Video Game Review

Review: Dead Space 3 Awakened

Dead Space 3 was one of my most anticipated games of 2013 and, after playing through it entirely in co-op with fellow A Band of Gamer Cylinder 1024, it's an early contender for my FotY (Favorite of the Year). You can check out our co-op review on Episode 15: Full on Funk

Based on our enthusiastic response it's no surprise that we were both excited for Awakened, the DLC that was released shortly after the full retail game. To give this DLC its proper due it would be nearly impossible to talk about it without including some full-on spoilers to Dead Space 3 . . . so readers beware!

Awakened picks up immediately after the concluding moments of Dead Space 3. Isaac Clarke and John Carver have amazingly survived the terrors of the Necromorph infection and have been given a second chance to escape Tau Volantis and return home - return to Earth. How they survived the end of Dead Space 3 - the explanation - is probably the one and only complaint that I have about this DLC. It's just not provided in much of any detail. The situation could not have been any more dire for both protagonists, and their ending (what many might consider the conclusion to the franchise) was nicely done. Although always wanting more Dead Space I was content with how things were resolved. I was ready to move on. The opening moments of Awakened changes everything.

Isaac and John may have rid the planet of Necromorphs and destroyed the alien signal that was the root cause of it all, now their primary goal is to find an available escape shuttle to leave the planet. Easier said than done, especially when a remaining cult that takes the Church of Unitology to new heights of craziness is determined to stop them.

What begins as a routine mission quickly transforms into the Dead Space reminiscent of the first game: action set-pieces are replaced with scenes of terror, human mercenaries give way to self-mutilating lunatics, and most important of all, hallucinations are turned up to 11. More often than not you are unsure of what is real and what is purely the result of the Marker's influence - and it's done to near perfection.

Having played all of Dead Space 3 as Isaac Clarke I was often left out of the hallucinatory madness that John Carver was more prone to experience. One explanation for this is that Isaac has better adapted to the Marker's influence will while John Carver is a straight up noob. Still, continuing my Dead Space experience as Isaac Clarke during the Awakened DLC I was finally able to experience this exhilarating - and terrifying - form of co-op. Similar to Carver's experiences in Dead Space 3, I was given several opportunities during Awakened to break away from my co-op partner and defend myself from my inner demons and fears - and it was wonderful. Difficult, but wonderful!

Although this review may have some spoilers associated with Dead Space 3, I won't spoil the ending of this final chapter. I will say that it changes the course of the series, provides a glimpse of where things may go (it's awesome), and immediately puts to rest all those nasty rumors that EA was closing the door on the Dead Space franchise.

Altman be Praised!

Review: Metal Gear Rising Revengeance

 Revenge is sweet but Revengeance is sweeter. So you liked the new Devil May Cry? or you really enjoyed the button mashing fun that is Lollipop Chainsaw? Well Metal Rising Revengeance is for you! I had my doubts about this game but they've been all washed away. An action Metal Gear game with Snake wouldn't work but an action Metal Gear game with a cyborg Raiden does thanks to Platinum games. For a game that went through development hell it turned out pretty good. Also I would like to point out since the demo didn't have tutorial guess what the full game does so there you go!

  Raiden is back with a vengeance taking on the evil of the world. This story is not for the weak of heart it has slicing and dicing and it's just plain wicked. It has all the crazy Metal Gear story going on. Enough about the story just experience it yourself and enjoy. I had very little faith in this game until I brought it home popped it in my ps3 and let the carnage begin. Im not going to  bore you with all the graphical detail and such because well there will be plenty of other reviews that have that but it does have that gritty war torn Metal Gear Solid 4 look to it which is nice and not a bad thing. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty looking game, I just think seeing it for yourself will speak more about it. Now on to some important factors that matter.

  So you played the new DMC and liked the controls? Well you're in luck MGRR controls about the same way which is a good thing. You slice you dice and occasionally throw a grenade or use a rocket launcher and it all works well. Raiden movements are smooth and elegant for the most part. The LOCK-ON system works pretty well for what it is. I didn't really have much trouble with it but sometimes it would go whack-o on me. Slicing and dicing and parrying all work very well especially when you enter blade mode at a certain time and can chop the enemies up or in half if you prefer. Which gets really detailed and bloody at the same time. Raiden can do what they call a ninja run by holding R1 (PS3 controller) that lets him move super fast and automatically jump over boxes, slide through holes and whatever else gets in his way. I would almost say the control is perfect if it wasn't for having no lock on and occasionally the camera going screwy at certain times.

  While it is an action game it's not terribly long there's only seven chapters but with lots of replayability and collectibles. If you're not trying to improve you grade your collecting intel from computers or trying to severe that one enemy's arm to collect, oh yes one of the collectibles is certain enemy's left arm for data. As you play through you get points which can be used to upgrade Raiden and purchase new skills and weapons. So there's plenty to do even though it's only seven chapters there's still lots to had. Put down the COD and the Halo and try something that's a button mashing good time. You might surprise yourself and smile the whole time you're playing and have some good old fashion fun, you don't even have to be a fan of Metal Gear to enjoy this game.

 In closing controls are not perfect but what controls are? Graphics? Nice and pretty with the war torn gritty look to them. Sound? It's good and Raidens new voice fits. Just don't pass this gem up and all the pop culture references with it. Like I said in the beginning, I had no hope or excitement for this game but that's all been washed away and im glad I decided to give this game a shot and you should too. Now go pick the game up and GO NINJA GO GO NINJA GO!!

Review: Jetpack Joyride

Video games are often complex and extravagant creations.  Gone are the days when simple falling blocks kept us entertained. Or are they?

K.I.S.S.

When Jetpack Joyride appeared on EU PlayStation Plus recently, I figured this was the chance to play through Australian developer Halfbrick Studio's side-scrolling jump-'em-up. This game is simplicity itself: progress from left to right by using one button to avoid oncoming obstacles. Yes, one button. One!

Playing as the sole character Barry Steakfries, there are but two objectives to fulfil with your single, one hit kill life. First, simply travel as far as possible along the level before meeting your inevitable demise, and if you feel adventurous, secondly, aim to complete a number of "missions" by interacting with specific environmental objects as they come rushing by. By completing the missions, Barry levels up and can eventually be made prestigious, with a silver PSN trophy and a nice in-game badge as reward for his efforts.

The position of life-ending barriers in Jetpack Joyride is random, so no feat of memory can see you to the goal. Each and every game is different, which is  just one of the elements that makes this such an addictive title. As you traverse the level, Barry's speed becomes gradually quicker, until your reactions are simply unable to keep pace with the moving scenery and our plucky hero is returned to the starting blocks. If score chasing is your thing and you, like me, have the impulse to next time make it just that extra one meter further, be prepared to spend your next few hours in 60-90 second bursts of fun filled jetpacking!

Transformers, Bazza in disguise

Besides the trusty back-pack-booster, there are a small number of vehicle types, again randomly placed, to aid our man along. Each of them, whilst maintaining the single button control approach, function in unique ways and add a welcome level of variety to keep your progress interesting. A single hit destroys the vehicle, leaving you to proceed on foot until the next vehicle pick-up comes along. If you make it that far.

Throughout each level, gold coins appear in clusters for you to collect, all pooling towards unlockable perks and costumes from the in-game store. Vehicles may be pimped with gold plating and Barry has a number outfit options, though the real function comes in buffs, any two of which may be applied before each new run. I quickly found a combination that worked for me, though the 5km-travelled milestone remains illusive for now.

The remaining occasional collectable is a spin token, which grants a possible one-hit perk at the post-life fruit machine. Extra coins, invincible head-starts and distance boosters ease the frustration of your once lightening reactions having let you down for the 200th time this session.

BASICally

10 LOAD "Jetpack Joyride"

20 PLAY for a few frantic moments

30 CRASH and burn

40 PRINT "Awesome. Go again."

50 GOTO 10

10 minute bursts of all-ages, score chasing, arcade action. Play this game once and you're all in. I guarantee it.

Review: Yakuza Dead Souls

As the West awaits with anticipation for localisation news on Yakuza 5, Sega's Dead Souls is the most recently available portal to the video game world of Japanese mafia. With a story arc unlike any other in the 8 year old series, is this departure to a zombie apocalypse likely to interest established fans, or be more attractive to those with a taste for survival horror?

Return to Kamurocho

Those familiar with Yakuza 3 and 4 on PS3 will be immediately at home with Dead Souls' setting, being the vibrant city of Kamurocho. As the story plays out entirely in this location, the vast majority of other external areas found in previous Yakuza titles do not feature this time around.

The city however is partly locked down by the Military, owing to an outbreak that transforms the cities occupants into flesh munching zombies. Four protagonists play an equal part in terms of game time, each with their own sub-stories and intentions. As you might expect, Kazuma Kiryu returns as the lead character, to fight alongside 3 others from past Yakuza games: Sky Finance's Akiyama, the crazed Majima, and from Yakuza 2, Ryuji Goda. What confused me initially in the trailers for Dead Souls was the apparent and stark differences in the game environment, which seemingly switched from a zombie infested apocalypse to regular Kamurocho city life. The exclusion zone within the city, being huge reinforced barriers, keep the infected areas separate from the otherwise normal side. This allows the uninfected zones to maintain the mini-games staple of past Yakuza titles. The batting cage is there, Club Sega, hostess bars and of course the massage parlour. Yes, even the annoying cry baby is back! Along with the many and varied sub-plots & side missions, these mini games keep the recent open world essence of Yakuza alive, which was very welcome in a game that seemed to stray so drastically from the established Yakuza lineage. With variety such as this, life has never been spicier!

Cut-scenes throughout the game follow the Yakuza tradition of exceptional quality and outstanding cinematics. Dead Souls is a fully fledged entry to the series, not just a random half-baked spin off. Of course the dialogue remains throughout in Japanese with sub-titles, which I do not find an inconvenience in the slightest. To me, this arrangement just adds to the overall feel and captivation of Yakuza. The engrossing story will keep you engaged for sure, and with a main campaign of around 10 hours, you can be assured Dead Souls is a worthy addition to the series.

Kill 'em Dead

Besides the obvious story deviation in Dead Souls, there are two further elements that differentiate this from other Yakuza games, being combat mechanic and random interruptions.

While Dead Souls retains the unlock-able level up abilities, inventory management and side quests, gone are the street level interruptions for combat as you travel the map, and the melee fighting system that comes with it. Strictly speaking, melee combat does appear in the game, but this is for such a brief period that it is hardly worth mentioning. The main combat focus this time is unquestionably gun-play, which does have both positives and negatives. On the plus side, this shift of emphasis shows the versatility of the Yakuza engine and is on the whole very rewarding and robust.

The controls however can be quite confusing and takes practice to become competent with. For example, the camera can be difficult to position and control fluidly, until you master the mechanic. When roaming, the left stick controls character movement, and the right stick the camera position. Switch to an over-the-shoulder zoom for accurate shooting however, and the character stops moving altogether and the left stick then becomes the camera control. It took me some time to become fully accustomed to this, and I could well understand if camera control became a frustration for some. Being a fan of Yakuza games since the beginning, I was willing to perceiver and over-come the control limitations myself, yet I could understand if those approaching Dead Souls in a more casual manner would be less inclined to do so.

Weapon variety is good, ranging from hand-guns to sniper rifles, shot-guns to assault rifles. Each type can be modified at the gunsmith to improve damage, accuracy and magazine capacity. On occasion within the story, vehicles and their weapons are available, again something unusual for the Yakuza series. "Heat" attacks make a welcome return and provide some great kill cinematics for you to enjoy. With each "normal" enemy kill (of which there will be plenty, given the vast zombie hoards!), the player's heat gauge increases, which eventually triggers an environmental kill ability. If the associated "heat snipe" quick-time event is successfully completed, the following massive explosion via gas canisters or floods from fire hydrants can wipe out a group of bad guys in a flash. And by quick-time, I really do mean "quick" time. Playing on the hardest difficulty, these heat snipes can be hard to pull off, as the event timers run out very quickly. It's a test of reaction time to hit 1 of the 4 PlayStation action buttons, with the hardest of all being in the later boss battles. You need to be sharp!

As the game progresses, you are aided occasionally by other story characters, which provide co-op heat snipe abilities and some basic team control functions. This makes the game feel somewhat less of a "man versus the world" affair to being part of an over-arching story line that everyone is trying to survive.

Enemies are again reasonably varied, ranging from infected mafia and general populous, to end of level "prototype" bosses that offer a much greater challenge. Bosses become harder to defeat as you no doubt expect, but be prepared to face the mother of all bosses come the end. Stock up on ammo and health ahead of time is all I can say!

Yakuza: Dead Good

Dead Souls wins for me on almost all fronts. Fans of the Yakuza series will appreciate the continuation of defining elements that makes Yakuza what it is. Shooter fans will enjoy the satisfying yet sometimes tricky "blast 'em up" mechanic. Fans of the un-dead get to see their favourite genre realised within an established, polished and historic environment.

Please, Sega, the English speaking world needs Yakuza 5!

Review: PixelJunk Shooter

Every so often, a game ably strikes a balance between being accessible yet challenging, simple yet beautiful and short enough to leave you wanting more yet long enough that, upon completion, you are left with a sense of accomplishment. From Q-Games and in the same series of PixelJunk games like Racers, Monsters and Eden, Shooter continues a tradition of taking a familiar feeling game and making it something special. Sure it was released at the end of 2009, but it's new to me and definitely holds up three years later.

PixelJunk Shooter employs the bare minimum in terms of story to motivate the player and explain the end goal. A whale-shaped mining ship, The E.R.S. Piñita Colada, reaches a planet only to discover a distress signal stating that the miners have been captured. You must search high and low in three main areas, each with five associated levels.

PixelJunk Shooter has quickly become one of my most beloved download-only games.

In order to rescue the captured miners, you fly a small ship around each level blasting enemies and avoiding environmental hazards. The ship controls like other twin-stick shooters: left stick to move, right stick to aim and R1 or R2 to shoot. There is also a grappling hook (L1 or L2) that is used to pick up miners and the collectible gems that are scattered around each area. It can also be used to carry tools or, with certain power-ups, allows for parts of the environment to be rearranged. The power-ups change the ship weapons or what will damage it. Normally, lava damages and water cools, but the inverter suit allows you to fly through the lava while avoiding water.

What's that you say? If only there was a built-in video capture with direct YouTube upload to share your gameplay. Well, you're in luck. Check out the video below to see my playthrough of the first level.

Trophy hunters, don’t be dismayed by the fact that PJ Shooter is just a PSN game. The trophies are all related to gameplay elements and the collectibles. These are the types of trophies I like to go for as they encourage the player to experience all things the game has to offer but aren’t necessary to complete the game.

Even after finishing the game and getting all the collectibles, I still have two reasons to come back for more: score-chasing and two-player mode to share with a friend. Score-chasing is all about destroying multiple enemies in quick succession and finishing levels promptly. This can be done on the fly (sorry) or it can be experimented with to find the best order or method of dispatching your foes. Two-player mode allows for a friend to flop down on the couch next to you and join in on the campaign. There isn’t any online co-op here so invite a friend over and share this game with them.

PixelJunk Shooter has quickly become one of my most beloved download-only games. It now shares a spot amongst the likes of Journey as a personal favourite. Between the chill exploration, the variety of enemies and environmental hazards, the collectibles and the frantic boss battles, this game has a little something for everyone. I strongly encourage you to pick this game up ($9.99 on PSN), or revisit it, if you enjoy twin-stick shooters (Dead Nation or Super Stardust), space shooters (pick one) or just games in which everything works and makes sense.

*For the purpose of this review, the PS3 version of the game was played.

Review: Family Guy - Back To The Multiverse

Just for kicks, here's my Family Guy theme tune cover: http://youtu.be/Dzz3dSaZQLI

It seems today, that all you see, are video-games based on stuff from TV (source: my 007 review, coming soon). No bad thing! Some great TV/movie tie-in games over the years, though Family Guy's recent Time Warped on iOS was a somewhat underwhelming 2D platformer that never really held my attention. Being a huge fan of the TV series I was excited to see a console release, particularly as this time I could play through with a proper controller, as opposed to those horrid soft-keys on tablets.

With a Metacritic score of just 40 you could be forgiven for passing this one up, but "nothing ventured, nothing gained", as they say! Family Guy's appeal was too great to resist, so I re-charged the wallet, cleared some space, and prepared to spend a few hours fighting evil. Hero!

Round 1, fight!

Back to the Multiverse has Stewie and Brian travelling through space and time (easy!) in pursuit of Stewie's nemesis, Bertram. Each game level has a very distinct theme, based on reality but always with a bizarre twist, which offers a great degree of variety and ensures the environments never feel stale. Pirate ships to Santa's workhouse, hospitals to outer-space, let it never be said the game lacks environmental scope!

Sadly, one glaring omission in the level selection though is a Star Wars chapter. With so many great TV episodes devoted to Star Wars parody, it would have been fantastic to have this as a playable element of the game.

Levels are generally "progress from A to B" affairs, with clear progression markers and collect-em-up secondary objectives. Finding the hidden articles unlocks new weapons, costumes and multi-player characters, so they are definitely worth the time to hunt down during missions.

The game rewards kills and exploration with cash to spend on character upgrades, which become important on the later levels when Bosses become that little bit harder. Generally though the degree of difficulty is quite low: power-ups re-spawn and generally enemies do not, even following a continue. There is no difficulty selection from the main menu and the levels generally have some parity, with only a moderate increase in difficulty as you progress though each stage. Until the last chapter that is. Strap yourself in for that one.

Throughout the game, the player has the option to hot-swap between either Stewie or Brian, with each having specific weapons to help waste Bertram's army of evil minions. Besides the primary weapons and grenades, collectable "specials" are also available to offer temporary close support. Joe with a machine gun? Done. Big yellow maniacal chicken? The best!

A nice touch for each character is a taunt, usable at will which adds a flourish with some amusing dialogue, particularly with Stewie. Peter is playable for one level later in the game, which though quite easy to progress through, definitely added to the experience overall and the game is certainly richer for his appearance.

Your time is most often spent running, jumping and shooting in pursuit of your mission goals, and I'm happy to report the control mechanic is tight and accurate. For the experienced shooter players out there, mowing down hoards of enemies will feel second nature. A few of the boss battles requires some accurate shooting, but thanks to the solid controls, failures are most often of your own doing, which then never leaves you feeling frustrated in having to battle the controls or camera along with the boss guy.

In addition to the main story, the games offers a "Challenge" mode and a couch competitivesplit-screen multi-player. Challenge is a score chase hoard mode, set within various levels as visited in the story mode, with the aim to collect stars for completing objectives within a given amount of time. On the harder difficulty levels, these are really quite difficult, with less time and a greater number of enemies. It's in these additional modes that other characters are available to play, such as Louis, Chris and Cleveland, all with multiple costumes taken from various key TV episodes.

Drawings and Noises

Besides the outstanding animation of the TV show, Family Guy has an abundance of wonderful music, some of which makes it to the game. An additional DLC (Opening Number pack) provides variations of the main theme to menu background music, which in turn adds substance to the overall game package.

Most of the main show characters make an appearance at some point, dressed and voiced appropriately for the particular level design. The constants on each level are the Griffin family, often found in some amusing situation, relative to the stage. My first laugh of many in this game came from seeing Peter being paraded on a show float, performing his version of "Milkshake". Humour is abundant throughout the game, with very many show references, including some subtle ones for the Family Guy nerds (i.e. the likes of me!). Giggidy.

Voice acting is a mix of clips direct from the shows and others recorded specifically for the game. The show audio always works well in context and again will be appreciated by fans of the series. Character animation is slick and all the models accurately represent the show, even down to the fringe characters. Granted we are dealing with reproducing a cartoon, not actual real life locations nor people, but the developers made a good job of bringing the Family Guy cast and set alive as a recognisable environment. Present anyone with Back to the Multiverse for the first time and they will quickly identify it as Family Guy.

Shut up, Meg

Given the fairly forgiving degree of difficulty, I found myself playing this game often in short 30 minute to 1 hour stints, as a quick pick up and play. Without expending too much time (around 5-6 hours), I was able to play through, unlock a few specials and complete the main game. For me, this title sits as an intermediary: something to keep you entertained when gaming time is short, else when you are in-between AAA titles.

Though we don't normally do scores at ABOG, I cannot help but think the Metacritic average is definitely on the low side, given the game has no major flaws and is generally well executed. For a game scoring 40, I would expect clunky controls, poor production values, shallow story or other such annoyance. Truth is, Back to the Multiverse delivers a well rounded, well produced, pocket-sized and humorous experience, much like the TV show itself!

This review is dedicated to the memory of Sir Patrick "GamesMaster" Moore, who sadly passed away in December 2012, aged 89.

Review: Uncharted Fight for Fortune

Story/Premise

Uncharted: Fight for Fortune is a battle card game which pits you against a single opponent. Each opponent is a character from an Uncharted game – either friend or foe. If you’ve played any of the collectible card games currently available, the gameplay elements present will feel familiar.

Uncharted: Fight for Fortune can be played entirely using the front touch screen. However, the menus allow for the use of the face buttons.

Gameplay

The gameplay is simple enough: increase each of your faction points by one (this is how you pay for characters), play a character card in one of 5 “lanes,” randomly choose one of three treasure cards to attach to a character or instantly bank, play a resource card using resource points and then battle with active characters. At its heart, Uncharted: Fight for Fortune focuses on mild resource management but the card battling is also part of the fun.

Character cards are affiliated with one of three factions: Heroes, Villains or Mercs. Each player can have a maximum of five character cards in play simultaneously and can replace an existing character with a new character card at the beginning of their turn.

In addition to faction points, treasure acts as a currency but is instead used to play resource cards. After playing a character, one face-down treasure is randomly selected by the player at which time all three are revealed and the two unpicked treasures are discarded. The remaining treasure can be instantly banked for five resource points or attached to a character card with the hopes of cashing it in later for the full face value. This is accomplished when the character it is attached to defeats an opponent’s character or a card ability allows it to be cashed in or “banked.”

Typical resources cards include armor and weapons. They can be played by spending the resource point obtained by banking treasure, but some of them are free.

Everything you’ve done so far has been leading up to the actual battling of the cards. The active player’s characters will attack the opponent’s characters in the same “lane” resulting in the defending card’s defense number being reduced by the attacking card’s attack power. There is no regenerating health action going on here so a card with five health can only take five damage total before being destroyed. If your character attacks and there isn’t a defending character, the damage is done directly to the opponent.

There can be multiple win conditions which are set before the game starts. Aside from the usual “do X damage to the opponent,” win conditions may include “Survive X turns,” “Bank X treasure” and “Play this character card.”

This game links with the trophies from Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Some of the treasure and resources cards will have their attack, defense or treasure values doubled if you have the corresponding Uncharted: Golden Abyss trophy.

The AI can be fairly forgiving and doesn't always make the best play. If you make a mistake it might not be game over.

Co-op/Online/Multiplayer

If you’re not satisfied with beating up on the AI, beat up on your PSN friends. There are several options including playing asymmetrically against someone on your friends list or choosing pass-and-play to battle someone in the same room on the same Vita.

One thing to note is that there is the option to customize which of your characters are included during each game but this only works during online play. All unlocked cards are used during the single player matches.

Kid/Family-Friendly

If you played any of the Uncharted games with your kids in the room, then you will have no worries playing this with them watching or allowing them to play it. There isn’t any violence per se and I don’t recall hearing any dialogue. However, I played with the sound off while watching TV for most of the game so maybe I missed something.

Trophies

For all the trophy hunters out there, the time commitment needed to get 100% here may be too great. However, if you do take the plunge, all but the one multiplayer trophy can be obtained by unlocking all the in-game cards. The multiplayer trophy is for winning an online game and can't be obtained during pass-and-play.

Lasting Impressions – One Week Later

I purchased the game when it released at the beginning of December and was still playing during the holidays. I managed to unlock all the currently available cards in both the main game and the two expansions and would wager that I spent 25 total hours on the game - 20 minutes at a time. Now that I’m done the single player matches, I will probably only play some online matches until another expansion comes out.

Recommendation

If you enjoy any of the collectible card games available, this might be the game for you. The best things about Uncharted Fight for Fortune are the value and the digestible time requirements. For under $11 you can get the main game and two expansions that can easily be played in 20 minute chunks. There is a demo available, but since I purchased the game sight unseen, I can only assume it contains the first match from the main game.

*For the purpose of this review, the PS Vita version of the game was played – because that’s the only place it’s available.