#Quickie: Beyond:Two Souls

It’s safe to say that Quantic Dream has a different approach to gaming as a whole. You can tell that by the fact that they don’t say that they make games, but “cinematic storytelling experiences”. It’s a pretty flowery term for lack of gameplay in my book, but despite that they have managed to produce some pretty good titles in Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy.

So now we have the highly touted Beyond:Two Souls that has dazzled us with their impressive motion capture cinematics featuring the acting talents of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. After a series of trailers it appeared to be in the same vein of gameplay that Heavy Rain was, but they surprised us at this last E3 trailer with a very military heavy sequence that made us think there might be more to this game than appears. The question is, would that hold up after release?

Rage Quitter - Beyond; Two Souls -  Action

The short answer is no. While the controls and interactivity of the game has been greatly improved since the previous QD title, you really are jumping into this title for the story of it. In Beyond: Two Souls you play sad, lonely, and troubled youth Jodie Holmes (Page) as we play through sporadic points of her life. Jodie since the day she was born has been haunted by an entity that she calls Aiden. After having a very tumultuous upbringing in a foster home, Jodie is left under the care of Nathan Dawkins(Dafoe) to monitor her connection with Aiden and in time learn to try to control him.

Graphically speaking the work done with the motion capture might be one of the most impressive I have seen this console generation. This game really does take motion capture to the next level and if it didn’t have the obvious tell-tale look of being an animated graphic it could very well have been a live action movie. It’s handy because it requires the actors to perform some of the stunts to a degree so the animations are lifelike and realistic for the most part, and with the exception of showing teeth, all of the facial reactions are picture perfect.

Rage Quitter - Beyond; Two Souls -  Mocap

Throughout the story we are constantly jumping through various points of Jodie’s sad, horrible life as she trudges through experience to experience.  While it does manage to come together properly in certain points, it causes the entire experience to feel very disjointed and difficult to follow. On more than one occasion I’d feel I’d start to get a handle on things, and the out of the blue the set pieces would completely change on me.

Most of the play as Jodie somewhat falls into the same type of control Heavy Rain had. Wandering around a room, looking for the interactable elements. They did fix the movement controls to feel a bit more natural, which is a massive improvement over the complete train wreck that the previous title had offered us. But the real I guess “fun” of the game would be when you switch and control Aiden.

When shifting to Aiden you basically can glide around Jodie’s immediate area. Depending on the situation, Aiden’s functions change although pretty linear in function. In some situations you just have to play the spooky ghost and knock things around, other times you can possess people to infiltrate areas, and sometimes if you are lucky you will get to strangle someone to death to fend of an enemy entity. Sadly you usually don’t get much in the way of options of what you can do, you just have to really do what is presented.

Rage Quitter - Beyond; Two Souls -  Training

And that’s really it. You get this illusion of freedom to make different choices and play scenarios differently, but for the most part it doesn’t seem like it alters the gameplay or the story too much. So is the game any good? Well, I tend to be a sucker for a decent story. I managed to crank out the whole thing in about two sittings. The game features multiple different endings and there are ways to play scenarios differently so I suppose there is a bit of replay value. I would say that I enjoyed my time with it.

Would I recommend you buy it? No, probably not. Not for 60 bucks anyways. There just isn’t enough engaging elements to it keep you glued to the TV to keep going at it. Even sitting through the story a 2nd time was a bit of a challenge for me since the game is nearly a constant wash of depressing moments. I have my own sad life to experience that shit. So I guess I could probably give it a fairly half-hearted recommendation.  It’s worth a redbox, or if it came down to 20 or 30 I would say go for it. But definitely not full retail price. If you want to play a good Ellen Page game, play the one she’s not in: The Last of Us. (Johnson > Page)

The other soul of this review can be found at Rage Quitter.

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#Quickie: Grand Theft Auto V

Alright, I’m gonna be straight up honest with you on two things: One, I’m super late on this review because I can’t put the game down. Two, There really is no way to give a full review of this in like 5-700 words. But I’m gonna give it a shot.

Grand Theft Auto V is actually the 15th installment of Rockstar Games flagship franchise. Our story opens with a bank heist going south very quickly, and after a an aggressive shootout with the police, one of the thieves is killed in an a car accident, one is gunned and killed, one is seriously wounded, and the other escapes. After seeing the funeral of one bandits take place, we flash ahead 10 years.

Now we are in fictional L.A, Los Santos.  Micheal DeSanta is living out life as a wealthy retiree in a tumultuous marriage, letting his life drift away in a glass a whisky while staring at the clouds. It’s not until his son’s car is repo’d, where Micheal meets up with Franklin Clinton. Franklin is a gang banger from the rougher sections of L.S., and he’s trying to make some real paper so he can get out of the hood and better his life. Despite their rather awkward meeting, Franklin and Micheal befriend each other. After getting mixed up and indebted to the wrong gang lord, Micheal decides there’s only one way to repay that debt, and that is to come out of retirement to pull off one more heist.  The problem is, there is one person out there who shouldn’t have heard about it, Micheal’s old accomplice: Trevor Phillips.

Alright, that is a massively skimmed version of the introduction to this story. As you can tell, this time around we aren’t locked in with one protagonist trying to make his way up the crime ladder. Now we have 3 people in very different stages in their crime career: Micheal has been out for a while and is thrown back in, Franklin is just getting his feet wet and trying to move up, and Trevor is very much in the thick of it.

Because of the constantly jumping perspective, the story at times can feel a bit disjointed. A number of scenarios that could lead up to bigger story arcs tend to get resolved quickly before sort of coming to a game ending conclusion. However, it somewhat works in this case because each character has their own narrative, motivations, and side characters to compliment them. While they cross over from point to point, for the most part it really feels like you are playing 3 different GTA expansions within the same universe.  This really can be seen as a positive or negative.

The gritty and grainy realism of Grand Theft Auto IV has been grossly turned down in this installment. The change in setting now brings us brighter colors, more sunshine, sandy beaches, more elaborately dressed pedestrians, and with all that a more arcadey feel. While we haven’t drifted off into the Saints Row realm of arcade goofiness, the vehicles handle a bit more easily and less realistically. Personally, I think that’s an improvement because it allows me to put my foot on the gas without fear of spinning out every couple of seconds. In addition to that, the vehicles can take more a beating this time around as well.

The driving is just arcadey enough to manage without it feeling cartoony

The shooting mechanic has been improved as well. The lock on reticle has now been reduced to a simple white dot. You lose the indication of how much life or armor an enemy has, but there is clear indication of a kill so i feel it works well. Assisted aiming has become incredibly fluid as you can simply flick from target to target with relative ease, and the recoil of the gun usually moves to a headshot on its own anyways.

They have done away with the old “one gun at a time” system for in favor of the more popular selection wheel. The only real downfall is that it does kind of fall into the tired routine of cover-based combat, but depending on what character you are using and how quick on the draw you are? You may not need cover.

HashtagNerd - GTA 5 - Firefight
While we get stuck with the cover based shooting again, this is probably one of the best examples I’ve played this console generation.

GTA is the quintessential sandbox game, so you can expect to do a little bit of everything in the missions. The mainstays are there: Fire fights, stealth missions, street races and so forth. But the big selling point the majority of the major missions in the game will involve you having multiple tasks to do. One such example is a mission where you have to fly a chopper to where a hostage is held, switch characters to repel down the building and smash through the window, switch again so you can snipe the people in the room from a building over, switch AGAIN to the repeller to finish shooting enemies off you before switching back to to the chopper to fly off.  Sometimes the changes are mandatory, but sometimes you have the option to stick with certain characters if you’d rather drive of shoot.

And after a very tumultuous launch to it, GTA Online has finally started to get itself rooted. Basically you create your own character and are set free within the GTA V universe. There are a handful of GTA style missions to do where you character will interact with some of the side characters from the story (and as far as I’ve played, one major one).

HashtagNerd - GTA 5 - Heist

In addition to some of these GTA missions, you can also rob banks and there are plenty of multiplayer mainstays such as races, death matches, and my personal favorite? Survival mode. The game rewards you working with others as a team, but chances are its gonna be firefight the moment you log in, so be sure to bank your earnings often.

I really could ramble on and on about the features of the game and further accentuate the features I liked, there are also some negatives I could pine about but I will basically summarize it like this.  A few months back, I was ready to give The Last of Us game of the year. Now I’m forced to hesitate because months after release I’ve played through the story mode twice and still actively play the online mode. That’s fucking unprecedented for me. There’s no other way for me to sell it, the game is fucking incredible. Even if you don’t like sandbox games, violent games, or GTA in general, you owe it to yourself if you have the platform to play it.

To use a bad baseball analogy? This game could possibly be this console generations walk-off home-run.

#Quickie: Battleblock Theater (XBLA)

Somewhere along the way, platformer games and I had some kinda falling out. After Super Mario World on the SNES they just never had that same appeal for me. With the exceptions of a few very innovative titles like Braid or Limbo I for the most part don’t seek these games out. However, there was one that I was hearing quite a good deal about and saw a lot of my friends playing it. It was the new game from Behemoth Studios: BattleBlock Theater. So being the credible and respectable game critic that I am (false), I knuckled under and gave it a shot.

The general jist of the story is you (the player character) and your friends go on a sailing trip on a “friend-ship” seeking adventure with best friend to one and all: Hatty Hattington. On the trip the boat is caught in a storm and is shipwrecked on a seemingly abandoned island. All of your friends are taken captive by the inhabiting cats, and Hatty is given a possessed top hat that takes control of him. In order to survive and escape, you are put through the many fatal trials of Battle Block Theater for the amusement of the cats.

Like most platformers, the objective is to get from point A to point B.  To unlock the exit you need to collect at least 3 gems and there are up to 7 gems and a ball of yarn in each level. The faster you complete it and collect everything the better your rank is. Most of the levels are pretty tightly contained, and I found myself breezing through the beginning stages of it. But as you play through, more and more block types are introduced throughout. Some of them bounce you like a pinball, some of them make you slide, some explode under you, some shoot lasers, some disappear for a few seconds.

Rage Quitter - BattleBlock Theater - Time Trial

But what I liked the most about it and probably the big selling point for me from a gameplay stance is the emphasis on perfection and speed. Needing to tear through levels at breakneck pace and solve puzzles as you do it made the game a very entertaining experience for me. The first few levels you just rip through but as the game’s layouts get more complex you really need to take a second to plan a few jumps ahead or it quickly becomes a mess of trial and error. But that fun kind of trial and error where you go. “Well shit, that didn’t work, maybe if go about it this way….”

Perhaps the best thing though, is the absolutely hilarious narration that takes place during the game. Our unnamed narrator in between stages delivers a form of paper cut out puppet show that explains the story and history of Battleblock Theater. It’s so sporatic and off the wall that it pretty much got me to laugh every time. During gameplay he will also make sarcastic comments at you while you play and collect things. He also has a very  “Still Alive” moment after you complete the game that I thoroughly enjoyed. The trailer {See below} features a song I loved so much its probably the main reason I purchased the game (and also made a ringtone of it).

There is also a series of co-op and multiplayer maps as well.  I didn’t get the opportunity to play the co-op maps but I have been told that the puzzles change to requires two people to complete them, a la Portal 2 for example. There is also a handful of vs modes like basketball, king of the hill, capture the horse (flag), and a classic beat em up to name a few. All of these can produce extra gems for you collect which you can use to purchase new heads for your player character, and there are a lot of them.

Rage Quitter - BattleBlock Theater - Boomshakalaka

If I had to complain about anything, I would say the games length is a bit short. Butit’s a 1200 point arcade game so I wasn’t exactly expecting an 80 hour adventure. There is also a level editor you can create for your friends and throw out online, but frankly that kind of feature is just way over my head. I didn’t use it in Little Big Planet and I can’t imaging myself using it here.

BattleBlock Theater I feel is one of the blueprints to a perfect platformer. Its got the right level of humor, fast paced levels, fun to play, and has some decent replay value to it. I would say it was absolutely worth the 1200 microsoft points so if you have the points to spend, grab a friend and give it a shot.

Buckle your pants, and check out the full review at Rage Quitter

#Quickie: Mugen Souls

Summer is tough for the gamer. From about March on, usually nothing comes out in the world of console gaming. When this happens, that’s when gamers get a bit more daring and try out things they normally wouldn’t or pick up niche things they wanted to try. Since I’m a bit of a fan of JRPGS and Nippon Ichi, that’s what I did with Mugen Souls, and dear god… I wish I hadn’t.

The story of Mugen Souls roughly is this entity who resembles a pink haired elementary/middle school girl appears in the vastness of space. She awakens to the glimmer of the 7 worlds found throughout space and entranced by her sparkle, she decides that she wants to claim them for herself. To be the “undisputed god of the universe”. She is found in space by Altis (a demon who was thrown out of the netherworld and converted to half-angel) and Ryuto (a pervy kid who’s stolen a spaceship). Using her ability to make people become her peons, Chou-Chou subjugates Ryuto and claims his ship as her own, and takes of on her conquest of the world. Using her ability to transform into 8 differing personalities, she intends to “Moe-Kill” each world’s hero and demon lord into submission and claim the world for herself.

If there is something that non-anime fans could point to explain why they don’t like it, Mugen Souls would be a great example. It opens up with an overly girly J-pop dance number that to put simply is almost stomach churning. Many of character designs are designed to be overly cutesy. A lot of the gags fall under bad anime stereotypes or fanservice and have a tendency to fall flat. It does manage to produce a couple of laughs by poking fun at some of the things we take as normal in the world of adventure games, so it’s not completely abysmal. It’s fairly well voice acted, it just doesn’t really have a great story behind it.


(Footage captured from personal play for Rage Quitter)

But you will feel like a creep playing it, make no mistake. I said 8 distinct personalities, but what that should read is 8 distinct fetish types. At first I thought terms like Sadist and Masochist were thrown in there to be kind of  goofy with the types, but as you play through the game you really do start collecting people based on their fetish.  Some will make you scratch your head, some might make you uncomfortable, but the real problem comes in when you realize that the main character very clearly resembles a minor. Apparently this game had some controversy in getting localized because of this issue. Huge Shocker.

In the real meat of the game it fails pretty damn hard. It starts of fairly simple, overworld map with monsters to avoid, and engaging them takes you to a Phantom Brave-esq battle system. But as Nippon Ichi games usually do, you are bombarded with tutorials about the games intricacies and to say its overwhelming is an understatement. To quickly summarize. You can attack which has the possibility of teaming with other players for big damage, you can use abilities which can bounce enemies around the map and into other monsters or crystals for big rewards, or you can use Chou-Chou’s “moe kill” to convert them to items or your peons. Peons are used to upgrade your spaceship for the occasional space battles that occasionally come up during the story.

But the game fails its hardest is in its execution. The game is just broken. Even after installing to the HDD, the game suffers from horrendous load times, freezing issues, incredibly choppy frame rates, awkward controls and camera. It just makes for a horrible experience, and this really does more damage than anything else I can complain about. Believe me, there is a lot to complain about on this one.  Cheesy story, annoying grating and unforgettable music, complex combat system, excessive use of fight cutscenes. Perhaps the fact that it’s a virtual unknown release should give it a pass, but this is almost shovelware levels of bad quality.

There are a handful of good ideas and things that I liked that could have made the game fun if they were cleaned up, but there just isn’t enough good here to make it a worthwhile experience. Mugen Souls might possibly be one of the worst games I’ve played in a long, long time. Buyer beware on this one.

You can see just how much venom I spit over at Rage Quitter.

#Quickie: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

Over the past few years I have come to realize that there are two types of fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead: There are zombie fans who like the show and all of its moments (where I find myself). Then there are mouth frothing, muscle twitching, ravenous idiots who scream about how bored they are watching it if a zombie isn’t being shot in the face every 3.1 seconds, who don’t realize the show isn’t about zombies but about how people survive in the collapse of society (yes, I’m a tad annoyed with it). Well for those latter folks who can’t get hard on without seeing a walkers skull caved in every few seconds, now we have the chance to walk in the rednecky boots of Daryl Dixon in Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.

Sadly, for a game that’s based of a story driven show like Walking Dead you’ll find the story is probably weakest element of the game. Essentially you play as Daryl at the beginning of the outbreak and after a hunting mishap where he loses his father to walkers, he sets out to find Merle and find a means of escape from the infestation.  Essentially, that’s the whole plot. Not uncommon for a zombie game but pretty bland. It’s marred by the fact that at least 95% of the characters you meet in the game don’t really have any major story interaction aside from the mission you are in. If you complete their very poorly acted side quest  they can join you and scavenge for supplies in later missions (and will probably die in the process). Because of that, all of Daryl’s lines are responses to quests. They are hacky, forgettable, and allow for no character development or growth.

As a first person shooter from a technical standpoint, its functional. The graphics aren’t exactly triple A but they did look much better than the commercial makes them look. It uses the right amount of blood splatter when cracking a walker with a melee strike and has a nifty little sweat trickle down on the top of the screen when you become fatigued.  The melee is visceral and has the right amount of weight and reaction to them for it help immersion which might have been one of my favorite things in the game. The gun combat is pretty forgiving as well as you don’t need to be laser precise for head shots, although firing in the game almost ALWAYS alerts the attention of more walkers than you want so its usually better to find a stealthier approach.

But while this game has some good ideas and its heart was in the right place, its execution was incredibly poor. The game starts off murderous in difficulty as your melee is weak and the ammo is too scarce to fight off major hordes if you fire once.  But when you get Daryl’s signature crossbow, the game becomes insultingly easy. The scavenging for survival is a good idea, but gets horribly boring after one or two missions. In between story missions you get plunked into occasional scavenge quests with about 3 different small maps, which just makes them a waste of time to pad out game length.

There are literally no special walkers or human enemies in the game, so basically all walkers you see at the start are all you’ll see by the end. God forbid you get grappled by a walker too, because the escape mini game is cool but will leave you trapped and force you to do it for every zombie in the group. It drains your health and basically extends your game over by like 3 minutes. Micheal Rooker and Norman Reedus are brought in to reprise their roles as the Dixon brothers, but the story is so poor there’s only so much they can do with the lines (which is a shame, because Rooker is a really good voice actor).

There are nuggets of good ideas in this game, and I really did want to like it more than I did. It started off so hopeful, and has some decent mechanics built in. It sadly shoots its wad right out of the gate and basically has nothing to follow it with. No varied style of missions, no boss fights, no real story development. Bottom line is though, Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is just another entry of popular properties getting a bare bones shitty game to cash in on it. Rent it if you have to, but even that much is overspending on it.  Survival Instinct bites.

Y’all kin fine mah full r’view at Rage Quitter, Y’hear?

#Quickie: Bioshock Infinite

I really shouldn’t be reviewing a first person shooter. I find most of them to be exactly the same from every other one that comes out. However, there are a handful excellent examples of them that break my incredibly jaded exterior and provide a enjoyable experience. The original Bioshock is one of those examples. Bioshock 2 was not and was so poor that I didn’t want to play any more of the series.  However, the reviews this game have been so stellar I felt it could not be ignored. So with a bit of hesitation I redbox’d, knuckled down, and played through Bioshock Infinite.

One of my biggest selling points in the original Bioshock was its atmosphere. Scary setting, creepy enemies, excellent use of darkness and pacing. Infinite manages to flub on almost all of these points right out of the gate. Instead of the dark collapsing atmosphere of Rapture, we have the perpetually bright and sunny yet outwardly racist streets of Colombia. Instead of the terrifying creepy Splicers or the monstrous Big Daddies, we have 1920’s well dressed assholes with guns, and giant Mecha-Washington or the Handymen (which are just some asshole in a robot suit with a big glowing weakness on his chest). Sorry, other people with guns are uninteresting and get a big red X from me.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/PgD7dpAz4eI

I felt they messed up with the equipment as well. In the original you got 8 or 9 weapons varying from boring old machine gun to fun weapons like the chemical thrower. In addition to having multiple weapon choices, you also had various types of ammo you could use for each weapon which had different effectiveness to different enemies. Bioshock Infinite instead decided it would bet better to fall in line with every other shooter and only allow you to carry two guns at a time with only one ammo type. Some people think its exciting to constantly be interchanging weapons. I do not, I don’t want to be stuck with a sniper rifle when I’m only sparsely in situations where it would even be useful.

Tacking on with disappointment of the guns, the Vigor’s of Infinite weren’t really as up to snuff as the Plasmids of the original. There are a handful of cool ones like sending a murder of crows after someone or the ability to send a ghost after machines and people, but after I maxed out my Shock Jock and Devils Kiss (read Electro Bolt and Incinerate) all of the other vigors I could use were useless or ineffective. It felt like I had less options too since some of the effects of the older plasmids were condensed to a single vigor. Useful maybe but I liked the variety better, these you at least get to switch between all of them whenever you want unlike the weapons.

I will say there were two points in this game that I really did like. First off, Booker (the protagonist) and Elizabeth (the support character) make for an incredibly likable pair. Booker isn’t a silent protagonist like in the previous Bioshock games so it allows him to have some very good character building moments and with a pretty deep backstory allows him to grow as the game progresses. Elizabeth is a great support character because she is competent and confident without being aggressive or arrogant.  She also helps while you fight by finding ammo, restoring your health or salts (for vigors), and she even digs up money as you are exploring.  She really does get you to fall for her right off, and she seems to have this understanding that something big is going on around her.

 http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/31-NAkq8YEY

Because these characters are so strong, it goes a long way in helping the storytelling. Bioshock Infinite easily has one of the best stories in the series by far. It does have a bit of a slow beginning to it, but without spoiling just after half way the story goes batshit crazy and completely alters the dynamic of the story with a very sci-fi concept. And while the climax was disappointing with a lack of any real boss fight, the storytelling was beyond exceptional with a very incredible ending to the tale that left a lot of people with their jaw on the floor. It may be a little cliche given the introduced concept but it was executed so well I was willing to over look it.

So then, recommendation? How can I put this….  Well, I guess the best way to say is I’m glad I didn’t buy it, but glad I got to play it. From a strictly technical gameplay standpoint, they completely watered down the well established Bioshock gameplay aspects to make it fall in line with the every other 1st person shooter released in the past few years. It was boring to me in that regard. But the game weaves such an exceptional tale that it would be worth your time to at least see the game through to the end, either through purchase or rental. I don’t think it merits the near perfect scores its getting, but its a solid play.

Would you kindly see my full review on Rage Quitter?

#Quickie: God of War: Ascension

Do I even need to intro this game? Really? We’ve done this dance like 5 times already, its the same eff’n game. Alright fine fine… Kratos is mad about something and he’s gonna swing some blades on chains around and horribly murder things. Oh, and something about gods. We good? Ugh… fine.

God of War: Ascension takes place before the events of all the previous titles which is suppose marks the beginning of Kratos storyline (not enough to say before he already had his blades and was completely psychotic, but shush). He’s being tortured in the Furies prison for trying to break his blood oath to Ares and is fighting to escape and stop the visions that haunt him.  You know, like in all the other God of War games. This may be a new and original story, but I swear I’ve heard this all before.

The game is still fun. Unchanged really. Only really a few subtle differences. Kratos now has elemental choices instead of different weapons, which I liked. The rage meter needs to be full to use the heavy hitting combos regular players are familiar with, which forces you to be skillful and precise. Other than that though, the gameplay aspect isn’t exactly gonna throw you a curve ball.

But what IS different this time is the addition of a multiplayer mode. Usually I hate the addition of a online mode to a game that has never needed it before. But in this case, it’s the game’s major saving grace. It provides a new interesting way to play God of War, it seems incredibly well balanced, and probably the biggest selling point for me is that a Level 1 online player actually has a fighting chance of surviving against a higher level opponent if they are a good enough fighter. But if their not? No problem, there are chests to collect, traps to set, and checkpoints to grab to boost your score. Its fun to play, fast paced, and has quickly become my reason to play the game. For a guy who usually hates online play, this shocks and terrifies me.

The bottom line here is that God of War: Ascension doesn’t bring all that much new to the table. If you are new to the series or want to know more of the Kratos tale, its worth a play. If you are looking for a new type of multiplayer mode to try, Ascension delivers. Unless they plan on making some radical changes to this series, they really should consider making this the last God of War title while people still have fond feelings for it.

There’s as 87% chance you can find my full review at Rage Quitter.