Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: Stories: The Path of Destinies

Recently I discovered a pretty fantastic game with a (sadly) very generic name. Stories: The Path of Destinies is an Action-RPG where each choice leads you to a different ending. Most of the story is told through a picture book, narrated by Julian Casey (IMDb here). Everything from the narrative and voice acting to the artwork and soundtrack deserves praise.
The Story Book

You play as Reynardo, a fox, and your job is to help the Rebellion fight against the mad Emperor frog. You just have to figure out how you're going to destroy the Empire and save the Rebels and others you care about.

Each story takes about an hour to play through. You will have to play through multiple times to eventually get the "correct" ending. One reason I enjoyed Stories so much is the way it lets you fail, and multiple times at that. I completed the story through four different endings before I had a clear path to the "good" ending.

Most of the game play itself is spent hacking through hordes of ravens to continue along your path. The combat style used in this game could turn into monotonous button-mashing to get through the many waves of enemies, but the developers seem to have found a way to work around this. Just as you think you're getting bored of beating down all
An example of combat
the ravens, you are introduced to enemies with new abilities you haven't seen before. They're still ravens, but now you have to rip away their shields. Others cast fire magic you have to avoid, or cast spells that buff the other, lesser ravens.

Throughout the islands that make up the world, you'll find locked paths that require you to build different Hero Swords to unlock. Most of these paths will lead you to treasure which you can use to upgrade your swords and unlock other abilities. Now and then you will even find information that will help you piece together the whole story. Sometimes it is worth going back through parts of the story you've already seen so you can get to things you couldn't before.
Different endings to Stories

You're probably thinking this is all too good to be true - that I've given it nothing but praise so far. Well you'd be right. As it turns out, Stories isn't perfect and there are one or two little issues. First of all, this game uses Unreal Engine 4 so if you are playing on PC, you will need some horsepower behind it. (Thankfully it is also available on PS4.)

Second, even with a PC that runs The Witcher 3 smoothly with graphics set to high and nVIDIA HairWorks on - not to mention having Stories installed on an SSD - the load times are horrible. Seriously, you have time to go get a snack or start a load of laundry. Maybe both.

Last of all, since I got the "good" ending, I just haven't made myself play through any of the other stories yet. Maybe that's just my own problem, but it makes me wonder about the replay value. Maybe the best plan is to wait a few years until I forget all about it and play through again.

Now, we get to the important question: Do I recommend this game? Absolutely yes. It's only $15 on Steam if you play on PC, and the same price on PSN if you play on PS4.

Thank you for reading, please feel free to comment. -DED

Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online Beta

Before I get started, I want anyone who is reading this to know I have not watched the anime at the time of this writing. With that out of the way, I will give you my outsider's point of view.

My first impression is that Ghost in the Shell wasn't completely awful; though I'm glad I didn't pay anything for it. With this game still in beta I won't be too harsh about the issues with the game play itself. Hopefully the developers will fix a few things before release. However, there is still a problem that can't just be patched later - the game is a pretty generic FPS. Sure, there are a few game mechanics that you don't seen in every other online shooter. Fans of the series would even recognize the characters. It just isn't enough to keep the game from getting boring.

As far as game play goes:
There are eight(?) different characters to choose from, each with his or her own unique ability. (Temporary invisibility, ultra-fast sprinting, turrets, to name a few.) There are also three game modes to choose from. (Team Death Match, Terminal Conquest, and Demolition.) This may not be a huge spread of options but at least you aren't playing through endless rounds of death match unless you really want to. Having a few options is nice and all, but no matter who you pick you start with the same weapons as everyone else, and no matter what game mode you play it feels like everyone is still playing death match. All of that aside, you aren't stuck with the weapons you start with. In fact, weapon unlocks and customization are probably the most well thought-out part of the game. There's actually a pretty good selection of weapons and upgrades for each of them. (Grips, barrels, magazines, sights, maybe more.) That's not to say it takes quite a while to unlock weapons.

The problem areas:
I said above I wouldn't be too harsh about the problems that can be fixed; that won't stop me from writing about them. Here's my laundry list:
  • Poorly optimized (lag, dropped frames)
  • Weird menu layout (no main menu)
  • Poor hit detection
  • Not enough maps
  • Maps are small
  • No bullet physics
  • Poor hit detection
  • Clunky controls
  • Contextual jumping (to get over walls and up ladders)
Personally, good optimization is very important and unfortunately Ghost in the Shell needs some work in that area. There's lag that exists in menus but doesn't show up in-game. When playing, you have to get used to using iron sights on a toggle (click once to zoom in, again to zoom out), but you have to hold the buttons to run or crouch. The game also shows you certain places you can jump over walls or climb ladders, but is very picky about where you're standing and you can't be running when you do it.

Some of these things can easily be fixed or added later. (Like maps.) Others would require more work, but also need the extra attention. I understand some fixes may never happen, but there may not be a better time to make changes than while the game is still in beta.

When all is said and done, it's free (you have nothing to lose), it's different and not the 100th iteration of Call of Duty (this year alone), and I got to spend some time playing with some of my friends and having fun. I know a lot of fans of the anime are already severely disappointed by this game, but let me remind you of the price tag.

So, do I recommend it? For the price tag, yes.

Thank you for reading, please feel free to comment. -DED

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

TRANSFORMERS: Devastation - The hero Gotham deserves

There was a time in my life when I lived and breathed Transformers. It is an absolute tragedy that the children of this generation will grow up thinking that Transformers is merely an excuse for giant robots to make sexual innuendos and for Megan Fox to show us the wonders of extensive plastic surgery. The 80s/90s were truly a wonderful time, and the Transformers franchise was one of the major contributors. TRANSFORMERS: Devastation is a game that does not include Megan Fox. Nor does it include any sexual innuendos. Let me repeat--this is Transformers without Megan Fox. Rejoice, fellow acolytes of Transformers. This is a game that sets out to restore what made Transformers so great in the first place. That is--cheesy writing, big guns, transforming robots, and most importantly--those robots smashing each other to bits.
He's asking about her latest visit to the surgeon.
Gameplay - TRANSFORMERS: Devastation brings the Platinum fighting system beautifully into the world of Transformers. This system is almost identical to Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. However, there is the addition of vehicle combos during moments of ‘focus’ (a state achieved after successfully dodging an attack). It is a blast driving around as a car and punching an enemy while transforming back into robot form as the game slows down just enough to make that punch feel solid and satisfying.
Weapons all feel appropriately weighted--hammers and sniper rifles feel slow and powerful, swords and machine guns feel smooth and effective, etc.
It's the tesseract! No-wait. That can't be right.
There are five playable characters, two of which must be unlocked by playing the first few missions. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and Grimlock (yes, the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Dinobots). Each character feels relatively distinct, offering unique gameplay and personality. My personal favorite was Grimlock (of course) with his quirky moveset and heavy hitting. He is, by default, the most powerful character. I equipped him with a thermal hammer and a machine gun, while frequently utilizing his fire breathing capabilities while in Tyrannosaurus Rex form.
While the length of the game seemed appropriate to me, some may find it to be an issue. The campaign can be finished within six hours. The replay value is pretty high as the game ‘rates’ each battle with a letter grade. It is challenging to bump that C or D up to an SS rating. There are also 50 challenges offered outside of the campaign to further boost the replay value.

Presentation - The art is true to the golden age of the Transformers franchise, echoing that 90s cartoon art style. Animations are beautifully rendered, somehow reminiscent of smooth velvet. Merely watching each character transform is mesmerizing in and of itself. However, with that being said, it’s not all roses.
Welcome to generic city. This will be your permanent home.
The maps are extremely repetitive. At least fifty percent of the game is played in the same boring city. Maps outside of the city are generally not developed particularly well, often Tron-like in their simplicity.
Similarly, the bosses are reused over and over again, as if the studio decided that they wanted ‘x’ number of boss fights but ran out of budget to make each one unique. Each boss is challenging and distinct, but become more and more monotonous with each consecutive meeting.
While the third person view lends itself perfectly to the beat ‘em up nature of the gameplay, the game inexplicably becomes a top-down brawler for one single sequence (lasting no longer than ten minutes). During this sequence, it becomes difficult to telegraph enemy moves, making dodging an arduous feat left for more skilled Autobots than I. Shooting becomes downright impossible. This sequence was unpleasant and stands out as the worst part of the game. As previously stated, this perspective only appeared once throughout the six hour campaign (thank Primus).
I am proud to present this game with a solid ‘Pizza’ rating. Pizza is always good. Hell, pizza is always excellent. However, I’ve never had a pizza that changed my life. Pizza is always more or less the same. Satisfying. Beautiful in its modesty. But it’s no $200 steak that you eat with your pinkie in the air, let’s face it. For anyone craving a taste of what Transformers used to be, this game is well worth your time. Likewise, for anyone looking for a solid beat ‘em up, this game comes highly recommended. However, the story is forgettable, the maps aren’t particularly inspired, the bosses are reused and repetitive, and if I ever have to play that top-down sequence again, I might run off and join the Decepticons instead. TRANSFORMERS: Devastation is a breath of fresh air from the Transformers I.P. It is more than meets the eye.

Thanks for taking the time to read my review! Feel free to tell me to tell me your thoughts on TRANSFORMERS: Devastation in the comments. -Kodiak