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Game Review: Titanfall

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Sometimes the tiniest change can have the biggest impact. Titanfall’s take on first-person shooters offers the latest innovation, even bigger than adding the titans (human-piloted mechs) themselves. That change is the movement. Despite a shooter’s POV display, it’s always been essentially a two-dimensional affair.

Titanfall adds substantial verticality and that makes an immense difference. When I went back to playing Halo 4, I was really annoyed that I couldn’t run up walls. What kind of futuristic super soldier can’t jump more than a few feet? Spartans are strong enough to flip a tank with one hand but can’t kick or punch holes in a wall to climb it? Boring!

There’s no way to play the campaign without an internet connection. It’s annoying. I play at odd hours but sometimes I can’t because there aren’t enough people online.

At first, I thought the Titanfall maps were a little small, but I was still mentally in a two dimensional shooter mode. The more I explored the wall-running and parkour abilities, the more I realized the maps were much larger than they appeared. I’ve yet to see an aspect of a building in the map that you can’t climb around, hang on to and hide in.

Then there’s the titans. You can get in them and pilot them yourself, you can set them to follow you, and you can stop them to guard a point. Personally I like to have mine follow me around and bust heads if someone is trying to sneak up on me.

I’m using a 360, and though there was a lot of drama about the Xbox One requiring an internet connection constantly and Microsoft backing off that decision, at least on the 360 version there’s no way to play the campaign without an internet connection. It’s all multiplayer. The campaign is just a story with other people playing the opposing side. It’s a little annoying since I like to play at odd hours but sometimes I simply can’t because there aren’t enough people online. It would be great if the game would fill in with bots.

The story itself is a little thin and frankly I didn’t pay much attention to it. I do however, like the commentary, Halo-style, when you’re doing well, they will say things like “You are dominating that pilot,” or “he’s going to hold a grudge.” It’s a nice twist instead of just yelling out your achievement (like Halo). it seems like someone’s really watching you and encouraging you, the only problem is it gets a bit repetitive.

Sometimes I think that the era of the shooter may be coming to an end. Call of Duty and Battlefield are always slick, but they lack personality and creativity. Then Gears of War’s horde mode was so ground-breaking it nearly became a requirement for all shooters after. I think 3D movement is going to do the same for future shooters. Two dimensions are just not enough.

Game Review: Bioshock Infinite

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I like the Bioshock series, it has broken ground raising the bar for story and gameplay, but there’s only so much ground you can break with a single franchise. In that sense Bioshock Infinite is a victim of its own success. There’s not a lot new here but that’s only because it’s using a lot of Bioshock’s previously excellent innovations.

I’ve always liked the the powers (vigors and plasmids) that allow players to approach the game how they like: stealth, destruction, possession, environment manipulation, etc. The story has always been interesting too, with its thinly veiled critique of modern political thoughts and the dangers of extremism.

I was expecting something fantastic beyond the usual clever gameplay and wise criticism, given that so many people said this game was a candidate for Game of the Year 2013. Talk about extremism! I disagree. I will thumb-wrestle anyone who claims this deserved Game of the Year for 2013, the same year that produced huge open world beasts with campaigns and multiplayer options like Assassin’s Creed IV and GTA V. No. No. No. No. Bioshock Infinite was a good game, maybe even a great game, but not better than any other game and certainly not game of the year.

So while there’s only so much ground to break, the Makers still managed one sweet addition here: the sky hook, a rotating blade that serves as a melee weapon and a way to ride the rails connecting the floating parts of Columbia. That made for interesting twists on battles. Enemies sweep in from all directions. Of course, that provides you with an escape in all directions as well, but then you’ll be exposed. You have to think strategically while taking fire. Mental challenges like that were the best part of the game: puzzles under pressure.

My criticism of the gameplay is that on the non-rails combat zones, it wasn’t very challenging. I had the game on the hardest difficulty and was essentially unstoppable until I came to a couple boss fights. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m good, but I don’t think I’m THAT good.

The story was decent, but I had a hard time getting emotionally involved. I just can’t get into infinitely alternate world tales. They all ultimately end up becoming as meaningful as stories that conclude with “and it was all a dream.” If I know that in this universe everything sucks, who cares if in another I’m livin’ large? And vice versa? With infinite options and no home universe you are anchored in, why would any hold any value over another?

Bioshock is a great series of games, but it is probably time to put it to rest. I’ll remember it fondly, and the fertile atmosphere the games created are due for some exploration in other media. I didn’t care for this entry as much as the first, but this is a franchise that deserves to live on.

Game Review: COD Ghosts

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COD Ghosts is the very definition of “phoning it in.” Though I enjoyed previous COD entries there is not one thing new with this game. Don’t spend your money or time on this one.

I don’t like to be so negative. I know lots of people put in a lot of hours to make a game happen. Or at least to make the marketing of that game happen. I was going to go gently, but then I read an interview in Game Informer magazine with CEO of Activision Publishing Eric Hirshberg (Game Informer #249 Jan 2014 page 43 by Matt Helgeson.) Mr. Helgeson asked Hirshberg about franchise fatigue, the sales of Ghosts being off and the reviews of Ghosts being negative. For each of these pointed questions, Hirshberg countered each point with what I can only call denial and a complete lack of humility.

That attitude made me unwilling to pull punches.

So I’m here to tell you, COD Ghosts is bad. Embarrassingly bad. I don’t like to write a review for a game I did not finish, but I am not sure I see myself ever completing this game’s campaign, or playing the uneventful multiplayer ever again or even attempting the abysmally unfun “horde” mode, Extinction.

The only thing positive I can say about the campaign story was that for once we weren’t fighting the Russians. The rest was the usual: brothers looking out for each other, a tough but loving father, a conveniently deceased female (their mother.) A lovable dog that probably died by the end of the campaign, using that standard crutch to evoke emotion.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the dialogue. At one point something utterly insane (in a good way) happened, and I felt the action might (finally) showcase unusual battles. But then right after this event (the busted dam and resulting shoot-out in the water) one of the characters says, Just like old times, right? This totally insane thing just happened, but hey, it’s just like old times. I literally LOL’ed at that.

For the game play, there’s just so much going on, it doesn’t matter. NPCs are yelling things over and over like, I’ve got a runner! He’s out in the open! Who is? What? Where? Well, since friendly fire doesn’t affect your NPC allies, just blast away, toss grenades at will. Spray and pray (that the game will end soon.)

The multiplayer? It was about the same as Black Ops 2 or Modern Warfare 3. At this point, it’s hard to tell these cookie-cutter games apart. I grade this MP worse than previous entries because by going nowhere in a field that’s usually moving forward amounts to losing ground. (All nod to Howard Zinn.) The Extinction mode reminded me of the 80s co-op arcade era. The graphics and game play were about on par with that ancient history.

That’s all I’ve got to say. I did not like this at all. (Was I clear about that?) Based on other reviews I’ve read, not many others did either. Regardless, I hope Activision does some soul-searching and tries to make a good game next time. If they simply turn the volume up to twelve (it’s already at eleven) and waste their seemingly unlimited budget on bigger commercials with bigger celebrities, well then I guess it will just be more of the same mediocrity.

The Xbox Box

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Send to KindleTHE PROBLEM: Going to an Xbox party, or wanting to game, watch movies, etc. requires that I pack up my Xbox, controller, games, monitor, etc. It’s annoying to remember everything needed, as well as I didn’t have a single, simple way to carry it all. THE SOLUTION: The Xbox Box! A suitcase made

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Xbox Game Review: Black Ops 2 (Campaign Only)

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The review below contains SPOILERS.

Is there such a thing as too much budget?

That’s what I thought as I completed the BO2 campaign and waited for the surprise at the end of the credits, which for any video game (or movie) is almost guaranteed these days. Especially when you complete the game on the hardest difficulty, which ahem, I did.

Before we go further, we’re going to make sure everyone is on board with the definition of the word gravitas. It means seriousness, drama, solemn. It’s also a perfect description of the heavy Black Ops 2 campaign story.

Gravitas piled on more gravitas. A rough outline of the tale goes something like this: avenge your father, avenge your friend, save your team, save your country, save the western nations, save the WORLD! There is more gravitas in the plot than there are errors in iTunes. And as even a casual user of iTunes knows, that’s well over a butt-load.

By the end of Black Ops 2, I fully expected aliens to show up and the mission to expand once more into saving the galaxy. There really was no place left to go.

To me, the original Black Ops was much more intriguing. We’ve all heard that the CIA wanted to (probably tried to) assassinate Castro, and in BO1, you’re actually on that failed mission. You meet JFK and shake his hand as he commands you directly. Now that’s some heavy stuff without dropping into melodramatic gravitas.

Regardless, I had fun with the game and that’s what counts. Maybe being a storyteller myself, I’m overly critical of the story. But things got worse. Because after The Makers behind BO2 decided to go full-on double gravitas, they ended with a sudden reverse. That’s my main complaint. They built up mounds of intensity and then they scribbled all over it with a silly post-credit mini-movie.

Spoiler Alert!

So after the credits, the characters from the story, blood-enemies in the plot, end up in a band performing a song by A7X (Carry On). Cool song and all, but wow. Context is everything. A non-sequitur incarnate would have begged them to stay on topic. The skit totally messed with all the hard work they had done to make Menendez evil, Woods a mentally tortured man, and all that. They went through all this trouble to turn the gravitas up to eleven, then they said “Hey, who the heck made everything so serious around here? Let’s get goofy!” Imagine after Star Wars that Darth Vader showed up and did a rap or something. The nerd apocalypse would be at hand.

I’m all for clowning around, but sometimes you have to give theme its due. The Makers messed up their own efforts. That’s what makes me think it is possible to have too much budget. When you have enough money to buy an AC/DC song (Back in Black, get it?) when you can afford to have celebrities in 30 second commercials, when you have money to burn, you burn it. When you can buy anything you want, you spend it on anything. Even if it doesn’t fit.

I’ve often suspected that great art is driven by the desire to overcome limitations. When the sky’s the limit, you disappear into the clouds.