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.
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.
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: Sony (2017)
MLB The Show 17 features photo-realistic graphics, a slick television-style presentation, and surround sound that makes you feel like you're sitting at the ballpark. Expect realistic animations when a batter gets hit by a pitch, takes a called third strike, or beats out an infield hit. Catchers smother wild pitches, fans grab foul balls from the stands, and fielding errors add unpredictability. The camera angles are quite good - especially your batter's-eye view of hits when playing the CPU. The Show tries to strike a balance between arcade and realism, but it falls short. Much like Madden and NBA 2K, the contests turn into a grind. The controls are too complex and the pacing is slow. I reviewed this with three friends who all had the exact same lukewarm reaction. Eric (the baseball purist) noticed all sorts of oversights: logos too small, fans in the groundskeeping areas, strange lulls in the play-by-play, etc. Is every game
a sell-out? Like previous versions of the game there's an inordinate number of passed balls on third strikes. And just when you thought the controls weren't complicated enough, you can now call time-out from the batter's box or make your pitcher step off the mound. I can't imagine anyone actually wanted
those. Also new is your ability to launch a "power throw" from the outfield in just six easy steps!
For those looking for something more accessible a new "retro mode" harkens back to the old days of Sportstalk Baseball
(Genesis, 1992) and Ken Griffey Major League Baseball
(SNES, 1994). The gameplay is simple and it feels good to freely slide your batter around the batter's box. Only two buttons are used, making you wonder why it was necessary to overload the controls to begin with. Retro mode retains the modern player graphics but frankly they should have ditched those as well. It's a little hard to make contact with the ball but I enjoyed the breakneck pacing of this mode. It's a shame you can't play a season in retro mode. The fact that it's the clear highlight illustrates just how unwieldy and unexciting The Show has become. And there are bugs too. During one game I had two runners stranded at third, but when the ball was thrown to that base, one magically scored! If you're looking for a new baseball game, MLB The Show 17 is pretty much the only game in town. I purchased my copy when it went on sale, and I'm glad I waited. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2014)
Before playing Madden 15 I had to sit through several slow-moving install/loading progress bars and agree to not one but two
EULAs. I really miss the days when you could play a video game without consulting a lawyer
first! The main menu offers a new Ultimate Football Fantasy mode (some kind of online card game) and the Connected mode (which ironically can be played offline). Every game kicks off with a slick TV-style presentation with Phil Simms and Jim Nance providing pre-game analysis. I like how the starting players are flashed along the bottom of the screen, and the use of video clips to introduce quarterbacks is a nice (but underused) feature. On the field the players look sharp but not noticeably better than last year. Players with long hair like Riley Cooper appear to have straw sticking out of their helmet. The number of moves you can execute is astronomical, but a proper manual should have been provided to reference the buttons. One notable new feature is the "defensive rush" which allows you to shed your blocker with a well-timed button press. It adds an arcade flavor that's been missing from Madden since... well... forever
. The new play-calling interface is a nightmare, offering a single "suggested" play by default. The play explanations shown with these are helpful, but I prefer to have the entire playbook at my disposal. Unfortunately, accessing that requires digging through layers and layers of horrendous menus that pop-up and jostle around on their own accord. It's so time-consuming and nauseating
I started to settle for the suggested play. It's also really easy to accidentally choose the wrong
play while trying to expedite the automatic replay. Play selection is arguably worse
on defense since you sometimes don't even have enough time to select a play! The new kicking meter is a mess with those hideous rainbow-colored lines. I do like the uptempo pace of the game and the way players behave realistically. Colin Kaepernick will run all over your ass and Ben Roethlisberger will usually hang in the pocket (for better or worse). The coaches are prominently featured in cut-scenes and their reactions are amusing. Still, Madden 15 is missing a lot of elements of real football. There's no chain measurements and penalties are practically non-existent. The stadiums look flashy but there are no cheerleaders. Players rarely bobble catches, help each other up, or congratulate each other. The half-time show is worthless and the post-game show is practically non-existent. The commentary is weak, with Phil Simms offering pearls of wisdom like "It's better to be ahead than behind". For a "next-gen" sports title, EA has shown me nothing. Madden 15 is yet another disappointment from EA, but when you have an NFL-sanctioned monopoly there's really no point in trying very hard. LATE NOTE: My lawyer just informed me I inadvertently signed over my entire 401K to EA. Bastards!!
© Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2015)
You can always count on EA to deliver a marginal gridiron experience. Football fans will grumble but not enough to get EA's exclusive NFL monopoly revoked. I certainly wasn't thrilled with having to agree to a 20-page EULA
, and that was before
taking the game online! The action on the field looks glossy and attractive, but the game engine is the same one they've been tweaking for the last 15 years. One interesting new feature is the new catch controls. Now you can fight for the ball (triangle), focus on possession (X), or run-after-the-catch (square). The problem is, sometimes you'll hit square but end up diving on the ground
immediately after catching the ball! There are now five ways
to throw the ball which is overkill. More useful are the icons that flash over linemen on defense, allowing you to get added "push" if your timing is right. Unlike previous Maddens, passes are frequently batted into the air and often picked off. The runningbacks seem to have a better grip on the turf and I like how they can regain their balance. The coaches look true to life but why are they always standing by themselves? Where are the celebrations, cheerleaders, and ten-yard measurements? Where are the commentators and fan cut-aways? It seems like every year EA subtracts as much as they add. There are hardly any penalties which really takes its toll of the realism. The halftime show is crap
. Why don't we see highlights of other
games in progress? And then there are the bugs. I've witnessed kickers kick the ball sideways, receivers signal first-down in the wrong direction, and Joe Flacco indicating a false start penalty for his own team.
The announcers are frequently wrong, especially when it comes to coaching challenges. Did anybody test this game? What was EA doing all year (besides counting money)? And those who take Madden online are in for additional suffering. It has to update 100 things every time you play, and the interface for connecting with a friend makes no sense. There were multiple times when the game completely locked up while loading
. I was actually thinking about rating Madden 16 about average until my friends pointed out, "it's not an average game if you can't play
the thing!" © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2016)
There's been about 27 Madden games since 1990 and I've played every single one of them. Madden 17 isn't terrible if you can endure an excruciating install/update process and the mandatory Redskins/Rams matchup (not sure which is worse
). The action on the field is more arcade-like than recent years thanks to closer camera angles and on-the-fly button prompts. It's more unpredictable in terms of tackling, pass deflections, and ball bounces. The television-style presentation offers some really striking views of the stadiums. A new kicking meter was a good idea, but the one they came up with is a slow, clunky piece of [expletive]. In terms of audio EA spared no expense by hiring two commentators you've never heard of. They love to yammer on about the age of the players instead of staying on top of the action. You can never tell if a pass was caught, dropped, or intercepted! As usual there are glitches galore, including automatic coach's challenges when you're just trying to call a timeout. The only thing worse than initiating an unwanted challenge is listening to the commentators chide you for the rest of the game about your poor coaching. Speaking of coaches, these guys look positively bizarre. Is that supposed to be Rex Ryan or the hunchback of Notre Dame?! The confusing menus are cluttered with unwanted options like "weekly training", "play defense only", and "sim to mid season". Who asked for this junk? In franchise mode the default setting is "play the moments" instead of a full game! WTF?
Instead of focusing on superfluous crap maybe EA could let me play the preseason or fix the broken save system. Madden 17 spends most of its CPU cycles checking for roster updates, which might be justifiable if the rosters weren't terribly out-of-date!
I have Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the Browns and Ben Watson (on injured reserve for a month) playing tight end for my Ravens! And you can't even start a new franchise without reinstalling the whole game! Electronic Arts could at least pretend
they're making an effort. Where are the cheerleaders? Where are the chain measurements? It's time EA had some competition. This NFL-sanctioned monopoly is a total racket - a pigskin sham! It's a ham sham. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2017)
Once I got past the interminable install process and agreed to EA's extensive terms and conditions I was finally ready to play Madden 18 only two days after buying it. So what's new? Well you can now select between arcade, simulation, or competitive modes. Arcade caters to offensive-minded fans with ball carriers that are really hard to bring down. Competitive mode is geared towards addicts who spend all day playing Madden online. As a football purist I feel obligated to play simulation, although its realism is suspect considering there's no penalties. When starting a new season the game pummeled me with so many prompts and and unnecessary features I was hitting X like I was playing Track and Field
(NES, 1987) for crying out loud. This not only caused me to miss the entire preseason but opening day kickoff as well. The action on the field feels pretty tight despite sporadic frame rate and clipping issues. Before snapping the ball I find it hard to tell which players the passing icons are supposed to be lined up with. Close camera angles make it hard to tell if your runningback is heading for trouble while trying to round the edge. Likewise the low passing view makes it a challenge to survey the field. Interceptions are ubiquitous. At least punts don't always bounce into the end zone like they've done every other year. The kicking meter kind of sucks though. At the end of one game I hit X to kick a field goal with four seconds left, but the clock kept running while that slow-ass meter was moving. Wouldn't you know time expired before the ball was even snapped? In terms of graphics, Flacco looks a lot less like Frankenstein this year but coach Harbaugh looks like he's gained 20 lbs and hasn't slept in a week! I noticed a few new animations like ankle tackles and basket catches that look pretty cool. There are some strange sights too, like receivers who rub up against defenders like a cat on a scratching post. Despite the NFL loosening restrictions on celebrations they tend to be so low key in this game you won't even notice them. The presentation is definitely like a TV broadcast, right down to fading to a commercial every five minutes. The play-by-play is pretty good and they even talk about the team's previous week's performance. The new Longshot mode begins as a heartfelt drama with a Varsity Blues vibe, but degenerates into a sleazy reality show. It's never clear if your choices are really affecting the story at all. Madden 18 is what it is. Besides the rosters there's no good reason to upgrade, but isn't that always the case? © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2018)
Madden has sucked for years but every year I buy it for some reason. Because football I guess. It looked like EA was making an effort to clean up their act this year. Madden 19 doesn't take forever to load and its streamlined main menu looks like less of a cash grab. The pacing is brisk on the field, although that may be because I selected "arcade" as my preferred style. One new feature is "real player motion control" which makes it easy to juke, drag tacklers, and escape to daylight. I have to admit the running controls feel extra responsive - almost touchy. This tips the scales heavily toward the running game. The passing game suffers from more pick-offs than my Aunt Judy in the grape section of the produce aisle! The kicking meter is absolute garbage but at least it's possible to down the ball just short of the goal line. Due to the NFL's new stance on celebrations you now get dances in the end zones and showboating on the field, but nothing worth watching. There seems to be an injury on every other play but you never see trainers on the field so they must not be very serious. The halftime show is a non-event, offering little more than the scores of other games "in progress". The new franchise mode seems promising, allowing you to dive right in without messing with preseason or training camp. I loved the idea of downloading the latest Raven roster until I noticed rookie Lamar Jackson as my starting quarterback! Worse yet I couldn't substitute him! Oh sure, there's probably a way, but I got tired of fighting with the convoluted menu system. After selecting "advance week" I inexplicably found myself in mid-season
. There are so many defects in Madden 19 I don't know where to start. The camera often pulls way back before the snap so you can't tell what the [expletive] is going on during the play. I've witnessed plays called dead while ball carrier is still on his feet!
One time the camera zoomed under the stands and I found myself in some kind of football twilight zone. In fairness, EA has only been working on Madden for 30 years. I sure if the NFL just gives them another 30 they'll get it right. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2019)
Remember when getting a new football game was a big deal? Well there's a whole generation that doesn't! To be honest it was hard to get my friends to help me review this, and these are the same dudes I watch football with!
As usual Madden 20 is a minor upgrade (at best) from the previous year. The player animations feel more unpredictable, so you never know when a receiver is going to regain his balance and waltz into the endzone. The controls can be downright touchy at times, especially when you're trying to go up the middle and the ball carrier is lurching left and right. Running backs tend to bounce between linemen like a pinball! Defenders seem to hit with more force, sometimes hurling the ball carrier into the ground. You can select your touchdown celebration via the right stick but they tend to be pretty lame. I have yet to witness a single legitimate "wow" moment in this game. EA has been conservative with their development, shoring up their core gameplay without adding any notable new features. On the field the action is polished but it lacks the flair of network TV. The commentators are extremely talkative - maybe to a fault. Sometimes it sounds like they're in their own world, oblivious to what's happening on the field. The halftime show is practically non-existent, and where are the cheerleaders? When are the chain measurements? EA really needs to upgrade their crappy kicking meter. I nailed a 59-yarder with no problem! One thing I'll say for the game is it's fair. If you see a receiver breaking free, you can hit him with pinpoint precision. If your tight end is tied up but you throw it his way you're probably looking at an interception. I do find it annoying how quarterbacks either throw a good pass or eat the ball. Maybe they should throw an inaccurate pass while under duress? The pacing is crisp, partly due to the automatic clock runoff after each play, and the game is always a challenge, whether playing a friend or the season mode. With Madden 20, EA has once again succeeded in putting together a playable, albeit unremarkable football game. What they failed to do is give gamers a reason to care. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Mark McMorris Infinite Air
Publisher: Maximum Games (2017)
I was lamenting the lack of new snowboarding games when I stumbled upon Mark McMorris Infinite Air on Amazon. Upon firing up this budget title I found myself heading down a nondescript hill with no introduction or guidance. After pressing a few buttons the game said "Stopped recording. Not connected to Internet." What the [expletive] is going on?!
From the main menu I located a circuit mode which offers a series of challenges to complete to unlock new gear and trails. On the slopes I found myself grappling with the least-intuitive controls ever devised. Much like EA sports titles, the designers seemed intent of shoehorning every possible function into the two thumbsticks. The left thumbstick is overloaded with so many extraneous controls like speed checks and reverts that you can't even steer!
Trying to line up with ramps or rails is frustrating, especially with your huge boarder blocking your view. Trying to perform tricks? Forget it. I played through all the tutorials and still had no idea what I was doing. Executing flips requires you "charge" your jump, but you rotate so slowly
that landing on your feet is a matter of pure luck. And once you wipe out, you can't get up!
Oh sure you can move the sticks and push buttons but you just wallow in the snow like a pathetic loser. The square button resets you back to the top of the hill, and the fact that it's the most useful button in the entire game speaks volumes. Assigning it to the square was a dumb move however because you're constantly hitting it by accident. And I haven't even gotten to the graphics yet. With apologies to Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner "I've seen
things... you people wouldn't believe." Mountains that flicker into view. Trees that grow snow as you approach. After crashing into a tree, my crumpled body once folded into the shape of a pretzel. On another occasion I watched in amazement as my snowboarder fell and plowed down the entire length of the hill on his face
at full speed. I've played bad snowboarding games before, but unlike Steep
(Ubisoft, 2016) there's nothing nefarious going on here. Infinite Air is just grossly incompetent and clearly rushed out the door in time for snowboarding season. Any sense of quality control lost in time... like tears in the snow. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Marvel Pinball Epic Collection Vol. 1
Publisher: Zen Studios (2016)
When fawning over the Star Wars Pinball
(Switch, 2019) I didn't realize there was already a superhero pinball collection out there. How could I miss it? Maybe because the cover doesn't suggest anything to do with pinball? Marvel Pinball Epic Collection offers ten tables spanning popular franchises like Spiderman, Antman, Captain America, Iron Man, Blade, Dr. Strange, Venon, Hulk, and the Avengers. Like Star Wars, the boards feel grounded in "real life" thanks to mechanical contraptions and realistic physics. There's even an old fashioned dot matrix display in the corner. Naturally there's plenty of video game "magic" like animated characters moving around the tables. Most tables offer multiple sets of flippers, tiered levels, and minigames. I found the triggers that activate the flippers feel more comfortable than the Switch controllers. You can toggle between several views but I prefer "follow the ball" which gives you the closest vantage point. I have mixed feelings about the table designs. Venom is so crowded it made me feel claustrophobic, and the ramps on the Hulk table are too wide. Amazing Spider Man hits the sweet spot with ample eye candy and a design that actually lets you get into a rhythm. Antman has this cage thing you can knock around for points. The thing is, just about all the tables have that same high-tech look. Blade is an exception, providing a welcome respite with its dark, vaguely Halloween vibe. The games also suffer from "too many balls syndrome". Although technically you get three, once you add in bonuses and saved balls it can add up to eight or more. That said, the action is exciting and it's neat to see new table features open up as you progress. The pumping soundtrack is amazing and there are plenty of voice samples (although not from the original actors). You can play online but local high scores are saved as well. I got a little weary of its superhero themes but I have to admit this collection does a lot of things right. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2018)
In 1991 my friend Eric and I had a memorable phone conversation espousing the virtues of Spider-Man
(Genesis, 1991). As we recently discussed this new game it occurred to me just how little has changed. From a technical standpoint Marvel's Spider-Man may be the best video game I've ever played. Swinging through a fully-realized virtual New York City feels effortlessly smooth and often exhilarating. Whether you're parkouring on rooftops, sprinting up the side of a building, or swooping down inches above traffic, it's never a problem getting from point A to B. This mechanic is the centerpiece of an epic adventure that expertly blends cinematic storytelling with pure playability. Exploring the city is entertaining in of itself, especially with changing time-of-day and weather conditions. Strolling around Times Square at night is mesmerizing, and I actually recognized one thoroughfare by Central Park as the route for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade I saw on TV! Cutscenes and phone dialog are expertly weaved into the action as not to interrupt the flow of the game. The combat is system is like an "above the rim" version of the Batman Arkham games. There's a lot of precision darting and frantic dodging, culminating with a slow-motion finishing blow. Incredible moves include pinning a guy against a wall with webbing, snatching weapons, and spinning a barrel around while knocking down all criminals in the vicinity. It's crucial to stake out guarded areas and web up a few unsuspecting thugs before they can detect your presence. I never got tired of systematically taking out gangs. The controls are rich but the game displays frequent prompts and provides hints on the load screens. Your map reveals endless activities outside of your main mission like locating lost backpacks, snapping pictures of landmarks, and fixing transmission towers to fill in your map. For once I actually wanted
to attempt the optional missions to crank up my stats and abilities. Heck, even the circuit puzzles are fun. One bone of contention is how the designers sprinkled in stealth missions featuring Spider-Man's girlfriend Mary Jane and his young protege Miles. While these tend to slow things down they also provide good exposition and Miles' encounter with Rhino is the scariest part of the game. The story concludes with an epic multi-stage boss finale, followed by enough endings to make Peter Jackson blush. I don't know how many hours I sunk into Spider-Man but it was hard to walk past my TV without picking up a controller. Upon completing the story I felt like giving the game a standing ovation, but maybe I should reserve that for the developers, as I never even had to apply a single patch
to this game. Bravo!
© Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Micro Machines: World Series
Publisher: Codemasters (2017)
Rating: Everyone 10+
To classic gamers the words Micro Machines
(NES, 1991) bring back fond memories of racing toy cars around familiar household environments. This PS4 version took me by surprise when I stumbled upon it at the local Target. I was cautiously excited about a new generation being introduced to its simple brand of racing mayhem. But the fact of the matter is, modern remakes usually do not end well. Not only do they fail to improve upon their source material, but they are usually substantially worse
, despite all the technological advances! When I first fired up Micro Machines World Series the first thing I noticed was three of the four modes were online only. Since I don't have Playstation Plus at this time the local mode was my only option. I will admit that racing against the CPU can be fun. The short elimination races incorporate weapons like shotguns, hammers, and nerf-darts. Nerf must have sponsored this game because I see their logo everywhere. The graphics are clean but frankly I was expecting something a little more realistic. Some of the liquid effects look cool, but otherwise the game looks cartoonish. Slice-of-life environments include a kitchen, pool table, backyard, and garage workbench. You really need to get a lap or two under your belt to get familiar with each track. The physics feels right and the camerawork isn't bad either. What's missing is a sense of progression. No matter how I well I perform I only have the option of quitting or playing again. After a dozen races I checked my "bio" only to discover I had earned one XP
, with 1500
required to advance to the level. Guess I won't be making much progress offline! The game does support four-player local racing, and this would be gangbusters if only you could complete a lap without the game crashing! And this was after applying updates! The days of racing toy cars may be back, the but the days of buying quality software appear to be long gone. © Copyright 2017 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.
Mortal Kombat 11
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive (2019)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
It was easy to get excited about the previous two Mortal Kombats which melded classic 2D fighting gameplay with state-of-the-art graphics. Mortal Kombat 11 doesn't offer much new but when it comes to gore this one really does go to 11!
Seeing bones break in previous game made me cringe, but watching exploding eyeballs and sliced-up brains in this game is just gross. That said, I will give the designers credit for coming up with new and imaginative ways to dismember the human body! The tutorial mode got me through the basics but I quickly lost patience. The little button symbols are so damn tiny I couldn't tell the circles from the squares! Do the developers test on 80 inch monitors?! The fighting action feels very crisp and deliberate. The R1 button now lets you amplify your attack or interact with the environment, so I use it all the time.
One poorly-named new feature is "fatal blows" which take the place of the old "x-ray" attacks. These become available when your health falls below 30%, letting you stage a cheap comeback. These lengthy fatality-style animations are fun to watch at first but can get a little tired. It's somewhat disorienting to watch a character continue fighting after just being gutted and impaled through the skull three times. This happens in story mode all the time. Speaking of which, it's probably the closest we'll ever get to another Mortal Kombat movie. There's so much dialog it makes me want to grab a beer! Mortal Kombat 11 tries to be an inter-generational title, mixing "offspring" characters like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs with zombified oldies like Lui Kang and Kung Lao. Marginal characters from the past like Jade, Noob Saibot, and Kabal have returned. Bad guys include the insect-like D'Vorah, cowboy Erron Black, and the creepy Kollector with his six scrawny arms. I enjoyed the klassic tower mode but the stages are very understated and not the least bit memorable. Gems earned in various modes let you buy from "the Krypt" but sadly this feature is now only available if you're logged into a server. Why? Because it's tied into their online store and the publisher is hoping you'll spend real money instead of unlocking stuff. What a krock! Mortal Kombat 11 is still a AAA fighter, but certain aspects of the game left me with a bad taste in my mouth. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
At long last I've discovered the first great
game of this generation (not counting the Wii U). Mortal Kombat X builds upon the solid foundation established by the previous Mortal Kombat
(Xbox 360, 2011). The character models look fantastic and the stages are works of art. The gameplay is practically flawless. There are many sophisticated moves to master yet any fighting fan can pick up a controller and have fun immediately. I love the ability to interact with the environments, whether it's vaulting off a nearby rock or hurling a discarded shield at your opponent. Crowd-pleasing X-ray attacks let you savor each bone snap and skull crush. The gruesome fatalities are sure to bring a smile to your face, and the "easy fatalities" are genius. The level of violence is so over the top you can't take it seriously. Mortal Kombat X remains true to its roots, maintaining the same basic gameplay, mythology, visual style, and tongue-in-cheek tone. Veteran characters like Johnny Cage, Sonya, Jax, and Liu Kang have aged and now sport gray hair and wrinkles. Some of their grown children
are new characters, like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs. I love the new additions. Kotal Khan looks like a hulking Aztec king and Erron Black is a Wild West-inspired gunslinger. D'vorah is a twitchy insect woman and Takeda is a ninja with a bladed whip. Ferra/Torr is a "combination" character consisting of a Leatherface behemoth with a kid riding on his back. It looks hilarious when the kid gets knocked off and quickly scrambles to get back on. Older characters have been reimagined, including a creepy floating Ermac and a far more repulsive Reptile. Most fighting franchises are intent on getting players online (*cough*Capcom
) but Mortal Kombat X respects its offline fans. The story mode nicely ties together all the characters while filling in some of their history. The classic tower modes are back in force, including a new "test your might" tower that's sure to give you carpal tunnel. The Krypt is now far more than a place to unlock goodies, but a full adventure in of itself! The game records your complete off-line history including character usage, records, and high scores. Expertly designed and amazing to behold, Mortal Kombat X sets the new standard for excellence in fighting games. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
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