When Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix released a week ago, I came up with the bright idea of playing Kingdom Hearts Final Mix on Final Mix: Proud difficulty. I figured that I already beat the game on Normal years ago, so the added challenge might be refreshing, and there’s also a Trophy in store for accomplishing the feat. This is a decision I am regretting now.
Final Mix: Proud is flat-out frustrating and demoralizing. The game already suffers from camera issues and somewhat stiff combat mechanics as it is, but these issues are far, far less pronounced on Normal. On Proud, they simply become more debilitating as every move counts and one wrong move could mean the end of you, especially in boss fights. It’s become so infuriating that I have actually avoided fights just to progress because some fights become drawn-out affairs and Goofy and Donald are knocked out constantly, leaving me to my own devices as reviving them would simply be a waste of much-needed mana that is used for my own survival. I’m currently on the fight with Chernabog, but having difficulty finishing him off because as soon as he starts launching firrballs, it’s over as I can’t dodge them and can’t survive them, either. It reached the point where I went on Facebook last night and announced that I was done trying to finish the game on Proud.
Then, I sat down and did some thinking and I realized that I’m actually missing some crucial stuff. I don’t have Curaga, I only have Aero, and I don’t even have the Oblivion keyblade. I’ve been having trouble completing the Hercules Cup in the Olympus Coliseum, which leads to learning the Yellow Trinity and thus makes getting Aerora impossible, which is why that is not upgraded. I then thought, though, that I want to collect all of the Dalmatians, which leads to an Aero upgrade, and activate all of the Trinities anyway, so I’ve decided that I’m going to go back and collect all of these while leveling up in the process. Perhaps this will make things easier for me in the long run, as even if I defeat Chernabog, Ansem is probably going to hand my ass to me, so I better be ready.
Proud difficulty is frustrating, yes, but I think part of the problem was me neglecting things simply so I could push through the difficulty and get the playthrough over with. In essense, Proud difficulty ruined the experience for me, but I’m going to try and finish it. I simply hate leaving things unfinished, especially a great game like Kingdom Hearts.
It’s been a long time coming. Ever since all of these high-definition upgrades of classic PlayStation 2 titles have been churning out since the God of War Collection released back in 2009, one collection I’ve been wanting to see is a Kingdom Hearts compilation redone in glorious HD and with Trophy support. My imagining of the set simply included Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, but Square-Enix decided to do it differently. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix includes the Final Mix version of the original title, which includes all sorts of changes, including new cutscenes, enemies, bosses, and more that have never made it stateside before. It also includes Re:Chain of Memories, which is the PS2 redo of the GameBoy Advance title that takes place right after the first title. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is also included in a series of cutscenes instead of the entire game, as it originally released on the Nintendo DS, which would have required a huge graphical overhaul or even a total rebuild of all of the assets in order to bring the visuals up to par.
The collection released in a first print run limited edition, which comes in a special artbook packaging encased in an outer sleeve. Before I start showing pics (there aren’t very many), it’s time to get hyped.
Okay, now that the stage is set, here are some pics of this long-awaited collection.
The front cover of the game. The case is bigger than a standard PS3 case, with it being about the same size as the Hitman Trilogy Limited Edition that came out earlier this year.
The back cover. I don’t like how deceiving the description for 358/2 Days is. It makes it seem like the entire game is included, which it’s not. It should have said “Retold in a series of HD cinematics” or something.
The outer sleeve and the cover of the artbook featuring the classic picture of Sora standing on the beach of Destiny Islands.
A closer look.
This must be an early concept of Sora. It looks like he was originally part-monkey. I kind of get a Zidane Tribal vibe from him, which isn’t a bad thing considering he’s the main character of one of my favorite games of all-time.
The first page, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy ascending the stairs of Castle Oblivion and Namine sitting in the background.
Some concept art of Sora, including that monkey-esque design again, but this time sporting a pulley-like sword. Interesting.
This is Halloween! This is Halloween! Sorry, I can’t help myself.
Some Keyblade art, including a transparent sketch sheet overlapping a final design.
The “manual”, registration card, and the game disc housed in the back cover of the artbook. I know some people aren’t huge fans of this, but if you want the artbook, it’s the only way. You could always remove the disc and put it in an empty case with printed cover art, but I don’t mind this as it’s in very presentable packaging, unlike the Collector’s Edition of Batman: Arkham City, which housed the disc in a small, plain, white book that stuck out from the shelf by an inch and had nothing printed on the spine. I still need to print cover art for that…
A close-up of the disc in the back of the book.
All in all, not a bad freebie at all for those who pre-ordered early enough to get one of these. My local Walmart received eight copies, but all of them are regular editions of the game, which pretty much means that chances are slim that you can get one of these right now if you didn’t pre-order. If you didn’t, but happen to run into one, scoop it up. I don’t see these lasting very long out in the wild.
As for the game, it looks gorgeous in high-definition. All of the visuals have received an overhaul, and while character models are identical to the PlayStation 2 version, they still look fantastic during cutscenes. I guess the next collection, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, if there is one, would include Kingdom Hearts II, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, as that leads right into the upcoming third entry, and Re:coded will probably be redone in cinematics like 358/2 Days, likely for the same reason. Where does that leave Birth by Sleep, though? They could include that as the graphics are pretty much on par with the PS2, but that would up the price, seeing as it would include three playable titles and one in cutscene form. I’m sure we’ll see the collection in the next couple of years, seeing as Kingdom Hearts III is still very early in development and it’ll help bridge the gap for people looking to catch up.
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.
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer(s): Naughty Dog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii
Genre: Action RPG
Developer(s): Silicon Knights
Release Date: September 27, 2011
MSRP: $59.99 (at launch), $19.99 (at time of review)
NOTE: This review is based off of gameplay of the PlayStation 3 version.
I really, really feel sorry for the X-Men. It’s not because they’re being berated by humans, are essentially in disarray after Professor Xavier’s death at the hands of Bastion, and are still struggling with the Brotherhood. They have far worse problems at hand, being that they’ve now been plastered all over a banal, ugly, and worthless action role-playing game that, instead of being a new evolution in the X-Men franchise, is one of the worst games the mutant heroes have ever had the displeasure of being a part of. Yes, it’s going to be one of those reviews, folks. Please, do read on.
As I stated, the X-Men are at their lowest as they are now in an earthquake-destroyed San Francisco, where a peace rally is being held by Mutant Response Division Chief Luis Reyes in order to relieve tensions between mutants and humans. This is where you’re prompted to select from one of three mutant youngsters: Aimi, who looks like a mix between a goth and a Japanese loli, Grant, a college football player, and Adrian, the son of a member of the Purifiers, which are anti-mutant extremists that serve as the primary enemies throughout the game. Who you pick has no real bearing on the overarching story and none of them are even remotely interesting. Once you select one, the rally is suddenly interrupted by an attack people believe is caused by Magneto. From there, you’ll be treated to a poorly-told story that tries to grant you the choice and depth of titles like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but fails miserably to do so. The conversations that you have with various members of the X-Men and Brotherhood try to wrap you further in the plot by giving you several topics you can ask them about, but you’re not going to give a rats ass what they’re saying as the plot never gets interesting, feels barren and thrown together, and is laughably predictable, granting you zero surprises nor twists. You’ll actually be more inclined to just end the conversations as soon as they begin, but unfortunately, dialog can’t be skipped, so you’re stuck listening to characters ramble. The voice acting is actually not half bad, but there are a couple poor performances, especially from the likes of Gambit, who sounds like a black man trying to give a poor French accent. Characters also tend to fidget while talking, almost as if they’re about to pee their pants, which makes conversations even harder to take seriously. Dialog also tends to run over each other, as one character’s voice won’t load while his/her mouth is moving, but will finally load as the other character starts talking. The unpolished presentation of X-Men: Destiny does absolutely nothing to get you to care about the plot and characters, two things that should be staples for any RPG, but were completely thrown together here.
As for “choices”, besides your powers, which I’ll touch on in a bit, your only choice in the game will be to choose either X-Men or Brotherhood at certain points in the game, which fills a meter that represents your allegiance to each side. The side you pick, as you’ve probably guessed, has no bearing on the over-arching story at all. The levels are all still the same, with the same enemies strewn about and the same objectives that need completing. The only real difference is that after picking a side, characters from that faction will help you with a mission directly afterwards. That’s it. Characters will generally treat you the same way no matter which side you choose, with very, very few pieces of dialog that actually differ, but again, have no bearing on the overarching story. This is yet another mistake X-Men: Destiny makes. In a choice-driven game, there need to be choices that actually impact the story, changing the world around you as well as your relationships with other characters. This game does none of that, and any choices you do make feel completely negligible.
As for those powers I mentioned, at the beginning of the game, you’ll get to select one of three: Density Control, which allows you to turn parts of your body into solid rock, Energy Projection, which lets you wield energy beams and the like, and Shadow Matter, which lets you wield what are essentially dark, shadow-like knives and blades. Each one of these powers is upgradeable over the course of the game at key moments, allowing you to learn new attacks and abilities. What you select, however, isn’t going to matter. Why? No matter which you select, the game is going to play out the same way. You’re going to run from point A to point B hammering on attack buttons and killing the same mundane enemies with some clumsy platforming and worthless dialog sprinkled in-between. That’s X-Men: Destiny in a nutshell folks. I love brawlers as much as the next person, especially with my love of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, but this game has no depth nor variety at all to speak of, making for a boring and bland experience that makes you feel like you’ve seen everything the game has to offer within the first five minutes of gaining control of your character. Across about four hours, you’ll be mashing away at the same enemy types over and over and over again. The worst part is that it’s not even challenging. As you gain new powers and spend experience points leveling them up, you become more and more powerful, rendering you almost completely indestructible. For instance, I chose Shadow Matter as my base power. I eventually learned a mutant ability that turned me into a hurricane of blades, making me completely invincible while eating away at every enemy within proximity. This makes larger, more intense enemies a walk in the park, as I just activate this power and sit back and watch as it eats away at them. It’s so mind-numbingly simple.
You do have some room for customization beyond the powers you select. You can pick up X-Genes, which are collectible representations of X-Men and Brotherhood members’ powers that can be mapped as Offense, Defense, and Utility genes. For instance, one of the more unique ones is Wolverine’s Defensive X-Gene, which can allow your health to regenerate just like Wolverine. There’s one of each type for each character, and equipping all three in a set (i.e. equipping Wolverine Offensive, Defensive, and Utility X-Genes), as well as the matching costume you can pick up will unlock X-Mode, which makes your already over-powered character even more over-powered. One large issue with X-Genes is that some of them are far too similar to others. A lot of Offensive X-Genes grant bonus powers to your attacks, but while the descriptions make them sound different, they all do the same thing, which is boost your damage. There are some X-Genes that simply give you more advantages than others, rendering the weaker ones completely useless. You’ll even get some late in the game that simply aren’t nearly as good as what you already have. The costumes are a joke, too, as they’re all the same suit, but with a different skin over it. You can’t customize your character’s looks at all beyond this, meaning your only choices are to stick to your streets clothes, or look vaguely like another character. Again, this is a choice-driven game and not giving you the ability to make your character truly your own is yet another failure to add to the pile.
To add insult to injury is the unfinished nature of the game. X-Men: Destiny clearly looks like it was rushed out the door just in time for the beginning of the usual Fall lineup of video games. I’ll just come out and say it: this game is atrocious-looking. The texture work is blotchy and muddled, environments are static and unremarkable, animations are stiff, and character models are just flat out ugly. This game could easily pass for a late-PS2 era, early-Xbox 360 title, and while I do realize graphics do not make the game, in this day and age, this is absolutely unacceptable. There’s a fair share of technical issues, as well, as the framerate chugs just from rotating the camera, enemies fall through the ground, and NPCs get stuck on objects. The sound is even poor, with a completely unmemorable and generic soundtrack and repetitive battle grunts that get old after the first two minutes.
If I haven’t swayed you away from this title by now, I have no idea what it will take to talk you down. The game has a solid premise, don’t get me wrong, as throwing Professor X’s death at you right from the beginning as an attempt at creating some sort of shock factor does manage as an attention-grabber. Its execution, however, is absolutely abysmal, with a poorly-told story that has barely any real choices to be made, terrible visuals, one-dimensional gameplay, and no real replay value, as the endings really aren’t worth slogging through this mess twice to get both very similar endings. It may have easy Trophies/Achievements, and if you want to bolster your count, by all means rent this and get it done in a weekend. For everyone else, including even the most vehement X-Men fans out there, X-Men: Destiny is a soulless and derivative experience that has absolutely nothing to offer you.
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: June 26, 2012
MSRP: $59.99 (at launch), $29.99 (at time of review)
NOTE: This review is based off of gameplay of the PlayStation 3 version.
Spider-Man has always been my all-time favorite super hero. Whether it’s the wise-cracking, the blatant selflessness of saving civilians from common thugs, or just the fact that his powers are friggin’ amazing, I’ve always been a fan of the webhead since I was a child. Spider-Man video games were always a treat for me to play, given how cool it was to don the tights and beat the snot out of thugs. Looking back, though, games like Maximum Carnage and Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge never truly captured the spirit of the wall-crawler. It wasn’t until Spider-Man (the one loosely based on the 90’s animated series) launched on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 when he really started coming into his own in the gaming world, and after that, Spider-Man 2 (the movie game) revolutionized how we see Spider-Man games forever, delivering us a wide open Manhattan Island for us to swing around to our heart’s content. Beenox, the makers of the impressive Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and critically-panned Spider-Man: Edge of Time, have decided to bring Spidey back to Manhattan to let him loose on the streets in the movie tie-in of The Amazing Spider-Man, which shares the same title. The result is a game that, while lacking in polish and originality, does a solid job of emulating the Spider-Man experience.
The Amazing Spider-Man kicks off after the events of the movie, meaning that if you haven’t seen the movie (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?), this game will be all kinds of spoilerific. Gwen and Peter are taking an unauthorized tour around Oscorp, scoping out the remains of Dr. Curt Connors’ animal mutation experiments as well as witnessing what the new big brain of Oscorp, Alistaire Smythe, is doing with all of it. During the little “tour”, the subjects begin to react to Peter, as he is genetically-altered himself, and now the mutations are unleashing hell upon Oscorp and escaping into the streets of Manhattan. Making matters worse, the mutations are now viral, meaning the subjects are now spreading a virus around Manhattan that causes people to begin to mutate into somewhat zombified beings. What’s Spider-Man to do except round up the baddies and race against time as he stops the spread of the virus before Manhattan falls under quarantine.
The plot is well-paced, and you’ll have the opportunity to see some familiar faces from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery makes some appearances, which is always a plus, but some of them are interpreted differently than they originally were in the comics, which helps to stir things up a bit. The story also gets surprisingly deep towards the end, reaching heights that actually play on the emotions a bit, administering a little shock and awe, which is something I certainly didn’t see coming, but took it as a welcome surprise. The biggest issue with Spider-Man’s presentation, while the voice work is actually good, is the voice of Spider-Man himself. Now, I’m a fan of Sam Riegel, who’s voice acting portfolio is rather extensive, to say the least, lending voices to Persona 4 Golden, the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, as well as a hell of a lot more video games and anime. However, he really isn’t a very good fit for Spidey/Peter Parker. Don’t get me wrong; he does get the wise-cracking down pat, but how he voices Peter Parker is a total one-eighty from how the character is portrayed in the movie. Andrew Garfield plays him as a shy, quirky, and rather withdrawn character, while Sam makes him into something more out of the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, which is mouthy and with a sarcastic attitude. It’s probably more the script’s fault, but it just isn’t right as a follow-up to the movie, and since Sam has voiced so many characters before, I just couldn’t adjust to him being Spider-Man.
As for taking control of Spider-Man, I’m happy to report that swinging around Manhattan has never felt so amazing and is easily the funnest way to get around in any open world game ever. With just a press of the R2 button, you can zip between buildings effortlessly, and getting around is made even more fun with the new Web Rush mechanic. With this, you can switch to a first-person view as it slows down time, allowing you to pinpoint targets around the city to zip to directly. Once you get a grasp on the mechanic, you can start chaining together web rushes to the point where you’ll feel like a full-blown acrobat with web shooters, flying and flipping around with minimal effort. It really makes you feel like you’re Spider-Man and is probably as authentic of an experience as you’ll ever get since, you know, he’s not actually real nor are his powers attainable.
While you’re zipping and swinging all over the place, you’ll find that there’s actually a lot to do around Manhattan. Crimes in progress make a return, which range from stopping muggings to car chases to resolving gun fights in the streets. With the exception of muggings, these are actually limited in number, which is odd considering it starts to limit things to do once you complete everything. Outside of petty crime, there’s photography missions, recovering asylum inmates and helping infected folks (the story explains all of that), investigating Oscorp secret labs, and collecting 700 comic book pages scattered around Manhattan, which, with the excellent swinging mechanics, makes collecting them a hell of a lot of fun. The only real duds here are the XTreme challenges (yes, it is spelled that way in-game), which task you with insanely easy race challenges and missions that task you with keeping a camera centered on Spider-Man as he swings around the city. Yes, it’s as lame as it sounds.
When you’re not wandering around Manhattan doing small tasks, you’ll be doing story missions, which are all within indoor areas. This is where things start to get hairy. The missions are simple point-A-to-point-B affairs strewn about with collectibles and groups of enemies. Most enemies are setup within rooms similar to the Batman Arkham titles. In fact, The Amazing Spider-Man borrows a lot from that, and it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the elements it borrowed were actually well-polished.
For once, a Spider-Man title has a solid stealth system, unlike the mess in the Noir levels in Shattered Dimensions. However, what’s here is way too simplistic and exploitable. See, one advantage Spider-Man has is that he can stick to the ceiling, meaning he can get the drop on any enemy easily. All you have to do is line-up Spidey over an enemy, and when the enemy glows purple, you swoop in for an instant knockout. What if an enemy sees you, you ask? Not a problem! You can just use the Web Escape button to fly into a corner, where the enemy loses sight of you almost instantaneously. Then, you simply rinse and repeat. There’s barely any challenge from enemy encounters when you can simply exploit this method over and over, showing that barely any thought was really put into the mechanic other than the fact that it works and that it does make you feel like Spider-Man. Well, an over-powered Spider-Man.
When Spidey does have to throw down, things get a little better. Again, the combat system draws from the Arkham series, but button timing is thrown out the window, instead rewarding button mashing. When you’re about to be attacked, there’s a spider-sense indicator that goes off over Spider-Man’s head, in which a simple button press lets him counter the enemy. Once you build a high enough combo, you can start pulling off finishers, which involve flashy flips and lots of webbing. The combat system works well enough, but it can feel a bit stiff, with jerky animations that simply don’t feel as fluid as they should. The evasion system is hit-or-miss, as it can sometimes be unresponsive even though you’ll clearly press the button on time. The camera can also be an issue during fights as objects block your view and the camera itself actually gets hung up on them. The most problematic and unremarkable fights in the game are boss fights, which pretty much devolve into nothing more than mashing buttons, then evading web-escaping when you have to ad nauseum. I also encountered some glitchy animations during cutscenes within boss fights, which drags the polish of the game down a bit. The only fights that really leave a mark are the large-scale fights outside in the streets of Manhattan, which can be pretty entertaining as long as the camera can keep up.
Taken as a whole, The Amazing Spider-Man does the character justice in more ways than it doesn’t. Swinging around a wonderfully-rendered Manhattan without a hitch is a satisfying feeling that you simply won’t find anywhere else, and there’s a lot for the ‘ole webhead to do while he does so. He finally has a functional stealth element that, while it does make things too easy, is at least commendable if only for its inclusion. The combat disappoints, but at least you feel like Spider-Man as he flips around and webs up baddies. For what it is, The Amazing Spider-Man is a worthwhile title for fans of the character and is worth at least a rental for anyone looking for a fun open-world title.