Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Last of Us Game Review

The Last of Us has been a highly anticipated game since last year’s E3 and is made by the studio Naughty Dog which is best known for the Uncharted series, Jak and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot. Prior to release of The Last of Us, it received over 30 perfect 10/10 scores from various reviewers. Now I’m one not to buy into the hype until I get my hands on the actual game or movie and I hope that is part of the reason why you read my reviews. Also the zombie apocalypse setting also hurt my interest in the game prior to playing it. I’m rather tired of the zombie genre and I have a feeling World War Z will be the nail in the coffin for the undead genre, for awhile at least.  However, after actually playing The Last of Us, I learned it was about far more than just fighting zombies. This is one of the most emotionally strong and well acted games I have ever played as well as one of the best survival horror games I have played in a long time. Many do not consider it a survival horror but I do as survival is a big part of the game and it does a good job of building suspense and it got a few good scares out of me. Let’s take a closer look at this odyssey of a zombie game.

STORY: It’s been 20 years since a pandemic spread by spores of a cordyceps-like infection that alters humans into cannibalistic zombie like creatures spread across the world (based on Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. It’s a real thing. Look it up. I give them points for something a little more original than some zombie making virus).  Humanity has been ravaged by the infection and most survivors reside in Quarantine Zones controlled by what has become a very oppressive US government. You play as Joel, a man who has had a really hard life since the outbreak began. He and his partner Tess routinely run smuggling operations out of the quarantine zone for various reasons. They end up taking a job from a resistance group known as the Fireflies. Their job to take a 14 year-old girl named Ellie to a group of Fireflies in center of Boston. As they set out, they learn things will be nowhere near as easy as they had first thought and end up on a long trail across the country dealing with infected and humans alike in the hopes of finding reason and hope for the last of humanity.

 The first ten minutes of this game may go down as one of the most powerful and emotional openings to a game ever. It has brought many people to tears. The downside is that it slows down significantly after that and goes into the usual tutorial mode that you see integrated into the start of most games. This does not affect the flow of the story however. The game is very well paced and is rather long at around 15+ hours, I think. I didn’t keep track but it was a lot longer than I expected. At the heart of the story is the forming bond between Joel and Ellie and this game is an emotional roller coaster. The interaction between Joel and Ellie is interesting and watching develop is done in a very realistic and believable way. This game is a benchmark in acting and character development in video games. The most interesting conversations mainly deal with the generational gap between the two characters; Joel remembering life before the pandemic and Ellie has never lived outside a quarantine zone. Joel, Ellie, and pretty much every other character in the game truly feels like a real person. Sadly, it never really tops the emotional punch in the face that the first 10 minutes of the game is. Especially, the ending which I felt was rather anti-climatic and didn’t really care for the note it left on BUT that isn’t to say the ending is bad. It’s no let down of an ending like Mass Effect 3 but it doesn’t come close to touching those first 10 minutes. That’s all up to opinion though. The emotional drama is not just felt in the cut scenes but also in the game play as well.

GAMEPLAY:  The core of The Last of Us generally acts like a third person shooter with stealth playing a big role. The game expects you to use stealth as much as possible because you will not be able to Rambo your way out of most situations like in most survival games these days. This is not an easy game and you will most likely find yourself dying in certain parts over and over again so be warned. The game gives you very limited ammo for all of your weapons. You must approach a situation and figure out the best way to get through or around it and it all depends on who or what you are dealing with. The tension that can get built from sneaking around a group of infected can be bought and sold whole sale. It leads to some very intense situations especially when dealing with the Clicker type zombies who can kill you as soon as they get a hold of you. When I say this game is scary, I don’t mean in the jump scares that you sadly see relied on in most horror movies and games these days. It builds it up to the point where you are afraid to make the wrong move. The infected are not the only enemies you’ll be dealing with. Humans are just a big a threat as zombies. The heart lands of America are filled with ruthless nomads who will do anything to survive and it’s them or you. You will often find yourself in fire fights with them but since you have very limited ammo, you better make each shot count. This game really makes it sting when you miss a shot. Dealing with humans can be just as scary as dealing with zombies.

You also have melee weapons and homemade explosives at your disposal as well as beer bottles or bricks laying around that you can use to cause a distraction or beat someone with at close range. Melee weapons range from 2x4s and lead pipes to axes and machetes. You can only use them a limited amount of times before they break but you can also upgrade them using scissors and tape you find laying around to salvage. That goes for med kits, shivs, and other stuff in your arsenal. Always be on the lookout for things you can use. You will find all kinds of ways to defend yourself other than just with guns. And sometimes it’s better to just run.    

However, the biggest problem in the game comes from the friendly AI. During this game’s development, it was mentioned that this game would have unparallel AI design. In the gameplay footage shown at E3, it looked like Ellie was being controlled by another person instead of by the computer but it was indeed the game’s AI. Well, it would seem something must have happened because the AI can be just plain dumb during some stealth segments. Many times they would just wonder out where enemies could see them or the enemy AI would literally walk right up on them and would act like nothing is there. Till they saw me, that is. My guess is that their hopes to have very intelligent AI wasn’t working and they were running out of time so they just made the friendly AI immune to getting spotted by the enemy. The enemy is designed to only react to when spotting the human player. This is how most AI works in most games but here it becomes extremely obvious, especially with how the rest of the game is made to be painstakingly realistic. It takes you out of the game when you see these hick ups with the AI happen. Also occasionally Ellie would get in my way on a narrow path and block my way. She’d move but not enough so I’d have to fight to get around her. However, this only happened a couple times. The enemy AI when you’re fighting them, on the other hand, is very smart and will find ways to flank and ambush you. This is when you need to make go use of the listening mode.  

There are a couple minor graphical glitches like textures or parts of the world disappearing for a second but these were very minor and rare. One big glitch I did find was if you climbed into the window that is partly open from inside the restaurant during Winter, it will cause you to fall through the world and die. So, don’t do that. The game also has fairly long load times when you are first starting up and loading a game. However, the lack of load times in game makes up for it, I guess

GRAPHICS AND SOUND:  The Last of Us is easily one of the most photorealistic games I have ever played and takes full advantage of the PS3’s hardware. The environments are just spectacular to look at and a lot of effort was put in to the locations that the game takes place in. The strangely beautiful ruins of American cities and towns and the wilderness, The Last of Us is just pure eye candy in showing what life would be like after humanity falls. The motion capture is also some of the best I’ve ever seen and a big part of the emotional drive for this game especially when it comes to facial expressions. It looks like you’re watching real people on screen, not video game characters. This is not just in cut scenes, but in game as well. The characters move and act like real people as you play as them. This feels like a next gen-game in terms of graphics.

Troy Baker might possibly be one of the best voice actors currently out there and he does an amazing performance as Joel. Troy also recently played Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite but here we actually see him acting, not just voice acting. His Texas accent is just perfect. Of course, Troy is originally from Texas so it makes sense. Ashley Johnson plays Ellie does a superb job playing a teen age girl coping with the situation she is in. She’s funny sometimes and a very tragic character at times as well. As I mentioned before, the characters are what brings this game’s story to life and the acting in it is academy award worthy.

Overall, The Last of Us is a must have game if you like anything related to zombies, The Walking Dead, or anything else that is post-apocalyptic. Sadly, this is a PS3 exclusive which I did not realize till after getting picking it up. It’s been a long time since I’ve played an exclusive title for the PS3. This game is a reason to get a PS3 or at least barrow one from a friend. It is a very challenging game but don’t let that scare you. This is a very strong contender for my game of the year list. It would get a 10/10 from me if it weren’t for the less than impressive AI (Elizabeth from Bioshock is still the best AI I’ve seen) and the rather ‘meh’ ending. Never the less, this is a must play game for this year and I urge anyone to check out. Thanks for reading! My next game review may be the Deadpool game but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to actually covering it. Also be on the lookout for some SNES and other classic game over views I’ll be working on this summer.

OVERALL: 9.5/10

-Strong, emotional story, especially the opening
-Great stealth and survival gameplay
-Beautiful visuals and motion capturing

-Dumb AI during stealth
-Long load times at start up
-Ending is might be a letdown for some  


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Xbox One Rant UPDATE

Massive update: Microsoft has reversed almost all features and policies on the Xbox One. The two big points that I talked about in my previous Xbox One Rant, required internet connect and used games policies, have been done away with. The following changes have been made (info via Kotaku):

-No more always online requirement
-The console no longer has to check in every 24 hours
-All game discs will work on Xbox One as they do on Xbox 360
-Authentication is no longer necessary
-An Internet connection is only required when initially setting up the console
-All downloaded games will function the same when online or offline
-No additional restrictions on trading games or loaning discs
-Region locks have been dropped

This is of course following over a month of backlash and criticism from gamers and others in the game industry. It’s unclear what will happen to digital sharing and family sharing plan that was originally set up for the Xbox One. What I do know is that these changes make me much more likely to check out this system in the future. Am I running out to buy one the day of release? No. But I’m not running out to get a PS4 either.  I’d like to see this as a victory for gamers and that the voice of the gamer can matter even to big money hungry companies. Too early to say what truly influenced Microsoft’s decisions but it’s a step in the right direction.  However, now we can’t make internet memes making fun of Xbox One for obvious things anymore. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Remember Me Game Review

Remember Me is a game that flew in under the radar earlier this month. I only knew of it from ads on Facebook via friends over the past few months. It looked interesting with a futuristic setting and a kickass female lead character. It was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Capcom as a sci-fi beat’em up, platformer. Sadly, this game was berated by critics on upon its release saying that while it is a very pretty game, its combat system is it’s down fall. As usual, I wanted to have my own experience with it in hoping that I could disprove its critics and find that the short comings critics hammered on could be looked over by gamers. Sadly, this is not the case. Let’s take a closer to see if Remember Me is worth remembering.

STORY: Set in 2084 in Neo-Paris, the world is a very different place. An invention by the Memorize Corporation has swept through the world. The Sensation Engine or Sensen lets 99% of the population upload shared memories to a massive virtual space and remove bad memories. The world has become addicted to this amazing invention but has become a controlled one that is always being watched by Memorize. A rebellion has formed known as ‘Erroists’ who are looking to end the control of Memorize and the world’s dependence on Sensen. You play as Nilian, a woman who was imprisoned in Neo-Paris’s feared Bastille prison. She has had most of her memory erased and his about to be executed when a mysterious man named ‘Edge’ contacts her and helps her escape the prison. She learns that she used to be a memory hunter and was the best at it. Edge reunites her with friends she has forgotten about and explains to her the importance of her role in taking down Memorize. However, as she heads out on this quest, she learns many things are not as they seem, the ugly truth behind Sensen, and she herself still can’t remember everything about her past.

Right off the bat, this game reminds me a lot of Ghost in the Shell, Total Recall, and a little bit of Mirror’s Edge. The story is one of the game’s strong points. From a philosophical standpoint, it does have a deep story that asks questions such as if a society can’t remember the bad things from its past, can it ever truly progress as a society. And what memories truly define you? It’s all there but this is where I feel Remember Me might have actually worked better as a movie rather than a video game. If you’re only interested in the story, you’re probably going to find that the gameplay gets in the way and that is not the mark of a good game. The game does have some very good plot twists. It’s not the twists themselves that are all that shocking but the way they are presented and followed through with that makes them really work. I also like that Nilian questions the things she’s done in the past, yet can’t remember, and why she follows Edge. Nilian makes for a great character and a strong female character that need to be seen more in video games. I also like that she is not over sexualized like many female game characters often become.

The ending is pretty good and could lead to a sequel but is by no means sequel bait like many game endings are these days. The game is fairly average in length at a little over 8 hours with 8 episodes that last a little over an hour each.  There is some replay value as there are things to collect in game but I honestly could care that much about them. The gameplay is where things go downhill.

GAMEPLAY: First let’s start with the good. Platforming is something that was complained about a lot with this game. I won’t lie, there were a couple spots where I fell to my death and it felt unjustified but other times I could tell it was my fault. Only one part of the game presented me consistent trouble with the platforms and that was in the flooded upper class area of Paris which was a challenging place. The platforming itself was very similar to the newest Tomb Raider. There is a lot of climbing up sides of buildings and there are some creative puzzles in how to traverse obstacles thrown in there as well. Bottom line, I didn’t think the platforming was as bad as the critics made it out to be.  The levels don’t have much to explore and are pretty linier even though there are items to collect. In every level there are screens that appear that show the location of a health upgrade or a power gauge upgrade. You must remember the location in the picture and try and locate the item based on memory. I guess that works with the memory theme of this game. But most of the time I couldn’t really be bothered to find these upgrades. However, I did get better at it by the end of the game but by them I managed to only get one new chunk of health and power.

Nilian gets new equipment upgrades as the game progresses such as a cybernetic arm cannon type thing and a digital lock pick. While the cannon is self explanatory, I wish the lock pick was explained better as it took me about 10 minutes of being stuck before realizing just how it worked. The arm cannon is not as responsive as I’d like it to be, especially in combat where locking on to the target you want can be jerky if there is more than one enemy. The Memory Remix segments are some of the coolest parts of this game once you get the hang of them. When this happens you are trying to alter someone’s memory to remember something else in hopes of changing their mind about something. You watch the memory of someone and after viewing it, you rewind, fast forward, and pause looking for glitches in the memory to alter the memory. It’s a puzzle to figure out the right combination of glitches to get the memory to properly alter and complete the memory remix. It’s also fun to make different but incorrect out comes occur which you should try out anyway if you like unlocking achievements.

Now to the combat… This is where I suspect many controllers will be thrown in anger and frustration. The combat uses the Pressen system where you unlock and program button combinations for combos similar to fighting games. Some of the combos grant you health, cool down time, and heavier damage if you perform them right. But pulling off these combos became the biggest challenge if you’re up against many enemies and especially late in the game when you’ll find that some enemies can only be taken down in certain ways. This might just be me, but part of my problem was that this combat is TOO similar to the fighting system in the Batman Arkham games but in Batman it is much easier to master and much less restricted. I’ve played Arkham City so many damn times my brain just keeps thinking that is how to fight in this game but free flow combat doesn’t work in Remember Me. A huge problem is that fights feel like that last way too long despite how bad you are beating up the enemies. If you’re not able to pull off full combos, you’re doing hardly any damage and it makes you feel weak.

You do have some ultimate moves that you can use and the game expects you to use them often but there is the penalty of a cool down time. This can last from 40 seconds to 190 seconds before you can use the move again. There are some enemies that can only be defeated with these moves and require you to use that move more than once leaving you mostly defenseless during the cool down time. There were quite a few times I had to just run around avoiding attacks while waiting for the clock to run down. Also certain super moves only work against certain enemies so in some fights and it’s a complete waste to try and use other moves against them. These super moves are also limited by a gauge so you have to make sure it is filled before using.  Another problem is that the combat system lacks a counter or block move. The only thing you can do when you’re about to get hit is dodge out of the way. While it’s usually effective, it can disrupt the combo you had going and might not protect you if there was another enemy trying to hit you at the same time. This all leads to some extremely frustrating and long fights later on in the game. I did not enjoy many of the fights I encountered and did not look forward to having to using this combat system but maybe you can get a better grasp of the combat system than I did and enjoy it more. But for me, the combat system gives Remember Me a big black eye.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND:  This is what I feel attracted most people to this game in the first place. The scenery and visuals in the game are just flat out beautiful. You can tell a lot of work went into the artwork and setting of this game. The futuristic Paris has so much to look at that it’s a shame this game isn’t open world. I really like the digital text that appears around businesses or working drones that also acts as the game’s interphase system. You know how you’re playing a game and you come up to a door and the button you need to push appears but it feels out of place being appearing there? Remember Me does a great job of making that typical convention of gaming blend in perfectly to the world this game takes place in. Nilian looks awesome in her character design and the same with many other characters found in this game.

Right from the title screen, you can tell this game is going to have an amazing soundtrack. Beautifully orchestral music mixed with electronic music makes for the perfect tone for this futuristic world. The voice acting is generally well done though Kezia Burrows (the voice of Nilian) definitely stands over all the others in this game for her performance. One thing that bugged me was the lip sync. In game, it’s really off with most characters and even a little off in the cut scenes. Also why is almost everyone speaking English with American accents in Paris? Nilian is the only character who sounds remotely French. Speaking of which, there is no French to be seen in Neo-Paris either. Did the United States invade France at some point before this? It is implied that there was third world war. Maybe that’s why…

Overall, Remember Me is a game filled with interesting ideas, beautiful scenery, and a great female lead that sadly is nearly ruined by a frustrating and unforgiving combat system. Some might be able to get the hang of the fighting beter than others but I’m going to have to go with the critics on this one. When it came to the fighting, I was just not having fun. I got this game full price online and I’m rather regretting that now. If you see it at a much lower price, it’s worth checking out. If you’re only interested in the story and do not want to mess with the gameplay, then I would suggest watching a let’s play on youtube or something as the combat will only dampen your spirits for this game’s story. Thank you for reading and look out for my new game review of the highly acclaimed The Last of Us coming soon.


-Beautiful graphics and scenery
-Interesting story and ideas
-Excellent soundtrack

-Frustrating combat system
-Linier levels
-Some game mechanics could be explained better  


Monday, June 10, 2013

Xbox One Rant: Why I am Not Buying One

The next gen console war is on the horizon and this week at E3, the big three consoles are showing off the future of what gaming has to offer. However, this time things are different. This time it isn’t about which system has the better games or which system has better graphics. It’s about which system gives you more freedom. Microsoft’s Xbox One (which is rather stupid and confusing name) has been the subject of controversy since its reveal earlier last month. The initial reveal was clearly to show off some of the functions of the system like the TV channels for it and unique programming but I personally could not care less about that stuff and most gamers don’t. They wanted to see games and the poor selection shown was a massive disappointment. Now, Microsoft did get some redemption today at E3. They showcased a nice selection of games today. I was excited to see a Killer Instinct reboot but one exclusive game is not enough to make me want this system especially with all the restrictions it places on the gamer. The restrictive features of this system are really what render the Xbox One null and void for me. Now I’m not the first to rant and rave about how this system is Microsoft shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly but I’d like to talk about the two big reasons I am not going to buy an Xbox One. Maybe you can relate to me.  If you can, I hope you’ll agree and not buy this thing.


This is basically DRM, needing to always be online. In order to play games offline, you must have your system check into Xbox Live once every 24 hrs for your game to work. To me, this is like having to check in with a parole officer. Xbox Live will become your parole officer. Now, if you have really good, constant internet connection for your 360 already, this clearly isn’t a big deal to you. However, I live in an older house that is not really conducive to setting up a home network. My internet router is upstairs and my gaming consoles are located down stairs. They barely get a signal so I can’t play games online because they can’t even connect and on the rare blue moon that they do connect, it’s so slow that I’d be better off using a 56K modem. As you can see, console gaming involving the internet matters not to me. Now I am well aware that online gaming with consoles has exploded over the past 8 or 9 years resulting in so many games trying to become the next big Call of Duty or Halo multiplayer phenomenon. DLC is another huge reason console internet usage has become a major factor in the gaming market. I understand why the internet on consoles is as big a deal as it is, however, it’s always been optional. I don’t need the internet to play the single player campaign of Halo 4 or Bioshock Infinite. Otherwise I wouldn’t own a 360, it would be pointless. Now Microsoft is making a system that will basically not function without the internet. No thank you, I’m not interested in your $499 big black brick. I would have no use for that. It would be like buying a car that only ran on rocket fuel. I don’t know about you, but I don’t live near any gas stations that pump rocket fuel.

I do plan on moving somewhere else within the year that will hopefully be easier to set up a home networking but even then, I really don’t want an Xbox One set up always needing the internet. Two reasons: 1) I do not want to pay for Xbox Live. Paying for XBL while PSN is free has always been at the core of the Xbox vs Playstation argument. For me, I’d rather go with PSN since the service is free. I had Xbox Live for a time when living in Louisiana and it was draining $50 a month from the bank account that I had at the time till it was empty without me knowing. That was my fault for not reading the fine print but still, $50 a month verses free. Free usually wins in my book. Now Microsoft has said that XBL gold members will get two free DL games a month for paying for the service. That’s nice but still not enough to make me consider. 2) When I think of console gaming, I think of sitting on the couch relaxing and maybe playing a game with a buddy who might be sitting there playing the game with me or just watching. None of which involves the internet. If I want to play games online, I’d rather be using a PC. When I want to play a game on a console, I want to get away from the internet and my computer. The Xbox One is trying to be like a PC or a ‘super powered PC’ as said by IGN. Yeah, shut up, IGN. With the Xbox One requiring full game installation of all games on only a 500GB hard drive, it’s going to run out of space fast unless plan to have a very small library of games for it. If you’re a PC gamer, keep on truckin’. You’re way better off and have been for awhile so I doubt any of the new consoles are really turning your head.

The Kinect. Ugh, this devilish device comes with the Xbox One and is a required piece of the system. While you can turn it off and not use it, it is required for the system to work at maximum use. As long as it is plugged in, it is always on, even when it’s off. First of all, the first version of the Kinect sucked. I am not a fan of motion sensor gaming at all and the Kinect is what embodies my hate for it. It barely works. The only games it works to its full ability are the ‘Just Dance’ games. I was not interested in it when it came out and after using a friend’s, I was even less interested. Supposedly, the new Kinect works better but they have yet to give any demonstrations of any improvements. Requiring this thing is like if when the Nintendo 64 was released, Nintendo made it mandatory that the system also required the use of the Virtual Boy in order to use the system to its fullest extent. But everyone’s biggest worry is if this thing will be used to spy on you for Microsoft. I’m not going to get into any conspiracy theories or anything of that nature but it is a legitimate concern.

Or not as it currently works. When you trade in a used game right now, what do you do? You go to Gamestop, give them any current gen game, they give you store credit or money, and that’s that. Sure they rip you off but you just traded that game in with no issue. With the Xbox One, only certain stories will be able to sell used Xbox One games. Most likely they will be Gamestops and maybe Walmart or Best Buy. Small game shops? Uh oh. I highly doubt Microsoft will give them the green light. So they won’t be making any money from the Xbox One. Buying online from ebay or personal dealers Amazon? Not happening. You will be left with almost no choice but to buy all your Xbox games brand new. I don’t know about you, but unless it’s a game I REALLY REALLY know I want to play, I am not going to be too interested in paying full price for a game I might not even like, so I’m going to look for the cheapest used copy I can find. Also, you’ll only be able to get used Xbox One game if the publisher of said game has okayed it. No wonder EA and Activision have been such big backers of the Xbox One. They’ve been trying to shut down used games for years. They want you to pay full price for all their games. All the games you buy and install to the Xbox One get linked to your XBL account. Once again, if you don’t have internet, you won’t be able to use any of this. Now you can link 10 family members to your games and share the games with them. How it knows who your family members are has still not yet been explained. Will it use the Kinect to scan people’s faces in the house you live in? Will it be based on credit card numbers used for your XBL account? Will it use IP addresses? We don’t know yet. You might be able to freely choose who your ‘family’ is which can make a loophole that would let your friends be able play your games for free. Maybe they did this on purpose knowing using games will be a hassle now? We’ll see.  

I’ve never really be so adamantly against a game system before. I’m usually totally open to play all the systems that are available at any given time. I’m usually willing to give a system a chance and find the pros and cons to each system but this is the first time I seriously found myself truly against getting a gaming system and wanting to see it fail. Now don’t go thinking I’m a Playstation fanboy and that is why I’m writing this. NO! If Sony did the same things or similar things with the PS4, I would be including them in this rant too. As gamers we cannot allow these types of practices to continue. If this is the future of gaming, I’m not sure I want to be a part of it and maybe this is all a sign that I’m getting too old for video games. I got a Super Nintendo the other day and I was happier to play it than I am hearing about and finding out the latest info on the next gen consoles coming out. So bottom line, if you can’t relate to anything I just wrote or are okay with everything I just talked about, the by all means go buy an Xbox One this fall. However, if you agree or relate with what I said and do not like the ‘features’ and practices that Microsoft is using with the Xbox One, then do not give them a penny. Gamers need to take a stand to these companies and tell them we will not stand for these practices and the only way to get their attention by hitting them in the wallets. Maybe if sales flounder, they’re release an Xbox One in a year or two with all these restrictive features removed. Then I’d have no problem warming back up to Microsoft but till then if ever, the Xbox One is just not for me.

Thanks for reading. Keep a look out for my upcoming reviews of Remember Me and The Last of Us.