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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

tmnt-out-of-the-shadows-promo-02Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer(s): Red Fly Studio
ESRB: Teen
Release Date: August 28, 2013 (Xbox 360, PC), September 24, 2013 (PS3)
MSRP: $14.99

NOTE: This review is based off of gameplay of the Xbox 360 version.

There’s absolutely no denying how much of a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I am. I have a shelf full of figures, both sealed and open, pajama pants that I wear all the time, the complete 80’s animated series on DVD in collectible Turtle Van packaging, the 25th anniversary movie collection on Blu-ray, and, of course, a majority of the video games spawned from the license over the years. One title I’ve always held in high regard, as well as count among my favorite games of all time, is the Super Nintendo version of Turtles in Time. To this day, I still have yet to find a Turtles experience that can top that classic brawler of yesteryear. It captured the look and spirit of the 80’s cartoon while delivering a fun and addictive brawler that could be played over and over. After playing Activision’s first crack at the Ninja Turtles franchise, titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the wait for that coveted quintessential Turtles experience continues.

Out of the Shadows, developed by Red Fly Studio, is based off of the currently-running Nickelodeon show. The game’s plot feels like a mish-mash of TV episodes thrown together, as April is kidnapped and the Turtles try to uncover the reasons why Shredder is stealing technology from the alien race known as the Kraang. The story is told through some in-engine cutscenes as well as some rather poorly-drawn, still animation frames, with the latter giving the game a cheaper feel. Gripes aside, it’s nothing spectacular and merely serves as a means to chain the game’s four chapters together. While the game certainly borrows from the TV show’s universe from a plot and character standpoint, the visual style and sound are radically different. Out of the Shadows opts for a darker look, with the Turtles sporting a more realistic and humanoid appearance as opposed to the cartoonish aesthetic of the show. This has been a very divisive point amongst fans, but I, for one, appreciate a darker look for characters that not only originated as dark characters in the comics, but have needed a more gritty modern representation after being depicted as child-friendly animated characters for so long. Environments also take a similar cue, with a lot of shadows covering most backdrops, giving the game an overall darker tone. Even the Foot Clan has a more realistic look, with standard Foot Ninja actually looking very similar to how they appeared in the original live-action movie, which is a nice homage.

The overall look is certainly darker than most people are used to.

The overall look is certainly darker than most people are used to.

If only Red Fly could have secured the voice cast from the TV show. The one in place is actually good, but simply not as good as the cast in the show and the lack of it also hurts the authenticity of the presentation. Also, Raphael happens to suffer from some forced delivery in many of his one-liners, and seeing as he’s my favorite turtle, it makes it all the worse for me to cope with. Casting aside my personal gripe, one nice touch is how the turtles will start random conversations between fights as they traverse rooftops and hallways. These discussions are rather hilarious and sometimes make references and in-jokes that long-time Ninja Turtles fans will appreciate. The only crying shame is that, despite the game’s short length, these conversations somehow manage to repeat themselves several times throughout. The battle chatter suffers from the same issues, with phrases being repeated ad nauseum.

Speaking of battling, TMNT titles have been predominately beat ’em ups, where the four brothers take to various locales and beat the snot out of everything in sight. Out of the Shadows is no exception, but what sets it apart from previous endeavors is how much more evolved it is. While TMNT brawlers of the past pretty much consisted of mashing one or two buttons repeatedly with little to no depth, this entry takes an approach not unlike Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series and adapts it to a co-op experience, or, at least it tries to. It’s worth noting that all four Turtles are always on-screen at all times and can be freely switched between when playing solo, meaning the other three are controlled by surprisingly decent A.I. that manage to not constantly die on you.

Battling in Out of the Shadows consists of using weapon attacks and kick attacks, with the former being more damaging while the latter has the ability to break through enemies that block your attacks frequently. Using these in combination can mix up your combos, keeping enemies guessing and potentially chaining together many attacks, which is crucial for pulling off TPKOs, or Turtle Power Knock Outs, which serve as powerful finishers by doling out heavy damage. Pulling off TPKOs near fellow Turtles can allow them to jump in, creating flashy attacks that also increase the combo meter for every Turtle involved. Not every character can utilize team attacks from the outset, however, but they can be unlocked by leveling up the team and spending ability points to not only teach each Turtle new attacks, but increase their stats and even unlock perks that all four Turtles share. Every Turtle has his own set of skills and play style, so no two Turtles feel the same in combat. For instance, Raph likes to use brutal hand-to-hand attacks, such as kneeing enemies in the face, punching the daylights out of them while they’re down, and performing suplexes and powerbombs like a pro wrestler, while Leo’s style has more finesse and relies on fancy sword work, with spinning attacks that can hit multiple enemies at once. It’s no longer just about range and attack speed like in previous TMNT titles. Now every Turtle has their own fighting style, and it certainly helps give the game a sense of replayability and variety.

There are also special attacks that can be triggered by holding the Right Trigger and making circular motions with the right analog stick, similar to EA Sports’ Fight Night franchise, that can be unlocked for each Turtle. This is where things start to get a bit hairy. Whereas the buttons are generally responsive and rely on timing to create effective combos, the right stick motions don’t always register. I’d sometimes make the correct motion, only for my Turtle to either not respond or perform a different special attack entirely. For instance, one special requires a full 360 degree motion clockwise on the right stick, but when attempting to perform that, sometimes my Turtle would instead use a special that only requires a quarter circle motion, but isn’t as effective in dealing damage. So, not only did the game execute an inferior command, it also used up a block of my special meter that I have to build up again in order to use the superior special, which definitely generated some frustration when it happened.

Most of Out of the Shadows' combat mechanics work, making beating up baddies fun.

Most of Out of the Shadows’ combat mechanics work, making beating up baddies fun.

That’s not even the worst part of the combat system, however. Red Fly seems to have attempted to mimic the counter system of the Batman Arkham series, but wound up with a completely broken and unresponsive mess. The way the system is supposed to work is that, once an enemy begins to attack, a white flash shoots out from their body, and pressing the counter button as soon as the effect starts will trigger a counter. I have yet to actually figure out the timing for this, however, as I’ll clearly press the button with the right timing, only to block the attack, which takes away from a “Block Health” meter you have that, once depleted, renders you unable to block anything, or I wind up on my turtle ass after taking a sword to the face. There have been times when countering works, but it appears to be random, and such an inconsistent and unresponsive system all but breaks the game, as it simply does not provide you with a reliable means to defend yourself. Why this title was released with such a broken game mechanic is beyond me, as it doesn’t even function on any conceivably acceptable level.

The issues don’t end there. You’re able to evade enemy attacks with a tap of the A button while holding the left analog stick in the direction you want to go. This works well enough and even allows you to leap and roll over enemies and allies alike, but when you’re in the middle of using an attack button, forget it. You have to wait for the attack animation to end before it will actually work, so if you need to dodge a non-counterable attack, which is denoted by a green effect surrounding an enemy while they’re attacking, you’re screwed. There’s a boss fight with a giant, three-headed mouser that is made even more frustrating by this since it can smash the ground and create a shockwave all around it, but if you’re in the middle of attacking its weakpoints at close range, you won’t be able to avoid it. In fact, if you’re standing too close when this attack is unleashed, you’re still screwed, as the distance evading actually covers is too small to get out of harms way. What’s also baffling is the jump mechanic that is attached to the same button as evading. You can jump just by tapping A without holding the analog stick, but you can only jump straight upwards, not at an angle, making this a completely useless mechanic. You can’t create any combos off of it and the animation for it is stiff and feels unnatural. If you wanted to try and use some dive kicks just like in the old arcade games, that’s too bad.

Want some more issues? Sure, why not. To start, for some reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to sprinkle hacking puzzles into the game. Granted, most are optional, but the higher difficulty ones tend to be so infuriating that you’ll complete half of the puzzle, only to realize that you screwed up and have to restart all over again. These puzzles feel out-of-place and do nothing but bring the pace of the game to a grinding halt. During combat, the camera simply doesn’t want you to be able to see what’s going on. If you get too close to a wall or an object, the camera will just zoom in really close and just above your Turtle’s head, so you can’t see what’s going on. You’ll constantly be fighting with the camera just to get the right angle while fighting enemies at the same time, making for an unnecessarily cumbersome and clumsy experience. The game also suffers from several bugs and glitches, further dropping this unpolished title into the abyss. The framerate will sometimes dip just by rotating the camera while running around environments, giving the game a somewhat unfinished feel. I had one instance where a boss fight simply failed to trigger. Where Karai should have been waiting to fight me, I instead spent about ten minutes trying to figure out if I was missing a platform or ladder I needed to climb, all the while the Turtles kept spouting taunts at Karai while she responded with subtitles only, meaning she wasn’t even in the general vicinity. I had to restart the checkpoint over again. During the final boss, he would float over into a corner and just freeze there for no apparent reason. My attacks had no effect on him, but he would suddenly snap out of it and start attacking me. This actually occurred twice during separate attempts to defeat him. I’ve also encountered conversations with the Turtles that will run over into load screens and even cutscenes, so I had Leo at one point speaking two separate sentences at the same time. Simply put, Out of the Shadows is a rushed title that somehow made it through Activision’s quality assurance and it absolutely pains me to see a game with such a beloved license being handled so poorly.

Here we see Raph beating some sense into a member of the development team for botching this game.

Here we see Raph beating some sense into a member of the development team for botching this game.

Out of the Shadows sports two other modes outside of the main campaign. One is Challenge Mode, which basically consists of taking on waves of enemies in each of the campaign’s environments, along with one challenge called Survival, which tests how many waves of enemies you can fight your way through before all four Turtles fall. With all of the issues with the counter mechanics, trying to survive for any extended period of time is a futile effort as there’s very limited healing between each round to make up for the beating you’ll receive thanks to not being able to counter most attacks. The other mode is Arcade, which takes the campaign and makes it into an old-school, side-scrolling beat ’em up spread across seven levels. You would think that a side-scroller wouldn’t have camera issues, but alas, Red Fly somehow screwed this up, too. The camera zooms out too far at times, making your character as well as your enemies microscopic, and foreground objects like pipes, walls, and fences actually obscure your vision, making it tough to see what’s going on at times. Arcade mode supports 4-player co-op, but locally only, meaning you can’t play it with your friends online. Playing it alone is simply boring and imbalanced as, unlike the campaign, only one Turtle is on the screen and you get pretty outnumbered without any help.

Speaking of multiplayer, the game’s campaign can also be played online with up to three other players. I found in my experience that, while load times were rather lengthy, gameplay was actually smooth and lag-free, although playing with three other players that clearly have leveled up Turtles makes for a rather easy experience, as everyone is seemingly over-powered and more competent than the A.I. that’s in place when playing solo.

I can give Red Fly credit for capturing the Ninja Turtles’ subject matter in great fashion, with the overall darker tone being a fresh take on the Turtles, having each Turtle feeling more unique than ever before in combat, and a sense of camaraderie drawn from conversations between the Turtles and some entertaining team attacks infused into the mostly fun combat mechanics that are in place. I can also excuse the short length of the campaign given the game’s $15 price tag. However, everything else falls flat. Terrible counter mechanics, a cumbersome camera, myriad bugs and glitches, and extra modes that suffer from the same issues as the main campaign, which subsequently means they add nothing to the overall game, all serve to drag this experience down. When the fact that “Turtle Power” from the original live-action movie plays during the main menu and the end credits is one of the biggest highlights of this game, you know someone screwed up somewhere. As a major Turtles fan, I can’t help but feel severely letdown, as Out of the Shadows was one of my most-anticipated games of the year. All I can really say is that Turtles fans deserve far better, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is one of 2013’s biggest disappointments.

score4.0

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Final Decision XIV

This past weekend, I managed to spend some time with Square-Enix’s reworked MMORPG (for the uninitiated, that stands for Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, which is an online game with thousands of players inhabiting a single world and interacting with each other in real-time), Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Now, keep in mind that my MMO experience is limited to my time with DC Universe Online on the PS3, which I played a little bit of when it became a free-to-play title before uninstalling it due to waning interest and Trophies not being properly implemented, so I don’t have a lot of experience to go on as far as comparing FFXIV, as it will henceforth be referred to, to other titles in the genre. However, FFXIV has always piqued my interest simply because I’ve always loved the franchise and I’ve been interested in how it would function as an MMO. I know Final Fantasy XI has been around for years on the Xbox 360, but since I prefer to play on my PS3 due to not requiring annual fees to play online, I simply waited for FFXIV to finally launch on the PS3.

My experience began as a typical one for MMOs: a series of installs and patches. It’s the norm for the genre, so to pass the time, I popped in some Dragon’s Crown on my Vita until the beta finished patching. I was then thrust into a beautifully-animated opening movie, filled with the rich detail and animation we’ve come to expect from Square-Enix over the years.

Next up was character creation. As usual, Square made a great attempt to explain the lore and history behind this title, just like the rest of the franchise. FFXIV takes place in the land of Eorzea, where an attack from a giant dragon (the legendary Bahamut, for those who are veterans of the franchise and know who he is) has laid waste to the land. Five years later, people are still adjusting and picking up the pieces after the tragedy. You are a new inhabitant of Eorzea; an adventurer, if you will. This is where you get to create your hero.

For me, I made a male Miqo’te (think of a human with cat ears, a more flattened nose, and a tail) with a job class of Lancer, also known as a Dragoon. I picked the Miqo’te because of how his tail sort of reminded me of Zidane from Final Fantasy IX, and I picked the Lancer because the job features high offensive capabilities and also sports some really sweet armor. Lancers wield a large spear/javelin and are capable of launching themselves high into the air in order to strike from above.

Once I finished with my character, my first problem began. I had to select my “world”, or server, in other words. This would be the permanent home of my adventurer. However, every time I selected a North American or European server, it would say the world was full. I didn’t want to jump into a Japanese server simply because my connection would be terrible, but there I was, selecting different servers from my territory and still getting the same message. I finally managed to get one to work, or so I thought. Instead, I had a wheel spinning in the corner of the screen for about 20-25 minutes. I finally decided enough was enough and I restarted the game. Luckily, my character’s appearance was saved, so I only had to select his background info and job again, which took almost no time at all. After that, the first server I selected somehow worked. I was queued into the Adamantoise server. Finally, my journey was set to begin.

It does irk me a bit how irritating it was just to get onto a server, but a couple things need to be taken into account here before jumping to the “This game’s broken!” conclusion. First of all, it was a beta. The purpose of betas are to test out the servers as well as garner feedback from players about any issues they’re having so that they can be addressed. Things like this are bound to happen. The other thing is that, apparently, a lot of people jumped into this beta, so much so that they had to locked character creation on every western server and open three new ones to accommodate everyone, and on top of that, the entire game was hit with a critical error on Monday morning, which caused all western servers to be taken offline for a period of time for maintenance. I don’t think Square anticipated this many people, but they should take this as a good sign. A high amount of interest could mean more sales in the future, but it’s sad that some people will simply avoid it after such an event without realizing that it’s only a beta.

Anyways, I began my adventure wandering around Gridania, the first town I came upon in my adventure. It’s essentially where I stayed the entire beta. I did some story missions, a slew of side quests, which basically comprised of hunting certain monsters, doing menial tasks like cleaning and delivering items and messages to other people, and I did some battling, of course. The battle system seems pretty typical for MMOs, with queued attacks and hotkeyed skills, although standard attacks can be set to automatic. I did find that using normal attacks is pretty much useless considering you have so many points to use skills. I would just spam skills to kill enemies more quickly.

My favorite part of wandering outside of town is that random events, called FATEs, will pop up in your vicinity. These tasks deal with defeating a hoarde of enemies or one giant enemy within a short amount of time. One in particular spawned a large imp, where I and about two dozen players surrounded it and starting obliterating it. It was this moment where I felt a large smile stretch across my face. Banding together with a bunch of people for an epic battle was simply an awesome experience and really showed me the magic of MMOs. It also didn’t hurt that I received a top-ranking metal and reward for my contributions.

This is where I stand right now. Did I enjoy my time with Final Fantasy XIV? Absolutely. Once I started taking requests from NPCs and hacked away at boatloads of monsters, the experience really grew on me, and if the title has a lot of content, I could see it being worth the $12.99 per month to play it. The issues I have, though, are what makes me hesitant. Beyond the server selection issues, I had problems connecting to a world I already inhabited. The game would tell me it was full and then fail to queue me so that I could wait for someone to log out. Restarting the game fixed the issue, but it was a minor annoyance. I also need to find friends to play with, as the game can be a lonely experience when adventuring by myself. Lastly, there’s the possibility of launch issues, which are bound to happen. This was only a beta, but once money enters the equation, server issues and shutdowns start to become more aggravating. It makes me ponder whether I should wait a couple of weeks for any issues to iron themselves oit.

If I were to pre-order now, I can get early access and Amazon will give me a $10 credit for a future purchase on their site, which definitely sweetens the pot. What if I run into issues, though? What if I don’t play it enough? Are there going to be any friends to play with? These are all things I’m going to need to take into consideration before I take the plunge. For now, I’m leaning towards going for it. I enjoyed my brief time in Eorzea, and I’m itching to jump back in.

Unboxed! – Project X Zone Limited Edition

It is with great pleasure that I present this to you today, folks. I have waited a long time whilst chomping at my nails for an announcement that Project X Zone, an ambitious crossover SRPG between SEGA, Capcom, and Namco-Bandai, would come stateside. That day has finally come, and it is oh-so worth the wait. I’ve already poured several hours into it and, while X and Zero have not showed up yet, I’m loving it as the game is still a fun and over-the-top love letter to fans of anything from these three publishers. Of course, a game of this scale would need a fitting limited edition, no? Well, it just so happens that first print run copies were all made into limited edition packages, and it’s the same price of $39.99, so all of the extra goodies are free.

Before I present to you the limited edition’s contents, allow me to set the mood with this friggin’ amazing intro video.

OK, now that your mind has been blown, feast your eyes on this goodness.

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The front and back of the outer box. I’m still not much for French being plastered on North American box art. I realize it’s for the Canadian crowd, but it clutters everything up.

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BOOM! All of the contents laid out for you to see. I’ll be going over each individually.

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First the Visual Book, which contains some promo art of the different playable pairs and what franchises they hail from.

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Kite and BlackRose are here to represent .hack. I really need to finish Infection…

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KOS-MOS and T-ELOS are here for the fun straight from Xenosaga. Episode III, specifically.

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From SEGA and tri-Ace’s oddball RPG, Resonance of Fate, comes Zephyr and Leanne. Don’t worry; Vashyron is in the game, too.

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These two gentlemen need no introduction.

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The abridged soundtrack. I call it that, because that definitely isn’t the entire soundtrack. There are way more tracks than that. I find it odd they call it “Mega Man Dash”. It’s either Rockman Dash, as it’s called in Japan, or Mega Man Legends, as it’s called in the west. Not both. The soundtrack in the game, so far, is to die for, though.

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A shot of the disc. I’ll have to rip this into my iTunes library soon.

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Remember that white sheet of paper from the pic of all of the contents above? It’s actually a mini foldout poster. I should get this framed. It’d make the creases less noticeable.

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The reason for buying it in the first place: the game, of course!

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In the case are the cartridge and the English “manual”. Below it, the Club Nintendo code sheet and the French “manual”. I say “manual” because they’re more like foldout sheets than anything. Don’t worry, though. The game has plenty of tutorials to get you up to speed.

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The most important part.

Considering you get all of this for free, it’s a fantastic deal. If you’re a fan of all three publishers and/or franchise crossovers, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. This can actually be purchased at Walmart, believe it or not. My local store has it, and limited edition copies, no less. I received mine from Amazon, but it’ll be the last time I order small, boxed collector’s games from them. The side did get mushed. You can’t notice it in the pictures, but there’s some minor damage. It’s not the first time it’s occurred, but it’ll be the last. I’ll either buy from Walmart or pre-order these types of things at GameStop from now on. Regardless, I hope your copy isn’t damaged and I hope you enjoy this gem of title. I am so far, that’s for sure!

The Last of Us Review

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Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer(s): Naughty Dog
ESRB: Mature
Release Date: June 14, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 (Standard Edition), $79.99 (Survival Edition), $159.99 (Post-Pandemic Edition)

What would you do when the world “ends”; when society has collapsed and every man, woman, and child must fend for themselves with nary anyone to guide them in a world overrun by infected monstrosities and groups of people killing others just to survive? How would it feel to wake up every morning wondering if this day could very well be your last? Would you seek the comfort of friends and camaraderie to survive, or strike out on your own and hope for the best? This is the bleak world that The Last of Us, the latest adventure from acclaimed developer, Naughty Dog, paints for us, and in this world, a worn, middle-aged man named Joel and a hard ass, potty mouth teenager named Ellie become an unlikely duo on a journey across North America.

I’m going to keep this review as spoiler-free as much as possible, so if it sounds like I’m dancing around any issues, I’m not. I’m just trying not to give away anything that could detract from your experience with the game, seeing as The Last of Us places heavy emphasis on plot and character development, particularly Joel and Ellie’s relationship as they brave a shattered and hopeless wasteland. The story’s prologue immediately grabs on to you, laying a foundation for Joel’s character before it jumps ahead 20 years. The story does get rather slow at this point, and remains so until Ellie finally comes into the picture. I wish I could say that the plot remains consistently euphoric from that point until the end, but the truth is, The Last of Us’ story is marred by inconsistent pacing, predictable storytelling,  and negligible sub-characters.

Joel and Ellie clearly remain the primary focal point on their journey, but as said journey continues, they meet some folks that either help or hinder them along the way. Bill is easily my favorite of the bunch, as his exchanges with Ellie are hilarious bouts of expletives and insults and he melds well with the journeying duo. Other characters, however, don’t really seem to leave their mark as much as I had hoped, and where certain moments should have been more emotionally gripping, I felt nothing at all and merely moved on. It’s disappointing to see a title that focuses on character development create characters that seemingly fail to leave their mark on the player’s experience.

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Meet Joel and Ellie, the protagonist duo of The Last of Us.

What makes those encounters worse, as well as other facets of the plot and its share of twists and turns, is that it’s surprisingly predictable. The game doesn’t leave subtle hints or breadcrumb trails for you to possibly pick up on before a twist comes. I actually saw twists coming from a mile away, which greatly lessened the impact once they finally occurred. That’s not to say there aren’t any fantastic moments to behold. Quite the contrary, actually. Certain events push Joel and Ellie to the brink, creating memorable moments whether you see them coming or not, as their execution is still brilliantly emotional. I just wish the twists were better masked so that more intense moments weren’t so obvious and lose their sense of surprise.

Another issue with the story is how inconsistent the pacing seems to be. There will sometimes be periods of downtime as you traverse environments, and these  periods seem to last a bit too long, though this really only applies early on in the game. Once the story really starts to pick up, periods of downtime are pretty much nonexistent. What hurts the pacing more, though, is how long periods of time are skipped in the plot. At one point, Joel and Ellie will be in one place, and the next thing you know, a season has passed and they’re in a new location without any explanation of how they got there, what occurred during that time, and the two seem to have not really bonded much more during that time.

Which brings me to yet another issue: Joel and Ellie’s relationship. As I said, there are events that push the two to their limits, bringing them closer together, and these moments are heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping, and create a greater connection between the player and the traveling companions, which is one of the strongest facets of The Last of Us. However, by the end of the game, it really seemed like Joel and Ellie were still somewhat strangers to each other, even after everything they’ve been through. For example, Ellie brings up a subject about Joel’s past that she knew about for a very long time and would have been more appropriate to bring up when she first learned of it, but instead, it’s brought up a long time after that and it feels forced when she does bring it up. It really gave off this air of unfamiliarity between the two, which is extremely odd, considering everything they go through together and how strong their bond has supposedly become.

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Runners are extremely aggressive and are better left not encountered like this.

Perhaps the most jarring thing about The Last of Us, however, is the ending. Without giving anything away, once the credits started rolling, I simply felt overwhelmingly baffled. The ending felt abrupt and unsatisfying, and given the epic journey I just experienced, I came to expect something far more substantial, but couldn’t help but feel short-changed. It’s a shame, really, as getting to that point is such a great experience. It’s worth noting the fantastic voice work that contributed to this story, with the amazing Troy Baker, who also did the voices of Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite and Kanji Tatsumi in Persona 4, doing a fantastic job as Joel. The rest of the cast does a phenomenal job, as well, delivering every line expertly and breathing life into each and every character. The desolate world of The Last of Us is brought to life even more by the benchmark graphics and art direction. This is the pinnacle of graphical power that this generation is ever going to see, with realistic-looking character models and intricately detailed environments that truly paint the depressing picture of a destroyed and gloomy world. One look at this game in motion and your jaw will drop to the floor. It’s practically graphical perfection.

The Last of Us, clearly, is more about the journey than the destination, and yes, what you do on that journey shines. It plays as an over-the-shoulder, third-person shooter with a very heavy emphasis on stealth. Taking cover, using the environment to your advantage, diligently using Listen Mode, which allows Joel to hear enemies in the surrounding area and thus reveal their locations, and silently dispatching enemies are the name of the game here, especially when dealing with infected people. This is not a game where you will succeed by running around guns blazing. You will die with that strategy, especially early on when you have barely any supplies and weapons and the game’s upgrade system hasn’t fleshed itself out yet. Enemy encounters are pulse-pounding and tension-filled moments every single time, demanding careful progression if you don’t want to get caught.

You’ll be forced to tackle both humans and infected people, and encounters with each demand different approaches. Humans walk around like sentries, constantly keeping their eyes peeled for trespassers. If they find a body or see you, they immediately go into alert and search diligently. If you engage them in a firefight, they’ll take cover and won’t needlessly poke their heads up while waiting to take a bullet to the head. The A.I. is extremely intelligent, aggressive, and will push you to your limits, even on Normal difficulty. You’ll want to take as many out silently as you can, whether you creep up from behind and choke them out, shiv (i.e. knife) them, or use your bow to take them out from long range. If you do alert them, you have to run and hide or they will gang up, flank you, and kill you.

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Stealth is a necessity. Without it, your chances of survival are low.

Infected enemies, however, demand an even more delicate strategy. These are classified as either Runners, Clickers, or Bloaters. Runners, as you may have guessed, run faster than you. They come strong and hit hard, thrashing about and grabbing hold of you, leaving you vulnerable to surrounding threats. Clickers are an even more serious threat. While they can’t see, the slightest sound will alert them, and getting grappled by a Clicker without a shiv and an upgrade that allows you to expend a shiv in order to escape is an instant death. I’m not kidding. If a Clicker gets you, it’s over and you’ll have to restart the checkpoint, and getting grabbed by a Runner first can make this scenario even more likely. Knowing the difference between life and death lies with one small mistake makes encounters extremely tension-filled and brutal, but oh-so satisfying once you manage to survive. Knowing when to avoid enemies entirely, which is possible and even encouraged in order to save supplies and your life, is also of the utmost importance. I found myself holding my breath at times just trying to avoid alerting the Clickers, which isn’t necessary and quite silly when you think about it, but it goes o show just how immersive this game can be. Every time I managed to take one out silently (which requires a shiv) was a small victory in and of itself. As for Bloaters, think of them as Clickers that have weak points that must be shot out  in order to kill them and are able to spew projectiles that eat away at your health. Oh, and they can still kill you instantly if they grab on to you, so they’re bundles of fun. Infected encounters are brutal and heart-wrenching moments, but at the same time, are immensely fun and extremely satisfying.

Of course, you’ll need to be prepared for such encounters, and when you’re not busy trying to survive, you’ll be scavenging for supplies. Checking cupboards and desk drawers, unlocking doors with shivs, and searching every nook and cranny for supplies is crucial to survival. Ammo is extremely limited and you can only carry so much, so searching the environment for some is a must, lest you want empty weapons. There are also supplies for making health kits, smoke and makeshift explosive bombs, shivs, and even modifying melee weapons such as bats and pipes with one-hit kill modifications that can take out any enemy in a single blow. There are also parts to find that you can use to upgrade Joel’s weapons as well as supplements that can upgrade Joel’s abilities, such as maximum health, increase the range of Listen Mode, quickening his ability to make health kits and items on the fly, and more. There are even a range of collectibles to find, such as comic books, Firefly pendants, and documents and journals left behind by previous inhabitants. The documents and journals are really the only collectibles of note as they help paint a greater picture of just how bleak Joel and Ellie’s world has become while the rest just feel like they were thrown in for Trophies. Regardless, it’s essential to scavenge in The Last of Us, as having those extra bullets and health kits could mean the difference between life and death.

Beyond The Last of Us’ roughly 10-hour single-player campaign lies a rather interesting multiplayer component. Shirking the usual leaderboard climbing and superfluous need to improve one’s kill/death ratio, the mutliplayer instead focuses on fighting for your clan’s survival, whether it be the Fileflies or the Hunters, depending on which you select upon starting up the mode. The goal is to sustain your camp of survivors for 12 weeks, with one multiplayer match representing one day of a week. As you play through both modes of The Last of Us’ multiplayer, you’ll acquire supplies from performing such tasks as downing and performing executions on enemies, healing allies, collecting supplies from boxes scattered about, and marking enemies for other players to see on their radar. Once the match ends, those supplies are then given to your home camp, where they are used to sustain your fellow survivors. The more supplies you bring, the more survivors will join your camp, which means more multiplayer upgrades and unlocks for you, such as weapons, perks, and customization options. Failing to bring enough supplies will cause your denizens to starve and get sick, and if everyone eventually dies, you’ll have failed to reach your goal of surviving for 12 weeks. It’s fascinating how the world of the single player campaign has been drawn right into the multiplayer, creating a unique experience that also feels appropriate.

The-Last-of-Us-mp

The multiplayer portion of the game actually manages to bring something fun and appropriate to the table instead of a tacked-on, shoot ’em up fest.

Gameplay elements are also adapted into the multiplayer suite as well, with Listen Mode and scavenging and crafting items and health kits being completely integrated, just like in the campaign. You can also pick up parts along the way, which serve two purposes. They can either be spent to acquire ammo or upgrade your weapons on the fly, or you can hold onto them until after the match ends, where they are converted into supplies for your camp. The multiplayer is strictly 4-on-4 matches, but don’t let the small numbers dissuade you. They actually serve to heighten the tension, as stealth is an integral part of getting the jump on your enemies, just like the campaign. Besides, chaotic 16-on-16 matches, for example,  just wouldn’t fit the style of this game, seeing as it would hurt the stealth element of it all with an abundance of people running around everywhere.

There are two modes of play available. The first is Supply Raid, which grants each team 20 lives. The first to lose all of those lives loses. While taking each other out, each side fights to collect supplies from toolboxes scattered around the map, which are vital to your camp’s success outside of battle, so they quickly become a priority beyond simply killing your opponents. The other mode is Survivors, which is exactly as it sounds. Each player only has one life, and once you die, you’re out for the round, which greatly replicates the tension-filled encounters of the single-player campaign, though instead, it’s against live players, which greatly ups the ante in terms of difficulty if you happen to be playing against solid players. The last team standing wins, whether it be after the allotted 5 minutes have expired while having more survivors left or wiping out the other team. The first team to then win four rounds wins the match. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect the multiplayer of The Last of Us to be anything impressive, as it seemed it was clearly developed as a single-player experience, but what’s here is surprisingly fun and well-adapted to the world Naughty Dog has created here.

Taking it as a whole, The Last of Us is an outstanding gameplay experience, with enemy encounters that will have you on the edge of your seat and the addictive nature of scouring the environment for supplies consuming your time in order to better your chances of survival. Joel and Ellie are a compelling duo that manages to have some powerful, emotional, and memorable moments, but are hamstrung by a narrative that’s mind-numbingly predictable, paces itself too unevenly, manages to develop Joel and Ellie’s relationship in a baffling manner with an ending that is just as baffling, and scatters secondary characters that, for the most part, aren’t very memorable, despite the admirable voice cast bringing these characters to life and the breathtaking world that surrounds them. It clearly isn’t the masterpiece it could have been, but even with its narrative shortcomings, The Last of Us is still an excellent title that every PlayStation 3 owner should have in their library.

score8.5

The Greatest E3 Ever?

Whew! What a week! I knew there were going to be some surprises last week, what with new consoles taking the spotlight at E3 in Los Angeles, but there were some that were completely unprecedented, making for some announcements that will live on in memory forever. I’ve been tracking E3 for many years now, but not a single one has excited me as much as this year’s event. It’s pretty simple for me to say that this is the best E3 I have ever seen.

Where to start? How about Microsoft’s conference? I walked away rather satisfied, to be honest. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a big Xbox guy, but after seeing their conference on Monday, I hopped on Amazon and pre-ordered one. I know about the whole used game deal and online check-ins, but folks, like I said in my last blog post, a console is only truly as good as its games. And, damn, does the Xbox One have some nice exclusives coming its way, many of which will be on or close to launch.

My favorite pick, of course, was one of my most-anticipated announcements: Killer Instinct. It’s real! It’s actually happening! I was literally cheering and pumping my fists in the air as soon as the “KI” logo hit my screen. It has been far too long since the last entry in the series, and now, it’s coming back on the Xbox One.

So, here’s the skinny on it. The game is going to be available as a pseudo free-to-play title, where you’ll have access to every mode, but only Jago is playable. You’ll have the chance to play against every other character, though, and if you happen to like some, you can buy them separately and piece together your own game. Or, you can just download the entire game that also comes with the first season pass for characters, which will entail multiple versions, including some sort of collector’s bundle that is hinted to be containing a port of the original Killer Instinct, which would be amazing.. There will be no physical release, which bites, but it’s better than not getting it at all.

Gameplay-wise, I’ve heard it borrows some elements from both previous KI titles, as well as some elements of Street Fighter, both IV and Third Strike. To me, based on gameplay vids, it looks like KI, but at a faster pace. Characters leap and attack swiftly, with combos being fast and somewhat chaotic. It definitely has the ridiculous combos of the old games, which is a plus, and it has Ultra Combos. My only concerns are that it lacks both finishers and Ultimate Combos, which could be added later on at fan request, but it’s weird that they’re not there. From what I’ve heard from people who have played it, it’s been getting a warm reception and plays well. Jago, Sabrewulf, and Glacius have been revealed, with Fulgore, Spinal, and Cinder being confirmed as far as returning characters go, from what I’ve heard. The devs have also said that they want to put in more female characters than the series previously had in order to balance things out and that there will be new characters, naturally. Development is being handled by Double Helix, and while they don’t have the best track record, they’re working closely with Rare veteran Ken Lobb and seem pretty passionate about the project, so I really don’t have many concerns on that front. Besides, most of the people who made the game within Rare before have left, so it wouldn’t make a difference if Rare was developing it.

The visual style does sort of borrow from Street Fighter IV a bit, with character models being exaggerated and some ink splashes during load screens. I’ve heard people complaining about Jago’s steroid-ridden look, but I dig it. He actually looks more badass than he did in the first two titles. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but we all have our opinions, and besides, there could always be alternate outfits that could pay homage to his older looks. Sabrewulf and Glacius look spot-on and are fitting evolutions of the characters. I really want to see Glacius in action, but that will have to wait until EVO next month, where I’m hoping they’ll reveal more characters. All in all, I’m very excited for Killer Instinct. This game alone makes me want an Xbox One on day one.

That’s not all the Xbox One has, though. Dead Rising 3 looks promising. The franchise is back to being Xbox-exclusive, like the first title was. It seems to have shed the silliness of the first two titles, for the most part, going for a more bleak tone. It’s more wide-open now, with a city to traverse instead of indoor environments. Hordes of zombies block you at every turn, and the game tasks you with trying to navigate through and around them in order to survive. Plus, the crazy weapon-crafting makes its return, which would have been a criminal omission. I’m definitely keeping my eye on this one as a possible launch pick-up.

A more sure-fire purchase, for me, is Forza Motorsport 5, which sports a new A.I. feature. In fact, there is no A.I. Every opponent that you race against is based off of the behavior of your friends, with their driving styles and habits being mimicked. If your friend is aggressive, their “ghost” will be, as well. Opponents will even drive their cars, too. It’s yet another push towards innovation from Turn 10, which I’ve come to expect, that propels Forza further ahead of its competition. The game looks drop dead gorgeous, to boot.

Then there’s Titanfall, which is the big project that upstart developer Respawn has been working on since its founders (or should I say “founder”, since West left and only Zampella remains) left Infinity Ward. Now, I’m not too big on FPS titles nowadays, as many lack true variety and innovation, but Titanfall looks to be pushing the envelope. Battles seem like legitimate battlefields, rife with action and well-populated. Mechs stomp around and destroy everything in sight while soldiers boost and kick off of walls to get around in a sort of parkour-esque fashion. The game is also supposed to be taking advantage of the Cloud-based structure of the Xbox One, too. The visuals don’t look very appealing for a next-gen title, but graphics aren’t everything. Titanfall is definitely one title I’ll keep in mind, though it won’t hit shelves until next year.

Now for Sony. Their conference was loaded with jaw-dropping moments, including one where they pretty much danced all over Microsoft by stating their clear defiance of restricting used games and any sort of online check-ins, choosing to trust their consumers instead. Sony didn’t have to worry about piracy with the PS3, and probably won’t have to with the PS4 if they can keep it airtight, so online check-ins are probably one thing they may have never considered. However, used games were up in the air until the show, and now we know we can still share and trade-in every game. Online passes and DLC-locked content will still exist, however, but that’s on a publisher-by-publisher basis.

As far as games go, I’m happy to say my prediction of Final Fantasy Versus XIII turning into Final Fantasy XV and coming to PS4 was correct, and my heart was pounding during the entire trailer as Square-Enix finally decided to show this amazing-looking title off after a long hiatus. FFXV looks astounding and will surely deliver a new kind of Final Fantasy experience. The announcement directly after FFXV, though, was out of left field. Never, in a million years, did I foresee a reveal for Kingdom Hearts III, but there it was, and I was so happy that I think I nearly cried. I could definitely hear my voice crack, that’s for sure. It’s been far too long of a wait, and it’s going to be even longer as it isn’t close to being finished, but it’s finally coming and that’s all that matters. What takes the wind out of Sony’s sails with these two announcements, though, is that they’re both headed to Xbox One, so these are two potentially ginormous exclusives that have slipped through their fingers.

What Sony doesn’t have to worry about losing, though, is its first-party titles. Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS: Second Son is definitely the game to own on the PS4. It improves upon everything the first two entries built up, with improved parkour and fully-destructive environments that truly give Delsin’s smoke/fire-esque powers a greater punch as well as letting him use the terrain to his advantage (think toppling towers and bridges). This is the reason I’m buying the PS4, though it won’t be available until early next year, so there will be a bit of a wait.

We won’t have to wait long for Killzone: Shadow Fall, though, as it’s coming on launch day. I’ll be honest. I’ve never liked the Killzone franchise. It has stunning visuals, sure, but gameplay-wise, it’s always been ho-hum and unremarkable, making it easy to bubble it in with almost every other shooter on the market. Shadow Fall, however, may make me change my mind. It takes the linear levels and cookie-cutter gameplay and throws them out the window. Now, every level is open-ended, allowing you to tackle several objectives in any order you wish. Player freedom is almost always a plus, and it’s great to see huge levels where you can think more tactically about how you engage unsuspecting guards instead of running through scripted events one after another ad nauseum. As for gameplay, Shadow Fall is introducing the OWL, which is like a floating sentry bot that can give you covering fire, supply shields, stun enemies, and allow you to zip-line across gaps, making getting around the new, large levels a breeze. Plus, besides the OWL, you work alone, which means no having to put up with hokey one-liners from butch sidekicks you don’t even care about.

Sony also announced some indie titles, and one that really stood out to me was Mercenary Kings, which comes from Tribute Games, the makers of Scott Pilgrim VS The World: The Game. It has a similar graphical style, but its gameplay is more like Metal Slug with explorable levels and weapon customization. It looks like a boatload of fun, especially with four-player co-op.

There are also two thrid-party titles that, while not exclusive, will sport exclusive content for the PS4. The first is Ubisoft’s amazing-looking open-world title, Watch Dogs, which will have an additional hour’s worth of gameplay. This title was pretty much one of very, very few good things to come out of E3 2012, with its genre-pushing design and gameplay that allows you to hack an entire city, from taking money from civilian bank accounts, to hacking security cameras, to activating various elements of the city to help break off pursuit of police officers giving chase, and more. It’s definitely a huge departure from Grand Theft Auto-style open-world titles, but I think it’s going to be one of the best titles this year and a definite day-one purchase for me on the PS4. Expect this one to blow people away.

The other title is Destiny, which looks more and more impressive each time I see it. The PS4 is the optimized platform for the title, meaning it will get new and exclusive content before anyone else. The title itself, though, looks like a deep and engrossing online experience. Just the very thought of being able to explore a wide open world with tight FPS mechanics and a MMO-style loot system with friends sounds like a great way to whittle the hours away, and hopefully with a constant flow of new content, can be an experience that lasts for many years to come.

The Xbox One and PS4 both have titles I want, so, while this does sound asinine, I have both pre-ordered. There’s definitely enough on each console to make buying both worth it, even if I have to wait a couple months for some of it. One console I haven’t been convinced of yet, though, is the Wii U. That is, until now. I actually found Nintendo Direct at E3 to be underwhelming, as the next Mario title is nothing but Super Mario 3D Land blown up for the Wii U, and then there’s a new Donkey Kong and Mario Kart that I admit I will buy once I pick up a Wii U, but they won’t make me buy a Wii U this holiday. What will ultimately make me buy a Wii U is Super Smash Bros., which is coming next year, meaning I’ll wait until then before I take the plunge. I was going to buy Super Smash Bros. anyway, but now that my favorite game character of all-time, Mega Man, is a playable character, it’s officially a must-own. Just bask in the glory of this reveal trailer. I’ll let it speak for itself.

All in all, E3 was excellent this year. I expected no less, given that there are new consoles on the horizon and, with them, plenty of surprises. The wait for both to launch will be arduous, as well as impatiently waiting for more characters to be revealed for Killer Instinct, but with about five months left to go until at least the Xbox One launches, there’s sure to be even more surprises along the way.

The Pre-E3 Hype Train

I know, I know. I’m writing up a new post after a week of inactivity and there’s no Ultimate Spider-Man nor Tomb Raider review. Work was killing me last week and, sometimes, I just don’t have the drive to write as a result. However, today is a special occasion, as the biggest gaming event of the year begins today: E3! Well, technically, it begins today. The actual expo doesn’t start until tomorrow. Only the conferences are today, but those are the majority of what anyone really cares about from the show anyways.

Today, at 12:30 PM EST, will be Microsoft’s conference. Now, I’m sure you’ve heard all of the hoopla about the Xbox One’s used game policies and mandatory online functions, and I realize it’s ugly, but let’s look past it for now as a console is only truly as good as its games. I’ve never been overly impressed with Microsoft’s exclusives, with Forza and Fable being the only two I really care dearly about. We already know Forza Motorsport 5 is going to be a launch title, and that’s fantastic. As for the latter, I’ll use it to start what I hope to hear from Microsoft’s conference.

A New, Non-Kinect Fable Title

Fable IV is rumored on some asinine list that’s been circulating the ‘net for the past week or so. If you read the list, some of it is a total joke. I mean, I love Mega Man games, but were not getting a new one, folks, and if we do, I may just go into cardiac arrest. Anyways, whether the list is real or not, I absolutely want to hear of a new Fable for the Xbox One. I don’t want another Fable: The Journey, I want a tried-and-true follow-up to Fable III, though with less of the whole being a king deal and more of just being a hero (or villain) like the first two titles, with total freedom to cause as much mayhem as possible. I know we’re getting a remake of the original, titled Fable Anniversary, for the 360, but I think the Xbox One could definitely use some Fable love as well to help get it off of the ground.

Did Someone Say “Killer Instinct”!?

Does anyone remember Killer Instinct, which originally released in arcades, was ported to the Super Nintendo, and hasn’t been heard of since Killer Instinct Gold on the Nintendo 64? I poured God knows how many hours into those games, and for good reason. Killer Instinct wasn’t just a “me too” fighting game of the time. It had blood and violence, which one would mistake as a blatant ripoff of the far more popular Mortal Kombat, but it wasn’t as severe, only garnering a “Teen” rating on both titles, and it managed to forge its own identity with a rather varied and unique cast of characters (you can play as a raptor!) and a dial-a-combo system that let you chain combos just by hitting the right buttons after special moves, allowing for some sick and ridiculous combos.

Anyways, Microsoft has noted that Rare is bringing one of their “historic” franchises to the Xbox One, and with the recent trademark renewal fiasco that Microsoft had to go through with Fox over the name “Killer Instinct” as well as an announcement where Microsoft themselves announced that they were successful in refiling said trademark means there has to be some sort of plans for the franchise going forward, whether it be a remake or a new title. They wouldn’t go through all of the effort if it weren’t the case. It should be noted that Rare also has two other historic franchises in Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark, both of which appeared on the 360, so they could very well be possibilities. If a new Killer Instinct is announced, though, I’m probably going to defecate in my pants. Seriously. It’s been too long since we’ve last seen it.

As for Sony, they’re obviously riding a lot of momentum into E3, seeing as their primary competition is not the chagrin of gamers everywhere. What I don’t want to hear is any sort of online DRM or used game limitations, similar to Xbox One, but I’m going to say right now not to be surprised if it happens, folks. It’s quite possible that Sony could be keeping mum about these issues until after E3 so they can keep that momentum as long as possible. That’s enough of that, though. Here’s what I do want to see.

Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Finally.

We’ve been waiting forever for it, we know it isn’t vaporware, and at the PS4 reveal, Square-Enix explicitly said there would be a “Final Fantasy announcement” at E3. I’m putting my money on Final Fantasy Versus XIII being a PS4-exclusive and possibly being renamed Final Fantasy XV. The last time this game was seen, it looked phenomenal, with dynamic, real-time action a la the Uncharted series combined with a very Kingdom Hearts-esque battle system. If there’s one thing I want to be playing on my brand spanking new PS4, it’s a new Final Fantasy, and with Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII coming out next February for the PS3 and 360, it could be possible that it will be the sendoff for FFXIII, which is synonymous with this generation, and Versus XIII may be what marks the next generation, but like I said, under a new name to mark a new generation for Final Fantasy. Of course, the Final Fantasy announcement could be, and this is a slim chance, a Final Fantasy VII remake, but Square has already gone on record as saying that they won’t remake it until they can top it. I say they already topped it with Final Fantasy IX, but that’s just me.

Other possibilities? Final Fantasy XIV is set to launch on the PS3 this year, but what if it came to the PS4, as well? How about a new Dissidia for PS4 or even Vita? Speaking of Vita, how about a port of Final Fantasy Type-0 while you’re at it, Square?

First-Party Overload

Sony has the best first-party exclusives on the market, hands down. We already know a new inFAMOUS is on the way, as well as a new Killzone. We know Quantic Dream is hard at work on Beyond: Two Souls on the Ps3, so I don’t expect to hear much from them on the PS4 front. Considering The Last of Us drops this Friday, I don’t know if Naughty Dog is ready to show off the other project they’ve been working on as they probably don’t want to steal any thunder from their soon-to-be-launched title. Incomniac is too busy trying to make people believe that Fuse is worth owning, so who knows what they’re doing on the Ratchet & Clank front. A new R&C on the PS4, though, would be amazing. With that kind of graphical prowess, they could make a new R&C look almost like a Pixar movie. The Last Guardian has been in limbo for a while, but Sony insists it isn’t cancelled, so I think they decided to hold it off for the PS4 to help bolster the launch lineup. There’s also Sony’s stable of Indie developers they’ve been emphasizing as of late, so they all could be set to reveal titles for the PS4, as well. All I know is that Sony, for the most part, knows what it’s doing when it comes to first-party titles, and to expect them to come out guns blazing on this front. At least, that’s what I hope.

I won’t comment much on Nintendo. I think we all know what to expect from them. All I know is that they better come up with something and soon, as the Wii U is failing, the 3DS is struggling in the US, and they have barely any third-party support to speak of. People are even starting to say that Nintendo should just get out of the hardware business and simply make their titles for other platforms. It’s hard to argue with that. The Wii U’s existence simply isn’t justified. Why make a console that only plays your own games? On top of this, there are reports that the 8GB version of the Wii U is being recalled. My guess? Nintendo is either replacing the SKU, or, and this is my bold prediction for Nintendo, they’re dropping the price on the 32GB Deluxe console to the same price, $300, or perhaps even less, at $250. They say they’re “rebalancing” but if they’re recalling every unit, that isn’t balancing anything. I work in retail, so I’ll let you all know if I get a recall for them at some point, and I’ll let you know whether it’s only a partial recall (which we call “overstock” recalls, where only a set quantity is returned) or a recall on every unit. Needless to say, Nintendo is slowly finding themselves backed into a corner, and with them opting out of a press conference this year and instead only going with a Nintendo Direct on Tuesday and some smaller events at the show, it has me worried about what little they could have to say and reveal.

No matter what happens, something tells me this will be the biggest E3 ever. We have two new consoles going neck-and-neck, with surprises for both of them no doubt, a big question mark for Nintendo other than knowing that we’re getting more Mario, and who knows what third-parties are up to besides what look like a couple leaks from EA regarding Mirror’s Edge 2 and Dragon Age III. I hope everyone enjoys the conferences and the show, and when the dust has settled, hopefully we’ll have a lot to be excited for.

Raiding Tombs and Reading Comics

Hello all! “The Maverick Gamer” here and today I’m going to be talking about a bunch of stuff I’ve been up to lately. It’s something I really need to do more often on here, so, here goes!

Tomb Raider > Uncharted

I’m not fooling you with the header, folks. This week, Amazon.com had the Tomb Raider reboot as part of their “Lightning Deals”, where they put some stuff on sale for a limited time throughout the day. Tuesday happened to be an all video game day. Anyways, I’ve been pondering picking up the critically-acclaimed title, as I’ve been busy working through my backlog (as you can tell from some of my reviews), but once it dropped to a mere $30 in that Lightning Deal, I just had to grab it. I actually regret not buying this game at $60. I know, it sounds nuts. I paid half as much, which from an economic standpoint is excellent, but the game deserves the full price treatment, at least so far. I’m pretty sure I’m getting close to the end, but seriously, the game’s been an absolute thrill from the beginning. I’m having a way better time than I ever had with a comparable series, Uncharted. Yes, the same Uncharted that’s been winning Game of the Year awards and the same series I’ve never been impressed with. I still have Uncharted 3 sealed. Why? I honestly never saw what all of the hype was about. Sure, it has dynamic, real-time, Hollywood-scale action scenes that flow seamlessly with normal gameplay, but besides that,the rest of the games are unremarkable. I know they’re some of the finest-looking games to date, and I know Nathan Drake is a funny-ass main character, but the shooting sections are drawn-out, dull, and unimpressive, to the point where they actually hurt the games. Tomb Raider, on the other hand, trounces Uncharted in every facet except graphics, and graphics don’t make the game. Lara’s struggle for survival is far more gratifying than some joke-spouting treasure hunter who couldn’t give a damn about the trail of bodies he’s leaving in his wake. Tomb Raider has more to do, better and far more brutal action sequences, and the shooting sections feel more tactical, are never drawn-out, and never get old when you’re releasing arrows into people’s skulls like a total badass. Expect a review for Tomb Raider at some point after I’ve finished it and played some multiplayer, but I have a feeling I’m not going to give a crap about the multiplayer. I don’t think anyone does.

How is The Last of Us?

The game drought keeps rolling along! There’s only two weeks left, though, as The Last of Us officially marks the end of the “gaming drought”, as I like to call it. Speaking of The Last of Us, and keeping with the Naughty Dog theme after talking some Uncharted above, the demo dropped yesterday for God of War:Ascension owners, which includes myself. After about 20 minutes of downloading, I started it up and was immediately floored. This game is gorgeous. I seriously don’t think anything in this console generation is going to top this, and considering the bulk of this generation is coming to an end this Fall/Winter with next-gen consoles dropping, that seems to sound realistic. Looking past the visuals, though, the demo really didn’t pack a whole lot of gameplay. It’s actually pretty short at about 15-20 minutes, but this is a demo after all, so I guess maybe I was expecting too much. The atmosphere of the game sucks you in immediately, though, giving you a satisfying amount of immersion. You’re traveling with Ellie and a woman named Tess through the “Outskirts” level. You get a good taste of scavenging, learning to avoid enemies, and how to combat them when you have to. For starters, you have to scavenge. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. If you do not scavenge, you will not survive. I found myself utilizing my full arsenal once I ran into a pack of infected and had to resort to some stuff lying around during the conflict, as well. You can pick up parts of scissors, wooden two-by-fours, pipes, tape, and the like, and combine them on the spot to make enhanced weapons, health kits, and more. Building these things happens in real-time, so you have to be careful that you’re in a safe place before building. I wound up assembling a wooden stick with a broken pair of scissors on the end as a makeshift weapon. It didn’t last long in a fight, but it at least staved off a couple of infected. Speaking of which, sometimes, it’s best to just avoid them. Ammo is scarce, so you don’t want to waste any bullets, and besides that, making noise will grab the attention of infected. The Last of Us isn’t a game where you can run into a room guns blazing and expect to survive. You have to use your head as well as your arsenal to figure a way out alive. This is why I can say that it’s shaping up to be a very good game. It isn’t like your typical third-person action game. You actually have to use your head as well as get crafty with your supplies f you want to survive. This should be a pretty exciting title, and June 14th isn’t that far off.

Going Ultimate

Over the past month or so, I’ve taken it upon myself to read the entire Ultimate Spider-Man comic series. A large investment, yes, but an absolutely worthy one, as the series is a phenomenal take on my favorite superhero. This is largely a result of writer Brian Michael Bendis’s outstanding writing, as he completely nails the character while also changing him up for a new generation. His retelling of past stories in the Spider-Man chronology are better than the originals, including his telling of The Clone Saga, Carnage, Venom; hell, the entire series is consistent. The man’s writing is an inspiration for one such as myself and I can’t help but feel truly privileged to have read it all. The reason I bring up Ultimate Spider-Man is because, as you may or may not know, a video game was actually made back in 2005 that was based off of the series. I took the initiative and sat down and played it, and I’ll be reviewing it soon as my first “retro” review on the blog. I don’t really have a name for older game reviews yet, but do know that I will hold them to the appropriate standards, as it isn’t fair to stack up newer titles against them when technology has evolved as far as it has, but  will be judging them on how well they’ve aged to an extent.

Of course, if you know about Ultimate Spider-Man (the comic series), then you probably know that Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man, dies in the end. He’s since been replaced by a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and read all three available volumes. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, as it’s called, is definitely a good read, as it’s still Bendis in the writer’s chair. So far, it’s mostly a similar song-and-dance to Peter’s origins. Miles is hiding his identity with the exception of letting his closest friend know the truth, Nick Fury has already found him out, and for whatever reason, he happens to act exactly the same as Peter while donning the tights, which is odd. I figured an opportunity would have been taken to try and make a more unique character, and I do realize that the wise-cracking is a large part of Spider-Man’s personalty, but this isn’t technically Spider-Man. It’s his replacement who just so happens to take up the title in order to honor Peter’s legacy. One other thing that seemed completely off was how accepting Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Gwen were of Miles taking up the title. Then again, the kid is honoring Peter and not trying to screw it up, and besides, no amount of grief will bring Peter back, so I guess it isn’t their right to fight it if Miles wants to use his gift for the greater good. Miles Morales is an alright Spider-Man, but he’s no Peter Parker, and I don’t think anyone could ever top the original, no matter how many additional powers and alliances with The Ultimates you throw at him. Peter Parker will always truly be Spider-Man. Anyone else is just a copycat.

Oh, and The Colbert Report’s quote that I found on the back of Volume 2 that begins with “Forget Peter Parker…” had me really steamed. No. You don’t just “forget” a decade-long legacy. If they’re talking Peter Parker altogether, then we’re talking over 50 years of stories, and that’s even more insulting. I’m guessing Steven Colbert made the quote, which doesn’t surprise me. The man’s an idiot.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!