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Archive for the tag “video games”

Making Choices Matter – “Beyond: Two Souls”

Are video games art? How much do your choices in games really matter? Can video games ever come close to movies as an entertainment media? These are all questions that have been brought up and discussed many times over, but never seem to quite have a definitive answer. David Cage and his team at Quantic Dream are trying to change the opinions on those on one side of the fence with their upcoming release, Beyond: Two Souls. The game is meant to put the player through a fully interactive movie/story – one where each decision matters and weighs heavily on the outcome. Looking at their past releases, in particular their most recent game, Heavy Rain (one of my favorite games ever), the team is incredibly talented and knows exactly what they are doing. Heavy Rain broke many gaming barriers and managed to allow you to take so many different paths through its storyline, with main characters being able to die and still have the story continue. With Beyond: Two Souls, David Cage wants the player to be fully immersed in the story and wants to make his presentations perfect – something the inclusion of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in the lead roles will certainly help. This game will make waves when it is released, so get ready to experience something different from this game if you haven’t played any of Quantic Dream’s past releases. This is one game that I can say has a good chance at actually coming close to Bioshock Infinite as Game of the Year for me. If anyone has played Heavy Rain, I’d love to hear what you think. If not, what do you think about Beyond?

“Bioshock Infinite” Review

bioshock infinite cover

I’ll get straight to the point – Bioshock Infinite is one of the best games I’ve ever played, surpassing the original Bioshock, and becoming one of the best games of the generation. That is the main thing you need to know going into the game – anything more risks spoiling the experience. As such, I will keep this review spoiler-free (as usual) to make sure that those reading will be able to enjoy this game as much as I have without having any moments’ impacts lessened.

Bioshock Infinite takes place in a stunning world that Irrational Games has created. Columbia comes to life before your eyes – the city itself feels so authentic and real (a feeling so few games can capture). Its many citizens, rich history, and architectural design all combine to make Columbia a living, breathing city. With such a great foundation, the game uses this setting as a basis to then craft its other parts around, enhancing the rest of the game even more.

Within this city of Columbia, a story begins. The plot in Bioshock Infinite centers around your character, Booker Dewitt, who travels to Columbia to find a girl and deliver her to someone in New York to repay his debts. This story seems simple at first, but by the end it becomes so much more complex, and becomes one of the most well-developed, told, and written stories in a game. The plot evolves consistently at a nice pace with numerous twists and turns that always keep you involved and guessing.  More so, the way the plot is told through various means (cutscenes, active gameplay dialogue, collectible recordings) helps to make the plot even deeper than it seems on the surface – it is worth your time to collect as many of the “voxophones” (voice recordings) in the game, as they help make the main story even better. If I were to be nit-picky, I could say that the ending seems rushed. Honestly, though, the way the final story segment is structured makes sense in the grand scheme of things – the “rushed” feeling that some feel is due to the presentation of a lot of information at once, not that the ending suffers in quality.

Columbia is one of the most intricately designed game worlds out there - from its lore, to its inhabitants, to its architecture, the city is fully realized in a way that makes Columbia feel like a living, breathing city (in the sky).

Columbia is one of the most intricately designed game worlds out there – from its lore, to its inhabitants, to its architecture, the city is fully realized in a way that makes Columbia feel like a living, breathing city (in the sky).

Plot aside, Irrational Games has done an incredible job (as they always do) of making characters that the player quickly becomes connected to. In building a bond between player and characters, the story becomes all the more weighted. One of the biggest strengths of the game is how involved the player feels in the story and how concerned the player is over the characters’ fates. I won’t spoil anything, but there are a few characters that I could not believe the game managed to make you feel sympathy toward.

Having mentioned how stunning the world of Columbia is, let’s move on to the gameplay. If you’ve played previous game in the series, you know what to expect. The game plays like a typical FPS, except you dual-wield your gun of choice with a special ability (from flame grenades, to lightning, to possession). These abilities can be combined to create some pretty crazy effects, making combat have a nice layer of strategy to it. There are some changes from previous entries, however. First, is the inclusion of “gear”, which act as pieces of clothes that you can equip for special effects. Second, is the ability to carry only two guns at a time – something that seems limiting, but makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Overall, this is the smoothest playing entry in the series,with some really interesting vigors (this game’s version of plasmids), and cool enemy designs.

Next, I should move on to the actual presentation. The graphics for the game are also nothing short of excellent. From both a technical and artistic standpoint, Infinite excels in creating a lavish world that is a sight to behold – it is amazing to see so many little details put into each area. Further, even with many enemies on-screen, and chaos in the streets, the game performs flawlessly and runs silky smooth. Again, if I wanted to be overly nit-picky, I’d say that the world is not destructable enough. When a world is this intricate and well-designed, though, that is such a minor gripe.

One of the biggest strengths of "Bioshock Infinite" is how well it ties the payer to the in-game characters, forming a bond that every game strives to (but few manage to) capture.

One of the biggest strengths of “Bioshock Infinite” is how well it ties the payer to the in-game characters, forming a bond that every game strives to (but few manage to) capture.

Let’s move on to the sound department for the game. As with the other pieces of the game, Infinite sounds great. The sound effects (from guns to vigors) are fitting and give each weapon and special power a weighty feel in combat. The soundtrack is even more incredible, mixing sounds of the period with some nice touches that fit in with the story. Lastly, the voice acting is superb. Every character is wonderfully voiced (with the dialogue being enhanced by some excellent writing), with even minor characters and random NPCs on the streets of Columbia sounding great.

All in all, Bioshock Infinite deserves your time investment. Even if you aren’t a fan of FPS games, give it a shot. For fans of the previous games, this latest entry surpasses even the original Bioshock and has some nice surprises in store for series fans. The story, presentation, and game world combine to make this one of the best games of the generation. If you’ve played Infinite, let me know what you think – if not, what are you waiting for?

Story: 10/10

Graphics: 9.8/10

Sound: 9.7/10

Gameplay: 10/10

Final Score: 10/10

New “Final Fantasy X HD” Announcement

Credit for image: IGN.com

Credit for image: IGN.com

If you’re a Final Fantasy fan like me, I’m sure you remember Square-Enix’s big announcement that they would be releasing “Final Fantasy X” for the Vita, fully remastered in HD. I’m sure you also remember never hearing much about it after that, and wondering what is going on with the release. Recent news from Square will make you happy, then. Reports are out that Square has announced that “Final Fantasy X HD” will be releasing for both PS3 and the Vita. To further make your day, the PS3 version of the HD update will be released on disc and include its sequel “Final Fantasy X-2” fully remastered as well. The Vita versions of the titles will be sold separately. With this news, I know I will be looking forward to revisiting Spira when Square finally releases these updates (hoping that the next bit of news will actually be a solid release date). Look for the official announcement on Monday, March 25th, and join me in hoping it contains more info. Is anyone else looking forward to the updated release? IS FFX your favorite Final Fantasy?

Revisiting the Metro – Why “Metro: Last Light” Should Be On Your Radar

How many of you have heard of or played “Metro 2033”? If you have, you know how engrossing its world was – the nice lighting, the fascinating story, the unique commerce/ammo system. I can still remember operating my handheld charger to breathe life into my flashlight, or quickly putting on my gas mask to avoid death from the air outside the metro. There were so many little touches that drew the player into the experience and earned “Metro 2033” the #10 spot on my favorite games list. Now, the crew at 4A games is back at the helm, and seems to be crafting another interesting experience. Ever since I finished “Metro 2033”, I have been hoping and waiting for a sequel – and now it is set for release in May. Does anyone else have this game on their radar?

Get Caught Up in the Tide – “Dead Island: Riptide” Just One Month from Release

Most gamers are familiar with the original “Dead Island” trailer. It captivated many with its presentation during its first release and word of the game quickly spread. Despite developer Techland having a shaky track record, “Dead Island” turned out pretty well. Its mix of brutal melee combat and gun-wielding in an open-world zombie island may have received some mixed reviews, but everyone recognized its potential. I was instantly caught up in the co-op piece (with the game allowing users drop-in/drop-out co-op across the whole island and mission list that was identical and linked to the single-player experience) and its great crafting system. Sure, the game could have used some improvements, but there’s no denying that it was a hell of a lot of fun. With the release of “Dead Island: Riptide” just one month away, I have noticed this sequel receiving little hype (outside of a story about the uproar over its original collector’s edition package design). The company began its announcement with another excellent CGI trailer and, assuming they tightened up some loose nuts and bolts from the first game, should be releasing another excellent open-world adventure. I know I’ll be crafting electrified sickles on April 23rd, how about you?

“Drakengard 3” Announced as Playstation 3 Exclusive

Drakengard 3 screenshot

News has surfaced that the third installment in the “Draknegard” series is in development for the Playstation 3. The studio responsible for development is Access Games, a studio containing some of the original “Drakengard” crew members, and creators of the recent cult hit, “Deadly Premonition”. For fans of the series, or its original developers, Cavia (who also developed “Nier”, one of my 10 favorite games), this is an unexpected, but exciting announcement. Those unfamiliar with the series should be prepared for intense ground and air combat involving dragons, combined with a pretty crazy, entertaining story. Knowing that some of the major staff involved in creation of the series are returning for this game should make expectations high that it will do the series justice. Let’s just hope there isn’t any story-affecting censorship in this one.

Telltale Brings “The Walking Dead” Back for a Second Season

Walking Dead screen

Telltale’s first season of “The Walking Dead” was an absolutely wonderful experience. The story, characters, and environment drew in its audience and forced them into some of the most difficult decision-making seen in a game – resulting in critical acclaim for crafting one of the most intense and involving video game stories in a while. Now, GameInformer reports that Telltale is all set to release its follow-up 2nd Season. Not only was it reported that gamers would be receiving a 2nd Season, but that it would be releasing Q3 of this year. As someone who found the first season to be one of the best games of last year (and one of the most poignant story experiences in a while), I am riding the hype train for this follow-up. If you haven’t played the first season and are any fan of the TV/comic series, or enjoy games with a strong story, check out the first season and I’m sure you’ll be as eagerly anticipating the second series as I am. For anyone who has played Season One, what did you think? Are you ready for Season Two?

For those really interested, word is that Telltale may have a project in the works as a bridge between Seasons One and Two. With the quality of Season One, more “Walking Dead” from this crew can only be a good thing.

In Anticipation of “Bioshock Infinite”

There are few games this generation that “wowed” me the way “Bioshock” did. Its intriguing story and haunting environment, combined with moral choices and a deep collection of lore made Rapture one of the most absorbing adventures I’ve ever had the opportunity to enjoy. “Bioshock 2”, while lacking the freshness that the original had, was still another great adventure. Now, we are a few weeks away from the release of “Bioshock Infinite”. This has been one of my most anticipated games of the year, and I am looking forward to take my first steps in the new environment. The folks at Irrational seem to have taken their time making this one come out perfectly, and I’m hoping that they have created another must-play experience. Has anyone else enjoyed the series? If you haven’t played, and you are any fan of video games, I highly recommend playing the original (it is one of my favorite games ever).

My Top 10 Favorite Video Games

Having enjoyed starting my “Greatest ___ I Ever ___” series, I thought I’d expand upon it a little further and cover my ten favorite video games. By now, you might have a feel for what I enjoy most in games, and the following all excel in these and many other areas. I’ll provide some reasons as to why they are so enjoyable, but keep the discussions short to cover everything in a concise manner. Now, some of these might not be for everyone, but I think the majority should be highly recommended to most anyone who enjoys video games. So, without further adieu, I give you my 10 favorite video games:

10. Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is an FPS set in a post-apocalyptic setting in Russia. The population is forced underground into the metro tunnels to live as creatures inhabit the land. The game offers an intense single-player campaign with a similar story-telling structure to Half-Life. The little touches, such as having to hold a lighter up to your map, crank a handheld generator to power your light, and take your gas mask on/off (the surface is filled with unbreathable air), all work to bring you deeper into the world. Mix that with a currency revolving around bullets (with rusted shells being common and pristine military grade ammo worth more, similar to damage where these same dirty bullets do weak damage and the military shells can be swapped in for better damage output) and you have an extremely well-crafted postapocalyptic world. Between the fully-imagined world, rich with beautiful graphical detail, some interesting gunplay, and an interesting story arc, Metro 2033 is one of the best straight FPS shooters I have played.

9. Nier

Nier is a game that really blindsided me. I remember reading reviews for it and seeing a plethora of comments praising the game’s story and soundtrack, while seemingly belittling the rest of the experience. I can see why, but I still find Nier to be one amazing, flawed game. The story presented is one of the most creative I have played through. To get too far into it would spoil the pleasure of seeing it unfold, but the basis is that you take the shoes of Nier who is looking for a way to cure his daughter of a disease called the “Black Scrawl”. Along the way you meet some well-developed characters and see the story unravel to reveal some incredible twists and turns. The game itself plays like a hack-and-slash game, with upgrades in the way of swords and spells, yet has many different quests and areas that vary the gameplay to the style of top-down shooters, side-scrollers, and other genres. Further, the soundtrack for Nier remains my favorite video game soundtrack. The music is so intricately crafted and features so many layers and styles that perfectly fit the game world (an example of the excellence of the soundtrack – “Gods Bound by Rules”). Video game enthusiasts should all play Nier just for the creative story andthrilling soundtrack, not to mention any RPG fan.

8. Final Fantasy X

As you can probably guess by my interest in RPGs, I am a Final Fantasy fan. Final Fantasy X is my second favorite entry in the series. The gameplay consists of your standard turn-based system, with characters having the classic Final Fantasy “overdrives”, along with summons (which now you can directly control when summoned). Where the game sets itself apart from the rest of the series is its story and presentation. The story of Tidus trying to find his way home and getting caught up in the pursuit of defeating a world-threatening evil is filled with some unexpected twists. Further, with the introduction of full-motion videos for cutscenes, some good voice work, and gorgeous CGI sequences (what else would you expect from Square), the story is captivating. Might I also mention that Nobuo Uematsu (my favorite video game composer) put in some of his best work for this game. Overall, a great title for any RPG fan.

7. Heavy Rain

How to classify Heavy Rain is still a mystery to me. Think of it like an interactive movie experience. The game plays out similar to a movie presentation, moving from scene to scene, while you take the shoes of different characters and perform their actions that determine the path of the story. The plot itself is a great mystery story focused on the intersecting paths of the characters you play as. The best part is how your actions can result in huge changes to the story, including the deaths of main characters. Yet, despite you causing the death of a character at any point, the story keeps moving and adapts to the change. This is how video game stories should be and will move towards – so adaptive that your interactions with the game can cause ripples that affect the story progression. This is not even to mention the great soundtrack work, professional voice acting, and extreme level of detail in the character models (right down to the natural, fluid facial movements).

6. Fallout 3

Welcome to the Wasteland, a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. Here, Fallout 3 presents the player with a level of freedom to do whatever it is they want to do. Set in a world where a nuclear war has reduced the world to rubble and radiation, you take control of a character fresh out of a vault (used for shelter from the nuclear attacks). You can continue along the main story to see what impact you wish to have on the world, take on an overwhelming amount of sidequests, or just explore the wasteland – all the while acting in good, evil, or neutral ways to shape a character with morals that have an impact on the way other characters treat you. The main story itself is quite interesting, and provides the player with a drive to continue forward as different factions become involved in shaping the future for the Wasteland. The experience as a whole is put together in a package that includes a great battle system (cross between FPS gameplay and turn-based systems – with depth added in being able to target different body parts to cause different effects), excellent voice work, an extremely large and carefully detailed map (having traveled to D.C. after playing Fallout 3, it was interesting to see how well the game captures every landmark and the whole city layout), a complex stat-building system, creative character and monster design, and the ability to interact with much of the environment, and you have one of the best experiences on the current console generation.

5. Bioshock

Bioshock is simply the best FPS I’ve ever played. Taking the shoes of Jack, a plane crash survivor, the player must explore the underwater city of Rapture and find out the secrets behind its walls – a phenomenal plot that has some nice twists and turns. The crumbling grand halls of Rapture are as intriguing as they are dangerous, and the sheer amount of backstory available to the adventurous player through the form of audio logs and other items makes Rapture seem like a real place. The presentation of the story itself takes the player on a ride through the depths of Rapture, meeting a variety of excellently crafted characters, each with their own wills and plans. The gameplay itself features some interesting gun and melee combat combined with the ability to use various elements and abilities through equipment of “Plasmids”. This brings some strategy to the combat as you can manipulate the environment to your advantage (i.e. using an electric bolt on a group of enemies standing in a puddle of water to electrocute all of them at once). Combine this with a nice upgrade system, the ability to hack turrets and machines for your advantage, intense boss fights, and poignant moral dilemmas, and you have the blueprint for a perfect FPS.

4. Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is a unique gem. For instance, the game consists entirely of boss fights. Also, the story itself is conveyed through minimal dialogue and scenes, yet it remains so powerful in its ability to draw the player into Wander’s journey. In the game, you play as Wander, tasked with taking down 16 legendary colossi in order to revive your female companion. The player rides upon his trusty steed through the environment to find each colossus using the reflection of light from his sword. Once the player finds the colossus, the real experience begins. Each beast towers over the seemingly miniscule Wander with such a magnificent grace and movement. The act of scaling each mammoth beast can leave the player breathless as Wander hangs on for his life. It becomes a regretful moment as each colossus crashes to the ground upon defeat, having slain such a legendary creature. To further deepen the impact of the gameplay is a soundtrack that is the most well-implemented soundtrack I’ve witnessed in a game (not to mention the beauty in each piece, individually). The orchestra starts calm as you approach the collosus, and swells as you scale higher and higher up each beast, building tension to perfectly match your current actions. Shadow of the Colossus is the most awe-inspiring game I’ve experienced. Nothing can match the feeling of scale in the game, or create a bond between player and in-game characters through such a minimalistic apporach as this game does.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4

Metal Gear Solid has been known for its elaborate, often confusing story. It has also been known for having one of the most cinematic presentations for its story, along with some of the best stealth gameplay out there. These are all great reasons as to why the series is a favorite of many gamers. To expand a bit, the story features an enticing narrative revolving around stealth organizations and nuclear weapons (the story grows ever more complex with clones, secret organizations with limitless power, betrayals, etc), all presented through many (often long and lengthy) well-animated cutscenes, featuring top tier voice acting work. The gameplay gives you total freedom in that you can approach every situation through stealth or action, with the added bonus of having the ability to complete the game without killing a single enemy. There are a wide variety of weapons and gadgets to help you in your objectives, which add another layer of depth to the gameplay. Further, the player experiences another noteworthy soundtrack and (in my opinion) life-like graphics that make Metal Gear Solid 4 the best-looking game yet released.

2. Final Fantasy VII

Here is an entry any video game fan would likely expect. This is the game credited with popularizing the RPG outside of Japan. Even more so, many consider this the single greatest game ever made, and for good reason. Final Fantasy VII follows the journey of Cloud and a wide cast of charismatic characters to save the world. Sound simple? It’s not. The plot of FFVII is quite complex and constantly evolving. If it weren’t for my #1 game, this game would have the best plot I’ve seen in a video game. For its time, the pre-rendered backgrounds were stunning, and the inclusion of some CGI scenes (obviously they look dated now) brought the player into the story. The gameplay is standard turn-based fare, with all of the Final Fantasy staples from magic to summons to “limit breaks” (same as overdrives in other games). There’s no need to go into further detail on the gameplay, as if you haven’t played it yet, you need to experience a monumental piece of video game history. The game withstands the test of time (minus the graphics which are notably dated – yet the pre-rendered backdrops are still nice) with a creative plot, an interesting cast of characters, and a soundtrack that is a classic (check out the highlight track, “One-Winged Angel”).

1. Xenosaga

What more can I say about this game series, other than this is the best game I have ever played. For a detailed description of what makes the space-epic RPG, Xenosaga, so great, read on with my “Greatest Game I Ever Played” post.

That’s it. These are the ten greatest games I have ever played. Feel confident picking up any of the aforementioned titles knowing that you can expect to experience some of the best gaming has to offer. Some games may not appeal as much to others as they did to me, and I can understand that some players may not be able to get past some flaws in certain games, but for me, these are the games that I can point to as having stood out high above the multitude of games I have experienced over the years.

Why TIME’s “All-TIME 100 Video Games” List is Inherently Flawed

TIME has just released their “All-TIME 100 Video Games” List (link to original article/list here). Many “Top 100” lists end up trying to capture both the highest quality games alongside some of the most innovative, and in this process become a jumbled mess of high-quality games next to games that have no reason to be remembered outside of sales numbers or some radical gameplay mechanic. Now, I know that due to the nature of every person having his/her own opinion that everyone will find parts of each list to disagree with (nostalgia for one’s favorite titles often blinds them to the idea that the title may not be as great as they remember). That being said, there are times that lists are clearly off in some way. Where does TIME’s list fall? Does it capture the best gaming has to offer, or does it miss its mark and leave the reader doubting its credibility?

I have to say that TIME has managed to capture some truly great moments in gaming history, here – games that nearly every gamer could agree should be on this type of list (i.e. Chrono Trigger, Metal Gear Solid, The Legend of Zelda). As I scrolled through, I noticed many of these classics, and was also happy to see the inclusion of some more artistic games that I would say are more than deserving of their spots – Flower, Shadow of the Colossus, ICO. In all, TIME’s list captured 3 of my top 10 games (Final Fantasy VII, Bioshock, and the aforementioned Shadow of the Colossus). However, where the list breaks down and misses its mark, in my opinion, is in the inclusion of inferior games in their respective series, some unusual choices to represent landmarks in gaming history, and some entries that still left me scratching my head as to how they got in there.

As far as game series choices go, I will start with mentioning the inclusion of Half-Life 2. The game was a phenomenal experience, however, you can’t deny the quality of the original title, nor it place in video game history in revolutionizing the way stories are told in first-person shooters. Further, how does the original Silent Hill make the list, when clearly Silent Hill 2 is the unanimously agreed upon peak of the series. Lastly, Mass Effect 3 is present on the list. I would be fine with the first entry, which was a great sci-fi/RPG epic, but the third game was clearly a letdown to the masses, with player choices that were key in the series having little impact on the story conclusion. I will not say that these games were not good games (especially Half-Life 2), but I feel that the other entries in these series deserve the recognition more than the others.

Okami has some beautiful graphics, but I don’t think the game as a whole was great enough to be considered a top 100 game.

Outside of some of those more minor nitpicks, I noticed some games that seemed odd on such a list. Games like Wii Sports, Cave Story, and Angry Birds, whose sole purpose is to show movements/innovation in gaming history (with these games representing motion control, indie development, and casual gaming, respectively). This is where I think a lot of lists go wrong – trying to capture “landmark” titles in gaming history that aren’t really landmarks. Sales numbers don’t make a game one of the best of all time. I don’t care how many people have downloaded Angry Birds, or that it “popularized” casual gaming. It is certainly not one of the best games ever, nor is it a true landmark – casual gaming does not represent quality or game immersion, it represents a little distraction from work or waiting for an appointment. The same goes for Wii Sports. Motion control is great and all, but Wii Sports is certainly not a “high-quality” title. Cave Story is mentioned by TIME as being the foundation of indie gaming, even going so far as to say that without Cave Story, there would be no Braid or Limbo. This is its sole purpose on the list, and I can only say that I am highly skeptical of their assumptions there.

Finally, TIME decided to also include some games that are just clearly not cut out for a top 100 games list. Rez may have had some stunning visuals, but the game itself wasn’t anything special, Paperboy is laughable alongside other classics of the time, and I nearly gave up reading when I saw Desktop Tower Defense on there (in all seriousness, where does this fit in at all). There are others as well, but I will let you make those discoveries and not ruin the laughs.

TIME’s attempt at putting together a top 100 video games list misses its mark nearly as often as it mentions a truly great title. There are the usual classics on there, and a few nice additions, but many of the entries will leave many gamers confused at their inclusion. That being said, check out the list, see if some of your favorite games are on there, and have a few laughs at the random inclusions.

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