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Oh boy. Buckle your seatbelt, dear reader. This is gonna get… massive?

I bought my 360 back in 2007 to play Mass Effect. I was blown away by the character creator demos, was becoming a fan of Bioware thanks to KOTOR and Jade Empire, and was just primed and ready to go. What followed from there is probably one of the all around best video game franchises of all time, and certainly the most consistent set of games Bioware has ever created. Mass Effect 2 is probably one of the greatest games of all time. Unfortunately, they had some trouble sticking the landing and bringing the trilogy, which was ambitious as all get out, to a satisfying close (for most people). Bioware has always been a responsive company (some would say reactive or reactionary) and they were quick to try and fix issues. I think that history will be kind to Mass Effect 3 and I know I’ve softened on its narrative issues after a few years and playthroughs.

I’m not sure what history will make of Mass Effect: Andromeda. All I know is that I have a fucking lot to say about this game and I know that I’m gonna miss and leave out tons anyway. This game is a very mixed bag and because I played Horizon: Zero Dawn just before, I was inevitably let down here. So it’ll probably wind up being mostly bad news as I catalogue and process the laundry list of complaints I have about it. This game is the definition of death by a thousand cuts. For a lot of players who picked it up at launch, Bioware will never be able to recover that critical first impression even as they scramble to fix glaring issues that by all rights should not have been present at the launch of such an expensive and anticipated game, one which also had a five year development cycle. But having said all that, I still found a lot to enjoy. Major missions are very satisfying and there are many memorable moments in the game. While Andromeda mostly gets by on those bits where it does the familiar very well, I do look forward to playing it again once it’s been patched a bit more.

I will break this review into sections for ease of reading and so that you, reader, can focus on elements you maybe care most about. Most people play Bioware games for the story, and I’ll start there, but please don’t ignore the section on Technical Issues because I promise you that some of that shit will rob you of enjoyment and it’s best to be forewarned about it. Also note that I won’t really be discussing Multiplayer as a I barely got into that (it’s been a buggy mess with major connection issues) and it’s not the reason I play Mass Effect or Bioware games anyway.

It may go without saying but there will be spoilers to follow…

MASSIVE SPOILERS (hehe)

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TLOUSunset

Sometimes the apocalypse is a pretty place.

There are two silly, redundant debates circling around The Last of Us and it seems like I have to comment on them before I can really begin to write about this game and why it’s special. Prodigious, reckless spoilers are going to be in this review. So let me wrap a love-glove over it for you before you continue. If you want to skip right to where I get into the game and thereby avoid the background discussion I attempt to have about its context, ignore the next section here. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Paris of Remember Me often feels like a living place.

Remember Me will be one of those games that people kind of miss out on. Every year or so, one or two low-profile games with interesting ideas get ignored by the mainstream only to be rediscovered as “cult” hits later on. Remember Me will probably be one of those. The game design is solid, reliable, and even has a few new and interesting ideas thrown in to what is generally formulaic. This is actually in keeping with other games like it (Enslaved, The Saboteur, Singularity… to name a few overlooked gems) where AAA game design concepts get remixed into new IPs, usually original ones, where designers add their own ideas. It enriches the experience of gaming, really, to see mechanics and ideas you like being reinterpreted a few times before the next big thing comes along. This is how we got Assassin’s Creed and others off the back of Grand Theft Auto III‘s core design philosophy. This is how we got entire subgenres of books, music, and films.

Remember Me doesn’t ape any particular game that closely, but it’s definitely got a familiar feel. Most of the gameplay is straightforward platforming broken up by acrobatic fights with a variety of challenging enemies. Some are calling it a sort of beat-em-up/platformer hybrid and this is basically true. However, the mechanics service the story and world of the game and always take a back seat to that. This is a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you like your games. There are enough games out there that push the envelope of all of the above (Tomb Raider) that I’m satisfied with the type of game that emphasizes narrative and world-building over rote gameplay mechanics like combat and jumping on a roof. Not that these parts of Remember Me are unsatisfying. It’s more that they aren’t the reason to appreciate this game.

Speaking of the narrative, inarguably its core priority, Remember Me weaves a deeply personal story through a larger scale (intimately delivered) rebellion story. Some of the writing is fairly overwrought but the ideas and themes come across very well and elevate the game into a worthwhile experience. If it sounds like all the most interesting stuff is in the story, rest assured that there are a few neat gameplay mechanics that emerge as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fair Warning: You should not read this review unless you have played Bioshock Infinite or could care less about spoilers. This is one of those times where spoilers might alter your experience of the game.

Bioshock Infinite is one of the most anticipated games in recent memory. It belongs to a loose trilogy begun what seems like a long time ago with what is often considered one of the greatest games of all time, Bioshock. As a substantially literary game, Bioshock showed what could be done when story, writing, theme, and narrative immersion were fundamental foci for the game design. Infinite maintains the same priorities and you definitely know while playing it that it is the narrative, characterization, themes, and plot were more important to 2K and Irrational Games than anything else.

Like Bioshock, the setting is the hook. The world-building here is nothing short of spectacular. A triumph of the imagination bolstered by almost obsessive attention to detail. As many have reported, the weak link in Infinite‘s altogether masterful formula is the over-reliance on shooting and scavenging. If you look at this comparatively, to other shooters, it really isn’t what you’d call a weakness in the game. It is simply only part of the game that feels obligatory and occasionally tedious.

There’s a sense that Infinite could have and should have been more and quite a lot of backlash about perceived “broken promises” made during the release of marketing materials showing off mechanics or scenes that never made it to the final cut of the game. In no way does Bioshock Infinite feel rushed or slighted. It feels like a complete game. Maybe not quite the breath of fresh air that Bioshock was but it’s not like expectations don’t account for that. You don’t catch lightning in a bottle twice when you use the same bottle. Your best bet is to channel the lightning you’ve already caught in a different, equally viable direction. Infinite definitely accomplishes that. It also skews more toward action than horror than its predecessors.

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Tomb Raider single-handedly justifies franchise reimagination.

To get it out of the way, Tomb Raider is a technical masterpiece. Crystal Dynamics has completely outdone themselves on pretty nearly every level with this game. It is not flawless, but most masterpieces aren’t. Still, I give it this label because if it is a perfect iteration of its genre. We might call this genre the “action platformer” in which combat mechanics are as important as spectacle, scale, and yes the mechanics of movement across digital environments. It is hard to make a creative platformer. It is even harder to make a shooter or action game that feels new and interesting. Tomb Raider is not a product of an attempt to reinvent anything other than the franchise itself, representing a symbolic rebirth for a new generation of gamers.

Borrowing liberally from the Uncharted series and repackaging many now-mainstay game design concepts (upgrades and “skill” progression, otherwise known as “RPG elements” being a good example), there aren’t a lot of people out there who are going to say that Tomb Raider suffers for being derivative. However, I would argue that trying to bring an established set of conventions up to the maximum level of quality is as worthy a goal as trying to invert, subvert, or otherwise alter standard formulas in the pursuit of novelty. Ergo, Tomb Raider is not a novel game on the level of its actual gameplay. What is fresh and exciting about it is that it takes all these familiar things and executes them with mastery. Sometimes “good” is the only goal that matters, and Tomb Raider is all about “good”. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rust Crew is the least covert of all covert op squads.

Binary Domain hooked me on its concept from the trailer. I liked the idea of a near-future game that dealt directly with the consequences of the development of A.I. and the bizarre outcomes of human-robot conflict, merging, etc. Basically, it looked like a more militaristic, action-focused version of the same ideas as Deus Ex. Turned out that Binary Domain has more in common with Battlestar Galactica or Blade Runner than Deus Ex though. There a lot of interesting ideas about artificial intelligence and how humans cope with a post-A.I. world sprinkled throughout the bromantic, banter-heavy plot and the world-building is one of the game’s strongest features. But really, it’s got to work as a game too right? Binary Domain is a really solid 3rd-person shooter with some very sharp graphics, tight controls and game-flow, and a decent story. Usually you only get graphics and gameplay, but Binary Domain offers the complete package. I won’t say that the game introduces much in the way of new concepts. The closest it comes is a sort of Mass Effect-lite dialogue system and the sparsest of RPG elements to add a modicum of strategy to which characters you use and how you use them. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a game that seeks more to do the best possible version of a familiar genre than to reinvent it. Binary Domain is as accomplished a 3rd person shooter as you could want, but the real draw here is the well-developed world and story.

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Somehow it feels a little pedestrian to have a dragon be the ultimate antagonist.

Dragon’s Dogma took me 80 hours to get through 1 playthrough. It is sort of the ultimate “games are too short nowadays” rebuttal not made by Bethesda. There’s a little Skyrim in this game to be sure, along with many other Western RPGs, especially Dragon Age. It’s not a rip-off, however, but a remix of concepts and game design from both sides of the East and West divide. Its DNA includes games like Monster Hunter and the magnificent Shadow of the Colossus on top of what it borrows from WRPGs and George R.R. Martin. The result is a sometimes frustrating but always fascinating game, tremendously ambitious and, for me at least, so much fun I had to force myself to stop playing it 5 hours into a New Game+ file.

My review is going to be fundamentally positive but this is a game with a lot of quirks and issues, some of which are truly retrograde and just bad, which are the sources of a lot of frustration and why the game has received mixed reviews. Read the rest of this entry »

In ways that will surprise you, Mass Effect 3 really is Shepard against the world.

Note: I will not discuss the game’s ending or any other spoilers until the very end of the review.

A most difficult review to write. That’s what this is. Mass Effect is the series that defines my gamerdom since the first one’s early marketing made me pony up for an Xbox 360 after two generations of Sony loyalty. At that point I only knew Bioware for Knights of the Old Republic and had always been curious to play Jade Empire. There was something about what they were doing with Mass Effect, how fresh and ambitious the project was perhaps, that sucked me in as thoroughly as any singularity. Then there was the character creator, at the time the most realistic and robust yet made and also the most impressively integrated into the game experience itself. When the game came out, there were some technical issues that disappointed but ultimately Mass Effect was a complete triumph and gave Bioware a degree of the steam they would pick up over the following years to become something of a gaming monolith, as they are today. Mass Effect 2 was even better, though it sacrificed some elements I would have preferred to see remain. Mass Effect 3 promised to reconcile some of the design and mechanics that were changed between the first two games while still offering everything that makes Mass Effect what it is. The big question people are going to be asking going into this game is, did they succeed? Of course they did.

Mass Effect 3 is a truly remarkable game. More than that, when taken as a trilogy, it is an achievement in science fiction and storytelling that shows some of what will be possible with the game medium. No one has ever accomplished a cohesive and self-contained story set over three games, the way a trilogy of books or films tells a story over three iterations, which comes to a true end. I don’t want to spend too much time piling on the superlatives but if you’re wondering whether this review is going to be positive, I can assure you that it will be with a few exceptions. Read the rest of this entry »

Sort of the quintessential image of this game.

Special note: I play Skyrim on the PC via Steam but with an Xbox Controller.

So first, a preamble: I am going to have to take my time on this review and it may run fairly long, longer than some of my really long shit that you may have read. Well, maybe not longer than that “How to Film Mass Effect” thing. I’m not going to split this review into fucking parts unless I absolutely have to. What I will do is break it down into sections if only to help me concentrate on the specific things I want to talk about, all in good order. But hey, you may not be interested in every shred of whatever I happen to conjure up for this and are maybe more into just knowing (if only in advance) what I, in general, thought of this game.

How to put it?

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is simply one of the best games ever made. More than that, it’s got some serious clout toward the elevation of games as a medium that deserves to be regarded shoulder-to-shoulder with other commercial art media like movies, comic books, and novels. Every now and then an example of x media comes on which is not only a milestone in its own territory, and Skyrim is certainly a milestone game in whatever context, but also a cultural touchstone. There’s a lot of rocks in Skyrim, mountains and so on, so maybe I have stones on the mind. Anyways, what I’m getting at is that Skyrim is one of those games that should cross entertainment boundaries irrespective of whether people like video games and simply be one of those experiences that everybody should be. Not all that dissimilar from how Watchmen is a graphic novel that transcends the limitations of its own context to become just the same type of cultural touchstone. Every medium has its examples of such works and Skyrim belongs among them.

So yeah, this is going to be a glowing review. Read the rest of this entry »

Johnny Gat is one of the defining elements of the series and the best of the colorful cast of characters. His early death and absence from the rest of the game is an early sign of bed-shitting.

Saints Row The Third is a disappointment. While disappointing sequels are more or less a tradition at this point, as much in games as anywhere else, it’s also the case that Saints Row 2 was such a ridiculous improvement over the first game that it seems pretty fair to have significant hopes for a third entry. The Third is a cartoonish re-imagining of the Saints Row series, focused on what someone must have thought were the defining characteristics of the series to such a degree that most of the good stuff, the stuff that was actually defining for the series is left largely in a lurch, along with the cult audience the first two games developed, most of whom are probably scratching their heads and wondering how in fuck they got this game. Still, the game is mostly pretty fun in spite of its shortcomings and there’s a lot of value to be had in the multiplayer (which is how I played it). Once STAG shows up with their ridiculous super-weapons, most of which you get access too, the game seriously comes into its own though it still leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Unfortunately for THQ/Volition, SR2 remains, in almost every way, the high benchmark for the series and if I were them, I’d go back to what made that game work so well for any future installments. But then again, SR3 is getting pretty decent reviews so I expect that they’re putting this one in the win column. As most people who pay attention to games journalism know, there is a lot of pressure from game publishers and their PR departments to keep negative reviews under wraps, especially in the big “trustworthy” publications. The moral here is, don’t believe everything you see on Metacritic. Evan’s here to give you the straight on this game so pay le attentione.

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