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.
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.
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.
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.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com