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.
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.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2013)
I'm glad 2K put some effort into their first PS4 game, even if the improvements are mainly cosmetic. After a lengthy installation process you're treated to a game that looks like a TNT television broadcast. The player models are amazing, with facial expressions that look convincing even up close. Players behave just like their real life counterparts, except they hustle a lot more on the court (zing!
). NBA 2K14 contains all the subtle nuances of the real game. Players tip rebounds, lose their balance, dive out of bounds, draw technical fouls, help each other up, and sometimes even flop (and then complain about no foul). When you successfully orchestrate a fast-break culminating with a slam dunk, it's exhilarating! The game comes with a manual, and I will applaud 2K Sports for that. The control scheme (that spans six pages) is not for the faint of heart however. Steel Battalion
(Xbox, 2002) wasn't this complicated! The right stick lets you perform some elaborate moves, but it's hard to grasp. After jump-shots, helpful grades are displayed for your timing and shot quality. One area that needs work is the passing. Passes tend to be weak and by the time the ball gets there the player is no longer in good position. The television style graphics are slick, with amazing arena exterior shots and even on-court interviews with Doris Burke. The killer soundtrack includes popular tracks like "Radioactive" (Imagine Dragons) and "Can't Hold Us" (Macklemore). The two-man commentary keeps on top of the action and sometimes even references the previous game! The only thing missing is Ernie Johnson, Sir Charles and company at the anchor desk during half-time. And oh yeah - they need to get some cheerleaders into this game. I did notice a few glitches, including players that occasionally freak out and audio that cuts off. The lack of a season mode is a shame, although the "My GM" mode can serve the same purpose if you can sift through all the junk (scouting, negotiating deals, etc). Unfortunately my season file mysteriously disappeared after a month (*sad face*
). NBA 2K14 is a good-looking start for the Playstation 4, but I think we need to set our standards a little higher this generation. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2014)
Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics)
I really wish 2K Sports would hire me on as a consultant. I could have easily pointed out a number of glaring flaws in NBA 2K15. The first time you turn it on you're forced to play a full game
of the Spurs versus Heat with audio consisting solely of music. Was this part of the licensing deal with Beats? The new emphasis on music is annoying and frankly I resent having to dial down the music volume in the settings menu before every single game
. Otherwise this is the most innovative NBA 2K game in some time. The franchise is long known for its sharp, television-style presentation, and this year ups the ante with pre-game intros by Ernie Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal. The sport desk looks a little sparse but Shaq tends to say some funny things, so listen in. On the court the degree of detail is remarkable. The crowd waves "big head" signs and cheerleaders dance during timeouts. The cheerleaders look shapely but always wear the same outfits and perform the same dance. The two-man commentary is insightful and Doris Burke reports from the sidelines. And get this: you actually see
Doris interviewing players and coaches! The players on court look true to life with appropriate facial expressions and tattoos. Anthony Davis' unibrow is bigger and more disturbing than ever. Player movement on the court is extremely fluid but as a consequence your actions feel delayed. It would be nice to block a shot due to good reflexes instead of anticipation. The control scheme includes a new "shot meter" that looks good on paper but proves to be pretty worthless. Several serious issues cropped up while playing local multiplayer. For some reason my friends and I could not
switch players! Worse yet, it was really hard to identify selected players due to those transparent, indistinct markers. Finally, 2K still can't grasp the concept of a consistent user interface, making menu navigation a confusing mess. Sometimes you need to press X to advance, sometimes O, and sometimes square (or worst of all, the right stick
). NBA 2K15 is incredible on a visual level, yet manages to falter in new and imaginative ways. The game serves its purpose but is less satisfying than it should have been. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2015)
NBA 2K16 features a new career mode created by Spike Lee entitled "Livin' Da Dream". It kicks off with live video including Spike himself and it's disappointing to see it transition to computer-generated characters. Creating a player is your first order of business, and taking the defaults left me with the goofiest-looking redneck I've ever seen. It's hilarious watching him in cut-scenes joke around his stereotypical black family and friends. I guess Spike Lee was supposed to provide streetwise credibility, but I wish he could program because NBA 2K16 is bug central
. Whenever I boot up the game it prompts me to edit my character (why?!) and then forgets any changes I make. Several times during career mode an alert appeared on the screen: "UPDATE REQUIRED! Return to main menu to apply update to dismiss this message." Wait what?!
There's no such option on the main menu and updates are supposed to be applied automatically. Career takes you through high school and college, and between games you sit through inconsequential cut-scenes and endless "loading... saving... loading... " cycles. I tried to quit during a college game and was informed "quit is not available until a stoppage in play." Really? 2K doesn't have the technology to quit a game in progress?! Career mode is a total bust but the season mode is fun. When it comes to television-style presentation 2K Sports has the formula down. Flashy graphics and upbeat music get you pumped for each game, and while it's loading you're treated to a pre-game show with Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith. The guys are informative but look like stiff wax figures. Can't we just watch the actual video of these guys instead? I mean, they had to act out the dialogue anyway, right? And the same goes for the cheerleaders! On the court the sweaty, tattoo-laden players look amazing and perform as they do in real life. The action is fluid and it's always satisfying to complete a transition with a breakaway jam. Defending is tough however and once the CPU shakes you he often has a clear path to the hoop. There are a lot of minor annoyances. The camera is pulled in too tight and you can barely make out the icons due to their tiny font. Player reactions are somewhat delayed so it's nearly impossible to get off a quick shot with a tick or two left on the clock. Once I got a shot clock violation after the shot clock had been turned off
. Some irritations can be addressed via the settings menu, like the automatic time-outs (ugh) and ear-splitting referee whistles. Between periods you'll enjoy a player profile interview, and the half and postgame shows are impressive. NBA 2K16 has all the bells and whistles you could want, but I'm starting to wonder if 2K Sports understands the concept of quality control. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2016)
NBA 2K is in danger of becoming the Madden of basketball - if it's not already there. 2K17 has the realism down pat with all the polish of a television presentation. The problem is, it's a heck of a lot like last year and just as buggy. I like the simplified main menu which offers a refreshing change from the obnoxious "wall of tiles" favored by other sport game publishers (*cough*EA*cough). Each event is introduced by Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O'Neil at the sports desk. I love these guys but their stiff character models are looking a little dated. David Aldridge handles the sideline reporting duties. I noticed a heck of a lot of ads throughout this game, but they're the ones you'd see at a real game (Kia, Gatorade, etc) so I guess it's okay. The action on the court looks fantastic and at a glance you'd think you were watching TV. 2K Sports included every subtle animation you could think of like dribbles getting away, roll-in inbound passes, and guys jawing with each other after a foul. The facial expressions look hilarious at times. On defense it's pretty easy to poke the ball away so you can be semi-aggressive. The controls are not for the squeamish, with the help menus listing hundreds of plays. Seasoned basketball fans will appreciate the subtle nuances but casual players will hate
NBA 2K17. Beside its inherent complexity, the game has some serious deficiencies. It's hard to hit the lead man on breakaways, and even when you get the ball to him a defender magically seems to catch up. Likewise when you get the ball under the hoop your player suddenly becomes sluggish as he breaks into his offensive animation. One unwanted new feature is listening in on coaches yelling at their players during timeouts. They all have the same voice and sound like a bunch of whiney bastards. The automatic timeouts and intentional fouls really slow the pace shouldn't be on by default. And then there are the bugs. It was bad enough when I couldn't break out of a timeout, or when my player couldn't inbound the ball, but when the game crashed hard that was the last straw. Even the new "blacktop" court options disappoint. Instead of gritty urban locations you get a pristine blue court with stands of spectators obstructing the background. NBA 2K17 will suffice for basketball fans, but that's just because it's the only game in town. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2014)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild violence)
As the first hockey title for the PS4, NHL 15 is undeniably good-looking. The television-style presentation boasts NBC Sports graphics along with that rousing, familiar music. A quick video clip of the home team's town is shown - a nice touch that's long overdue. Using real commentator video to introduce each game seems impressive until you remember that was actually a feature dating back to 1990's hockey games. The players look real and the arenas absolutely sparkle. Individualized fans don funny hats like an octopus or Stanley Cup. I even saw one holding a sign up to a player in the penalty box. Other than those minor flourishes NHL 15 is pretty much by the book. The overhead angle is default, but there's something to be said for the side/broadcast view which offers a wider angle and looks more like a televised game. The body checks come off a little soft, but there are some cool finesse plays including backhanded goals. It can be hard to tell if you have the puck, and it's not readily apparent when a goal is scored due to delayed commentator reaction and lack of goal lights. Controversial calls are sent "upstairs" for review, but this feature is implemented in a clumsy, confusing manner - not unlike Madden. The spirited commentator is always talking about teams "recoiling", whatever that means. The default dual-thumbstick controls feel natural if you're heading "up" the screen, but awkward when headed downward (in two-player mode) or sideways (broadcast view). Simplified NHL 94 controls are available, but I couldn't get off a quick shot using those. NHL 15 is at its best when playing a friend head-to-head, where expletives fly and trash talk reigns supreme. The menu system could be better organized and more responsive. Where is the [expletive] season mode?
The GM mode is the closest thing, but I hate
having to deal with superfluous garbage like salary caps (ugh
), scouting assignments (gah
), and endless load screens (zzz...
). NHL 15 leverages the visual pizzazz of a next-gen title but can't shake the mediocrity of the last-gen games. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2015)
It's becoming clear why EA doesn't include old 16-bit hockey games as bonus modes in their new NHL titles. They don't want those classic games to upstage the new one, which is exactly what would happen
. That said, NHL 16 looks pretty sweet. Actual video clips effectively convey the cities and venues, although they could look more "wintry". It's nice to see commentators introduce each game but they aren't very insightful. The rinks look photo-realistic thanks to a keen attention to detail like scraped glass and boards that look thoroughly worn. I just wish modern sports games had some sense of fun. Where are the Green Men of Vancouver? NHL 16 offers a wide selection of modes, including a season mode that was missing from last year. On the rink player markers float above
the players, and it seems easier to thread the needle in front of the goal because the goalie doesn't automatically gobble everything up. I'm not a huge fan of EA's dual-stick control scheme. Squeezing the trigger causes a pass arrow to appear, but the puck often goes in an unwanted direction. The CPU doesn't have this problem, whipping the puck around between players with pinpoint accuracy as you flail around helplessly on defense. Poke checks are effective for knocking the puck loose, but the body checks have minimal impact - even in arcade mode. On offense slap shots are scorching but follow-up shots tend to be weak and ineffective. The CPU is way too hard on the default pro level, and sometimes I think the game was programmed to allow more goals in the waning seconds. Difficult and complex, NHL 16 is a no-nonsense hockey title aimed mainly at hardcore fans. The ghost of NHL '94
(Genesis, 1993) continues to haunt the franchise. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Need For Speed Rivals
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild violence)
On paper this is pretty much the game of my dreams. Rivals offers high-speed arcade thrills, gorgeous scenery, variable weather, and even the ability to toggle between the roles of racer and cop! Fictional Redview County offers all the natural beauty of California including snowy mountains, dusty deserts, rural farmland, and scenic coastlines. Shortcuts abound along with opportunities to catch considerable air. The game progresses via a series of missions with multiple objectives like beating a time trial, winning a race, or using "pursuit tech" on other racers. Rivals is loaded with good ideas. There's a cool "pursuit meter" that shrinks as you lose the cops, and it's pretty sweet how you can drive through gas stations at full speed to magically repair your vehicle. I love how you can hear police talking over their radios about how you're endangering the public and how roadblocks are being set up. The races and high-speed pursuits are exciting, but the controls could be tighter. There's a pronounced lag that lends to oversteering, and worse - head-on collisions! Fortunately the game places you right back on track after a wreck - no matter how devastating it was. This eases the difficulty but makes winning a race (or evading pursuit) less satisfying. The missions are relatively short, but the racing really takes a back seat to the pursuit. Sometimes you just want to race but you're too busy trying to shake the cops. When playing the side of the law, other cops lend support but tend to get in the way. A map and GPS lets you plot a course to any destination, but I'd like to see more visible indicators on the actual road. In terms of graphics, Rivals is attractive but not spectacular. Compared to Need For Speed: Most Wanted
(Xbox 360, 2005), there isn't much more detail, although the framerate and use of color is much improved. Rivals looks most impressive during a snowstorm or thunderstorm, but these moments are fleeting. You can begin each mission at selectable locations, but I always winded up on the same roads. Some missions have a "grinding" feel to them. The save system is confusing; you never know if your progress has been recorded. In one instance the game went completely belly-up and kicked me back to the PS4 dashboard! Despite making a nice first impression, the more I played this game the more disinterested I became. Need For Speed Rivals feels like less than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Pinball Arcade, The
Publisher: Farsight Studios (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes)
I love pinball (I own two tables) but the machines are big, loud, and expensive. Pinball Arcade gives you 22 tables on a single disc. That's about $50,000 worth of games for forty bucks! The shiny, photo-realistic tables are downright mesmerizing with their beautiful art work, flashing lights, elevated lanes, and animated gadgets. Pinball is a vertically-oriented game, so a wide screen isn't the ideal viewing angle. Pinball Arcade tries to make the best of a bad situation by using a low camera set near the flippers. Yes, it's hard to discern targets on the far end of the table, but the camera will travel up the table if the ball lingers near the top. The digital display (score) is usually positioned in unused space on the left. The audio consists of catchy music, voices, and distinctive sound effects. Unfortunately these are not crystal clear and it can be hard to make out some of the voice samples. The controls are responsive enough, but feel a little "heavy" during multi-ball rounds when things get really frantic. The physics is dead on and the balls even reflect their surroundings. The game selection includes Medieval Mayhem, Black Knight, Star Trek (Next Generation), Cirqus Voltaire, Bride of Pinbot, Taxi, Tales of Arabian Nights, Harley Davidson, Attack From Mars, The Black Hole, and No Good Gofers. Several oldies from the 1970's are represented like Gorgon, Genie, and Big Shot. Horror-themed tables include Elvira, Scared Stiff, Twilight Zone, Monster Bash, and Creature From the Black Lagoon. Tables with a creepy carnival vibe include Ripley's Believe It Or Not, Funhouse, and Theater of Magic. So much ingenuity and creativity went into these intricately-crafted tables. The hologram in Creature from the Black Lagoon looks amazing, and The Black Hole features a trippy "reverse-gravity" sub-table. I only wish there was a way to peruse these tables freely. High scores are saved locally
with initials (thank God you don't need to be on-line). Quick games plus high scores equal unlimited replay value. My friends consider this their favorite PS4 game by far. The locked "seasons" on the main menu reflect future DLC releases, but considering the amount of content on this disc, it's hard to hold that against it. Pinball Arcade is pretty awesome, and it's nice to see a low profile title like this available on disc. Now the only question is, how are you going to spend that extra 50 grand that's burning a hole in your pocket? © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
RBI Baseball 2016
Publisher: MLB Advanced Media (2016)
After suffering through the excessive bloat of MLB The Show 16
(Sony, 2016), this budget title is a breath of fresh air. I can actually tolerate playing a full nine inning game, as it takes less than a half hour. RBI Baseball 2016 the spiritual successor to the 16-bit RBI Baseball games of the 1990's, and it looks the part. Don't expect cutting edge graphics here - or players in the dugout for that matter! No, this is an arcade-style game where all the players look pretty much the same. Sometimes when you switch pitchers the only thing that changes on the screen is the name! In fairness, Oriole reliever Darren O'Day does retain his sidearm delivery, so there is some attention to detail. Actually the stadiums look surprisingly good, especially at night with the lights casting a misty glow. The game's no-hassle main menu includes season, versus, and online modes. What makes RBI Baseball appealing is its breakneck pace. You can fire one pitch right after the next, never having to wait for on-screen prompts or the catcher to return the ball. Even most foul balls are quickly abbreviated with all players magically reset. The simple controls barely use half the buttons, and they feel good. Like any respectable old-school baseball title you can slide your pitcher side-to-side on the mound and likewise the batter slides around the batter's box. While pitching you can effectively "steer" your pitch on its way to the plate. When the ball is hit you get a nice high-angle view of the field. Flagging down pop flies is challenging but satisfying. RBI Baseball 2016 was originally only available online, and frankly it still has that "download-only smell". It's kind of hard to put the ball in play because the pitches come in so fast! If they were trying to simulate the difficulty of hitting a big league pitch, they nailed it. I noticed minor glitches here and there - sometimes to hilarious effect. This makes the lack of an instant replay all the more regrettable. I like how balls tend to curl down the line, but do they always
need to curl? Between half innings the game pauses for an annoying few seconds as you stare at some kind of plaid pattern. What is it doing?
RBI Baseball 2016 could use some fine tuning but if you're willing to trade realism for fun, this is just what the doctor ordered. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Psyonix (2016)
Don't be fooled by its budget price; Rocket League is one of the best video games of this generation. From the title I expected some kind of stunt racer, but this is a smash-up-derby soccer game! You drive vehicles around an enclosed arena while trying to knock a giant ball into your opponent's goal. I've seen the concept attempted before as mini-games in racing titles, but Rocket League executes the formula to perfection. This arcade-style extravaganza supports up to four players via local split-screen!
That's a rarity in this modern age where most games are designed to be played solely online. And the action is so smooth!
Naturally, you can also play online where you'll find a very active community. Rocket League's action is fast and chaotic but there's plenty of room for technique. Much like indoor soccer you'll want to work the boards and try to center shots for teammates. You can ride up walls, boost, jump, and flip into the air. When you get good at "heading" you can deflect the ball in mid-air. The five-minute matches are so exciting I find myself contorting my body to finesse the ball into the goal. The sense of speed is fantastic and the fact that I didn't feel the need to tweak the default camera is a testament to the game's quality. The arenas feature some interesting scenery including industrial, aquarium, and metropolis themes. An addictive season mode lets you customize the action to your heart's content. In addition to "soccar" there's a "snow day" hockey mode with iced-over arenas including one with a Christmas theme! Playing with a puck is a little easier because it doesn't bounce around as much. I'll pass on the basketball variations however which are just entirely too hard. I find it odd how there's no music during competition, especially since the electronic dance music that plays over the menus is so good! My other qualm is the coarse difficulty scale; three difficulties are not enough. But these are minor quibbles considering how inherently fun Rocket League is. And how many other PS4 games can you just toss into your console when your buddies come over and have a great time? © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Yacht Club Games (2015)
Few download-only games graduate to the world of physical media but Shovel Knight is truly deserving. On the surface this "8-bit platformer" is a loving homage to the NES era, offering addictive 2D action with retrograde graphics and audio. But this friendly, whimsical adventure is far more than that. Shovel Knight boasts more charm and imagination that any modern title in recent memory. Its low-resolution cut-scenes with scrolling text are refreshing and fun. A map screen lets you choose your path, gradually unlocking new areas and side quests. Villages allow you to upgrade, purchase items, and converse with townsfolk. The controls are dead-on. Shovel Knight can whack enemies with his shovel or bounce on them like a pogo stick. He'll face rats on propellers, bubble-blowing dragons, skeletons, wizards, and knights of all flavors. In an era where most publishers are too cheap to include proper instructions, the 40+ page glossy illustrated manual is a real treat. The layered backgrounds are rendered with pastel colors to produce some truly striking images. The lush opening stage not only features excellent Mega Man-style music, but a majestic palace in the background offers a tantalizing forshadowing of things to come. One stage is clearly modeled after Castlevania with its shadowy gothic scenery and ghostly adversaries. The water stage is probably the best of its kind. Instead of slowing things to a crawl, the water alleviates gravity to let you leap exceptionally high. There are innovations all over the place, like platforms that "blast off" when you hit their switch or snail shells that wildly bounce around the screen while clearing obstacles. Losing a life costs you one-fourth of your gold (a fair trade-off) and saving occurs automatically on the map screen. The MIDI soundtrack offers a fine selection of heroic, toe-tapping tunes. Shovel Knight is not the kind of game you expect to play on your Playstation 4, and thank goodness!
The fact that this is available at a bargain price is just icing on the cake. Buy this game now!!
Note: Also available for the Wii U and 3DS. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Skullgirls 2nd Encore (Japan)
Publisher: Autumn Games (2015)
I purchased Skullgirls thinking it was some kind of Halloween game but that's not really the case. It may have occult undertones but the game really isn't that creepy. Still, the graphics are appealing with bright, stylish anime visuals. The character roster includes a lot of freaky dudes and scantily-clad females. There's a nurse named Valentine, an Egyptian Queen named Eliza, and a robot ninja named R. Fortune. Cerebella is a chick with huge mechanical arms on her head
and Painwheel is an undead girl armed with spinning blades. Of the few male characters Peacock looks like something from a black-and-white Looney Tunes cartoon and Big Band is a behemoth with a marching band under his trenchcoat. The first time I played Skullgirls I made the mistake of choosing a shape-shifter named Double and I had no [expletive] clue what the hell was going on. All of the characters change forms extensively, and the battles amount to pure chaos with objects flying, people disappearing, and fighters constantly morphing. The imaginative stages have an artistic, oil-painted look. They incorporate brilliant skylines, mysterious city streets, a glitzy casino, and an opulent Egyptian temple. The electronic music during the battles is great, but the jazzy "showtime" menu music is cheesy. What really hurts Skullgirls is a lack of progression. Despite a wide range of modes (story, survival, arcade) the game doesn't record your accomplishments or high scores. You just unlock art and maybe rank into the online leaderboard (good luck with that). In survival mode your health doesn't even recharge between stages. My friend Brent and I gave the versus mode a try and our conversations were hilarious. "Did I do that or you?" "I don't even know who I am!" Skullgirls 2nd Encore has a fresh style but its gameplay made me feel like I wasn't in on the joke. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars Battlefront
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2015)
Rating: Teen (violence)
Battlefront immerses you in the Star Wars universe like few games can. In addition to revisiting memorable locations from the original trilogy, you can assume the roles of characters like Han Solo, Leia, Darth Vader, and Boba Fett. You'd expect the Emperor to kick ass, yet his ability to wield lightning is surprisingly limited. The most notable aspect of Battlefront is its graphics. The visuals are so photo-realistic that when R2-D2 rolls across the title screen you think you're watching a video clip. Likewise the sweeping musical score and memorable sound effects are used to excellent effect. Characters toss out amusing lines but it's fairly obvious they are not voiced by the original actors. Although noted for its online play, the PS4 edition of Battlefront does include some offline action. Five exciting training modes let you fly an X-wing through the canyons of Tatooine, ride a speeder-bike on Endor, and even participate in the epic battle of Hoth. Unfortunately these missions highlight the game's non-intuitive controls. The first time you play you'll have no idea what's going on. The button functions are a mystery and flying controls feel reversed. Using a tow cable to bring down an AT-AT walker inexplicably requires you to manipulate some squirrelly golf meter!
I did enjoy locking onto Tie fighters while dogfighting, and weaving around trees and ducking under logs on a speeder bike is quite thrilling. Battle mode lets you engage in ground warfare against computer-controlled bots. You can also play with/against a friend locally (split-screen) or online. I noticed a few quality control issues. The distance markers are so tiny you can barely read them. Also, I wish the game consistently assigned red and blue colors to the imperial and rebel sides. The environments look absolutely sensational, especially Hoth with its powdery ridges and inviting blue ice caves. Other locations include dusty Tatooine and the rainy jungle of Endor. Survival mode pits you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. These local modes are nice but they are no sustitute for a full-blown campaign/story. In fact, they feel like an appetizer for the online play. I wasn't impressed with the online stuff at first, but sure enough I got hooked. These massive battles have the look and feel of an epic movie scene, although my slow Comcast connection resulted in some herky-jerky animation. There's a wide variety of scenarios to choose from, combining ground and air combat. Most are team-oriented so even if you're awful no one will notice. Overall Star Wars Battlefront looks like a million bucks yet doesn't feel like a fully-realized title. That said, it makes you feel like you're in a Star Wars movie, and that's worth a lot. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2016)
Rating: Teen (language)
No, Steep is not a game about making tea, but that's an honest mistake. I'm always up for a good snowboarding title but was dismayed to discover this game requires you to be connected to Ubisoft servers at all times
. They don't really advertise that fact, and the tiny "requires Internet connection" blurb on the packaging might be the understatement of the year. Once you register your account and curse Ubisoft under your breath you're obliged to sit through a time-consuming connection process. My friend Brent inquired in disbelief "You have to go through this every time you play the game?!"
As I've always said, if a game requires permission from a remote server to play, you don't even own the game. I tried to make the best of a bad situation but things were about to get a whole lot worse. The premise of Steep is free exploration of an expansive mountain range via skis, a snowboard, wingsuit, or paraglider. The lack of structure is supposed to be a good thing, but Steep is a disorganized mess. There are objectives scattered all over the place but little sense of progression. You can use binoculars to scout out new locations, but what's the point when you can just access the overhead map? The game itself is a colossal bore. There's no sense of speed whatsoever - even when soaring headfirst down a cliff in a wingsuit. While skiing or snowboarding it feels like you're just going through the motions while weaving around trees and rocks. The narrator's insistence that "This is our time!
This is living!
" is a little hard to swallow when you're wedged in a crevasse. I can't believe the game gave me credit for finding "points of interest" and "memorable moments" considering I never noticed anything even vaguely interesting. The featureless, repetitive slopes must be generated by some kind of algorithm. We Ski
(Wii, 2008) had more to see. The controls are terrible. Figuring out how to come to a stop is a never-ending challenge. During one ski run I found myself turned around and and couldn't figure out how to face forward again. In paraglider and wingsuit mode your character tends to obstruct your view, which is especially annoying during "proximity challenges." The parts of the game where you're flying through hoops rekindled painful memories of Superman
(Nintendo 64, 1999). If there's a point to playing Steep it was completely lost on me. I'd rather watch tea leaves sit in hot water. At least there's a payoff. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Capcom (2016)
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Are we really only up five?
I'm pretty sure I own at least 25 Street Fighter games! Anyway, in terms of pure fighting prowess Street Fighter V is second to none. The fighting engine is deep, layered, and finely tuned. If you peek into its 450-page strategy guide you'll come to realize that every frame of animation (60 per second) is significant. Street Fighter V is the "chess" of fighting games, and you could probably design a college course around its engine. Fortunately you don't need to be an expert to enjoy the game. Heck, I'm still a little hazy on the new V-systems. But it's fun to beat up on friends in versus mode, and the controls feel so good it makes me want to blow my money on an expensive joystick. The stylized character models feature exaggerated attributes consistent with the traditional illustrated Street Fighter style. Chun Li looks cute in her new policewoman outfit and Dhalsim now sports a gray beard. The artistic stages are teeming with activity but lacking in memorable detail. The 16-character roster (all unlocked) features familiar faces like Ken, Ryu, Chun Li, Cammy, Vega, Dhalsim, Zangief, and M. Bison. Die-hard fans will recognize more obscure characters like Birdie, Mika, and Karin. Nash is Charlie with a Frankenstein makeover. The four new characters include a middle-eastern named Rashid and the creepy magician F.A.N.G. Laura is a curvy Latina and Necalli is a dreadlocked savage with moves like the old Thunder Hawk. Critics have lamented the lack of single-player modes in Street Fighter V and they have a point. The shallow story mode consists of a handful of super-easy fights tied together by "stories" that barely even qualify as fully-formed ideas. Your other option is the survival mode, which at first glance seems like the only mode you'll ever need. You maintain a single life bar through a series of one-round matches, purchasing "battle supplements" between bouts to recover health or increase an attribute like attack power. I'm grateful high scores are recorded offline for all characters and skills levels, but I still miss an old-fashioned arcade mode. I just like the idea of facing every character once in best-of-three matches with fresh life bars. When you're spending points every three matches just to replenish your life, it feels like you're treading water. The online action is exciting if you have enough patience. It's time-consuming to set up a match and for some reason the game forces me use my favorite character (Ryu). Several items of the main menu prompt the message "coming in March". Street Fighter V definitely has enough cylinders under the hood, but there's something to be said for releasing a game when it's actually done. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: HB Studios (2014)
It may lack the big-budget production values of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
(Xbox One, 2015), but The Golf Club is a lot less aggravating. Instead of making you sit through a lengthy install/update process, the game just starts right up! What is this, the 80's?! There's no forced tutorials - just a well-designed menu with all the essential options. I was out on the links in no time, enjoying tantalizing views of rolling hills, sparkling lakes, lush foliage, and majestic mountain peaks. The game doesn't tell you how to play, but that's okay because Golf Club is intuitive. Swinging with the right stick feels natural enough and unlike other analog swing implementations, there's no meter. You'll need to experiment to figure out how to adjust your power, and during approach shots it's really easy
to overshoot the green. You need to do a lot of math in this game and applying backspin is kind of a mystery. The camera angles that follow the ball are exciting and offer breath-taking views of your surroundings. The action moves along at a steady pace so you can play a whole round in about a half hour. The player and courses are fictional, but a course editor lets you generate and edit random courses, so in theory you have an infinite selection. I loved its streamlined design but there are times when The Golf Club feels like amateur hour. The one-man commentator sounds less like a sportscaster and more like a drinking buddy. His remarks are so annoying and shallow that I shut him off. Another irritation is having to wait for the camera to swing around before I can line up my next shot. I enjoy the Friday Night Lights-style soundtrack but some of the natural sounds could use some work. Is that static emanating from my back speakers supposed to be a brook?
PGA fans will probably opt for Rory McIlroy, but if you don't take your golf too seriously The Golf Club should suit you just fine. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2016)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, violence)
It's not easy to stand out in the competitive field of first-person shooters (FPS), yet Titanfall 2 manages to feel fresh and original. Your character has unprecedented agility by FPS standards, and your ability to battle from inside of a robotic mech adds a whole new dimension. I passed up on the original Titanfall because it was online only, but Titanfall 2 offers a monumental single-player campaign. I can't get over how good this game looks and feels. The animation is fluid, the controls tight, and the graphic quality outstanding. The first-person shooting feels instantly comfortable as you target enemy soldiers, flying drones, and dinosaur-like wildlife. I love how helmets pop off when you shoot enemies in the head. Weapon loadouts have multiple capabilities, and while they seem complicated at first, it's fun to experiment with them. I got a kick out of the gravity grenades which pull enemies together so you can shoot them all in one place. Pressing the touchpad button brings up your current objective marker, but I found the thin line indicator hard to follow. What shocked me about this game was at the amount of platform jumping. Titanfall 2 not only makes heavy use of wall-running and double-jumps, but expects you to string them together in combinations that will leave you breathless. Of course the true hallmark of the Titanfall franchise are its "titan" mechs. I like how your titan will grab you and stick you into his chest. The mech battles offer a brute force style of combat including lock-on missiles and a shield that absorbs projectiles and repels them back at adversaries. You'll spend most of the game running on foot but the titans play a major role in boss encounters. The missions are ingeniously designed. In one stage you trek through a topsy-turvy factory stage that reminded me of a scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. In another you toggle time at the press of the button, switching from past to present to locate new paths and remove enemies. It's mind-blowing. As I played through the game my opinion progressed from "not bad" to "this is great" and finally "I think I love this." I was close to giving it a solid A until the game crashed not once, but multiple times. I didn't try the multiplayer but have friends who have vouched for it. The bugs are unfortunate because Titanfall 2 is a head-popping, robot-wrecking good time. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet (Japan)
Publisher: Tecmo Koei (2016)
I've always gravitated toward "bullet hell" titles (call me a glutton for punishment) and this is a unique take on the genre. Instead of moving up a vertical scrolling field while blowing away swarming ships, Touhou Genso Rondo: Bullet Ballet is a one-on-one fighter with rapid-fire shooting and melee combat. The basic concept is similar to Space War
(Atari 2600, 1977) as you exchange fire with an opponent on a screen-sized battlefield. The menu and setup screens offer a lot fun music and colorful anime graphics. But as you would expect of any game with the word "ballet" in the title, it sucks. An endless tutorial explains at the gauges, indicators, and attack modes in methodical detail. After paging through 500 text bubbles you'll just say to hell with it and quit out. There are so many subtle elements, like reconstituting your charge attack by "grazing" (brushing up close to enemy projectiles). Initiating a spell positions your opponent at the bottom of the screen and lets you pommel him with waves of bullets. Despite its anime style Bullet Ballet isn't much to look at. There are two fighters are tiny and surrounded by a pair of concentric circles. The background graphics are so uninteresting you won't even notice them. The bright-colored projectiles offer plenty of fireworks, but the action is mediocre at best and the constant shooting noise is obnoxious. Most bullet hell shooters reward the player with eye candy and a sense of progression. Bullet Ballet provides neither and doesn't even save your offline scores! It's a real shame because I got the special edition with a soundtrack and art book. I think my friend Scott put it best: "I don't know what's going on here, but it's not fun." © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Publisher: Sony (2016)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)
With its lifelike graphics, dramatic acting, and cinematic storytelling Uncharted 4: A Thief's End toes the line between video game and interactive movie. I might have a problem with the lengthy cut-scenes if they weren't so damn good!
The clever, well-written dialog rivals that of a major motion picture. The gameplay is a combination of exploration, puzzle-solving, off-road driving, and wild shootouts. The tombs and puzzles have a heavy Indiana Jones influence, but there's dash of The Goonies as well. The game sets the stage with "flashback stages" recounting our hero's youth at an orphanage. The predicaments he and his brother find themselves in foreshadow the main story while fleshing out their characters. Uncharted 4 is first and foremost a pirate adventure, so expect gorgeous tropical islands, mysterious caves, and mayhem on the high seas. The game takes every opportunity to show off its spectacular scenery by letting you enjoy some amazing panoramic views. Certain games contain eye candy, but Uncharted 4 is
eye candy. You can practically feel the humidity of the dense jungle, smell the musty caverns, and squeeze the mud between your toes. For the first few stages the game feels like it's on autopilot as you effortlessly scale crumbling ruins like a contestant on American Ninja. Your ability to swing on ropes makes this feel like a spiritual descendant of Pitfall
(Atari 2600, 1982). Speaking of old school, in one part of the game you actually find yourself playing the original Crash Bandicoot
(Playstation, 1997) - a game within a game!
The driving stages are a blast, taking the term "off road" to the extreme. The puzzles are hard enough to make you think, but not so onerous you have to go digging for an FAQ. The real challenge of the game lies in its exciting gunfights. The battlegrounds allow for all sorts of strategy and barriers you take cover behind actually deteriorate as you take fire! The more I played Uncharted 4 the more I loved it. I'm glad the game has frequent autosaves because there are really no good stopping points. The only part of the game I could have done without was the prolonged ending, which brought back memories of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The game seems remarkably polished (no camera issues at all) so I was disappointed when it locked up on me. Unlike what other reviewers may claim, the gameplay is unchanged from previous Uncharted titles and the story is exactly what you would expect. Uncharted 4 is just bigger and better, and considering its pedigree that's saying a lot. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
Not since Night Trap
(Sega CD, 1992) has there been a game I'd describe as an interactive horror movie, but Until Dawn absolutely nails
it. The premise revolves around a group of teenagers that return to a ski lodge one year after a tragedy took place. Until Dawn borrows liberally from every horror movie and
video game including Evil Dead, The Shining, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alan Wake, Saw, Scream, Heavy Rain, and I Know What you Did Last Summer. The results are spectacular
. The game looks like a million bucks, featuring remarkably lifelike characters with a full range of facial expressions. My friends actually recognized the real actors
who were digitized for the game! The atmosphere is moody as all hell
thanks to excellent cinematography and clever camerawork. Disturbing sound effects and a brooding musical score keep you on the edge of your seat. You control each of the characters in various scenes. Sometimes you wander around investigating flashing objects. When the action heats up you must respond to rapid button prompts, and that's exciting! Periodically you're required to make a decision. This might decide a course of action (safe route or shortcut) or determine how you relate to characters. I love the idea of a branching storyline, but it's not always clear your actions are having much impact. Often your two choices are only slightly different ("shut up" versus "dismissive") and the replay value is suspect. Until Dawn definitely strings you along but it's refreshing not having to conserve ammo, scrounge for health, or restart from the same spot over and over. Until Dawn takes full advantage of the PS4 controller. You'll slide your finger across the touch screen to light a match or browse a smart phone. You'll need to keep the controller perfectly still during certain scenes to avoid detection. Like Alan Wake
(Xbox 360, 2010) the game is broken into chapters, each beginning with a recap of the story so far. Yes, there are plenty of horror cliches (all
of them, I think) in the form of cheap scares, raunchy jokes, and people investigating noises when they should be running in the other direction. But I knew the game was something special when I found myself face to face with a psychologist questioning me about my actions in the game!
Whoa. A series of bonus videos include a Blair Witch-style "documentary". If you're the kind of person who allows themselves to be afraid and enjoys the feeling, Until Dawn may be the ultimate horror experience. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Publisher: Bethesda (2014)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)
Wolfenstein: The New Order kicks off with an exhilarating airplane stage that requires you to switch planes in mid-air
. Once on the ground you're attacked by mechs and terrifying robotic dogs. The narrative spans from the 1940's to the 1960's in some kind of alternate universe where the Nazis have won World War II. As if Nazis aren't bad enough, they've augmented their army with cyborgs and terminator-style robots. The controls feel crisp as you run for cover, target enemies, and perform sneaky takedowns. For the first hour or so New Order feels like an old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall shooter. Eventually it settles into more of a stealth adventure, which is true to the series' roots dating back to the original Castle Wolfenstein
(Atari XE, 1983). Wolfenstein 3D
(Jaguar, 1994) also makes a cameo appearance in the form of a goofy "nightmare" sequence. For the most part New Order is pretty serious with heavy violence and even some sexual content. You play a soldier in a band of underground rebels. Semi-interactive cut-scenes will play with your mind and keep you on the edge of your seat. The first-person shooting is exactly what you'd expect, with a few new wrinkles like sprint-slides and health overcharging. Using laser cutters to break chains is cool, but using them to cut openings in chicken wire is tedious, especially since you have to keep waiting for the stupid thing to recharge. Cleaning out one concrete bunker after the next gets a little repetitive, and I really hate those annoying drones. It is kind of cool how scenery takes damage, so you can't hide out in one spot for too long. The robotic dogs are scary, but I find it odd how you can defeat them with... a knife?
Hitting the square button to pick up items can be tiresome, especially in storage rooms littered with junk. The graphics go for realism but are sometimes less than convincing. I enjoy killing Nazis as much as the next guy, but I could only take this game is short bursts. Some first-person shooters tend to make me queasy, and this is one of them. It's no surprise considering how you constantly need to adjust the camera to navigate claustrophobic passages. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a competent game but after a while I got the sinking feeling I was playing every first-person shooter I've ever played in my entire life. Note: The German version of this game substitutes the Nazis for the more generic (and less offensive) "Regime". © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Zoink (2015)
Rating: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Language, Crude Humor, Use of Drugs)
I've been a fan of side-scrolling brawlers dating back to Double Dragon
(NES, 1988) but modern games can't seem to get the formula right. My initial impression of Zombie Vikings was much like Dragon's Crown
(PS3, 2013) and Pirates Plundarrr
(Wii, 2010). The game offers artistic visuals, offbeat humor, and frantic button-mashing fighting. I'm always rooting for games like this, especially when they support four-player local action. Zombie Vikings opens with a cutscene replete with wacky humor and professional voice acting. But while the actors seem to be having a great time these long-winded cutscenes will eventually have you reaching for the skip button. The hack-and-slash action is pretty standard with an emphasis on combinations that allow you to spin through a group of characters like a whirling dervish. You'll slice and dice trolls, witches, worms, cats, and all sorts of gnarled creatures. But despite the stylish visuals and jazzy music Zombie Vikings left me cold. The muddled stages all look the same and any interesting animations are lost amidst the pulled-back camera and frenetic carnage. There's some technique (like throwing objects) but a mindless hack-n-slash approach works just as well. And who cares if you can deal 200 points of damage at a time when you still need to hit an enemy 20 times? The final nail in the coffin came when my friend Scott and I became hopelessly stuck and unable to advance. I had heard rumors that the game was buggy, but this qualifies as broken!
I suspect I could download some kind of enormous patch, but in this case I don't think it's worth my time. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
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