Publisher: Sega (2014)
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)
The original Alien movie became a cinematic masterpiece for the way it conveyed the sheer terror of being stalked by a horrific creature. Alien Isolation tries to tap into that feeling and nails it
. If you don't think Alien Isolation is scary you're not doing it right. Play this in the dark with no one else around, preferably with surround sound. I normally enjoy scary games but Isolation pushed me way out of my comfort zone. The intro and load screens feature grainy, VHS-quality footage of space ships, and the effect is as creepy as it is nostalgic. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver's character in the films. As I roamed the deserted space freighter I was in awe of the circa-1979 space architecture. The monochrome computer screens and mechanical contraptions make today's touchscreens seem mundane. The corridors are remarkably eerie due to erratic lighting and steam from pressure valves. The pulse-pounding music is punctuated by sudden, jolting noises. You're equipped with a handy movement tracker that "spins up" through your controller's speaker, and it sounds remarkable. This device not only alerts you to life forms but also keeps you headed the right direction. When you hear the alien's approaching footsteps, be prepared to duck into a nearby locker. This game is seriously nerve wracking! Your blood will run cold at the sight of the creature's clammy skin and slithery movements. The first time I was able to observe it from a safe place I was awestruck. You can't kill it so you must be resourceful, collecting items to create survival equipment like medical kits, flares, and noise makers. I tend to be jaded when it comes to crafting and stealth, but these elements are a natural fit. As much as I admire Alien Isolation, a few flaws compromise the fun factor. Objectives can be confusing and I don't recall having to restore so much power and find so many key cards since Resident Evil 1!
But my biggest beef is with the manual save system. You can make a ton of progress, watch a cut-scene, finish a mission, earn a trophy, sit through a load screen, and then die only to have to do it all over again!
At the very least it could auto-save during cut-scenes, especially since many dump you into emergency situations. Still, Alien Isolation is one heart-stopping adventure that needs to be experienced first-hand. It may not be the best
scary game I've ever played but it is no doubt the most terrifying. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Publisher: Ubisoft (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol, violence)
Set in the golden age of piracy (18th century), Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a sprawling adventure that might be too
ambitious for its own good. Playing the role of an undercover rogue pirate (with golden locks and perfect white teeth) you'll outfit a ship, hire a crew, visit bustling ports, and engage in epic sea battles. The designers clearly did their homework to nail down the atmosphere and historic details. As you walk through streets teeming with soldiers, wenches, and drunken pirates, you can actually listen in on their conversations. The graphics are sharp but only the ability to see great distances sets this apart from a PS3 title. Perching on a church steeple gives you an awesome view. When you're steering a ship on the open water it feels like you have a lot of weight behind you, and the waves look fantastic. I love the way the crew sings at sea. Black Flag looks fantastic on paper but is far less than the sum of its parts. The gameplay is an uneasy mix of arcade action and role-playing. I truly detest the control scheme, or should I say, the lack
of one! There's no manual or even an in-game list of controls. Instead Black Flag relies on "context sensitive" controls, where button combinations do one thing one minute and something else the next. It seems like difficult actions are effortless and simple actions are frustratingly difficult. You can't even walk down a street without your pirate trying to grab every ladder and perch himself on every barrel like a monkey. The top corner prompts you with suggested actions, but these are often unhelpful or even inappropriate. The missions aren't particularly fun or satisfying. You spend of a lot of time sneaking around, collecting items, or chasing people all over town. But the worst aspect of the game are the modern-day sequences that reveal the whole experience to be nothing more than an experiment in virtual reality. Wow, way to take you out of the moment! Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has loads of content and great production values, but I just couldn't get into it. I felt like I was just going through the motions and never really having fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Assault Suit Leynos
Publisher: Rising Star (2016)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, language, mild blood)
And the award for worst video game title goes to... When I realized Assault Suit Leynos was a remake of Target Earth
(Genesis, 1990) I had mixed feelings. I support the idea of resurrecting an old Genesis title, but couldn't they have picked one I actually liked?!
Leynos certainly looks like a 16-bit shooter with its text-driven cut-scenes, catchy electronic music, and 2D action. The voices are Japanese which makes the game feel authentic. Sadly, the dialog drones on and on, prompting me to press buttons like a madman to page through it all. The first stage involves trudging a small green mech across a dusty planet surface, eliminating marching green robots and flying ships. The overlapping graphics can be disconcerting and I hate to say it, but my friend mentioned it looks like a Flash game
. If you're looking for a fast action you're going to be bitterly disappointed. You primary weapons lets you unleash rapid-fire shots but it overheats with irritating regularity. The escort missions are as plodding as you might expect, and the flying stages are a mess, with arrows directing you all over the place (sometimes off the screen where you can't even go). The frequent boss encounters require you master the aiming controls and effectively use your shield. The scoring system is bizarre. Instead of a high score the game maintains a cumulative score which increases your rank and unlocks items. I thought the "classic" mode was going to emulate the Genesis version, but it only emulates the difficulty
of that version. Fans of the genre will dig Assault Suit Leynos but casual gamers should think twice before picking up this budget title. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 1
Publisher: AtGames (2016)
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 1 brings you nine arcade games and 41 Atari 2600 titles from the golden age of gaming - the early 1980's. I can vouch for the arcade emulation of Centipede and Millipede, since I own the machines! The analog stick isn't as precise as a trak-ball, but it might just be the next best thing. Other arcade titles of note are Space Duel (great with two players), Liberator (underrated Missile Command spinoff), and Warlords (wish I had four controllers). Pong is a bust; your paddle can't reach the upper or lower part of the screen! Didn't anybody play-test this? Rounding out the arcade lineup are vector-graphic titles Tempest (nice), Black Widow (hmm), and Lunar Lander (ugh). Vibrant cabinet art fills the edges of the screen, and it looks spectacular. It's possible to use the touch-pad for certain games, but the analog stick is much better. The Atari 2600 games are an eclectic hodgepodge with only a handful of well-known titles like Yars Revenge, Centipede, and Combat. I assume AtGames failed to secure the licensing for big names like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Frogger, Defender, and Donkey Kong. Too bad! I couldn't help but notice an overabundance of sports titles including my old favorite "Trashcan" Football. Circus Atari is really hard to play without a real paddle controller. Retro gamers will be interested in unreleased prototypes Stunt Cycle, Tempest, Combat Two, and Save Mary. Three Swordquest games are included but without their comic books they feel incomplete. And how am I supposed to play Star Raiders without a keypad controller? The 2600 emulation is not as tight as the arcade stuff. In Combat I witnessed several shots pass right through a tank. While playing Bowling (a game that inexplicably mesmerized my cat Claire) the sound of the ball rolling down the lane is harsh. Be sure to disable those unsightly "scan lines" which makes all the games look ugly by default. With those off these oldies look better than ever! So sharp and clean! Manuals for all 2600 games are accessible via the menus but the resolution is lousy when you zoom in close. When flipping switches on the virtual 2600 console you get english descriptions like "Tank, guided missiles, easy maze". I like that a lot!
High scores are saved for the arcade games but not for the 2600 games. If you have Playstation Plus there are online options as well. It's an imperfect collection but all things considered Atari Flashback Classics Vol 1. offers enough bang for the buck. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 2
Publisher: AtGames (2016)
A mirror image of Vol. 1, Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 2 is an odd mix of early-80's games that seems to favor more obscure titles. Of the nine arcade games only Asteroids and Missile Command stand out as bonafide classics. Still, Asteroids plays like a dream and you can really hear that bass kick in when you engage your thrusters! While playing Missile Command it occurred to me that as a kid I would have freaked out
over the idea of playing this at home on a big screen. Other arcade games include Asteroids Deluxe, Major Havoc, Sprint, Super Breakout, Crystal Castles, and Red Baron. I don't recall having played the first person vector-graphics shooter Red Baron before, but it's awful. Crystal Castles is great once you adjust the overly-sensitive analog settings. The 41-game Atari 2600 selection is all over the map. Adventure is a genuine classic but the horizontal line artifacts are so distracting! Do yourself a favor and immediately shut off the "scan lines" via the option menu. Other standout 2600 titles are Asteroids, Maze Craze, Haunted House, Night Driver, Super Breakout, and Video Pinball. The emulation is quite good except for the occasional missing sound or collision glitch. The analog-control games aren't quite as fun without the original paddle controllers but they're definitely more challenging! Expect an abundance of throwaway titles like Basic Math, Star Ship, Stellar Track, and Code Breaker. Rarities include Off the Wall, Sentinel, and Atari Video Cube. Return to Haunted House is a new-ish home brew. It occurred to me that dividing this collection in half was a clever marketing gimmick to make these look like more of a bargain. I think it worked! Some bonus features or historical information would have been nice, but if you have any appreciation for the classics both Atari Flashback volumes are money well spent. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 3
Publisher: Atari (2018)
The first two Atari Flashback volumes seemed to split the cream of the crop between them, so for this third volume Atari had to dig a little deeper into the archive. I wouldn't characterize it as "scraping the bottom of the barrel" however. Arcade fans will appreciate the rare, obscure titles from the 1970s - many rendered in black and white. Avalanche is like an early Kaboom!
(Atari 2600, 1982) with stacked "paddles" catching snowballs. That building, rumbling avalanche sound is alarming! Fire Truck is an interesting coop game where two players try to steer an unwieldy vehicle. Canyon Bomber may not look as good as its colorful Atari 2600 cousin, but it has more depth with point values on the blocks. Football, Baseball, Soccer, and Basketball offer simple head-to-head action, but with no instructions they might be hard to figure out. Destroyer is a simple depth-charge-dropping game with an overlay to add some color. Dominoes plays just like Surround
(Atari 2600, 1977) except when you "crash" it sets off a domino chain reaction. In Pool Shark you don't shoot the cue ball but instead slide it around the table, knocking balls into the holes. I always wanted to do that as a kid but the grownups would never let me. If you don't pull the chute soon enough in Sky Diver an ambulance comes to haul away your twitching body. The cheesiness of Maze Invaders and bad controls of Monte Carlo remind you they can't all be winners. The Atari 2600 selection is dominated by homebrews and M-Network (Mattel) games. Armor Ambush and Frogs and Flies are a good time, but Astroblast is hard to play without a paddle controller. Homebrew titles include Holey Moley, Frog Pond, and Sword Fight. Adventure II and Yars Return reinvigorate the originals with fun new screen layouts. Having Atari 5200 games looks good on paper, especially considering they were hamstrung by those miserable 5200 controllers. Centipede and Missile Command are terrific but Millipede and Asteroids are weak translations. For games that require a keypad like Star Raiders, the left side of the screen is lined with buttons. I was excited to see Realsports Baseball until I realized that without a real keypad you can't properly play against a human. Not to mention the game is riddled with visual glitches and off-kilter sound effects. Atari Flashback Volume 3 is a mixed bag overall, but collectors will value the rare titles, as well as the ability to complete the trilogy. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)
The three Arkham titles that graced the Xbox 360 were so astonishingly good they left little room for improvement. Batman Arkham Knight reprises the familiar formula with a mind-bending storyline, first-rate visuals, and remarkably sophisticated gameplay. The graphics are superb but not substantially better than the previous games. This chapter takes place in a raging thunderstorm, and I love the driving rain and how it beads on Batman's suit. The gothic scenery is incredibly detailed yet I never felt a burning desire to explore. The basic gameplay is unchanged except there's more of everything. More moves, more gadgets, more characters, and more profanity (ugh). One drawback is the control scheme has become so overloaded that the game almost constantly prompts you for the next button combination. The combat is so frenetic it looks like a parody
of itself. Batman looks ridiculous as he hops between enemies like a flea. You hardly feel in control as you mash buttons while watching him go buck-wild. And despite advancements you still can't knock enemies off ledges. The criminal investigation scenes provide a nice change of pace as you recreate details of the crime in remarkable detail. But none of that is new. The big new addition is the ability to drive the Batmobile, but it kind of sucks
. The car slides wildly around the narrow, winding streets, bouncing like a pinball and smashing everything. The game leads you around by the nose with gaudy flashing arrows on the road. Bad guys making their getaway make a lot of sharp turns so it's hard to keep them in your sights, much less build up much speed. Used in many unlikely situations, the Batmobile is like a Swiss army knife. It fires weapons remotely, pulls down walls with its wench, and even transforms into a tank! In one stage you must navigate it over a series of precarious elevated platforms, and it's painful
. The tank battles seem cool at first, but after a dozen times it's just tiresome. Batman Arkham Knight isn't a bad game but it's hard to imagine why it was delayed so long. Those new to the series will be impressed, but this franchise has long passed the point of diminishing return. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2015)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, violence)
Probably the most anticipated Playstation 4 game to date, Bloodborne looks like a work of art. Its decrepit towns boast amazing gothic architecture with soaring spires and blood red sunsets. Each stone building, horse-drawn carriage, and cast iron gate is meticulously detailed and properly aged. As you explore the wet, misty streets, creeps lurk in shadowy corners, waiting to lunge out. You encounter grotesque lanky figures that often gather to form lynch mobs. There are hooded maniacs with pitchforks, masked men with torches, mangy werewolves, and shotgun-toting goons wearing top hats. Had its gameplay been half
as good as its graphics, Bloodborne would be an instant classic. Instead it's a nightmare
. The interface is user-hostile and the complete lack of instructions is mystifying. The control scheme is so counter-intuitive it requires a substantial time investment just to learn basic concepts like equipping a weapon or throwing an object. The upgrade system makes no sense and the "gesture" controls are incomprehensible. Your character's movements are skittish and the controls are touchy. Close camera angles provide plenty of scare opportunities but you never know when someone is about to clock you over the head. There are smashable crates and barrels all over the place, but why are they all empty?! The combat is clumsy. Unless you're targeting something your shotgun fires directly into the ground
. The collision detection is atrocious. You can't shoot through a fence yet the mobs can easily swing their weapons right through it. You attack with wide, sweeping combinations that leave you in a vulnerable state. That's a problem, because unlike your foes which sustain multiple deep gashes, one good hit does you in. Upon death you're treated to a lengthy loading screen, followed by the realization that you need to completely restart that long, treacherous stretch you've been toiling through. I must have attempted Central Yharnam 100 times
, employing every tactic imaginable. Did anyone test
this game? Why does it place creatures in your path that you're not nearly powerful enough to handle? There's a difference between hard and flat-out unfair. The lack of a difficulty select or pause feature is an unfortunate side effect of the game's unnecessary online functionality. Bloodborne should have been a game for the ages but it's a disappointment
for the ages. It's a shame because I suspect there are some extraordinary sights and sounds here that will largely go unseen. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Bloodborne (Alternate Review)
Publisher: Sony (2015)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, violence)
Review contributed by DaHeckIzDat of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
As the Critic's review clearly illustrates, Bloodborne is one of the most polarizing games on the market. Made by FromSoftware as a spinoff of sorts to the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne feels familiar yet contains enough surprises to stand on its own. You play a nameless citizen arriving at the Victorian city of Yharnam to seek a cure for your disease. After waking from surgery you discover that everyone in town has turned into monsters, and you've inexplicably been anointed the "new hunter" to deal with them. You must slay your way through Yharnam, find out what's going on, and put an end to it. Bloodborne is an action-RPG built on the same mechanics as Dark Souls, meaning every attack and dodge drains your stamina bar. The lack of shields means evasion is your primary defense, making Bloodborne's combat much faster than Dark Souls. You're not defenseless though, as you can now equip a gun to your left hand. Knock back enemies with shotgun fire, and then move it for a melee attack. Whenever you get hit you have a chance to immediately regain health with a well-timed counter. Almost every weapon has two "forms"; one for fast and weak attacks and one for slow but stronger attacks. Collectible outfits mainly consist of leather trench coats and tricorn hats, reminiscent of Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing movie. You begin by fighting mobs of angry villagers and stray dogs, but the enemies become more grotesque as you progress, with giant insects, snake-filled corpses, and fire-breathing werewolves. The Lovecraftian-style bosses are hard to describe! Bloodborne's presentation is what really steals the spotlight. Yharnam is one of the most beautifully crafted worlds I've ever seen, with soaring cathedrals and gothic architecture everywhere. This game practically bleeds Halloween! The one downside is that certain levels like the Cathedral District and Forbidden Woods are so heavily decorated that they obscure where you're supposed to go next. I'm used to Souls-style games not holding my hand but the design could have been better. Newbies may lament the lack of armor and shields, but Dark Souls fans should feel right at home in this addictive gothic adventure. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Publisher: Activision (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language)
Each year I reluctantly review the latest Call of Duty and despite being jaded as hell
this first-person shooting series always elevates my blood pressure to unhealthy levels. The Black Ops games set the high water mark for Call of Duty in past years, but now they've pretty much blended in with the Modern Warfare games. Black Ops III is set in the year 2065, so you're not only contending with high-tech weaponry but also Terminator-style robots! Your first mission ends with one of these robots tearing off your limbs. The military takes what's left of you and fills in the rest with cybernetics, turning you into a half-robot killing machine. The first few missions employ virtual reality to help you get acquainted with your cool new "cyber abilities". You can hack into flying drones and take control of them. You can unleash "nanobots" to swarm enemies. You can make robots spontaneously combust. The intensity runs high as you shoot your way through a train in the snow, forge through a city during hurricane, and escape a flooding underground research facility. The gunfights can be confusing, especially when you have robots fighting on both sides! I noticed a lot of female screams as I mowed down enemy soldiers. Some may characterize this as "progress" but to me it's off-putting. My favorite parts of the game are when you control a turret on a jeep or boat, blowing up everything in sight while on a high-speed thrill ride. The campaign mode in Black Ops III is so convoluted it makes that new Terminator Genisys movie seems downright sensible. Of course many gamers are only in this for the online multiplayer anyway. I gave that a whirl but found myself out of my league, pitted against players with superior firepower and armor. I did find it interesting to listen in on several Asian guys discussing the action, possibly on the other side of the world! If Asian dudes aren't your thing there's an offline multiplayer that lets you battle friends via split-screen. You can even play solo against an army of CPU-controlled bots! If that's not enough there's a slew of bonus games including Bioshock-inspired Zombie mode and Smash TV-inspired "Dead Ops 2" overhead shooter (complete with pixelated cut-scenes). These bonus modes aren't especially fun but it sure was nice of Activision to include them. The Call of Duty formula may be running on fumes, but the sheer amount of play value in Black Ops III is off the charts. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Publisher: Activision (2016)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)
For twelve consecutive years Activision has released new Call of Duty titles, leaving one final frontier: space! Infinite Warfare takes Modern Warfare and injects it with a heavy dose of Star Wars. One minute you're taking cover in a conventional gun battle in a crumbling port city and minutes later you're buzzing galactic cruisers in space. The futuristic theme gives the game an epic flavor with missions whisking you from one exotic planet to the next. I couldn't really tell you what the story is about, but the enemy is led by Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. As jaded as I am of Call of Duty, the white-knuckle campaign still gets my blood pumping. Advanced weaponry includes rifles that unleash lighting and spider-like grenades that climb on enemies. There's a special grenade that suspends gravity in a limited area, letting you to pick off floating soldiers like fish in a barrel. During land battles you can call in airstrikes to inflict widespread damage or hack enemy robots to turn them against their own side. Robots and mechs serve on your side as well, including a friendly robot soldier named Ethan who serves up comic relief with his human-like responses ("You're making me blush sir!") Infinite Warfare is action-packed but it suffers the same issues as previous entries, notably a convoluted storyline and difficulty telling the good guys from bad. Some action sequences seem to be on autopilot, yet you won't dare let go of the controls. Sadly the new space battles and the zero-gravity gunfights are the least enjoyable parts of the game. I also detected a glaring lack of controller vibration - especially when my ship was clearly being jostled on the screen. The split-screen mode multiplayer mode is enjoyable but limited to two players. I guess Activision lost the technology to split the screen four ways. Still, as a person who avoids human interaction, it's nice to be able to play a 6-on-6 deathmatch with bots. Infinite Warfare has its share of thrills but I found it hard to get excited about this. The developers tried to shoot for the stars but it feels like they were grasping at straws. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Carmageddon: Max Damage
Publisher: Stainless Games (2016)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, violence)
My experience with Carmageddon 64
(Nintendo 64, 2000) was so painful I'm still in therapy. This PS4 make-over manages to retain all the sheer awfulness, only this time in high-definition. Carmageddon is a crash-up-derby-style racer in post-apocalyptic environments. The fact that the game requires no installation seems great until you realize each stage takes forever to load! The "races" are a confusing mess. It's rarely evident where you're supposed to go and those concrete barriers strewn about aren't helping! The steering controls are horrific and you get stuck so often there's a button dedicated to resetting you back on the road
. It's tough to get back on track yourself when a dozen CPU cars are just plowing into you. Once I got hit so hard my car flew 100 feet straight into the air. How is that even possible? When I started seeing "wrong checkpoint" messages I just said to hell with it and started ramming everybody else. Destroying other cars is a far more entertaining way to win, but the weapon system is needlessly confusing. The third way to win is by running over all the pedestrians (including elderly folks and people in wheelchairs) but with 700+ people in every level that would take forever! The one redeeming feature of the game is the visual treat of hammering your car back into shape by holding in the triangle button. Carmageddon is a bunch of off-the-wall concepts that never really gel into anything worthwhile. The lack of split-screen is just further indication of the lack of effort put into this game. The language is so bad I wouldn't recommend it for kids, and the game is so bad I wouldn't recommend it for adults. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2015)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence, mild language, partial nudity)
Review contributed by DaHeckIzDat of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin (SotFS) is essentially the Dark Souls 2 "Game of the Year" Edition. SotFS bundles all of the extra content created after the original release with impressive upgraded graphics to boot. For those not familiar, Dark Souls 2 is a tough-as-nails action-RPG with real-time combat. There are no throwaway enemies; all have the potential to be deadly if you're not careful. New additions include the titular Scholar of the First Sin who serves as an alternate final boss. There's also an alternate ending and three new areas to explore. Brume Tower features soaring towers with massive chains acting as bridges between them. Eleum Loyce is a beautiful frozen castle and Shulva is an underground series of Mayan-like pyramids. I had fun fighting my way through these, but it's important to note that they are ridiculously difficult even by Dark Souls standards. Even places you've already seen are worth revisiting for the updated graphics. Drangleic Castle looks freaking stunning! But despite all the extra features this isn't the definitive Dark Souls 2 experience you might expect. Instead of just adding new content the developers decided to tinker with stage designs with varying degrees of success. Enemies have been redistributed and sometimes replaced with recycled bosses. The Dragon Aerie location is much more tolerable now that you're not being swarmed by enemies. Heide's Tower of Flame and Black Gulch on the other hand are so loaded with enemies that can poison you or knock you off cliffs that they're no longer fun. I know Dark Souls is supposed to be hard, but it has to be fair too! It seems the developers simply changed things for the sake of changing them. Dark Soul fans might appreciate the new content but newcomers would be better served sticking with the original. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2016)
Rating: Mature (blood and violence)
Review contributed by DaHeckIzDat of the RPG Crew and edited by the VGC.
After a somewhat lackluster reception for Dark Souls 2 it's good to see that FromSoftware brought their "A" game for the trilogy's grand finale. Not much has changed but Dark Souls 3 (DS3) is about as close to perfection as one could hope for. Set centuries after the first game, you are a warrior seeking out the Lords of Cinder in an effort to delay the onset of a shadowy apocalypse. Like every Souls game the story is deep but not overwrought. Suffice to say there's a bunch of really big dudes scattered across the world and it's your job to find and kill them. DS3 is a real-time combat RPG where every attack, dodge, and block is governed by a stamina meter. Playing defensively is the best course of action, so you'll spend over half the game with your shield raised. DS3 is every bit as difficult as its predecessors but if you take your time and learn the enemy's attack patterns victory will be yours. Souls collected from each defeated enemy let you level up. You lose these souls when you die but have one chance to retrieve them before they're gone forever. There's a class for every play style including knights, wizards, and thieves, but leveling up wisely can net you the skills of multiple classes. The stage layout is an interesting blend of the first two games, being maze-like as in Dark Souls 1 yet mostly separated as in Dark Souls 2. The locations have never looked better as you travel from snowy cities to poisonous swamps to mountain-top castles with breathtaking views. Veterans may even notice a few locations and characters from the first game. But it's the bosses that really steal the show. Not only are they visually stunning but each has a distinctive fighting style that forces you to adapt to their tactics. There are giants riding each others' backs, armored psychopaths who crawl on all fours, and even mobs of enemies you can get to turn on each other. Some boss encounters tested my patience but most of them had me glued to the TV for hours on end. Dark Souls 3's unflinching difficulty may scare off new players but for longtime fans this is the perfect send off for a stellar, beloved franchise. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Dead or Alive 6
Publisher: Koei Tecmo (2019)
Rating: Mature 17+ (language, sexual themes, violence)
With most new 3D fighters focused on online play it's refreshing to play Dead or Alive 6. This throwback delivers crisp arcade fun with bright graphics and quick, satisfying matches. The Dead or Alive series has traditionally been known for its scantily-clad ladies using their heaving bosoms to show men how physics works. Who says science is boring? Koei doesn't play up that angle too much this time. Oh sure you still have perfect beauties like Kasumi and Hitomi, but this time they are actually wearing clothes
. Heck, Marie Rose is wearing bloomers
for Pete's sake! The game's tutorial is a good use of three minutes. The button scheme takes some getting used to, and I'm still not exactly sure what square does. The attack buttons are highly responsive and it's cool how you can tap R1 to unleash a devastating barrage. DOA6 is an offensive-minded fighter. Matches tend to be short but they have a nice ebb-and-flow. In the tradition of the series there's plenty of combos, counters, and yes, juggles. Devastating moves unfold in slow-motion, but instead of blood there's just a lot of sparks. I love how battles seamlessly transition from one environment to the next. Cinematic cut-scenes add excitement, like when a kraken grabs a fighter off the deck of a burning pirate ship! The uptempo music is first-rate, striking a 1990's guitar vibe. There are plenty of offline modes to select from but none quite hit the spot for me. The disjointed story mode has a million branching storylines and constant load screens. Can't I just pick one storyline and play that out? The Quest mode is mission-based, laying out several goals per stage to earn rewards. It's not very hard and if you struggle to pull off a move the game refers to you to the proper tutorial. The arcade mode is my usual go-to but offers little sense of progression. Most arcade modes culminate with a boss and ending, but this is just a series of random matches. High scores are saved for each skill level at least. Overall Dead or Alive 6 delivers visceral fighting action but lacks the cohesive structure to hold it all together. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2015)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, sexual content, strong language)
It may be hard to believe, but this video game is as outrageous as the movie. Deadpool is action-packed, irreverently funny, and loaded with surprises. It's also lewd, profane, and spectacularly violent. You've been warned! The polished graphics convey the look of an interactive comic book. You begin in Deadpool's filthy apartment where you may witness a few gross-out moments. The action begins in a sewer before making your way up into an office building, dispatching goons that pour out of the woodwork. Deadpool effortlessly slices and dices enemies while darting all over the place. Not only can he teleport through
enemies, but he can slice through them
in the process. The third-person shooting provides a nice change of pace, and I love the way Deadpool blindly fires over his shoulders while running away from an enemy. The gore is satisfying but the cookie-cutter enemies and hack-n-slash mayhem gets repetitive. In tight areas the camera struggles to keep up, but don't stop pounding those buttons! The boss encounters can be hell on the wrist. But just when you start to lose interest some bizarre twist or rip-roaring action sequence occurs, putting a big smile on your face. Ryan Reynolds doesn't perform the voice acting but that doesn't blunt the impact of the wicked humor and non-stop zingers. "If that hit you in the chest, I'm sorry - I was aiming for your crotch!
" "Could we seriously not afford better bad guys?" "A power-down switch? Clearly a video game!
" The writing is consistently clever and often self-referential. Deadpool doesn't just break the fourth wall; he demolishes it. Surprises come early and often, including one area that plays like an 8-bit Zelda stage! Other Marvel characters make appearances, and in one scene you actually get to bitch-slap Wolverine!
It's amazing that Marvel gave the green light to some of this stuff. Deadpool is one seriously ballsy game. It may be an average brawler at heart, but there's something to be said for its unbridled enthusiasm. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Codemasters (2017)
I tend to enjoy offroad racers for their exotic locations and challenging weather conditions. Dirt 4 however feels like one long grind. After installation I was told "you must log into your Playstation account" which is false
. Don't you hate it when games try to coerce you into going online? Dirt 4 doesn't offer many surprises and that's part of the problem. The rally circuit is a series of mind-numbing time trials through point-to-point stages. The countryside courses are super curvy so you'll need to use finesse with the accelerator, brake, and handbrake. The controls are excellent but the tracks aren't much fun to drive. Long and featureless, they seem computer-generated. The roads are extremely narrow and it seems like you're always on a ridge. Fail to make a clean turn and you end up in a ravine. It's not the end of the world though because the game resets you back on the track. Weather conditions like fog add challenge but the shade effects have too much contrast, making it hard to see the road in sunny conditions. Your female wingman guides you through the course with rapid-fire instructions: "Left five 250 dip right right don't cut turn hairpin left bump 60 caution crest left two right six don't cut caution". The problem is, I can't stand
her voice and there's no option to change it! The engine sounds are so full of static I had to check to see if there was something wrong with my surround sound system. The musical soundtrack kicks ass, so why can't I just listen to that instead? Dirt 4 is supposed to adjust the difficulty based on your skill, but I found myself having to crank it way up on my own. My main goal was to reach the snow stages, which took forever. And while racing on roads lined with two feet of snow in Sweden is sweet, I'm not convinced it was worth the effort. Other modes let you race other cars on tracks but the courses are confusing and I got tired of racing around the same ones over and over. Whenever I completed a race in this game I was just glad it was over. There's no split-screen mode because Codemasters doesn't have the technology. My friends Eric and Brad were pretty psyched about this game but quickly lost interest. Dirt 4 may just be the most overrated game I've played on my PS4. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Forged Monix (2018)
It's tempting to dismiss this game as a joke, but once you play Distracted Driver you'll admit this is pretty clever. In the old days of commuting you kept your hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and listened to the radio. But today's drivers are forced to deal with a myriad of pressing matters. Phone calls. Texts. Emails. Facebook posts. Selfies. Hot beverages. You may even need to catch a electronic critter! On top of everything, there's constant anxiety about the possibility of killing people and stuff like that. Who needs it? This is what Distracted Driver is all about. This little slice-of-life title puts your meddle to the test, bombarding you with every distraction you can think of. Quick-time events let you make life-or-death decisions on the fly. Do you stay in your lane or answer that text with a witty retort? Oh sure you could steer clear of that old lady, but what if you're in the middle of taking the perfect selfie? And as always, keep an eye out for cops who want to take away all your fun. Fortunately you can hold R2 to hold your cell phone low to your lap. No one can tell you're using your phone!
Getting to work safely and racking up enough Facebook "likes" is a delicate balancing act, and there are times when a pedestrian might just need to "take one for the team". If there's a problem with Distracted Driver, it's that the game might just be a little too real!
© Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2017)
Back in the day my friends and I enjoyed Hot Shots Golf
(PS1, 1998) and its many sequels. It was fast-paced, easy-to-play, and featured simple but lush anime graphics. Everybody's Golf was supposed to be its spiritual successor so I had high hopes. The feel-good intro video gets the game off on the right foot with its colorful visuals and toe-tapping theme song. Then the game forces you to perform the tedious steps involved with setting up a profile and creating a character. Why can't I skip this?? Adding insult to injury, I couldn't figure out how not
to make my character look like a chubby 10-year old brat! The main game is divided into online and offline modes, which is a fair system. The opening 9-hole round is extremely forgiving thanks to extra-large holes and a little tornado over top which sucks in anything close. The controls are outstanding and the camera offers some breathtaking angles of your ball in flight. I felt like I was playing Hot Shots again and loving it. Still, for a game that holds your hand so much I'm surprised it fails to explain key concepts like power boosts and the ability to apply draw and fade. After playing the same course over and over again I was asking myself where the [expletive] are the other courses?
Only by scouring the internet did I learn it was necessary to defeat three challengers
just to unlock a second course! A second challenger was nowhere to be found and I don't know how much time I wasted running around the island talking to everybody to no avail. It drives me crazy when a developer nails the core gameplay yet can't put together a decent progression system. This isn't rocket science, people. Other irritations include endless prompts before each round, most of it pointless dialog. The user interface is cluttered with tiny icons and extraneous indicators. And after each round it takes forever to page through all the useless "rewards". I finally unlocked a second course and guess what - it looks just like the first one!
Everybody's Golf is what happens when a game is well programmed but designed by committee. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
Publisher: Sierra (2016)
I loved the original Geometry Wars but the idea of taking it to the third dimension was fraught with fear and trepidation. Too many great 2D franchises have been ruined by a forced polygon makeover. Fortunately, Dimensions does it right. At its core Geometry Wars is a turbocharged version of Asteroids
(Atari 2600, 1982). Its simple gameplay is appealing as you blast vibrant, colorful shapes to a bass-bumping, pulse-pounding musical score. The club-like atmosphere makes you want to crank up the stereo and have an alcoholic drink. The dual-thumbstick controls let you unleash rapidfire shots in one direction while moving in another. The basic 2D gameplay remains the same but instead of a flat playing field each stage offers a new warped surface. There are curved planes, rounded cubes, globes, and even giant plls. Dimensions does for Geometry Wars what Tempest (Arcade, 1981) did for early arcade shooters. A few stages even have cordoned off areas reminiscent of Omega Race
(Colecovision, 1982). Geometry Wars Dimensions dazzles with its fast action, vibrant colors, and satisfying fireworks. Each shape behaves in a particular way, and I like how those green boxes nervously dart away from you when you aim at them. It looks funny to see a bunch of them huddled in a corner. You can tell where enemies are about to materialize by a faint color in the background, but the visuals are so chaotic you'll regularly fall victim to unseen hits. The adventure mode offers a challenging progression of unique stages including boss encounters. Special abilities and drones add a layer of strategy but I think the level of complexity has reached its tipping point. In fact, the more complicated stages tend to be the least fun and the coop modes are just overwhelming. There are plenty of modes to choose from but frankly I prefer the old classic modes. I'm glad the game records offline high scores because I have no interest in the online leaderboards. It's just a shame my friends can't pass around the controller and enter initials for high scores. The good news is, that's about the only thing missing from Geometry Wars 3. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2018)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
I hate when a series reverts to its original name instead of using a number or subtitle. I mean, this franchise has had a lot of sequels and the original God of War
(PS2, 2005) really isn't that old! That said, the formula was wearing thin so a change was needed. Kratos is now older, sporting a beard and heavier frame. He's accompanied by his young son who tags along for all the puzzles, battles, and not-so-treacherous platform action. The kid is not nearly as annoying as you would expect. He adds a teamwork element, and more importantly keeps you headed in the right direction. God of War is probably the best looking game I've seen. The eye candy is pretty much off the charts with awe-inspiring scenery, realistic characters models, and imaginative creature designs. The craggy lines that make up Kratos' perpetual scowl look amazing. The environments are heavily constrained however so the exploration feels scripted. At times God of War wants to be a movie, subjecting the player to drawn-out dramatic scenes. But my biggest issue is the new close, over-the-shoulder view. It works fine for throwing your axe, and I like how additional damage is inflicted when you call the axe back. The melee action however is bewildering. Kratos effectively blocks half the screen which is a problem when you're facing quick enemies or scouring for health. If not for the kid's warnings you wouldn't know when you're about to be struck from behind. These issues are laid bare in an early fight sequence against a scrawny guy called "the stranger". This endless, exhausting battle is ludicrous even by God of War standards, with both men bashing each other's heads continuously. The game does get better, thankfully. The various kingdoms have a divine, otherworldly quality, but they all start to look the same after a while. You'll battled hard-to-hit creatures including witches, trolls, and flying dark elves. Most enemies require very specific techniques to harm, which is frustrating. Still, the brutal finishing moves are always satisfying. Most puzzles involve throwing the axe at targets, and the ones that are timed suck
. The new skill tree and upgrade system are terribly overengineered. How many people were on the committee that designed these? Like its hero, the new God of War is rigid, stilted, and humorless. The high production values are undeniable but I miss the unbridled joy of the original trilogy. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2015)
Oh dear. This was one of those early PS4 releases most gamers didn't notice, and they were the lucky ones
. I tried to review Godzilla over a year ago, and the fact I couldn't even bang out a review speaks volumes. It's a slow, plodding affair where you take the giant, lumbering lizard through branching stages of urban destruction. The controls are so clunky you need to hold R1 or L1 just to turn.
Trudging through city streets is unsatisfying thanks to bad physics and a lazy damage system. When you swing your tail at a building it will pass clear through it as the building flashes white. Repeat three times and the boxy structure collapses. Not very satisfying. Many stages involve destroying power generators around the city while dealing with one or more rival creatures. These monsters span the history of the Godzilla franchise, reprising the caterpillar, porcupine, Mothra, and "Space Godzilla" among others. If the developers were going for the "man in rubber suit" look of the old films, they nailed it. The monsters look totally fake with no sense of scale or mass. The one-on-one battles are tedious back-and-forth affairs with hits that appear to have zero impact. It's like a PS2 game with high definition graphics. Since you move like a snail and can't block, combat is just a war of attrition. Swing your tail a few times, unleash your breath, rinse and repeat. As you advance through the campaign Godzilla is supposed to "grow" and become more powerful but I didn't really notice. Between missions the game spews tons of unnecessary text dialog from a reporter and some politician. You won't be able to skip that fast enough. Longtime Godzilla fans may enjoy facing old creatures resurrected from the archives, but please don't expect much in the way of excitement. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear Xrd Sign
Publisher: Aksys (2014)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
This franchise has gained a cult following since the debut of Guilty Gear
(PS1, 1998). Most modern one-on-one fighters use 3D models but Guilty Gear Xrd looks more like an anime cartoon!
Its lushly illustrated 2D visuals are reminiscent of the old Street Fighter games. Likewise the glossy, full-color manual is a welcome throwback to the old school. Sol Badguy is the primary character and he still holds the title of "worst name ever." Axl Low is an Axel Rose clone and Potemkin is a lumbering behemoth. May is a cute girl dragging an anchor and I-No is a sexy guitar-witch with a striking resemblance to Katy Perry. On the darker side, Faust is a lanky freak with a bag over his head and Bedman is a comatose guy in a mechanical bed that fights for
him. The basic controls are simple enough that most gamers can dive in without knowing all the subtle nuances. The battles are utter chaos but highly entertaining. Your senses will be assaulted by all the shape-changing and teleportation attacks. Faust can materialize a large door and slam it in your face. How do you defend
something like that? The backgrounds convey post-apocalyptic landscapes, but the excessive detail makes them looked cluttered and unsightly. I don't even know what I'm looking
at. I dislike how the life meters drain progressively slower. You think you have your opponent on the ropes, yet it takes forever
to finish him off! I enjoyed fighting against my friends, but the profile system practically ruins the experience by requiring everyone to "sign in" (ugh). I was glad to see a bunch of offline modes but they proved disappointing. The mission and challenge modes are beyond tedious and the story mode is one endless cut-scene. The MOM mode lets you work through branching stages while earning medals and equipping various abilities. It would be great if it weren't so damned complicated!
Only one high score is saved in arcade mode, and only when you beat
it. Would a top-10 screen with initials have been too much to ask for?! Extensive stats are recorded for online play but few for offline. You can earn credits to unlock features but the substantial stuff (like a new character) is crazy
expensive. Guilty Gear Xrd Sign has the sights and sounds to draw you in but lacks the hooks to keep you there. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Guitar Hero Live
Publisher: Activision (2015)
Rating: Teen (lyrics)
The original Guitar Hero
(PS2, 2005) rocked my world a decade ago, but after a bad case of sequelitis the franchise fizzled out along with its twin sister, Rock Band. Now the next generation Guitar Hero has emerged with some fresh ideas. Guitar Hero Live makes use of actual video of a crowd to convey the feeling of being on stage in front of a live audience. I haven't seen real footage used like this since the days of the Sega CD and 3DO! It's fun to watch the crowd react to your performance, cheering when you play well and throwing stuff when you falter. The camera also pans the stage, and the reactions of your pissed-off bandmates are priceless. The backdrops behind the audience (superimposed by computer no doubt) look magnificent, featuring amusement parks, suspension bridges, and city skylines. Another innovation is the guitar controller itself, which is great. Instead of goofy Fisher Price buttons you have three pairs of buttons that blend into the guitar neck. You hold these in like frets of a real guitar, allowing you to play chords as well as notes. Once you get past the learning curve the game is a lot of fun. Playing certain sequences of notes in a row earns you "Hero Power" which can whip the crowd into a frenzy. You initiate the power by pressing a new button located near your palm, but I found it so awkward I just turn the guitar vertical instead. There are two basic modes which are really poorly named: Live (offline) and TV (online). Offline you play short sets (three or four songs) at various venues. Once unlocked you can play the songs individually for score. Compared to previous Guitar Hero titles, the track list is weak
. I don't even recognize most of these tunes! Highlights include Demons (Imagine Dragons), R U Mine (Arctic Monkeys), Won't Get Fooled Again (The Who), Paint It Black (Rolling Stones), and my personal favorite My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Fallout Boy). The fact that tracks by Katy Perry and Eminem were included is testament to the sorry state of rock and roll today. The online mode offers a continuous stream of random songs. Earning (or buying) points lets you play songs of your choice, and wouldn't you know it - the best songs are online! You'll find classics like More Than a Feeling (Boston), Limelight (Rush), Cult of Personality (Living Colour) and so many others. What a racket! Guitar Hero Live is a solid game, but the music should really be a selling point and not a bone of contention. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
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