Every year I like to create a private game log to detail what games I've played, my impressions on them, and when I completed them. Just recently I've began publishing them for other people to read. It takes a ton of time to compile and proof, but I think it's worth it. Previously, I posted two blog posts chronicling my game log from January through June (Part 1 here and Part 2 here, respectably), and now I will do the final half of the year. Note that this is a VERY LONG POST, so don't feel compelled to read it all. Check out the games, read the reviews you want, and drop me a line below. Thanks for reading!
Gone Home was one of the many indie game darlings from last year that is quite deserving of the moniker “walking simulator.” There is no combat, few puzzles to solve, and the majority of the “game” – if you can even call it that – tasks the player with exploring the environment and uncover what it is that must be done. Players take on the role of a female college student in the 1990s arriving at her family’s newly purchased house only to find that her parents and her younger sister are nowhere to be seen. To solve the mystery, players must search literally every drawer and closet, read every note, and even uncover the occasional hidden passageway or two in the old mansion. What I found most enjoyable was the 90’s aesthetic – VHS tapes, cassettes, and even fake SNES cartridges are discovered while roaming the home, making the house feel authentically in the decade of my childhood. As for the game’s story, it was fairly predictable for me, with an ending that likely will hit harder for those that don’t see it coming. Regardless, I enjoyed learning about this family and the problems they were facing before their disappearance. What few puzzles involved I was able to quickly solve, and even for an adventure game it’s pretty easy. In total, I spent perhaps two-and-a-half hours before reaching the ending. Players can spend a bit more time if they want to achieve all trophies/achievements and find all documents in the game, but there’s little reason to replay it other than that. Old school adventure game fans might find enjoyment, but I expect most others to walk away with little satisfaction unless they thoroughly are engaged in the mystery of the missing family.
2.5 / 5 Stars
What a wild ride Doom is. The return of Doom is a wild, hectic, and incredibly fun ride that I hardly wanted to end. Players are a space marine on a Mars colony that is farming energy out of the portals of hell, and there are some other story elements in there involving betrayal and such, but quite honestly I didn’t care about that. This is Doom after all, and the only thing I wanted was to blast some demon scum. Boy, does it deliver on that front and more. Doom recaptures the frantic play of the original with arena style slaying of hordes upon hordes of demons. Fortunately, the developers wisely kept the rules of First Person Shooters of old with the ability to carry every weapon you come across, health and armor replenished on item pickups rather than waiting for it to refill over time, and fast paced shooting based on running and gunning rather than taking cover and popping out to shoot. All of the classic Doom weapons are there, from sawed off shotguns to miniguns that shred demons into minced meat. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Doom is the new melee mechanic. Dealing enough damage will cause enemies to stagger and flash, enabling you to get close and finish them off with a devastating melee blow. Killing via melee gives bonus health, while using your chainsaw to cut through the opposition gives extra ammo. This all keeps the action fast and fluid the way it should be, so the player is rarely, if ever, stopping to search for supplies while in the heat of battle. As for the levels themselves, they are often intricate mazes reminiscent of the original Doom. This is mostly good, but at times the three-dimensional maps in the pause menu can be a little too complicated and finding exactly where to go can be a bit of a pain. I found the game to be a little too easy compared to the challenge of the classics even on a high difficulty. Still, Doom hits enough high marks that I cannot recommend it enough, to old school and new school fans alike.
After playing Ground Zeroes, which I reviewed during the first half of the year, I wasn’t too thrilled to get into The Phantom Pain, especially with the knowledge of the tumultuous development it experienced. In many ways, I was satisfied enough letting the Metal Gear series end with The Guns of the Patriots. I am happy to say that despite these concern, The Phantom Pain is a good game. A damn good game. It’s a shame though that there are so many things that keep it from reaching perfection. Unlike most Metal Gear Solid games, The Phantom Pain is open world with missions players can select and complete. What this creates is some of the best action/stealth gameplay out there. Players can freely scout an encampment, decide how best to infiltrate it, and bring whatever weapons they desire to take on the mission. The limitation of this setup is that The Phantom Pain has the dullest storyline of any past Metal Gear game. Sure, there are the iconic twists and turns, the lengthy cinematics, and the intriguing characters, but these are few and far between, and often so separate from the gameplay that one may confuse them for taking place in two different mediums. There is also the problem with codec entries. In past games, Snake spends much of his time in contact with his team via his codec. Here, these conversations are mostly stashed away in separate menus, forcing the player to take time away to sit and listen to hours-upon-hours of one-sided conversations. After a few hours, I simply did not care for these any longer. Speaking of Snake and conversations, the Snake in The Phantom Pain is so silent that he might as well be named Link. While the developers famously hired Keither Sutherland to voice the main character, he is very rarely utilized, making Snake more boring than ever. The last major negative I have with The Phantom Pain is with the last few missions, which are repeats of earlier missions but with restrictive parameters, such as “do not alert the enemy” or “do not kill anyone.” These would be nice to have as a type of challenge mode, giving replayability to older missions, but it’s ludicrous that these must be completed as part of the story. The ending is also unfinished, with the final mission also being a repeat. Finishing The Phantom Pain seems to open up even further questions in the Metal Gear universe rather than close it all up in a nice little package, which is what the series really deserves. Despite all of these negatives, the core gameplay is a blast and it’s certainly worth playing through. There is so much to do that I could write about it for pages – base building, army recruiting, weapon researching – but I’ll just say buy it and enjoy it all for yourself. Just don’t expect to be blown away by the story like you may have been previously.
Pokemon Go fever had me craving the good ole days of the original in its black and white/green and white glory. Fortunately, the 3DS has just that. The original games still hold up quite well, with an excellent flow and much purer focus on battling and training rather than breeding, dressing up, and all the distractions of newer titles. Not to say those are bad, quite the contrary, but it can certainly distract the player from the ultimate goal of training your Pokemon to be able to defeat the menacing Elite Four and win the Pokemon League. If you are a fan of the series but never played the original, give it a go. The core experience of superb battling and training is still there, just graphically it’s on the poorer side. The only real fault I have with the original is the poor item management. Buying and selling is done one item at a time, and boxes to store Pokemon are severely limited and players must select them manually, forcing players to return frequently in the late game to choose a box to use. Nonetheless, Pokemon Red and Blue are still proof of why Pokemon exploded in popularity worldwide.
As a fan of old school Resident Evil, I was excited for The Evil Within. The game marked a return for Shinji Mikami (creator of the aforementioned franchise) to his horror roots, and mostly The Evil Within succeeds on this front. Sporting the over-the-shoulder camera of more recent RE titles, environments in the game are ghastly, enemies are terrorizing, and gore is pushed to the visceral limit. Elements of psychological horror more reminiscent of the Silent Hill series is also sprinkled throughout the tale of Detective Castellanos in his case of hunting down a deranged serial killer. The atmosphere of The Evil Within is certainly its best part, as nearly every area of the game is hauntingly beautiful with its dark corners and blood soaked hallways. The enemy design is also excellent, with numerous chilling foes to slay. One in particular is a combination of The Ring’s black haired Samara and a pale spider with long, human arms. Another sports a rusted safe for a head and a heavy meat tenderizing hammer. These are creatures rarely seen elsewhere. The Evil Within also excels in pairing classic survival horror traits with updated gameplay. This is an area where modern Resident Evil has failed, in my opinion, becoming too focused on accessible combat rather than working within the constraints of survival horror. The Evil Within makes ammo sparse, contains sections where stealth and retreating are the best option, and scavenging for equipment is a must. Collecting equipment is most important for using the Agony Crossbow, a weapon that can be outfitted with various bolts that can induce electric shock, freezing, explosive arrows, or even flash bangs. It’s an interesting way to make one weapon have many various functions, and for the most part it works. Leveling up in the game is also enjoyable, as combat, collectables, and various actions in the game rewards the player with experience that can be used to upgrade health, the strength of weapons, and more. The Evil Within isn’t without its issues, however. The plot of the game isn’t very interesting, crippled with poor pacing at points and unnecessary twists. While most battles are tense and rewarding, there are too many areas where developers seem to throw everything at you at onc to make up for the lack of difficulty in most other sections. For the most part though The Evil Within is a solid action game that cleverly uses survival horror rather than being confined by it.
This was my first Yakuza game, and it offered a pretty great experience. The Yakuza franchise, as far as I know, featured a single playable character up to this point, but Yakuza 4 spreads the experience across four to tell its story of Japanese mafia intrigue. The story is interesting but largely nothing special, but fortunately each of the characters offers a perspective that I enjoyed playing. They all have their own fighting styles, own skill trees, and specific side missions that appeal to their distinct characteristics. One character for example partakes in gambling, while another participates in an underground fighting arena, but we won’t talk about that. My favorite oddly enough was pimping out girls at a hostess club, buying accessories so that they will appeal to specific clients, and training them to be the best girls for the men that want them. It’s these little side quests (and many, many more) that make Yakuza 4 stand out and feel like a real mafia simulator. I would have liked to see more rewards for these activities, but they are mostly great just to play. One thing I didn’t like about playing as four different characters is that until the end you don’t have the option to switch between them, thus you are stuck into one scenario until you finish it. Also, because each character has his own skill tree, you begin at level 1 every time. This means that after you’ve grinded to level up one Mafioso, you have to start over with the other with low health and weak skills. It just robs the sense of progression. Combat in the game is a good mix of fighting game mechanics and beat-em-up style scenarios, as you will frequently encounter groups of thugs on the streets wanting to pick a fight and you must dispense of them quickly with combos and weapons lying around. There are few things I would improve with thus, namely including more combos and animations for finishing moves, but what is available suffices. Yakuza 4’s music is forgettable, as there are few tunes in the game, but sound design is great. Walking through Tokyo feels alive with the chattering of passerby, phones ringing, and car horns and sirens echoing from the distance. There are no English dubbing in the game, which may turn off some players, but this gives the game a certain Japanese authenticity, and from what I can the voice actors are on point with their delivery. I recommend Yakuza 4 as an entry point in the series, as I enjoyed it without playing the others, and think it offers a unique enough experience from other crime based open world games (I’m looking at you, GTA).
Let me start off by saying I’m not the biggest Kingdom Hearts fan. I think the game play is fun but not great, the graphics and animation are impressive, and the story is too convoluted for me to really get into. That being said, I have fond memories of the original and its sequel, and thought getting into the side stories might make me excited for the third installment. Sadly, Chain of Memories didn’t do that for me. Originally released on the Game Boy Color, the game is a direct sequel to the original, and follows Sora and gang as they explore a mysterious castle that is linked to Sora’s memories. The PS2/PS3 version’s graphics have been greatly improved to use the same engine as the first Kingdom Hearts, sound and voice acting have been used to make cut scenes much more interesting, and combat handles largely the same way as the first except with cards (more on that in a moment). This sounds great at first, but creates its own problems once you dive into the game. Firstly, because the game has Sora revisiting places from the first game, and uses the same graphics engine as the first, Chain of Memories just feels like playing the original without the same story. The same enemies, music, characters, and even some level layout is ripped right from Kingdom Hearts 1. Because one of my favorite elements of the Kingdom Hearts games is seeing which Disney or Square character I may run into next, this ruined the surprise. The second major negative with Chain of Memories comes with the cumbersome battle system. Cards are used to perform actions, thus every magic attack, swing of your sword, item use, or character summon must be used from a card rather than standard RPG controls. This would be fine if battles were turn based (see Paper Mario: Color Splash down below), but because this is in real time it is so much of a pain to use. Players must construct their decks methodically ahead of time so that they don’t search for cards in the deck to use. Even when decks are well prepared, it's never perfect, and when you need that odd healing spell in a surprise moment of crisis, you can easily die because it takes so long to find. Once you understand the card system, it is incredibly easy to exploit; all I did was chain together unblockable special attacks and spam them, rarely losing a battle because I arranged my cards a certain way. As interesting as the card system is, it just doesn’t work here, and I would have preferred KH1’s gameplay. What new story elements here aren’t interesting enough to slog through the rest of this experience, and thus I really recommend just reading about the plot online rather than putting up with 30 hours of dull battling and revisiting worlds you should already know.
This was a favorite RPG of mine growing up, and in a world dominated by Final Fantasy, it was a great diversion. I found this recently at a pawn shop by chance, bought it, and had to play it again. I’m glad I got to relive a part of my childhood. Legend of Legaia follows three young people who have been blessed with the powers of creatures called Ra-Seru as they attempt to rid the world of a furtive mist that is corrupting humans and monsters alike. The story is unique, but admittedly nothing too special. Fortunately, the combat, characters, and world is enough to carry the game through. Legaia is a world that the player can tell used to be peaceful before this mist brought cities to their knees, and it’s fun to discover a locale, solve the problem there, and bring it back to life. It’s a wonderful sense of progression, and really makes the player feel like they have an impact on the world. The three main characters compliment each other well, with the stern Martial Arts leader Gala, the naïve Noa who was raised by a wolf, and the heroic Vahn leading the team. Each have their own distinct personality that can lead to enjoyable and comedic dialogue throughout. Combat is maybe Legaia’s greatest strength, as it is unlike anything else I’ve ever played. Battles are turn based, but it’s how you attack that is so interesting. Players select combinations of high, low, right or left attacks to chain together combos. Some enemies are damaged more if attacked a certain way, while can dodge attacks more easily from others. Certain combinations can lead to special attacks, such as flaming uppercuts, freezing blasts, or kicks that can paralyze. It’s a lot like a fighting game placed squarely in an RPG, and it’s a beautiful marriage. The one criticism I have is with most magic attacks. Characters can absorb abilities from certain creatures they meet in battle, and level up these abilities the more they use them, which is all great. The problem is that all characters can learn all abilities, making characters a little less distinct in battle as I would have liked. Largely, Legaia nails everything else well. The graphics are slightly better than Final Fantasy VII (which was released not long before), and music is memorable and fitting, though not incredible. It’s a shame that this is still not available on the Playstation Network, as it was released by Sony, so if you find this on PS1 I recommend giving it a go.
Alien: Isolation is the best Alien game I’ve played, though that isn’t saying much given the franchise’s track record. Still, Isolation is good. Very good. For the first time despite many, many attempts I felt that I was actually in the iconic movies, and that’s saying something. Environments are desolate, dark, and spooky, creating a haunting atmosphere that few games and movies have pulled off so well. This is great, as the atmosphere is so important in a game where you must explore barren corridors in hopes of not being discovered by all kinds of things that can kill you easily. Isolation is damn hard because the player is so weak compared to the opposition. Human gangs are armed to the teeth and can end you in just a few shots, and androids are relentless, shrugging off attacks as they pursue you for the kill. Then there is the infamous Alien that is nearly unstoppable in its pursuit of any and every living thing on the space station. The Alien appears at random, jumping down from an overhead air vent or emerging from an unexplored room, thus the player must always be on their toes or face a Game Over. Many times I died because the Alien chose to attack while I attempted to solve a puzzle, only to reload the game and the creature not appear at all. The Artificial Intelligence in Isolation is incredible, too. The Alien not only appears randomly but behaves in a realistic, random manner as well. The creature won’t take the same path every time that it explores, it won’t fall for the same tricks every time, and sometimes it will come straight for you simply because of your bad luck. This creates an enjoyable albeit frustrating experience. Even if you’ve done everything right, the Alien may still catch you because of its random nature. Sure it’s realistic, but this is a game after all. Relying on your wits alone and falling victim to bad luck so many times in a gaming environment can make some situations in Isolation feel impossible to get through, and frustration is bound to grow. I had fun with the game, but it went on for far too long. Not counting my numerous deaths, Isolation is a near 20 hour game. While this would be good if certain areas weren’t so repetitive or behave as filler, or some areas focused more on combat rather than straight up stealth. By the halfway mark I was already exhausted because Isolation is a stressful, frightful experience that can really drain you. Still, give it a shot, especially if you are a fan of the movies. You won’t be disappointed.
I loved playing Metal Slug in the arcades and the local Pizza Hut as a kid, and Guns, Gore, and Cannoli brings that arcade experience to consoles with mobsters and zombies in place of the cartoonish war environment. While there is a story centered around a mob hit gone wrong, an unexplained zombie attack is the star of the game. It reminds me of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, in that the zombies are just there, with no real explanation, while the mob storyline tries to continue despite the undead forcing their way onto the set. The game features several different weapons for your undead and mobster killing deeds, from sawed off shotguns to tommy guns, revolvers, and even dynamite. Everything seems ripped from the 1930s, which I like, but there could have been some more creative weaponry given the outrageous zombie plot (something similar to Dead Rising, perhaps?) There are a decent variety of enemies as well, like zombies wearing helmets that protect them from headshots, or football player zombies that charge forward, as well as a mix of mobsters and their powerful weaponry. The game can be brutal on single player, especially since enemies like to come from both sides of the screen and swarm unexpected players, but fortunately there is a great two-player couch co-op mode as a friend can watch your back. After finishing the 4 hour or so campaign, there isn’t much reason to go back sadly as I don’t think there are any collectibles in the levels. Still, I can imagine going back to it after awhile just because it’s a fun experience that reminds me of some of the best arcade games that just aren’t made anymore.
As absurd as Guns, Gore, and Cannoli was, BroForce makes it look tame. Taking on the role of more than a dozen characters that are spoofs of iconic action heroes, the BroForce fights international terrorism for American Freedom. That isn’t to say the game is patriotic, in fact quite the opposite. Some missions say “These people look different than us, so kill them for FREEDOM!”, making for a politically charged and humorous experience. It reminds me of Team America: World Police, and that’s a positive. The gameplay is fast and brutal, with a single hit killing you most times. The best part of the game are the characters that you play as. As mentioned, each character is inspired by an action hero, from Rambro to The Brominator, from Indiana Brones to Broheart. Each character not only has their own distinct look, but also unique weaponry and abilities. Rambro, for example, attacks with a machine gun and a powerful grenade, while the Bro in Black (inspired my Agent J from Men in Black) uses an explosive alien blaster and a special ability that hypnotizes enemies to fight on your side. Each character demands a certain playstyle to finish the short but challenging levels. To keep the game always feeling fresh and challenging, you are unable to choose your character but you are randomly assigned one every time you die. This is great except when you are given a character that is clearly disadvantaged in a level. Imagine using a knife to kill tanks, for example; it’s not impossible, but unnecessarily challenging. Still, I loved BroForce, especially playing with a friend in couch co-op, and think this indie title is fun for casual and hardcore gamers alike.
I attempted to play the first Bad Company, with plans to play its sequel afterward. Sadly, I couldn’t muster it. Bad Company 1 may have been a good game when it released, but we are so far removed from that day that the controls felt impossibly outdated, the health system unnecessarily awkward, and the muddy graphics really hurt my eyes. It’s hard to think that a game made for the Xbox 360 looks this archaic. I moved on to Bad Company 2 and was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the campaign was much more in line with most other modern war shooters, but that’s ok. There’s a reason those games are so popular and sell well. Bad Company 2 improves on its predecessor with more fluid and comfortable controls, a story that’s actually interesting, pleasing graphics (though nothing close to Battlefield 3 or post Modern Warfare 2 COD), and a more familiar cover healing system. Levels are more straightforward than other Battlefield games, but that works when levels are varied and fun to play. I would have enjoyed some more vehicular combat that the series is known for as opposed to a mostly predictable shooter-based single player, yet that doesn’t keep Bad Company 2 from being a wild, fun ride.
I enjoyed the first two Gears games, but something always kept me from getting involved with the third entry. Call it being too busy with other titles, or not caring about the story and world enough to jump back into the franchise. With all the talk about the fourth game (fifth, counting Judgement), and with little reason to think I’d own an Xbox One by the end of the year (thank you Black Friday), I thought now was as good of a time to finish Marcus Fenix’s war. It didn’t disappoint. Gears of War 3 sees the beefed up humans at war with two entities: the glowing Lambent and the relentless Locus horde. The game fleshes out the plot and world better than any before it, and by the end I actually cared about the characters and the battle they were fighting in, something that wasn’t the case before (save for Dom’s ill-fated wife, bless her soul). The combat is also top-notch, with both Lambent and Locus forces using different weapons and require different tactics to take down. You never know which foe you will be facing, thus you have to always be prepared to fight either one. There’s also an impressive amount of weaponry for you to take down your enemies, bringing back weapons from across the series. It’s fun picking up an assault rifle from the first Gears game with greater firepower but worse recoil, and it really shows how the series has evolved. I did find the game to be much easier than its predecessors. Even playing on hard mode, I didn’t die too often, and rarely did I die in the same spot twice. Gears of War 3 is an excellent war to cap off the trilogy. Here’s hoping future titles are just as good. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
I really enjoyed the first Gunman Clive. I picked it up cheap, finished it within an hour, and went through it several times after that. The simple Mega Man style side scrolling platformer coupled with a short length made it perfect for quick sessions on a portable system, mostly due to the creative level design and appealing Western-style monochromatic visuals. The second game offers more of the same, except the levels don’t feel quite as creative and the action not nearly as good. The graphics are the same as the first, with the 3DS’s 3D effect working spectacularly, but these visuals aren’t impressive enough to warrant a purchase on their own. Combat is simple and satisfying, but the first game and any Mega Man is light years ahead of it. There are some puzzle platforming that will make you think, but nothing that hasn’t been done better elsewhere (including the original game). One cool addition are levels in which you ride your horse or other creature. These behave like Afterburner or Star Fox, in which you shoot and dodge enemy attacks while your transportation runs for you. If you find it cheap and liked the first entry, Gunman Clive 2 can offer a fun hour or two, but that’s about it unfortunately.
Color Splash might be the best Paper Mario game I have played (it’s been far too long since I’ve played Thousand Year Door, but this might be it’s equal at least). The game sees Mario set up to solve a mystery of having color drained from Prism Island, quickly leading to Princess Peach’s capture once again at the hands of the evil Bowser. Fortunately, the Princess storyline takes a back seat to the loss of color in the land. Mario joins up with a talking paint bucket named Huey, who assists Mario by providing him with his painting special abilities and entertaining, comical dialogue along the way. The combat in Color Splash is what’s most different from other titles (aside from Sticker Star) in which it uses cards rather than direct actions. You have cards for jumping attacks, hammer strikes, fireballs, iceballs, or evening summoning enemies to fight on your side. Honestly, this isn’t as different as it sounds; just imagine that instead of using Magic Points or Action Points, the number of cards you have determines how many times you can use that action or ability. The only problem this leads to is having to return to a shop to buy cards more frequently than I’d like. Paint is used to fill in colorless cards to make them more powerful, or to uncover secrets in the main world. You don’t level up traditionally in this game (as you progress in the story you gain more powerful cards and increase health), but you do increase your paint can storage through battling. This is useful, but through normal battling I rarely ever ran out of paint to the point I couldn’t battle. One thing I loved is the new layout of the game, which feels more like classic Mario than an RPG. Instead of a largely open, connected world, you have stages that you select from an Overworld map, much like in Super Mario World. Each level has its own stars, enemies, towns, and asthetic, and with over 60 of these, Color Splash is full of diversity. I also loved the adventure game style puzzles using “things” in the game. “Things” are real world items, such as an electric fan that looks real as opposed to made of paper, that Mario can turn into a card and summon to solve puzzles and assist in battle. Enemy summon fog that keeps you from seeing? Use the fan to blow it away. Sailboat can’t move because the wind isn’t blowing? Summon the fan and send it across the ocean. The music is also a high point, with plenty of catchy tunes, and nearly each level having its own unique theme. The paper motif is used throughout, creating beautifully unique world. Not just Mario and the characters look like paper this go around, but levels held together with glue, thumbtacks, and stitches is greatly detailed, and I loved exploring it.
I finished Fallout 4 last year (on Christmas of all days) and for the most part I enjoyed it, though I was left wanting plenty more. The game, despite having so much to do, didn’t feel complete, and yet oddly just felt like an expansion on its PS3 counterpart. A year later, and we have plenty more for those wanting to explore the Commonwealth Wasteland. I played through the majority of the game with the focus on completing the DLC, and here is my review for each one.
Automatron – While Automatron is short, it offers a lot in what I’d like to see from a Fallout DLC. There’s no new map, but it introduces a couple new dungeons for your robot slaying needs. The highlight is your new companion in a robot that you can customize, as well as the ability to build robot workstations at settlements, providing necessary defenses in keeping settlers safe. A great feature is the new gang in the Rust Devils, as they will begin appearing in the Wasteland after the initial quest has begun. Rust Devils have unique armor built with discarded robot parts, and often fight alongside robots while wielding laser weaponry. I also quite liked the story of stopping the Mechanist, which culminates in an explosive final battle. After the questing is finished after roughly 3 hours though, there’s not much else to do. Sure, the Rust Devils can still be found, and you can hunt down rough robots for some meniscal extra experience, but that’s it. Still, it’s an enjoyable experience.
3.5 / 5
Far Harbor – Far Harbor is much like the Point Lookout DLC for Fallout 3: both feature an island resort location with swampland, unique enemies and weapons, and a sinister story revolving around control of the locale. Far Harbor features 3 factions all vying for power: The synths of Acadia, the Children of Atom, and the humans of the harbor itself. The humans have setup defenses in the one section of the island where a bizarre radioactive fog has spread across the island, leaving the Children to have free roam while the synths have chosen to be reclusive to avoid the fighting. Many reviewers have found Far Harbor hard to traverse due to the radioactive fog, but I didn’t have much trouble with it; as long as you carry with you some Rad X and Rad Away, you’ll be fine. It was fun exploring the island of Far Harbor, but too many of the locations are just small homes with loot rather than an interesting side quest to go along with it. There also aren’t enough unique weapons or armor, although there are some. Perhaps the best part of Far Harbor are the sinister enemies. One in particular are giant hermit crabs that have taken residence inside various burned out buses on the island. It’s thrilling to be in the middle of a firefight, or simply walking by, when an entire bus springs to life with claws reaching out to kill you. Any fan of Fallout should have fun with Far Harbor, just don’t expect it to be game changing.
Wasteland Workshop – I don’t dislike the Wasteland Workshop—more items to use for customizing your settlements is welcome—but charging for this seems unnecessary. There are plenty of new pictures, posters, types of beds and tables and chairs, mannequins for displaying armor and trophy cases for weapons and other items, and all of these are cool. I especially like having a way to show off my collection of mutant killing tools rather than just stuffing it all into a trunk, out of sight and out of mind. Considering that Skyrim had similar things with its downloadable content, it’s a pity that Bethesda again saved this for DLC and not in the base game where it deserved to be.
Vault-Tec Workshop – Running your own vault sounds fun, and for the most part it is, but the Vault-Tec Workshop is even more bare bones on material than the free “Fallout Shelter” mobile game that released a year prior. In this DLC, players get a message to investigate a new Vault, and inside they find a lone surviving ghoul overseer. The overseer explains that the vault was originally constructed to run tests on the inhabitants, and tasks you with rebuilding the vault and recruiting new residents. Building the vault is great fun, and there is plenty of room to let your imagination run wild. Want to build a two story cafeteria? Do it. A fitness center that can hold 20 people? Go for it. One cool feature is that each vault room is linked to a single generator so that rooms aren’t cluttered with unnecessary wires; just make sure rooms snap together, and you’re good to go. In order to gain access to the entire vault, the player must clear out caves filled with high level enemies. None of these are unique, but they are some challenging battles including against a Legendary Deathclaw. Strangely, what I enjoyed most from this DLC is fighting these high leveled enemies in my settlement, and instead of using conventional weapons I built defenses to dispense of them much more easily. I quite liked seeing a level 50 Deathclaw flail about like a ragdoll because 10+ machine gun, shot gun, and missile turrets are firing upon him. Sadly, the Vault-Tec Workshop doesn’t offer much more other than the ability to build a vault. There is one quest that takes you out of the vault, but that’s only to a location that I had explored previously in the base game. Some benefits of the vault are that it supports a larger group of people than most settlements (I had over 20), and you can make new contraptions that can increase certain skills (only one at a time), but that’s it. Once I spent 3 or 4 hours completing my vault and its missions, I never had any motivation to return.
Contraptions Workshop – The idea for the Contraptions Workshop is good: build your own assembly lines to produce everything from common items, supplies, or even ammunition. The execution of the Contraptions Workshop is a different story. How to go about constructing these assembly lines isn’t clearly explained from what I can tell, and I had to resort to Youtube videos just to figure out how to get the things to run. On top of that, assembly lines are expensive to construct and maintain, and by the time you have enough caps and supplies to get them running smoothly, you probably have enough caps and supplies that assembly lines are unnecessary. For the most part, the Contraptions Workshop is unnecessary and doesn’t add much of anything to the game, and I would have been pissed if I paid full price for it.
Nuka-World – Nuka Word was my favorite of the Fallout 4 DLCs, and I wish I hadn’t saved it for last because I think I would have enjoyed it more had I started it sooner. Players are whisked away to the raider paradise of defunct amusement park Nuka-World, and quickly take control of the kingdom as the new raider leader. This occurs regardless if the player is good or bad, which is kind of odd, but whatever. One of my main criticisms with the base game is that it did not offer enough opportunities to be a bad guy, and Nuka-World remedies that. Players can undertake missions for any of the three raider gangs in the amusement park, sending them back out into the Commonwealth wasteland to enslave or murder individuals, or defend an area of interest. There is even the opportunity to establish raider settlements or extort pre-established establishments for profit, all of which are welcome. It can get annoying going back and forth between the two maps just to turn in quests, and these missions are often swiftly taken care of. On top of these optional quests, Nuka-World has a main story that has the player exploring all of the areas of the park and riding it of ghouls, irradiated animals, and uncooperative vandals. This might be the best part of Nuka-World, as each of the parks sections gives a new large location to explore. One if Wild West themed, while another is jungle inspired, and yet another is set in a medieval kingdom. The only real problem I have with Nuka-World is that it feels too little too late; this kind of material should have been included in the base game, and for the last DLC for Fallout 4 there should have been much more to see and do.
Perfect Dark was one of my favorite titles on the N64. The spiritual successor to Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark took everything good about the James Bond title and made it even better. Years later, the game still holds up well. It’s tremendously fun to play as special agent Joanna Dark, using her arsenal of gadgets and weaponry to take down the nefarious DataDyne organization. There is something about the way Goldeneye and Perfect Dark are designed that makes shooting bad guys enjoyable. Perhaps it’s the great feel for the guns, giving each one a feeling of power as it cuts through enemies, or maybe it’s the incredible sound, which makes every weapon real and dangerous. Maybe too it’s the fast pace of the game, with even armored enemies falling swiftly, keeping the action feeling fluid. Indeed, Perfect Dark retains the old school shooter mechanics of strafe and shoot rather than duck and cover while utilizing objective based levels rather than more simple maze design. These objectives are mostly great, consisting of bugging certain terminals or finding a particular item, and keep levels fresh. Some mission goals are a little confusing however, with vague descriptions in the pause menu in how they should be completed. For example, it can be difficult for first time players to know which terminals need to be hacked, or which gadgets need to be used to accomplish these tasks. My only other complaint comes from the difficulty it is to manually aim. Pulling the left trigger allows the player to move the reticle wherever they want, enabling you to pull off precise headshots or pick off security cameras high up on a wall. The problem comes with the sensitivity of moving the reticle, making it nearly impossible to line up a shot while under fire. I don’t remember having this much trouble on the N64, and can only imagine it being a problem created from the conversion to the Xbox.
By the third entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I was too exhausted of climbing buildings, collecting feathers, opening chests, and performing simple assassinations to get into Black Flag, so until now 3 was the last Creed game I had played. I’m glad to say I’ve played Black Flag after taking a lengthy break, but the game is still stunted by characteristics of the Assassin’s Creed games. I think Black Flag would have worked better as a standalone title, as the most fun moments come from hijacking ships, participating in swashbuckling duels, and discovering buried treasure across the Caribbean seas. Instead, there are far too many instances of climbing towers to unveil the map, finding pointless “glitches” that are substitutes for feathers and flags, and diving from rooftops to kill yet another unnamed enemy. Black Flag does improve on the AC formula in some big ways: the tutorial is short, and you can get right to nearly all side quests without having to unlock them with story missions, smaller settlements means things go quicker and you are constantly going to explore new places, and ship battles are a great distraction from the otherwise familiar gameplay. I can truthfully say I was never really bored with Black Flag, but once the ending credits rolled I was happy to be done.
What a doozy Battlefield 1 is. As a history buff, playing in the trenches of World War I sounded like a fever dream, and the end result is just about as incredible as I had imagined. Battlefield 1’s campaign is split across 5 small, individual episodes that takes players around the globe towards the final year of the war. What I loved about this is that, in similar ways to Call of Duty 2, players can experience the war from numerous perspectives without getting dogged down in one story or playstyle. I also quite enjoyed the fact that while one episode featured a British tank operator, there are missions where you are on foot acting in recon and not limited to the tank for battle. This helps give each episode a unique feeling while still keeping with the FPS core. Each episode not only features its own story and location, but weapons and vehicles as well. I would have preferred episodes to have been longer, however, as each can be finished at most in about two hours on standard difficulty, leading to a 7-10 hour game. None of these feel like they are simply there for padding or show, which is great, but more missions would be welcome. My only other real complaint is that for a game in the infamous First World War, there aren’t too many epic moments. There are huge battles to be sure, but not every episode has that moment where you sit back and go “Wow.” I did not play the robust multiplayer, but I can say that the campaign can sometimes feel like the multiplayer due to the high diversity of weapons that can be picked up, vehicles that can be commandeered at any given time, and vast maps that can be explored offer numerous paths in which to tackle your objective. If you are looking for a good campaign to go with your shooter, Battlefield 1 offers one of the best in years.
Rare’s first major title after leaving Nintendo and going to Microsoft is, simply put, not very good. I knew that the game was mostly panned upon finally playing it recently, but I still held out hopes because of the iconic Rareware name behind it. I was wrong. Ghoulies features a boy named Cooper who must rescue his girlfriend Amber from the nefarious Baron Von Ghoul, an aviation fanatic that is holding the damsel in distress in his mansion full of ghosts and goblins. The simple setup could be overlooked if the other aspects of the game excelled; Banjo-Kazooie in fact had an almost identical setup and executed it brilliantly. Ghoulies doesn’t.
The problems begin with the structure of the game. Players have a large mansion to explore, and I was looking forward to uncovering the secrets of the Von Ghoul manor similarly to Luigi’s Mansion. Instead, players move through the mansion in a very linear fashion. Rooms are blocked off until the player completes a small challenge. Again this would be fine if the challenges were diverse and actually challenging. All of these revolve around combat, and boil down to “defeat all the enemies,” to “defeat only the skeletons,” or other similar tasks. It doesn’t help that combat is boring and made complicated due to a frustrating camera.
Speaking of frustration, the game’s controls are also piss poor. Combat is limited to punching and kicking, and uses only the direction pushed on the right joystick. This might have worked in another format, but the angle of the camera and size of the rooms makes combat more difficult than it should be. Occasionally players will be given an item to help them with their ghoul busting, such as a squirt gun with holy water or a flame thrower. These feels like a tease from the developers in that they are much more fun to use but are only available for a challenge room or two before they are yanked away. A better design would be to have the ability to switch between weapons and have ammunition spread throughout.
Another problem comes from how the game looks. Rareware has proven time-and-time again that they can make beautiful games (Donkey Kong Country, Perfect Dark, Kameo), but Ghoulies looks much too simplistic and limited by its cartoonish look. The animations are pretty well done and give lots of character to the cast, but that’s about it. The colors seemed too dulled to stand out, and the lighting effects just aren’t impressive. The poor graphics really stand out in the minimalistic cutscenes, which play out like moving pictures in a graphic novel. Rare could have used this to its advantage, but seems to have chosen this method because they knew the graphics did not stand out and wanted to frame it as simple as possible. The sound for Ghoulies is also bad. What worked on the Nintendo 64 with Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t on the Xbox. Music is composed in what sounds like midi format, and honestly makes me think if these weren’t rejected songs from Rare’s earlier games. Characters also don’t speak, but instead opt for the grunts, yells, squeaks, and burps reminiscent of Banjo, but without the charm. Enemies make just too much noise that it becomes annoying to hear, and Cooper’s screams from literally everything makes him one of the most frustrating characters that I’ve ever played as.
Ultimately, Grabbed by the Ghoulies could have been a fun game, but feels rushed and to bare bones of an experience to enjoy. My only real enjoyment came from finding the hidden books that are in every single room of the mansion, and that’s not saying much. For players of Rare Replay, I would recommend skipping this one.
Kameo is a fun, if brief, adventure title that borrows elements from Banjo-Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda, and even God of War. As Kameo—an elven princess with the ability to transform into mystical creatures—players must rescue their family and save their kingdom from an attack by evil trolls and her wicked sister. The plot is pretty barebones, yet is oddly unique with the juxtaposition of lighthearted fantasy (see Fern Gully) with more mature fantasy (Lord of the Rings). The elven kingdom is beautifully bright in color, and for its time Kameo was one of the most gorgeous games ever released on consoles. Leaving the kingdom, players ride horseback across a warzone between the elves and trolls. Here, the game is dark, gritty, and full of despair. Much of these sections resemble the Dynasty Warriors franchise due to the sheer amount of enemies on the screen at once. I would have loved to spend more time in this hub world, yet it functions more of less like Hyrule Field in connections regions together, except with far less to do. Each of the games regions are fun to play in, all of them including a small town area and a dungeon to raid. They aren’t very large however, and even so finding side quests can be a chore as I don’t think the town layouts are very well done. A reason for this might be that there is just too much detail and bright colors, distracting players from where to go.
The real stars of Kameo are her many transformations. Kameo on her own is pretty weak with little use, but she can change into various creatures to use their abilities for combat and to solve puzzles. These include a fire breathing dragon, a plant with boxing glove-like vines, an armadillo with a steel shell, and even a yeti monster that can climb icy walls and throw enemies like spears. The vast majority of these are fun to play as, and truthfully they function more like Zelda items with distinct personalities than anything else. I would have loved to see their abilities explored to their full potential however, with longer dungeons and even more puzzles. These transformations can be leveled up to learn even more skills, but all of these are optional, and I rarely ever used them.
There are some annoying control problems in Kameo, namely with the armadillo that you use frequently. It is difficult to line up the direction of your rolls, to the point that it caused me immense frustration. In order to solve puzzles, players often have to roll boulders or other round objects to a specific location. The controls for this are so bad it’s unacceptable. You have little to no control over where these balls roll due to there not being any dedicating lock on feature, thus you run into it and hope it goes where you want. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so frequent. The orchestral score of Kameo is very nice, and can feel epic, yet at times it feels just too serious for the cartoony action that’s taking place on the screen. I would have loved to spend more time with Kameo, as 8-10 hours is short for any adventure game, and the cliffhanger ending made the closure to a mostly good game feel even less unrewarding.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is the finished product of the long awaited Shin Megami Tensei / Fire Emblem Crossover. The game, which plays more like the SMT series with sprinkles of Fire Emblem spread throughout, might not be what gamers initially thought of when they heard about the game, but it is indeed a well-crafted, fun filled RPG experience. Gamers take on the role of Itsuki, a childhood friend of aspiring Japanese idol Tsubasa, who winds up acquiring the powers of a mystical being called a Mirage along with Tsubasa and many other rising stars in the Japanese entertainment industry. These Mirages are spirits from another world, who gain their abilities via the expression of the arts from their human hosts. It sounds odd, but it’s not much different than the bonds the player creates between other people in the Persona series, only instead of joining sports clubs the player is taking part in singing, dancing, acting, and other art forms. It’s a novel approach, and something that begins to make sense the more you play. My one complaint with this is that Itsuki is such a bland character in the beginning, with little motivation to become a star, and instead takes on the role of supporting his friends, namely the aforementioned Tsubasa. This would be fine if the player had more input in how to guide Itsuki, such as turning him into an actor one playthrough and a singer in another, yet the result is Itsuki becomes a great leader, good in all areas but excellent in none, and making the bulk of the story about the rest of the cast.
The combat in TKS is as fast paced and frantic as most other Shin Megami Tensei games, built on the aspect of players exploiting enemies’ weaknesses. Hitting an enemy with a weakness enables a “session” (hence the title) where the rest of the party joins in and racks up the damage. The Fire Emblem inclusion in battle is that all enemies and party members have a class type, such as archer, swordsman, pikeman, etc with additional weaknesses to exploit. Those familiar with FE will know the weapon triangle of sword beats axe, axe beats lances, and lances beat swords, and this applies here as well. TMS also includes the ability to switch out party members on the fly in the heat of battle similar to Final Fantasy X, which is a welcome addition but can make battles too easy when you always have someone available to use a certain ability.
One of the most enjoyable parts of TMS is the speed in which your party grows in strength. In addition to the common level-up which increases base stats, characters can also level up their arts by completing quests and using abilities in battle to learn passive abilities. Weapons also have levels and skills that can be learned from them, and must constantly be changed for your character to come to their full potential. All throughout the game, after nearly every battle, someone in some way will level up, and that’s immensely satisfying. I only wish that Itsuki was a little more customizable, in that he is restricted to being a swordsman and tied to learning sword and lightning abilities.
Graphically, Tokyo Mirage Sessions is beautiful in its direction, with alluring pops of color in all areas of the game. Simply put, the game looks like the candy coated, pop star anime it intends to be. In hectic battles against numerous foes however I did experience the occasional slowdown. Music is a big part of TMS, both stylistically and to the story, and while I’m not a fan of J-pop, I can say most of the music I found appealing. Battles have an upbeat score like many SMT titles, but I would have preferred themes with lyrics like from Persona as it would be more fitting, but that’s just me. The numerous pop songs in the game never feel out of place, such as those in Final Fantasy X-2, and strangely I welcomed them as they seemed built for the game instead of the other way around. There isn’t any English dubbing in TMS, but that’s just fine. The Japanese voices are authentic and really hammer home the “Tokyo” aspect of the title, and I’m kind of glad an English option wasn’t given.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my roughly 50 hours with TMS. I left some side quests unfinished, mostly because they were bland fetch quests with very paltry rewards, but character specific quests are entertaining and forward the story quite a lot. I would love to have seen some more optional objectives, such as an unrequired dungeon or two, but what was given will suffice. There is a New Game +, but from what I can tell it is only for those who wish to enjoy the story again with overpowered characters.
These are a list of games that I've put considerable time into, but haven't beaten, or cannot be beaten (MMOs, Sim games, etc). I won't do a review, but will just list them here.