Killzone: Shadow Fall
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, intense violence, strong language)
As the obligatory first-person shooter for the new Playstation 4, Killzone: Shadow Fall barely registers on the fun meter. It's so by-the-numbers that you'd be forgiven for mistaking this for a PS3 game. Its most notable feature is its amazing skylines. The opening stage takes place at night, and looking down the side of one of these gigantic skyscrapers will give you a case of vertigo. The ability to see far into the distance makes the game feel epic in scale. The rainy industrial locations are Blade Runner-inspired, but a heck of a lot less interesting (and that rain looks really fake by the way). The gameplay itself might just give you an industrial-sized headache. The shootouts are okay but the AI is suspect. Sometimes it looks like enemies are lining up to make it easier for you to mow them down. The puzzle aspects of the game absolutely stink, and the stages that take place in outer space are the worst offenders. The only thing worse than first-person platform jumping is... check that, there is nothing worse!
The control scheme is counter-intuitive, and since there are no instructions, you'll have to learn the hard way. I hate how it's not obvious whether you're in a crouch position. One nifty feature is the ability to control a flying drone you can direct to attack enemies, hack computers, create ziplines, and even revive you. Unfortunately changing its "modes" via the touch pad feels both clumsy and contrived. I like the crisp sound of the audio logs emanating through your controller's speaker, but why are the rest of the voices in this game so faint and muffled? Pressing up on the digital pad highlights your destination, but the light orange marker is hard to see and goes away after a few seconds. The developers apparently thought that since the game was in HD it was okay to use a tiny 3-point font, but I can't read that! Killzone has a few thrills (like hanging off an aircraft as it flies over the city) but most of the time I felt like I was slogging through morass. Advanced enemies have shields surrounding their entire bodies, and you'll need to deal with annoying swarming spider droids. The stages are long and there's no indication of your progress being saved. The boring melodrama between missions is apparently meant to mask the load times. I can only recommend Killzone: Shadow Fall to die-hard fans of the series, and even they might want to think twice. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
King of Fighters XIV
Publisher: Atlus (2016)
Rating: Teen (language, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)
As a longtime fan of this franchise which dates all the way back to King of Fighters 94
(Neo Geo, 1994), I have mixed feelings about King of Fighters XIV (KOF14). The game contains 50 fighters spanning the entire lifespan of the series including old standbys like Terry Bogard, Joe Higashi, Geese Howard, and Mia Shirinu. Others of note include a hooded guy who turns into sand, a girl with an attack bird, a mega-hot latina, and some big dude dressed up like a dinosaur! Frankly there are so many characters it's hard to tell who's new. I like how they speak in Japanese, adding credibility somehow. The artistic stages incorporate the Shanghai skyline at night, an aquarium, truckstop, stadium, cathedral, and rainy temple. Sadly, the scenery appears boring and flat, lacking the subtle details and clever animations that add personality. In the tradition of the King of Fighters each bout is a 3-on-3 matchup. The fighting action is solid but unspectacular, and for best results you'll want a joystick controller. The tutorial walks you through all the elements of the game, but by the time it reaches advanced techniques like "climax super SP moves" it starts to wear thin. Maybe it's time for the series to knock the complexity down a notch. Whenever I pick up this game I feel like I need a damn refresher course, and naturally there's no manual. KOF14 has full support for online play but thankfully it still caters to the offline experience with single-player modes like story, trial, versus, time attack, and survival. It saves all your best times and scores locally along with statistics on character usage. What's missing is a proper arcade mode - a quick challenge without a major time investment. The story mode can
serve this purpose, but only if you crank up the CPU difficulty because the default skill level is ridiculously easy. A second problem is how the game overscans my plasma TV screen, making it hard to read character names that are cut off. There are actually display options for adjusting various HUD elements but none that could fix my problem. In general the icons and text are awfully tiny, making it hard to read the command lists. The load times are reasonable but couldn't they keep up the "character versus" art up while loading instead of having the screen go black? King of Fighters XIV is a full-featured fighter with a rich heritage but this latest edition is hard to get excited about. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
Some critics have knocked Knack for being a conventional platformer - like that's such a bad thing!
I guess all the "me too" first-person shooters get a free pass. The truth is, every new system needs an accessible, family-friendly game like Knack. The main character is a bunch of artifacts magically held together to form a robot-like being. Unlike most platform heroes, Knack isn't particularly cute. In fact, he's kind of ugly! Still, it's fun to make him smack-down robots, causing them to short-circuit and explode. The basic gameplay boils down to platform jumping and combat. You'll also want to dodge traps and keep an eye out for hidden goodies. Whenever you confront a new set of foes, it's best to strike quickly, as you can usually take several out before they even have a chance to react. It's satisfying to knock armor off enemies as you wear them down. Collecting yellow crystals fills a meter that lets you execute special moves, and I love the "clink" sounds that play through your controller's speaker as you pick up the crystals. The special moves are a blast. One lets you shake the ground, another unleashes missiles, and a third transforms you into a little tornado. Knack packs a wallop, and his finishing punches are slowed down for dramatic effect. As he accumulates more artifacts, Knack grows in size, allowing you to inflict even more carnage. This style of game doesn't call for spectacular graphics, so don't expect any. The story and dialogue are nothing to write home about either. Even so, Knack was easily my favorite launch PS4 title of both myself and my friends. Not because it's innovative or technically advanced, but because it's consistently entertaining and just plain fun. That still matters to some people! © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Lego Jurassic World
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2015)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, crude humor)
I thought I had had my fill of Lego games (which are all pretty much the same) but my unbridled love for everything Jurassic Park convinced me to buy this. Lego Jurassic World covers all four movies
for Pete's sake! Its simplistic graphics are to be expected, but the loose collision detection and awkward camerawork beg the question: are they still reusing the original PS2 Lego engine? Each stage allows you to toggle between multiple characters, and sometimes it feels like there's too many cooks in the kitchen. Each character brings a different ability to the table like using a gun, climbing, fixing stuff, or performing acrobatics. In some cases these abilities make sense, but too often the who-can-do-what seems terribly arbitrary (only this kid can build this, only this guy can turn this lever, etc). Sometimes an action can only be undertaken by a character you haven't even unlocked yet (and never will). Sometimes you get to control the dinosaurs. Bashing scenery releases tons of cogs to collect, but I'm about ten years past the point of caring about those. Parts lying around can be assembled into bridges, ladders, and giant catapults by holding the O button. The O button is used for so many things it's ridiculous: digging, building, interacting, picking up stuff, employing special abilities, and more. The controls seem poorly thought out. Why would a raptor need an aiming reticule?
As you might imagine, the confusion is magnified with two players. The unskippable cut-scenes are mildly-entertaining at best, and even the save system is suspect. If there's an autosave, what's the point of manual save points? I also encountered one spectacular glitch that literally launched my raptor into the stratosphere! I watched in surreal amazement as he floated back down to his virtual world. I would complain about that if it wasn't so awesome
. Despite its glaring flaws I don't hate Lego Jurassic World. I like how it recreates the movie storylines and there's always something new to do and see. Little kids will probably spend countless hours collecting all the cogs and hidden items. Best of all, that that snooty brunette assistant gets eaten in this game too. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2014)
Like previous editions on the PS3, MLB 14 The Show combines easy controls with true-to-life graphics. I was pretty psyched as I popped in the disc, but forced to endure a grueling one-hour+ installation process. You'd think the game would load in a flash after that, but no, it still takes forever. The menus employ a "panel navigation" system, a la Windows 8. I like how there's a season mode in addition to the online/offline franchise modes. The navigation controls really call into question the design of the PS4 controller. A lot of times you need to hit that poorly-designed "option" button to proceed when a "start" button would have made more sense. Visually, the game is impressive. The player mannerisms are dead-on, and purists will appreciate details like catchers flashing signs, fielders kicking dirt, and umpires making emphatic strike out calls. I love those crisp throws from the outfield. The batter and pitcher views give you a fair angle for judging pitches. The umpire may or may not call a pitch over the plate as a strike - just like real baseball!
When a ball is hit deep the camera remains behind the plate, making it hard to see what's happening because the outfielders are so small. The Show 14 falls short in terms of gameplay and controls. Whoever designed the default "pulse" pitching meter failed to take into account that high-definition screens have inherent input lag, making this spastic mechanism unusable. When you can't even throw a change-up over the plate to avoid walking in a run, something is very wrong. You can fall back on the "classic" pitching mode, but that also has faults. Once the ball is hit, it's hard to tell which fielder you control and the throw meter is not intuitive. The hitting controls are solid, but there are an inordinate number of foul balls, which really drags things out. Played with the default broadcast mode, a game takes as long as the real thing, so the "fast mode" is a no-brainer. The Show can be pretty exciting when it's the bottom of the 9th inning and the other team has the tying run on third. Most of the time however it's unremarkable, and even a five-inning contest can seem awfully long. It's ironic, but I think the main weakness of MLB 14 The Show is how close it is to real baseball. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2015)
When I first played MLB 15 The Show I couldn't figure out how to quit the Royals/Giants game that had automatically started. Eventually I noticed a very tiny
"installing" message in the upper corner. Not only did this game take forever to install, I had to change my "share" settings to prevent constant "gameplay recording paused" messages. Once I actually could play
the game I warmed up to it quickly. The players, stadiums, and fans look phenomenal. Using the replay feature I was able to zoom in close enough to see hair on player's arms and wrinkles on their faces. The only thing they can't seem to get right are the eyes, which look like marbles rolling around. On the field the action is fluid and seamless, but it's the little details that make all the difference. Runners hustle down the line to beat out throws. Pitchers react in disbelief to walks and batters argue strikeouts. Infielders apply shifts for power hitters and fans reach over railings to snag foul balls. Players high-five each other in the dugout after a homerun and sometimes even gather around home plate! The slick television-style presentation shows scenes of batters warming up on deck and split-screen views of the pitching matchup. The Show is easy to pick up and play. The pitching gauge looks tricky but is very forgiving. You can swing with a press of a button, but it's hard to generate much offense. In fact, it seems like most of the runs come via the homerun. The new "prepopulated pitch count" feature lets each batter begin with a random count like 2-1 or 3-2. It sounds like the dumbest thing ever but becomes habit-forming because it speeds up the game so much. The two-man commentary flows nicely but tends to fall behind fast-developing plays. During one game two runners who had already scored become "stuck" while heading back to the dugout, and when the inning was over I discovered those runs didn't even count! Despite the occasional glitch I like how MLB 15 The Show strikes a balance between arcade and realism. The game also conveys the aura of being at a real ballpark, and you can't ask for much more than that. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2016)
As the only game in town for baseball fans, The Show is in danger of becoming the "Madden of baseball." Things got off to a rocky start between me and MLB The Show 16, as I was forced to endure a two-hour install/update process only slightly less painful than a root canal. I thought I was out of the woods when I arrived at the main menu, but where's the quick-play option?! Oh, there's an online
quick play, which is truly a contradiction of terms. That was taking too long so I started a new season with my Orioles. Funny how you customize every aspect of each game except for the stuff you care about. I can adjust the weather conditions but not the time of the game? I guess Sony just doesn't have the technology. The Show's user interface sucks. Sometimes you press X to advance, but sometimes it's the option button (worst button ever). After sitting through all those updates you'd think my roster would be up to date, but not even close! Once the players finally take the field there's a lot less to complain about. The player models may not be up to NBA 2K16
(PS4, 2015) standards but their stances and mannerisms are dead-on. The game reflects reality, so when slugger Chris Davis strolls to the plate the defense goes into a shift. Fielders will actually reach into the stands to snag foul balls! Between innings you'll enjoy photo-realistic views of the town where the game is being played. The only thing missing is Adam Jones' bubble gum. The controls are intuitive and the tutorial screens are helpful. The golf-style pitch meter offers just the right balance of skill and randomness. For those who prefer a more arcade-y experience The Show 16 offers a "quick counts" feature, and while the idea of pre-loading the count with random balls and strikes may amount to heresy to some, it sure does keep things moving! The television presentation is fine right up until you hit the ball. The camera remains firmly behind the plate for deep flies, so you can barely make out the fielders much less enjoy home runs clearing the fence. And don't get me started about the online mode. The only way I could connect with a friend was via the "leaderboard" screen (a big WTF) and we never could get our headphones to work. MLB The Show 16 might be a case study in bad design, but at least they got the baseball part right, and that's kind of a big deal. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
MLB The Show 17
Publisher: Sony (2017)
MLB The Show 17 features photo-realistic graphics, a slick television-style presentation, and surround sound that makes you feel like you're sitting at the ballpark. Expect realistic animations when a batter gets hit by a pitch, takes a called third strike, or beats out an infield hit. Catchers smother wild pitches, fans grab foul balls from the stands, and fielding errors add unpredictability. The camera angles are quite good - especially your batter's-eye view of hits when playing the CPU. The Show tries to strike a balance between arcade and realism, but it falls short. Much like Madden and NBA 2K, the contests turn into a grind. The controls are too complex and the pacing is slow. I reviewed this with three friends who all had the exact same lukewarm reaction. Eric (the baseball purist) noticed all sorts of oversights: logos too small, fans in the groundskeeping areas, strange lulls in the play-by-play, etc. Is every game
a sell-out? Like previous versions of the game there's an inordinate number of passed balls on third strikes. And just when you thought the controls weren't complicated enough, you can now call time-out from the batter's box or make your pitcher step off the mound. I can't imagine anyone actually wanted
those. Also new is your ability to launch a "power throw" from the outfield in just six easy steps!
For those looking for something more accessible a new "retro mode" harkens back to the old days of Sportstalk Baseball
(Genesis, 1992) and Ken Griffey Major League Baseball
(SNES, 1994). The gameplay is simple and it feels good to freely slide your batter around the batter's box. Only two buttons are used, making you wonder why it was necessary to overload the controls to begin with. Retro mode retains the modern player graphics but frankly they should have ditched those as well. It's a little hard to make contact with the ball but I enjoyed the breakneck pacing of this mode. It's a shame you can't play a season in retro mode. The fact that it's the clear highlight illustrates just how unwieldy and unexciting The Show has become. And there are bugs too. During one game I had two runners stranded at third, but when the ball was thrown to that base, one magically scored! If you're looking for a new baseball game, MLB The Show 17 is pretty much the only game in town. I purchased my copy when it went on sale, and I'm glad I waited. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2014)
Before playing Madden 15 I had to sit through several slow-moving install/loading progress bars and agree to not one but two
EULAs. I really miss the days when you could play a video game without consulting a lawyer
first! The main menu offers a new Ultimate Football Fantasy mode (some kind of online card game) and the Connected mode (which ironically can be played offline). Every game kicks off with a slick TV-style presentation with Phil Simms and Jim Nance providing pre-game analysis. I like how the starting players are flashed along the bottom of the screen, and the use of video clips to introduce quarterbacks is a nice (but underused) feature. On the field the players look sharp but not noticeably better than last year. Players with long hair like Riley Cooper appear to have straw sticking out of their helmet. The number of moves you can execute is astronomical, but a proper manual should have been provided to reference the buttons. One notable new feature is the "defensive rush" which allows you to shed your blocker with a well-timed button press. It adds an arcade flavor that's been missing from Madden since... well... forever
. The new play-calling interface is a nightmare, offering a single "suggested" play by default. The play explanations shown with these are helpful, but I prefer to have the entire playbook at my disposal. Unfortunately, accessing that requires digging through layers and layers of horrendous menus that pop-up and jostle around on their own accord. It's so time-consuming and nauseating
I started to settle for the suggested play. It's also really easy to accidentally choose the wrong
play while trying to expedite the automatic replay. Play selection is arguably worse
on defense since you sometimes don't even have enough time to select a play! The new kicking meter is a mess with those hideous rainbow-colored lines. I do like the uptempo pace of the game and the way players behave realistically. Colin Kaepernick will run all over your ass and Ben Roethlisberger will usually hang in the pocket (for better or worse). The coaches are prominently featured in cut-scenes and their reactions are amusing. Still, Madden 15 is missing a lot of elements of real football. There's no chain measurements and penalties are practically non-existent. The stadiums look flashy but there are no cheerleaders. Players rarely bobble catches, help each other up, or congratulate each other. The half-time show is worthless and the post-game show is practically non-existent. The commentary is weak, with Phil Simms offering pearls of wisdom like "It's better to be ahead than behind". For a "next-gen" sports title, EA has shown me nothing. Madden 15 is yet another disappointment from EA, but when you have an NFL-sanctioned monopoly there's really no point in trying very hard. LATE NOTE: My lawyer just informed me I inadvertently signed over my entire 401K to EA. Bastards!!
© Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2015)
You can always count on EA to deliver a marginal gridiron experience. Football fans will grumble but not enough to get EA's exclusive NFL monopoly revoked. I certainly wasn't thrilled with having to agree to a 20-page EULA
, and that was before
taking the game online! The action on the field looks glossy and attractive, but the game engine is the same one they've been tweaking for the last 15 years. One interesting new feature is the new catch controls. Now you can fight for the ball (triangle), focus on possession (X), or run-after-the-catch (square). The problem is, sometimes you'll hit square but end up diving on the ground
immediately after catching the ball! There are now five ways
to throw the ball which is overkill. More useful are the icons that flash over linemen on defense, allowing you to get added "push" if your timing is right. Unlike previous Maddens, passes are frequently batted into the air and often picked off. The runningbacks seem to have a better grip on the turf and I like how they can regain their balance. The coaches look true to life but why are they always standing by themselves? Where are the celebrations, cheerleaders, and ten-yard measurements? Where are the commentators and fan cut-aways? It seems like every year EA subtracts as much as they add. There are hardly any penalties which really takes its toll of the realism. The halftime show is crap
. Why don't we see highlights of other
games in progress? And then there are the bugs. I've witnessed kickers kick the ball sideways, receivers signal first-down in the wrong direction, and Joe Flacco indicating a false start penalty for his own team.
The announcers are frequently wrong, especially when it comes to coaching challenges. Did anybody test this game? What was EA doing all year (besides counting money)? And those who take Madden online are in for additional suffering. It has to update 100 things every time you play, and the interface for connecting with a friend makes no sense. There were multiple times when the game completely locked up while loading
. I was actually thinking about rating Madden 16 about average until my friends pointed out, "it's not an average game if you can't play
the thing!" © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2016)
There's been about 27 Madden games since 1990 and I've played every single one of them. Madden 17 isn't terrible if you can endure an excruciating install/update process and the mandatory Redskins/Rams matchup (not sure which is worse
). The action on the field is more arcade-like than recent years thanks to closer camera angles and on-the-fly button prompts. It's more unpredictable in terms of tackling, pass deflections, and ball bounces. The television-style presentation offers some really striking views of the stadiums. A new kicking meter was a good idea, but the one they came up with is a slow, clunky piece of [expletive]. In terms of audio EA spared no expense by hiring two commentators you've never heard of. They love to yammer on about the age of the players instead of staying on top of the action. You can never tell if a pass was caught, dropped, or intercepted! As usual there are glitches galore, including automatic coach's challenges when you're just trying to call a timeout. The only thing worse than initiating an unwanted challenge is listening to the commentators chide you for the rest of the game about your poor coaching. Speaking of coaches, these guys look positively bizarre. Is that supposed to be Rex Ryan or the hunchback of Notre Dame?! The confusing menus are cluttered with unwanted options like "weekly training", "play defense only", and "sim to mid season". Who asked for this junk? In franchise mode the default setting is "play the moments" instead of a full game! WTF?
Instead of focusing on superfluous crap maybe EA could let me play the preseason or fix the broken save system. Madden 17 spends most of its CPU cycles checking for roster updates, which might be justifiable if the rosters weren't terribly out-of-date!
I have Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the Browns and Ben Watson (on injured reserve for a month) playing tight end for my Ravens! And you can't even start a new franchise without reinstalling the whole game! Electronic Arts could at least pretend
they're making an effort. Where are the cheerleaders? Where are the chain measurements? It's time EA had some competition. This NFL-sanctioned monopoly is a total racket - a pigskin sham! It's a ham sham. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2014)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
I've come to associate the term "crafting" with rummaging for materials, wading through layers of menus, and waiting around for stuff to happen. Far too many modern games incorporate the concept including Dead Island
(Xbox 360, 2011), Dead Rising 3
(Xbox One, 2013), and Far Cry 3
(Xbox 360, 2013), just to name a few. Nothing saps my enthusiasm more than finding a blueprint for a new item along with a shopping list of materials. I realize a game with "craft" in the title probably wasn't going to be my cup of tea, but readers asked me to review this for completeness sake. Since making its debut on the PC in 2009, Minecraft is one of the best-selling and popular games of all time. Its tutorial walks you through the process of mining raw materials, smelting blocks in a furnace, crafting furniture, and eventually constructing a modest abode. The tranquil music is relaxing but I didn't find the blocky, pixelated graphics particularly appealing. When you remove a chunk from the middle of a tree, the top remains in place, suspended in mid-air. Monsters like giant spiders emerge at night and you can make weapons to fend them off. The building process is every bit as tedious and time-consuming as I feared. I've heard Minecraft called "Virtual Legos", but at least with Legos you don't have to build your own blocks
. I will admit the scope of game is impressive, limited only by your imagination and the low-resolution graphics. That said, I could barely muster the patience to sit through the tutorial. I toyed around with the split-screen mode with my friend Jonathan, who mentioned the game might be better suited to a PC and mouse. Apparently many consider Minecraft an outlet for their creativity. It's possible to build elaborate mansions or even entire kingdoms. Some may find it rewarding, but it's more of an activity than a game. It's not for me, but if you find the concept appealing, Minecraft's pixelated world is your oyster. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
At long last I've discovered the first great
game of this generation (not counting the Wii U). Mortal Kombat X builds upon the solid foundation established by the previous Mortal Kombat
(Xbox 360, 2011). The character models look fantastic and the stages are works of art. The gameplay is practically flawless. There are many sophisticated moves to master yet any fighting fan can pick up a controller and have fun immediately. I love the ability to interact with the environments, whether it's vaulting off a nearby rock or hurling a discarded shield at your opponent. Crowd-pleasing X-ray attacks let you savor each bone snap and skull crush. The gruesome fatalities are sure to bring a smile to your face, and the "easy fatalities" are genius. The level of violence is so over the top you can't take it seriously. Mortal Kombat X remains true to its roots, maintaining the same basic gameplay, mythology, visual style, and tongue-in-cheek tone. Veteran characters like Johnny Cage, Sonya, Jax, and Liu Kang have aged and now sport gray hair and wrinkles. Some of their grown children
are new characters, like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs. I love the new additions. Kotal Khan looks like a hulking Aztec king and Erron Black is a Wild West-inspired gunslinger. D'vorah is a twitchy insect woman and Takeda is a ninja with a bladed whip. Ferra/Torr is a "combination" character consisting of a Leatherface behemoth with a kid riding on his back. It looks hilarious when the kid gets knocked off and quickly scrambles to get back on. Older characters have been reimagined, including a creepy floating Ermac and a far more repulsive Reptile. Most fighting franchises are intent on getting players online (*cough*Capcom
) but Mortal Kombat X respects its offline fans. The story mode nicely ties together all the characters while filling in some of their history. The classic tower modes are back in force, including a new "test your might" tower that's sure to give you carpal tunnel. The Krypt is now far more than a place to unlock goodies, but a full adventure in of itself! The game records your complete off-line history including character usage, records, and high scores. Expertly designed and amazing to behold, Mortal Kombat X sets the new standard for excellence in fighting games. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
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