PSN/XBLA Review: The Walking Dead Season 2: Amid The Ruins

You ain't takin' shit from us.

You ain’t takin’ shit from us.

Please note that since each episode of The Walking Dead: Season 2 features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of All That Remains.

When last we left Clementine and company, they were trying to use a herd of walkers as cover to escape from the despotic Carver with, shall we say, “limited” success. Things pick up in the heat of their getaway, and the game immediately thrusts more unpleasant decisions on you. Forget black and white or even the traditional shades of gray cliché, your choices throughout Amid The Ruins are, at best, shades of very, VERY dark gray. Even by Walking Dead standards, it’s harsh.

Despite being secure in the knowledge that Clementine is going to make it through the herd, the opening moments are tremendously tense as you try to keep touch with the group, balancing the desire to help others with the need to survive. It’s considerably better than the similar scene with Lee outside the hotel late in Season 1, and it feels like you’re more actively involved with who’s moving forward and who’s checking out here than ever before.

Of course, what makes these decisions difficult is the relationships you form with an ever-evolving cast of characters, and newcomer Jane definitely takes center stage here by taking Clementine under her wing and teaching some new tricks to help long-term survival. It’s a testament to the writing that you can go from ambivalence to wanting her to become a central part of the group in just a couple of hours, but that’s always been the strongest aspect of Telltale’s Walking Dead series, and it continues to shine here.

Without traversing too deeply into spoiler territory, Amid The Ruins focuses on two plotlines: getting the scattered group back together and delivering Rebecca‘s baby. Both have moments of exhilaration and despair, and in traditional Walking Dead style, every tender moment is quickly counterbalanced (and then some) by unfortunate events. In that way, the series has become something akin to Game of Thrones where the usual rules of good triumphing over evil simply don’t apply.

What makes both series special, though, is not that they buck tradition, but rather than they suck you in into thinking that this time it’s gonna be different. This time Oberyn is going to get revenge. This time the survivors are going to find someplace they can hole up, have this baby and regroup. And each time it all goes awry it stings a little more. Yet, when the credits rolled with the series’ best cliffhanger to date, I could still feel that sliver of optimism that next time it really will be different.

OVERALL (4.75/5)

Telltale Games continues to push the envelope in Episode 4, Amid The Ruins, heaping more and more emotional and psychological baggage on Clementine, whose journey from helpless little girl into world-hardened leader is one of the best and most engaging in gaming. I can’t wait for the finale, and while traditional logic says they’d never kill off Clementine, how can anyone that’s played the first nine possibly rule it out?

XB1 Review: Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition

You can use a bulldozer to clear out zombies.

You can use a bulldozer to clear out zombies.

By: David Tavernier

Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition for the Xbox One is an updated version of Zombie Driver, which has all of the original game’s downloadable content included as well as some extra features (such as new car skins and additional unlockable content in the game’s racing mode). With the extra content, Zombie Driver UE is a budget indie title that seems like it should pack a punch. However, is this the case? Read on to find out!

CONTROLS (4/5)

The controls are very well done. Each car handles differently according to its attributes, so if you want a car with tight handling and a lot of speed, pick the taxi or the police car. If you prefer one that’s large enough to rescue more people, such as an ambulance or limousine, you will have to sacrifice speed and handling for car size.

You can upgrade each car’s attributes to even the playing field, boosting each car’s armor, ramming capability and speed. This means that over time you can make any car suitable for your needs. If you like rescuing people all at once and are using a limousine, slowly it will become as fortified as a tank if you continue to upgrade its armor.

Choosing which car you will use for each mission is a strategic decision, so if you want to increase your chances you need to pick and upgrade the right car. As far as weapons are concerned, all of them handle very well, and each weapon has its own distinct pattern of destruction that is very satisfying.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

The graphics aren’t much better than an ordinary Xbox 360 game, so if you are looking for a game that showcases the power of the Xbox One you’d best look elsewhere. The music is also forgettable as it sounds like the same guitar riffs over and over and never really changes at all. Also, it’s hard to hear the music over the game’s noisy side effects.

Thankfully, Zombie Driver UE‘s sound effects are better than its repetitive music, so this isn’t really a bad thing. Each of the game’s weapons has its own characteristic sound effects — launching rockets into a crowd of zombies gives off a satisfying explosion, while the rail gun offers a sort of silent zapping noise, so you can easily hear zombies exploding as you fire each round. Putting your car into overdrive also produces a distinctive rocket propulsion sound. So, while the graphics and music are bland, the sound effects are good enough to make the game somewhat easy on the ears.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

While Zombie Driver UE is very fun at first, it becomes repetitive over time. Basically, there are three main mission types you’ll encounter as you progress through the campaign: survivor rescues, clearing areas of zombies and large boss fights. Unfortunately, it feels like one mission is just a repeat of a previous one with a new coat of paint.

For instance, in one mission you have to rescue firefighters. That’s fine, but you’re also asked to rescue scientists… and then government officials… I mean, how many different professions do we have to rescue in the same exact way?

The same goes for missions where you have to clear zombies and those where you fight bosses. If the controls weren’t so good, and killing zombies wasn’t so fun, I would’ve been bored by the game’s 10th mission. Fortunately, Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition is just plain fun to play, so if you can stomach the repetition you’ll still get some enjoyment from it.

Two extra game modes add some longevity to Zombie Driver UE after finish its campaign. The first is a racing mode where you face off against CPUs through various circuits. This mode includes the ability to upgrade and buy new cars, as well as unlock new tracks, so it is not unlike those available in racing sims like Gran Turismo or Forza.

This mode presents a considerable challenge, as weapons are also usable during the race (much like Mario Kart). It’s hard to hold on to first place when the CPUs who are behind you are letting loose salvos of rockets and barrages of machine gun bullets. Still, this racing mode is both challenging and fun, and it’ll take up quite a bit of your time if you decide to try to beat it.

The other extra mode is called “Slaughter.” It’s a survival mode where you have to defeat waves of zombies without dying. The longer you survive, the more money you accumulate. This has leaderboards, so after you’ve finished one round of Slaughter you can see how your money total compares with other players’. These two extra game modes give you plenty to do and enjoy after you have finished the game’s regular campaign.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Fans of the zombie apocalypse genre will get more out of Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition. If squishing  and pulverizing untold numbers of zombies is not your cup of tea, then you should pass. If doing so sounds fun to you, however, Zombie Driver UE probably be a good buy, especially considering its fairly lengthy campaign and extra game modes.

PSN Review: Sacra Terra: Kiss of Death

Who knew demons were so messy?

Who knew demons were so messy?

By: Matthew Striplen

Back when I was a wee lad (the early ’90s), I had no game consoles, but I did have a spectacular computer: a Packard Bell running Windows 3.1. Those were the good old days, before Super HD graphics and gajillion gigabyte processors. There were a few games that sparked my initial fascination with video games, including the classic Ski Free, the hilariously outdated 3D Dinosaur Adventure, and a slew of point-and-click adventures. Sacra Terra: Kiss of Death takes me back to a simpler era of gaming when titles were more like I Spy books and less like Call of Duty.

CONTROLS (3.75/5)

Point-and-click games got their start on the PC, and the very nature of the genre lends itself to the typical PC setup: keyboard and mouse. A mouse enables the player to effortlessly and efficiently scan the screen for important objects. Since the PS3 obviously doesn’t have a mouse, both analog sticks are used. The left stick moves the cursor quickly and the right one moves slowly. This is a nice touch that allows for more precision in scanning jumbled areas. However, the same effect could have been created if the developers utilized the analog capabilities to the fullest.

By far, my favorite part of the controls is how the player navigates the world. In all previous point-and-clickers I’ve played, the only way to move is one room at a time. Sacra Terra, while also allowing for this same type of motion, makes use of the map. The world is depicted by a series of hearts, each representing a different room. Clicking on a heart displays the name of the selected room and also a thumbnail. Clicking again instantly transports the player to said room. Can you say, “timesaver”?

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

Sacra Terra uses two distinct art styles: one for still objects and scenery, and another for characters and other items requiring motion. The still scenes are far superior to their moving counterparts, mostly because they appear hand drawn, while the latter is mediocre CGI.

The best looking stills appear when the player is faced with a mass of random paraphernalia, as seen in the screen shot. These images are highly detailed and usually have great lighting effects. The CGI is fairly run of the mill, neither contributing nor detracting much from the experience. The speech animations for the characters look a little bizarre, though.

On the topic of speech, the voice acting is atrocious to the point of hilarity. I’m pretty sure this is unintentional since the rest of the game takes itself rather seriously, but I could be wrong. The musical score is interesting and intriguing, but unfortunately it uses very low quality synthesizers. I can easily appreciate the writing of the music, but the performance is less than stellar.

GAMEPLAY (3.25/5)

Adventurous pointing and clicking! That’s what this game is all about. As I mentioned earlier, if you liked I Spy or Where’s Waldo books as a child, this game will take you on a trip down memory lane. That being said, I’m a little confused as to the target demographic. Games like this typically cater to younger children, but Sacra Terra has some pretty mature themes like suicide, murder and literally being dragged to hell. This content definitely warrants the T rating, but the majority of the game seems to be geared towards kids.

Sacra Terra is divisible into two types of actions: puzzles and find stuff. Personally, I never liked Where’s Waldo, so the searching sections felt tedious. The one unique part of the search portions are the special items. The items the player are supposed to find are listed at the bottom of the screen, but certain items are written in a different text color. These objects can only be found after triggering a different action. For instance, an apple listed in red might only be found after lifting an umbrella that was obscuring your view.

The puzzle sections are far less frequent in occurrence than the searching, and many puzzles require searching before they can even be attempted. Once you’re actually solving them, the puzzles are only moderately difficult. Most of them come with an explanation of the goal, which is usually pretty obvious to begin with. More on the puzzle sections below.

One of the more unusual aspects of the game is its high level of difficulty customization. Two overall game modes exist: casual and expert, though only a few minor changes differentiate the two. Additionally, when in possession of a map, the player has the option to view the locations of actions yet to be taken. A simple box check toggles this ability.

Also included is a hint/skip button. Depending on whether you’re playing casual or expert, you can get a hint every 30 seconds or every minute, which just finds whatever object you’re looking for. The button changes to Skip when solving a puzzle. Instead of “hinting” like before, this automatically solves the puzzle with no negative repercussions. Essentially, if the gamer is willing to wait long enough, the game will play itself. Kind of defeats the purpose of having the puzzles in the first places, doesn’t it?

If you’re looking for a good story, you’ll probably want to search elsewhere. Sacra Terra uses the “save the princess” stock story, but it’s gender swapped. This paired with the terrible voice acting and subpar writing prevents the audience from caring much about the characters.

To rescue your gentleman in distress, who’s been kidnapped by the succubus Lilith, your character travels to the island of Sacra Terra, which just so happens to contain a portal to hell that consequently has portals to other places. To defeat Lilith, you travel through the portals to free the trapped and tormented souls upon which she feeds.

OVERALL (3.25/5)

Playing Sacra Terra: Kiss of Death requires some serious self restraint. Since auto-solves are just a click away and have zero negative impacts, I constantly fought with myself not to just skip something whenever I encountered the slightest sign of difficulty. A beginner mode with these attributes would be expected, but the expert mode still had too many crutches for it to be a challenge.

The fact that I personally don’t like searching games combined with the inherent repetitive nature of the genre marred the experience. While Sacra Terra‘s puzzles and the drawn graphics held my interest a bit more, they did not make up for all of the game’s problems.

PSN Review: Mousecraft

The mice are about to BLOW UP!!!

The mice are about to BLOW UP!!!

By: Uma Smith

One of the great things about the PlayStation Network is the opportunity for cross-buy for some of the new titles where you get the PS4, PS3 and Vita versions all for the price of one. And in the case of Mousecraft, courtesy of Curve Studios, that’s exactly what you get. Additionally, the notion that this particular title is a mixture of gameplays taken from both Lemmings and Tetris almost makes me forget the mice featured here, which I find very frightening. But at the end of the day, will this game turn out to be a fine piece of cheese?

CONTROLS (4.25/5)

For the controls, moving the blocks around is done through the left stick while the d-pad is used for choosing the blocks. On the PlayStation Vita, Mousecraft functions effectively with the ability to use both the face buttons and the touchscreen. For the latter, the controls involve using one finger to drag and move the blocks around while the other finger rotates it. For the home console versions, these same functions are performed with the help of the left stick and shoulder buttons.

In either case, the controls are pretty much straightforward. It is a pity though, that the d-pad couldn’t be used for moving the blocks instead as some players would prefer this type of control scheme on a puzzle game like this. Nonetheless, it’s not really a deal breaker here.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Although the graphics for Mousecraft appear acceptable, be it on the television or Vita screens, the levels overall look pretty much the same as you progress from one to the next. The background lacks variety, which keeps this game from excelling in the visuals department.

On the flip side, the audio aspect of Mousecraft is quite the treat. The soundtrack is catchy and enjoyable with upbeat and stimulating tunes playing in the background. Additionally, the audio effects do their job very well in ensuring both the action and humor behind the game is delivered effectively.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

In case you haven’t figured out by now, Mousecraft is a puzzle game that involves a feline scientist named Schrodinger who is trying to gain blue shards with his experiments in order to fund his future research. And that’s essentially it in terms of the background story!

Gameplay-wise, you help to ensure that you guide the three mice who are acting as test subjects across this dangerous platform that they must traverse by placing Tetris-like blocks. This is important since if they fall from great heights it spells death for the mice. The goal is to get them to reach their cheese. Hence, Mousecraft has similarity in gameplay with Lemmings where you can’t exactly control the subjects. Instead, you have to guide them with the tools you are given.

While this sounds very simple, the puzzles themselves get more challenging with the addition of such deadly elements as acid and killer robot mice. In time though, Mousecraft does seem pretty repetitive, especially since the difficulty doesn’t increase that significantly. While it’s true that the inclusion of extra obstacles will get you thinking harder, it won’t take too long to advance nonetheless.

Still, the saving factor for Mousecraft lies in the content. There are plenty of levels to keep you busy, especially when you need to ensure that you collect a certain number of blue shards in order to progress to certain sections of the game’s puzzle map. Plus, even if you manage to complete all the levels, you can always play around with the level editor to create your own sets of challenges to play with friends, locally that is. It’s too bad that there isn’t an opportunity to share online, but hopefully in due time this will change.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

At the very least, Mousecraft is a pretty decent game. But considering the $14.99 price tag at the PlayStation Store, the real value will be dependent upon the number of game consoles you get to benefit from with this cross-buy. Ideally, you’ll want to have at least the PlayStation Vita and either the PS3 or PS4 in order to reap the full benefits of this “cheesy” puzzle title.

PC Review: Kill The Bad Guy

If he’s buying food from a bodega he might not need intervention to die.

If he’s buying food from a bodega he might not need intervention to die.

By: Jeff Cater

Developed and published by Exkee, Kill The Bad Guy is a game where you are tasked with dispatching various Bad Guys. Rather than simply shooting them or hucking a grenade their way, Exkee elected to use a more discreet approach: all of the killings are to look like an accident. Since they are bad guys, however, we can call them happy accidents.

CONTROLS (4/5)

Kill The Bad Guy is a mouse driven game, aside from being able to move the camera with the arrow keys. Left click will select or deselect the objects scattered about the level, and the various prompts that pop up to manipulate are clear and easy to read. Basically if you can click and drag you’re good to go, it’s pretty streamlined and simple.

The only thing that could boost the score here is if the developers added a right-click drop-down menu for moving, rotating and associating objects to one another; the current buttons tucked in the top left corner break up the pace a tad.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.5/5)

Visually, Kill The Bad Guy is extremely minimalistic in terms of action and detail as the levels are sheets of white and grey. Immediately you’ll be able to tell what objects you are able to manipulate as they are much darker than the backgrounds, kind of like those old Hanna Barbara cartoons. “Hmm, wonder which one of these doors is going to open!”

The interface and The Bad Guy contain color, but again, the detail is pretty minimal aside from a humorous target plastered on The Bad Guy’s face, and he’s wearing some grimy leather bad guy jacket to go with it. There are also buckets of blood that will splash all over the stage if The Bad Guy is provided with a gruesome enough death, so the lack of detail in the environments is served mostly as a clean slate for your handy work.

Similarly, the audio is barely there but extremely effective. The bad guy’s death screams are fun to listen to, and the blood plash gives a good weight to the visuals. The main menu and level briefings are accompanied by a bouncy hip-hop melody with some dudes rapping “Kill the bad guy, kill the kill the bad guy,” which is actually stupidly catchy and sets the ridiculous tone for the game right off the bat.

GAMEPLAY (4.5/5)

While the graphics, audio, and control department all took the small, minimalistic road, the gameplay popped some “Truckers Love It” and floored it. Your designated target, The Bad Guy, will patrol a small segment of a level. Your job is to manipulate the environment in such ways that The Bad Guy meets his demise. This can mean anything from rigging up pianos from a roof and snipping the line as he passes underneath to hot-wiring an automobile to run him down in a parking lot.

After the first few levels of linear construction, the game opens up a bit more to creativity, lending crafty players an edge in attaining points by thinking up wacky ways to dispatch your target. As mentioned in the Controls section, the only improvement to the game would really be a more intuitive interface for selecting and activating objects. That being said, the gameplay is strong and very open ended later on in, with more and more options opening up each time you beat a level.

OVERALL (4/5)

Kill The Bad Guy is a pretty unique offering: it’s heady, cheap, chock full of levels (over 60) and has a hilariously addictive hook. Finding the next physics object in the level to interact with is always fun and can lead to some share-worthy moments.

Win A Destiny Beta Code!

July 16, 2014 72 comments

DestinyIt’s time! Yep, the Destiny beta kicks off on July 17th for PlayStation and July 23rd for Xbox, and we have codes to get in on the fun courtesy of our friends at Activision!! So how do you, a citizen of the gaming community, get your hands on one? Simple.

To enter, just post which of the game’s three classes (Warlock, Hunter, Titan) you’re most interested in. Please include your @Twitter handle as well as this contest is limited to Twitter followers only, so if you’re not following me already now is the time to start!

Please note that these codes will work for either platform so whether you want PS or XBOX we have you covered.

THE FINE PRINT

Groups of winners will be selected on Friday, July 18th and Tuesday, July 22nd. All entries must be submitted by 8 PM EDT/5 PM PDT on Monday. As noted, although anyone can enter you must be following me on Twitter to win.

Good luck!

XBLA/PSN Review: The Wolf Among Us: Cry Wolf

Bigby lets his hair down in Cry Wolf.

Bigby lets his hair down in Cry Wolf.

By: Mike Chen

Note: The Wolf Among Us series looks, sounds, and plays the same from episode to episode. For an examination of those series characteristics, please see our Episode 1: Faith review. This review will only provide an overall score for Episode 5: Cry Wolf.

The penultimate episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us set the stage for a big confrontation and an epic finale.

Without spoiling anything, Episode 5: Cry Wolf delivers. It’s tense, action-packed and morally conflicted in a spectacular way. Most importantly, one of my major complaints of the last few episodes has been resolved. There’s a sense of control in Cry Wolf that didn’t really seem to be fully grounded in previous episodes. While Telltale seems to have fully eschewed traditional adventure game tropes of exploration and puzzle solving, this episode feels the most and immersive and responsive.

Broken up into several distinct acts for a runtime of about 90 minutes, Cry Wolf rockets Bigby Wolf into a conclusion that ultimately decides the fate of the Crooked Man and the inhabitants of Fabletown. Each act features signature set pieces, be they dialogue or quick-time action. While the game may throttle along a fairly set path, decisions feel weighty and create a small but tangible impact on the reactions of key characters. The episode starts with a recap of many important choices from previous episodes, and you’ll see the ripple effect of those as things come to a close and characters pick sides.

I won’t discuss any further story specifics, but I will say that my only real letdown with this episode was the final short epilogue. I get the feeling that this could have been left out or altered depending on whether the game was commercially successful, as it sets up things for a second season. However, the final beat throws a lot of information at you in the closing seconds, and after the emotional rollercoaster that just happened, I did a double-take when the credits rolled. The actual end comes at a logical point, and you can feel it coming, but you may need to play it a second time to figure out what the final takeaway is (I had to).

OVERALL (4.5/5)

A gritty and at times gut-wrenching conclusion to Telltale’s first season of The Wolf Among Us, Cry Wolf delivers the goods while moving the story ahead for further adventures. If you’ve been waiting for the whole series to come out before dipping in, it’s worth your investment.

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