Dragon Age: Inquisition Has Arrived


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I’ve not been buying that many games this year, but this is one little title from EA’s BioWare I know I must have and play before year’s end. That title is the third game in their fantasy rpg series Dragon Age.

Dragon Age: Inquisitor will mark the arrival of BioWare onto the nextgen platforms (Xbox One, PS4) and looks to combine what was good with the first two titles in the series while trimming off what went wrong with those two.

The game already looks gorgeous from just clips and gameplay videos shown leading up to this release. If the title looks to expand on the world-building that has been laid down by the first two titles in the series then I should expect to be playing this game for at least a minimum of 80 hours, if not more.

Now, I just need to decide on race and class for my character.

Horror Review: The Evil Within


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The Evil Within’s announcement was met with huge expectations for being an original horror title directed by Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil, benchmark of modern horror videogames. Over the years he personally directed a few projects with very fluctuating results, but his leadership of the Resident Evil games was competent, and they only really squandered when he cut ties with the series after his involvement right after Resident Evil 4, which many regard as one of the best games of the last decade. No pressure in this new intellectual property then.

And I’ll just straight out say it. It’s a disappointment. It would be hard not to be one. But it’s not a normal disappointment. If it were I’d give it a passable review and say that people might enjoy it just for the effort. However, The Evil Within is, pardon me, utter piss. I realize negative reviews are very “in” nowadays and people do them just for the sake of it, but this one is sincere. I wouldn’t buy something on retail price crossing my fingers, HOPING, it would be such a mess. I spent cash on this shit. This money was invested. I wanted it to give some return in the form of entertainment. Which was wishful thinking, of course.

First of all let me talk about the technical issues. Full disclosure; I played the PC port; not a good option, apparently. To be honest I only had one issue with it, but I understand that “it is not a good port” because this piece of trivia was bombarded on me by my peers. So don’t buy the PC version, it’s bad (maybe until they release some patches). That being stated, we’re left with “the game”. The real horror.

Probably under the pretense that this would make the game scarier, the development team decided that the camera just had to be forever stuck on letterbox view. This is not just pretentious, it is an OBSTACLE. It takes maybe a third of everything in your field of view. Your eyes are hindered by two monstrous gaps of black bars, top and bottom. And you need to actually look at stuff to be able to pick them, so you can only imagine how this is cumbersome on the playing experience (By items, I mean ammo, medicine, documents, same kind of thing that was in Resident Evil). Are you a fan of collecting stuff? A perfectionist maybe? You’ll either spend more time than you should inside one map to make sure you’ve gotten everything or you’ll forget that. Chances are you’ll miss items either way. This camera is out of this world. It is a monster incarnate full of spite toward you. Catching inbound enemies is an equally hard job, as the lack of proper vision of your immediate surroundings makes it hard to realize if you’re being chased, or to know exactly how many enemies are around you. This might lead to some unintentional scares if that fancies you, but fact of the matter is that it’s simply put, bad camera mechanics. And let’s not talk about the obtuse amount of film grain. That being said, this title is not entirely offensive on a visual scale. The art and graphics are quite nice, even if hamfisted on the gore. It’s just too bad it’s so hard to see it properly.

Apparently it actually covers something around 45% of the screen

Actually, it seems to cover something closer to 45% of the screen

A document early on the playthrough makes a point of telling you that the protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos is one of the fastest ever policemen of Krimson City to rise to the rank of detective (I feel like the name of the city might have been suggested by me when I was 14 and thought I was really death metal) . You will quickly notice though that Detective Castellanos isn’t the physical marvel he is laid out to be. The act of sprinting in the beginning takes a full 3 seconds from top speed to complete exhaustion. At his best, Sebastian can run for ten seconds before needing to stop and breathe in the middle of a full herd of enemies (which he WILL do if you rely on sprinting too much). He’s not a very good shot either, even at ranges close to point blank he’ll miss often unless you upgrade his weapon. Walking is awkward, running away is awkward, shooting is awkward. Some of these can be improved by buying common sense into the game in the form upgrades for the character with green goop. Seriously, that’s their currency. I confess to maybe having missed something, but I don’t think that part was ever explained.

If you think objectively about it, Resident Evil was awkward. Even the fourth one. The controls were always strange at best. It comes to me that, while people were begging for a new, good Resident Evil, Mikami acknowledged their wants and needs. That’s what The Evil Within is. I mean, the zombies are there, the alien controls as well, and it’s ever so slightly scarier, which was another major complaint, since some viewed the Resident Evil series as having swayed from survival horror to mostly action with some horror elements. In this sense, people got just what they asked for: A survival horror made by Mikami that is very much like Resident Evil. However since Resident Evil 4, Mikami directed two titles, a four year gap between each of them (2006, 2010, and The Evil Within in this Gregorian year of 2014), and the other two were not even close to being horror games. So what we got is a newly released outdated survival horror with ten year old survival horror mechanics.

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What happened!? I heard there was a good game in here!

The sad realization is that maybe Shinji Mikami isn’t a master of horror. The Evil Within isn’t very scary past the few initial chapters, where you’re completely powerless (and maybe this was this game’s real element, which in my opinion he failed to realize). Some of the more tense parts orchestrated by him come from trial and error, when some scripted event or other makes you face something new, something you’re totally willing to fight against. Then, upon closer inspection, you notice your head has just been pulverized by this new thing you perceive. So it occurs to you that you don’t fight this thing, you run from it. Of course, that’s after you died. Not very fair, honestly. The story is intriguing, but extends itself far too much. My interest was gradually lost on what could be a great mixture of body and psychological horror. It failed because while the art was on the right spot, the writing lost its way and somewhere it just became a zombie game. And I hoped it would pick up again. It never did.

It seems The Evil Within has few redeeming features and is somewhat obsolete in a very weird way. The space reserved for its image projection is malevolent. The gameplay is unimpressive and clumsy. It is artistically well intentioned, but ultimately poor. It does have, however, a very nice character in the form of an otherworldly and cryptic nurse that helps you through the story during dreamlike sequences. Her personality and oddities make her seem like a character from a Suda51 game, maybe something learned by Mikami in his time working with Suda on Shadows of the Damned. Man, now that’s a good title. Suda is really good, isn’t he?

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Horror on the Lens: Alien Isolation (Dev. by Creative Assembly, Published by Sega)


Alien-IsolationThere’s a quote from one of my old White Wolf books – I think Richard Dansky wrote it in Wraith:The Oblivion – that goes like this:

“The other aspect of horror is its sense of finality and the inability of a character to change it. If terror is the moment when the monster charges down the hall, horror is the instant you discover your feet are rooted to the spot.” 

Everyone who’s seen Ridley Scott’s Alien remembers the scene where Lambert is cornered by the Alien. Yaphet Kotto’s Parker is yelling at her to get out of the way so that he could use his Flamethrower, but she replies, crying..”I can’t!” I always thought that all she had to do was just kind of jump down and crawl or roll and then Parker could blast the damn thing. The movie would end. There’d be a gaping hole of acid in the Nostromo, but our heroes would get in the lifeboat and leave.

And yet, in playing Sega and Creative Assembly’s “Alien Isolation”, I found myself in almost the exact same position, huddled inside of a locker minutes after being introduced in the Alien and utterly terrified to move. Even worse, I’ve had situations where it appeared and I’m frozen in place, completely drawing a blank on my next move. I owe both Brett and Lambert an apology, rest their characters souls.

In the game you play Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley in the Alien films. In the special edition of James Cameron’s Aliens, there’s a brief scene between Burke and Ellen Ripley mentioning her daughter. For you trivia fans, the image used in that film was actually Sigourney Weaver’s actual mother. Anyway, It’s been 15 years since the disappearance of the Nostromo and Amanda is searching for any kind of clue that will help her find her mother or find out what happened to her. Supposedly, the flight recorder for the Nostromo was recovered and taken to Sevastopol station, a ship of roughly the same size. Basically, it’s a starship the size of Hogwarts. After finding herself separated from her crew, she has to both get her answers and find her way out of the station.

Easier said than done, of course. This game knows no mercy, even on it’s easiest setting.

The lighting effects are wonderful in next gen (especially PC). That molotov will only make the Alien mad.

The lighting effects are wonderful in next gen (especially PC). That molotov will only make the Alien mad.

The first rule of Alien Isolation is knowing that there are no safe places. Where most games have mechanics that allow you to take a breather to gear up and plan ahead or pause to get out the right weapon, Isolation will keep flowing as you take action. In Metal Gear, your game pauses when you use your backpack to look through your weapons. In Resident Evil (at least the earlier renditions), you had areas that were designated Save Rooms, places where the monsters couldn’t get at you. Alien Isolation does just the opposite.  Unless you’re checking your map for your next location, the game doesn’t pause. I’ve died while reading information on a workstation. I’ve died while rewiring a door. I’ve even died while putting myself in a locker and walking away from the console for food. It’s a strange kind of game design that forces you to keep one eye on what you’re doing and the other scouting around you to make sure you’re not being stalked. You essentially become a meerkat, poking its head up and going..”Did you hear something?”

And the sound is downright fantastic, especially where the Alien is involved. This is where the true horror lies. Anyone who is familiar with the Alien franchise knows what a Xenomorph looks like. We’ve seen so many of them over the years that they’ve lost that fear factor. The horror doesn’t come from having it charge you, but knowing how close it can be before everything gets to that point. There are tons of playthrough videos out there, and it’s great to see the reactions of players as they navigate this. If I worked at Creative Assembly, I’d chuckle at some of them with pride.

Case in Point: In one area, I open a door to a hallway. It’s clear, but I hear something behind me, causing me to duck behind some boxes. Taking out a noisemaker, I figure I can throw the noisemaker out the way I came (before the door closes) and quickly make my way towards my objective. As I slowly step backwards and to my left ready to pull a Romo-like pass, I just happen to turn to look at the direction I need to go.

The Alien is right there in that entraceway, standing at full height and is peering into the room behind me. There’s a collective “Holy shit!” from everyone in the room I’m in, and I freeze. It must have shot up a vent and came down a vent behind me somewhere. The Xenomorph doesn’t see me, and goes into the room it was looking at. This frees me to make my way down the hallway I need to travel, leaving a trail of fresh urine in my wake.

Heavy footsteps echo in the dark, and when it moves from the ground to the vents, there’s a distinct difference. The game begs to be played either on an extreme surround sound system or noise canceling headphones. If you even more courageous, you can enable your Xbox’s Kinect or PS3/4’s Camera – the microphone in both will pick up the sounds of your room. So, if you’re hiding in a locker with the Xenomorph outside and a friend yells out…”Are we ordering Chinese tonight?!”, the Alien will assume you’re a tender morsel dipped in duck sauce and take you out.

From a control standpoint, Alien Isolation is simple enough that you might not forget what to do when in a panic. For the more complex acts, like lighting a flare and throwing it, you’re given on screen instructions to help you follow through. This becomes a hit or miss at first. While you’re learning that action, there’s always a chance you’ll find yourself under attack by the Xenomorph. A training room feature would be nice here, but at the same time, you’re figuring out what to do with these items just as Ripley does. You’ll find yourself scouting safe areas (and by this, I mean under a table somewhere for a minute) ahead of time to craft different items out of the spare parts you find. At your disposal are flares, medkits, EMP’s, Noisemakers, Smoke Bombs, and more. Of course, before these items can be made, you’ll have to search around for the actual blueprints (which can be anywhere). The game will thankfully teach you how to use items as you get them (if you pay attention). Eventually, you’ll get Molotovs and Flamethrowers, but the Alien understands the nature of fire. To quote Newt, “It won’t make any difference.”

As Ripley turned the corner for a bite to eat from the lunchroom, she suddenly lost her appetite.

As Ripley turned the corner for a bite to eat from the lunchroom, she suddenly lost her appetite.

Saving the game can also be a nuisance at times. Rather than having an autosave, the system incorporates the added task of having to find Save Stations disguised as phone booths to save your progress. Just as with everything else, you have the ability to die if any enemy happens to be near. It can become annoying if you’re in an area where you have a large task and find yourself all the way back at previous place once you die. It’s a drawback, indeed, but it also inspires the player (or it did for me anyway) to treat these stations like an oasis in the middle of a long stretch of desert. You’d think you were playing Ninja Gaiden sometimes, without all the flipping.

Navigating Sevestopol is done in a Metroid / Metal Gear like fashion. Basically, some areas will be locked to you without the right tool. Once you find it (be a blowtorch or a wrench), you can come back to that area. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this just yet. It’s not exactly linear in that sense, but at the same time, I stopped playing Metroid Prime for almost the same reason. If it works for you, you’ll love it. If not, you might find yourself groaning in agony. If you’re lost, your handy Motion Tracker will help you find your nearest objective by way of a marker on the outside of your display.

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Even in Space, the Alien can hear that beep. Put that Motion Tracker away if you have it in your line of sight. Note the marker on the outer edge telling you where to go.

Alien Isolation is slow. I mean………slow. Not in the story so much, but in the movement. You’ll want to run from point A to Point B, but with the enemies around, you’ll will sneak around for nearly the entire duration of the game (from what I’ve played so far). Don’t even bother sprinting, especially on the hardest difficulty. If you feel you’ve enough patience to play the game in this fashion, it’s a treat. If you’re hoping for something more Splinter Cell / Metal Gear like in that you’re stalking prey, it’s not happening here. Alien Isolation may have On Site Procurement of weapons, but you’ll find these are to be used sparingly, either due to the lack of ammunition / fuel, or from the echoing boom from firing the weapons. In using them you’re indirectly screaming “Hey! I’m right here on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor, kill me now! Do it!! I’m Here!!”

There are other threats on Sevastopol. You have the remaining humans on board who are just trying to survive, synthetics that can swarm you (like Bishop or Ash but not as technologically advanced), but these are enemies that can be defeated depending on what you have on you, and even then, they’re formidable. The Xenomorph, however is an 8 foot beast who delivers a one hit kill to you every time. Its presence will have you hiding in a locker frantically checking your motion tracker – but note that even enemies can sometimes hear the beep coming from it. You may even contemplate how long it’ll take for you to adjust to living in said locker for the rest of your days. According to Creative Assembly, the Alien was built with an adaptable AI that changes on the fly. I’ve had strange interactions in my experiences:

The Alien has no set patrol patterns as far as I can tell. You can watch it walk into a side room from a hiding point at the other end of the room, only to find it double back to the next room you enter. Despite how slow or silent you can be, the doors you move through still make noise, so as you progress, you never really “lose” the Alien so much as you throw it off for a minute or two.

The senses on this thing are creepy. If you are walking fast enough to hear your own feet on the floor, I absolutely guarantee you the Alien knows, too. Again, the Motion Tracker is your friend when it’s at a distance, but it’s also a problem if you’re close. My rule of thumb is that if I have a visual on it, the Motion Tracker isn’t necessary. Even then, use it sparingly to find where you need to go.

Vents. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had a chance to escape via a vent and chose a closet or death over it. I’m told you can use these to move around and escape even, but I haven’t even bothered.

Visually, I’ve played this on both the PS3 and the PS4. There’s nothing wrong with the PS3’s version of the game graphically (which is amazing), but if you have access to one, the lighting engines are just better on the next gen consoles. Shadow affects are nice between the two, but there’s a better gradient on the PS4’s newer hardware and smoke / fire effects are that much stronger on that system. Also note that the PS3 runs the game at about 720p, while the PS4 easily handles a 1080p playthrough. I am told that there can occasionally be some glitches where in crawling, you can fall through a room, but I have yet to run into these.

Renderings of the Sevastopol feel like they’re taken right from the first Alien film, as Creative Assembly was pretty much given as much access as they could get to 20th Century Fox’s archives. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to walk those dark halls of the Nostromo with a giant man sized Bone Dragon at your heels, this is the game for you. From the title sequence alone, you get an idea that CA were fans of the first film, and tried to design a game that does its best to immerse you into that universe. It doesn’t get everything right, but it does present the player with a sense of fear and stress unlike anything I’ve played before. Perhaps it’s just me.

In terms of drawbacks, one of the problems comes in the renderings of humans. They don’t seem to have the same sense of care that the Alien gets, most of them walking around with “dead eye” syndrome (like in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). The voice acting is okay, but isn’t particularly memorable. It’s like watching a Friday the 13th film. Do you really remember Kevin Bacon’s last lines before he was killed? Maybe, maybe not, but you do remember how he died.

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If this is what you see from your Point of View, you’re probably already dead.

 Part of the soundtrack is built off of Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, and the same also features that weird “space wind” sound occasionally, which is so damn eerie. This may actually be (despite it’s flaws) the best movie tie-in/adaptation I’ve ever played. Most movie related games are either rushed projects (I’m looking at you Gearbox. I love Borderlands, but I remember the bad taste of Aliens: Colonial Marines) or fail to completely capture the feel of the movie. I’m very eager to see what Creative Assembly does next, Alien related or not. I’ve truly had fun with this game, despite it being as frustrating as Dark Souls.

Overall, Alien Isolation is a solid game for any fan of the original film. It’s the closest you’ll get to experiencing that universe (or at least playing the ultimate version of Cat & Mouse), even though the slow pace, saving mechanic and unforgiving AI may prove frustrating / unexciting to some.

Horror Review: The Walking Dead Season Two


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The Walking Dead by Telltale Games scarcely needs any introduction. Widely agreed to be one of the best games of 2012, its narrative dictated by your choices punched at the player’s gut with its strong emotional content in a subtle sidestory of atonement, fatherhood, and of course, survival, in the zombie universe of The Walking Dead.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

However, the gameplay and its difficult choices were an illusion. A magic trick. As long as you looked at the story you didn’t notice how much you didn’t make a dent at the course of the storytelling. Two playthroughs will prove that the story is almost exactly the same, even if you interpreted protagonist Lee Everett two polar opposite characters. Not that it mattered, since it was made to play once; to become emotionally involved and keep your little saved game until next time, for the next season, much like the TV Series.

And so it came to pass that Season Two came out. Through the emotional roller coaster we go again, load your season one save for vaguely rewarding shoutouts to your playthrough of season one. This time the story is set two years after the its predecessor. You play as Clementine, Lee’s (now) eleven year old protegé. Having survived through the hell zombie apocalypses tend to dish out, young Clem is not the the little girl up in the treehouse anymore, having become sullen and untrusting, used to the bedouin life of scavenging and killing after society breaks.

The story does progress ostensibly slow at first. Episodes One and Two may appear as uninspired reflections of the original game and may be hard to tolerate for some, but it’s worth it. Seeing the full game, they are justified. The magic trick was being set up again, with more flair this time. As you start interpreting this little girl’s choices and behavior, you start to become emotionally involved again. Her persona becomes an extension of your own (Verily, in a way, you become an eleven-year old, which is super fucking weird). By episode three it’s all set, and you’re looking at the magic hand again, while the other supposedly weaves a defined scenario.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

This time is different though. If in the first game you (Lee) took the role of leadership, in Season Two, you (Clem) are the pivot character. People want to do what’s safer for the child, she is the motive of concern of every survivor group, and being forced to take sides ultimately creates different paths that don’t end the same way, in contrast to Season One. The multiple endings pay off. Enthralled by this story, you’re encouraged to follow through it as if you were a wildly different person, with feelings and thoughts. You feel the weight of being Clementine.

From the beggining of episode three to the end of five, the last one, Clem is swept in a crescendo of intrigue. The group is trying not to break and she is often encouraged to voice her opinions, except when she disagrees with someone, in which case it doesn’t matter because adults know better. But that may also mean that she’s agreeing with another person, and her opinion is defended as the most important because the weakest needs to feel safe. You can’t seem to fix this group, driving it further into discord in fact. You may take one side entirely or try to keep things nice and easy for everyone, and in the end you are responsible for Clem’s fate. For better or for worse. The subject “Clem” and the subject “you” are sort of interchangeable in this paragraph.

The new season is more emotionally complex and more morally ambiguous. Really, it’s about the evil that men do rather than zombies. Though not an entirely original concept, Season Two does create a very nice example of it. It’s difficult to say if it’s better or worse than the first one. It’s just different. However, it shows improvement in its immersion and narrative, and proves that Telltale is capable of carrying on the quality of their own version of The Walking Dead.

Mirror’s Edge – Dice’s E3 Reveal


One of the best surprises for me during yesterday’s E3 show was the announcement that another Mirror’s Edge is on the way, though no date’s been set for release. It’ll be out “when it’s ready”, which leads me to believe that they still need to form a story around the visuals. Hey, At least Dice is giving it a try. That’s more than I can ask for.

Mirror’s Edge was a quiet release in 2008, a first person platformer that implemented some the same Parkour elements as the Assassin’s Creed series, though with more concentration on the techniques. While the graphics were simple and polished, that sense of vertigo from staring over the edge of a drop was always there (for me, anyway). The only drawback to the game were the loadtimes in the elevators. Hopefully, on the next gen systems, they’ll find a way around this. This trailer seems to focus more on the fighting than anything else, and it’s nice to see that, but I’m hoping that in the future, we’ll get to see some of the level designs and perhaps some added features. If they can get Rhianna Prachett back on board for the story (who had a lot of success with the recent Tomb Raider game), they should be fine.

Looking good so far.

 

 

Trailer: The Walking Dead: 400 Days


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One of the most critically-acclaimed video game titles of 2012 returns sometime in late 2013 with a new season of episodic content. The Walking Dead by Telltale Games announced at E3 earlier today that new DLC content will be arriving sometime later this year.

This new season will be called The Walking Dead: 400 Days and it looks to take adventure point-and-click success story of 2012 further into Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse world. There’s no word on whether a certain Clementine will make an appearance in this new season, but the producers from tElltale Games have made it known that they plan to try and get the video game more in line with the tv series on AMC and maybe even get the acting talent from the show in showing up on the game.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days is set to be released in late 2013 for the Xbox 36, PS3, PS Vita, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and iOS.

Trailer: Dragon Age: Inquisition (Official E3 Trailer)


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With Mass Effect 3 now over a year gone it’s time for BioWare to concentrate on moving forward with it’s fantasy rpg franchise which seems to have languished on the sidelines after the very controversial second title in the series. I speak of BioWare’s Dragon Age series and what fans of the title seem to consider a lost opportunity to make it the fantasy equivalent of Mass Effect.

The first game in the franchise was well-received but not without some complaints about the title’s gameplay mechanics being too reliant on micromanaging and less on intuitive controls. The second title was suppose to fix the problem when it came to combat which it did, but then this sequel brought up complaints about a storyline that felt rushed and game environments which relied too much of reusing the same backgrounds and layouts.

Now we have the announcement from EA and BioWare that the third game in the franchise will look to combine the good things about the first two games while looking to fix the problems which many saw as keeping the franchise from reaching great status.

Dragon Age: Inquisition arrives at this year’s E3 with a trailer which looks to be pre-rendered cinematics but with the title set to be released on the upcoming nextgen systems of the Xbox One and PS4 there’s a good chance that future gameplay trailers will look exactly like this trailer. Only time will tell whether that’s the case or not.

Dragon Age: Inquisition looks to drop on the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and Microsoft Windows in the Fall of 2014.

Oh yeah: Morrigan and Varric are back!