All Good Things…..


I started this blog over two years ago, and i’ve had a blast working on it. However, it’s now time for me to move on. I’ve now got a PS4 and am going to start trying to do more reviews for games that are more current, and thus I can no longer take on the moniker of “poor mans geek”. By the time you read this i’ll have started my new pages, “Ludophile Lab” and “What William’s Watching”. I’ll still be doing reviews, trailer impressions and editorials, but i’ll no longer be doing them on this site.

If I’m following you, then I enjoy your content and for the first few hours, days or however long it takes, i’ll go about re-following everyone I follow now so that I may keep up with your content, and I hope that, if you follow me now, you’ll follow me on my new pages as well.

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Due to the time sesative nature of this i’m not going to add much and just let the Nostalgia Critic’s video do the talking, but if you’re in the US, you should send an email or call the number provided.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: October 5th, 2010

Systems: PS3(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC

Developer: Ninja Theory

Rating: T

Metacrtic Score: 80(PS3)

With the ever increasing likelihood that these next few reviews will be the last I do for this blog, I wanted to review one of the games I’ve wanted to play for a while. Too bad that game turned out to be a massive disappointment. At it’s absolute best the game was just boring, but the game rarely reached those heights. For most of the time I spent with this game the sheer incompetence of its creation made the entire experience tedious in ways I didn’t think it was possible after Uncharted 2 pretty much perfected this particular game play formula the year before.

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The Cast of dull, uninteresting characters.

Story wise things start off well: you, as the protagonist “Monkey”, make your way off a slave ship as it crashes only to have one of the other victims, a young girl named Trip, to fit you with a slaver obedience headband. She tells you that if Monkey gets her safely to her home she’ll let him go, to which he swiftly tells her that once he’s free he’ll break her neck. It’s about here where the story becomes insufferable. Monkey constantly reminds us and Trip on how he plans on killing her for what she’s done until he just…doesn’t anymore. While there is a point in the game where it makes some since to deepen the relationship between the two, they begin acting more friendly hours before this. I’m okay with the turn this story took; hell I was even expecting it. But these turns have too have some bases, and this just didn’t have one. And all of this before the game even introduces “Pigsy”, a gross character who I hated from his first appearance to the last time he appeared before I quit playing.

Not helping matters is how the game just keeps going on. There are three games worth of story here, all of which have been crammed into one. This makes each ark feel rushed while making the game as a whole feel over long. Most of the games plot points feel like there was a story outline the writers were following, but none of them knew how to actually write the story so they just used that outline as the final draft of the script.

While the story at least lied about possibly being interesting at the start, the game made it clear that this was going to be a dull experience right from the start. I made a comparison to the Uncharted series earlier, and with the sole exception of the combat here being more brawling based than shooting, it’s a fare comparison. The game play is divided into Combat, climbing based platforming/exploration and sections where the game forces you to slow down for story sections like the famous Tibet section in Uncharted 2, with the occasional set-piece or puzzle sprinkled throughout.

And all of it is infinitely more shit than in the Uncharted games.

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At lest the game was nice too look at…once the textures loaded in

I’m not sure if I can say the combat is the worst part of the game, but it is what you spend most of your time doing, so the depths of its mediocrity is what sticks out the most to me. Monkey has three primary attacks, light heavy and sweeping (as well as the ability to block and evade attack) and the game tries to ape the Batman Arkham games combat style with enemy color coding to let you know when to attack or dodge, but the games combat just does not have the depth to warrant this. I won nearly every combat encounter by mindlessly hitting the heavy attack until enemies went down, usually after two or three hits. Most deaths were due to the game not having any form of lock on, so I’d be swinging at a target that just wasn’t there while being attacked from behind. Not helping matters is how the sluggish and overlong the games animations are. Like way to many games when this was released there’s a prompt to use a finishing move for most enemies, and all of the animations seem like there were designed to pad out the length of each fight. Compound this with a noticeable delay for every button press and you have one of the worst combat systems I’ve played in a long time. And that’s before the boss fights.

Or should I say “boss fight”. Even those there are more than one, the first few are literally the same enemy with a few upgrades that I beat the same way each time: hitting it with a stun charge then waling on it until the boss got back up and then repeating the cycle. There was one boss near the end that changed up the formula, but only slightly. Instead of hitting it with a stun charge I shot at explosives. The lack of combat verity is depressing when you look at the enemy verity (at lest with the common enemies). There are several types of robotic foes for you to fight and in the hands of capable developers this would have forced you change up your strategy on the fly each battle. But It didn’t. I won nearly each fight the exact same way: hit heavy attack until it was over. I can overlook some flaws in a game if there is one aspect that really stands out, but there’s nothing like that here, so all the little annoyances just pile up while the big ones become increasingly more aggravating.

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You’ll fight this “Dog” a few times. None of them are entertaining fights.

The exploration sections are just as bad. Even the simple act of walking from A to B is a pain as monkey would often start moving in the opposite direction as the one I was telling him to go. I could deal with this when the camera changed position, but this happened pretty much every time I tried to get Monkey to move. And again, that’s not where the issues stop. The platforming requires you to be in a rather specific spot in order to jump from one platform to another, and if there is no platform Monkey just sits there or stumbles. Platforms you can uses have a shine to them that’s meant to help you know where to go, but I found that this was either unnecessary due to the ease of the section or to underdone to be of any help.

My last issue with the game play is a major one, but it may just be an issue with my copy, so take this complaint with a grain of salt. Near the middle of the game there is a puzzle involving a windmill where you have to have Trip start and stop it in different positions in order to drop each sail. This part of the game gave me more trouble than any other part of the game as my orders wouldn’t go through. After having Trip stop the Windmill and getting on to finish the puzzle I often couldn’t get her to start it again. After trying off and on again for two days, constantly shutting off my PS3 and restarting the game I finally managed to get the commands to work and got through the puzzle with ease as it wasn’t hard to figure out. If that was an issue with my copy of the game, fine but if not that is unacceptable.

The one kind of decent thing about the game is how pretty it can be. Once all the textures have popped in (which an take a while) the games does have a rather nice look to it. The game is colorful and stylized which makes the rusted machines and abandoned cities overrun with foliage a pleasure to look at. But then characters start talking and all that effort is gone to waste. Monkey and Pigsy sounds like every other “gruff” character from the period, meaning they talk like they eat nothing but rocks, except when Pigsy whispers. Then he sounds like every “disgusting fat guy” character mumbling “you like that, don’t you” while watching a porno that I’m sure you’ve seen in some low brow “comedy” you probably didn’t laugh at. Not only does he come off as gross, but it almost sounds like he had two different people voicing him.

I’ve heard before that this was a retelling of the classic Chinese book “Journey to the West”. Having not read the book I can’t say if that’s true or how accurate it is to the source, but I can say that there is a film adaption on Netflix that was pretty fun to watch (though again, I don’t know how accurate it is as an adaption) and that I a much better use of your time that this shit storm would be. I can not think of a single thing this game does that hasn’t been done better somewhere else. Literally the only good thing I can say about this game is that it’s technically not broken to the point of unplayability. There are games I hated more. There are games that disappointed me more; but I cannot think of a single game I played that failed this badly on this many levels while there are so many better versions of everything it has to offer.

1/5

Metal Dead Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: October 6, 2014
Systems: PC
Developer: Wall Thru Walls Studios
Rating: N/A
Metacrtic Score: 71

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a huge Metalhead. I keep my hair long, dyed black and have aspirations to not own any shirts without a band logo on it. And while there may not be a lot of games, movies or tv shows dealing with metal or metalheads, I’ll give just about anything staring a metalhead a try. And that’s pretty much how I ended up buying Metal Dead. I don’t remember the exact circumstances that lead me to the games steam page, but the second I read the title I knew I was going to drop the $5 on it. So now the question has to be asked: was it any good? Lets find out.
The game opens with protagonist Malcolm sleeping while his best friend Ronnie drives down a zombie filled road. Ronnie soon wakes Malcolm in the most metal way possible: blasting some old school death metal at max volume. We learn that the two Metalhead buds had been holding up in their apartment for the last month, but dwindling resources forced them to leave their comfort and relative safety if they hoped to stay alive. We also learn that Ronnie’s idea of “Staying alive” means investigating the source of the zombie horde, and has been driving toward where the host has been gathering. Naturally this both scares and angers Malcolm, who’s attempts to get Ronnie to turn around causes a car crash as well as getting Ronnie killed.
But things aren’t too bad! Malcolm soon finds his way into what’s left of a medical/pharmaceutical office, where a mad German scientist, Doctor Fritz Von Fechenheim, uses some Frankenstein-esk procedure to bypass the zombie instincts in Ronnie’s undead head, and the two friends are reunited once more. From here the two go on a series of minor quest to find survivors in the office and gather supplies in order to escape via a helicopter on the roof. All the while Ronnie’s zombified head reminding you just how Metal the situation is. As you progress in the adventure you’ll encounter a man-eating pot plant, a seizure inducing anime, a zombie shark and Heavy Metal will save the day.
It’s made pretty clear from the beginning that you are not meant to take this game very seriously, and I think that works for the best. While zombies might not be as omnipresent as they were a few years ago that over saturation of undead drama’s have given us pretty much ever version of these kinds of characters we can take seriously, were as comedy still allows for some interesting avenues for exploration. I mean honestly, will you ever see someone use their ability to shred on a guitar used to blow up zombies heads in “The Walking Dead”? Hell No. This is very much a game made to make you smile, and I was grinning throughout my four hours with the game.
My only real complaint with the games story is that…well….it’s not quite metal enough for me. Sure you do use a death metal CD and a guitar solo to progress in the story, and Ronnie does keep excitedly spouting how metal this all is, but very little love is actually given to the metal subculture. I mean, one of the obstacles is a man eating weed strain, and not a single “cannabis corpse” reference? There’s a zombie chef at one point, but no “Butchered at Birth” imagery? While I’m still glad to see some love for metal being shown here, I can’t help but feel that all the metal love is superficial at best. I know the game was an indie title, so they probably couldn’t have afforded any licensed music, but I can’t help but feel some real metal tunes done in the games chip-tune style would have been a real nice treat.

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Game play wise this is a strait point and click game. You use the right mouse button to cycle through interactions like “look at”, “talk too”, “move to” and “touch” and the left button to use said interaction on whatever you click on. You also have an inventory filled with items you can use on objects in the world as would be expected. What separates this game from that other zombie themed point and click game I reviewed a while ago is that this uses more of the classic “moon logic” found in older point and click games, but it still grounds most of the interactions as to not be too annoyingly difficult to figure out. For example, at one point early in the game you have to cook some beans for some one. There is a fully functioning kitchen in the game, but you can’t use it too cook. Instead you have to find another source of heat, which is pretty obvious if you’re paying attention in the early game. It’s a roundabout way of thinking, but no where near as off the wall as some adventure game solutions i’ve heard about before.
While none of the puzzles are hard per se, I do wish the game was a bit clearer as to what you can interact with in the game world. Sure the mouse icon changes, but only if you scroll over an object you can mess with. There were two puzzles I ended up looking up solutions for because I didn’t think to look at certain parts of the rooms I was in. And that leads me to the one huge caveat I have to make to anyone thinking of buying this: it’s a pretty short game. I beat the game in four hours, and it would probably have only taken half that if I wasn’t so very thick at times. For $5 this isn’t too bad and I had enough fun to justify the price, but as “play time” has become a bigger-than-it-should-be topic, I thought I’d bring it up just in case.
In the end, while playing this I was reminded a lot of “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil”, a little known Canadian tv show that used a metalhead protagonist mostly to establish tone than be a show for metalhead, but still created a worthwhile bit of entertainment. That’s pretty much the case here. This isn’t the “metal love letter” I was hoping for, but I still had a lot of fun with Metal Dead. It was a light bit of entertainment that kept me smiling and proud to be a metal fan. With a sequel being green-lit on steam green light, I’m hoping to see more of both this franchise and Walk Thru Walls Studios .

3.5/5

The Walking Dead: Season 2 Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: October 14, 2014
Systems: PS3(Reviewed), PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Mac
Developer: Telltale Games
Rating: M
Metacrtic Score: N/A

I think Season One of Telltales Walking Dead is the game I’ve given my highest review too (although I kind of want to go back and re-score Dark Souls), and for good reason. With the sole exception of some underwhelming action sequences, that first season is pretty much perfect. Ever since I finished the game i’ve been looking forward to seeing how Clementine’s story continued. Now that I
have I have to say season two just isn’t as good. And before we get into why that is let me inform you that major spoilers for Season One lie ahead. If you haven’t played it already, go do that. You owe it to yourself.
The season opens with Clementine being looked after by Omid and Christa after the tragic loss of Lee Everett. Christa is visibly pregnant, and there is a general senses of optimism in the group. Omid and Christa joke about what to name the baby as the three head into a rest stop bathroom to get washed up. You, as Clementine, head into the girls bathroom alone and soon find yourself being robbed by another young girl. Omid, clearly noticing you’ve been gone for too long , goes in after you and tried to get the jump on your attacker. Sadly this fails and Omid is shot and killed. After the thief is taken care of, we jump 16 months. Christa lost her baby and it’s never really discussed how or why. What we do know is that whatever happened, it clearly broke Christa. She becomes more irritable and introverted, and attempts at conversations didn’t go well. While it’s never said out loud, I got the feeling she blamed Clementine for the death of Omid, which may have added to the strain on their relationship. This soon becomes irrelevant as the two as quickly separated and Christa isn’t seen again.
The now isolated Clementine begins to look for food when she comes across a lone dog and an abandoned camp. The dog seems friendly enough at first, but once you find food it’s own survival instincts kick in and it viciously attacks the young girl, leaving a nasty bite mark on her arm. That bite mark doesn’t do Clementine any favors once she comes across a group of survivors who could help her clean and stitch it up; they don’t want to waist supplies on someone who’s going to turn and none of them can verify that it is in fact a dog bite. So the deal they make is that they’ll hold clementine in their shed until the next morning. If she’s not dead then they promise to help her out. This doesn’t go over well for clem. Fearing infection and exposure (both of which could kill her) she finds a way out of the shed and break into the cabin the group is staying in and gathers the supplies needed to stitch up her arm in what is the single most painful experience in the game. Unfortunately, a zombie makes its way into the shed using the whole clementine made to get out and she has to fight it off using the tools around her. While that alone would have been bad enough, this also alerts the group to the fack that she not only broke out, but stole from them too. This does not endear her much to them, although they do allow her to stay once they are sure she wasn’t bit.

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And in traditional Walking Dead fashion, things only get worse. You learn that the group you’re with is running from a man named Carver who soon finds them and once again you’re on the run. To make a long but ultimately pointless story short, they get caught and soon escape. After three episodes the game begins to really start asking its big question: is having a big group really the right way to go in the apocalypse?
My issues with the game’s story come up almost immediately: this cast just isn’t as interesting. While the story and writing are still on par with what you’d expect from Telltale, and this does serve as a good fallow-up to season one, I couldn’t help but look back at the original cast and wish more of them could have made it into this game. Omid and Christa are gone within the first 20 minutes and the only other returning character undergoes such a destructive mental break down that the sooner you get away from them, the better things are.

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Not helping matters is how the game play streamlines the choice mechanics. In the first game it was always easy and usually more fulfilling to make the “bad” choice, but the outcome and the way it effected clementine often made me want to go back and undo that choice. Here everything is just is much more strait forward and the outcomes are almost all binary. In season one there were 8 different outcomes in episode five as too who would go with you to get clementine back. There is nothing like that in this game. Even where there are more than two ways to handle a situation, the end game wrap up always portrays each choice as a binary choice. I’ll be the first to admit that season one was mostly smoke and mirrors when it came to how your choices actually effected the game, but here even that trickery felt missing.

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Carver. Not a nice guy.

I know I’m coming off as overly down on the game, so let me reiterate: the game is good, just not as good as I would have wanted. It may not have helped that I replayed season one to make sure that I went into season two while jumping off from the choices I wanted knowing in advance the outcomes. In the end there just wasn’t as much that resonated with me the way so much from season one did.
Game play wise things are pretty much the same as the first game with a new interface being the only substantial change between seasons. Other than that the button layouts are the same as well as the patterns used for the more action sections(mashing X then hitting either square, circle or triangle to finish). Personally I found this to work in the games favor as it helps make transitioning from one game to next easy. And as the focus is still primarily on the story, this helps to engage the player in the game with out taking too much attention away from the narrative.
The voice acting, sound design and music is all just as fantastic as it was before, but I do wish I had been allowed to skip the intros and credits for each episode. Neither of these were bad: the credits music was all pretty good and it was nice to have each episode opened with Lee’s voice, but I wanted to keep playing and these just ruined the pacing in my opinion.
In the end, I may not have loved this game as much as I did season one but I did really enjoy it and I’m still looking forward to season three. Nothing in the game matched the relationship between Lee and Clementine, but there was still more than enough to hold my interest for the few hours I spent playing. With the Michonne mini-series being released next month, it seems like a likely bet that the story of Clementine will be continued soon as well, and I’m more than ready for it.

Darkest Dungeon Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: January 19, 2016
Systems: PC, Mac
Developer: Red Hook Studios
Rating: N/A
Metacrtic Score: 86 (PC)

Mental health is a topic a lot of games deal with, but few do well. For all the “Sanity Bars” and cheap jump scare hallucinations we get in games, few if any games have ever do anything really unique with these mechanics. Most games don’t deal with the root cause of mental illness or explore the metal scaring seeing the kinds of horrific sights that often accompany the kinds of quests video games regularly send us on. Well it would seem like the team at Red Hook Studios have noticed this fact and have taken it upon themselves to change this by releasing Darkest Dungeon, a game arguably more about the mental aftermath of questing than the quest itself.

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The game opens with you receiving a letter from a long distant relative asking you to claim your birthright: your families ancestral home which now plays host to a horde of unholy horrors he himself unleashed in a mad pursuit for glory and power. Before ending his own life your relative begs you to come home and undo what he has done. And so you and and army of mercenaries go marching right into the mouth of hell itself.
There’s not a whole lot of story here, but the game is amazingly written and is accompanied by some brilliant voice work by actor Wayne June. While most of his voice stabs are reused a little too often I never grew tired of hearing the man’s voice. I know I tend to do voice acting and sound design stuff last, but this guy is at least half of what makes this game so damn powerful. June sells the hell out of both his laments over his folly bring doom to the world and his questioning encouragement of your journey. Hearing him claim, even after the 100th time “these nightmarish creatures can be felled, they can be beaten” when landing a critical strike always made me want too push on, where as hearing “Success, so clearly in view. Or, is it merely a trick of the light?” reminded me that, no matter how well I was doing, the road ahead would be long and not easily won. While it would have greatly benefited the game to have recorded more dialogue, it’s not something I can really hold against the game as every line is gold and is perfectly delivered.

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As great as the voice acting is, no game can survive without game play, and that’s where Darkest Dungeon shines the most. I said at the beginning of this review that the game is arguably more about the mental toll adventuring would take on video game protagonist and that is expressed early on with one of the games best mechanics: the stress bar. This fills under a number of different circumstances, like taking damage, low light, going hunger and more. Once the bar is filled the first time the character gains a positive or negative (most often a negative one) “quark”, that range from becoming focused and determined to becoming paranoid and delusional. If this bar fills up a second time the character runs the risk of having a heart attack. This means that you can have a full party at the level cap not take any damage still die if you ignore their mental well being for long enough.

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Unlike “sanity” stress is a thing that can both be reasonably “measured” and manged, so right from the gate Darkest Dungeon has a leg up over it’s competition by demonstrating that they have a better understanding of Mental health than other game developers. This also allows for more diversity in the realm of mental afflictions they can cover. Instead of relying on only visual and auditory hallucinations (the main ways “insanity” is represented in games) characters here have a range of mental afflictions. They become paranoid and refuse healing from party members, they starve themselves or over eat, the become fearful and run to the back of the party. There are a number of ways to reduce a characters stress, but most of them revolve around assigning a character to a leisure activity in town (like a bar, brothel, meditation or prayer) which takes time and they won’t be available to go on quests until they are rested.

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Each of these, along with other town based shops, can be upgraded with family heirlooms you find while questing. And unfortunately these are often in short supply and upgrades are expensive. Worse yet, everything is worth upgrading. Just in the area of stress release you can upgrade each of the 9 activities to cost less, reduce more stress or open up for more than one person at a time. But you also have to upgrade the guild to open up more attack for each hero, the blacksmith to upgrade weapons and armor and the stagecoach to bring more people and open up more slots in your roster. Neglecting any of these could be the beginning of the end, but you won’t be able to do everything.
And I haven’t even begun to talk about combat yet.

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Out of all the characters you have in your roster you can only bring four into any dungeon. This is pretty standard for RPG’s. However, where a character is placed matters just as much as who you bring. Some skills can only be used in certain places, and they can only hit enemies in specific spots. For example my main knight could only attack if he was in the first or second position, and he could only hit enemies in those same position. So I always had to have a long range character in the back who could pick off anyone who was in the third or fourth positions on the enemy line. But both the healer and the Plague Doctor (who can poison enemies) I wanted on my team could only use the skills I needed them for in the third position. So every time I went into a dungeon I had to ask myself, do I want to be able to do some extra damage, or do I want to spend more money on food and healing items? This was never an easy choice and I often felt I made the wrong one. I also felt that making the other would not have helped as much as I would have hoped.

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I only have two real issues with the game. The first is that there are a number of difficulty spikes that seem unfair most of the time. While this was mostly an issue with boss fights (which I understand are supposed to be hard) but when a game says the mission is suggested for level 1 characters, and my level 3+ guys refuse to go on the mission “because it’s beneath them”, I expect a full team of level 1 characters to be able to get through. And yet on just my second boss fight I was forced to abandon the mission numerous times because my team just were not going to make it, each time gaining more stress for suffering the defeat which only served to make the next run harder as I was either going in more stressed or with less money for provisions. Speaking of provisions, whatever you don’t use gets sold and turned into part of your earnings after each mission. This annoyed the crap out of me. It’s a small thing I know, but god damn, why do I have to buy more torches and food before each mission? Why can’t I at lest have the option of keeping these for next time? Am I going to magically not need food and torches next time? No, of course not. And as seeing that I hadn’t just gone and beaten the final boss it’s not like there isn’t more to do, so why does the game think it’s ok to sell all my stuff?

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If you’re thinking this seems like a lot of time and energy for very little reward, you’ve hit the nail on the head. But that is one of the best parts of the experience. In most other games if things went wrong as much as they did here I’d be constantly pissed off and angry. That’s not the case here because it’s clear from the outset that this is a fools errand. This is not a game you breeze through, it’s a game you scrape by. This isn’t a game you beat but one you claw your way through with bleeding fingers and broken nails. I highly recommend this game provided you can manage your own stress. No joke I could only stand to play this for an hour or so becuase every time I sat down to play because I quickly found myself needing a breather.

*All pics here were downloaded from Red Hook Studios Press section of their website. I do not own these images and will remove if asked by the contents creators.

4/5

Portal Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: October 9, 2007
Systems: PC
Developer: Valve
Rating: T
Metacrtic Score: 90

Due to the fact that I’m now back in school full time, my game time has been pretty limited lately. I was planing on reviewing the original “Witcher” with how well the third game has been revived, but I just haven’t had the time. So as the weeks past after posting my review of “Hotline Miami” I begun to get anxious over my lack of content and started looking for shorter game to review. So here we are, I’m reviewing Portal because it’s only two hours long and I could finish it (again) in a single sitting without it eating into my homework or sleep time.
By now you know Portals story. Even if you haven’t played it the games impact was neigh inescapable so I’m sure you know the story by pure osmosis if nothing else (though I think it’s a myth that there are people who still haven’t played it yet). Because of this the game is incredibly hard to talk about. Sure, I could add to the choir of people praising Chell as a non-sexualised female protagonist or I could reaffirm that GLaDOS is one of the funniest villains in recent memory, but you don’t need me for that. It was out of my frustration in dealing with this that I had to ask myself one simple question: was Portal actually a good game, or we’re we too distracted by the clever writing and promises of cake? To answer this I played the game for a while with the sound off, to see if the game play alone would carry the experience. So with out the games trade mark humor, did Portal hold up?
Kinda….
While it’s no secret that the first 2/3erds of the game are tutorial levels the writing and clever puzzles kept the game fun and held players interest. However, once you have to rely solely on the game play the first few puzzles are pretty dull. This makes since for the first couple as the game has to introduce you to the mechanics, but I blow right through nearly every puzzle until the room where you get the second half of the portal gun. And as this is a puzzle game at heart, having such easy solutions kind of kills the mood. Even with the games short length, that still means I wasn’t having much for for nearly an hour. I found that once you get both portals and the turrets are introduced the game beings to shine even without GLaDOS’ presence, but it takes way too long to get to that point.
In the end what you have to remember is this: while it may seem like I’m being harsh on the game, that’s only due to me trying desperately to find a new angle to beat this particular dead horse from. I choose to have a sub-par experience just to give myself something to talk about. When playing the game the way it was meant too it’s still absolutely brilliant. Sure, the fact that the game loads between each level means that the pacing drags a bit and there are a few too many times when a door wont open until GLaDOS finishes talking which I personally found kind of annoying. Whether or not you want to spend $10 on a two hour game is entirely up to you, but it is a grate two hours if you so choose.

5/5

Hotline Miami Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: October 23, 2012
Systems: PC(Reviewed), PS3, PS4, PS Vita
Developer: Dennaton
Rating: M
Metacrtic Score: 85

The easiest way to describe Hotline Miami is that it feels like the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino would have made if he got really high playing “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and decided to leave film making to create games instead. Whether or not you’re going to enjoy the game can pretty easily be deduced from how that premise strikes you. If you like Tarantino-esk hyper violence, retro aesthetics and the garish neon’s of the 1980’s, then this will be right up your alley.
You play as an unnamed assailant who receives cryptic orders from his answering machine to go somewhere and kill everyone there. Just like a Tarantino movie there’s more depth here than is first seen, but most of the big plot revaluations near the end of the game, in the last chapter or the epilogue which follows a different protagonist. But from the outset the game asks you one question that sets the tone for the entire game: “Do you like hurting other people?”. While some may find the games conclusion disingenuous while also asking the player to cave in the heads of hundreds if not thousands of people, but I didn’t. This is a game and story very much about violence and, more specifically, the overabundance of violence in video games. Now, I enjoy violent video games. I enjoy the act of killing, maiming and brutalizing digital people, but even I can’t argue that the industry(and most gamer’s, myself included) would be better served if there was a bit more diversity in gameplay. I feel the developers feel the same way, as once all the killing is done and we learn the reason for the bloodshed, it’s hard not too feel a disturbing connection to the people on the other end of the phone. That similarity was more disturbing to me than all of the kills and pools of blood left in my wake as I progressed through the games nineteen chapters. I don’t know if this theses will hold much weight with a sequel having been released already, which plays almost identically from what I’ve heard. But that’s an issue for another day (and another review). For right now I’ll end my look at the story by simply saying that it isn’t one of my favorite video game stories, but it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a while.

do you like hurting other people
Do you like hurting other people? If so, you’re in luck because that’s all you do in Hotline Miami. The game’s played from a top down perspective with each level looking like the floor plans of each building. Each mission you go to a new location and kill everyone in sight. Checkpoints are achieved once everyone has been slaughtered and you’ve moved on to the next floor. This is a good thing, as you’re going to be retrying more than a few times every level. Death for both you and your enemies comes fast, and your foes are much better shots than you are. Thankfully, upon hitting the “restart” button your placed back at the checkpoint almost instantly. When the game was at it’s most frantic I was hitting the button and getting back into the killing so fast it almost felt that the game instantly sent me back with out needing a button press at all.

HotlineMiami1_1351632203

Executions are even more brutal ways too kill your foes.

While finally getting into a groove and killing off an entire floor did always feel like an accomplishment, death sometimes came due to some annoying issues. The first is the controls, at least in the beginning. You move using “WASD” but look and attack using the mouse. This control scheme took a bit getting use to and I often died because my character wasn’t looking the right way, something I didn’t noticed as they were moving the in the right direction. At first I thought a set up like “The Binding of Isaac” would have worked better, where you attack with the directional buttons, but once I got into the swing of things I found that the mouse defiantly is a benefit with the speed of combat being as fast as it is.
The camera, however, was always a pain. You only ever see a part of each level, which means that you will often find yourself taking a face load of buckshot from somewhere off screen. Even given the ability to extend your view, moves to one side cuts off where you can see on the other side. Which meant that more than a few times I’d be looking to see if someone was coming on my right, only to have some asshole sneak up on my left and and kill me from off screen again.

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Even pixelated, the gore can get pretty etream

Game play could also have become an issue, as each level is essentially the same, but there is a nice amount of verity and the game’s not so long as to overstay its welcome. As you enter a level you can choose one of a few unlockable masks that grant perks ranging from being able to kill people when hitting them with doors, extra ammo and even silent gunshots that don’t draw any extra attention. There are 26 masks in all and while I haven’t unlocked all of them, I haven’t found one I thought was totally useless yet. Sure I have my favorites, but I enjoyed my time with each, even if I only used it for one level. In the levels themselves there are only 3 distinct types of enemies, but again, with the games length I never found this to be a real issue. Yes, more verity would have been nice but this is the kind of thing that only bothers me in hind sight. While in game I was never bothered with the enemies I was encountering.
The one time the gameplay was an issue in and of itself was a stealth section near the end of the game. Not only does this kill the pacing as these kinds of sections in action games always do, but due to some of the events in the story, the world keeps spinning which makes going through it even more painfully annoying than it already was.
Special mention has to be paid to the games soundtrack. With how much I hate techno, I thought I’d be turning off the music and replacing it with some of my own, but I never did. Not only did the games soundtrack fit the games mood and setting, but it may be the best use of electronic music I’ve heard since Far Cry 3, on top of just being the best and most tolerable I’ve heard period.
In the end, I really liked Hotline Miami. It was Fast, Brutal and one of the most Disturbing games I’ve played in a long, long time. And if I’m lucky nothing is going to top it in just as long, because I think I need to give my mind a bit of a rest after this. To me, this ranks up there with Bioshock: Infinite, and Speck Ops: The Line; games that show that violence can still be artistic, but still make us question what it says about us that we enjoy violence so damn much.

4/5

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: August 23, 2011
Systems: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Rating: M
Metacrtic Score: 89 (PS3)

With this probably being my last review for the year and “Mankind Divided” coming to store shelves next August, I thought I’d take another look at the Deus Ex franchise. If you remember my review of the original game you know that my biggest issue there was that the damn thing wouldn’t run on my PC. I loved the depth of the games RPG systems and the verity of ways I could deal with boss encounters: If I could get the game to run properly I could see it becoming one of my all time favorite games. Human Revolution on the other hand is a pretty mixed bag overall. For every step the game takes in the right direction, it blunders in some astounding ways. And fair warning, in order to talk about some of what bothers me about this game so much, I am going to have to go into spoiler territory. As in “I will be talking about the games ending”. I’ll give you a heads up before hand in case you haven’t played yet, but after that it’s on you.
You play as Adam Jensen, newly appointed chief of security at Sarif Industries, a leading company in the field of human augmentations. You and one of the companies leading scientist, Megan Reed, are about to make your way to Washington DC for a congressional hearing about her new findings and the research Sarif Industries have been doing. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned. The building is attacked and Adam is nearly killed trying (and failing) to rescue Megan and her team. Adam is saved by having a massive amount of augmentations grafted onto him and is sent home to recover. Six months later he is called back into action when another Sarif Industries installation is hit. It’s here that Adam and the player learn that something more than previously thought was going on, and it’s up to you to uncover what exactly is happening.
One of the things that initially drew me to the game was how unapologetically it looked at modern day wealth disparity. Augmentations are expensive and give such an upper-hand to anyone with them that it’s hard not too call into question our own dependence on technology. As more and more of our day to day lives, both at home and at work, revolve around being able to be online being able to have access to a computer early in life will become a great boon to most of the next generation, but that’s not a luxury everyone can afford. Hell, I remember when the game first came out I was looking for a job and was usually told I needed to apply online. But I couldn’t afford a computer at the time sob my ability to even attempt to get work was limited to the hour a day the library would allow users to be online. And up until the ending I was totally on board with what the game was saying. It offered a nice, balanced view of the situation and it seemed like it would leave the viewer questioning, ready to make up their own mind. And then the game actually ended and…yeah, this is where that spoiler warning comes into effect.
Not only does the game fail to really deal with the issues it sets up, it the endings it does offer are both awful and poorly done. In what is now the cannon ending due to “Mankind Divided” being announced the game pretty much states “Technology is too dangerous for mankind and we should abandon it outright”. This pisses me off at the very core of who I am as a person. While I in no way thing our modern age of technological progress is perfect and will always be the first to criticizes aspects of it I don’t like, but you will never see me say we should abandon progress. I love humanity and the things we can accomplish when we set our mind to a given task. The game, in the last cut scene blames science for things like the oil industry (although indirectly) and while I agree that we need to move away from fossil fuels, it’s human intelligence that will lead us to the future, not saying abandoning science and progress outright.
With all the games issues, this is the one that angered me the most. Yes, industries suck, corporations suck and they will always use whatever they can to screw us over, but that is not where the games anger lies. It blames scientist for “blindly pushing boundaries” and acting as if that is making us lose our humanity when I truly believe it’s mankind’s unwillingness to allow boundaries to define us that makes us human. It’s our intelligence that separates Man from Neanderthal and the developers at Eidos pretty clearly say that that is our downfall.
While I truly hate this games conclusion, the game play does manege to stop me from outright hating the game altogether, although there are still issues there I want to punch some one for.
The single biggest difference between this and the original Deus Ex is that this is not an RPG. While you do gain levels and use points to unlock certain skills, the fact is you don’t need to in order to progress. You’re not making yourself more efficient with a certain skill tree, you’re more just tacking on extra bits to something you can already do pretty well. If you’re pretty decent at shooters, you can play the game like an FPS without ever going into the augmentations menu or up grading a gun and get by pretty okay. So long as you have enough of the hacking tools you can hack nearly anything without much hassle. There are plenty upgrades it’s nice to have, but none of these are exactly vital. While this does make it so “every play style is viable” I never really felt I had a “play style” and more did what ever was easiest at the moment. Sure I tried to be stealthy when I could, but once a firefight broke out I could shoot my way through with no real issue.
And that’s one of my main issues. Like most games like this stealth is most highly rewarded, but the game does what it can to make that approach way to difficult. Enemies are almost always positioned in such a way that once you stealth take out one guy, someone almost always sees the body before you can do anything about it. And once someone sees you, even for just a second, everyone around knows exactly where you are. To every developer everywhere: that is bad stealth design. Period. Not helping matters any is the amount of times the game just drops you into big action set peaces without any real way to get out of them. At least three separate occasions comes to mind where I was pretty much forced to just shoot it out with a room full of people as they just poured in from everywhere.
And then there are the bosses. These assholes you have no choice but to shoot it out with. In the original game you could literally run away from a boss fight and continue on, but no such luck here. This meant my stealth focuses ass had to adapt quiche and that never went well. I died in most of the boss battles until I found a way to cheese my way through it: skill and preparation went right out the damn window. However, there were a few boss fights that were more based around conversation rather than combat and those were fantastic. Each time I managed to beat one of these I genuinely felt accomplished. Too bad there are only a handful in the entire game.
So it’s shallow, too action focused with a story I ended up hating. I really must have hated the game, right? Well….no. While it’s not the jewel I was hoping for, this is a testament to just how much a polished experience can make things better. While I can look back in hindsight and say “i wish X had been done differently” I never really minded the moment to moment game play outside a few set peaces and the boss fights. Hell, even until the games final moments I was really digging the story. This is a game I really wish was better, but I can’t say it was bad. This wasn’t like “Ninja Gaiden” where it single highhandedly killed my excitement for the developers next project, but it is close. I wanted to love this game. How could i not when it deals with wealth disparity and transhumanism? How could I possibly look at that and say “not for me, thanks”? Well, Eidos found a way. In the end I really just found this to be a mediocre at best game that banked way too much on an established title. Sad thing is, I saved this for my last review of the year because I wanted to go out on a high note. Well, Merry Christmas all, have a happy new year.

2.5/5

Dark Souls 2 Review


By William Shelton

Release Date: March 11, 2014
Systems: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: From Software
Rating: T
Metacrtic Score: 91

Dark Souls 2 is disappointing to the point that at first I thought it was just a bad game. It’s not, but the lack of creativity and passion here really diminishes the experience as a whole. Where the previous “Souls” games filled me with a sense of wonder and triumph as I marveled and slowly defeated their challenge, Dark Souls 2 only ever managed to keep me just entertained enough to keep playing.
The issues start right as the games begins with it’s over long and dull opening cinematic. As deep and interesting as Dark Souls lore can be, few would say the games story was it’s main draw. The original game got around this issue by focusing it’s opening on the games most interesting characters, showing some great tableaus (Nito holding the flame, Seath on the mountain of dead Dragons ect.) and most importantly, getting to the point with haste. Dark Souls 2 does none of this.
The stories first mistake is that it focuses on the single most uninteresting element it has: the player character. For all Dark Souls talk about “prophecies” and “chosen ones” it was always made clear that the player character was just another undead hopeful. Here, however, the entire first cinematic is dedicated to talking about you and your place in the game world while saying nothing of interest. No real lore is explained, no villains set up, no reason given as to why you’re headed to Drangleic, just “you’re undead, go here”. What’s worse is that this scene just drags on. It may only be about as long as the opening to the first game, but it feels so much longer as there’s so little of interest happening. In the end, I may not have cared about Dark Souls lore as I played, but I cared enough too look into it and find out what was really going on. Here I just don’t care.

What's going on? Trust me, you wont care.

What’s going on? Trust me, you wont care.

Gameplay wise things get better, but barely. In a lot of ways the game feels like classic Dark Souls with its tight controls and finely tuned combat, but the little changes all add up to a much less enjoyable experience. For example, there isn’t a shield in the early game, robbing players of any defensive options early on. This would be fine if the game was aiming for a more aggressive combat system like what From would go on to do with Bloodborne, but it’s not; the combat is still based around the slower and more defensive oriented system they had with the first two Souls games. Another ill-advised change was to the estus flask. You start the game with only one of the refillable life giving potions but a new consumable item, life gems, can be obtained and used in a pinch. However, these restore health so slowly that using them when you really need them (like in a boss battle) is functionally useless as you will rarely gain enough health in time to not be killed the next time you’re hit.

I beat this boss without getting hit and still didn't feel as accomplished as the first Dark Souls made me feel.

I beat this boss without getting hit and still didn’t feel as accomplished as the first Dark Souls made me feel.

The new death mechanic is also an interesting but flawed idea. Upon death, instead of losing half your life you lose a small portion. The more you die the more of your life that’s eaten away until you’re down to half health. This can be avoided by using a human effigy which brings you back to life and too full health. The issue is that early in the game they are too few and far between (you don’t gain them as you beat bosses anymore) and later they’re too abundant. Because of this, I had to beat early bosses with out taking a hit and latter bosses weren’t an issue as I had so many human effigy’s I could just keep using them to make sure I was at full health.

The new fast travel system eases back tracking but makes the world less interesting to explore

The new fast travel system eases back tracking but makes the world less interesting to explore

Fast travel has also been reworked for the worse. From the start of the game you can teleport between any bonfire you’ve lit. While this does ease some of the pain from needless back tracking, it also made the world much less fun to explore. Seeing how everything was connected in the original Dark Souls was always a delight in my opinion, but that’s sadly not present here. Worse yet, enemies will start disappearing as you kill them. This is meant to encourage players to move on instead of farming souls, but I couldn’t help feel that it just made the world feel that much more empty.
Yet all of that could be forgiven if not for one major flaw: the game simply isn’t as rewarding as the original. It’s not “easy”, don’t get me wrong. But as I overcame challenges I never felt the same high I did in Dark Souls. In the original game after nearly every boss I beat I took a second to congratulate myself and bask in my accomplishment. Here I just moved on with out a word. I never had that real “Hell yeah! I did it, I can do anything!” moment. This could be do to the over use of humanoid enemies. While there are still interesting foes and patterns to learn and recognize, having nearly every enemy be some kind of human both diminishes the threat as well as give the player a baseline for what to expect. I know I can beat a human in a fight, and I know how a human is supposed to behave, so seeing just another big dude standing in my way just doesn’t feel as threatening. However, I wouldn’t mind the dull enemies if it wasn’t for the absurd number of copy-and-paste boss fights. Several bosses from the first game make an appearance with only minor changes to their look to differentiate them from their original counterpart.
With all of that said, I still enjoyed most of my time with the game. I may not have celebrated my victories against the games bosses, but I never thought to my self “well that was a waste of time”. I may not have been patting myself on the back, but I was never itching to put the game down, either. In fact I may still go back to this.
Lastly the music is….completely unremarkable. I put the controller down just a few hours ago and I cannot remember a single song or vocal performance. I don’t recall hating anything, but it’s sad to see that there wasn’t anything as memorable as the Lord Gwen music.
In the end, the game reminds me a lot of “Bioshock 2”, not bad just needless and underwhelming. Because of this it’s hard to recommend this. If you haven’t played either for the first two Souls games you should play them first. You will enjoy the game, but you’ll enjoy the first two more. And if you have played one or both of the first Souls games, there’s not enough here to justify getting this game.

Score: 2/5