Xbox 360 Review: Dark Souls II

No question about it, that guy isn't pleased with your existence.

No question about it, that guy isn’t pleased with your existence.

By: Jeff Cater

FromSoftware and Bandai-Namco recently released the sequel to their infamous Dark Souls, and wouldn’t you know it; things have gotten harder. Dark Souls 2 scoffs at its predecessor for being too friendly and forgiving. This time you have a meeting with the King to attend; do try to not be late.

CONTROLS (4/5)

The game’s controls are designed to cater to cautious play as button spamming can get you in a lot of trouble. The left stick maneuvers your chosen undead through the kingdom of Drangleic, and the right stick, of course, is bound to your bearing. The directional pad switches through equipped items and spells, and Square will use the selected item. Circle performs a back-step and, when combined with a directional input, executes an evasive roll. Interacting with the environment is done with X, and squaring off with enemies is done largely with the R1 and R2 buttons that perform a light or strong attack.

You’ll be hitting things all the damn time, but also making use of the parry and blocking systems with L1 and L2. Locking onto an opponent with R3 is invaluable, but it can lead to some frustrating moments like “WHY THE F**K ARE YOU SWINGING THAT WAY!??” and “Oh yeah, just roll off the fu**ing ledge. That’s what I needed.” The jump mechanic is also somewhat of a sick joke, as now instead of double tapping Circle you have to hold it down to initiate the run then click L3 to perform the jump.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4.5/5)

Drangleic is a beautiful, bizarre and haunting world. Remnants of a once-great kingdom lie everywhere, creating a rich visual history of the environment. Everyone looks tired and almost dazed, flighty in their moments of undeath. Clothing, branches and banners flutter in the breeze and create a nice, realistic weight to the world. The textures on display are detailed, grimy, glorious and shiny at all the right times, and they bring even more depth to the world and its inhabitants.

Every character is animated well, and the battle animations are not only top notch, but they’re absolutely key in understanding and dominating the combat system. There are a few moments of frame rate stutter or even simple drops, but nothing nearly as bad as Dark Souls‘ Blighttown (you win that round, Dark Souls!).

Meanwhile, the sound is horrifyingly perfect. The air is always very still and almost empty, which produces a unique sense of loneliness and distills despair between bonfires. In the distance you may sometimes hear things that you don’t want to, because you know you’ll have to fight whatever it is. That’s when you hear wet footsteps getting faster and closer and a faint gasp before an axe shrieks across the wall and into your back. Fun, right?

GAMEPLAY (5/5)

Drangleic is filled with horrors, treasure and secrets. Dark Souls 2 casts you as an undead with the task of meeting the King of Drangleic. All you have to do is slay several hundred of the souls trapped in the cursed realm.

So, after creating a character and completing a brief… uh, tutorial… you’ll find yourself in one of the only safe places in the game, Majula (which isn’t really completely safe). This time the method of leveling up involves talking to an inhabitant of Majula, the Emerald Herald.

Fast traveling through bonfires also helps out a lot, but after a few runs through an area while you’re grinding for souls you’ll notice that the place is a bit emptier. Enemies simply stop spawning in an area after a while, forcing you to suck it up and move on, find the key, or fight the boss.

It’s like Dark Souls 2 is always nudging you forward, but not necessarily in the most obvious ways because that’s literally all of the hand holding you get here. So not only do you have to worry about losing souls and depleting a grinding zone, you still have to worry about invaders coming to wreck your night.

There are more ways to fight this off this time around, but I won’t spoil anything. Co-op is fun and often necessary to ease boss fights and certain zones, but everything can still be beaten solo.

Thankfully, it’s all fun. Fighting is fun, finding that hidden room is fun, losing 30,967 souls twice in a row is… fun! The sense of accomplishment has a great way of wiping all resentment towards the game away, because if you beat a boss or clear an area, you KNOW you busted your ass doing it!

The NPCs also evolve throughout the game. The merchants will become arrogant or overly prideful in their newly found source of income (you), and you can get some great dialogue from these people displaying that they’re just losing their damned minds.

OVERALL (4.5/5)

Dark Souls 2 is unmatched in rewarding gameplay. It can frustrate and confuse, but as it does that it will also hypnotize you with a thirst for souls matched only by the forlorn creatures of Drangleic. It’s a sad, brutal experience; one that everyone should partake in, but one that only the elite will survive.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

PS4 Review: Mercenary Kings

Robots with knives. Somewhere James Cameron is smiling.

Knife-wielding robots. Somewhere, James Cameron is smiling.

By: Mike Chen

Despite being in the age of near-lifelike graphics and animation, there’s still a charm to games that use cartoonish sprites. Sometimes these are a function of budget, but most of the time, these are conscious style choices to echo retro game design. Mercenary Kings falls into the latter category, though it brings in several modern game elements for a mash-up of both old and new.

CONTROLS (3.5/5)

Since this is a throwback shooter, you’d think controls would be simple and efficient. While basic interaction through the face buttons (shoot, jump, roll, melee) are fine, inventory management (R1) is clunky. It wouldn’t be so bad if it either, A) defaulted back to your gun immediately, or B) didn’t transpire in real time. But because of those two issues, you’re left vulnerable. I get that the developers wanted retro difficulty levels, but this has nothing to do with level design or resource management, and it can lead to cheap deaths.

Ancillary info is available through other buttons. The touchpad brings up the map and is also used for scrolling through finger motions (the right analog works as well). R2 brings up a list of quick communication that you can use with your partners.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Mercenary Kings is obviously a throwback to 8- and 16-bit style games, and the game’s aesthetics are designed lovingly in pixelart. Animation is sprite based, and in general characters are bold and bright (though the amount of pixelated manga-style cleavage is kind of overdone). The color palette is definitely broader than an authentic NES/SNES/Genesis title, making this look like an enhanced throwback. Similarly, the soundtrack plays chiptunes while modern samples are used to support the songs.

In short, it’s a blend of old and new, with it being 75 percent throwback and 25 percent modernized. However, none of the modernizations take away from the retro style, and nice touches (such as the enthusiastic voiceovers) are reminiscent of arcade classics like Bad Dudes. The only area where it falls short is the map, which is halfway between ugly and incomprehensible. And since enemies can attack while you’re studying the map, that’s a major drawback.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

In a mash-up summary, Mercenary Kings offers Metal Slug-style shooting with Bionic Commando-style levels and a Borderlands-esque weapon/equipment mod system. As a mercenary, you and up to three other players (either local or online) fight a variety of bad guys like old-school shooters, though some enemies look like they’re out of Mega Man. Gameplay is as much about exploration as combat, but there’s no parkour or bionic arm for traversal (though zip lines are located throughout the environments).

Aiming is a bit of an issue, since there’s no diagonal shooting. This can be extremely limiting, particularly when enemies can fire off at all sorts of angles. With enemy respawns, this constricts just how fluidly you can fight off waves. In particular, if you’re playing solo, you’re going to be in trouble a lot. Guns and gun mods open up the world to tweaks like size of bullets, fire speed, spread, etc. but you’ll have to fight through the rough patch of the early levels to get there.

By intention, there is a reload cooldown time once you empty a clip. This factors into your strategy and makes for some frantic moments. The game is designed for multiple people working together, and these types of limitations encourage drop-in play. Strangers can be matched with your play session, ensuring that you’ll always have people to join your squad (assuming the servers are filled).

That’s the essential gameplay experience, and with 100-plus levels, there’s plenty to do. However, that presents one of the game’s biggest problems: an overall lack of focus. There’s plenty of variety in missions, but much of it feels like grinding to acquire materials and objects for weapons upgrade. Unlike Borderlands, the narrative isn’t strong enough to get you from A to B, and the longevity of the game really depends on how much you enjoy the core concept.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

While cool in concept and with plenty of enjoyable old-school shout outs, repetition and some questionable control decisions muddy the Mercenary Kings experience. However, for those that love retro shooting with modern options, as well as a robust multiplayer experience, there are nearly limitless gameplay hours here.

Categories: Reviews

Nintendo 3DS Review: Cut the Rope: Triple Threat

Just not after midnight.

Just not after midnight.

By: Casey Curran

While Angry Birds is considered the iPhone’s biggest success story, I always preferred its second fiddle: Cut the Rope. Featuring fun, simple gameplay and a wealth of content, it always gave me something fun to pass the time with. So, naturally, I enjoyed when Cut the Rope: Triple Threat offered the original, Experiments, and Time Travel in one package, albeit at a significantly higher price.

CONTROLS (4.25/5)

Being a port of an iPhone game, Cut the Rope naturally has some very simple controls consisting of nothing more than swiping the touch screen to cut ropes and tapping it to manipulate tools scattered around. This setup already worked very well on iPhone, but a stylus gives the game a little more precision than just swiping with a finger. The only real issue here is that occasionally two ropes will be too close to each other, making it hard to cut one but not the other. This is not frequent, but it is noticeable enough to get annoying.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

While being a port of a cheap iPhone game means Cut the Rope has very simple controls, it also means that it has a very simple look. Due to the 3DS’ low-resolution screens, the game actually looks worse on the system than it did on the iPhone.

Music is enjoyable in all three games, though it’s mostly the same. Experiments, however, ensured I played with the sound off thanks to a shrill scientist’s voice constantly chiming in every time you failed. This may be the most annoying voice I’ve ever heard in a game, really hurting my enjoyment of it when I had the sound on.

GAMEPLAY (4/5)

Cut the Rope has a very simple premise: Get candy to a little hungry creature. The bulk of this will be done by cutting ropes that the candy is attached to at the right time as part of physics-based puzzles. The game is constantly throwing hazards and tools to assist you, which help this simple idea constantly be done in new ways.

These new hazards are critical to the game remaining fresh, whether you are in the second world or are about to finish the last level. Each one introduces their own unique challenges, such as a chain that can only be cut with a buzz blade, which runs the risk of destroying the candy.  The additional hazards only get more creative with the later games, with Time Travel in particular being full of creative threats.

There were a few issues present, however. The puzzles can get a little too specific, where you need to cut the rope at exactly the right momentum and position. This is especially bad in the levels that require multiple steps, as just one overly specific requirement at the end can ruin you. Other than that, however, the simplicity allows the game to keep from running into more really bad issues.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

Cut the Rope: Triple Threat is a difficult game to score. On one hand, there definitely is enough content and fun to justify the price tag, and I would even say this is the definitive version. On the other hand, $30 is steep when these three games can be bought on a mobile device for less than $10 combined. If you lack a smartphone or are looking for a good game for your children that do not have one, then it is definitely worth picking up.

Categories: Reviews

Xbox 360 Review: Cabela’s Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts

NEVER the thing you want to be that close to.

NEVER the thing you want to be that close to.

By: Jeff Cater

Cabela’s, the store, was often a place of wonderment for me to visit as a child with giant displays of great bears and wolves, and even a huge fish tank. Cabela’s has also now been pumping out games for a number of years to hardcore hunters and casual gamers alike, but does their latest release, Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts, hit the mark?

CONTROLS (3/5)

The controls are easily the best feature of the game, being immediately familiar due to the game’s first-person nature. If you’ve walked around in any game and aimed down the sight of a rifle at the same time you’ll be perfectly comfortable here. Gadgets and “Hunter stance” are bound to the directional and face buttons, respectively.

Unfortunately, the aim sensitivity of the right stick never feels right, as it always seems to go a few inches to the left or right from where you’d like to shoot; it never fails. Pro Hunts also uses the pressure sensitive triggers to get that perfect trigger pull, which is a touch weird at first.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (2.5/5)

Pro Hunts is a pretty decent thing to look at while you’re holding still or just surveying your surroundings, but everything gets pretty ugly while moving around thanks to a low frame rate that frequently dips.

With everything jerking around and stuttering across your screen it’s hard to admire how the trees sway in the wind, or how the bushes… sway in the wind. The various wildlife are animated pretty well but also fall victim to the frame rate issue, so deer seem to sometimes gallop erratically rather than prance around as deer actually do.

The frame rate issues also take away from the actual quality of the wildlife models used. Every animal is modeled and textured very well, indicating that this is actually a damn decent looking title that’s severely marred by technical difficulties.

On the audio front, Pro Hunts is filled with sounds seemingly pulled right from nature or one of those sleepy-time relaxation CDs, whereas the menus and cinematic sequences are bedded with country rock music. That’s right, cinematic sequences.

Guns sound true to form and powerful, and rustling through bushes sounds quite good. Stealth is a large part of the game, to which hearing even the smallest noise is tantamount to the positioning of your character.

GAMEPLAY (3/5)

In this edition of Cabela’s Big Game Hunter, you’re able to hunt all over America after qualifying in different regions. This can be done by completing various “mission” hunts — for example, sack a boar between 350 and 600 pounds, or 10-point buck minimum. Side missions include shooting arrows through foxes and other similar activities.

The game is incredibly difficult to please, however. If you whiff on a shot or don’t take down your target with a single round, you might still complete the session but be penalized for not being a proficient hunter. Penalties come in the form of the straight-up robbery of your hard earned in-game currency, so it almost feels like a deer hunting version of Dark Souls that constantly makes you dig your own hole.

Pro Hunts does give you the tools to succeed, but due to the frame rate issues and the accuracy of the controller it’s MUCH harder to place a kill shot than it should be.

If you practice and exercise extreme patience, however, you’ll find getting that perfect heart or double-lung shot to be most satisfying; even more so because the game treats you to an X-Ray depiction of bullet flight and entry (ala Sniper Elite v2), complete with details of velocity and power behind your shot.

OVERALL (2.75/5)

With a little more effort devoted to evening out the frame rate and control issues, Cabela’s Big Game Hunter: Pro Hunts could be a fantastic hunting game. In its current state, however, it is hard to recommend outside of diehard series fans.

Categories: Reviews

Throwback Thursday: Win Enslaved Premium Edition on PS3!

April 17, 2014 63 comments

EnslavedAfter being sidelined last week by getting sick, Throwback Thursday is back, and this time we’re digging deep in the vault for one of the most overlooked titles of the last generation in Bandai-Namco’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. This is the Premium Edition, too, which means it includes the excellent DLC, Pigsy’s Perfect 10. If you missed this one when it came out, trust me, you wanna play it.

HOW TO ENTER

To enter simply let us know what one of your favorite “overlooked” games is in the comments section below. If you’re on Twitter please include your @handle as well. If not, just make sure the email address you use when entering is valid.

THE FINE PRINT

Winners will be selected on Wednesday, April 23rd. All entries must be submitted by 8 PM EDT/5 PM PDT on Wednesday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must either be following me on Twitter or submit a working email address to win.

Good luck!

Categories: Contests

PC Review: Deus Ex: The Fall

2027 is all about Crips vs. Golds. Bloods are so 1980s.

2027 is all about Crips vs. Golds. Bloods are so 1980s.

By: Casey Curran

Every now and then a sequel or spin-off comes along that is little more than a watered down version of a past game in the series. Sometimes it loses what made that game special and ends up feeling bland. Other times, however, it proves just how good the source material is, providing a fun experience despite not being on par with past entrants. Deus Ex: The Fall is the latter, providing something not quite as deep as Human Revolution, but a fun game nonetheless.

CONTROLS (4/5)

Anyone familiar with Human Revolution’s PC interface will feel right at home with The Fall. While the level of polish is not quite up to par with the 2011 hit, they otherwise control largely the same, offering far better controls than the iPhone version. The only difference is that due to being a port of an iPhone game, the contextual cues can often be unclear on what button to press, as these initially only required a tap on the touch screen.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3/5)

As with the controls, The Fall is basically a less polished version of Human Revolution graphically. It retains the stylized, gold-heavy color palette, which helps it stand out from the other shooters on the market, though not quite as impressively as HR. The areas do feel a little more copy and paste than that title as well, particularly later on, which hurts the visuals.

The story, however, is a hollow shell of Human Revolution’s. It centers around two agents hiding from the Illuminati trying to obtain any drugs to fight their bodies rejecting their augmentations. It does not cover augmentation with the same intelligence or depth that HR did, providing a story that neither helps nor hurts the game. Voice acting in this is decent, but none of it stands out.

GAMEPLAY (3.5/5)

What caught me by surprise the most about The Fall was how it does not overly focus on the shooting, as, like Human Revolution, stealth is balanced to be an equally viable option. Neither one has a clear cut advantage over the other, each limited by its own unique resources as well as imposing their own dangers. In stealth, getting discovered presents a major problem as you can be caught in a completely unfavorable position. Meanwhile, going the shooter route requires you to constantly be in firefights, which, thanks to a low amount of health, means you need to make a much smarter use of cover than your average shooter.

Exploration remains intact as well. While the areas are not nearly as exciting as in Human Revolution, The Fall holds its own secrets that make going off the beaten path exciting. While the world building secrets do not quite add enough to make finding a document or journal entry a huge reward, tracking down money, experience, and ammo is still satisfying.

The one area where the game does falter is leveling. It feels a little too stripped down to the bare bones, lacking the amount of options from Human Revolution. It does not make up for it by having these feel significant, the same way they felt in Mass Effect 2, either. While there were a few handy upgrades, particularly in the hacking department, most did not make a noticeable enough difference in the gameplay to make leveling up feel particularly compelling.

OVERALL (3.5/5)

If you have yet to play a Deus Ex title, I have a hard time recommending The Fall over Human Revolution or the original. If, however, you spent a significant time with the series and are hungry for more, then The Fall will satisfy that desire.

Categories: Reviews

PS3 Review: Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends

This time, this little gal is sweeping the guys off their feet.

This time, this little gal is sweeping the guys off their feet.

By: Uma Smith

It appears that the Dynasty Warriors series continues to survive with its recent eighth title. For the past couple of years, these games are usually accompanied by a DLC, labeled Xtreme Legends, several weeks later. This time, however, if you have delayed purchasing their recent title, then you have your own patience (or perhaps indifference) to thank as Tecmo-Koei has released Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends for PS3 — there’s also a Complete Edition for PS4 and Vita owners.So what should one expect from such a package as this?

CONTROLS (4.5/5)

If you’ve ever gotten your hands on a Dynasty Warriors game, then you should be expecting the controls to be absolutely simple with just movement and attack commands to keep track off. In this case, though, it’s even better since your character now has the ability to carry two weapons at once.

Considering how you have to play out your strategy by matching the right type of weapon depending on the enemy you encounter, this isn’t exactly a completely mindless button-mashing affair. On the contrary, getting the grasp of this concept will be greatly beneficial as you can execute special Storm Rush combos as well as pull off counter moves.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (3.75/5)

Although I must admit Dynasty Warriors 8 has the best graphics in comparison to its predecessors, I should point out the imperfect environmental presentation and low-resolution textures making their appearances on screen. Still, the characters are well designed with a high degree of detail.

Audio wise, it manages to keep the adrenaline going with the hacking and slashing sounds occupying the overall gameplay experience. And when you have exciting and dynamic music playing in the background, it’s easy to be taken away by this high-octane atmosphere.

GAMEPLAY (4.25/5)

For those that are unaware, Dynasty Warriors takes place during the Chinese Three Kingdoms era where the gameplay will have you basically hacking and slashing against a bunch of enemies while, at the same time, leading your own army. As its name suggests, Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends comes packed with even more content than the original DW8. There is an additional storyline included along with an “Ultimate” difficulty option and five new characters added to the roster.

As you jump into the main story mode, you’ll be playing for territorial supremacy while controlling the various Wei, Shuand Wuclans. There’s also the Lu Bu’scampaign, where an extra several hours are added in this edition of the game. Playing as Lu Bu himself is quite satisfying and helps to extend one’s enjoyment level with the Dynasty Warriors series. That is, as long as you can look beyond the constant button-mashing affair and incorporate some strategy into the mix.

Having 82 characters to choose from can be an absolute delight as it adds diversity to the gameplay. On the other hand, it can leave beginners confused and indecisive with the vast number of fighters, each of whom has their own unique styles. Nonetheless, there is no one character that you have to avoid using. Everyone has their special skills that will provide an edge to the whole battle system. In addition, you’ll be able to direct your clan to engage in the fight as per your commands.

What really elevates Dynasty Warriors 8 is the new battle systems being implemented. As mentioned earlier, each character can hold two weapons, thus affording them the capability to execute a second special attack. On top of that, you can combine weapons to produce better attributes and effects, including elemental damages to enemies and healing factors.

Of course, you’ll need to collect gems in order to utilize this feature as every modification will have a cost. By having this type of weapon-fusion system in place, it makes the game more engaging and addicting. It can potentially get players obsessed with discovering particular effects from their choices.

Still, Dynasty Warriors 8 does suffer the curse of being a superficially simple hack n’ slash game, regardless of how much depth there is to it. And because of that, certain players may find this monotonous from the get-go no matter the number of additional modes available. Hopefully, the ability to play with a friend either locally or online can remedy part of this curse. At the end of the day, the fun factor highly depends on one’s appreciation for these types of games.

OVERALL (4/5)

Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends is by far the best in its series in terms of content and presentation. However, this non-stop action is an acquired taste that can be viewed as repetitive by those looking for more complexity and involvement. Nevertheless, players who consider this series to be quality gaming will definitely find this“xtremely” satisfying.

Categories: Reviews
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