen] versions will run at 1080p and 60 frames per second, including the Xbox One. So it is not 900p blah-blah-blah, it's 1080p and 60 FPS for all three platforms. Though some people said that it is worse to play the game on PC without DirectX 11, and the answer is yes. I'm really confident about clarifying this, because the improved lighting and shadows, clothing effects, and etc. -- this is only available on DirectX 11 technology, and not on DirectX 9." If you have the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC (DX9) versions of Scholar of the First Sin, then you might find yourself surprised to see that nothing has been altered visually or tech-wise, though you'll definitely experience the gameplay enhancements and new content. I dug what I played of the PlayStation 4 version. Though I was a little disappointed that no new areas were implemented, it's exciting to see that the developers sought to redefine what Dark Souls II was. The graphical boosts are very apparent -- quite stunning in person, even -- and the smooth 60 FPS combat is immediately noticeable. Though it's a bit disappointing that only those with new hardware will be able to experience it (without mods, of course). It's an interesting experience to re-learn Dark Souls II. Coming off of its predecessor, it seemed to have gotten flack for not quite living up to that standard while wanting to try something different. But with Scholar of the First Sin, which the folks at From Software consider the definitive edition, it feels like the game has gotten a much-needed invigoration -- especially with Bloodborne coming out the month before. It's not often you get to experience a game like this for the first time all over again, and that's something fans should love.
Dark Souls II photo
Prepare to die harder
I'll be the first to say it: it's going to be the year of Souls. With the release of Bloodborne only a month away, which looks to redefine the experience along with its wonderful change of setting, From Software has been...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: The Lost Lords

Feb 03 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: The Lost Lords (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: February 3, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] That is to say, one of my versions of House Forrester is doomed. For Iron From Ice and now The Lost Lords, I have run through with two separate save files. I do not recommend doing this for a couple of reasons. For one, playing through more than once lifts up the curtain on which choices actually make any sort of difference in the story and which ones lead to the same place regardless. Most choices do not have any immediate impact; only a select few shape the narrative into something unique to an individual player. This is standard Telltale modus operandi at this point, so it should not surprise most who have been following the developer for the past few years. For two, it shows how utterly inept I would be in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. For my initial playthrough, I live in the moment and make the decisions that feel right. Sometimes I mouth off, sometimes I am defiant, but often I keep cool and try to maintain allies. My second save is labeled "Jerks" and in it I play House Forrester as a group of inconsiderate, self-serving assholes. For my first save, I find myself sparing lives when I should kill, making promises I should never keep, and helping others before helping myself. For my second save, I do the opposite. By most measures, the Jerk Forresters are in much better shape than the True Forresters. [embed]286540:56983:0[/embed] Where Iron From Ice set the stage for the series, The Lost Lords begins to put everything into motion. The Stark-esque scattering of the members of House Forrester is deliberate, planned to coincide with major events from the novels. Mira continues to serve Lady Margaery in King's Landing just prior to King Joffrey's wedding. Gared has completed his journey to The Wall to begin training before Mance Rayder launches his assault. Newcomer Asher is traveling between Yunkai and Meereen just as Daenerys is campaigning to liberate the slaves in Essos. Of course, plenty of focus is given to Ironrath, the seat of House Forrester, in the aftermath of Episode One. In a way, it works against The Lost Lords to be set precisely when it is. The build-up will likely be worth it once everything is in place and it all starts to hit the fan, but in the moment it feels like a lot of waiting. Consequences for some of the major choices from the last episode show up here. If Mira asked Margaery for help last episode, then Margaery will be unwilling to provide any assistance now. Ethan's choice of Sentinel in Iron From Ice affects how the Whitehill soldiers are treated in The Lost Lords. The former consequence seems like a major one; an entire avenue of intrigue involving the Queen of Thorns may be locked away in the future. The latter does not appear as important; Lord Whitehill is ornery and spiteful regardless. Thus far, Mira had only been exposed to the diplomacy, secrecy, and espionage of King's Landing. In The Lost Lords, she gets her first taste of the more overt awfulness of Westeros. Her story is still the most subdued of the playable characters. Her audience with Queen Cersei in the first episode was chilling and tense, but there are no comparable scenes in this episode. Gared still holds the cryptic information given to him by Gregor in the beginning of Iron From Ice, and he hopes to become a ranger in the Night's Watch in order to investigate that further. It only comes up optionally, but it seems like he will be the center of that subplot in addition to being present during the huge battle at The Wall. Asher was teased in the first episode as the hothead exile brother, and his scenes show as the most action-oriented. He is apt to fight his way out of trouble, but he does have a sharp wit when he needs it. His story about returning to Westeros from Essos to help save his house has potential to be interesting, but it is only starting out. The oil paint aesthetic remains constant, with both its pleasing 2D backgrounds and distractingly fuzzy 3D objects. I did experience a few typical Telltale glitches, like teleporting character models, but nothing gamebreaking. Overall, The Lost Lords is a fine episode for Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series, but it does not stand out. It is not exactly filler, but it does feel like it exists almost entirely as exposition, putting the pieces into place for all of the really exciting stuff to happen in a future episode. It does begin to demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of each character's choices, but it lacks the truly memorable scenes found in the first episode. If Iron From Ice felt like a punch to the gut, The Lost Lords is the throbbing pain afterward. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Feeling the Ironrath
I would not last a day in Westeros. My best hope would be to spend some time in Oldtown to train as a maester, and even though it would help to protect me from personally going to war, I would probably be too close to the pol...

Life is Strange: Episode One Achievement guide

Jan 29 // Brett Makedonski
Chrysalis: Finish Episode 1: Chrysalis This is the only Achievement that's earned through story progression. Just finish the first episode. It shouldn't give you any trouble at all. Macro Eyes: Find optional photo #1 in Episode 1: Chrysalis After Max gets up from her desk in the classroom, "Rachel Amber <3 4 Ever" is scrawled into the desk in front of her. Just take a picture of it.   Wide Angles: Find optional photo #2 in Episode 1: Chrysalis After some plot developments take place, Max will be forced to go to Blackwell Academy's outside courtyard. Directly in front of her is a statue in the center of a fountain. Walk around so you can see its face and snap a photo. Telephotogenic: Find optional photo #3 in Episode 1: Chrysalis This is the first photo that takes a bit of trial and error. In the courtyard, there will be a group of skaters. Talk to Justin. After he calls you a "poser," rewind time and tell him that you came here to noseslide. When he asks what trick you want to see, select a tre flip. Trevor attempts it and, well, things don't go great. Take a picture of him in agony. Then, maybe rewind time because that looks like it hurt. Close-Ups: Find optional photo #4 in Episode 1: Chrysalis Outside of the dormitories, there will be some football players playing catch. Next to them is Kate sitting on a bench. Across from Kate is a tree that's hiding a cute little squirrel with a can. Grab a picture to snag the Achievement. Red Eye: Find optional photo #5 in Episode 1: Chrysalis In Max's dorm room, there's a mirror on the wall next to her door. Just take a selfie for this Achievement. Focused: Find optional photo #6 in Episode 1: Chrysalis When going through Victoria's room, notice the collage of photos next to the door. Select to mess them up, and Max arranges them into an...umm..."creative" design. Snap a photo of Victoria's new decor. Zoomed In: Find optional photo #7 in Episode 1: Chrysalis After leaving the dorms, one of the jocks will spike a football and hit Alyssa in the head. Rewind time and warn her to move out of the way. The football will bounce past her and break a window. Take a picture of the damage. Focal Pointed: Find optional photo #8 in Episode 1: Chrysalis There's a giant, filthy RV in the school's parking lot. Go up to it and write "Clean me" in the dirt on the window. Snap a picture of your harmless graffiti for an Achievement. Maximum Aperture: Find optional photo #9 in Episode 1: Chrysalis This is the most nuanced of episode one's Achievements (and even it isn't too bad). Inside Chloe's house, wander into her parents' room when you're on the hunt for tools. A bird will smack into a window and injure itself. Rewind time to open the window. If you did it right, the bird will fly into the room and land on top of the large wardrobe opposite the bed. Then, when you and Chloe are in the woods walking toward the lighthouse, that same bird will be perched on top of a rock. Take a picture and bask in the warm fuzzies knowing that you probably saved that little guy's life. Light Leak: Find optional photo #10 in Episode 1: Chrysalis Right next to the lighthouse, Chloe takes a seat on a bench overlooking the bay. Simply take a picture of her from behind. Visionary: Find all optional photos in Episode 1: Chyrsalis This unlocks as soon as you find the tenth optional photo. Two Achievements for the price of one!
Life is Strange guide photo
Point camera, earn Gamerscore
It's always great when a game's Achievements exploit the mechanic or feature that the title does best. That's what Life is Strange's set does -- at least for the first episode. Almost everything in episode one can be unlocked...

Review: Life is Strange: Chrysalis

Jan 29 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Chrysalis (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: January 30, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) Life is Strange's first episode, Chyrsalis, is aptly named and hints at Max's transformation that the audience can presumably expect to see over five installments. She's in a transitory state -- not still a youngling, not yet a full-fledged butterfly. Instead, she's wrapped up hoping to simply survive. A hard shell is necessary because most everyone in Max's hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon is ruthlessly hostile. Blackwell Academy, the private school she's enrolled at (and where the bulk of episode one takes place), is filled with the clique-iest of cliques, all of them an over-the-top depiction of mainstream stereotypes. The jocks are brainless bros filled with piss and vinegar. The popular girls are mean as can possibly be. The artistic kids speak in try-hard, exaggerated prose. In almost all circumstances, secondary characters eschew any semblance of subtlety or nuance. Because Max doesn't really fit into any of these archetypes, she's excluded by almost everybody. There's an early scene where she pops in her earbuds just to walk down the hall. It feels less like an opportunity to listen to music, and more like a necessary suit of armor to protect her from incoming immature insults. There's even an anti-bullying poster along the way that she responds to by thinking "This must stop bullies dead in their tracks." [embed]285097:56689:0[/embed] That poster's actually indicative of Life is Strange's strongest characteristic: exploration. Every setting is littered with objects to interact with, should anyone want yet another tiny glimpse into the brain of Max or the culture of Arcadia Bay. There's so much to discover, but most of it's in the finer details. Occasionally those items will offer assistance in a later situation, but most of the time they're there to be the filler that gives the world depth. Always looking, after all. It's nigh-impossible to not be enamored by the hand-drawn world that Dontnod created. It has a wonderfully flawed look about it, maybe one that suitably reflects Max as a central character. The animations are similarly imperfect, with the mouth movements being the most detracting culprit. The dialogue and voice acting are a wild card, though. When they're good, they're really good; but, when they're off, they're noticeably bad. However, everything is generally charming enough to look past all that. As Life is Strange is all about exploration (self- and worldly), the gameplay has a twist that aligns nicely with that core tenet of discovery. Max learns early on that she's recently acquired the ability to rewind time. The reasoning behind this supernatural power isn't explained in episode one, but nevertheless, it allows for as much poking around as anyone could possibly want. The obvious draw to the rewind mechanic is to forge gameplay through puzzles. The earliest of these sections required Max to reverse a few seconds in order to keep her camera from breaking. Then, when she didn't know the answer to a teacher's question, she rewound after he reprimanded her in order to achieve desirable results. These are basic examples, but the first installment didn't delve into anything much beyond the most rudimentary of brain-teasers. But, the more intriguing prospect to time manipulation is to further explore. Branching dialogue options can all be chosen to see the immediate aftermath. If the effect is negative, rewind and try again. It also offers the ability to snoop without anyone knowing. For instance, a later area gave the option to look at some files, but grabbing them from a high spot would result in them spilling everywhere. Looking and then reversing until they're back at their resting place leaves Max with the information and no one else any wiser. However, all those choices that have to eventually be made might have far-reaching consequences. It's too early to tell, really. After one-fifth of Life is Strange, it feels like a love letter of sorts to Donnie Darko and, to a lesser extent, The Butterfly Effect. That's not to say it's derivative, though. It may draw inspiration, but Dontnod has crafted its own world worth trekking through. The plot that serves as the undertone to the introduction to the Max Caulfield Show is that of a missing classmate. There are fliers everywhere serving as notice of her disappearance, but strangely enough, so few people give a damn. One person who does is Chloe, Max's former best friend, who has wholly adopted the punk-rock lifestyle since Max last saw her. Once the two are reunited, it's obvious that rebellion is on the horizon. Presumably, future entries will center around finding Chloe's friend while the two learn a bit about who they are. For now, we're left with our first glimpse at Arcadia Bay, our initial look into the life of Max. It was a slow, yet well-paced initial chapter that set the table more than anything else. There's no telling where the story will go from here. But, as Chrysalis faded out, an indie song played that felt wonderfully at home in this setting, and served as a warning of things to come. It chanted "We will foresee obstacles, through the blizzard, through the blizzard." [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Life is Strange review photo
Always looking
"If I'm not looking through a viewfinder, I'm looking through a window. Always looking." Max Caulfield, the introspective protagonist of Life is Strange, spends her life searching, observing. Actually, it might be more akin t...

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Havoc

Jan 29 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Havoc DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen) / Raven Software (Zombies)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: January 27, 2015MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) First up is Core, a yellow-toned map set in the Gobi desert. While the actual environment is plain, I really like the emphasis on more vertical movement as a result of the Exosuit. That mechanic alone has managed to differentiate multiplayer in Advanced Warfare from the rest of the series, even if Core only marginally takes advantage of that fact. It basically just Frankensteins a ton of different concepts together and hopes it works, like multiple tunnels that only stretch for a few seconds. It's a small and underwhelming arena but when it comes up I don't groan, so that's something good I guess. Urban is probably the coolest looking map in the pack, as it's the only one with a futuristic theme. Now all of the FPS genre's signature browns are subbed out for neon blue hues, and you'll definitely feel like you're playing something you paid a premium for. Having said that, the layout is a standard office/city theme, and there aren't enough windows to crash through or unique identifying aspects. That motorcycle in the picture above kind of just hovers there, and the map itself feels fairly static. Like Core though it's nice that it's in the rotation. Call of Duty is no stranger to ski resort DLC, and here we go again. Drift is another medium-small map that features a hamlet town with a few diversions like a carousel. There's a few alleys to duck in and plenty of windows to crash through, but that's about it. Havoc's name of the game is underwhelming, through and through. I'm a sucker for snow maps, but this feels like something that should have been in the base game. I know it's important to not overdo the whole "future thing," but retreading doesn't really help the appeal of this package. Sideshow is probably my favorite map of the pack, as it feels more like a Garden Warfare arena than a Call of Duty level. It has a rectangular symmetry to it, with a big open field in the middle and plenty of opportunities for cross-map shootouts. The theme is set to the tune of an abandoned township, but it also has an old-west field to it. I particularly like the fact that there was somehow a "Clown Inn" that existed somewhere that's creepy as hell. Every time I play this map it feels like everyone adapts to a new shooting style, which helps keep things fresh. Even then, Sideshow doesn't feel like something you'd pay for. Sick of zombies yet? I'm not! While the rest of the Havoc DLC is average at best, the new Exo Zombies mode single-handedly saves the map pack. Activision has opted to bring back a Hollywood cast, this time with Bill Paxton, John Malkovich, Rose McGowan, and Jon Bernthal. The prior holywood casts had horror (Gellar, Englund, Trejo, and Rooker), and mob (Palminteri, Pantoliano, Madsen, and Liotta) themes, but I think Havoc has the most interesting cast yet. While Paxton is probably the standout performance here, everyone in Havoc provides a good show. No one sounds phoned in, and they all seem like they're having fun. There's a short intro to help introduce the new pack of mercenaries, which are brought in to clean up a zombie mess Atlas started. It's a great way to link the core game and this is probably the most coherent story yet -- which should please those of you who hated how cryptic past zombie modes were. One of the cooler bits is how you'll start off practically naked, and you'll have to find the Exosuits eventually, granting you the power to jump and dash around. But with your added maneuverability the enemies will have the movement to match, so you won't be able to just kite dumb zombies around constantly. There's also a lot of cool elevated areas to visit. I love the future theme, and even if the Mystery Box serves the same function as it has in the past, it's neat to see it represented as a 3D printer. Plus, all of those new wonderful laser toys are great for blasting zombies, and they don't feel out of place like they did in the past. Zombie modes have the tendency to come out of the gate slowly, and although the first map doesn't have any real "out there" concepts, it's more than enough for those of you who still want more of the undead. The maps alone in the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Havoc DLC are an average affair, but Exo Zombies rises this package slightly above the cut. I love the new cast, the Exosuits makes a world of difference, and I'm digging the Hollywood cheese of the story. I'm interested in seeing where this goes, even if Sledgehammer wasn't able to carve out their own signature mode. If you're just in it for the maps, you can probably skip this one.
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Being zombie Malkovich
Call of Duty map packs are definitely a mixed bag. Fifteen dollars is pricey by any standards, and the prospect of one or two remade maps and a grand total of four arenas isn't anything to get excited about. Advanced Warfare's new Havoc DLC has just arrived this week on Xbox platforms, and it's par for the course in terms of what you'd expect. As usual though, zombies save the day.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 brings Barry Burton and Raid mode center stage

Jan 27 // Alessandro Fillari
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (PC,  PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: February 24, 2015 (Episode One) MSRP: $5.99 per episode / $24.99 season pass (including DLC) / $39.99 retail disc Taking place between Resident Evil 5 and 6, Claire Redfield and Moira Burton (daughter of S.T.A.R.S veteran Barry Burton) have been kidnapped and trapped on an abandoned prison island filled with deadly creatures known as the Afflicted. Using their wits and teamwork, they fight their way through the facility and manage to send a distress signal to the mainland. Realizing that his daughter has been kidnapped, Barry Burton journeys to the island ready for battle. Once he reaches shore, he meets a young girl named Natalia, who possesses strange powers and close ties with the mysteries on the island. Barry and Natalia's story picks up about halfway through Episode One. Once Claire and Moira reached a certain point in the plot, the perspective switches over to the second duo. Though Barry is definitely up to the challenge, he'll have to combat with nastier variations of the Afflicted. Similar to Resident Evil's crimson heads, these new creatures are more aggressive and are far more mutated than the ones Claire and Moira encountered. Some use neat tricks such as invisibility, and some have pustules that explode after being damaged. Like its predecessor, Revelations 2 will show different perspectives to the story. With Claire and Moira leading the charge while Barry and Natalia witness the aftermath of their ordeal and make their own unique way through the island, you'll experience multiple sides of the story as it unfolds. Additionally, decisions and actions made throughout the story will have an impact on the other team. For instance, while in a room filled with traps, Claire and Moira used to them cover their escape from the Afflicted. Unfortunately, as Barry and Natalia enter the facility in an different way, and they find themselves on the receiving end of the traps and must deactivate them to proceed. Much like the dynamic between Claire and Moira, Barry and Natalia use their own unique skills together to overcome the odds. With one focusing on all the fighting, the other offers support with finding items and reaching spots that the first cannot. Things are a bit different for the second duo. As Barry has come to the island prepared and ready for battle, he brings with him a lot more firepower than Claire had. Moreover, Natalia possesses mysterious abilities that allow her to track nearby enemies, even through walls. One moment during Barry's trek outside the facility showed just how important teamwork was. While moving through a seemingly empty wooden storage house, the duo senses another creature nearby. Not knowing where its coming from, Barry pressed on. Once we got to a wooden door that was jammed, the creature began to get closer. Though I could have ignored it and continued with the door, I chose to investigate the surroundings. Eventually, I discovered the creature in the ceiling, which was a mutated version of the Afflicted known as the Revenant. Using Barry's arsenal, including his trusty Python, I was able to take down the creature. It was a pretty tense moment, and if I had chosen to ignore the creature, then it would've gotten the jump on Barry and Natalia. At this point, my time with the campaign came to a close. It was incredibly exciting to finally play as Barry Burton in a legitimate entry in the series. Yes, there's Resident Evil Gaiden, but that's regarded as non-canon, largely ignored on account of it being unceremoniously released on the Game Boy Color. Barry is such a bro, and seeing him take charge and kick ass was pretty great. Even though his side of the story feels largely the same as Claire's, it was still pretty exciting stuff.  My time with Revelations 2 didn't end there. After switching off the campaign, we moved right over to the new and improved Raid Mode. As one of the biggest successes with the original Revelations, Raid Mode was something of an experiment to see if they could try something new with the standard RE bonus mode. As an alternate take on the popular Mercenaries mode, Raid Mode tasks players with battling through a gauntlet of enemies while leveling up, acquiring buffs, and collecting new weapons. Think Monster Hunter, but with Resident Evil shooting and waves of enemies to take down. It was easily the most time I spent with the original game, and Capcom has decided to expand upon it in a big way. Now featuring a light story to offer some context to the chaotic battles, you play as an A.I. within a battle simulator from the Red Queen Alpha database. Within the digital HUB area, represented as a vestibule within a mansion, you're tasked with collecting data from different characters while running simulated battles against challenging foes. As you complete tasks, you'll find audio-logs that reveal more about Red Queen Alpha and its connection to the outside world. As you conquer challenges, the A.I. gains gold which can be spent on upgrades, new weapons, and new missions to engage in. Moreover, the A.I. can take the form of many different characters from RE's past and present (including Wesker and Hunk), and use their unique skills in digitally recreated areas from the main campaign, and even from previous Resident Evil titles. Instead of just running through a single gauntlet of missions, there are several different types to select from. Main Missions are the central focus in Raid Mode, but cost currency to take part in. In order to prevent players from repeated loot runs on specific missions, you'll have to take part in daily missions and event challenges to gain more cash to re-enter the main missions. Each main mission pack has six levels to fight through, each with their own medals and rewards to find.  Every playable character can level up (maximum level 100) and has individual perks to acquire and strengthen. Much like the previous titles, you can find new weapons and upgrades for existing gear. Just like the original, Raid Mode spices up the cannon fodder by making the foes a bit beefier. Some of them possess buffs that increase speed, strength, size, and even bestow them with force-fields that soak up damage. The stages I played in were set in Tall Oaks and Edonia from Resident Evil 6, and the objective was to clear waves of enemies while making it to the end goal. I had a blast playing through the Raid Mode in Revelations 2. Not only is it far more comprehensive than Mercenaries mode, but RE:R2 ups the ante with new features and content. It was great fun battling through Tall Oaks with Barry, and the variety of different enemies I faced kept things pretty interesting. Though I'm a bit worried that repetition could detract after the long haul, and that Raid Mode will not have online co-op play available until sometime after the release of the final episode, Capcom seems to be pretty headstrong with supporting the game. The idea of daily challenges and updates makes me look forward to what's to come. With the release of the first episode of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 next month, it's going to be interesting to see how Capcom's experiment with episodic gaming will turn out. The plot certainly feels as though it wants to evoke discussion and debate among fans, and coming off the win the publisher just had with Resident Evil Remastered, it's looking like there's a bright future ahead for the once troubled Resident Evil franchise.
Resident Evil photo
Sans Jill Sandwich
Capcom has been on quite a roll lately. With the announcement of Street Fighter V, new releases in the Devil May Cry series coming, and the recent success of its HD Remaster for Resident Evil, it seems like the once trou...

House of Wolves might be Bungie's last chance to save Destiny

Jan 26 // Chris Carter
Let's take a look at some of the biggest problems plaguing Destiny: The heavy ammo bug A lazily implemented Crota's End Hard Mode Fixing exploits (cheeses) before fixing more egregious glitches Introducing more items and not more bank space Forcing the userbase to upgrade Exotic items via RNG No new core bounties since launch outside of the same small pool of Eris DLC Three measly DLC story missions that take 30 minutes to complete Underpowered new Exotics that make the expansion weapons pointless No glamor or outfitter options; everyone looks the same Vendor gear that can be acquired day one of the expansion blows prior raid gear out of the water No in-game grimoire to read lore, story is still weak No matchmaking for weekly Heroic Strikes or Nightfalls No real events to speak of outside of a lazy PVP reskin (where is Queen's Wrath?) This isn't a list compiled from outside sources -- this is something I've experienced personally as a player. Bungie said Destiny would continue to "evolve" after launch, but if this is its evolutionary process, it's still a bacteria. Bungie lead designer Luke Smith jumped into a recent NeoGAF thread to address a few concerns, stating that some mistakes won't be repeated. According to Smith, vendor gear won't invalidate prior raid gear, and the Exotic upgrade process will not reset talents (though nothing has been said about the RNG element). That's an okay start, but Bungie has to do much more to win back disenchanted fans, especially after the recent Hard Mode raid debacle. For many players this is the breaking point -- the final equilibrium when the grind and issues of Destiny outweigh the enjoyment factor of playing with friends. It's easier to overlook blemishes while you're in good company, but as many of those people start to drift away, you start to see more clearly. Wait, people still play Destiny? Yep, there's over 10 million players out there as of December 2014. It's one of the most active online games out right now, and one of the biggest games of last year. Often times when I'm trying to utilize matchmaking in another game I'll get bored, move over to Destiny, and find a game manually in 30 seconds. That's how big it is. But Bungie won't be able to rest on the laurels of its hype for much longer. If the studio doesn't deliver with House of Wolves, there will be a severe drop-off of players who refuse to pony up for the next bit of DLC. At that point it'll have to bring old fans back into the fold, and convince people who made their mind up at launch to join the party. That won't be easy. If Bungie has to delay the next expansion to make it better, so be it. If not, a lot of the Destiny detractors may have their wish later this year when it becomes a collective echo in the annals of one-hit wonder history.
Destiny woes photo
The Season Pass buck stops in March
Before Destiny was released, it was hyped into oblivion. Hundreds of thousands of fans bought into it, and by extension, purchased the Season Pass consisting of the first two expansions -- the second of which, House...

Review: Resident Evil HD Remaster

Jan 19 // Chris Carter
Resident Evil HD Remaster (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomReleased: January 20, 2015MSRP: $19.99 So what is Resident Evil HD? It's basically a shot-for-shot remake of the GameCube version. As fans know, this iteration featured a remixed layout of the mansion, newly minted dialog, and of course, a brand new visual sheen. Said sheen has been severely upgraded for the modern era with HD, in addition to a few other tiny extras and a budget price. It's also available for pretty much everything but the Wii U. This review is based off the PC version, and I have to say, Capcom did a good job. In addition to the built-in options for a wide screen and original aspect ratio, there's also support for resolutions up to 1920x1080 natively, a 30/60 FPS toggle, and a few other bells and whistles. It's not going to excite hardcore PC fans in terms of enhanced functionality, but it gets the job done. You can get a full view of every PC option in the video below if you're curious. Although it's enhanced, there's still plenty of cheese in terms of the tone. The intro still evokes nostalgic feelings of old horror flicks, the dialog is still hilariously campy, and the "door opening loading scenes" are retained. While some may feel like all of this could have been updated to elevate it even further than the GameCube remake did, I'm glad that Capcom didn't alter the heart and soul of the franchise. One of the biggest problems of the recent games is the penchant for an attempt at serious storytelling, which doesn't mesh well with the amazing boulder-punching and teleporting Wesker action. [embed]285886:56814:0[/embed] You'll still get plenty of enhancements though, because the models look great, especially on a high-end PC with all of the settings jacked up. It blows the GameCube version out of the water, and looks incredibly smooth and fluid. This gels very well with the new controls, which eschew the "tanky" ones of old (though you can still toggle it on if you want), allowing for an instant directional switch and automatic running without awkwardly holding down a button (remember that?). For the longest time Capcom claimed that tank controls were a necessity, and added to the "tension" of the series. While I don't necessarily have a problem with them having grown up with the concept, I'm glad there's now the option to use modern handling for those who want it. Now everyone is happy -- and guess what? The tension is still there. Silly Capcom. Though in the end, it should be noted that the developers weren't so progressive as to add the ability to move and shoot. Also, items still need to be equipped manually by way of pausing, accessing the inventory, and selecting a new item or weapon. It's a fast process once you get the hang of it, but a bit of a relic, particularly since you need to still manually equip the knife. Fixed camera angles are also still a thing, which you can view as both cinematic or annoying. I'm somewhere in the middle. It's jarring to run forward, have the camera change, and become disoriented (if you keep holding the previous direction your character will still run in that direction, so it's not maddening), but I love that "last stand" feel when you square off against an approaching zombie at the end of a hall. The actual game is still pretty much perfect, and I truly believe that the mansion is still the best setting to date. Years later I still don't have every floor mapped out, and there's plenty of surprises in store even for veteran players. The fact that both playable characters (Chris and Jill) don't have the same story or layout still blows me away, because they feel like two fundamentally different playthroughs despite the fact that they're in the same location. Just when Resident Evil is starting to get stale, that's when Capcom throws a new concept, enemy, or shiny weapon your way. The pacing is spot-on by any standard, whether you're completely lost or know every path. If you so choose you can also opt for an easy, easier, or normal mode right off the bat, with hard arriving later. In this man's opinion, the new easy mode is probably the best introduction for newcomers in the entire series. There are also a few other modern fixins like a completion leaderboard, a movie gallery, an in-game manual, and some old-school unlocks like an invisible enemy mode. Given that the game should last you five hours on the low end and 10-15 on the high-end, and it's worth completing at least twice, there's a lot to enjoy here with Resident Evil HD. Although I'd love the chance to play a remastered Resident Evil 2 for the first time with updated controls, I'm glad Capcom decided to revive the first entry again. Resident Evil is truly is a timeless classic that every generation should enjoy, and a perfect example of how to do survival horror without decking players out with a full armory. Welcome back to the mansion. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
RE HD review photo
The legacy of the mansion lives on
Playing the original Resident Evil was an experience. The mansion, the campiness, the mystery of it all -- before walkthroughs were easily accessible from all corners of the internet, getting lost was practically a given...

Review: Saints Row IV: Gat out of Hell

Jan 19 // Brittany Vincent
Saints Row: Gat out of Hell (PC, PS4 [Reviewed], Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360) Developer: Volition/High Voltage Software Publisher: Deep Silver Released: January 20, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 The game opens on the gang aboard the Zin Ship during a celebration of Kinzie Kensington’s birthday. During the festivities, Matt Miller produces a possessed Ouija board that was previously owned by Aleister Crowley, and it opens a portal to Hell. The Boss (your player character in the previous Saints Row games) is sucked through the portal and kidnapped by Satan. Johnny Gat and Kinzie follow through the portal to save their friend, and upon arriving in Hell go to the biggest building in sight. Ultor HQ. Dane Vogel, head of Ultor Corporation and previous adversary of the Saints, has started his business anew in Hell and lets the duo know that Satan has arranged a marriage between The Boss and his daughter. Vogel has big plans to corner the real estate market in Hell, and he needs Satan out of the way to do it. He presents Johnny Gat with Lucifer’s Broken Halo, a powerful artifact that imbues the user with fiery wings and arcane power, to assist in the assassination of the Dark Lord. All of the previous statements contained a lot of names that you may or may not remember depending on which games, if any, you’ve played of the series. This is one of the biggest things that marks this as a standalone expansion. This game is very self-referential, and unlike the main entries in the series doesn’t ease players into the world of Saints Row. It makes the assumption that you’ve at least played Saints Row IV, and spends little time on exposition or background other than some short illustrations and voiceover. [embed]285618:56942:0[/embed] This was a bit frustrating, because even though I’ve played through all the Saints Row titles, it’s been a while. It would have made the game more inviting to have at least a short flashback when meeting a character from a previous title, and unfortunately many players might miss out on some of the enjoyment and nostalgia from not having just a bit more context. However, there are a few new characters, and they are a blast. Shakespeare, Vlad the Impaler, and Blackbeard all join the cast, and although this entry is a bit short, I hope that future iterations will introduce as interesting of a cast as this one did. The setting is where this game really shines though. Hell looks, well, hellish. Instead of another romp through Steelport, we spend our time in New Hades, which is dominated by the Ultor Tower. It’s sometimes hard to notice flying and sprinting at high speeds, but different sections of Hell have different aesthetics, and the whole map, although smaller than Steelport, feels more alive and organic from all the unique buildings. Gone also are the nameless civilian fodder, replaced by “Husks,” which are the souls of the damned who are made to feel pain for all eternity. The police are instead demons who drive monster trucks, and there are a host of flying, shielded, and gigantic enemies, all with their own styles and methods of attack. All in all they made a much more entertaining and interesting adversary than the Zin, and the whole world feels much more polished and finished than Saints Row IV’s Steelport simulation. Much like the last game, you have access to a host of superhuman powers. With Lucifer’s Broken Halo you can sprout wings to glide, sprint at high speed, stomp the ground with various elemental powers, call upon demons to fight for you, and turn enemies to stone with power blasts. Whether in a simulation or powered by a demonic artifact, the result is much the same: you’re pretty much the most powerful being in Hell. I think powers are much more interesting in Gat out of Hell. Something about the last game’s powers being due to computer hacking and being trapped in a simulation was insanely boring. These games are a zany good time, but when I play something like this I like to feel as though I’m actually affecting the world I’m playing in, and getting powers from the broken crown of the Morning Star himself is way cooler. I do have a bit of a qualm with the missing character customization element, though. I understand that the game centers around having to play as Kinzie or Johnny Gat; but it would have been nice to at least change their outfits or accessories. So everything seems pretty positive about this game, right? It’s a high quality production, and totally awesome, so what could go wrong? Well, that cool setting, low price point, and interesting gameplay came at a cost, namely in the form of content. Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell is short. Really short. The first time I saved my game I had been playing for about an hour, and I was shocked when the screen said that the game was already 14% complete. I figured it was like Saints Row IV where that number didn’t really mean a lot or indicate how much content was left other than at a superficial level. Well, I was wrong. Gat takes about 6-7 hours to complete the main plot, and it could probably be easily taken to 100% within 12-13 hours. Honestly, I’ve paid $20 for a lot less fun, and although the game is short, what is there is solid gold. Plus, if you’ve never played Saints Row IV, or just want it and all its DLC on latest gen consoles, you can get Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, which includes this expansion for about $50. Gat out of Hell was a great swan song for Saints Row IV, and it is now one of my favorite entries in the series. There are plenty of games out there about depression, sexuality, violence, politics, and so on, and sometimes it makes me tired. I love Saints Row because I never have to deal with any issues within. There’s no agenda and no life lessons to learn. There’s only pure escapism. which is what games are meant for in my view. If I wanted to worry about all that, I’d just go to a college campus and listen to people complain for a few hours. As it is though, I hope that more developers take a cue from Saints Row and realize that it’s still okay to tell jokes and implement cartoony violence that’s still ridiculous and fun. I know gaming as an industry is maturing and people want to present new ideas and make statements using the media, but luckily, whenever I feel like I need a break, I will have Saints Row proudly on my shelf. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SRIV: Gat out of Hell photo
Like a sinner before the gates of Heaven
There’s something about a series that doesn’t feel the need to make a ton of social commentary, or really feel grounded in reality. The Saints Row series is like if the worlds of The Naked Gun and Grand Theft Auto...

Porn numbers photo
69 isn't the only porn number
Pornhub, which I am told by other people familiar with the webpage is a site for viewing adult, pornographic films, has released its statistical year in review. It's not as detailed on the videogame console side of things lik...

Far Cry 4 issue photo
The Great Elephant Shortage of 2015
[Update: Far Cry 4 has been reinstated on the Xbox One games store, restoring permissions for several users. For those who are still experiencing difficulties, Ubisoft officially recommends a hard reboot of the Xbox One conso...

Destiny is the most fascinating game of 2014, mostly for negative reasons

Dec 31 // Chris Carter
The problems with Destiny are myriad. At launch, the loot system was utterly broken. Players would be rewarded with purple-level engrams and constantly earn blue quality or lower, which was a real kick in the nuts considering how much work it was to find a purple in the first place. Other issues were rampant, like the concept of forcing players to farm hundreds of materials to level-up armor pieces to reach level 30. Grinding was and still is commonplace, whether you're grinding for currency (Glimmer), weapon experience, armor experience, marks, reputation, or pretty much anything else in the game. "The game starts at level 20" indeed, Bungie. It was enough to scare people away from even trying it, but not enough to scare away the roughly 10 million users as of December 2014. What is it that keeps people playing? Besides the obvious addiction-oriented reasons that any MMO-like will bring to the market, it's actually really fun to play with friends; every single person I know who plays Destiny does it with friends on a regular basis. Everyone who played solo has quit by now. Everything in the entire game is better with friends. Whether it's farming, raids, or just plain dicking around in the open-world Patrols or PVP, the game is built so more players will equal more fun. If I had to give an award to "best community" this year it would probably be Destiny, as most of the interactions I've had in-game and online have been positive. This is the core reason why many people, myself included, still play. There are bright spots beyond the "fun with friends" gimmick -- because let's face it, what game isn't fun with friends? The first raid, the Vault of Glass, was insanely rewarding. Tackling the Vault with five other good friends is one of the best gaming-related experiences I had in 2014 -- that's not a hyperbolic statement. The coordination needed in the early days of the raid with lower-level weapons was crazy, and every room was a puzzle of sorts to solve. Crota's End, the second raid, was the same way, and the rush I felt while running from the horde during the first part was probably how Ian Malcolm felt while sprinting away in terror from Jurassic Park's Tyrannosaurus rex. I continued to play throughout The Dark Below expansion, which brought its own set of problems, many of which haven't been addressed since launch. There's still a lack of bank space, there's still a lot of loot disparity issues, and the new Exotic upgrade system is incredibly obtuse. There's hints of brilliance in there, like the unique Husk of the Pit "weapon storyline" that will conclude with the hard mode version of the Crota's End raid, but there's not enough to keep most people interested. I'm very keen to see what the next expansion, House of Wolves, brings to the table. I may be the odd one out here but the Fallen (pictured in the header) are my favorite race in the game, so I really hope Bungie brings it with the third raid after everything is has learned. I'd also like to see more story missions (try five lengthy ones at least, guys), more Strikes, and a complete overhaul of the Strike playlist and weekly system. Perhaps an additional "monthly epic raid" goal, cycling in the three raids. Anything to keep people playing and give them some diversity without curbing the fun factor or making content obsolete. I've said this time and time again, but the core of Destiny is excellent. It feels great every time I boot it up, and nearly every single gun handles perfectly yet differently. It's really hard to go to any other shooter after a lengthy Destiny session, honestly, and I can't stress that enough. Bungie just needs to lick its wounds, deliver more content, and balance a few things going forward. Maybe Destiny's "Game of the Year" edition in 2015 will be a must-buy. For now, just sit right there on the fence in the same spot you were in September 2014 -- off of the Game of the Year list.
Destiny love-hate photo
People love to hate-play it
I have roughly seven days of playtime logged into Destiny. I have a level 31 Warlock, Titan, and Hunter who are all one piece away from level 32 -- the current cap. I've completed the new Crota's End raid roughly 20 times, 10...

GTA Online heists photo
Free update coming to all platforms in 'early 2015'
Alright, heists in Grand Theft Auto Online look terrific. It's been a long wait, and we're not done waiting just yet -- Rockstar says the free update for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One will arrive in early 2015 -- b...

Review: Destiny: The Dark Below

Dec 12 // Chris Carter
Destiny: The Dark Below (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BungiePublisher: Activision Released: December 9, 2014MSRP: $19.99 (Season Pass $34.99) At this point I've played the new Strike multiple times (two weekly heroics and two Nightfalls), and I'm happy with how it holds up in the normal rotation. It's nice to see the Hive represented, and although the first half is a re-used zone from Earth, I happen to like that area, and it works well with the Strike format. I also like that the boss, Omnigul, fits right into the new theme and is worked directly into the story. Although more or less a super Wizard, it still fits better than most other Strike bosses. As I stated previously, the new PS4 exclusive Strike is useless, short, and I likely will never play it again by choice; it also will never appear as a weekly event since Xbox owners can't access it (though it will show up in the Roc playlist). So much for all that boasting by Sony. I spent an entire afternoon with PVP in the new temporary DLC playlist, and I'm happy with the maps overall. Cauldron still holds up as my top pick, and possibly my favorite map in general. I love the underground aesthetic, as it reminds me of Bungie's Halo glory days. Pantheon's design holds up as well with its long hallways, and is perfect for shotgun and sniper enthusiasts alike. It also pairs perfectly with my new 4th Horseman Exotic shotgun. Skywatch is a mixed bag because it can still come up on lower-count playlists, and it's absolutely terrible when it's not populated. It should have been smaller, or Bungie should have upped the total player count in PVP. [embed]284869:56642:0[/embed] The entire gear meta has changed, and it's a bit easier to follow now. To get level 31 you'll need to have every piece of gear at +33, or one Raid/Exotic piece at +36 and all but one piece at +33. To reach the new level cap of 32, you have to have everything at +36. Simple. You can buy +33 gear from vendors if you have the marks, which allows most players to work their way towards 30 and beyond even if they're just starting out. Bungie claims that armor drops have been improved in the new raid, and I can corroborate anecdotally. My Warlock had his chest drop, and my Titan got his gauntlets and chest. With a combination of a new Xur Exotic upgrade, raid gear, and Vanguard marks, I now have two level 31 characters. Of course, your mileage my vary. But even though you may get said top-end gear, the grind is real because of new Radiant Materials and the new rank-four reputation Eris materials. You'll need 21 Radiant Shards per piece to upgrade to level 32, and currently I only have two. You can't get them anywhere but the raid currently, so until Bungie updates the game to unlock them in other ways, you'll have to grind out the raid at least once per week to hope for a portion of a raid piece upgrade. Still, I like this new system more than the old one because it rewards you more often and then forces you to work for it on your own time, which is much better than the sparing drops Bungie had in the Vault of Glass. Exotics can also be upgraded at Xur, which is a terrible process as expected. For starters, you have to hope your item is on Xur's RNG table. I got lucky with my Warlock, and I'm level 31 as of today. A lot of my friends weren't so lucky, and because of the mark cap, they cannot possibly get to level 31 unless they earn a piece of gear by luck through an Engram. It's a weird system. Why didn't Bungie just allow you to upgrade any Exotic you want, but make the process extremely difficult to do? Say, from a set of rotating Exotic bounties that will take several days? That way the questlines would still be engaging, it would be something different, and everyone could work towards upgrading their favorite items eventually instead of relying on RNG. That's Bungie for you, though. In terms of the pack's art design, I've actually gotten used to the green-tinted aesthetic of The Dark Below. It's themed well, and I never thought I'd like the Hive this much. I also hope Dinklebot never comes back. I really wish there was more though, because although the DLC does have a lot of tender love and care, it doesn't have enough to justify the asking price. Again, playing all of this content, underwhelming or not, was consistently fun throughout. I still love jump canceling my Warlock hover to get into a perfect position, and everything from aiming down your sights to hip-firing just feels great. Like I've said in the past, it's jarring to go to any other shooter after playing Destiny. It also must be said that the launch went off without a hitch. The bulk of the content was downloaded a week before, so when I logged on at 5AM EST to play, it instantly loaded and I was playing the DLC. For around 10 minutes I thought it was glitched. Alas, The Dark Below needed more to truly sell itself to most of the fanbase. Four Strikes, not two, would have been about right. Crota's End is fun, but I feel like it was shorter than Vault of Glass, and it was a bit easier to pick up. I'm not too sure on the longevity of this raid either unless Bungie has something special up its sleeve for January's hard mode. For now, there's an easy test to judge whether or not you should pick up The Dark Below: did you play Destiny from launch all the way up until the first expansion? If so, you'll want to get it as soon as possible. If your enthusiasm has faltered over the past few months and you never really got into the first raid, you can wait or pick up the Season Pass at a later date after more incremental improvements have been made. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Destiny DLC review photo
The dank between
Having basically played the new Destiny expansion The Dark Below nonstop since launch, I've experienced everything it has to offer. That in itself is an issue, because although I have played more than the average pe...

Review in Progress: Destiny: The Dark Below

Dec 09 // Chris Carter
Destiny: The Dark Below (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BungiePublisher: Activision Released: December 9, 2014MSRP: $19.99 (Season Pass $34.99) Let's start with the story. The Dark Below centers primarily on the Hive menace, with the evil big bad Crota at the end of it. There's been a lot of buildup within the core story and the appropriate codex entries for Crota, so it's exciting to get to face him head-on; plus, the Hive themselves are an interesting foe. The actual narrative is a bit better this time around. There's no lengthy, annoying cutscenes with pointless exposition or grunts. It's all focused. You'll start the questline by speaking to the new NPC Eris, who has escaped from the clutches of Crota and lived to tell the tale. Dinklebot will take a backseat in this DLC, as his "wait until I open the door" mechanic and even his speech services are no longer required. Eris will hauntingly give us the story and the rundown this time. Funnily enough though since the 'bot is gone, you're going to power through the three story missions much faster than normal. How fast? Roughly five to ten minutes each. There's still gates of some sort, but now you can freely run about and wreck shop without fear of a lengthy Dinkle-diversion. There are some Fallen foes but the Hive is front and center, and the combination of Wizards, Thralls, and Knights makes for some fun firefighters. All in all, you'll only meet one new enemy (which is basically a Wizard variant), and a few new areas. It's certainly a better effort than the core campaign, but it's just a taste -- not exactly ideal for a $20 expansion. [embed]284530:56528:0[/embed] Strike-wise, you're going to get one more mission, or two if you're on a Sony platform. The non-exclusive Strike, the Will of Crota, deals with the enemy you met in the story, Omnigul. It's mostly in a re-used area which is a massive bummer until you get to the tail end of the Strike, at which point the final confrontation is enjoyable. It's basically a super Wizard with more Hive adds. Again, fun enough, but it doesn't feel like a DLC add-on. Fear not, Xbox owners, as you aren't missing out on much with the PlayStation-exclusive Strike, The Undying Mind. While the area is technically from the final campaign mission (the Black Garden), it does feel new, and deals with the Vex. The problem is this Strike is incredibly short, and I feel like I've fought more Vex than I know what to do with after over 50 Vault of Glass runs. To make matters worse, the Mind is essentially a reskinned Nexus. It really should have been another Cabal-themed Strike. In terms of PVP, you'll also net three new maps: Cauldron, Pantheon, and Skyshock. The former is Halo-esque and one of my favorite arenas to date. Pantheon is more Black Garden, and feels like a modified battle pit that's great for free-for-all matches. Skyshock will be very familiar looking to PlayStation owners who already have the similarly themed Earth map, but Xbox players will enjoy the variety a bit more. I haven't played enough PVP to make a judgment on how the maps feel over time, but expect an assessment in the full review. Of course, the big daddy piece of content is the new raid, Crota's End. The new raid is designed to test your team's skills to their maximum, and I'd say it's a tad harder than Vault of Glass. While it has technically been completed today in roughly six hours by the top raiding static in Destiny, it will take regular players ages beyond that figure. Once again, the raid is the best part of Destiny. Although I'm a little over halfway through it, I've seen more variation here than the rest of the game combined. Little things like pitch-black caves with pylons to hug to get rid of debuffs, and one-on-one swordfights are among the many mechanics you'll face in Crota's End. I came in with a group of five knowledgeable raiders and had a blast. It's a shame that Strikes aren't as fun as individual encounters in either raid, and that Crota's End isn't getting a hard mode until January. I'll give my full thoughts on the raid soon. So far, I love it. New changes are also afoot, most notably the Exotic system. In a sad turn of events, the new Exotic upgrade system is now partially based on RNG. To upgrade your existing weapon or armor, you need to visit Xur from Friday to Saturday, hope that he has your existing item, then pay to get the new version. Once you get it the leveling process is roughly a third faster, but having to rely on Xur is terrible design. Other tweaks include Nightfalls and Heroics being bumped up two levels, with the current weeklies only accessible to DLC owners. There's also more of a point to Strange Coins because of the Exotic Shard upgrade system, a new resource to manage for upgrades (including a helpful exchange for shards and energy), new vendor gear, and more resource gains and 10 bounties due to the last patch. All of it except for the new Exotic upgrade mechanic and forced DLC weeklies are well done and cut down on some of the less fun parts of Destiny. Two steps forward, one step back seems to be Bungie's motto. Again, while playing all of this content, the gunplay is still silky smooth. It sounds like an overstatement, but it truly is difficult going to another game after playing Destiny. The jumping system, physics, floating, aiming -- everything feels perfect. Even though the DLC is underwhelming outside of the raid and Bungie has made some mistakes, I'm still having fun. Having said that, just like the core Destiny experience, there isn't a lot here that screams "must buy." As I have more time to really dig into the current meta, explore Light level calculations, and test the longevity of the new maps and Strikes, I'll give you a full verdict. For now, I'd only recommend The Dark Below to hardcore fans.
Destiny DLC review photo
The dank between
Destiny was released earlier this year, and like many hyped games, it failed to deliver on its promises. The good news? It was still a well crafted shooter, and practically everything involving the actual gameplay was ex...

Resident Evil dated photo
$19.99 on January 20
Capcom has just sent word over that Resident Evil remake will be available on January 20, 2015, for $19.99. It'll hit the PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360, and the Xbox One "all-in-one games and entertainment system from Microsof...

Here are some day-one thoughts on The Crew

Dec 02 // Chris Carter
In essence, The Crew is an online-only, open-world racing game. Yep, good old Ubisoft and its predictable open-world formula is at again -- right down to the outpost/radar buildings (called "data stations" here, haha). Once you're done with the prologue you can basically just roam around the world, which, in this case, is the entire United States. This is easily my favorite part The Crew, as developer Ivory Tower nailed the way the map works. First of all it's presented in a seamless manner with very little loading time on the actual map. But the real kicker is that everything is connected perfectly, so you can actually drive around the US at a reasonable pace. For reference, take a look at this map -- to get from Detroit to New York City, it would take roughly 15 minutes. Add in a ton of distractions along the way (including arcade-oriented challenges that can instantly spring up while you're driving down a highway) and an open world full of players and it starts to feel a lot bigger. You start off in Detroit, but the main hubs are Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, and Miami -- with some smaller locations like Washington D.C. and New Orleans in the mix. Each area has a distinctly different terrain type, and you can modify your car accordingly in every city to adjust for dirt, street, or highway conditions. Again, this is a massive game just by world map standards, and there is a fast travel option if you don't want to drive everywhere. The story and characters are bad in a Fast and the Furious manner, and that's not a compliment (most of those movies are fun popcorn flicks). Even with a bit of cheese, the actual plot is just plain awful, and serves as a basic setup to drive around the country. In short, your brother was murdered, and after you've been framed by the gang who did it, you have to serve the FBI and bring down the bad guys. It's by the books and could have worked, but the flat and laughable characters make it worse than it has to be. I'm half expecting a gritty Vin Diesel impersonator to pop out and say "I live my life a quarter mile at a time" at any point. In fact, it may have already happened, but I was half-asleep during most of the cutscenes. Gameplay-wise my experience has been mixed. I love the cool touches like the overhead GPS trail when you are pursuing an objective, and the RPG-esque level-up/part acquisition system always ensures that you feel like you're earning something. However, the controls, uninspired perk mechanic, and car options fall flat in many ways. The main problem with the handling is that it feels like a weird mix of simulation and arcade controls, which is a problem without going in and tinkering with the options menu. It's weird, because at first cars feel like they're perpetually on ice. It's not until you tweak some stuff and get better equipment that you feel like you're really driving a car. Collisions also have a strange feel to them just like Watch Dogs, where you sort of "bounce" off things rather than feel like you're naturally hitting them. The bar has been raised by games like Forza, so it's disappointing to see that Ubisoft hasn't gone all in on car handling. So far I'm pretty happy with how the actual overworld turned out, but everything else in The Crew hasn't wowed me yet. That's not to say it's bad, though. So long as you're looking for another chance to get your exploration on, I think there's plenty to like here -- but I still have to test out the mechanics and get further in the story to make a full decision. Stay tuned for our review from Brittany in the future.
The Crew impressions photo
Our review is coming later
Ubisoft recently notified the press that it wasn't going to send out early copies of The Crew. Instead, critics would have to experience everything at launch and beyond, meaning there would be no reviews for the gam...

Review: Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

Nov 24 // Brett Makedonski
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Lucid GamesPublisher: Sierra EntertainmentReleased: November 25, 2014 (PS3, PS4, PC), November 26, 2014 (Xbox 360, Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 For the uninitiated, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (and the entire series) is a twin-stick shooter that's just as much about surviving as it is about scoring. Each attempt culminates in an overwhelming number of enemies on-screen, as color explodes in every direction. The brilliance behind the game design lies within the fact that every destroyed enemy leaves behind a few floating green Geoms that increase the score multiplier. It's always a treat to watch scores skyrocket toward the end of any given run, as the effort to earn an extra few million is trivial compared to what it took to net a few thousand only a minute earlier. The core of Dimensions's systems are largely unchanged. The movement and shooting is still incredibly responsive and precise. For moments of emergency, bombs are still available to clear the entire screen. Yes, Dimensions is undoubtedly built upon the framework of previous Geometry Wars games, but it also innovates in ways that are very much welcomed. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions' biggest catch (and as the namesake alludes to) is that it ditches the rectangular two-dimensional playing surfaces in favor of fully-traversable geometric shapes such as spheres and prisms. The departure isn't as jarring as it may initially seem, as it doesn't take long to get into the groove of knowing exactly how the camera's going to swing. After that adjustment's made, these grids feel like the playground that Geometry Wars should have been played on all along. [embed]284223:56443:0[/embed] Perhaps not as monumental as the 3D maps, the new Adventure campaign may be the most necessary and effective inclusion toward reviving Geometry Wars' approach. Made up of a set of 50 challenges, this mode is the meat of Dimensions. Each level has a three-star ranking system which makes it incredibly replayable. Anyone who isn't in search of leaderboard conquest will still strive for high scores, as these offer a fine sense of fulfillment. What makes Adventure truly special is the sheer number of tricks it has up its sleeve. Across the 50 levels, there's rarely a case of two challenges ever feeling the same. There are plenty of examples of playing tried-and-true modes like Pacifism or King in Adventure, but there's always something that makes it different for each challenge -- whether it's the shape of the grid, moving walls, or just the slightest style twist. While all the old favorites are back, new modes are also peppered in. For example, Claustrophobia has the player scoring as many points as possible until the walls narrow so far that it's impossible to not get squished into an enemy. The best one is possibly Sniper, which marvelously subverts the design of Geometry Wars by simply limiting the ammunition available. Instead of spraying in any direction at all times from afar, it puts an extreme emphasis on accuracy and close proximity to danger. However, danger is slightly more manageable this time around, as Dimensions offers a handful of helpers to deal with imminent threat. Unlocked through progression are a series of drones that always follow and "supers" that are limited in use. Some of their functions are sniping random enemies, automatically collecting Geoms, and creating a black hole to suck in everything that's nearby. There are five of both drones and supers, and each one can be upgraded to increase its usefulness. Supers can be almost as handy as bombs, making them invaluable. Drones are tough to notice in the chaotic fray of Dimensions, but they're undoubtedly helpful. Although the bulk of the battles focus on scoring as much as possible until death or time runs out, a few stick out as wildly different. Dimensions introduces boss battles -- six of them across Adventure -- that require depleting a large enemy's health after his shield has been dropped. Each one takes a new approach, but all of them are similar in the sense that survival is paramount. For a game that's all about iteration, it's somewhat surprising that Dimensions includes a throw-back to its roots. Under a heading called "Classic Mode," the majority of Retro Evolved 2 is present in the format that fans will recognize it in. No 3D grids, no supers or drones -- just the gameplay from 2008 that was so popular. There are also local cooperative and online competitive multiplayer modes to round out all that Adventure has to offer. Classic Mode's inclusion might just be a nod to the mindset of Lucid Games when developing Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions -- improve as much as possible while still staying true to the core of the franchise. That old game is still there, it's just unspeakably better now. It may have been past installments in the series that were billed as evolution, but Dimensions is where Geometry Wars truly evolved. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Geometry Wars review photo
Adding depth
Geometry Wars games have always been, in a sense, one-dimensional. They present the player with the seemingly simple task of "shoot everything in sight," and that's the sole objective apart from staying alive. The onslau...

Review: Far Cry 4

Nov 14 // Chris Carter
Far Cry 4 (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease:  November 18, 2014MSRP: $59.99 Away from the archipelago of the Rook Islands, we now find ourselves in the vast expanse of the Himalayas in a land called Kyrat. The new protagonist, Ajay Ghale, has returned to his homeland to spread his mother's ashes in Kyrat at her request. The only problem is Pagan Min, the ruling warlord. Min has history with Ajay's family, and knows he's coming. Ajay is thrown in the middle of an all-out war between Min and the Golden Path, a resistance movement led by Ajay's father, thus sparking the narrative and giving you reasons to shoot things.This time around Ajay is a bit less in-your-face than Jason was in Far Cry 3, and the game is more enjoyable for it. Ubisoft deliberately downplays most of the main character's dialog, and while Ajay isn't quite a silent protagonist, he doesn't say a whole lot. While I'd definitely prefer a well-written, vocal lead character, Far Cry 4 puts the spotlight on the supporting cast, allowing players to focus on the action at hand from Ajay's position as someone simultaneously new to Kyrat, but not quite an "outsider". The real star of the main event is easily Pagan Min himself, played to perfection by Troy Baker in one of his best turns yet. His outfit, mannerisms, and actions all make him a villain worth pursuing, and he steals the show every time he's on-screen . Even the in-game guide is written by Min, offering up some humorous takes on the lore. His army has some more flavor than your typical mercenary crew found in most sandbox games as well, with proper in-world context to justify their outfits and abilities. [embed]283393:56291:0[/embed] The story itself takes place over the course of 32 campaign missions, which will no doubt take ages to complete as you get distracted by pretty much everything else. There's 24 outposts to take, over 200 collectibles to find, radio towers to scale, and 100 extra quests to complete. There's also two major characters in the campaign to side with, and choosing one over the other will change the course of the story slightly and give you access to different missions. Of course, I spent the first 20 hours hunting and completely ignored the story. Just like Far Cry 3, it's very easy to get distracted here. There are also a small number of "Fortresses" to take, which are basically bigger and tougher outposts with individual alarm systems. The developers even hint in-game that you should complete story missions to weaken them first or take them by way of co-op (which I'll get to later), but it's an awesome feeling to carry on as a one-man army. Even if you haven't earned enough skills to say, take down the Heavy units with a stealth kill, you can still work around it by systematically going around them to take everyone else out, then cut the alarms and improvise. They're like miniature puzzles to solve, and are easily one of the stronger points in the game. Taking them also affects the meta-story in Far Cry 4, as it stops the ongoing attacks to the outposts you've already claimed in that particular region. At first I was kind of annoyed that outposts could be reclaimed by the enemy, especially since losing one takes away a hard-earned fast-travel point. But after two of my posts were stolen I was emboldened to take the fort at any cost, which was a pretty awesome feeling and led to a real sense of accomplishment. It's this mechanic and the increased count of dynamic events that attempt to make the conflict in Kyrat seem more authentic. While in the end it's still all very "gamey" and not truly organic, the experience never really feels dull. At nearly every turn some random event could happen, drawing you into an exciting car chase, or a rescue op to save a comrade from a army of honey badgers, when what you originally planned to do was hunt some docile little animal. By the end of the story you may not care so much about the Golden Path, but you'll remember all of your personal stories and interactions with the characters. Once again the developers have nailed the actual shooting mechanics, and driving is improved this time around with the "auto-drive" button that lets you hand over the steering to the AI -- allowing you to take in the sights, make a sandwich, or focus on shooting your sidearm while riding. Movement is still very open, as a heap of different travel options are out there including various cars, hang gliders, rudimentary flying machines, and even a grappling hook that has the power to scale mountains and swing from specific catch points. Elephants are fun to ride and stomp around with, but they're even more fun if you're watching them from a distance as they make ragdolls out of the enemy. Due to the mountainous layout of the region, everything in Far Cry 4 is more vertical. For the most part getting around isn't inherently difficult, but the mountains themselves can often obscure parts of the map, which makes them feel like gates to prevent you from getting to a location faster. It all opens up more as you explore and unlock more fast-travel locations, but there was something special about the vast seas of Far Cry 3 that really resonated with me. While I personally prefer the less hilly setting of Far Cry 3, the exotic locale of Kyrat does have its perks. Not only is the wildlife more interesting, but the lore actually feeds more into the region in general, giving it more of a purpose than most sandboxes. It's also beautiful on a current-gen system (especially during the Shangri-La dream sections), with long draw distances and incredibly impressive setpieces. The map most certainty does not have a cheap feel to it -- you can see for what feels like miles, and it's almost all accessible. Don't expect a whole lot from the Elephant (defense) and Tiger (offensive) split skill system though, as it unfortunately feels like a copy and paste from Far Cry 3's tree. While the rest of the game makes an effort to forge its own identity, the actual skills are still uninspired, to the point where some of them weren't even worth picking up in the first place (not once have I found shimmying stealth kills or a faster repair ability essential). Karma on the other hand is actually a nice addition, offering a more traditional way to "level-up" with the locals by going out of your way to help. In return, you'll get better deals on items and weapons as well as better assistance from the AI out in the wild. All in all, the campaign is fantastic and completely worth buying Far Cry 4 for alone. But wait? Isn't there multiplayer in there somewhere? Why yes! Multiplayer comes in two flavors in Far Cry 4 -- a competitive five-on-five mode called Battles of Kyrat, and co-op. The former is a basically by-the-books asymmetrical versus mode, with soldiers (Golden Path) going up against a more technical mystical group (Rakshasa) gameplay that leaves both sides with different powers. One side has more raw strength, the other is more tactical and can teleport, basically. There are three modes -- Outpost (base capture), Propaganda (bomb offense), and Demon Mask (capture the flag). You've seen this all before, and you've seen it done better. Though it is a serviceable addition, I feel the same way about Battles of Kyrat as I did with Tomb Raider's multiplayer -- a zero sum gain that doesn't help or hurt the campaign. Most players will just outright skip it. Co-op on the other hand is a bit more enticing. In essence, you can flag your campaign session and play online (or completely avoid co-op altogether by starting your playthrough with the offline option), which lets random players or friends join your session for a bit of help or general tomfoolery. You can't play story missions together but you can enlist them to take down just about everything else in your game world, including fortresses. The limitations of co-op are probably the worst thing about it (it's a pain to have to stop your crucial story progress and start up again), because it works as advertised and it's actually quite fun. It would have been great if the other multiplayer bits were scrapped entirely in favor of creating a fully featured co-op mechanic that allowed for zero discrepancies though, because the feature feels less like a groundbreaking addition and more like a diversion. As a side note, the PS3 and PS4 platforms allow you to send out 10 two-hour trials to your friends, even if they don't own Far Cry 4. The last online component is probably the most interesting -- the map creation and selection system. Here you can craft unique maps that have a variety of objectives like horde style gameplay or base defense, and unleash your creations to an online database. It's very rudimentary and only supports one player (plus you have to log into uPlay to create), but it reminds me of the old PC mod days in many ways, especially with a few of the wacky maps that are out there right now with low-grav modifications and floating islands. I ended up playing it far longer than Battles of Kyrat, but the main event is decidedly the gigantic sandbox. Far Cry 4 could have all of the multiplayer elements stripped away and it would still be a very strong game. If you enjoyed its predecessor and didn't grow tired of Ubisoft Montreal's open world formula, you'll have a blast living the experience again. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Far Cry 4 reviewed photo
♪Shangri Feat. La (Everbest remix)♪
Far Cry 3 was one of my favorite games of 2012. It didn't stray too far from the normal sandbox conventions set before it, but gallivanting around beautiful island vistas and flying about with wingsuits was pretty damn fun. For some that wasn't enough, though, and for those folks, Far Cry 4 won't be enough either. But for me, it's still pretty damn fun.

Review: Assassin's Creed Rogue

Nov 13 // Brett Makedonski
Assassin's Creed Rogue (PlayStation 3, PC, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Ubisoft SofiaPublisher: UbisoftRelease: November 11, 2014 (PC in 2015)MSRP: $59.99 While it's loathsome to reference other games for detail in a review, it's near impossible not to in the case of Assassin's Creed Rogue. This is nothing more than a patchwork quilt of Black Flag's systems (right down to the interface and fonts) with other Assassin's Creed ideas sprinkled in liberally. It plays like a greatest hits album of the franchise, and while some might welcome that, it's difficult to heartily applaud the effort. An argument could be made that outlining Rogue's gameplay would be best served be republishing an original Black Flag review. It's nearly identical, after all. Heavy emphasis on sailing, counter-based combat, a lot of open sea naval combat, many small island or coastal locations to explore -- it's all there. Even most of the places feel eerily similar to those in Black Flag, just re-skinned with a bit of snow to suit the Northeastern setting. When it isn't copping Black Flag's style, Rogue's borrowing concepts from other Assassin's Creed games before it. Remember the reparation project introduced in Assassin's Creed II? Renovating various buildings around the three major locales is the means of earning passive income in Rogue. How about the task of liberating small Borgia-controlled areas in Brotherhood? That's here too, as "gangs" occupy various sections of the world. They're all present, like a family reunion made up of only the relatives that you don't mind. [embed]283665:56274:0[/embed] This isn't inherently a bad thing, just uninspiring. Black Flag was an enjoyable title, one that reversed course from the often dull Assassin's Creed III. But, would we heap praise upon Leonardo da Vinci if he painted a second Mona Lisa a year later but added a bush behind her? Rogue is derivative of the series' past works to a discouraging extent, and that's saying something given the culture of annual releases in the videogame industry. The little that Rogue does to innovate mostly falls flat and is inconsequential. A bit more than a third of the way through, the player's given access to a grenade launcher -- a device that needs to be used exactly once, and that's in the mission immediately following its introduction. The grenade launcher can be used to brute through some doors, but that's probably ill-advised when compared to the more subtle approach of lockpicking -- a feat that's accomplished by simply holding down a button. It's really too bad because the juxtaposition between the thought put into the narrative and the effort put into the gameplay is glaringly obvious. The presentation of protagonist Shay Patrick Cormac is one of the best in Assassin's Creed history, telling the tale of a man keenly aware and critical of his own actions, not just simply fighting for his side because it's "his side." Rogue's hook is that it's the first game in the franchise to put the player in Templar robes (apart from a short stint in Assassin's Creed III), and it can, at times, wonderfully drive home that there are two sides to any story. Shay leaves the Assassin brotherhood after embarking on a mission that went horribly awry and did untold destruction upon a city's populace. Believing that his superiors knew this would happen, Shay turns his back and fights for a more noble cause -- humanity. Finding that his interests align with those of the Templars, he joins their corner to prevent the Assassins from accomplishing their will and causing even more unnecessary death (an intention that's starkly dissonant from his actions when he sticks his blade in hundreds of soldiers that had the audacity to live in a different country, but I digress). What lends Shay such a sympathetic demeanor is that his story is properly established. It's not until several hours into Rogue that the major event takes place that gives way to his betrayal. In the time leading up to that, the audience is given a glimpse at who Shay is. He's more than just a killing machine. He's playful at times, but professional when he needs to be. Always though, Shay's a good-natured fellow, even if this means being too trusting of others. When Shay eventually turns his back on the Assassins, it doesn't at all feel like an unnatural transition from the shoes that Ubisoft's had us walking in for the six previous installments. Rather, it gives pause; it lets us reflect. Maybe the Templars aren't an entirely evil organization, and maybe the Assassins aren't so altruistic with their ways. Maybe things aren't as black and white as they've always seemed. There are certainly shades of grey, and Rogue expertly reminds us that that every story has another point of view. Surprisingly, this is nowhere more apparent than in the modern setting. As in Black Flag, the out-of-Animus actions take place inside Abstergo Entertainment -- a division of Templar-run Abstergo Industries and a cheeky meta nod at Ubisoft. The higher-ups are hellbent on extracting Shay's memories because they want to shove his side-switch in the Assassin's faces. Along the way, there's plenty of lore to rediscover. As menial tasks are prescribed, a wealth of information is made available to those willing to find it. By hacking -- erm, "repairing" -- computers through a never-changing mini-game, files are unlocked that profile notable Templars from past installments, painting them in a light that's far more redeeming than what was learned through the eyes of the Assassins. The "Inspiration" videos are especially rewarding, but there are other interesting files that cover the past, present, and future of Abstergo and Templar involvement. Hiding in one of these tablet entries is an aggressive wink at the root of the problem with Assassin's Creed Rogue. "...While I want to recycle assets to save money, the experience has to be totally fresh," reads an Abstergo note. Ubisoft's push to release two Assassin's Creed titles on the same day significantly hampered the potential of the last-gen release -- a borderline travesty given all that the protagonist and narrative do to shake-up the tried and true approach. Those who yearn for a return to Black Flag's sandbox will take comfort knowing this is "more of the same," as the clichéd review expression goes. But, Rogue's systems do nothing to move Assassin's Creed forward, leaving it fittingly stuck in the past like the last-generation consoles it graces. Anyone who expects more will be disappointed. Anyone who just wants another open-world adventure replete with sailing, exploration, and killing might find comfort in its familiar ways. The reception to Assassin's Creed Rogue's gameplay systems and mechanics will likely vary and mirror the sentiment that the game's narrative and tonal direction pride itself upon. It's all just a matter of perspective.
AC Rogue review photo
A matter of perspective
Ever since its 2007 debut, the Assassin's Creed franchise has been presented as a one-sided affair. Chronicling the persistent struggle between the Assassins and the Templars, Ubisoft has always framed the story casting ...

Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Nov 11 // Chris Carter
Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BioWarePublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease:  November 18, 2014MSRP: $59.99 Almost immediately it's easy to see that Inquisition takes to heart everything BioWare has learned throughout the development cycle of the first two Dragon Age games. Combat has vastly improved since Origins, but now rather than feeling too twitchy like Dragon Age II, it's a mixture of the two design philosophies and feels just right. Attacks have weight to them, but you can't just go flying through the air like a ninja and launch a thousand attacks a minute -- a style that cheapened any sense of strategy the second game may have had. That tactical feel of Origins is back, and married with the action concepts from DA II. Said compromise also spills into the core story, which is no longer a small-scale tale of one human's struggles in a fortress town. While the initial creation process isn't as detailed as Origins -- it doesn't go all the way down to your socioeconomic status, for instance -- it's a huge upgrade from the previous game. You can choose from a pool of human, elf, dwarf, or Qunari races and pick your class from the start, whether it be a dual-wielding or ranged rogue, one- or two-handed warrior, or a mage. I would have liked more race and background options. The tactical camera is back on all platforms (thank goodness!), and you'll need to get used to it during some of the tougher encounters. Boss fights and even a lot of world-map encounters are legitimately difficult, and you can't just slice your way through everything. Skill building isn't as robust as Origins but there are at least four trees to choose from, all of which have their own set of useful abilities; nothing feels tacked on and everything has a point to it. Customized armor is also back, and again, feels like a mix of the two philosophies. It's streamlined, but allows you to fundamentally change the look of your party and adds a sense of importance to loot and item progression. [embed]283093:56275:0[/embed] If you're completely lost at this point in the story or you're jumping ship to a new platform, Dragon Age Keep has you covered. By logging in to the online tool with an EA account, you can select just about every single detail you wish from the first two games, and apply it to your Inquisition save file. It's insanely detailed, and an innovative way to span multiple platforms and jump through technical hoops. It takes roughly 30 minutes to get everything settled, and bam! -- you're all caught up. Inquisition begins with a bam, too. Within five minutes, you're thrown into a situation involving the zealous Chantry and a worldwide inquisition to stop an encroaching demon threat. Through mysterious circumstances you've been given the power to banish rifts and send demons packing, so naturally you're recruited into the fray and instantly gain some semblance of authority -- seeing as you're the world's last hope and all. Of course, much of your power will have to be earned, and you'll need to grow the inquisition from the ground up. Not everyone, including the infamous Mage and Templar factions, actually respects your authority. You'll have to prove your worth over the course of the game. It's a different feel from the Grey Warden-driven narrative of Origins, as there's an inherent sense of helplessness and confusion that drives your rise to power, which is especially complicated if you play a race that many fear, like the Qunari. The story itself is by-the-books fantasy and less nuanced than Origins, which can get boring at times if you aren't keen on going on more exploration treks, but it does the trick. The writing at times can slip depending on the character (Varric and Dorian are always great), and the first few hours in particular can be painful in terms of deliveries and a weak script. But overall it does a great job of world building, and it's fairly easy to follow throughout. You'll also get to learn a lot more about the world of Dragon Age in general, as you can roam about both Orlais and Ferelden regions with more freedom than ever before. What Inquisition nails is that big-picture feel Origins pulled off so well. This isn't a small-time story you're playing out; the stakes feel real, and you'll meet a wide variety of accompanying characters that make the world worth exploring. It helps that Inquisition is a beautiful game, with an impressive engine that boasts long draw distances and a smooth framerate. You can now see the imperfections of certain people, adding more character to them without a word of dialog. The new codex card and lore art style is also mesmerizing, and draws you into reading more about the world of Dragon Age. But the best part of all is the vast strides BioWare has made in the exploration aspect of the series. Topping even Origins, the new hubs are gigantic, and take hours to completely clear. Progress in the campaign works by gaining "power" points through essentially any action in these hubs, which lets you take on new story missions. It doesn't feel like a gate considering how open Inquisition is in giving out those points. You can also randomly discover optional dungeons, random world events, and special world bosses. That feeling I get from taking a random party into unknown territory is perfected in Inquisition. It cannot be overstated how much Inquisition has to offer in terms of side content. It feels like every five minutes you're stumbling across a new optional quest, along with fresh landmarks to find, camps to set up, shards to locate (that unlock a completely new optional hub zone), animals to poach, resources to gather, puzzles to solve, and more. Better yet, everything contributes to the overall war effort, so you never feel like you're wasting your time. BioWare claims that you need over 100 hours to complete everything, and based on my experience, that number is accurate. Multiplayer (yes, multiplayer) is the cherry on top, because nothing in the campaign feels like it was compromised for its addition. In essence, it's a modified horde mode that operates similar to Uncharted 3's co-op sections. Four players will be able to select from a host of classes, each with their own skills and abilities, and play through a miniature dungeon together. It has that horde feel in terms of fighting wave after wave of enemies, but each stage is an adventure complete with multiple paths, loot to gather, and special doors that can only be opened by certain classes. In that sense, it's not your typical boring "kill kill kill" mode. You'll have a chance to level up each class, earn new gear, and in turn unlock completely new classes down the line. Mechanics like the specialized doors and the simple fact that different roles will grant different advantages will encourage you to experiment outside of your comfort zone. There are three difficulty levels in tow, and if you're up to the challenge you can play with less than four people per run or even go at it solo, but to my knowledge it doesn't scale, so it'll just end up being more difficult. For those of you who are worried, multiplayer does not affect the campaign in any way. There's no silly "play multiplayer to help the galactic front!" nonsense like in Mass Effect 3 -- they are completely separate entities, and you can enjoy one without even touching the other. There is a microtransaction system, but much like Mass Effect 3 I didn't feel compelled to use it. None of this spills over into the campaign, either. Dragon Age: Inquisition not only feels like a fully fledged role-playing adventure, but it's also packed with fun things to do that will keep you busy for weeks. Having played well over 100 hours, I'm still finding things to do, working on my multiplayer characters, and plotting another playthrough to handle things a bit differently. Inquisition is a triumph and proves that despite some missteps along the way, BioWare hasn't lost its touch.
Dragon Age III reviewed photo
Thank the Maker, it's better than Dragon Age II
Dragon Age II felt like a great action game that was outsourced to a lesser developer. It lacked the polish BioWare typically puts into its titles, and almost the entire affair felt like a gigantic step back from everyth...

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 brings the mystery back to survival horror

Nov 07 // Alessandro Fillari
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (PC,  PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: February 17, 2015 (Episode 1) MSRP: $5.99 per episode / $29.99 full release (including DLC) Between the events of Resident Evil 5 and 6, Claire Redfield and Moira Burton, daughter of fan-favorite Barry Burton, awaken to find themselves in an abandoned prison on an isolated island. With strange bracelets on their wrists, they discover they are under watch and in communication with someone observing them through security cameras throughout the facility. After getting situated, they soon learn the prison is inhabited by bizarre creatures known as the Afflicted, and they must fight to stay alive and uncover the truth about their kidnapping. As Claire and Moira delve deeper into the facility, they'll have to solve puzzles and take out these monsters while acquiring new items and abilities. But in typical Resident Evil fashion, things are not what they appear and the stakes are much higher than you would initially expect. The original Revelations was well-liked among fans because of its happy mix of action and horror elements from both modern and classic Resident Evil titles. Revelations 2 definitely aims to rekindle the same atmosphere and pace. When you're exploring the ruins with no enemies around, the eeriness and dread is more pronounced, as at any moment you can be attacked by the Afflicted. But during combat, action is tense and relentless, especially when fighting multiple foes. Though the beginning of this episode is fairly linear and doesn't leave much room to explore and find clues about prison, you'll have more opportunities to trek at your own pace as you continue with the story. One of the most talked about aspects of Revelations 2 is the release plan Capcom has in mind. Following the success of games such as The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Revelations 2 will release episodically. While the first game felt like binge-watching an entire season of television, the sequel plans to release an episode each week after its first installment launches. With four unique episodes covering different sections of the story, you'll venture across the island while also experiencing events from the past that have great significance. With the popularity of episodic gaming and shifting TV viewing habits, Capcom wants fans to engage in 'water-cooler' style conversations after each episode. As with the original, Revelations 2 will play with perspective and time, showing things through the eyes of another, which ultimately tie into the present events. Since each episode ends on a cliffhanger, the clues and references left behind should arouse discussion. Though, if episodic games aren't your thing, you can always wait for the full package, which coincides with the release of the final episode. It was great to be in the shoes of Claire again while also getting to see Moira Burton, whom was referenced all the way back in the original game -- though she was definitely a lot more foul-mouthed and punk-ish than expected. You haven't lived until you've heard someone in a Resident Evil game say "What in the cock did I just see?" I suppose Revelations 2 is aiming to retain the strange dialog from classic games. In order to survive the prison's dangers, Claire and Moira will have to work together. While Claire will handle most of the combat and action, Moira offers support abilities, such as using a flashlight to navigate dark areas, and finding hidden items. At any time you can switch between the two characters, as each has their own role. Oddly enough, Moira is adverse to guns and refuses to use them entirely, even during such trying circumstances. While Claire can definitely handle herself in high-risk situations, Moira will need to be cautious and avoid conflict, as the only defense she has is a crowbar and flashlight, which can momentarily blind the Afflicted. Each character has their own inventory menus, meaning you'll have to switch out resources and divvy up health items. Although Moira seems like she'd be an annoying character to escort, she largely stays out of danger during combat. In some cases, you can use neat tactics between the characters to get the upper hand on your enemies. Blinding the Afflicted with Moira's flashlight can allow Claire to deliver devastating blows to the stunned enemies. One thing that became apparent early on was how responsive the movement is. As one of the first RE games to allow both moving and shooting with expanded melee combat, Revelations definitely improved on issues that plagued past titles. In Revelations 2, movement and aiming feel much tighter, and with the addition of a dodge button, you'll no longer have to rely on the spotty contextual action dodge. Moreover, item management is far riskier than before. Inventory management is in real time, and using health items is no longer instantaneous. For the first time in the series, players will be able to use crouching as a means of navigation. While crouching, you can sneak past enemies or get the jump on them. This is especially handy during areas where you are vulnerable and need to evade the enemy. I got the impression that the danger is much higher in this title, and it seems the developers want players to feel more in control when it comes to how best to handle the situation. Of course, every Resident Evil game needs a set of creatures to fight, and the sequel has them in the form of the Afflicted. The former residents of the prison were infected with a virus that turned them into mutated creatures that stalk and hunt anyone who isn't under the influence. Resident Evil fans will recognize them as a mix between past series enemies -- the Ooze's muddy and melted exterior with the Ganado or Majini's brutality and resourcefulness. While they're a challenging presence in the prison, they felt derivative compared to other types of monsters from the franchise's past. But, this was just the beginning of the game; here's hoping they have more tricks in store. Though I was a bit disappointed to not get a glimpse of the returning Raid Mode, I was happy to hear that it will unlock after completion of the first episode. So, fans of the addictive, super fun action gameplay will be happy to jump back in early on. Moreover, Raid Mode will feature online co-op for those looking to take on the difficult challenges with a partner. The mystery surrounding Revelation 2's plot is one of its greatest strengths, and discussing the story with other fans after each episode should add intrigue to the experience. Given time to play the first episode for about half an hour, I very much want to know more about what led up to the events in the prison, and which other characters from the series' past are involved. This will be an interesting experiment for Resident Evil, and I'm keen on seeing how it'll unfold.
Resident Evil photo
To binge or not to binge...
There's certainly been intrigue surrounding Resident Evil: Revelations 2. Since its existence was leaked a few months back and several cryptic images of a derelict prison made the rounds, there has been speculation about what...

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Nov 03 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: November 3, 2014MSRP: $59.99 Ghosts was ultimately a half-measure. While the James Bond-esque satellite kinetic rod cannon was a cool idea, the game didn't really explore futuristic technology as much as augmented existing tech. Advanced Warfare throws any conception of modern-day limitations out the window, and it's that much better for it. The gimmick this time around is the Exo Suit, changing the face of near-future war into that of a super soldier. The suit allows you to jump higher, dash faster, and slam into things with greater strength than ever before. Right off the bat the game feels fresh -- like a faster-paced Call of Duty -- like something the series should have experimented with before this point. Heck, you can even air dash and double-jump -- in a Call of Duty game! Items like the Threat Grenade, which shows a heat-reading of all of the enemies within your field of view really drive the point home that this is not your typical fare, and I love that it feels so different in just about every game mode. You can also do things like flip-up a makeshift riot shield instantly from your suit, cloak, and shoot grenades out of your arm. Frickin' laser beams are also in and are a joy to see in multiplayer. [embed]283217:56181:0[/embed] We've finally come to the point where the franchise can be considered "current-gen" by any standard. While Ghosts was developed primarily for last-generation hardware, the PC, Xbox One, and PS4 versions have the top honors here, and it shows. The faster gameplay really lends itself well to a farther draw-distance and a smoother framerate, and load times are drastically improved. For many, the big draw is the new story, featuring the lovable Kevin Spacey as Jonathan Irons. Over the course of 15 missions you'll embark upon a journey with Spacey as your PMC boss, earning new gear and augmentations for your suit as his character starts to become more and more power hungry. Spacey does not phone it in -- he gives a great, animated performance that's worthy of his top billing, and the campaign is worth playing just for him alone. Of course, the missions themselves are still practically on-rails, which will probably lead many people out there to skip the campaign again in favor of jumping right into multiplayer. With games like the recent Wolfenstein bringing back the glory of open-ended maps, I would have hoped that Advanced Warfare would marry the signature action style with a less linear map layout. If you know what you're getting into, though, it's better than the last three Infinity Ward campaigns. The additional "Exo Survival" mode alongside of the campaign is kind of a throwaway however, hearkening back to the Survival Mode of Modern Warfare 3. It basically pits you and a partner against an increasingly deadly set of wave-based enemies, which is just as dull as it sounds. With no real story or gimmick such as aliens or zombies, there's a very limited amount of enjoyment to be had here. Zombies are said to arrive with the upcoming DLC, but for now you're out of luck. Abbreviated load times are particularly welcome for one new feature for the series -- the pre-game firing range. Gone are the days where you're scared to try guns out of fear of ruining your kill to death ratio. Now you can almost instantly fire up a virtual range to test out your gear in before the vote and countdown ends to give you a better feel of your chosen loadout. Multiplayer once again is the main event, and some interesting changes have been made give Advanced Warfare quite a long shelf-life. In addition to the tried and true Prestige system, "Supply drops" (read: loot) are also in this time around. Now instead of using the same few guns over and over, playing more and completing challenges will earn you unique drops, with new statlines to play with. When coupled with the new training ground between matches, you're actually encouraged to change up your style constantly -- a fresh concept for hardcore fans. I also didn't notice any real balance issues with any of the newer weapons or variants, which is also good news for casual players who still want to remain competitive. My favorite addition is probably the "Uplink" gametype, which is basically futuristic basketball. A round object is thrown onto the battlefield, and two teams have to kill each other for it. Upon grabbing said object you can either throw it or pass it to a teammate, and the ultimate aim is to get it into the floating enemy uplink "goal." Yep, it's a blood sport, and it's a ton of fun. All of the classic modes like Ground War and team deathmatch return as well. The full-on customization "slot" system returns, which lets you change your loadout to your heart's content outside of your basic primary and secondary weapons, and all of those wonderful toys will give you a lot of options. Killstreaks are now customizable this time around, which lets you change the parameters of the same boring old UAV you've played with for years. It's another small mechanic that brings online play forward and makes it ultimately more interesting. Multiplayer takes place across 13 maps, which isn't a lot, but thankfully the futuristic touch changes them up considerably. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare plays it a little too safe with the campaign, but it feels like a real core entry in the series, and will please fans who are jaded after last year's release. While Treyarch is still the king of Call of Duty in my eyes, Sledgehammer Games has shown itself to be more than capable of taking over with its debut entry. Infinity Ward is now the odd man out.
Call of Duty review photo
Exo Squad
After the disappointing Call of Duty: Ghosts, Activision needed fresh ideas, and Sledgehammer was just the developer for the job. Even before it delivered its first game, a weight has been lifted off of Infinity Ward and...

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel illustrates the danger of nebulous season passes

Nov 03 // Darren Nakamura
To be clear, I was never one to complain about how Gearbox handled Borderlands 2's season pass. Where many would rail against the developer for producing content that was not included in the season pass (or even the Game of the Year Edition), I always saw it from a more measured viewpoint. Borderlands 2's season pass promised four pieces of story-based downloadable content, and it delivered four pieces of story-based downloadable content along with a bonus level cap increase that those without a season pass had to purchase separately. I bought it in good will before the game came out, and I felt like I got my money's worth. The fact that Gearbox continued to produce content for Borderlands 2 after the season pass had run its course never phased me. People wanted more stuff to do on Pandora, and were willing to pay for those experiences. The extra characters and Headhunter packs were far from essential to the experience, and they were never stated to be included in the season pass to begin with. As an informed consumer, I did not feel cheated. However, there were those who did feel cheated, and that might have contributed to this current mishandling. Many in the Borderlands community complained that BL2's season pass/Game of the Year Edition did not include all of the post-release content, and according to Gearbox Product Manager Chris Faylor, this move is an "[attempt] to address that." So now, instead of four story-based DLC packs that are included in The Pre-Sequel's season pass, along with other pieces of downloadable content that are available for additional fees, it sounds like the total amount of content is being reduced in order for it all to be included in the season pass. Worse yet, if we take the official Borderlands blog post's words literally, we can expect "another character, a level cap upgrade, a new campaign, and more," which lays down a particularly dismal tentative DLC schedule. Where previous games in the series featured four additional story packs, are we really meant to expect only one this time? Looking back at the Pre-Sequel season pass announcement, it is not that 2K lied or even blatantly misrepresented what players should expect in the season pass. So little information is there that the developers have quite a bit of leeway with it. Even on the official blog post, there is never any mention of what type of DLC is planned. The only information given are the phrases "new characters," "new challenges," "new missions," and "new experiences," which in hindsight are incredibly vague. All that is concretely stated is that there would be a season pass, that it would include four undefined pieces of content, and that buying the season pass would cost less than buying all four pieces individually. The problem here is one of expectation. Borderlands featured four pieces of downloadable content, and all four were story-based additions that included new areas to explore, new enemies to fight, and new missions to take on. Borderlands 2 continued that tradition with its four main DLC packs, along with a bevy of other content. I am certain that I am not alone in having made the assumption that the four add-on packs promised in The Pre-Sequel's season pass would follow that same pattern. I do not mean to belittle the amount of work that must be necessary in the design, balance, and playtesting of an entirely new character or even something like Borderlands 2's Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode (Playthrough 3). I do not doubt that the teams behind those additions feel that they put a lot of effort into producing something worth selling for ten bucks, and I do not begrudge them for it. However, while those add-ons may require comparable amounts of work, the value of those additions for the consumer is much lower than that of the traditional story packs. So even though no promises are technically being broken, and 2K plans to deliver four digital additions to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for the price of three through the season pass, I cannot blame any who bought it for feeling cheated. The content fits the requirements laid out, but the value is not there. Even if the plans were to change from here onward and the season pass ends up including one new Vault Hunter and three story DLCs, the value of the pass over purchasing content piecemeal hinges on the quality of all three packs, and the series does not have a perfect track record on that front. Even for somebody who did not purchase the season pass, this news is disheartening. With a shorter base campaign and the possibility of only one story-based DLC pack, the lifespan of this game looks to be much smaller than those of its predecessors. It's like walking into a shipping container expecting a pizza party, only to find that the pizza is a hologram and the shipping container is about to be shot out of a cannon at the moon. In the months after Borderlands 2's release, there have been many in the community expressing extreme disappointment when it comes to the handling of post-release content. However, for those who complain that there exists content not included in the season pass, the intended solution was never to reduce the total amount of content in order for it to fit. Though it might have been an attempt to appease disgruntled fans, Jack's Doppelganger as DLC #1 for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has only bred more contempt in the community.
Borderlands DLC opinion photo
Glad I skipped this one
Over the weekend, details came out of PAX Australia regarding the first downloadable Vault Hunter for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. At first, it looked to me like a commendable gesture for a series that receives a lot of criti...

Resident Evil was a difficult game to remaster in HD

Oct 23 // Alessandro Fillari
Resident Evil Remastered (PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: Early 2015 Resident Evil Remastered is a high-def release of Capcom's 2002 remake of the original game from 1996. Set in a seemingly abandoned mansion in the woods, the elite police unit S.T.A.R.S. must investigate and uncover the mysteries behind a series of gruesome murders. Taking control of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, players will experience the events from their unique perspectives and uncover a greater conspiracy that will haunt them for years to come. More than a decade after its release, fans still hold the remake as one of the best entries in the series. Blending enhanced visuals with greatly refined gameplay, RE devotees were yearning for more titles in this vein. But since the release of Resident Evil 4 in 2005, and along with the influence of the hugely popular live-action films, the series has steered toward more action-adventure gameplay and scenarios. While Revelations and its upcoming sequel are certainly a blend of the series' action and survival aspects, there's still a desire for the pure survival horror experience that came with Resident Evil. And that desire will undoubtedly be satisfied here. The most talked about aspect of REmastered is the updated visuals, and with good reason. Considering the unique circumstances of this HD reworking, many fans are worried that this might end up like a certain other botched remaster. Standard-definition televisions and the 4:3 aspect ratio were commonplace in 2002, but those aren't the only issues Capcom faced for the remake. Resident Evil blended 2D background images and in-game FMV (lighting, candles, and other 2D animated visuals) along with 3D characters and objects. As the 2D backgrounds were set in stone and obviously couldn't be reworked, this made creating an HD remaster with a 16:9 aspect ratio a difficult proposition. Original Speaking with producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi, he described at length the challenges the team had to tackle in order to maintain the original style during the transition into HD. "The biggest challenge for us in raising the resolution was the backgrounds themselves and the effects in them. Originally, these had been created from still images, so there was a lot of work done by hand to the assets we had in order to raise the quality bar," he said. "If the original data had been large enough, this would have been a relatively easy process, but the assets we're working with were created for a game over a decade ago, so we didn't have a lot of high-resolution source material to work from. We had to find a way to take what we had on hand and work hard to make resolution and other adjustments bit by bit." In order to work around these limitations, the developers used editing and manipulation techniques to get the most out of the graphics, while retaining the 'look' of the original game. Most apparent of the changes are the use of cropping and pan & scan techniques. The former sections out the desired part of the image that serves as our visual focus, while the latter gives the illusion of a moving camera to keep the action and important aspects of the picture in focus. Remastered Initially, I found the HD look to be a bit jarring. Not because I'm a purist, but I was so used to original that it was noticeable where changes were made. The static look of the original is very much an element of the game's atmosphere, so seeing the focus shift around and certain areas of background cropped out was instantly apparent. Having said that, I did find the HD aesthetic to be remarkable. The screenshots don't do the visuals justice; in motion you see a number of the visual upgrades working at once, and it helps to breathe new life into the game. Granted, there are some noticeable places where the background looks slightly stretched out, but I still found they had a greater level of detail. In addition to this, I felt the new touches to the animated atmospheric details helped make the environments feel more terrifying and spooky -- which was yet another challenge for the developers. "As far as effects are concerned, these were all redone from scratch," said Hirabayashi. "Even then, we had the original designer on hand to personally look over all of these and ensure that they were in line with his vision. We used multiple techniques depending on the needs of a particular scene. Our goal was to preserve the feeling and atmosphere of a given scene while raising the resolution. Each scene, each cut, was judged on its own merits as we determined the best way to handle them one at a time. That was a tough process. There is definitely a sort of flavor or sensibility in backgrounds created as 2D pieces that can be very hard to replicate in polygons." Moreover, the 3D character models have been updated as well. The texture work on all the models is significantly improved, giving them some much-needed polish and detail. But sensing that graphical changes might upset purists, Capcom has included an option to switch back to the original visuals and 4:3 resolution at any time within the options menu. Not content with just offering updated visuals, the team looked to add gameplay tweaks and other content to the remaster. In addition to new costumes, specifically the Resident Evil 5 BSAA outfits for Jill and Chris, Remastered features a brand new control type called 'modern' mode. With it enabled, players can use the analog stick for auto-run and 360-degree movement without having to deal with the traditional and somewhat cumbersome 'tank' controls. Now when I first heard about the controls, I felt that a new movement method would undermine much of the terror by giving players too much freedom, especially when you consider enemy AI and movement was designed around players using tank-style controls. But Hirabayashi was well aware of the difference it would make and had the team behind the remaster rework the controls while maintaining a balance. "We spent a great deal of time fine tuning everything from the characters' movement speeds to the button layout in order to replicate as closely as we could the tempo and difficulty of the original control scheme," said Hirabayashi. "I think that people who have played the original iteration of this title will much prefer the original controls as that is how the game was initially designed. That said, we know that there is also a portion of the audience who will be experiencing the game for the very first time. For those uninitiated in this series who may be more accustomed to modern 3D games and controls, I imagine they might have a hard time wrapping their heads around the original scheme. By implementing both, we are able to bring new players in without making sweeping changes to the overall difficulty." As one of the defining aspects of classic RE was the...unusual control type, it certainly felt sacrilegious to use an easier method of movement. For better or worse, this also cemented its reputation as a punishing game that demanded precision. With that said, I found myself taking quite a liking to the new controls after some time passed. I appreciated not having to hold down the run button to move with haste, and I also liked being able to round corners faster. But I still found myself having to readjust my movement when moving out from a different screen, which was a common problem for classic RE. Though if you're not a fan of the controls, or want to go for an old-school run, then you're totally free to select the classic control type. What made me appreciate the modern setup more was how I would utilize both options at once. Modern mode also has the classic tank controls on the d-pad, and in some cases I preferred using those over the new type. While I used modern controls for basic traversal throughout the mansion, I mostly stuck with the d-pad for combat, as back-stepping wasn't available for modern mode, and the aiming wasn't as precise. After spending about an hour with the game, I felt right at home with the HD remaster, which I imagine must be the best compliment you give it. While I came into this series with RE4, I ended up playing the classic games to see how they stack up, and found a new appreciation for the series. With the release of REmastered, it certainly brings up a discussion for fans about which style of game is more faithful to the series. And while that debate can be worthwhile, Hirabayashi feels both types of Resident Evil experiences can coexist. "As for the RE series itself, we have fans on both sides of the fence. Each user has their own specific taste and things they look for in games. I don't think we can narrow this down to finding the 'right' answer since there are actually a plethora of 'questions' we're attempting to address," said the producer. "For me personally, the important part of this series is the survival horror aspect. Whether a game tends more toward the older style, focuses on action, or even breaks ground and does something entirely new, the important part is that that core element of survival horror is maintained. Put simply, the specific style of a given game is less important to me. What's important is that survival horror ethos." I'm quite liking the direction the franchise is taking. It's not too often you see publishers hold up both the past and present simultaneously, and with two upcoming releases showing the best aspects of the series' past, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Resident Evil. With the remaster set for release early next year, it's a great time for new players to take the plunge. But for those who want an excuse to re-enter survival horror, Resident Evil Remastered will rekindle that familiar feeling of dread.
Resident Evil photo
Capcom talks challenges of remastering a classic
With the rise of high-definition re-releases, many fans have likely made a wish list of titles they hope will eventually get the HD treatment. Whether they be classics from the '90s or 2000s, we're seeing a variety of games f...

Review: The Legend of Korra

Oct 21 // Chris Carter
The Legend of Korra (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Platinum GamesPublisher: ActivisionReleased: October 21, 2014 (PC, PS3, PS4) / October 22 (Xbox 360, Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 For those of you who don't follow the Avatar/Korra cartoons, here's a quick refresher on what to expect. In the realm that Korra inhabits, there are four core elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Through rigorous training, benders can master any one of these, but the "Avatar," a living god-like entity who is reincarnated over time, can master all of them. Korra is one such Avatar. The game picks up in a strange spot having explained almost none of her backstory (outside of the aforementioned Avatar setup), and you're dropped into the action in Republic City right away. This is both a good and bad thing, depending on what you want out of Korra, as the story and any sort of real narrative takes a backseat throughout the adventure. Cartoon cutscenes are spliced in throughout, but they often last 30 seconds at most and serve as nothing more than quick, jarring transitions to the next area. The story plays out like a basic episode of the show. This time, the gimmick is that an evil seer has stripped Korra of her powers, and you'll have to earn each element back level by level. Every bending style has its own level system and sense of progression, and by the end you'll have everything at your disposal. [embed]282722:56009:0[/embed] Korra herself is a cool character, and tends to take a more hot-headed approach than Aang, the protagonist of the original Avatar series. She also has a pretty awesome friend in the form of Naga, a giant polar bear thing that you can ride during specific Temple Run-like sequences. Since the story bits are so short, you don't get to see a lot of Korra's personality, though. Like any Platinum game, the devil is in the gameplay details. You'll have light and heavy combos at your employ, as well as the power to use each element in tandem with one another -- water serves as a projectile of sorts, fire allows for quick melee blows, earth is slow but powerful, and air is more of an area-of-effect element. Korra can guard and counter (when guard is pressed at the right moment) for extra protection, as well as dodge when needed. All of this plays out like a "light" version of Platinum's previous games. Combos aren't as deep as the rest of the studio's action catalog, and while everything is rather smooth, you can often rely on the same few moves to earn success. It works as advertised though, and the game's visuals perfectly complement the smooth engine -- it really looks like the show. The game also tends to bank far too heavily on counters, which wouldn't be a bad thing if they weren't so finicky. For one boss in particular, anything outside of counters will do a pitiful amount of chip damage. The only problem is he randomly queues up some non-counterable attacks (lightning-themed abilities cannot be countered in general), and sometimes it can take a few minutes to get the "right" randomly generated counter move. It's not a huge deal considering these encounters only come around every so often. Each chapter is broken up by small hub worlds, which are connected to challenge rooms of sorts, putting up barriers to block your escape. There's not a lot of exploration -- mainly short hallways to locate elemental chests to break (some of which force you to replay levels with new powers). There's a small amount of platforming to master but not as much as I would have liked. Moderation is a recurring theme in Korra in that nothing is too frustrating, but nothing is too exciting, either. As you play you'll earn spirit energy, a form of currency used to buy health items and talismans from the shop. You won't need any of these items though, as normal mode is fairly straightforward in nature. Sadly, you'll have to complete the game on normal first before you unlock the Extreme difficulty. I get that it's a show aimed at younger audiences, but it would have been great to have the option to start there if you're a Platinum fan seeking a challenge. If you're keen on replaying the game there are a ton of unlocks, especially if you go back and try to find every elemental chest. There are also new costumes, including one for completing Extreme. One playthrough will last you around four hours over the game's eight chapters, and there's a "Pro-Bending" league to play afterwards with different rankings -- these are basically small arena-like encounters with special rules. At the end of the day, I wish The Legend of Korra was a fully-featured retail release. While Platinum has done a great job in terms of delivering a solid action romp, the jarring cutscenes and open-and-shut story leave little in terms of replay value. Avatar and Korra fans will likely rejoice at the fact that they're finally getting a decent game.
Legend of Korra review photo
A nice but brief romp with Korra and Naga
One of the biggest surprises of 2014 had to be the announcement of a Legend of Korra game, published by Activision and developed by Platinum Games. Yes, that Platinum Games -- the current master of action titles. It...

Review: Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved

Oct 21 // Chris Carter
Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: HarmonixPublisher: Disney Interactive StudiosReleased: October 21, 2014MSRP: $59.99 (Xbox One) / $49.99 (Xbox 360) At first glance Fantasia looks rather confusing, but it's basically Elite Beat Agents mixed with the Kinect. During each song, specific notes will appear on the screen. The most basic note is the directional swipe, which allows you to use either hand to gesture in the direction required. Next are dots, which require a punch forward to initiate. Then you have holds that involve holding one or two arms for a specific amount of time. On paper it sounds simplistic, but sitting down (or standing up) and playing is something else entirely. The way Fantasia gives you said notes feels fluid. The aim is to make you feel like you're conducting what's on screen, and based on my experiences, it accomplishes that goal. Like any rhythm game you'll eventually start figuring out how to get the highest score, and come up with your own advanced tactics. What I quickly learned is that any "flick" motion with either of your hands will cue a swipe. So I got into the habit of using both hands at the same time, "queuing" up directions in my head as they appeared on-screen. You can also use two hands for fun even if it's a single note -- it's a flexible, intuitive system without being too forgiving. [embed]281980:56008:0[/embed] It reminds me of the first time I played Guitar Hero, and had to relearn almost everything I knew about the genre with the new guitar controller. It's like that, with your body replacing a plastic instrument. Harmonix has done right by the device. Since it's the Kinect 2.0 with vastly superior sensors, it actually works. I hardly ever had a moment where the game didn't recognize what I was doing, and it only took me a few songs to get into the rhythm of how to play. The Sorcerer Yen Sid and his apprentice Scout will guide you through the game's campaign mode, which is a journey through various themed worlds like "The Hollow," and "The Nation." These venues range from space-age structures to modern cities, and serve as a delivery system for the game's beautiful art (and the soundtrack, of course). While I wouldn't say that Music Evolved is one of the best-looking current-gen games on a technical level, the art style itself ranks among Harmonix's finest work. The story itself might not be groundbreaking, but it's worth the ride. Sadly, you'll have to play through the game's story mode to unlock a lot of the track list for free play. I'm generally not a fan of this locking method for rhythm games, as it can often lead to playing a great deal of songs you have zero interest in just to get to the "good stuff." The campaign is decent enough on its own to warrant a playthrough without locking content, and hopefully an update can change this ideology in the future. Free play also supports multiplayer, which is fun enough with two people in the mix even if it doesn't fundamentally change the mechanics. As for the track list itself, the actual Fantasia songs are easily the best part -- the "conductor" gameplay simply feels better and more rewarding with older tunes than newer ones. Tracks from Vivaldi and Franz Liszt felt like unique experiences I can't get from any other game on the market. Then the game pulls a 180 and throws "Super Bass" from Nicki Minaj on the screen, followed by "Take Care" from Drake, and I'm thrown out of the moment a bit and put into a zone that feels more like Dance Central. The good news is out of the 33 songs in the base game, there is a decent mix of artists that are older but not quite ancient and still offer up something special, like Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie. Fantasia's in-game soundtrack by Inon Zur is also fantastic, and a great tribute to the films. Another cool thing about the track list is that each song has multiple remixes, including metal and orchestral mixes. You can change up the theme dynamically through an in-game mechanic, which is tied to extra multipliers and thus a higher score. Still, I wish there were more classical songs on offer, and nearly all of the announced DLC so far is contemporary. I definitely understand what Harmonix seeks to gain from mixing in Justin Bieber with timeless tunes like "Night on Bald Mountain" in Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved, but at times, it feels like a waste of the license. I'm just glad that the gameplay is so solid and feels so new that the sound of a less-than-desirable song is still something worth playing.
Disney Fantasia review photo
Magical, but I want a bit more old pixie dust
[Disclosure: Nick Chester, who is currently employed at Harmonix, previously worked at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] Fantasia holds a special place in...

Review: The Evil Within

Oct 15 // Chris Carter
The Evil Within (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Tango GameworksPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksReleased: October 14, 2014MSRP: $59.99 The Evil Within really doesn't waste any time. After a brief cutscene that sets up a psych-ward murder scene, detective Sebastian Castellanos is immediately thrust into a precarious situation involving a chainsaw madman and giant pools of blood. It's definitely one of the best intros I've seen in some time, and the entire premise of "What is or isn't in your head, and what is reality?" is very easy to get on board with; it also facilitates some great pacing and setpiece changes. Don't expect much in the way of exposition or character development, as Evil falls in line with some of Mikami's cheesier work. You're going to see a lot of that permeating throughout the game, and into the core mechanics. Although the game is billed as survival horror, it really feels more like the former than the latter. Ammo is scarce, your character is absolute shit at doing just about everything from punching to sprinting (seriously, sprinting is terrible in Evil Within, partially by design and partially by the fault of the mechanics), stealth is generally preferred, and enemies can slice you to bits rather easily. To deal with this, you'll use a hybrid stealth and action scheme, which is modeled most notably after one of Mikami's finest works -- Resident Evil 4. For the most part, both mechanics blend rather well. There are a number of situations that function like challenge rooms from the Arkham series, allowing you to approach them with a combination of different strategies. Once you get the agony crossbow, a harpoon gun of sorts, it opens up your options with a variety of elemental blasts, from freezing properties to stun-locking lightning traps. Stealth kills will become your best friend, as ammo conservation actually matters for once. [embed]282548:55985:0[/embed] In terms of its tone, The Evil Within isn't so much scary as it is gory and exciting. Rather than rely on real psychological tension, Mikami and company basically throw a lot of hanging guts, blood, chase scenes, and decapitations your way. This works for the most part especially given the conceit of the aforementioned imaginative realms, but only a few enemies give off a vibe of something you haven't seen before. In a sense, it's a loose collective of old-school action survival horror tropes, which has its own set of merits and flaws. Speaking of old school, The Evil Within looks like it came from the last generation of gaming. Although the giant black bars plastered across the screen are allegedly a design choice, it's clear from the art style down to the animations that the game looks dated. If you can get past that fact as I did, you'll find a plethora of rich environments that have the signature of a seasoned developer. Going along with the dated look, Evil Within has a few obtuse mechanics as well. There is little to no explanation for anything, and near the beginning of the roughly 15-hour adventure, the developers kind of leave you to fend for yourself. For example, there's a part in the game where, if you explore every nook and cranny, you may not have a checkpoint for over 15 minutes. After carefully making your way to the end of a path, there's a crank you can interact with to open a door -- and as soon as you touch it, two enemies rise up from the ground at a point in the game where you barely have any defenses. You can "burn" bodies to kill latent corpses outright, but even though I saw them first and tried to burn them, I couldn't. This is a stark contrast to the Souls series, where practically every mistake is your own fault. In Evil Within some areas just feel unfair, and the save system won't do you any favors -- especially if you get stuck in an area with low health and very little in the way of actual defenses. While I definitely welcome added difficulty in games, there were a few instances where I took a short break in frustration. It wasn't enough to deter me however, and I pressed on from one exciting moment to the next despite the occasional hangup. On the topic of the somewhat clunky controls, I don't mind the legacy mentality, even in today's climate. (To be clear, The Evil Within doesn't have strict, tank-like movement.) Although there are plenty of titles that have updated systems and still maintain tension, I think there's a certain charm to be found in that older feel, and if a few other design choices were spruced up around it, the controls wouldn't be a problem on their own. But while I did have fun with the majority of the game despite its flaws, it's important to note the problems with the PC build of the game. To be frank, the PC version is going to need a lot of work. Although you can use console commands to make it run at 60 frames per second, it's not consistently operating at that level, and there are some performance issues abound if you go that route. I also had a few issues with the "developer splash screen" intro crashing on me (until I disabled it by adding +com_skipIntroVideo 1 to Steam's boot options), and your resolution options are limited without using the console. Even then, some resolutions are not fully supported, as information can be concealed off-screen. It's clear this was a quick console-port job, right down to the mouse lag in the menus. Having said that, the game is very much playable, and once it was running I had zero crashes in-game. Just don't expect it to be up to par with the majority of PC releases theses days. If you like old-school third-person action games with horror elements, I'd recommend picking up The Evil Within on a console, possibly at a price cut. It will definitely scratch the itch of someone who has been pining for a return to the older days of gaming, but everyone else who has come to expect that certain layer of polish likely won't be amused.
The Evil Within review photo
I'd prefer a little more evil
I grew up happily playing Shinji Mikami's games, and he's probably one of the most influential directors/producers that ever lived. I remember the first time I played Resident Evil, the day I bought Devil May Cry from EB Game...

Far Cry 4 features a more dynamic and vibrant open world

Oct 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Far Cry 4 (PS3, PS4 [Previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, & PC)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: November 18, 2014After the release of Far Cry 3, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal took a lot of criticisms and affirmations to their open-world shooter to heart. They received some flak from those who found Jason Brody and his exploits on the Rook Islands to be a bit of an annoyance. By setting the next installment in a war-torn country and giving all the central characters a deep and emotional connection with it, the developers hope that the narrative will resonate with players, and give them a greater sense of the tension and suffering in the land of Kyrat. Though to be frank, the opportunity to include rideable elephants was also a driving factor for this setting. Speaking with game director Patrik Méthé, he spoke at length about the origins of Far Cry 4, and what players can expect."After we shipped FC3, we had a discussion about what IS Far Cry. With the past games, we saw that we blended open world with shooting mechanics, while having lots of animals to interact with. After some talking, I said that I wanted to be able to ride an elephant," said the game director proudly. "At first, the programmers thought it would difficult, but once we agreed upon it we started looking at possible locations for the game. That's when the Nepal region came in, and with it came the sense of verticality [in terms of terrain and landscape], along with a rich culture and varying types of weather and environments. It was a challenge, but we wanted to turn that into an advantage."Set in the fictional Asian country of Kyrat, players take on the role of Ajay Ghale, who returns to his homeland after many years living in North America. Seeking to fulfill his mother's last wish to have her ashes scattered in her home country, Ajay is soon caught up in a conflict with Pagan Min, a charismatic and sadistic warlord who has named himself Kyrat's ruler. As the country is tearing itself apart from civil war, we learn that Ajay and his deceased father had deep ties to the country and its people. Ghale soon joins the Golden Path rebellion to fight for the freedom of Kyrat. But in order to take down Pagan Min and his personal army, he'll have to reconnect with his roots -- and of course, learn the ways of a warrior.At first, it all sounds very familiar. I was watching the cutscenes during my session and engaging in missions, and I felt an odd sense of déjà vu. Of course, the plot and gameplay structure for Far Cry 4 take many influences from its predecessor, particularly the fish out of water trope and along with the now standard Ubisoft Open-World Formula. While this may disappoint those expecting a complete reinvention, I can say that FC4's approach to storytelling and the country of Kyrat makes things felt incredibly fresh. In the few hours I spent with the game, I felt more of a connection with Ajay's struggle with the fate of the country than most of what I experienced with FC3 (which I still enjoyed).In another lesson learned from Far Cry 3, the developers wanted to ensure that exploring Kyrat would be different from what players experienced on the Rook Islands in Far Cry 3. Visually, the terrain and locales are much more varied, featuring snow, tundra, jungle, and urban locales, and as a result the color palette is much larger. The lush green jungles are accompanied by snow-capped mountains and ancient catacombs decorated with clay statues and ceremonial decor. In regards to gameplay, the mission structure in Far Cry 4 was expanded and reworked. In FC3, the missions themselves were fairly static and finite in nature. If you played long enough, the content would basically dry up, leaving players with only minor mini-games and small skirmishes to entertain themselves with."When we saw that the majority of players spent so much time in the single player, one of the first things we did was to put much more emphasis on the open-world," said Méthé. "So that's why we came up with multiple types of quests, new types of encounters, new collectibles -- everything is much more embedded in the fantasy of the world, to make sure that as a player, spending fifty, sixty, seventy percent of their time in the open world, that they always have new stuff and new surprises along the way."During certain story missions, players will have to choose to side with some characters over others, which can cause a rift in your relationships with them. In one mission, I had to choose between helping two of the rebel leaders, Sabal and Amita. Sabal wanted me to break into an enemy camp to save hostages, while Amita wanted me to acquire intelligence instead. Opting to go for the intel, the following mission had me sneak into an enemy location, use my hunting bow and knife skills for silent kills, and acquire the intel. Upon completion, my next mission for Sabal had him reacting to me unfavorably, asking if what I did was worth it. It certainly made me cautious about how we would proceed from here. Choices during the main story matter, and with several different endings, the main campaign looks to be far more developed than in previous FC games.To oust Pagan Min from power, Ghale will have to take down outposts and cripple the resources for the enemy army. Ultimately, Ghale has to increase the rebels' power to have a fighting chance against Min's strongholds in Northern Kyrat. Of course, how to do this is up to each player. The choices include completing story missions for the Golden Path, side-missions for the civilians of Kyrat, hunting missions, the optional and trippy Shangri-La side-story that goes on a journey to a world of myth and legend, or the brand new Karma Missions. Karma Missions are dynamic and randomly generated micro-objectives that occur while in the open world. At some point, players will find allies in danger fighting the enemy, being led to an execution, or requiring general support. Such missions yield Karma Points (KP), which levels Ajay's overall Karma level. Upon leveling your Karma, you can upgrade members of the Golden Path with better armor and weapons and get discounts for the Trading Posts. Of course, you can ignore these objectives and leave the GP members to their fates, but doing so would miss out on Karma growth.Much the like the one in FC3, completing missions and other objectives yield experience points and currency, which can be used to level up a character and purchase gear respectively. The arsenal Ajay can acquire is vast, ranging from pistols, machine guns, shotguns, sniper-rifles, cross bows, flamethrowers, and more. There's even a weapon that's a wonderful nod to last year's Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon -- but I won't spoil that. Upon leveling up, Ajay can use attained skill points to purchase new abilities, perks, and other augments -- now in a much more streamlined two-school skill menu. Skills are sorted in two schools; Tiger skills focus on offensive abilities, while the Elephant skills focus on support perks. I appreciate this attempt to streamline, as the last skill menu felt needlessly spread out and had skills that should have been standard for players.The dynamic nature of the missions, including weekly updates for the hunting challenges, and constant threats from enemy soldiers looking to retake territory, are designed to ensure that players will stay active even after the main story is finished. Moreover, this makes the world feel alive and reactive to the choices made. With the wildlife constantly on the move looking for new prey -- by the way,  honey badgers are indeed vicious little bastards -- walking tradesmen looking for your business, and enemies waiting for the right time to strike and take back territory, the land of Kyrat feels organic and lived-in.Back at E3 2014, we got a chance to see the newly designed co-op play for Far Cry 4. Opting to go in a different direction, the developers chose to implement the co-op mode directly into the open world setting of the main story. Those who enjoyed the stand-alone co-op mode with its own side-story from Far Cry 3 will likely be disappointed, but I had a lot more fun than I expected exploring the the open world with a buddy. And going by what the game director says, that's exactly what they were going for."Very early when we had the discussions about what we want to do next, the first thing was that we wanted to put more emphasis on the open world," said Méthé. "It took only seconds, but we saw that most players just wanted to play with a friend in the open world. What would it feel to take part in quests, to attack outposts with a friend  -- so that's why we wanted to explore that."At any time, players can activate the Guns for Hire option, which springs up the option to initiate online co-op or call in NPC allies to help. The Guns for Hire option is not dedicated to just co-op, players offline can still utilize this feature and receive help from friendly AI squad mates. But with the co-op, things can get pretty hectic. Once connected, the main story missions are disabled, leaving players to focus on any other objective they wish. The player joining takes on the role of Hurk, a returning character from Far Cry 3 who somehow made his way to Kyrat. During my session, my partner and I engaged in a hostage rescue mission that required stealth and quick thinking. I stayed behind for sniper support, while the other guy snuck in and made quick work of the enemy with a blade. Or perhaps, players can just drive around and cause chaos, which is exactly what Max Scoville, Bill Zoeker, and I did during our play sessions. We pulled off drive-bys against Pagan Min's forces in our beat-up compact vehicle. We rode around in the Buzzer, a gyrocopter that was fun to fly, but got us into more hairy spots than we could manage. Flying too far up into the sky will cause the vehicle to malfunction, and unfortunately, we didn't have a parachute or wingsuit to save us.Speaking of heights, one aspect of Kyrat that is apparent is the increased focus on vertical gameplay. Throughout the landscape are grapple points that can be used to climb steep surfaces and get the high ground. With the surprise appearance of the wingsuit in Far Cry 3, players began to experiment with ways to explore and engage the enemy. And because of its popularity, the developers plan to give players access to it much earlier in Far Cry 4. Unfortunately, the enemies can also take advantage of vertical terrain to their advantage. "Right from the get-go, we wanted to make sure the NPCs are able to navigate the vertical environment, " said Méthé. "In FC3, you could climb a ladder or climb a ledge and you were out of their territory. But in this game, they can use the same traversal tactics as you."Not all was great during my journey through Kyrat. I had some issues with the technology powering the game. While this title was running at a mostly solid 30FPS at 1080p, I found that there were some points where the game would become extremely sluggish, which resulted in performance dropping and serious texture pop-in issues. While the developers stressed that the build we were playing was from four weeks prior to this event, I still found a lot to feel a bit worried about.I also had misfortune of encountering many bugs and glitches during my travels. In some cases, I had to restart missions, as NPC characters I had to meet with were completely absent from the game world. During a mission with Sabal, I followed the waypoint into an ancient temple of worship, with many followers and visitors nearby. Unfortunately, I couldn't find where to go as the marker pointed to an empty space in the temple. I ran around temples and the jungles outside looking to see if I missed something, only for an attendant to tell me that I encountered a bug. On one hand, I felt a little disappointed that FC4 largely uses the same formula as its predecessor; on the other, I recognize that it's a much more refined and developed game. Far Cry 4 does a better job with utilizing space, as the world size is roughly the same as FC3, but is much more dense with content. I was constantly coming across missions, side-challenges, and skirmishes -- and it made me want to just drop everything and see what trouble I could get into. Though we're still in the dark about the game's competitive multiplayer mode, I feel that Far Cry 4 already has a lot to offer players come release next month. Though I still do have concerns about the technical issues, and since it's almost down to the wire with only a month get them ironed out, I'm ready to expect some quirks on launch day. With that said, I came away pretty jazzed with what I played, and with a musical score from Cliff Martinez (Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Knick) -- I'm looking forward to seeing what chaos I can cause come release.
Far Cry 4 photo
Beware the Honey Badger
Back in 2012, Far Cry 3 turned out to be a surprise hit for Ubisoft. It became the bestselling title of the series, appearing on many game of the year lists, and also created a rather excellent spin-off title. But with the an...

Review: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Oct 13 // Darren Nakamura
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, Xbox 360)Developers: 2K Australia, Gearbox SoftwarePublisher: 2K GamesReleased: October 14, 2014MSRP: $59.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit There is a symmetry to be appreciated in The Pre-Sequel's in-between feeling, given that it is chronologically set between the first two games. Specifically, it is set after the events of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, but before Claptrap's New Robot Revolution, the third and fourth pieces of downloadable content for Borderlands, respectively. Taking place largely on Pandora's moon Elpis, the first regressive parallel to the original title in the series reveals itself: the moon is largely made up of desolate gray-blue rock dotted with industrial complexes. In the same way that our first adventure to Pandora spent entirely too much time in vast brown deserts, the first half of the romp across Elpis occurs in areas that are indistinct from one another. Getting lost is easy at first, even with the minimap and its waypoints. Eventually, the story works its way back to Helios, the Hyperion space station, and the environments become a bit more diverse. Even with the additional biomes found on Helios, the number of different looking areas to explore pales in comparison to Borderlands 2's tundra, temperate, desert, tropical, industrial, civilized, volcanic, and other environments. [embed]281294:55659:0[/embed] Other small oversights pop up in the level design here and there. Expansive areas meant to be traversed in a moon buggy lack vehicle stations at every entrance, sometimes causing the player to have to trek on foot when backtracking or if the rover is destroyed. There are natural progression blockers that are not completely functional once the requirement has been met. Specifically, there is a gap early on that can only be jumped in a vehicle, but even with four wheels and a rocket booster, I found myself falling into the lava chasm beneath the ruined bridge about half the time. Some of the smaller areas have no Fast Travel station, an annoyance compounded by side missions that require returning multiple times. On top of that, not every area has vending machines near the entrance, which makes dumping junk loot a bit of a pain when visiting the offending locales. One area in particular (Stanton's Liver) has everything going against it: unmemorable environmental art design, no Fast Travel, no vending machines, and several optional missions pointing toward it. Generally, these are minor quibbles regarding the level design. A lot of the time, traversing the environments is made easy through circuitous layouts and the new freedom afforded by the low gravity of Elpis and the Vault Hunters' ability to double jump. Other times this freedom is a double-edged sword, where the new ability allow for more verticality, but highlight the need for a more thoroughly upgraded map. It now shows whether enemies are above or below the player, but still represents only two dimensions, despite that a lot of the areas now make extensive use of the z-axis. Indeed, one of the most touted new features of fighting on Elpis as opposed to Pandora is the use of the moon's lower gravity. On paper, it does not seem like a big deal, but it surprised me to find out just how much it affects gameplay. In addition to being able to jump higher, the double jump allows for a lot of aerial control, and the new Gravity Slam move is both satisfying and useful. The double jump functionality is a lot deeper than it initially seems. Depending on when the second jump is activated, it can be put toward additional jump height, additional jump distance, increased traversal speed, or increased maneuverability. The slam damages nearby enemies, typically with an elemental effect, but one of the key features of it is that it does not interrupt other abilities like activating an Action Skill or reloading. This opens up the viability of a lot of weapons that were previously too cumbersome to use regularly. Weapons with long or frequent reloads like Jakobs shotguns or Scav (The Pre-Sequel's version of Bandit) rocket launchers can now be used more frequently, with firing punctuated by crowd-controlling slams. For instance, my Enforcer currently wields a Jakobs Quad -- a shotgun with huge damage, high ammunition expenditure, and frequent reloads. Most battles I get into are frenetic affairs, where I summon Wolf and Saint, double jump toward an enemy, slam to stun him, fire two shots into his face, mentally change targets, and double jump toward that one while reloading. It all happens quickly, and it is incredibly satisfying. Speaking strictly about combat, this is the most fun the series has ever been, and it owes most of that to the low gravity and corresponding abilities. In fact, the low gravity combat is so fun that I became noticeably irritated when the story takes the Vault Hunters back to Helios, where there is more standard, Pandora-like gravity. It is not that the standard combat is bad, it is just that the moon combat is so good. To expound a bit on the story, it opens in Sanctuary as it floats among the clouds. Clearly taking place after the events of Borderlands 2, Athena is forced to tell the story of the time she helped Handsome Jack years before. The playable portion of The Pre-Sequel is all told as Athena's flashback, regardless of which of the four available Vault Hunters is in play. What Athena describes is meeting Jack, a middle management Hyperion employee who saves her life and eventually the lives of countless people living on Elpis. Players get to see firsthand why Jack considers himself a hero, and they get to watch his slow decline into depravity, and his eventual transformation into Handsome Jack, the man wearing the mask. It is an interesting arc to watch, although it is still difficult to be sympathetic toward Jack's character through most of the story. The logical and moral leaps he makes, even when fueled largely by self-defense and paranoia, are still the product of a deeply disturbed individual. Even so, The Pre-Sequel does a great job of showing exactly why Handsome Jack despises bandits as much as he does, and it ends in a way that highlights the moral ambiguity of Borderlands as a whole. Without spoiling too much, the ending upset me initially. I felt betrayed, and I felt like it would not have and should not have happened like it did. Upon further reflection, I realize that while it caused me to see a character in a different light than I previously had, it perfectly encapsulates a major theme in the series. The bad guys are at least a little bit good and the good guys are at least a little bit bad. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which is which. There is one extra thing regarding the story that more serious players will appreciate. For the first time, there is a believable narrative explanation for the second playthrough, True Vault Hunter Mode. There is additional dialogue to go with it, so players have more incentive to go through the higher level content. It is a small thing, but it is a welcome touch. I would have really appreciated a slightly different or expanded ending for those who make it all the way through twice, and the narrative would have allowed for it, but that is not the case. At about 25 hours to get through the campaign once, The Pre-Sequel runs shorter than Borderlands 2, but provides a good amount of entertainment. On the downside, the plot left open a few points that I was expecting to be addressed. Clearly, Athena is alive and in Pandora's vicinity between the point of her introduction in The Secret Armory and some indeterminate point after the events of Borderlands 2, so she lives through the Pre-Sequel, but the story never gives an explicit explanation on her whereabouts during Handsome Jack's tenure as CEO of Hyperion. Considering she was there to witness his insidious rise to power, there should be a good narrative reason that she would not help to bring him down. The Eridian race is also a bit of a mystery. They are present on Pandora during Borderlands, present on Elpis during The Pre-Sequel, but absent during Borderlands 2, and fans are left to continue speculating on the reason. In fact, the story presented here even fuels the fire of speculation by introducing more variables to the question of why they cannot be found later in the timeline. The writing as a whole maintains the classic Borderlands charm, though it does seem a little less wacky than that found in Borderlands 2, again striking a balance between the two previous titles. A few familiar faces show up; most current characters have a least small speaking roles. There are several new characters as well: the eastern European Nurse Nina, the not-quite-as-annoying-as-Tiny-Tina child Pickle, and my favorite new character Janey Springs. Springs is one of many denizens of Elpis, most of whom are the Australians to Pandora's Americans. She is immediately endearing, and has some of the best lines in the game. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and overall the writing is smart and snappy. There are no Internet memes, except for one easily missed reference to an old Destructoid mantra that 99.9% of players will gloss over without a second thought. There are a number of shout-outs to other works of fiction, including Star Wars and Pokémon. One of the best new developments for the writing in Borderlands was the decision to have the Vault Hunters participate in conversations, giving each one more personality, and offering a non-gameplay reason to play through with multiple characters. This is especially important through Jack's campaign to save Elpis, as each character will react differently to his methods and evolving morality. Although Athena is my girl, the morally bankrupt sadist Nisha has some of the most hilarious retorts and insults. Weapons received a major overhaul between Borderlands and Borderlands 2; comparatively, the differences here seem slight, but their consequences reach further than it may initially appear. Slag weapons do not exist yet, since the first vault was only recently opened and the engineers are just beginning to study it. In its place is the cryo element, which slows enemies, damages them over time, and can eventually freeze them solid to be shattered into hundreds of shards. Lasers also appear as a separate weapon type, rather than being reserved for the relatively rare E-Tech weaponry found on Pandora. There are several different flavors of laser weapons, including Ghostbusters-style streams, Star Wars-esque blasters, and powerful railguns. Most useful is that laser weapons generally have low recoil and good hip fire accuracy. This pairs extremely well with the aforementioned low gravity combat. It is common to double jump across a pit and headshot an enemy with a railgun from the hip in the process, and it feels totally rad to do it. Where combat in Borderlands was like Call of Duty in a lot of ways, the fighting in The Pre-Sequel feels more akin to Halo. One other welcome addition to the loot system is the Grinder, which turns out to be a double entendre of sorts. By feeding it three items of the same rarity level, it has a chance to spit out an item with a higher rarity. Any three items can be fed in, but best results seem to come from matching equipment. For instance, grinding three common pistols will usually result in an uncommon pistol. I found myself keeping various weapons that I had no intention of using, because they would go well in the Grinder and return something I may want. With enough of a collection, several common weapons can be combined to eventually produce a rare item. Sadly, rare items cannot be used to create legendary items. The Grinder can feel random at times, and I wish there were more structure to it. Feeding it three Jakobs sniper rifles can produce a Maliwan sniper rifle, or feeding it three incendiary lasers can result in a cryo laser. It seems weapon type is the only attribute conserved in the grinding process. The Grinder also functions through a sort of recipe system, but there is no in-game method for tracking which recipes have been tried, what worked, and what did not. The Grinder is a great idea to deal with all the unwanted loot in Borderlands, but it could have been taken the extra mile to function well without outside support. Of course, some of the most fun in Borderlands comes with multiplayer, and The Pre-Sequel has made some strides to make this even more interesting. While each of the four Vault Hunters can be built to play solo, Athena, Wilhelm, and Claptrap have skills that benefit the whole team in unusual ways. Now, a well-formed group of four can be much greater than the sum of its parts. An obvious example of this is that many of Claptrap's Action Packages will affect the entire team, but a more subtle effect emerges when playing with Athena. As the group's shieldbearer, I acted as the tank, soaking up incoming damage that would have otherwise gone toward glass cannon Nisha. Although previous games have had similar abilities (Salvador could draw aggro and buff his defense), the character diversity and focus on team abilities allow for the potential to be more tactical than ever before. A lot of the best multiplayer moments have come from raid boss fights. Introduced to the series in the General Knoxx DLC, they have required some of the most intensive team interactions, and Gearbox learned a lot about making interesting raids over the course of the Borderlands 2 DLC schedule. 2K Australia has a lot to learn on that front, because the raid boss included in the core game is just a disappointing retread of the final boss fight, except that it has more health and deals more damage. Another arena in which The Pre-Sequel falls short of its predecessor is in general polish. A lot of common, benign bugs can be found, like enemies clipping through environment geometry (see above) or shields that glitch such that they recharge immediately and infinitely, rendering the player effectively invincible until restarting. I ran into a few more off-putting bugs over the 60 hours I spent playing. The most egregious resulted in one of my characters not being able to progress the story, just one area before the final boss fight. 2K has assured Destructoid that this particular bug has been isolated and addressed in a day one patch, so retail versions will be free from it. Regardless, it was heartbreaking to put 40 hours into one character only to be stopped just short of completion. At least two missions show up in the menu, but point toward the wrong location to accept the mission. One even points toward an area that the player might not have even found before, existing as an ever-present missed connection, with no guidance on how to actually take it on. In Borderlands 2, side missions were generally discovered organically, placed in the main path where they could not be missed. Here, many side missions require backtracking just to take them on, and that is backtracking that the player would not do naturally. Otherwise, there are issues with form and functionality that do not technically qualify as bugs. For instance, Wilhelm has a skill that sets up a healing aura around a point on the map, but that aura is denoted by a perfectly horizontal circle on the ground, centered at one point on the surface. In areas where the terrain is not completely flat (i.e. most of them), part of the circle is hidden from view. Other areas feature terrain that hides it entirely. In case it is not already obvious, I love the Borderlands series. I have followed it since its debut in 2009, and I have put hundreds of hours into using bullets to make numbers pop out of bad guys, digging into the lore, and hanging out with friends. Loving the series means knowing just how good it can be, and it means always measuring it against those high standards. 2K Australia nailed the combat with The Pre-Sequel. It is fast, fresh, and more tactically interesting than ever before. The writing hits the right notes, although the overarching plot is not quite as emotionally powerful as other entries have been. For many, that is enough to be a great experience. I had a lot of fun playing through, and I anticipate I will keep playing for months as more friends obtain copies. Despite that glowing praise, I am torn, because I also recognize that it is far from perfect. The environmental art direction gets dull too quickly, the level design is lacking in basic conveniences, and a general sloppiness is present when looking closely. Some of the cool new features like multi-leveled areas and combining weapons could have been enhanced further if the user interface and systems had been updated to play to those strengths. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a solid entry to the series, but I hope that the development team takes some of the failings to heart and delivers excellence in the future.
Borderlands review photo
If it ain't broke...
[Disclosure: Anthony Burch, one of the writers for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, was previously employed at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] "If it ain't ...


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