Publisher: Warner Bros. (2017)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, alcohol reference, violence)
I was expecting this to be the latest Mortal Kombat game reskinned for DC comics, and I wasn't wrong. Injustice 2 is a pretty amazing one-on-one fighter with lifelike graphics and awesome moves. There are 28 heroes and villains available right off the bat, but I don't even recognize many. Who in the heck are Firestorm, Blue Beetle, Dr. Fate, and Captain Cold? Batman is wearing a suit of armor and Robin looks like the guy from Assassin's Creed. Harley Quinn bears more than a passing resemblance to Margot Robbie (good) and Poison Ivy is to die for. Some of the villains are downright scary, like Scarecrow, Swamp Thing, and especially Gorilla Grod. They must have motion captured a real gorilla for Grod, because he is frightening to behold. The stages include Altantis, the Batcave, and a rundown Gotham City, but these are lacking in interesting details. I prefer the dark, creepy locations that exude atmosphere like Arkham Asylum, the swamp, and the haunted amusement park. The tutorial walks you through all aspects of the game and I love the option to skip a lesson if you get stuck. Expect combat that's big in juggling and combos. The environmental interaction moves are entertaining but I rarely know when I'm in position to trigger one. The "super moves" are so over the top it's comical. Flash actually transports his foe back in time
to bash him against a dinosaur!
Now that's just disrespectful! The story mode begins with an alarming scene of Supergirl escaping Krypton with terrifying Terminator-style robots in pursuit. It's broken into chapters by character, giving you the chance to get familiar with each. Apparently Harley Quinn is now good and Superman is bad. Go figure!
The subject matter is surprisingly adult in nature; I'm actually surprised this landed a teen rating. There is actual profanity and during one scene Robin slashes a guy's throat!
In another Green Lantern tells Dr. Fate he needs to get laid!
This isn't the Superfriends cartoon I
grew up with! Besides the story mode there's a weird "multiverse" mode which is basically a mission mode. You'll earn points, credits, and crystals, but to what end? Apparently the answer is character customization. Billionaire pants? Divine belts? Lunatic tights? I'll pass, but I guess in this Fortnite era people dig that stuff. Call me old fashioned, but I would have preferred an arcade mode to gauge my progression. Injustice 2 is one heck of a fighter but its emphasis on customization just didn't appeal to me. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, intense violence, strong language)
As the obligatory first-person shooter for the new Playstation 4, Killzone: Shadow Fall barely registers on the fun meter. It's so by-the-numbers that you'd be forgiven for mistaking this for a PS3 game. Its most notable feature is its amazing skylines. The opening stage takes place at night, and looking down the side of one of these gigantic skyscrapers will give you a case of vertigo. The ability to see far into the distance makes the game feel epic in scale. The rainy industrial locations are Blade Runner-inspired, but a heck of a lot less interesting (and that rain looks really fake by the way). The gameplay itself might just give you an industrial-sized headache. The shootouts are okay but the AI is suspect. Sometimes it looks like enemies are lining up to make it easier for you to mow them down. The puzzle aspects of the game absolutely stink, and the stages that take place in outer space are the worst offenders. The only thing worse than first-person platform jumping is... check that, there is nothing worse!
The control scheme is counter-intuitive, and since there are no instructions, you'll have to learn the hard way. I hate how it's not obvious whether you're in a crouch position. One nifty feature is the ability to control a flying drone you can direct to attack enemies, hack computers, create ziplines, and even revive you. Unfortunately changing its "modes" via the touch pad feels both clumsy and contrived. I like the crisp sound of the audio logs emanating through your controller's speaker, but why are the rest of the voices in this game so faint and muffled? Pressing up on the digital pad highlights your destination, but the light orange marker is hard to see and goes away after a few seconds. The developers apparently thought that since the game was in HD it was okay to use a tiny 3-point font, but I can't read that! Killzone has a few thrills (like hanging off an aircraft as it flies over the city) but most of the time I felt like I was slogging through morass. Advanced enemies have shields surrounding their entire bodies, and you'll need to deal with annoying swarming spider droids. The stages are long and there's no indication of your progress being saved. The boring melodrama between missions is apparently meant to mask the load times. I can only recommend Killzone: Shadow Fall to die-hard fans of the series, and even they might want to think twice. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
King of Fighters XIV
Publisher: Atlus (2016)
Rating: Teen (language, suggestive themes, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)
As a longtime fan of this franchise which dates all the way back to King of Fighters 94
(Neo Geo, 1994), I have mixed feelings about King of Fighters XIV (KOF14). The game contains 50 fighters spanning the entire lifespan of the series including old standbys like Terry Bogard, Joe Higashi, Geese Howard, and Mia Shirinu. Others of note include a hooded guy who turns into sand, a girl with an attack bird, a mega-hot latina, and some big dude dressed up like a dinosaur! Frankly there are so many characters it's hard to tell who's new. I like how they speak in Japanese, adding credibility somehow. The artistic stages incorporate the Shanghai skyline at night, an aquarium, truckstop, stadium, cathedral, and rainy temple. Sadly, the scenery appears boring and flat, lacking the subtle details and clever animations that add personality. In the tradition of the King of Fighters each bout is a 3-on-3 matchup. The fighting action is solid but unspectacular, and for best results you'll want a joystick controller. The tutorial walks you through all the elements of the game, but by the time it reaches advanced techniques like "climax super SP moves" it starts to wear thin. Maybe it's time for the series to knock the complexity down a notch. Whenever I pick up this game I feel like I need a damn refresher course, and naturally there's no manual. KOF14 has full support for online play but thankfully it still caters to the offline experience with single-player modes like story, trial, versus, time attack, and survival. It saves all your best times and scores locally along with statistics on character usage. What's missing is a proper arcade mode - a quick challenge without a major time investment. The story mode can
serve this purpose, but only if you crank up the CPU difficulty because the default skill level is ridiculously easy. A second problem is how the game overscans my plasma TV screen, making it hard to read character names that are cut off. There are actually display options for adjusting various HUD elements but none that could fix my problem. In general the icons and text are awfully tiny, making it hard to read the command lists. The load times are reasonable but couldn't they keep up the "character versus" art up while loading instead of having the screen go black? King of Fighters XIV is a full-featured fighter with a rich heritage but this latest edition is hard to get excited about. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
Some critics have knocked Knack for being a conventional platformer - like that's such a bad thing!
I guess all the "me too" first-person shooters get a free pass. The truth is, every new system needs an accessible, family-friendly game like Knack. The main character is a bunch of artifacts magically held together to form a robot-like being. Unlike most platform heroes, Knack isn't particularly cute. In fact, he's kind of ugly! Still, it's fun to make him smack-down robots, causing them to short-circuit and explode. The basic gameplay boils down to platform jumping and combat. You'll also want to dodge traps and keep an eye out for hidden goodies. Whenever you confront a new set of foes, it's best to strike quickly, as you can usually take several out before they even have a chance to react. It's satisfying to knock armor off enemies as you wear them down. Collecting yellow crystals fills a meter that lets you execute special moves, and I love the "clink" sounds that play through your controller's speaker as you pick up the crystals. The special moves are a blast. One lets you shake the ground, another unleashes missiles, and a third transforms you into a little tornado. Knack packs a wallop, and his finishing punches are slowed down for dramatic effect. As he accumulates more artifacts, Knack grows in size, allowing you to inflict even more carnage. This style of game doesn't call for spectacular graphics, so don't expect any. The story and dialogue are nothing to write home about either. Even so, Knack was easily my favorite launch PS4 title of both myself and my friends. Not because it's innovative or technically advanced, but because it's consistently entertaining and just plain fun. That still matters to some people! © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rising Star Games (2015)
Rating: Everyone 10+
The Kromaia packaging describes the game as "Bullet Hell blasting entered the next dimension!" Really?
This bears no resemblance to any "bullet hell" game I've ever played. There's only one category Kromaia falls into, and that would be "bad games". The game offers a behind-the-ship perspective as you navigate a disorienting universe of random geometric shapes. If the designers were going for a style similar to Rez
(Dreamcast, 2001) they missed the mark. Dual-stick controls let you maneuver and strafe, with the triggers unleashing rapid-fire shots. You begin by flying through a maze of black and white boxes. What the hell is going on? Apparently each level is some kind of space obstacle course with orbs to collect. The clean lines and vivid colors look sharp but the monochromatic graphics make enemies blend in. I didn't even realize I was taking damage until I was told my shield was gone. You can fire away to your heart's content but the visuals are so abstract you can't tell if you're hitting anything. Arrows surrounding your ship point you to your next "objective", but they're hard to discern when you're flying directly into the screen. Even when headed in the right direction it's never clear what the [expletive] you're supposed to do. This game makes no sense. Occasionally I'll see a "code accepted" message when all I'm doing is firing like a madman. Kromaia makes you feel like you're stuck in a never-ending tutorial, waiting for the real game that never comes. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Wales Interactive (2017)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, strong language, violence)
When full-motion video (FMV) games hit the scene in the early 90s they were hampered by grainy video and clunky controls. The idea was to let the player interact with real video footage to varying degrees. The genre quickly came and went but recently experienced a minor resurgence. This new breed of FMV is slick. If Late Shift were a movie it would rival anything you'd find on Netflix with its excellent direction, moody cinematography, and superb acting. The scenes featuring expensive sports cars and pumping music look like something from a Fast and Furious movie. The game takes about an hour to play. Its story revolves around a young Mick Jagger-looking parking attendant who inadvertently gets roped into an elaborate heist scheme. Most of the story takes place in London at night and I love its after-hours vibe. The plot is a tangled web between a pack of criminals, an Asian crime syndicate, and a mysterious art collector. The action is pretty intense but the fact that everybody is fighting over what looks like a cheap little bowl is a kind of hard to swallow. User interaction is practically seamless as every few minutes or so you're prompted to make a decision with just a few seconds to respond. It's not always clear if your choices are having an impact. You might select "run away" only to have the bad guy chase you down anyway. After playing a few times I noticed certain pivotal scenes always occur, so while there are different ways to get from point A to B, you always end up in the same place. Towards the end however your decisions might lead to an abrupt ending. The fact that I played through this four times in one week is a testament to its quality. Each time a bit more of the story was revealed. The bad news is, I only discovered two of seven possible endings and neither was particularly satisfying. As a movie Late Shift can hang with the best of them but its trial-and-error gameplay left me a little cold. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Lego Jurassic World
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2015)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, crude humor)
I thought I had had my fill of Lego games (which are all pretty much the same) but my unbridled love for everything Jurassic Park convinced me to buy this. Lego Jurassic World covers all four movies
for Pete's sake! Its simplistic graphics are to be expected, but the loose collision detection and awkward camerawork beg the question: are they still reusing the original PS2 Lego engine? Each stage allows you to toggle between multiple characters, and sometimes it feels like there's too many cooks in the kitchen. Each character brings a different ability to the table like using a gun, climbing, fixing stuff, or performing acrobatics. In some cases these abilities make sense, but too often the who-can-do-what seems terribly arbitrary (only this kid can build this, only this guy can turn this lever, etc). Sometimes an action can only be undertaken by a character you haven't even unlocked yet (and never will). Sometimes you get to control the dinosaurs. Bashing scenery releases tons of cogs to collect, but I'm about ten years past the point of caring about those. Parts lying around can be assembled into bridges, ladders, and giant catapults by holding the O button. The O button is used for so many things it's ridiculous: digging, building, interacting, picking up stuff, employing special abilities, and more. The controls seem poorly thought out. Why would a raptor need an aiming reticule?
As you might imagine, the confusion is magnified with two players. The unskippable cut-scenes are mildly-entertaining at best, and even the save system is suspect. If there's an autosave, what's the point of manual save points? I also encountered one spectacular glitch that literally launched my raptor into the stratosphere! I watched in surreal amazement as he floated back down to his virtual world. I would complain about that if it wasn't so awesome
. Despite its glaring flaws I don't hate Lego Jurassic World. I like how it recreates the movie storylines and there's always something new to do and see. Little kids will probably spend countless hours collecting all the cogs and hidden items. Best of all, that snooty brunette assistant gets eaten in this game
too. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Publisher: Square Enix (2017)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, sexual themes, violence, drugs and alcohol)
Though more of an interactive novel than a game, I found the original Life is Strange: Complete Season
(Square Enix, 2015) compelling thanks to its gripping storyline, cinematic style, and introspective soundtrack. This prequel feels a whole lot less apocalyptic - call it Life is Strange Lite
. Before the Storm is broken up into chapters with realistic dialog, believable characters, and dramatic twists. You are Chloe Price, an angsty teen who smokes joints, drinks alcohol, and swears like a sailor. The game begins with Chloe sneaking into a concert venue and getting involved in an altercation. During each scene you can navigate and interact with your environment to a limited extent. There's no way to "lose" per se but your choices can affect the story. The time-travel mechanic of the first game has thankfully been axed in favor of mildly-amusing "talk back" challenges. The game often makes you feel like you're just along for the ride, and some of the extended scenes feel like they belong in a director's cut. Still, there's enough clever dialog and emotionally-charged moments to keep you engaged. At one point Chloe's friend Rachel inadvertently starts a massive forest fire, which is downright alarming considering it takes place in Oregon. The mellow soundtrack really grows on you, with the song "Bros" by Wolf Alice being a standout track. Unfortunately Before the Storm tends to be quite buggy, beginning with the installation process. And while the story would seem to be building up to something momentous, it wraps up in a hurry, as if the developers were told they had to ship tomorrow. Before the Storm is a fine companion piece to the first game, but it struck me as a killer soundtrack looking for a game to go with it. Note: The Collector's Edition includes all three episodes on disc, an art book, and the soundtrack CD. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Life is Strange: Complete Season
Publisher: Square Enix (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol)
Life Is Strange is an interactive story in the tradition of Heavy Rain
(PS3, 2010) with gorgeous northwestern scenery reminiscent of Alan Wake
(Xbox 360, 2010). Cinematic camera angles, dramatic plot twists, and realistic dialog combine for a surprisingly emotional journey. Originally available as downloadable episodes, Life is Strange is five chapters long, each running several hours. The game begins with typical dormitory drama but quickly ramps to more serious matters regarding guns, drugs, and suicide. You play the role of Max Caulfield, a female student with a passion for photography attending an Oregon art school. After reconnecting with her rebellious friend Chloe the two set out to investigate the case of a missing girl. While in class Max comes to realize she has the ability to manipulate time, letting her to undo events and bad decisions. At first she uses her power for trivial matters like undoing spills, but eventually her choices take on life or death implications. The mechanism used to rewind time is very clumsy and confusing, and frankly doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Still, it's interesting to watch the drama unfold, partly due to the unflinching dialog delivered by some very passionate voice actors. Surroundings are rich with detail, and the ease with which you can highlight and examine items makes it fun to snoop around. The character models boast subtle facial expressions but their hair is noticeably chunky. I expect better on the PS4. An excellent soundtrack provides earthy, bohemian tunes like you'd expect to hear in a college environment. At various times Life is Strange is slow, compelling, tedious, funny, and heartwarming. Surprise plot twists will leave you in complete shock, if not in tears. Life Is Strange may be an artistic masterpiece but it's less successful as a game. I'm not convinced my moral decisions had much effect. I noticed the game would not allow me to rewind certain scenes, yet forced
me to rewind others. The final sequence is annoying and over-the-top. Life is Strange isn't for everyone but if you're the kind of person who likes to curl up with a good novel it will deliver a thoughtful experience that will stay with you. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2017)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
Little Nightmares places you in the role of a helpless, scrawny kid trapped in a series of harrowing dungeons where you sneak around, solve puzzles, and navigate platforms. The dank scenery is strewn with chains, boilers, old furniture, scurrying rats, and... hanging bodies? Whoa
- this is not
a kid's game. You'll contend with tilting floors, trap doors, electrified bars, and scurrying gremlins. Shadowy images and jarring noises add to the unsettling atmosphere. The controls feel soft and smooth as you effortlessly climb chains and metal grates. You can also run, hop, duck, grab, and light matches to guide the way. Despite its artistic merit the game is not the most pleasant experience. The puzzles are thoughtfully designed but the dark scenery and limited camera angles are disconcerting. The controls for grabbing tend to let you down at the most inopportune times. Between deaths you're subjected to torturously long load screens. WTF? Is it reloading the entire game?!
And despite the box label "Complete Edition" I found myself hopelessly stuck (embedded in scenery) after less than five minutes!
The game has some frightening moments but the stealth and timed sequences are more stressful than fun. I didn't want to play this for more than a few minutes at a time. Little Nightmares tries to tap into something primal but revisiting your darkest childhood fears is pretty much as fun as it sounds. Not much! © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
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