Who else but Housemarque could’ve perfectly melded arcade-inspired twin-stick shoot ‘em up gameplay with class-based multiplayer, RPG character progression, and an addictive loot system? The Helsinki-based developers are after all, in their own words, the torchbearers of the classic arcade game ethos. They’ve been riffing on Asteroids since the early 1990s with their Stardust series, paid homage to Defender with Resogun, the best title to play on the PlayStation 4 at launch, and even collaborated with Eugene Jarvis, the man behind Defender and a few more of the most iconic arcade games of all time, on 2017’s Nex Machina. Fast-paced, responsive, good feeling gameplay is at the core of their best works, some of which represent my favorite games of the last couple of console generations. And now, after a few dozen hours with it, I can add Alienation to that list.Continue reading Alienation [PlayStation 4] – Review
I’m competitive, always have been. I spent my youth playing organized soccer, and the desire to win was real. This translated to other activities, such as Monopoly, or anything else that had an element of competition to it. I wanted to win! In terms of my schooling back then, my parents instilled the importance of studying, that the effort I put in would result in good grades, which in my mind was a competition of sorts. Not necessarily against others in this case, but against myself. Competition was a means of self-improvement. It was the mechanism that gave me the drive, the motivation to succeed. Heck, even Pokémon encouraged competition, whether through the core trainer battles in the video games or via the infectious theme song of the anime.
And speaking of Pokémon, I can make a case that that franchise influenced my completionist tendencies. As I’ve mentioned before, when I experience something, I want to experience the whole of it. Similarly, when I play a video game on a modern PlayStation or Xbox, trophies and achievements materially impact my experience. If I’m digging the game, I’ll do my best to unlock as many as possible. When crafted well, they can complement the gameplay experience by rewarding experimentation or offering up unique challenges. Even when they’re not crafted well, I still feel compelled to obtain them, or at least do a cost-benefit analysis to determine which are worth my time. They’re a fun element of modern gaming; a nifty way to compare progress with and compete against friends, and an element that I care way too much about.
It was a brief comment in Dave Halverson’s review of Dragon Quest VIII from the November 2005 issue of Play Magazine, and not especially relevant to the full review, but it’s stuck with me ever since: “…given the detail, that the lead character is not dynamic to steps and slopes does take a bite out of the realism.” I wouldn’t say I’ve paid attention to the functionally irrelevant detail of characters walking on stairs in every game I’ve played since, but sometimes I notice. In Shenmue III for instance, whenever the protagonist Ryo walks up or down a flight of stairs, his feet hit every step. Every. Step. I know relatively little about the rigors of game development, but it seems ludicrous to offer such attention to detail for something as banal as navigating a flight of stairs. And yet, Shenmue III is in many ways a game about embracing the banal, for better or worse. Continue reading Shenmue III [PlayStation 4] – Review
As its full title suggests, Home is a unique horror adventure. The 2D side-scroller wasn’t scary per se, but the disturbing story at its core was chilling. Created and published by Toronto, Canada-based indie developer Benjamin Rivers, Home debuted in 2012 and is available on a variety of platforms including the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, where I played it. Blending nostalgic pixel graphics and creepy, minimal sound design, the game emanated a sinister vibe that kept me on edge as I uncovered a series of murderous events.
Assuming the role of an unlucky fellow awaking to find himself away from home and not sure why, I retraced his steps, exploring unsettling scenes along the way in the hopes of finding clues. They didn’t bode well. But maybe things weren’t all that bad, either. Taking certain items, putting others back, answering yes or no questions influenced the game’s outcome in a “choose-your-own-adventure” sort of way. Regardless of the choices I made, the endings were somewhat ambiguous, leaving plenty open to interpretation and further rumination.
It took me anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour to complete a playthrough, depending on how thorough I wanted to be. Because of dual trophy support on the PS4 and Vita and the game’s brevity, I played through the entirety of it twice, like a madman! It looked and sounded great on the big TV, but man was it perfect for the Vita. I can’t say that Home blew my socks off or anything, but its dark tale and interactivity was novel and thought-provoking.
It was big news when Jason West and Vince Zampella, two of the three co-founders of Infinity Ward, were dismissed by Activision back in 2010. After all, the pair was instrumental in creating the Call of Duty series, and genre-defining entries such as Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Following their departure, they co-founded the aptly named Respawn Entertainment, and with a few dozen of their former co-workers, began development on Titanfall. The multiplayer-focused first-person shooter was highly regarded when it released in early 2014, and remains one of the noteworthy Xbox-platform exclusives of the generation. It wasn’t until the follow-up that Respawn captured my attention: they included a single-player campaign.
The God of War series never was my cup of tea. Without question the games featured unrivaled set pieces, fine-tuned gameplay, and epic storylines deserving of acclaim. But, my perception was that they were testosterone-laden gore fests. While I’m not puritan in my tastes, the way I perceived the series as relishing those aspects outweighed everything else, and I spent little time with them. The announcement and subsequent coverage of the most recent entry was different, however. It was framed in such a way that it seemed more mature, and not in an edgy “sex and violence” sort of way. Sure enough, the storyline, and the relationships and acting in particular, exceeded my expectations. It was entertaining to unravel the plot, and equally so to explore and survive the beautiful environments. Continue reading God of War [PlayStation 4] – Review
Unsure of what to play next after completing Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, my friend and I knew one thing: we didn’t want to play another eighty hour video game! Scanning the shelves of games in front of us, mulling our options, he pointed out The 25th Ward: The Silver Case. I had recently bought that game’s limited edition, despite the fact that its predecessor, The Silver Case, had been in my collection for more than a year, still unopened. I purchased both in part because they were inexpensive, but primarily due to my appreciation for their idiosyncratic writer/director, Goichi Suda, aka Suda51. Following research affirming the game’s length, and brief discussion on playing a visual novel, a genre neither of us had much history with, from a creator my friend had little experience with, we decided to start The Silver Case. Continue reading The Silver Case [PlayStation 4] – Review
Acting upon a sense of urgency for no particular reason, this year has seen me completing many of the games that have populated my backlog for ages. Singularity and Syndicate, a pair of narrative-orientated first-person shooters, each with unique gameplay hooks, are two such games. While it misses the mark on alliteration, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare otherwise fits the bill, scratching that itch for what I want in an FPS. Published by Activision on November 4, 2014, it was Sledgehammer Games’ second entry in the series, following their co-development of Modern Warfare 3 alongside Infinity Ward. Additionally, Raven Software (the studio behind Singularity, coincidentally enough) developed the multiplayer components while High Moon Studios handled the previous generation versions. Continue reading Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare [PlayStation 4] – Review
Early in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it’s evident that life’s changed for Nathan Drake. His days of globe trekking in search of lost treasure and fending off cunning thieves are behind him, relegated to artifacts and journals in the attic. Nowadays he works as a recovery diver and spends evenings at home with Elena, discussing their day-to-day lives in a pedestrian, unfulfilling manner. When his long lost brother turns up unexpectedly, this allows him an opportunity to quench his thirst for adventure, but at what cost? Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony on May 10, 2016, Uncharted 4 tops the efforts of its predecessors in every way and nearly two years later, stands in my mind as a masterpiece. Continue reading Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End [PlayStation 4] – Review
Without getting into the long history of Final Fantasy XV and the middling decade the series has weathered since the game’s announcement as Final Fantasy Versus XIII back in 2006, I’ll succinctly say I kept my expectations in check. Square Enix finally released it last November and it immediately supplanted Pokémon Sun, which released the week prior, as the game I was focused on playing. It took a few sessions for me to grasp the combat and character progression but once I did, I couldn’t wait to get home from work, ignore my responsibilities, and spend inordinate amounts of time with it. On the flip side, I was letdown by the barebones narrative and practical absence of exposition. After eighty hours and a platinum trophy to show for my time, I’m certain I’ve never had such mixed emotions regarding a game. Continue reading Final Fantasy XV [PlayStation 4] – Review