I think Rapala made a great decision this year to include a special controller. If you're looking for a licensed fishing game this season, well, you don't have a lot of choices. Fortunately though, Rapala Pro Bass Fishing does a nice job of giving gamers a pretty well rounded package here.
2 days ago
4 days ago
If you and your friends enjoy co-oping the old school side-scrolling beat'em ups, you can't go wrong with Fist Puncher. While I don't consider it an elite game of the genre, there's a lot to like about it, and at $10 or less, it offers a good bang for the buck.
4 days ago
WWE 2K14 gets a lot right and its key drawbacks are at least a little bit overshadowed in the process. There is still a whole lot of room for gameplay improvement though, something one can hope will be addressed for the next release or even in part with some patching.
7 days ago
1 week ago
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Playing as Dracula could have been handled so many different ways, and while I don't agree with everything that MercurySteam did with Lords of Shadow 2, the positive aspects overwhelm the negative. This is a worthy and fitting end to a fine trilogy.
1 week ago
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
The Lords of Shadow saga ends on a high note, but the experience of the final chapter is tempered by some questionable design choices, although none of which should keep you from playing.
The original Lords of Shadow was my first Castlevania experience. I enjoyed it for the most part; the story was good, the environments, monsters, and art direction were beautiful, and the combat was deep, addictive, and rewarding. There were a lot of puzzles I didn't particularly care for, and I actually used some Youtube walkthrough videos to help me get by several of those because they really sapped the fun out of the game for me. Still, it was a solid game and the first of three Lords of Shadow titles that developer MercurySteam would create for Konami. The second was originally a 3DS exclusive before getting the "HD re-release" treatment and while not a full-on sequel, it too was a fun title that further built up the anticipation for Lords of Shadow 2 (CLOS2).
After some delays, Lords of Shadow 2 was released last week. As you hopefully know by now, lest I inadvertently spoil it for you, Gabriel Belmont, the protagonist from the first game who was a member of the Brotherhood of Light, had actually become the Dragon, aka, Dracula. The shadowy figure of Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart by the way), returns with the promise that Dracula can finally rid himself of his immortality. Gabriel, or Dracula rather, would really like to find a peace he believes can only be achieved by losing his immortality. Zobek promises to help him achieve his goal, but first, Dracula must help Zobek defeat Satan's forces. Satan is due to return to establish his rule, but Zobek and his secretive society have their own plans. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Light, having lost many thousands of soldiers in the battle against Dracula two hundred years ago in the siege that saw Dracula's castle fall, understandably views Dracula as a threat. Suffice it to say there is no shortage of enemies for Dracula to fight.
CLOS2 opens with a flashback that pits Dracula against a massive Brotherhood army. An encounter with a robotic monstrosity and a Brotherhood leader get the juices flowing in what feels like a scenario from God of War. CLOS2 actually reminded me of God of War on multiple occasions, from story themes to over the top combat. Given that I put the God of War games very high on my all time list, that's not a bad thing. Anyway, after this wonderful opening, the scene shifts to the present time, which is a near-future, although very gothic-designed city. Zobek's Society is based here, as are some of Satan's forces who can exist in this realm unnoticed by humans. Zobek dispatches Dracula on missions that require he traverse the city, which was built on the ruins of the old castle Dracula once commanded. Numerous City Memorials provide historical tellings of the past, similar to the Soldier's Diaries from the first game, which are also a significant part of this game, too. Thankfully, the time that you spend in the city is balanced with the time you spend in the old castle grounds, or what I will call the castle-realm. Within the confines of the large castle are Soldiers Diaries which provide story details about the siege of the castle, and also provide some subtle tips on upcoming events.
With the creation of the city and the map rooms (for fast-traveling), as well as the White Wolf Medallion (used to go between the dimensions of the present day in the city and the 'memories' of the past in the castle), MercurySteam created an open world setting for players to explore. It's a welcomed change in gameplay design from the "point A to B" design of the first game, where missions had "rigid" start and endpoints. There's nothing wrong with that type of design, but, we all know the advantages of an open world design as opposed to the traditional format. That said, there's good reason for players to revisit areas, especially as Dracula relearns some of his old powers and picks up new abilities. As is typical with games in this genre, you'll often spot secret areas or encounter doors and obstructions that you cannot do anything about at first visit. However, as the story unfolds and new abilities are obtained, these previously inaccessible areas can be reached.
Lords of Shadow had a variety of powers and relics and things that kept the gameplay fresh throughout. The best games in this genre will do exactly that, see God of War and Darkstalkers for example. CLOS2 is no different. At first, Dracula's abilities, while formidable, are a far cry from the awesomeness they become. The Shadow Whip remains the default weapon, but a new ability called the Bat Swarm is provided at the outset that allows you to distract an enemy. In a group, if you Bat Swarm one foe, he will often run about, swinging his weapon, damaging his comrades, it's pretty great to see. The Shadow Daggers replace the numerous Daggers found in the original game, and are balanced with a fair cooldown mechanic that keeps you from using these excessively. In certain, very evidently marked areas, Dracula can now also use his Plague of Rats ability that turns him into a pack of rats (nine usually). Players will literally be playing as a rat during these times, which are used to sneak by undefeatable foes or to get into vents or between walls. Once you have gotten to where you need to be as a rat, you can change back to typical Dracula form.
The Plague of Rats ability is useless in combat, as is the Possession ability. With Possession, Dracula embeds himself inside a host body. His blood is toxic to the host, however, so your time in this host is limited to roughly a minute, but that's always enough time to open a security door or whatever it is you need to do with them. These two new powers were designed for the new stealth gameplay that is a significant part of the city missions. Seeing Dracula running around a city with generic cars and fire hydrants every few feet, not to mention thousands of crates, pallets, benches, etc., just begging to be smashed, is pretty weird. Add the stealth component and it takes some getting used to. Honestly, I never got completely comfortable with the "city-integration" and the stealth sequences within, but these design choices and their execution aren't game-breaking to be sure. The city missions aren't bad, they just aren't as good as those in the castle-realm, and they generally feel out of place. Afterall, this isn't Cityvania (ok, bad joke). I will say that adding the city and stealth gameplay as opposed to numerous puzzles that, at least for me, really hurt the pacing of the first game, was good. The stealth parts aren't confusing or even all that challenging, they're just something you have to get through. On the other hand, the puzzles from the first game were often more trouble than they were worth.
Ok, so the city stuff and the stealth components are not a bright spot for CLOS2, but MercurySteam makes up ground in almost every other area. Don't forget, the non-city missions come up just as often as the city ones, so there is a very nice balance achieved there. If that's not enough, given the open world design you can revisit and thus spend much more time in the traditional battlegrounds if you prefer. In any case, there is plenty of action to go around, and that's where CLOS2 really excels. The combat system of CLOS2 has evolved some from the original game, although had it been nearly identical I would not have minded. Dracula has three primary weapons: the Shadow Whip, Chaos Claws, and Void Sword. Using the Void Sword or Chaos Claws depletes the magic of the Void and Chaos respectively, similar to the first game. Within each of these weapons is a projectile form; Shadow Daggers, Chaos Bombs (explosive, also used to damage certain marked spots of the environment) and, one for the Void that causes certain waterfalls to freeze making them climbable, or to slow ultra-fast moving enemies down. Each of these weapons has a separate upgrade tree with over a dozen abilities to purchase with experience points earned in battle and exploration. Switching between the weapons is seamless and it doesn't take much practice to pull-off some dazzling combos. Blocking, sync blocks, dodging (including with shoulder ram attack, which is great), and the Focus meter all return, too. New to CLOS2 is the Mastery system. Each of the three main weapons has a Mastery meter for different types of attacks, such as the standard four-button direct attack (press Square four times), or the aerial lift (Triangle, then X, I believe), and so on. A percentage is shown for how often you have used these abilities, and once you hit 100%, you can Transfer this Mastery to the weapon itself, increasing its overall status.
Dracula can also use six Relics to assist him. These include the Tears of the Saint, which fully replenishes your health, the Seal of Alastor, which temporarily gives full weapon mastery, and the Ensnared Demon, which maxes out your Void and Chaos magic meters but then fully depletes them when the timer runs out. You also have Stola's Clock, which not only slows down enemies for about a minute, but also gives you XP for every single hit you execute on them during this time -- it's a great time to whip out that eight-hit Shadow Whip combo. Relics can be found in the environment by smashing objects or they are sometimes dropped by fallen enemies, or you can visit Chupacabra's shop in the City of the Damned to purchase them with XP points. On the Normal difficulty, I was kind of surprised how easy it was to find Relics, like the Tears and Stola's Clock ones, which were the most commonly used Relics for me anyway. I should point out that Pain Boxes and other interactive sacrificial altars exist whereby you can find various Gems that increase your HP, Void, and Chaos meters (for every set of five you find, that is). You also get a really cool power that is used for passing through certain walls and floors about six or seven hours in called the Mist Form.
Having all of these great tools and abilities at your command is certainly sweet, but if the enemies weren't up to task or otherwise disappointing, the combat wouldn't be so darn good. Fortunately, we know that's not the case. MercurySteam did a solid job with the variety and number of enemies, and with boss fights that occur at very agreeable and regular intervals. All sorts of enemies from Satan's army, the old castle (in effort to avoid spoilers, I won't explain this "faction") and the Brotherhood of Light offer ample opportunity to flex your combat skills. Slow moving "tank" enemies, packs of weaker enemies, ranged attackers, and everyone's favorite (kidding), Harpies, are a very small sample of what you'll find.
Overall, CLOS2 has a lot going for it: the story, controls, combat, and most of its gameplay. High on this list must also be the presentation, primarily the art direction. That said, much of the city is uninteresting and drab, but the monsters and all of the castle-realm environments look excellent. CLOS2's graphics are not on the same level, technically speaking, as the current gen, but when it comes to character and art design, it does very well for itself. I also liked how the player was able to toggle about a half dozen visual combat indicators, too. I enabled, for example, "show enemy life" -- this put a small, color-coded HP meter at the head of each enemy so I knew how close I was to finishing them. I also enabled the XP counter, where for any XP I picked up, the number of point earned flashed briefly. Other choices included "show weapon mastery," "show player healing," and "show damage to enemies."
With that, let's get to the summary...
1 week ago
An excellent sequel for an outstanding series; Yakuza 4 caters to its fans and offers up another wonderful adventure in Kamurocho.
2 weeks ago
A great game as is, although it has a few very patchable issues that could really put it over the top.
2 weeks ago
2 weeks ago
A great game as is, although it has a few very patchable issues that could really put it over the top.
2 weeks ago
Return to the shadows with Thief, available now from Square Enix and Eidos Montreal.
The Thief franchise began in 1998 with Looking Glass Studios' aptly named Thief. It was, if I'm not mistaken, the original first person stealth game. It prided itself on immersing the player in a wonderfully dark and intriguing world where your ability to stalk, sneak, and avoid detection by utilizing the lighting, environment, and special tools was paramount. Being detected or engaging in combat was not only discouraged, but would often result in immediate mission failure, and justifiably so. Having just revisited Thief Gold over the last few weeks on Expert difficulty, I was reminded of just how few games I have played achieved the sense of intrigue and immersion as Thief does, so many years removed from its inception. A couple of sequels later, plus another ten years, and we now have the new Thief...
Thief, referring to the new one from here on, preserves much of what made the original series so great. From the main character, Garrett, to his "friend" and fence, Basso, to the time period, the specialty arrows, the blend of realism and the paranormal, it's here. Planning your movements and actions, avoiding detection, all here, and it works great. Finding hidden loot was as exciting during the first hour as it was in the seventeenth, too. While the new Thief's positives overwhelm its drawbacks -- many of which are patchable, by the way -- there are several issues I noted during my playthrough.
I'll get to what I loved and hated soon enough, but first, a bit of back story. Garrett was an orphan, and grew up in the City (it's literally called The City). His natural ability to pick pocket and tough childhood helped him hone his skills as he grew older to achieve the title of 'master thief' that those in the know refer to him as. These days, Garrett's skills and knowledge are so advanced that he steals for the challenge more so than to survive. The Prologue mission introduces players to some of the gameplay mechanics while leading up to contracted theft at the Northcrest family mansion. What should be a pretty straightforward job for Garrett gets complicated quickly when one of his proteges, Erin, shows up unexpectedly. More apt to kill and use her physical talent as opposed to careful planning, Erin is skilled, but a loose cannon. Garrett and Erin navigate their way through the "thieve's highway (i.e. the City rooftops)," and make their way passed the guards of the mansion. From the skylight above, they are witness to a strange ritual involving an ancient energy known as the Primal. During this ritual, something goes wrong, and everything changes -- for the worst.
Sometime later (intentionally being vague here), Garrett awakens to discover the once peaceful and prosperous City in the midst of a dark age. The Baron has established The Watch, a strict police force, and the presence of a mysterious plague known as the Gloom casts a dark cloud over everyone. Work and food are scarce, but death and illness abound. Times are tough, but Baron Northcrest and his forces continue to push an encouraging message to the distraught citizens. Meanwhile, an underground organization known as the Graven, led by a peaceful man known as Orion is increasingly intent on overthrowing the Baron and restoring the City to its former glory. This tension grows in almost measurable leaps as you complete story missions. Garrett, meanwhile, struggles with the memories of Erin and the ritual they observed. And while he isn't happy about what's happened to his City, he's not the Robin Hood type. So he goes about his own business, or at least until fate intervenes.
Thief's story takes several interesting turns and players will visit a variety of locations during the pleasantly lengthy story including an old factory, a brothel, and an asylum. The City acts as the literal hub in between story missions, with Garrett's hideout being the starting point. Areas of the City are opened up as the story plays out, thus giving the City increased size as you go. I wouldn't call the City huge compared to some other open world or sandbox games, but it's large enough that on several occasions I had wished a fast travel feature would have been included. Navigating the city is almost exclusively done by sticking to the rooftops, using Garrett's agility to leap between rooftops that are close to one another, and his Claw tool to scamper up short vertical walls to new heights. Rope arrows, which you may recall from the first game, create new paths for you, but only at very specific, pre-defined areas. A screwdriver, crowbar, and wire cutting tool also give Garrett more areas to explore by unlocking grates, popping open certain windows, and disabling traps respectively.
The City is yours to explore, and from it you can even replay any mission you have already beaten to either achieve a better score, earn a different play-style rating (Ghost, Opportunist, or Predator), or just try and find the items you missed. Each chapter has a certain number of treasures and documents to find. There are 208 documents (newspapers, notes, diaries, logs, signs, etc) throughout the entire game, with each chapter having a specific amount that you are privy to once you start the chapter. The documents provide a lot of worth-reading back story, especially in the asylum level where there like forty-two docs to find. There is standard loot, which is very abundant, and some eighty-two unique collectibles, too. The standard loot is common, and includes all kinds of things from silver and gold utensils to hand mirrors, flasks, ink wells, scissors, syringes, magnifying glasses, and a handful (or two) of other things. These are only worth like two or maybe upwards of forty gold, but there are so many of them (and if you're like me you'll open every drawer and pick every lock to find them), they quickly add up. The eighty-two collectible items are special, and separated into categories, or sets. There are a certain number of rings, brooches, City plaques, themed-jewelry designs, and so on to find. You can view these at your hideout and read a short blurb about each of them too, which makes them really exciting to find (I'd say more so than finding treasure in Uncharted even).
Moving about with stealth and precision is of course vital, but also pleasantly easy. Crouching, which reduces your visibility and noise output, is done with L3. The new swoop mechanic is great -- simply press a direction, including backwards, and then press X. Doing so will blur the screen for a second while Garrett makes a rapid, almost undetectable movement of eight or so feet in the specified direction. It's perfect for closing the gap to a guard to pickpocket them, or, to duck back into the shadows before they manage to notice you. Garrett can climb many surfaces too, and because there is a significant vertical design to the game, you will use L2 a lot to reach those new heights or grab onto a ladder, etc. I liked how pressing forward when next to a railing or short wall moved Garrett to where he was leaning over the edge to peer down at what, or who, was below. L2 is also used to run, and Garrett can move very swiftly, but at the cost of being very loud. Circle is used to slide down ropes and ladders, or to drop down from above. The Move feature of the DualShock4 (DS4) can be enabled for swooping, by the way, but I left that disabled. The Touchpad is used to bring up your full inventory and to select an item from it; I thought it worked great. The d-pad is used in some puzzles, and to also access the pause menu and toggle the mini-map, while R2 is used to draw your bow, aim, and fire. L1 is used to evade in combat, while R1 is for your trusty Blackjack club. Finally, Square is for item/world interaction and Triangle toggles Focus (more on that later).
So controlling Garrett is intuitive and works very well, but, sometimes getting around is a bit troublesome. Specifically, I am referring to getting around The City, which has, by game's end, at least a dozen load points. Most of these are clearly marked with a blue sphere and you're asked when you interact with the sphere if you want to load, for example, the "South Quarter" portion of the City. Sometimes though, you will interact/pry open a window and the load time will just sort of happen. Other times still, Garrett squeezes through a pile of debris while the next area loads. I prefer that last option as the best, because the other loading areas take a good twenty to thirty seconds each. In fact, any time you reload a savegame, even you just saved a few moments before, expect a near thirty second delay. I think this is something that can be addressed with a patch or two, but for right now, those load times get to be kinda brutal. I was spoiled with the older Thiefs where you can quick save/load instantly, encouraging experimentation, but suffice it to say that the loading screen pops up a little too often and for a little too long in Thief as it stands right now. Being able to Fast Travel would have helped this out a lot. Oh, additionally, when you break into a window that doesn't require a load screen (but does get you into a new residence), you are stuck going through the same ten second routine (animation and mash-Square QTE), which gets old. Strangely, you have to re-break out of the window you just came through to leave, compounding the nuisance.
I would appreciate a better map, too. Once you start taking on optional side jobs in about the second half of the game, the problem with the objective marker and map becomes very apparent. A few of Basso's side jobs I still haven't completed because even though the map shows me directly over top of the objective marker, I can't find what I'm missing. In the asylum level, I had to backtrack several times to try and figure out why the map shows me as being in the right area, yet I was still stuck. The problem is in how it deals with hiding areas you haven't explored yet and also the vertical layers, or planes. Because Thief does a lot with the vertical space, to the point where I was always looking up to see if there was anything to explore (this is a positive thing), it seemed like the map didn't compensate well, and that made getting around frustrating at times.
Just a few more issues I took down in my notes remaining. First, the AI. For playing on the default, normal difficulty, I thought the AI wasn't bad, but, it is kind of forgiving at times in that you can usually escape a little too easily. The problem stems from the AI's inability to search better -- they tend not to look up and they hesitate to open up cabinets you can hide in, too. Speaking of these cabinets, if you enter one while not engaged in an escape or combat situation, the game creates a checkpoint save -- it's very handy, but doesn't overcome the lengthy load times. Anyway, make no mistake that if the AI gets a decent look at you, their numbers or the damage they inflict will pretty quickly end the game. Between the accurate crossbow shooters and the typical guards with a club or sword, it doesn't take much to die in Thief, which I think is perfectly acceptable given that, you know, this is a stealth game and you shouldn't be getting detected anyway.
The trigger mechanism for getting detected is kind of interesting; initially, an AI will have no threat indicator showing. However, a variety of actions can trigger these, and in various stages. In other words, if they come across an unconscious body you didn't hide, or they notice a door open that was closed, or they hear you stepping on broken glass, or many other scenarios, they'll become alerted. Or, their alert level might start off with rapidly depleting 'grace' period in which you have maybe two seconds to get out of sight, or if you're clearly caught in the act of something, the alert level will jump to full alert/aggression mode. The detection or guard alert mechanism has about five stages to it, but it's very interesting to note that each guard's alert status and cooldown timer thereof is identical, or extremely close to identical. So for a given area, if you alert a couple of guards, their status is timed almost perfectly to one another, which reduces these AI to, well, more robotic than human, because not only do they often look very much the same, but their alert levels are interlocked as well.
Moving on, I found it a conflict of interest and thus somewhat disappointing that players can purchase increased health and combat prowess, and also spend Focus Points on upgrading combat skills to where you can stun and even knockout foes with a single blow while in Focus mode. Combined, the AI with default difficulty and the ability to sustain and dole out more damage in melee (not to mention the Blast Arrows acquired in the latter portion of the story) give players the chance to honestly ruin this game for themselves. I don't think it's Eidos Montreal's job to "police" how the player chooses to play, but, just note that the experience gets nigh destroyed if you choose to play with combat instead of stealth. Now, that's not to say that sometimes using force is a bad idea. Indeed, on the fourth mission I sort of "accidentally" used force when I launched a fire arrow into a pool of spilt oil. Sometimes being the aggressor when in a confined area can be pretty satisfying, but don't kid yourself, pulling off a perfect heist, which is not only doable but a Trophy if you play the whole game that way, is far more rewarding.
The end reward is what being a thief is all about, no? Playing Thief was very rewarding for me. Despite the flaws noted above, and a few minor presentation glitches (also patchable), Thief is the rare breed of game that I could happily, as life's priorities allowed, drop in four and six hour sessions with because I was invested and immersed. I was eager to advance the story and to take on the side missions and find more unique loot and purchase more of the Trinkets that give you helpful one-off upgrades like the Crosswind Medallion to reduce the chance of getting hit by any enemy projectile, or the Grinning Salt that increases the HP benefit of eating. I probably searched over a hundred desks and dressers by this point, and often they come up empty, but the very short thrill of finding something was a neat feeling. Better still is the thrill of narrowly avoiding detection, overhearing conversations amongst citizens as you sit perched above them on a roof, and hearing a particularly awesome musical chime that plays almost randomly -- all that stuff added up to a virtual world I liked visiting. Plus, it helps that I see Garrett as one of my favorite videogame characters, despite the new voice actor (who actually did a great job).
Thief had a lot of small, if not very small, features that I want to basically list here. First, when searching a desk or dresser or whatever with multiple interactive parts, I liked that once you picked the first part of your choice, the interaction icon instantly and automatically moved to the next part for you. This made zipping through these objects quicker and more convenient. Plus, if anything is in said object, Garrett automatically snatches it, instead of waiting for your input. Furthermore, once you have searched this object, you can't search it again, which does away with the potential of wasted time spent re-searching. Next, while I had my doubts at the beginning, I very quickly came to like that the light on the DS4 changes to a bright white (from cool blue) whenever you are visible or detectable. Because I played this game in a mostly dark room, having the light of the DS4 turn to bright white when I was exposed was almost like having a flashlight shone on me. While never startling, of course, it was an effective technique that alerted me to this important fact just by using my peripheral vision, keeping my eyes focused on the game.
The Options menu gives players a lot of freedom -- about fifteen unique items, actually -- in how they want to configure their HUD and other visual cues. For lockpicking and hidden switch finding, you can rely solely on the subtly vibration of the DS4, which is cool. When you start a new game, Thief offers you a variety of customizable difficulty settings to adjust the price and availability of resources, whether or not you can knockout or even alert a guard, enable reticules, etc -- detailed difficulty settings or toggles is something I would like to see more games have, so hats off to Eidos for including it here.
Beyond the story mode, players can revisit chapters and also purchase a couple of freshly unlocked Trinkets. Playing through chapters utilizing a different playstyle or just to try and acquire all the items is enticing, and to a lesser extent the leaderboards and challenge mode may intrigue you, too. Three Challenge Modes are included: Chain & Gain, Chain & Gain Limited, and Special Loot Hunt. These three modes pit you against a ticking timer and task you with nabbing as much loot as you can before time expires. I dabbled in these modes briefly, and welcome their inclusion, but I'm much more interested in going back for seconds on the story mode than playing these.
With that, lets get to the summary...
2 weeks ago
3 weeks ago
OUYA Website Resdesign Underway, First Screenshots Released
The Kickstarter funded, indie-developer-loving Android console that could is getting a new website.
No word yet on when the new site will be launched, but by the looks of it, it will not only look better, but also function better and cater to developers, too.
3 weeks ago
3 weeks ago
Constant C Hands On Impressions
Constant C, a puzzle-platformer originally developed for Android, is coming the Xbox 360 and Steam before the end of the month. I've spent several hours with a build that is close to the final Xbox 360 code, and I've got some impressions to share.
The build I was provided was played on a mid-range PC with an Xbox 360 controller and a DX10 videocard. The game's main menu included listings for Achievements and Leaderboards, but these weren't active, but they can be expected to be live for the final code. From the "Help & Options" area, I was able to examine a "How To Play" guide that had picture descriptions of the core gameplay mechanics, view a controller map, and adjust volumes (Master/Music/Sound) as well as play with Brightness, Graphics Quality, Resolution, and toggle Full Screen mode. Initially, I change the default resolution up to 1920x1080, full screen, but this is really a perfect game for playing in Windowed mode, so after the first hour or so I switched to 1280x720, windowed. The game handles multitasking and the like very well.
Before getting to the controls and gameplay of Constant C, a bit of backstory. You play a small, silent robot, a Crisis Rescue Robot to be exact. Your system is activated after an experiment goes very wrong aboard the space station you are assigned to. What exactly happened you don't know, and the way to unlock a dozen or so cutscenes that explain the story is by collecting data tubes throughout the game. Acquiring data tubes is as simple as standing next to them for a few seconds, but, actually safely getting to the data tubes is where the challenge comes in. Anyway, after solving a few puzzles to get from point A to B (literally from a starting or entry door to the exit door in the same room), you encounter a large computer known as the AI. After stirring from his slumber, he informs you that most of the space station is offline or otherwise inaccessible, and he needs you to explore the station and bring back more data tubes to help him fix the problem. Speaking of the problem, time has literally stopped passing in the space station. The AI grants you a new power -- a small bubble or sphere encompasses you, and anything within this bubble "wakes up," in other words, time is again passing for anything within your very localized sphere. You also get a gravity remote, which allows you to flip the orientation of the room you are in ninety degrees to the left, right, or a complete 180 degrees.
So, it's up to you to guide your little robot through dozens (the final build will have over 100 stages) of challenge rooms. Each room is basically it's own stage. You enter in through one door, and the objective is to safely get to the exit door, which is always easily visible, at least. The data tubes are also highly visible, but getting to those presents a steeper challenge. Your robot can't fall very far at all, so missing a jump or changing the direction of gravity resulting in a fall is fatal. Fortunately, Constant C has practically no load times, so when you die on a stage, you are respawned immediately. As a bit of humor, the charred walls resultant of the flames of your destruction from your previous attempt are still visible. You can also restart a stage at anytime by pressing the Back button, in case you've gotten yourself stuck or otherwise just want a quick, penalty-free restart.
Navigating a single room to get from A to B, with sometimes a stop a C (collecting a data tube) may sound easy, but as we've seen with games like The Bridge, another game that teases your brain in similar ways, it's often a surprisingly tough challenge. Sometimes you reach success very clearly, and it only takes twenty or thirty seconds. Other times you may get to the data tube or the exit door on accident, or by luck, for example if you used the Gravity Remote at just the right time to avoid falling to oblivion or before you got crushed by a box. On other occasions, I died probably thirty times, sometimes even more, before stumbling into the right solution or getting the timing and gravity rotations just right. Understandably, these are the frustrating moments of the game, but like most puzzle games, if you walk away from it for a few hours and try again, you'll often come back with a fresh perspective that leads to the answer. One good thing about Constant C is that I was enjoying myself and was interested in progressing through the stages, and yes even the story, enough, that I worked my way through these 'brickwalls.'
In addition to the main story mode, there is a Time Attack mode that I'm not quite ready for. Within this mode are Practice and Challenge modes, the latter of which puts a time limit on how long you can take to get to the exit door. You can collect time boosts to give yourself more time, and it's ok to die and respawn, although of course you lose some time off the clock in the process. Practice mode doesn't put the pressure of a ticking clock in your HUD, but the stages here are as difficult as some of the latter ones from the story mode. In trying Time Attack mode, I failed early and often, and to this point, have played it only a fraction as much as the story mode.
Constant C gets a lot of important things right. It's accessible, has responsive controls, is challenging, fun, does a good job of balancing reward with frustration, and I appreciate that they included a fair story that you unlock as you go rather than just making it completely a puzzle game without a premise. The premise alone is good, though, I'm a fan of games that allow you to manipulate gravity and time, but the inclusion of this story, and humor of the AI actually, was nice. Visually, it's a clean and crisp looking game, nothing that will likely blow you away, but it looks very good and I experienced no technical problems. To my delight, the soundtrack is actually pretty sweet too -- it's a sort of instrumental electronica, but it's more down tempo and I thought it fit well with the light-hearted dark tone of the game.
Constant C has a lot going for it, and I applaud their efforts to include support for quite a few languages, too. If you're in the market for a solid 2D puzzle platformer, this belongs at the top of your list of considerations. ###
3 weeks ago
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z
If you're considering playing Battle of Z, it's probably because you're already a DBZ fan. If you also have some friends to team up with, Battle of Z can be pretty fun despite some flaws, but otherwise, I'm not sure it offers enough compelling new content that other DBZ titles haven't already provided before.
3 weeks ago
3 weeks ago
The Last Of Us: Left Behind (DLC)
Left Behind is pretty short, but very sweet, and for what it lacks in length, it makes up for in quality. Well worth the investment for those who want to revisit or otherwise experience a new story (well, two) within the despair-filled world of The Last Of Us.
3 weeks ago
The Last Of Us: Left Behind (DLC)
Left Behind is a single player DLC for The Last Of Us whose content is more of the extended and deleted scene variety than the sequel or gameplay changing kind. Of course,
there's not a thing wrong with that...
It's been about eight months now since The Last Of Us(TLOU) graced the PS3 and blew just about everyone away, including myself. It picked up numerous awards last year as it rightly should have and further established the Naughty Dogs as, quite literally, one of the greatest game developers of all time. With Left Behind, Naughty Dogs makes their first foray into the single player DLC market. While only providing about three hours of additional playtime, it seamlessly weaves together two narratives that feature Ellie, the fourteen year old protagonist from the original game. One of these narratives takes places before she ever meets Joel and thus the events experienced in TLOU, but the other would have taken place very late in the the original game. Both fit into TLOU narrative as though they were made alongside the original game and simply trimmed out, not unlike a film goes through similar cuts as it nears release.
It's perhaps obvious yet still worth mentioning that you should complete the original campaign before embarking on Left Behind, lest you spoil some of the original plot for yourself, and with a story as good as TLOU, it would be a mistake to do so. Oh, minor note, I liked that just before you launch Left Behind, your asked if you want to enable pop-up tutorial messages, in the event that, like me, you haven't played TLOU in six or seven months. These tutorials are as subtle as before, and do little to nothing to takeaway from the captivating atmosphere that Naughty Dog was once again able to establish very quickly and effectively.
In one storyline, Ellie is greeted by her best friend, whom she hadn't seen in almost two months, and actually thought was dead. This is of course Riley, who comes to visit Ellie at a military boarding school that they both had spent much of their youth growing up at. The two teens struggle for a while with their conflicted feelings about how one treated the other, but it isn't long before Riley convinces Ellie to go on a risky adventure with her, breaking the school rules by leaving the compound and entering an old mall. This entire sequence, which made up at least half of my three hour, one minute (according to the Clear savegame) play-through is almost all story and exploration-based. That may make it sound boring, but it's surprisingly engaging as you guide Ellie through a series of setpieces, some of which are purely optional, that are presented to do two primary things: 1) establish the friendship between her and Riley and the lost innocence of these two teens in this horrible, post apocalyptic world and 2) compound the despair that was so potent in TLOU. To this end, Naughty Dog did a great job.
Despite the casual pacing of this storyline, seeing these two kids trying to be themselves in such a terrible world was sobering, and witnessing their expressions and reactions to just simple things going wrong, like the photo booth not having any paper, or the horse carousel breaking down just as the two were about to have fun, was just kind of sad, an emotional chord I really feel when playing a videogame. I kept hoping the two friends might catch a break. Of course, knowing the eventual end from TLOU only exacerbates the head-shaking sorrow and despair.
While the Riley storyline is all about character and story development, the other story is more action based. Oddly, it also takes place in a mall, although a rural one in Colorado, as opposed to the one in Boston that the Riley story uses. Joel, as you hopefully already know, got impaled late in TLOU story and it's all he can do to grunt and breath as he lay on the floor of a mall shop. Ellie must find some sutures and medicine to get him well enough to transport again, so she locks Joel in this shop and starts to explore. All of the familiar gameplay mechanics are presented; negotiating the environment by climbing and crouching, finding notes or a key or two, as well as items for crafting medkits, Molotov cocktails, and so forth. With her trusty flashlight and switchblade, as well as a semi-auto with a few rounds, Ellie traverses several dilapidated stores, including ones for cosmetics, dolls, a pharmacy, DVD/Game/Music, restaurants, you get the idea. Each place offers a lot of visual detail to look at that make exploring every corner worthwhile, just as was the case with TLOU.
Encounters with Clickers as well as the humans who have pursued you and Joel to this mall are held off for a while, but then these combat sequences come in spades towards the end. Indeed, it's still frustrating to have a Clicker dash up to you with it's annoying arm-swinging motions and insta-kill you, but the instant load times and constant checkpoints are very subtly and generously placed, so trying encounters again isn't too painful. Besides, it encourages experimentation, although you're not likely to have much success with stealth this time. However, there are at least a couple of occasions whereby the un-infected humans, cannibals really, who are searching for you can be made to fight the infected if you create a distraction. These moments are especially chaotic and fun. Side note, I actually ran backwards in Left Behind, I don't know if I ever did that (or thought to try to...) in TLOU or not -- but being able to run backwards while keeping your eye on a Clicker pursuing you can be a lifesaver. Still, while not as combat-capable as Joel, Ellie shares the ability to "hear" as Joel did, and her ability to sneak and perform knife takedowns, headshots, and use the bow are as potent as ever.
When the DLC came to an end, I was left thoroughly impressed and happy to have gotten to experience new story content from one of the best games of all last gen. Left Behind, unlike some DLC, is "completely worth it," not only from the standpoint of the price, but more importantly for what it offers to those of us who enjoyed TLOU.