Author Archives: Geoff

Review: The Last of Us

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In my time playing The Last of Us, I never really felt as though I was doing well.  There was never a sense of accomplishment or victory in clearing a room of bandits or escaping from a Bloater.  I made it through another encounter, and because of my mistakes I have a total of six bullets among all of my guns to deal with the next one.  Between the gameplay and narrative, I couldn’t shake the sense of dread — my luck is going to run out.

The Last of Us is the story of Joel and Ellie above all else.  Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic story akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with a splash of zombie fiction, yet character interaction is the meat of the narrative. Whether it is the dynamic between Joel and Ellie, or the unique cast of character who make appearances throughout the story, it all feels fresh.  The Last of Us reuses typical situations for the genre, but twists it in such a way that it doesn’t feel cliché.  You feel for the characters, and their problems become your own.

The world is dark, yet technically beautiful.  There is a section where you must traverse an office building which demonstrates the level of detail Naughty Dog put into the environments.  The building has conference rooms, break rooms and office cubicles, many of which serve no purpose to the game.  Many don’t even have pickups or any reward for searching them.  These rooms exist because realistically they would have been there.  Beyond the physical location, Naughty Dog establishes the cruelty of the world through example, shoving the evidence for the game’s bleak and broken the world in the player’s face.

The gameplay is solid, capturing the story’s brutality.  Melee especially demonstrates some chilling death animations, showcasing how brutal it would be for a person to kill someone with their bare hands.  Each encounter holds weight, with a couple of bandits managing to be more than a challenge for Joel.  As encounters grow in scale, players will rely on a hybrid of stealth and hit-and-run tactics to survive.  A lack of bullets prevents the game from becoming Uncharted, yet it is nigh impossible to perfectly sneak through any section without being caught.  The gunplay is a major improvement from Uncharted as well, with most enemies dying after a few shots.  Crafting adds to the equation, allowing Joel to create nail bombs, smoke grenades and Molotov cocktails.  Every resource is valuable, and none of the weapons feel arbitrary.

Unfortunately, the game has some flaws.  Most reviews have mentioned the enemy AI’s tendency to look past Ellie as she runs right in front of them.  While I wish the companion AI were tweaked so it almost never interfered with stealth, I appreciate that Naughty Dog made Ellie invisible rather than have her force the player into a fight.  While not a flaw itself, some players may also be frustrated with the game’s difficulty.  This isn’t to say The Last of Us is particularly hard, but players shouldn’t go into The Last Of Us as though it were a traditional stealth game.  You will need every bullet, bomb and bottle to make it through.

What flaws the game does have pale in comparison to the polish.  The game includes character dialogue for a variety of optional parts of the game.  For example, Joel and Ellie will discuss the contents of a note in a child’s bedroom.  This dialogue is an optional result of an optional note in an optional room, and the fact that Naughty Dog took the time to record it is fascinating.  Another fun little addition to the game was Ellie’s thefts.  Throughout the game, Ellie has a tendency of stealing things, only to tell Joel later.  If you watch Ellie, you can actually catch her in the act, and find that the objects are missing.  No one would fault Naughty Dog for not including these little details, but the game is made better because they did.

Overall, I love The Last of Us.  It is a dark, tense journey that punishes you.  Naughty Dog has polished the  gameplay and story to a mirror sheen and uses them in tandem to make one of the best games this year.  To players looking for not just a great video game narrative, but an excellent narrative in general, I fully recommend The Last of Us.

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Microsoft removes DRM, used game restrictions

Games Xbox

In response to criticism of the Xbox One’s DRM and used game policy, Microsoft has removed the system’s daily online connection requirement and restrictions on game trading.  The Xbox One can now play games from the disc, and owners will not have to download the game.

I was thinking of writing a longer article on the entire Xbox One vs. PS4 debate, but Microsoft’s decision to completely reverse their policies has changed the argument. I never expected Microsoft to completely change their stance.  The fact that they did suggests that the negative reaction they received coupled with Sony’s popularity at E3 really scared them.  This is huge step for gamers and consumers, and shows that your opinion does matter. If Microsoft can be frightened to the point doing a complete 180°, the same can be done for Sony, Nintendo, and all the various publishers and developers out there.  You can’t just put out any product you want while ignoring feedback, and if you want to sell a console or a game, you need to have the fans on your side.  The Xbox One is officially back in the running.  Now let’s see if they can justify the higher price.

Microsoft confirms daily online requirement, limited used games

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Microsoft has released the official details about the Xbox One’s online connectivity and used games policy.  While it won’t need a constant internet connection, the Xbox One requires users log in once every 24 hours on their main console and once every hour on other consoles.  Xbox One games can be traded in to “participating retailers.” Up to ten people can use your game library from any Xbox One, and you can give your Xbox One games away to someone else, but you are required to have been friends on Xbox One for 30 days, and you can only give a game away once.

Microsoft had very hazy policies on these two topics, until now, and I couldn’t be more disappointed.  It seems people care more about their used games than anything else, because that seemed to be the issue on various message boards as opposed to literal DRM.  What no one seems to realize is that PC games don’t have a used option, and it works just fine.  If anything, PC gaming is better off because, without used games, developers can afford to have huge sales on their games because they are making a profit.  When someone buys a used game at GameStop, the developers see none of that money.  I was hoping the Xbox One would embrace digital distribution in exchange for used games, and possibly opt for a system similar to Steam.  Instead, used games still exist with new, strange restrictions.

Meanwhile, the online policy remains the same, connect online once a day, or we take your games.  Or once an hour if you are not on your main console.  This is DRM, plain and simple.  And it should never be tolerated, especially when it is coming from the console itself.  This is a ridiculous requirement, and the fact that it went through unscathed while used games were shoehorned into the system is insanity.  At this point, none of the next-generation consoles have managed to catch my interest.  Rather, I feel more isolated as a gamer than ever before.  Of course, E3 is right around the corner, but even if Microsoft pulled out all the stops, I can’t see myself opting into such a system.

 

“Shadows of the Eternals” Kickstarter cancelled, to be relaunched

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Precursor Games plans to cancel their Kickstarter and Paypal crowdfunding drives for Shadows of the Eternals on June 6.  The campaigns, which were scheduled to continue until June 18,  failed to meet their $1.35 million goal, receiving a total of  $284,959.  The spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness will have a new crowdfunding campaign withing the next few weeks, which will also feature new developments into the game.

The former members of Silicon Knights have something to prove if they want to succeed with their new game.  It is unquestionable that  Eternal Darkness has achieved cult status, but that alone doesn’t entitle the developers to a cool million and change. Considering the developer’s more recent works, the new developments better impress.  I want Shadows of the Eternals to happen.  But first Precursor Games need to prove they can make it happen.

Five next-gen issues

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The next generation of video game consoles is upon us.  As developers walk away from the Wii U while it hemorrhages money, Microsoft and Sony have prepared a more traditional evolution of their respective consoles.  Both systems offer similar technological advancements, as well as a variety of new features — some better than others.  With such little information available, it is pointless to try to measure which console will be superior.  Therefore, I will detail the five biggest issues I have with both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One.

  1. No backwards compatibility: Yes, I know the seventh generation of consoles hasn’t been the greatest for backwards compatibility, but the PS3 originally had the feature and the Xbox 360 covers a decent part of the Xbox library.  While most video game enthusiasts won’t need to worry about this, I can definitely see this being an issue for someone trying to get into gaming.  It’s not the most important feature, but it’s that extra bit of effort that would add value to the total package.
  2. Social features: Not an issue, but a very strong focus that I feel Microsoft and Sony should tone down.  I am realistic, and I understand why Microsoft and Sony both want to boast these features.  But do we need a dedicated “Share” button?  I’m not dropping $400 or more on another Facebook machine, I want to play video games.  Which leads to my next point…
  3. Not enough games: E3 is around the corner, so I hope Sony and Microsoft make me eat these words.  The official announcements for both consoles featured very few games overall.  And what little they did show consisted of either games which were already announced or trailers that served no purpose beyond being pretty.  The actual games need to take priority if either company wants to sell their console.
  4. Online: An internet connection should never be a requirement for something to work.  We don’t live in a world where everyone universally has access to a connection, even if it seems that way.  Consumers have nothing to gain from always-online requirements, and they shouldn’t stand for them.
  5. Motion controls: Between Kinect and the glowing blue strip on the PS4 controller, motion control is here to stay for the eighth generation.  It almost always feels forced unless it is a game based around it.  It is a gimmick, and with luck it won’t overstay its welcome.

Steam removes “WarZ”

War Z

Following widespread controversy, Valve removed Hammerpoint Interactive’s The War Z from Steam.  People who purchased the game complained due to false advertising on the Steam store page for the game, with the game lacking various promised features.  Sergey Titov, developer of the game, responded to the backlash, ultimately letting responsibility for refunds fall on Valve.  Besides removing the game, Valve is currently offering refunds to people who purchased the game.

Consumers deal with more than their fair share of shady business from the video game industry.  On-disc DLC, subscription services, DRM, the list can go on for miles.  The War Z is nothing more than a money-grubbing scam.  This isn’t something new.  It is the kind of thing that happens almost every day, and no one bats an eyelash.  But today, people spoke out.  Maybe it’s not right that a basic refund and removal from the store is the best we can hope for; an exception to the rule of cheating and foul play.  But it’s a start.

“Bioshock: Infinite” cover to appeal to non-gamers

Bioshock Infinite Cover Art

Creative Director at Irrational Games Ken Levine recently addressed  the choice of box art for Bioshock Infinite, which has faced criticism from many.  Levine explained that the cover art was designed to appeal to people unaware of the game, as opposed to fans who’ve been following the title since its announcement.  Levine assured fans that Irrational games will provide alternate cover art that can be printed out.

Walking the tightrope between business and art always seems to be an issue with media.  It’s easy to cry “sell out,” but you need only look at history to discover that the quality of your work doesn’t mean a good life.  Can I blame Irrational Games for trying to appeal to the type of person who will spend $60 because the cover has a gun, fire, and the American flag?  No.  Will the box change the content of the game?  Also, no.  This is not the worst cover art ever made for a game.  (This is.)  However, what could have been great has resigned itself to mediocrity, a blemish on what seems will be an amazing game.

“Hitman” app causes controversy

Hitman Facebook App

Early Tuesday morning, Facebook featured the “Hire Hitman” app as a tie in to the recently released Hitman: Absolution.  The app allowed users to set up “hits” on their friends, allowing the user to identify the target through a number of predetermined descriptions, such as “her small tits” or “her muffin top.”  Sqaure Enix took the app down in response to “community feedback.” and apologized.

The video game industry has always been sketchy when it comes to promoting their products.  Whether it is mock protests or horrifying baby commercials , it’s safe to say gaming companies can make bad choices.  However, I believe this app wasn’t a completely bad idea.  “Killing” your Facebook friends could be a funny joke with a certain crowd.  The issue is that they presented the option to make fun of your friends for their appearance.  If the app allowed the user to write out their own description, then all the blame goes to the people using the app.  By shoving the option to insult your friend’s breast size in the user’s face, Square Enix took it a bit too far.

Second “Walking Dead” game features TV actor

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

Terminal Reality Creative Director Drew Haworth announced that Norman Reedus, actor in AMC’s The Walking Dead, will voice his character in the first-person shooter, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.   The game is set to come out next year.

Man, I bet people are excited we are finally getting a Walking Dead game!  Oh, wait.  As far as I am concerned, Survival Instinct is unnecessary.  Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a genius game in its own right, and an amazing adaptation of the zombie comic/television show.  It did something new with the overused genre of zombie fiction, focusing on survival outside of killing zombies, such as making allies and not starving.  Sadly, I fear that Survival Instinct will overshadow Telltale Games’ masterpiece.  After all, we can’t get enough of those original zombie shooters!

Nintendo launches Wii Mini in Canada

Wii Mini

Starting Nov. 30, Walmart stores in Canada began selling the Nintendo Wii Mini, a $99 alternative to the normal Wii.  Along with the price cut, the Wii Mini does not support online features and cannot play Game Cube games.  It is only available in Canada at this point.

I can already hear the cries of children who will be getting this instead of the other recently released Nintendo console.  However, despite that possible mishap, this honestly is a great alternative for parents who don’t want to worry about their kids messing around online.  Why it is a Canada-exclusive system until after Christmas?  Who knows, but I think it’s safe to say the Wii U will cover their non-Canadian bases.