Sunday, February 17, 2013

DmC: Devil May Cry


DmC: Devil May Cry

            Fuck Devil May Cry 4. There, I said it. Having no prior experience with the franchise (being a purely Nintendo gamer until about 2006), Devil May Cry 4 was my first foray into the series, and it left an extremely bitter taste in my mouth. The characters, while all very personable, I found extremely unlikable, especially the main hero Dante. The gameplay was boring button-mashing, yet at the same time managed to be unrelentingly forgiving, and had the balls to give me a rank. If I weren’t such a completionist, I could look past this, but when I beat a level on the lowest difficulty and get an A thrown my way, especially with the retarded higher ranks being S, SS, and SSS (seriously? 3 S’s?), I took it as a personal insult. This problem was especially large due to one of the factors being time, and the game’s second level featuring a series of jumping and grappling sections that only worked about half the time, one of which even making you fight an entire group of enemies every single time I failed. Every. Single. Fucking. Time.

            For some reason, that wasn’t enough for me, and I pressed on to find an upgrade system that did nothing for your character’s power, but instead only added in new combos that seemed to do very little in regard to actually helping you. I will give the game two positives, though. I enjoyed the universe as a whole (the whole idea of demons being almost like household pests with Dante being a sort of exterminator), and I actually did love the boss battles (when I wasn’t being rated on how well I defeated them). Regardless, I hold to it that Devil May Cry 4 is still closer to the bottom of my list of games than it is to the top.

            That being said, I still picked up a copy of DmC: Devil May Cry. Now, I know what you’re all thinking: why is the “m” lowercase in the abbreviation and not in the title? I know, this is really bugging me, too. You also might be thinking, “Rayze, what the hell, man! If you hated DMC4, why did you possibly think you’d like this one?” The answer is simple: Devil May Cry fans seem to absolutely hate this game. Well, I’m not a Devil May Cry fan, so maybe a winning formula has been found. After all, I heard a rumor that there exist people who actually liked Super Paper Mario, so I guess fucking anything’s possible.

Triforce of Interaction:

            When I first started playing, I became extremely confused. It felt exactly like Devil May Cry 4’s gameplay, except I could actually see what I was doing, pulling off combos actually helped in killing monsters, and I was able to progress through the platforming sections based on my own skill, rather than whether or not the game felt like working. It was Devil May Cry gameplay minus the shitty parts. As I unlocked new weapons, I found myself often switching between them for maximum effect; none of my weapons gathered dust. This is excluding the addition of monsters that can only be harmed by certain weapons, by the way. In a standard battle, I could seamlessly and smoothly swap from my sword to my flaming hammer and then to my icy shuriken without missing a beat. Combos were easier to do, but not in a hand-holding sort of way, but more of a “holy shit the controls actually work” sort of way. Finding that gameplay actually worked was a great first impression for me.

            Enemy variety is fairly decent in the game. There are a good few enemies that are given different names, complete with their own introduction and all, which seemed no different than others, but the number of truly unique foes was still plentiful. Basic demons that would simply punch at you, flying demons with projectiles, flaming swordsmen that could only be harmed with demonic weapons that set the ground around them ablaze, icy swordsmen that only angelic weapons could harm that would attempt to freeze you in place, giant rats that would become stronger and faster if one of their allies was defeated, floating witches that could pass shields to whichever demon you had your sights on, hulking behemoths that would try and bumrush you, and plenty of others. It was more than enough to force me to experiment with all of the weapons at my disposal, as no one could ever get the job done for an entire group of enemies. However, my first real problem with the game came early on with a battle involving multiple flying and ground-based foes. The game features no lock-on system, instead having you attack whoever is most centered in your camera. More than a few times, I did find myself trying to work this to shoot down flying enemies shooting at me from afar, but ended up shooting nearby demons that weren’t giving me nearly as much trouble instead. Some sort of lock-on function would’ve been greatly appreciated, but I never found myself failing any battles due to the lack of one.

            Outside of combat, the game features some decent platforming sections. They’re all fairly simple, consisting of floating chunks of road and buildings that Dante must jump between, oftentimes using demonic powers to pull platforms towards him or angelic powers to pull himself to the next platform. Nine out of ten times, this worked like a charm, the only real issue then being that the sections were all fairly scripted. Jumps that I could easily have made have often failed because the game wanted me to pull out a new platform, and I found myself sliding off of perfectly flat surfaces because of this. The other issue came when the game expected me to use my demonic or angelic powers mid-flight, especially when it wanted me to alternate between them. Reactions had to be spot-on, often requiring I memorize the timing just to be able to pass certain sections. Segments exist that required you to use your angelic powers to pull yourself into the air, use your demonic powers to pull a door open, then do a mid-air dash to blast into the door before you fall, and these sections are all near impossible to pull off until you’ve failed a few times and gotten your timing down. The obstacles don’t reset, though, so if a door is pulled open, it’ll already be open the next time you attempt the jump, making the sections easier but also ruining the point of the platforming sections, in my opinion.

            The final gameplay-related subject I feel a need to bring up is boss battles. The bosses are huge, their designs are unique and oftentimes disturbing, and the battles are all fairly difficult until you master the timing. The final battle, in particular, I found to be a ton of fun, almost enough to make beating the game worthwhile just for that battle itself. The game’s not perfect in its gameplay, but compared to every other hack-and-slash button-masher I’ve played, the overall gameplay of DmC towers proudly. The faults were easy enough to ignore for me, but do be aware of them before picking the game up, because I can see some of them being deal-breakers. Regardless, this is my personal review, and I loved the gameplay.

Triforce of Interaction: Earned!

Triforce of Connection:

            I confess, the game’s overall story is… kind of ass. I found it engaging enough for the times I was playing the game, but looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint any specific moments that stood out as anything other than generic… except one. Now, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, and I don’t want this to turn into a political debate, but almost all of my friends, Conservative and Liberal alike, agree that Fox News is a biased piece of shit. Why am I bringing this up? Because one of the game’s main villains is the head anchor of a network that is clearly a parody of Fox News, a man constantly stretching the truth and telling lies about the going-ons of the world, always preaching about how he’s “just doing God’s work,” and who, minor spoilers, is actually a demon himself. I found this absolutely hilarious, and if you’re among the majority of people who oppose the bias of Fox, you’ll get a huge kick out of this, as well as if you’re one of the station’s fans, but is able to take a joke. It’s a ballsy move on the game’s part to have such a political centerpiece in the game’s story, but I think it ended on an amazing note, and the resulting boss battle is one of my favorites in the game, second only to the finale.

            Besides that, the story is generic as all hell. Dante, now looking less retarded and more like a real human being, has spent his entire life being dragged into Limbo and being forced to fight off the demons that reside there. Limbo itself exists as an alternate dimension to Earth, featuring the same general layout but including a few more demons and a few more gravity-defying exploding buildings. In one of these outings, Dante meets the first human he’s ever seen to be able to communicate with him in Limbo, a girl named Kat. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely love Kat’s design. I think they did a great job at making her attractive, and yet still looking like a normal human being that we could conceivably run into walking down the street. This doesn’t change the fact, though, that you could swap her out with a crash test dummy while no one’s looking and the only difference you’ll notice is that she now has a lot more personality. Anyway, Kat helps Dante defeat his first boss demon, and then introduces him to his long-lost brother Virgil, and the three of them begin their mission to overthrow the subtle chains that the demons hold over humanity. I feel a need to note, though, that humanity seemed way better off before they knew the demons existed than they were after the events of the game. Good job, guys, you ruined everything.

            The big discussion in this section, though, is Dante. As if the second sentence of the last paragraph didn’t tip you off, I think Dante’s new design is a huge improvement. He doesn’t stand out nearly as much as he used to, although I feel like he’s going to slowly begin to resemble old Dante as this reboot continues, based on how he looks at the game’s end. Personality-wise, he’s almost exactly like old Dante. He’s lazy, perverted, constantly cracks one-liners, talks to his weapons, and at one point we see him flying naked through the air with nothing but a slice of pizza covering his genitals. The only main difference is that new Dante is a bit more angsty, but given his situation, I feel this only helps to make him more believable. As for this Triforce as a whole, it’s a tough call for me, but the killer really is the pure number of clich├ęs the game features, as well as the fact that, despite how proud of themselves the heroes seem at the end, they ended up causing more death and destruction than there would’ve been if they’d just left everything alone.

Triforce of Connection: Failed.

Triforce of Immersion:

            In my opinion, this is the category in which the game does the best. Bam, spoilers for the next few paragraphs in the first sentence. But seriously, the game’s environments are simply beautiful and extremely creative. Remember that Fox News villain I mentioned? His realm in Limbo isn’t in the news tower itself, but the reflection of the news tower. Dante has to actually jump into a reflective pool and traverse through an upside-down underwater city to reach the boss’s chamber. Then, when he actually reaches the tower, he’s surrounded by a surreal environment that, strangely, feels like how I feel it would be like to be sucked into a news report. The resulting battle, which I won’t spoil, is a work of art, plain and simple. If you pick this game up and end up not liking it, I at least urge you to stick with it until this fight, because it’s something that must be experienced.

            My other favorite level is one of the last, where Kat draws out a plan to infiltrate the main villain’s base on a chalkboard. As you progress through the tower, then, the environment will occasionally shift to appear like a chalkboard, with Kat’s directional arrows leading the path to continue. I feel like I’m describing this section poorly, but take my word for it in that this section is a lot of fun and very artistic. These two sections may be my favorites, but there are many others in the game that give the same vibe. If anyone who worked on this game deserves praise, it’s the people who designed these environments. One important thing about the environments, though, is that I have never gotten lost in them. While I only had this problem to a lesser extent, I have a friend who found herself getting completely lost (in the bad way) in Devil May Cry 4’s scenery, unable to tell where to go next. Having detailed environments like the ones in DmC while simultaneously eradicating this problem is worthy of praise in itself.

            Admittedly, there do exist problems with being unable to tell which is the “right direction,” by which I mean which path with continue the level and which path will have collectibles. Also, a few of the environments are repeated a bit too often, one in particular being fairly bland and used way too often. It’s nothing that takes away from the game itself, but compared to how stunning and original most of the game’s scenes are, these sections stand out as particularly unexciting. Still, love the overall mood of the game as a whole, and I feel a need to give credit where credit is due.

Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Conclusion:

            The vastly improved gameplay over the previous game in the series is a major plus in the game’s favor, as are the game’s environments. The story may be a deep fried turd on a stick, and the characters may be fairly bland and generic, but the overall package of DmC shows a ton of effort being put in. It’s far from the best game I’ve ever played, but is easily one of the best hack-and-slash games that has ever graced my console. If you’ve ever played a Devil May Cry game and saw any sort of potential in them, then I can highly recommend this game, assuming you’re not the kind of person who will default hate the game just because the main character got a haircut. Suck it up, you pussy.

Final Verdict:

Triforce of Interaction: Earned!
Triforce of Connection: Failed.
Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Overall Score: 86/100

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Banjo-Kazooie


            Take a trip back with me, if you will. It was Christmas Day in 1998, and a seven-year-old Rayze Darr was practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation of his gifts. He had no idea what was coming, but he was excited nonetheless. Eagerly, his turn comes to open a gift, and he rips apart the paper from the large box, revealing none other than a brand new Nintendo 64. Oh, that Rayze Darr was so happy, finally having a console of his own, no longer restricted to gaming on his Gameboy or playing education games about singing parrots on his mom’s desktop. The system came with a fresh copy of Super Mario 64, but wrapped separately was a second game, one that his cousin had told him all about just how good it was. It was the game that would turn this “boy who likes playing video games” into a “gamer.”

            I’m not even going to hide it, because it’s going to come out anyway. For anyone who read my introductory article, I mentioned how I would be placing up three reviews with it, one of which would be my absolute favorite game of all time. Yes, the game that I hold above all others is none other than the famous Banjo-Kazooie. It was an instant classic back then, with Banjo-Tooie, its sequel, already in production by the time it was released. Rare knew that their game would be a hit, showing just how much time, effort, and love went into the project. It shines through, as after Rare was bought out by Microsoft (presumably strictly for the Conker’s Bad Fur Day remake), both of the games eventually received a spot on the XBox Live Arcade.

            The game actually began as Project Dream, which was to be a SNES game starring a human child named Edison, trying to survive his run-in with the mischievous pirate Captain Blackeye. Banjo and Kazooie, both of whom were never given official names in Project Dream, were to appear as minor support characters. Rare couldn’t find themselves satisfied enough with the product, though, and ended up pushing its development to the N64, throwing Banjo into Diddy Kong Racing as one of the playable racers. Slowly, the game started become the Banjo-Kazooie we know today, Edison being replaced by the titular bear and bird, and Blackeye being replaced by a giant, who in turn was later replaced again by the evil witch Gruntilda.

            All the effort lead to the duo being thrown into four more games after Banjo-Tooie finally finished. Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge was a Gameboy Advanced 3D Platformer, unfortunately limited by its console of choice, with Banjo-Pilot being the two’s return to the racing scene in a game dedicated strictly to aerial races. They later starred in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts which, in my opinion, was an absolutely amazing game by itself and a decent homage to the bear and bird. Their most recent appearance was as guest racers on the XBox 360 version of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, fittingly adding With Banjo-Kazooie to the end for that version alone. But enough about the franchise’s backstory, we’re here to talk about the game that made it all possible (no, not Diddy Kong Racing).

Triforce of Interaction:

            Banjo-Kazooie is a lot like Portal. There’s a sentence that’ll make any gamer scratch their head, so allow me to elaborate. The games are both concise. Nothing in them is wasted, and everything that’s there is something that needs to be there to make the game what it is. In Banjo-Kazooie, you aren’t going to find blank spaces added in for filler. The worlds are all a decent size, and every nook and cranny you explore will help you find something to help you progress. The main ingredient is Golden Jigsaw Pieces, or Jiggies, that allow you to unlock further levels. You’ll also find Music Notes, which let you open doors sealed by magical spells that block your progression through the main villain’s castle. Mumbo Tokens allow you to partake in the services of a residential shaman, Mumbo Jumbo, who will transform you into an animal (or vegetable) that’ll aid you in exploring the map. Eggs, Red Feathers, and Golden Feathers are needed for some of your abilities, so finding them will also be beneficial to reaching new goals. Finally, there are Jinjos; small, magical creatures that, if you find all five in a level, will reward you with a Jiggy

            That’s the main thing that Banjo-Kazooie has over its sequel. You’ll find items in every corner of a world. Those areas without items need to be crossed to reach the items in question, often holding dangerous hazards to try and keep you from your goal. Jiggies, Mumbo Tokens, and consumables carry over, even if you exit a level, but should you leave a level or die, you’ll lose all of that level’s Jinjos and Musical Notes, making the game extremely challenging in some areas, especially the final levels, Rusty Bucket Bay and Click Clock Wood. Through the nine worlds, the difficulty steadily increases, adding in new factors at a manageable level that slowly turn you into the hardened Jiggy Hunter you were always meant to be. The first level introduces the basics of combat and movement, the second adds in flight and overall air movement, with the third level adding in water sequences, and so on. The difficulty curve is one of the best I have ever seen in a game, and every death feels like you being unprepared, as opposed to the game being too hard or cheap.

            This ties into one of the biggest points in Banjo-Kazooie’s favor: the controls. There are plenty of Nintendo 64 games that I’ve gone back and played recently, including 007: Goldeneye, Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., and Donkey Kong 64. The more of these games I replay, the more I realize just how amazingly smooth Banjo-Kazooie was for its time. Moving the control stick only slightly to tip-toe and fully to run is a gameplay convention that’s so standard now that we take it for granted, but so many earlier platformers were just unable to get the ratio to a properly working level. I feel in full control of every jump I make, every attack I throw, and I even feel a responsibility for every pit I plunge myself in to. There are modern games, games from the past few years, that manage to mess up these simple factors of being in control of your character, and every year I become more and more impressed at how well Banjo-Kazooie’s controls have aged.

Triforce of Interaction: Earned!

Triforce of Connection:

            This will be the game’s weakest point, due in large part to its age. Outside of the diehard JRPG crowd, gamers have only recently even started caring about a game’s story. All you needed was a princess to be rescued and a fat Italian plumber to do the job. Despite this, Banjo-Kazooie does earn some points in originality. The game’s roots as a pirate game, and then a game about progressing through a giant’s lair, all finally show through to the very fairytale-esque story of the final product. Banjo the bear and Kazooie the breegull (which I recently learned is NOT a real bird) live alone in a small house at the base of the appropriately named Spiral Mountain. Banjo’s sister, Tootie, decides to pay him a visit, taking him up on a promise he made to take her on an adventure. Meanwhile, the evil witch Gruntilda sits in her lair (shaped like her face) overlooking Spiral Mountain. She’d been peaceful before, her overweight, green, warty body contented to be the most beautiful woman in the entire region (poor Kazooie…). As she mixes her magical cauldron Dingpot, she performs her routinely chant, asking it who the prettiest woman in Spiral Mountain is, at which point Dingpot calls attention to the newcomer: Tootie. Thus, Gruntila swoops down, kidnapping Tootie and bringing her to her lair, where she plans on swapping their beauty through the combined help of her magic and her assistant Klungo’s science. Thus begins the adventure, as Banjo and Kazooie set out to rescue Tootie from Gruntilda before it’s too late.

            So yes, the main story is a bit childish and fairytale, but the game shines above just about every game of its generation in terms of dialogue. Mainly, this is because it’s one of the only N64 games to heavily feature dialogue, but also because the interactions between the characters can be downright hilarious. Kazooie will outright insult everyone you come across, sometimes going right over their heads and causing them to subsequently insult themselves further, and sometimes pissing them off to the point of attacking you. Almost every boss fight in the game could be avoided if Kazooie had kept her beak shut. Banjo, on the other hand, is hilariously non-confrontational; always trying to shut Kazooie up and talk his way out of any fight he can, always to no avail.

            The witty banter between characters keeps the world feeling lively. Notable examples include a giant hermit crab who actually volunteers to help you until Kazooie insults him, talking sphinxes who will actually straight-up lie to you about the reward you’ll get for helping them, and scenes near the end of the game that demolish the fourth wall. Throughout the game, you can find one of Gruntilda’s sisters, Brentilda, throughout the castle, who will tell you random, gross facts about her less-attractive sibling. These seem pointless until one of my favorite segments of the game where Gruntilda forces you to play a life-sized board game, answering trivia questions to proceed, some of which are facts about her that she has no idea how you happened upon. The game is very self-aware, a lot of the jokes having over-the-top slapstick humor and not-so-subtle puns that even the cast seems to roll their eyes at. The dialogue, and even the fairytale story, all come together to form a charming experience, filled to the brim with moments that will always live on in the player’s memories.

Triforce of Connection: Earned!

Triforce of Immersion:

            But not every part of a game can be amazing. Wait, no, this is the best part of the game yet. My bad. Banjo-Kazooie does a lot of things right when it comes to them overall mood. Graphically, it’s ahead of its time. The cartoony style does what rare does best, making them still pleasant on the eyes a full sixteen years later. Environments are filled with small details that didn’t exist in most games at the time. Rusty Bucket Bay, for example, takes place in, on, and around a cargo ship, the Rusty Bucket. Bits of radioactive-looking goo on the docks, pin-ups and other magazines found in the sailor’s quarters, and even full pipelines in the ship’s engine room near the bottom of an instant-death pit which can be landed on, despite the fact that there’s no getting back up anyway. Details like in Click Clock Woods, a forest with four different seasons to swap between, where you can see the differences, some major some minor, in the same area as the simulated year goes on. The haunted world, Mad Monster Mansion, features a church, and one of the stained glass windows has an image of Project Dream’s villain Blackeye on it, not to mention the various brambles and cracks that litter the grounds.

            Not unlike the Mario franchise, many inanimate objects are living in the game, further adding to the fairytale feeling that the story portrays. Talking flower pots will thank you for helping them grow flowers, demonic lifebuoys will jump off the ship’s wall and attack you, and collectibles will introduce themselves to you the first time you find them. Anything in this world could be alive, from a glass cup sliding across a Ouija Board to an orange plucked fresh off of the tree. The magical nature of it all leads to an unforgettable, yet family-friendly, journey.

            But fuck all that. Fuck everything that I’ve said above this. Do you want to know what makes Banjo-Kazooie what it is? Do you want to know what makes the game the masterpiece that sets it above all else? Do you want to know what Banjo-Kazooie does that makes it the most unforgettable game I have ever played?

            The fucking music. I cannot properly explain just how important the music is to this game. Each piece is beautifully orchestrated, beautifully written, and it all fits its corresponding environment so perfectly. These songs have no words, and yet I’ve met people who haven’t even played the game in years who will randomly break out into humming or whistling these tunes. No game before and no game since has had a soundtrack this catchy or this fitting. The music makes the mood of the game exactly what it’s supposed to be: a magical, unforgettable story to be shared with any and all who dare call themselves a gamer.

Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Conclusion:

            You know the conclusion. I’ve said it already, and here I am simply to reiterate it. In my humble opinion, Banjo-Kazooie is the greatest video game ever created. Not only is its gameplay everything it needs to be: smooth, precise, confined, and satisfying, but the overall mood and feeling of the world turns what would be an amazing video game by itself into a work of art. Despite the limited graphics of the N64, the game manages to be beautiful and detailed, and the musical accompaniment ends up taking the front row for this hilarious and fun adventure through a simple tale worth reliving again and again. And with that, I’m done sucking this game’s cock for a while.

Final Verdict:

Triforce of Interaction: Earned!
Triforce of Connection: Earned!
Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Overall Score: 100/100

Mass Effect 3


            Mass Effect is about as universal as a game gets, no pun intended. If you meet a gamer, even just someone who games casually, then 95% of the time that person will have played, and have an opinion on, at least one of the games in the franchise. More recently, we can add that 99% of those people will have played Mass Effect 3 to completion and will have an opinion on it. Specifically, its ending.

            But let’s be fair. No one wants to hear another ending analysis. Yes, I will be stating my opinion of it, but this isn’t an Ending Review, it’s a Game Review. The original Mass Effect will forever live on as one of my favorite games of all time, flawlessly blending together a Third-Person Shooter and a Western RPG. The game world is huge, the quests are a blast, the leveling system allows for awesome class customization, and of course, the characters and dialogue are top-notch, as would soon come to be expected from absolutely everything that Bioware dared to acknowledge the existence of.

            Then came Mass Effect 2, a little over two years later. The characters and dialogue were still present and, arguably, better than ever. Graphically, the game saw the natural improvement that two years of technology would allow, and the overarching story was bigger and more intense than ever. This all came at the minor cost of the game having absolutely no free-roaming, turning what was once a huge, vibrant galaxy into an overly glorified level select screen. Planet scanning, which replaced physically obtaining minerals, kept my fellow completionists and me contented in having some sort of goal in the overworld map, but the complete removal of freedom was a major slap in the face with Uncle Jerry’s erect mansword. But hey, at least the RPG elements were also simplified to a point of making all characters of the same class play exactly the same and taking away all the fun of customization.

            Needless to say, when Mass Effect 3 had barely a year of development time, I knew that some shit was going to hit the fan. That’s why I didn’t buy it right away, and that’s why I felt my epeen boost a bit when the debacle about its ending began to surface. I did eventually play through it, though (as one would hope, given that I’m currently attempting to write a review on the subject), and… at least it wasn’t as bad as Mass Effect 2.

Triforce of Interaction:

            Copy Mass Effect 2’s combat system. Paste into Mass Effect 3. First off, again with the lack of loot? Maybe I’m in the minority, but I thoroughly enjoy finding new weapons and armor pieces lying in bins and chests and comparing them to my old. It’s like combat-efficient accounting. Secondly, what was wrong with the overheat system? One of my biggest complaints in non-survival shooters is the inability to test the waters with my new weaponry without wasting ammunition, and the return of the thermal clips is one that I do not welcome with open arms. Also, and I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I greatly dislike being unable to sheath my weapon. When exploring an area for goodies or traveling from A to B, I much prefer the over-the-shoulder view from Mass Effect 1 that wasn’t for combat. It not only allowed me to see a bit more of the area at a time, but there was also an aesthetic pleasure to being casual and at-ease while hacking a locker instead of staring at that menacing datapad with my rifle barrel aimed at its hypothetical throat.

That’s a minor complaint, though, as the actual combat works fine as intended. If my crosshair is positioned over someone who I want to feed some rounds to and I pull the appropriate trigger, the bullet (or laser, whatever it is) makes contact and they feel the damage. Tech abilities overheat shields and guns as they should, Biotics cause that glowing blue chaos that we all know and love, and the pure damaging Soldier abilities help the opposition stop movement just a bit faster. The character leveling is just as dull and uneventful as it was in the previous game, but I absolutely love the ability to also upgrade your guns. Improving the longevity of the early weapons is a great touch, and being able to find a gun that fires in a way that’s comfortable for me, then being able to bring it up to almost par with the top weapons, is a great feeling. On a final note, the armor customization that you can do is only slightly ass. I did find a lot of enjoyment in buying and testing out different armor combinations to optimize my play style; I just wish that the final product didn’t make me look so damn ugly.

Outside of the generally copy-and-paste combat, there’s the ever fun subject of exploration, the biggest thing I missed from Mass Effect 1. I was beyond disappointed to see this missing again, and in fact the galaxy feels smaller than ever as a whole, but the additions to the planet scanning system are an improvement, to say the least. Reapers (giant living spaceships of doom rawr) will actually appear on the overworld map, and after enough times scanning for goodies, will begin to zero in on your location in real-time. Having to plot your course, accounting for the sometimes inevitable Reaper attacks, and balancing your ship’s fuel as you exit and re-enter the solar system to attempt a grab from a different angle all come together nicely to make what was once a boring chore into something of a beneficial minigame. It’s still not as nice as being able to explore the surface of the planets, though, and the more I think on it, the more I feel that being able to explore a planet via Mako while a gargantuan Reaper blocks out the sun and fires lasers in your direction sounds like a horribly missed opportunity.

I should also point out that the side quest system in this game absolutely sucks. Side quests are almost all earned through randomly overhearing conversations, so you’ll often have some that you have no recollection whatsoever of even knowing about. On top of that, the quest log doesn’t change with the quest. It won’t tell you if you’ve completed the goal in question, instead having only the same text it had when you first got the quest. My advice: ignore the side quest log. Just do your best to get 100% scan on every planet and follow your minimap when it points to someone.

Overall, the gameplay elements are only bad if you compare them to the original game, sans the always horrible quest system. On their own, they do stand up very well, making this the kind of approval I most hate giving. I feel like a teacher giving a student an A on an astoundingly well-written paper, and then having the student turn in a significantly worse paper that’s still easily A-quality. Yes, you earned this A. I just hate encouraging this kind of behavior. See me after class, EA.

Triforce of Interaction: Earned!

Triforce of Connection:

Not everything that carried over from Mass Effect 2 will be getting a bashing. 2 introduced a ton of awesome characters, as well as adding to the ones we met in the original game, and Mass Effect 3 takes that momentum and keeps it going. For those not in the know (though if you aren’t, why the fuck are you reading a gaming blog?), the Mass Effect franchise has a huge focus on interacting with the other characters in the universe, mainly your crew. Everyone has their favorite lines from the franchise, and some of the wittiest shine through in this latest installment. The banter between Joker (voiced by, and sharing the personality of, Seth Green) and his potential romantic interest EDI (an AI in a robot’s body) showcase the mood as a whole, featuring both funny and endearing lines simultaneously. Watching Tali (<3), an alien who has to wear a mask due to an extremely weak immune system in her species, marvel over the wonders of a straw (“Emergency Induction port”) that she’s using to get completely wasted shines through as some of my favorite dialogue. “I’m having a drink with my boyfriend. My HUMAN boyfriend. … My father would hate you.” If romance isn’t your thing, there’s also bromance a plenty. Reunions with Wrex and Grunt especially made me smile, seeing my Shepard get almost hugged in half by the giant frog-like Krogans.

If tragedy is more your thing, though, the game is far from lacking in it. Like the previous two, Mass Effect 3 features a moral choice aspect in almost every action. Even choosing all of the most noble actions, though, leads to some unavoidable and truly heartbreaking events. It’s just my opinion, but I think these come far too often. About the fourth time someone decided to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, I found myself no longer caring; which sucks, because if it hadn’t already happened three times prior, one particular character’s death scene would have brought me to the ground in tears, as it did to some of my friends who saw his first. Again, though, minor complaints. The characters and dialogue are stronger than ever, and this Triforce of Connection is as good as won.

Oh, wait, the story. You play as Commander Shepard, a fully customizable space hero who has already saved the galaxy from the threat of the Reapers twice. While he only had to fight individual Reapers before, though, an entire army of them has now appeared in the galaxy, and it’s up to you to gather up all of the necessary allies and War Assets to take the bastards down before they can complete their goal of harvesting every intelligent being they can get their tentacles on. This war has been one hyped beyond belief from the previous two games, with it costing tens of thousands of lives, as well as plenty of other irreplaceable resources, to down even a single one in the first game. Now their numbers are uncountable, and all hope seems lost until a blueprint for The Crucible is found, an ancient weapon that has been attempted to be built by countless other galactic civilizations before, only for the Reapers to harvest them before its completion. Now it’s time for the current batch to try to create this last-minute Deus-Ex Machina. All of the smaller stories leading to the completion of this machine, the one thing that can supposedly destroy the Reapers, spans an epic and emotional journey, that ultimately concludes with…

“WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK.” Here, we see a transcript of my exact reaction as soon as the credits stopped rolling. After an extremely anti-climactic final battle, which isn’t even against any description of a boss, but rather just another horde of enemies, the game takes a turn for the surreal. Everything becomes slower paced, people start acting astoundingly out of character, plot holes are handed out like Halloween candy, and the entire ending of the game rides on a single final decision that renders every choice you’ve made in the entire franchise up to this point completely worthless. And that final decision? It’s choosing which color swatch you want placed over the camera. Which ending was your favorite, the blue one that sucked, the red one that sucked, or the green one that sucked?

I do feel a need to call attention to the Extended Cut DLC, however. After receiving astronomically (no pun intended) bad feedback from the fans, Bioware actually released free Downloadable Content that added more to the end of the game. It didn’t change how nonsensical or assy the ending was, but at least it helped clarify a couple of things, and at least it added in a half-assed slideshow that showed some of your decisions, making me almost feel like my playthrough was unique. Now I feel like that same student came back to me with a D- paper. Hey, it’s not an F, so you still pass, but I HATE passing you for this which is an atrocity compared to your first.

Finally, Tali’s face. Go. Fuck. Yourself. EA.

Triforce of Connection: Reluctantly Earned!

Triforce of Immersion:

The game is graphically an improvement over its predecessors, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Compared to the standard game of 2012, though, it also manages to hold itself up high with some beautifully rendered set pieces and cutscenes. This game has an abundance of what I can only describe as badassery. Without spoiling too much, but still spoiling enough that those who have played the game will know what I mean: Reaper vs Kalros. Hell fucking yes.

The times when you do get to visit the surface of a planet, the game shines in its attention to detail, in the sky at least. I’ve always loved being able to look up in Sci-Fi games and seeing things that we’ll never see on Earth, such as planets which are much closer to their moons, or the view of a planet from said close moon. Watching the burning twin suns while standing on a world below is an experience that not a lot of games can offer. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t as many awesome pieces like this in Mass Effect 3 as there were in the first game, but there are enough that the galaxy still seems like a grand, mysterious world just begging to have every inch of it explored (insert your own innuendo here).

The dream sequences deserve a special bit of attention. On occasion, you’ll dream of what looks like a burned down forest, ashes still floating through the air and the trees bare and black. A young boy, one who you suspect died when Earth was attacked, is continually running through this forest, and you, unable to move very quickly at all, have to chase him. For the first time, we see something like this tearing at Shepard’s subconscious, and it does a great job of adding to a sense of darkness and foreboding that surely awaits at the end of the road… even if it wasn’t quite what was expected. But I digress. Case and point, the game looks beautiful and does a great job setting the mood. The music doesn’t particularly stand out to me, but it never got in the way either, nor were there any annoying sound quirks.

Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Conclusion:

Mass Effect was an absolutely amazing game. Mass Effect 2 took about ten steps backwards. Mass Effect 3 then took about six forwards. There’s still no comparison of this game to the original, but at least it did things much better than its predecessor did. Clocking me in at about 26 hours, the game proudly holds significantly more content, and higher quality content, than 90% of the games that are being put out these days. Bioware is still standing strong, but you can feel EA’s influence. The horrible ending feels like nothing more than a way to make future installments (read: money) possible, and the corners cut on the combat mechanics feel like a game rushed out to be capitalized on as soon as possible. EA is just lucky that Bioware’s able to put out an astounding product, even if the product is forced to roll around in its own feces for a few hours before shipment.

Final Verdict:

Triforce of Interaction: Earned!
Triforce of Connection: Earned!
Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Overall Score: 88/100

They Breathe


            There needs to be more horror games. I have a strange addiction to good horror, but very few games have ever scratched that itch well (and before you ask, no, the game I’m reviewing is not even a horror game). While browsing Steam for any I may have overlooked, I happened upon a section called “Steam Greenlight,” where game developers put their games to be voted on by the community as to whether or not they should be allowed on Steam. I took this opportunity to browse through them all, upvoting every game that looked like it’d be a decent horror adventure.

            Then I saw something. Do you all know the cover to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, the one with the naked baby swimming towards a dollar bill? I saw a picture of an adorable looking frog in that same pose. It caught my eye, to say the least, and I moused over the image. The description popped up, the word “disturbing” grabbed my attention, and I decided to check it out. There, I saw that it was already available on the XBox Live Marketplace for 240 MSP (about $3, I think). “Well,” I said to myself, “This could be a fun adventure. Exploring a fairly unknown Indie Game to decide whether or not I vote for it or not. Why not?”

            And so I did. I had 690 MSP leftover on my account, so I promptly purchased the game, played it for 30 minutes, then shut the console off right after the credits finished rolling.

Triforce of Interaction:

            The gameplay of the game was very simplistic. Control stick allowed my frog to swim up, down, left, right, and diagonal at any angle. Pressing “A” let me do a short underwater sprint in one direction. No other buttons seemed to do anything. There was no health bar. If I went too long without collecting the bubbles that floated up from the bottom of the screen, or if an enemy or their attack hit me, the air bubbles floating up from the mouth of my little frog would eventually turn bloody red, and further punishment would lead to losing some control of him, causing him to swim slower. Eventually, this would lead to him holding his throat in pain and sinking, with death occurring if I hit the bottom. I could revert to a previous state of pain by collecting the floating bubbles. It was simple, and yet very arcade-y in a way. With only a control stick and a dash button, survival was strictly down to skill, rather than avoiding misclicks or managing fancy combos.

            As for the enemies, I don’t want to reveal too much, as doing so would be story spoilers. Let’s just say that they’re obese mooses that desire to suck all of the air out of you. One kind is defeated by simply surviving against it long enough, another kind by tricking it into swimming into enough subsequent air bubbles. The game’s final (and only) boss was a rather disturbing, but very fun and very challenging battle. Besides that, remaining details of the game’s enemies will be kept a secret, in case you ever decide to pick this title up.

            For simple, yet fluid gameplay and a great boss battle, I would normally give this game this appropriate Triforce, but said Triforce will be retracted due to the amount of content. I have games on my iPhone that cost me $0.99 and have run me for hours on end, so even for a $3.00 game, 30 minutes of content to beat the entire thing is downright pathetic. There’s not even any sort of challenge or time trials modes. No score attacks, no additional levels, just a single, 30 minute experience that, if you want more out of, you can play again, exactly the same. And don’t give me the “Go easy on it, it’s Indie” speech, either. I judge games based on the game, not based on whether or not its development team could all share a hot tub comfortably.

            Triforce of Interaction: Failed.

Triforce of Connection:

            The game has no defined characters, no backstory is given behind any of the events, and there is no dialogue. If you game for a good narrative, then this game has literally nothing to offer you. Well, that’s not entirely fair. It does have a “plot twist,” so to speak, but one that’s purely visual and, again, never really explained.

            Triforce of Connection: Failed.

Triforce of Immersion:

            Very few games make the most of their simplified graphics. Often, Indie developers will use simple graphics with the strict intent of portraying a “retro feel” or simply due to not having the budget for major graphics, making a game that could’ve worked just as well with HD quality. “They Breathe,” though, actually manages to incorporate its budget graphics into both its gameplay and into the aforementioned “plot twist.” This is a game that simply would NOT have worked with realistic visuals, and any Indie game that manages to make their graphical limitations a key part of the game gets my thumbs up. Work with what you’ve got, don’t settle.

            As for the game’s mood… If you’ll recall earlier, I mentioned how the description adamantly boasted the word “disturbing?” My God, is it ever right. This “plot twist,” which I’m doing my best to hold back from mentioning incase any readers decide to play this, does an absolutely amazing job of adding to a horrific atmosphere. The ever darkening, increasingly corrupted forest that serves as a background only adds to the mood, making the world become more and more disturbing, lonely, and alien as time goes on, augmented further by the lack of a soundtrack. This game sent chills running down my spine from just how well everything was portrayed, and I really do wish I could explain more without giving any spoilers… but that’s part of the problem with a game that only lasts half an hour. I can either say next to nothing, or recap the entire experience.

Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Conclusion:

            They Breathe ultimately got my upvote on the “Steam Greenlight,” but for the sole reason of me wanting to see more of it. The gameplay was satisfying in the best way that a retro style game can offer, and the overall atmosphere of the game was hauntingly good. An amazing final boss only further adds to my desire to see more levels added in some day, enough to turn this game into a wholly worthwhile experience. As it stands, though, it’s hard to recommend a game that you can beat in its entirety on a lunch break. Half an hour would barely justify the harddrive space for a great game, and even ignoring the time frame, They Breathe isn’t an all-around great experience. It’s good, good enough that a more full game made of it would garner a recommendation, but as it stands…

Final Verdict:

Triforce of Interaction: Failed.
Triforce of Connection: Failed.
Triforce of Immersion: Earned!

Overall Score: 54/100.

My Introduction


            Greetings and welcome to all my (imaginary at the time of writing) readers! My name is Matt Sokolis, penname Rayze Darr, and this is the first article of my new blog, where I will be focusing on reviewing video games. This, however, is not a review of video games. Rather, this first article is simply an introduction: what you can expect out of my reviews, a brief synopsis of my gaming history, and the types of games that  rustle my jimmies in all the right ways. If you have no interest whatsoever in who I am as a person or a gamer, then by all means, skip this shit. I won’t be posting this until I also have a few initial reviews anyway, so it’s not like you won’t still have reading materials. I am a twenty-two year old bachelor, so this blog will contain cursing, sexual innuendo, and more than a few occasions of overconfidence to the point of blatant stupidity. Deal with it.

            I will keep this first “article” short, however. When reviewing, I rate games on two different systems. The first is a number rating, as can be expected from most reviewers. Here is the general scale I will use:

0-9: Insultingly bad game. I can recommend it to no one. Too bad for even bad game connoisseurs. I am offended to even call these “games.”

10-19: Horrendously bad game. While not insulting, still not one I can even recommend to the most diehard of the franchise/genre’s fans.

20-29: Horrible game. If you enjoy bad games, these are a must for your collection. If you enjoy fun, stay back.

30-39: Awful game. At least some effort was put into these, but it’s still hard to suggest anyone play them.

40-49: Bad game. The game has, just barely, more going against it than it has going for it. Can only recommend if you think you can see through the gaping flaws.

50-59: Mediocre game. Right down the line, about a 50/50 split between redeemable qualities and bad ones. For diehard fans of franchises and genres only.

60-69: Functional game. The game works for the most part, and the majority of its features are enjoyable to some degree.

70-79: Good game. The game functions well and has redeeming qualities to it. Fans of these types of games shouldn’t miss out on these, but they probably won’t leave any lasting impressions.

80-89: Great game. Far more good qualities than bad. I can recommend these games to anyone with a tolerance to the associated franchise and/or genre.

90-99: Amazing game. I don’t care if you don’t like the franchise or genre that the game represents, you get your ass out there and play this damn thing.

100: Nearly perfect game. My favorite games of all time will be the only ones to receive this mark. Yes, they still have flaws, but games that get this score are the closest things I’ve ever seen to perfection for this medium.

            Numbers can only convey so much, however, and that’s why I’ll also rate games on a much simpler “Triforce Scale.” I have bunched every important aspect of gaming into three categories, and if I feel a game is successful in this area, they’ll earn the appropriate Triforce. My Gaming Triforce goes as follows:

Triforce of Interaction: How the game functions, including combat systems, puzzles, glitches (or preferably a lack thereof), and anything else that the player directly controls.

Triforce of Connection: Story, characterization, and dialogue. All about how the game’s written and how alive and organic everything feels.

Trifoce of Immersion: The game world itself: sounds, graphics, setting, and mood. It’s not so much what the world is, but rather how the world is portrayed.

            I know many a gamer who will play games strictly because it has a good story (connection), many others who play games strictly for how pretty everything is (immersion), and more still who don’t care as long as the gameplay’s fun (interaction). By adding in this Triforce Scale, even games with low number ratings can end up getting recommendations based on what factors are most important to you.

            There’s no denying that there are many kinds of gamers out there, though, and as such many kinds of reviewers. I’ve seen reviewers that have massive stiffies for First-Person Shooters with big explosions, reviewers that refuse to touch Japanese Role-Playing Games with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole, and even reviewers who only touch games made before 1997. As for what kind of reviewer I am, well, I’m sure you’ll find that out better than I will. One rarely notices the biases in themselves, but I like to believe myself a well varied gamer. I’ve been gaming since I was four years old (Kirby’s Dream Land was my first game ever), and have gamed almost every day of my life since. Unfortunately, I do not currently own any pre-2000 consoles outside of a Nintendo 64 and a Super Nintendo, nor do I own a Playstation 3, Playstation Portable, or Playstation Vita (nothing personal, Sony). But between my gaming PC, iPhone, N64, SNES, Gamecube, Wii, XBox, XBox 360, Gameboy Advanced, Nintendo DSi, and Nintendo 3DS, I believe I have enough to cover every major release that piques my interest.

            And finally, my known biases. Yes, I’ve been gaming since I was a toddler, so yes I have nostalgia. I believe myself to be good at not letting nostalgia for a franchise affect my opinions of newer games in said franchise, but many of the older games I review will probably end up getting… exaggerated scores due to my childhood. I try and avoid this as best I can, but I’m only human. In addition, I have an internet connection and an XBox Live Gold Membership, but multiplayer, to me, is an optional add-on and NOT a key part of a game. Any game trying to be held up by its multiplayer will, with me, be looking at a generally bad grade. Do not expect good reviews for the yearly Call of Duty installments, nor any MMO trying to shove its massive, erect PvP down my throat. A game, to me, is judged on its single player content, with a good multiplayer able to add on a few bonus points. Besides that, I enjoy games across all genres. Among my current my top 10 list, there’s a 3D Platformer, a Third-Person Shooter, a First-Person Shooter, a Strategy game, three Western RPGs, two Japanese RPGs, and an MMORPG, with my top 50 adding in Adventure Games, Puzzle Games, Dungeon Crawlers, Casual Games, Racing Games, and Fighting Games. I like to believe myself very well diversified in my tastes.

            And now the boring shit’s done. Go read some reviews. Among the reviews posted with this will be a shorter one for a fairly new Indie Game, one for one of the biggest releases of 2012, and one for my favorite game of all time (just so you know where I stand on that). Enjoy!