Gird Your Loins: Telltale’s Game of Thrones Episodic Adventure

Life has a way of getting in the way of things. You lose yourself in “the routine” of work, sleep, eat, rinse, repeat. You forget your passion and ignore the things you love in favour of someone else’s capitalistic dream. That’s my explanation for my long, inexcusable absence from this medium. Despite not having many comments to my name, there have been some faithful viewers keeping my stats up in spite of my posting-lapse. Thank you to you all. With that said, this is going to be a review of Episode 1 of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones episodic title, Iron From Ice. Tomorrow, I’ll have a review of some other games I’ve been playing while away. Some will be old, some will be new, some in between. Either way, I’m glad to be back to writing. As always, spoilers may be ahead, so if you’ve yet to touch this game, consider yourself warned.


In the Christmas Steam sale rush, I purchased this game as a gift for my sister and as a gift to myself. Yesterday, I finally set aside some time for myself to play the first episode. I am a big fan of Telltale’s style; I thoroughly enjoyed The Walking Dead and have purposefully taken my time with season 2 of that title, trying to drag it out for as long as possible before the next installment. Most of what I had predicted for their Game of Thrones title was accurate: multiple playable lead characters, a different art style and of course, the absolutely insane tension that only something spawned from the mind of George R.R. Martin could create. And let me tell you…this game is tense! But let’s take a step back and break this game down.

Appearances & Sound

"I much prefer being painted from this's my best side."

“I much prefer being painted from this side…it’s my best side.”

Telltale went with a “painted” look for their foray into the world of Game of Thrones, with varying results. The colours are rich, vibrant even when the scene is meant to dark. The characters really pop out at you, as do the set pieces. All your favourites are here: Tyrion, Margaery Tyrell, even Cersei. Margaery in particular has a pinched looked to her face that is a pity when compared against how beautifully they captured Lena Headey’s face as Cersei Lannister. Telltale doesn’t shy way from squeamish stuff either; at one point early on, your character is assisting a maester with treating a wound. By assisting, I mean you’re holding open a gash in your leg while he drops some maggots in to stave off infection. Bet you didn’t know that that was a thing!

Much like the TV show, the Game of Thrones game sounds best when there is no sound. It adds to a game element that is discussed later, but when there is music in the background, it is always beautiful and in the same haunting vein as the show. It’s common knowledge that this episode opens at The Red Wedding, set against the backdrop of the Twins, stronghold of the Freys. As in the iconic episode, the game lets you know that shit’s about to get real when the early chords of the Rains of Castamere begin to drift into the camp. Brilliantly nuanced facial expressions and vocal tones are the strength of this game; everyone reacts to everything that’s being said, but as always in Westeros, they keep their opinions close to the chest. Telltale spared no expense and brought on original cast members to voice their in-game characters. I think anyone looking for Peter Dinklage to redeem his video game voice-acting skills after his flat turn in Destiny should look no further; Tyrion Lannister seems the role he was born to play.

Gameplay & Story

As I mentioned before, Game of Thrones is tense. I’ve been in many real-life situations where my fight-or-flight instincts were a hair’s breadth away from triggering. Interviews, public speaking, being surrounded by dignitaries, being surrounded by violence…I can confidently slip in “navigating conversations in the GoT game” with these scenarios. This is where Telltale shines: incredible writing that evokes serious emotional reactions from the player. The Walking Dead‘s choice-system was a great example of this. To borrow a quote from my sister’s reaction after her playthrough, Game of Thrones plays as though someone at Telltale Games woke up, kicked a puppy, choked a kitten and then sat down to pen this gem. I knew the game would feature Cersei Lannister, acid-tongued she-devil of House Lannister. But I purposefully stayed away from any in-depth previews etc, so I was completely caught off-guard by the inclusion and appearance of Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton’s bastard son. If you’ve ever watched the show, you know that Ramsay is a sadistic madman with a certain delight for giving people a resemblance to House Bolton’s sigil of the Flayed Man. Having Iwan Rheon provide the voice of the character he’s made his own on the show heightens the Creepiness Factor of seeing Ramsay in-game. I found myself getting goosebumps during my interaction with Cersei and a feeling of impending doom as I spoke with Ramsay; and not without merit.

It is the usual control setup for this game, as it was with TWD. You walk about, explore your surroundings and hold conversations with people to determine your next steps. The different mechanic here is that you experience the story from multiple POVs, all individuals of the line of or related to House Forrester. The stress level of your interactions is made worse by the notion that what you do as one character in one location could have consequences to another character in a separate area. I agonized during my conversation with Cersei, trying to select answers that walked the line between bravery and outright insanity. I waited down to the wire with my responses to Ramsay, terrified of what he would do if I were to say or do the wrong thing. To be able to create that kind of emotion with that incredible writing is amazing, and I love Telltale for it.

Overall, I’d rate Iron From Ice a 9/10. The art style, while beautiful, faltered at some points but by the time the screen flashed to black, I was gripping my controller and cursing myself for not waiting for the whole season to release and then binge-playing. Now I have to wait…and who knows how long. Telltale sets the stage for an incredible rollercoaster ride that promises to be filled with the same amount of WTFs as uttered by viewers of the show. Thanks for checking out this review and stay tuned…I’m back!


Battlefield Hardline: BETA Brawl

So I was invited to the Battlefield Hardline BETA for PC, one of the first of my friends to get their official invite. I was pretty surprised, not expecting to have received it so soon after registering when EA announced it at their E3 2014 Press Conference.

I’ve managed to play about 1 hour of the beta, which is a feat considering the sheer volume of traffic currently flooding the servers.

I’d never played a game on Origin before, so having to install Battlenet software was a bit odd to me. Anyway, I did it and played it with an open mind, so let’s get this doing.

Battlefield Hardline is the cops and robbers we all played as kids in a video game, and just a little crazier. Right now you can play two modes in the beta: Heist and Blood Money. There are sprawling stages featuring the environmental dynamics that the Battlefield series is famous for, such as cranes collapsing and shearing off the sides of entire buildings while you’re gunning for your target. The weapons handle the same, fire the same and sound the same, as authentic as EA money can make them. Because that’s essentially what this game is: Battlefield 4 with police officer and bank robber skins pasted over it. And this is where my “meh” attitude towards this game comes into play.

Most of the success behind FPS multiplayers is their familiarity to fans, the fact that it always feels like coming home when you fire up one of these titles. That’s completely understandable; human beings love what they know and who am I to begrudge them that? This Battlefield Hardline beta only makes me wish that The Division was coming out sooner, because I find myself leaning more towards these open-world RPG style multiplayer experiences as time ticks by. We know little to nothing of the single-player campaign of Battlefield Hardline to be able to offer up a full preview review (is that even a thing?) before the game’s launch, though Visceral has promised that details on SP are coming later. Considering their track record of providing well-written, deeply involving single-player campaigns, I have some hope.

But too many issues still plague Battlefield 4 players for Hardline to seem even necessary  to me. What is the point if it’s meant to be a crime game when it’s just a military game with different character skins splattered all over the place? I find it difficult to suspend belief when police officers are rocking grenade launchers and SEAL-level weaponry, and the criminals possess the same. It just seems a bit too ridiculous, you know? Rather than sink their resources into developing Hardline, I believe that more effort should have been poured into enhancing and improving the Battlefield 4 experience, particularly considering that game’s horrendous problems at launch with the multiplayer component. It just sums up the general feeling I got from E3, from many developers:


Are you in the Hardline beta? What are your thoughts? Were they right to pump this title out while still struggling to resolve existing BF4 issues?

FYI, someone asked me why I hadn’t yet reviewed Watch_Dogs. It’s because it would essentially be a rewrite of every Ubisoft game I have ever reviewed, and well, that joke is getting played out right now by other reviewers. I will also start testing my Twitch channel and possibly begin streaming some titles online. We’ll see.

Until next time, peace.

Review Ahoy: The Black Flag of Freedom Cry

You may be wondering why it’s taken me so long to review Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. I do have a very good reason for the delay, and that’s because I was waiting for the Freedom Cry DLC to release. I felt that this would provide a more complete overview of this latest AC title and, to be quite honest, I was so utterly bored by the main storyline that I hoped the DLC would add some fire to a lackluster game.

Assassin’s Creed Snore: Black Lag

Low Points

We’re going to just get the bad mojo out there before we get to the good stuff, because I can think of no other way to properly review Assassin’s Creed IV. But be ye warned: there lay spoilers ahead!



As I started the single player campaign for AC IV BF, I was struck with a horrible thought: Ubisoft is like the French Activision, in that the AC franchise is starting to feel a little Call of Duty-ish. It seemed like just last year I was air-assassinating black bears as the most wooden assassin since Altair: Connor. Oh wait…it WAS just last year (this is bearing in mind that AC IV released in 2013, and that’s when I bought and played it). I couldn’t recall ever getting excited for this game beyond the promised ship-based adventures and really, that’s the best part of Black Flag. Once Edward Kenway gets settled on the Jackdaw, there was no stopping me when it came to plundering ships on this epic nautical map. This is not to say that there were no glitches to be found along with the plunder. There is no way that as a fresh pirate with a bare-bones ship, I should have been able to take down a level 39 Man ‘o War, but thanks to said MoW somehow flipping onto its side and exposing its hull, I was able to pummel it enough to capture and send it to my fleet. I’m not setup for video capture from my 360, but I’m sure you’ve seen some of the more hilarious ship-related glitches in this game.

Secondary to overturned ships were just little errors that were distracting and, considering how hard I had to work to keep up my interest level for the main story, I found myself more frustrated with their appearance than I have ever been with game glitches. My personal favourite has to be when my crewmen were dangling in mid-air as we’re sailing at travel speed. I played around with that for a while, changing directions and then bringing the Jackdaw to a dead stop in the water. The crew would then revert to normal behaviour, hanging onto the mast and climbing the ropes…until I started sailing again! Argh…and not in the pirate way.

Black Flag also suffers from a serious case of BORING STORY. Sorry. I tried to think of something clever to say here, but all the thinking time in the world couldn’t yield better snark. It goes without saying that there will never be another Ezio, who had some personality and I believe will go down as the favourite assassin. I was annoyed with Connor as a character and thus could not muster half a damn to give for his dilemma. Haytham was by far the best character in AC III and so I assumed that a game dedicated to the exploits of his father would be exciting and captivating. At this moment, I can’t quite explain what was happening with his wife, Charlotte…or was it Caroline? Christina? Whatever. See what I mean? I have cared more about Call of Duty characters than I do about Edward’s story, and while the historical bits and “surprise!” moments (though really, who didn’t see that James Kidd thing coming?) were fun they don’t make up for the lackluster character development.

High Points

As I’ve said before, the times you’re on the Jackdaw, sailing through the Caribbean Sea and raiding British, Spanish or French ships are among the game’s best moments. The sea shanties are particularly brilliant, and I know I’m not the only one singing along with the crew. Visually, Black Flag is a stunningly beautiful game. Coming from a Caribbean island myself, I have to commend Ubisoft on capturing the beautiful shades of blue and green that we have in our waters, as well as the tiny land masses that are mostly found in the Bahamas’ area. That being said, I did chuckle when the map made it appear as though Jamaica and Nassau are relatively close together when in truth they are quite some distance apart. Not doing anything to improve people’s geographical prowess, then.

The addition of Kenway’s Fleet makes your nautical adventures that much more interesting. I loaded my fleet with frigates and Man ‘o Wars, salvaging and upgrading as I gained the ability to take down more powerful ships. The Ubisoft companion app came in handy here and is a nice touch; I send my ships out in the morning while on the train to work and then collect the cash when I get home. And trust me, you will need cash in this game. Some of the upgrades for the ship are ridiculously expensive, and the game urges you to plunder by tacking on material requirements (cloth, metals, etc), all of this contributing to the making the nautical aspect the game’s defining feature.

Finally, while he’s about as interesting as Twilight when he’s talking, Edward is pretty cool when swashbuckling. Yes, there were some glitches, but I did enjoy his reckless fighting style, particularly when using just the hidden blades. There were some finishing moves that were so full of bone-crunching, muscle-tearing goodness, it brought a tear to my eye. He possesses some of the same flourish as Connor (bless him) but with less control and precision. Basically, if Edward’s going to stab you, there’s no telling where he’ll land. It made for fun combat, and I appreciated this plus point to an otherwise boring character.

To Plunder or Not To Plunder?

If you’re a die-hard Assassin’s Creed fan, you will get this game. Do I recommend it for people new to the series? No. Hell, I don’t even recommend AC I for newcomers, but that’s not the point here. I would prefer that Ubisoft take two to three years to fine tune their AC titles before releasing them as the glitchy, lackluster time-waster that Black Flag ends up being once you’ve completed the story. The wear and tear is beginning to show, more than it did for AC III, and the worst part is that Ubisoft doesn’t seem to care. Let’s not even get started on the annoying ‘meta-ness’ of when you’re out of the Animus and are wandering around “Abstergo” offices, hacking your colleagues’ Animuses (Animi? I don’t know) and discovering all the shady secrets of the Subject 17 project. Those moments were super distracting for me and added nothing to the game, not even when that nut job from IT turns out to be who you think it is all along (if you’d managed to pay attention, that is). Keep reading as we dive into the Freedom Cry DLC.

Freedom Cry: Sensitive Ubisoft Is Sensitive

Whenever a developer tries to tackle a sensitive subject, whether it’s something that happened in the past or is currently occurring somewhere in the world, people generally cringe, unsure as to how the game will turn out visually and emotionally. Two such subjects are the holocaust and slavery. In my next post (sometime this week), I’ll speak more in-depth about this, but for now check out this article, about Luc Bernard and his crusade to make a game solely about the holocaust. Right now, we’re going to take a look at the Freedom Cry DLC for Black Flag, and how Ubisoft took that other hyper-sensitive subject, slavery, and built game content around it. 

Picture credit to Diehard Game Fan.

Picture credit to Diehard Game Fan.

Freedom Cry focuses on Adewale, Captain Kenway’s quartermaster for most of the main story. Adewale is a former slave, having escaped from his Trinidadian plantation when it was raided by pirates. He speaks of his experience as a black man on the high seas in the main story, and at some point in the game he leaves your side to find a higher purpose with the assassins. There are some well done interactions between Adewale and the people in Kenway’s life, particularly when one of them comments “You let him carry a pistol?” and Edward berates him for insulting his quartermaster. Nice touch, that. In Freedom Cry, set 15 years after the events of Black Flag, Adewale is captain of his own ship, running errands on behalf of the Assassin Brotherhood. After raiding a Templar convoy, he steals a parcel addressed to a woman residing in Port-au-Prince, but he doesn’t get a chance to discover what’s in the box before a storm shipwrecks him on the shores of Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti). From hereon out, he lends his considerable aid to the cause of the Maroons of Port-au-Prince. If you’re unsure who the Maroons were, click here to educate yourself.

I went in giving Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt and, despite Freedom Cry sporting many of the glitches that plagued Black Flag’s main story, I was pleasantly surprised and more than a little emotional with their handling of this subject. Please keep in mind that this is my own opinion; if you don’t like it, feel free to respectfully disagree. Much like the holocaust, I don’t think people will ever quite understand how horrifying slavery was, from the journey across the Atlantic to the indignities suffered by the slaves in the Caribbean. On the island of Curacao, there is an exhibition where you head underground and get an idea of what it was like to be packed, stacked and shackled like sardines in the cargo hold of a ship for months at a time. Freedom Cry slaps you in the face with this reality towards its emotional ending, which I won’t spoil here.

The best thing about this DLC is that Adewale plays like an entirely different character to Kenway. He is big and muscular, and he makes it count in his combat encounters. You can’t help but wonder if being surrounded by the injustice of slavery drives his brutality when executing slave overseers and guards. Freedom Cry wastes no time in throwing you into the plight of the Maroons, but all around you there are examples of what life was like for slaves in the Caribbean. There are cages to be unlocked, runaway slaves to rescue and auctions to stop, all in the name of recruiting Maroons for the revolution. The town crier proclaims the conditions of Le Code Noir, a royal decree that contained “guidelines” for the handling of slaves in the French colonies, including how often and with what tools a slave could be punished. How kind, right? Still, it’s the kind of detail that we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Ubisoft and they deliver ten-fold.

Picture credit to Ubisoft.

Picture credit to Ubisoft.

You are still able to upgrade your ship, though I spent less time on the seas in Freedom Cry than I did in Black Flag. Ships react to your vessel with alarming quickness, particularly when you’re tasked with intercepting slave ships and their escorts. I actually cannot recall having Hunters on my trail in Black Flag as quickly as they are in Freedom Cry. I took it as an indication that for a horrific time in human history, human cargo was more valuable than rum and sugar and thus painted a target on any who would interfere in that trade.

I won’t rehash all the glitches of Black Flag here; just know that they are present, though they are less distracting once you’re used to them from the main game. I will say that my biggest pet peeve with Freedom Cry was the absence of singing on board the ship. As Adewale moves through plantations, eliminating overseers and freeing slaves, there is a wonderful rise and fall to the volume of their field song, one of the best historically accurate features in this game. Ubisoft enlisted Olivier Deriviere to score Freedom Cry and he brought La Troupe Makandal on board. The result is a perfect blend of orchestral and traditional Haitian drum rhythms that are a highlight of the DLC. The songs being sung in the fields are in line with those freedom songs that were used to pass the time in the field and, in some instances, to communicate with one another. Your ship’s crew is populated by Maroons and other freed slaves, so it seems illogical to exclude songs while you’re sailing towards liberating more slaves. Besides this, however, Freedom Cry possesses a more engaging story than Black Flag and that makes me wish there was more on the way, particularly because I feel it had a rather open-ended conclusion. This is the first time I’ve ever purchased a Season Pass and luckily it was worth the money spent.

I hope you enjoyed Freedom Cry as much as I did. I’m aiming to settle into a posting schedule that’s a bit less interrupted. Thankfully, Christmas holidays only happen once a year! Until then, peace.

Review: 15%, Batman Arkham Origins

WARNING: While I generally try to keep reviews spoiler-free, there is a slight chance that the below information may contain some. Apologies in advance but  you were warned.

Batman: Arkham Origins is the second game I found myself pre-ordering for this year; the first was, of course, Grand Theft Auto V. It is the first time in my life that I pre-ordered a Collector’s Edition, since generally I avoid those EUR 100 traps like the plague. However, I wanted the little statue from the game that shows us how the Dark Knight meets his nemesis, the Joker, since these events essentially shape the Batman of the future. Bats is my favourite hero, simply because he is the most human. Arkham Asylum had seemingly set the bar for any developers looking to put Batman in the hands of the player, and with Arkham City, Rocksteady just about outdid themselves, creating a vision of the infamous prison that seemed like the pages of a graphic novel come to life. When Arkham Origins was handed to WB Games Montreal, I admit I felt a flutter of confusion; like many fans, I didn’t think they could handle the weight of the torch passed to them from Rocksteady.

Two days and 15% completed of the game, and I’m about ready to eat my words.

I’ve done my best to stay away from same-day/day-after reviews of this title, giving myself time to enjoy the game for a solid weekend before writing my own thoughts; as you may well imagine, this has been very hard to do, but more on that later. As I said before,  I’m only 15% done, and that’s not because the game is slow on the action or not engaging enough. With that in mind, I didn’t go into this game expecting an enormous overhaul where major changes were made to the core dynamics that made the Rocksteady titles so much fun to play. WB Games has certain elements from Arkham Asylum and City, and have applied a varnish when and where they found it necessary. The combat system, for example, is smoother than it was in even Arkham City; the PR machine promised a younger and more athletic Batman, and it seems they delivered, because combat allows for the player to hit a high combo-multiplier earlier than in the previous titles. The graphics have undergone equal enhancement; you could cut diamonds on Batman’s jaw, even on an XBox 360 and everyone from Joker to Killer Croc has an updated feel to their appearance. These Batman titles have taught us one thing, though: the real star, whether from Rocksteady or WB Games, is the set piece. And Gotham City makes for one impressive set piece.

It is Christmas Eve, but there is nothing jolly about Gotham tonight. The artists put in some serious effort into creating this nasty, gritty city against the backdrop of what should be the happiest time of the year. There is one particular mission where you have to rescue a police officer who is dangling over an electrified pool in a room stuffed with decorated Christmas trees and cheery lights. It was pretty cool gliding over areas that were fenced in as part of Arkham City, seeing them as they were before Hugo Strange’s appropriation of them as part of his prison city. The art book that was included in the Collector’s Edition sheds some light on the design choices made by the team, describing their own take on what a crumbling Gotham should look like. The Bat Cave is also an important set piece, allowing Batman to fly home every now and then to get a new gadget or have a chat with Alfred. A very welcome addition to the game is the Fast Travel system, made possible by the Bat Wing (I did have to wonder why we didn’t get the Wing in the first two games, but eh, details). Arkham Origins doesn’t just hand this system to you, however. You need to free up some communication towers that have been locked down by Enigma (soon to be The Riddler) before you can access those areas by fast travel. Everything is a game in Gotham, and you’d do well to remember that, particularly when characters such as the Mad Hatter pop in to fulfill their own twisted fantasies.

Arkham Origins is a prequel, but if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss the certain little ways in which WB Games lets you know that it’s a prequel. Inside the Bat Cave, for example, is a bulletin board, on which is written the question “Who is the man in the red hood?,” which any Batman fan will tell you is the Joker before he became the Joker. It’s a nice touch that may go unnoticed by many who play Origins, but helps build the overall ‘newness’ of Batman. Alfred is an almost entirely different person; hesitant and desperate, he pleads for Batman to return home and spend Christmas in Wayne Manor at several points, and I’m only two days into playing this! Bruce Wayne is also different; far from the cocky playboy he was in Arkham City (“It’s billionaire, Vicki. Millionaires are so last year), he is brisk and unpolished, giving a reporter the cold brush-off after she asks why he’s spending Christmas alone, again. He is still Bitter Bruce, not yet comfortable in the world his brand of wealth socializes in, but trying nonetheless.

If I had to pick one gripe about this game though, it would be that this game shipped with a crash problem that more than once has made me scream at the heavens, simultaneously asking WHY and then thanking said heavens for the autosave. After checking out Twitter and various other social media, I found that WB Montreal are working on a patch for a separate issue that PlayStation 3 players are experiencing with the fast travel system. I’m hoping an equal fix is being sorted out for the XBox 360 users. It is the one disappointing thorn in my side in what is otherwise a beautiful and exciting game.

So remember those reviews I accidentally-on-purpose came across? Some have criticized WB Games for keeping is Basic Black with this title, citing the fact that they stuck with the existing combat and upgrade systems as their reason for this rating. I can get where they’re coming from, that with this being the third game, you would expect something new, something revolutionary. I’m not sure how a prequel can deliver on new gadgets or new dynamics without feeling utterly contrived and like a betrayal of the first two titles (see: Bat Wing). I think the “prequel” parts of this game are to be found within the story itself, as Batman encounters a man who will become a defining presence in his life, a riddle he cannot solve because he cannot break his one rule. This game tells the story of why we cannot hear the word “Batman” without automatically conjuring up an image of the Joker in our minds. I’m just 15% in and I realize this; can’t wait to see how the rest of the game plays out. I’ll update this review once I’ve completed the game, so be sure to check back when that happens.

Next Up: The final title I’ve pre-ordered for this year is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I’ll try to put in two days playing time before I toss up a preliminary review of that title as well. Until then, peace!

Event: First Look 2013 Review

Every year in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the First Look Event is held at the Jaarbeurs, a gigantic event space that plays host to thousands of gaming and technology fans. It gives attendees the opportunity to view and play upcoming titles before their release dates, as well as get their paws all over the latest in tech offerings from the likes of Asus, Logitech, NVIDIA and more. Last year, Ubisoft reigned supreme with their Assassin’s Creed III preview, the cosplay alone making it worth waiting in line for entry to the venue. The Nintendo WiiU also made its grand appearance at First Look 2012, with a playable preview of ZombiU. Nothing , however, could compare to the almost palpable excitement for today’s First Look outing. In a year in which two top-tier consoles prepare to duke it out for your hard-earned money, who would know which to touch first at First Look 2013?

I arrived at the venue with my band of merry men (and women) at 9:45 AM. As a regular ticket holder, I was only allowed actual entry at 12 PM, but I had learned my lesson from the previous year and decided to line up super early. This was by far the best strategy, as it ensured that we were among the first 10 regular ticket holders to enter (this, of course, after the 800+ VIP ticket holders). Our plan of action was:

– Bathrooms

– Bottled water

– XBox One booth

The Green Monster.

The Green Monster.

Thankfully, we were only in line for an hour and a half. Upon entering the green box, I saw that Microsoft had opted for quite a few XBox Ones, along with the controller and a gaming headset for each player. This was a nice touch, as it provided some blocking for the cacophony of sound happening outside and immersed the player in the game before them. Interestingly enough, one of the XBox guys mentioned that they (the Microsoft team in The Netherlands) were pretty frustrated at the communication debacle that their US counterparts set off with the announcement in April, and subsequent statements in the press and at E3. HOW ABOUT THAT EH? Anyway. I was wonderfully surprised to find that Microsoft had thrown four games into the preview pile for today’s event: Killer Instinct, Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5. Obviously, I am just one person, and this is why I travelled with 6 companions. We decided while on line what games we would each take. After convincing my friends to quickly text me their reactions right after playing their games, I gathered the following impressions:

1. Dead Rising 3: My sister adores the Dead Rising series, so naturally I sent her to play this demo. Her feelings afterwards were a potent mix of rabid excitement and careful awe. As she puts it, “Your shoe is literally a weapon.”She felt that the overall controls were trigger-happy, as in, hyper-sensitive, but that could have been a setting placed by one of the XBox One personnel. But then, she was probably too busy having fun mowing over zombies with a tractor to care much about that. As for graphics, she had nothing but good things to say.

2. Killer Instinct: Two of my friends played the demo version of this highly anticipated title. In addition to their impressions, I got the chance to speak to Ryan Hart about it, and he relayed that he had been impressed and that the potential was all there for this to be an attention-grabbing title. My two pals were so deep into their game, they had to be told twice that the demo time for our group was over and that they had to leave the area. They admitted that there was some lag during the game, but took into consideration that this was a demo version. One said that it reminded him of the classic Killer Instinct, so much so that within a few minutes, he was pulling off ultra combos just like in the old days (we’re not that old). Character select screen, like it was at E3, had an arcade feel to it, but the actual fight boasted seriously beautiful graphics, particularly on Sabre Wolf.

3. Forza 5: I sent my racing game lover to tackle this title (not really; he told me he was going no matter what). He thoroughly enjoyed the game’s admittedly gorgeous design, and he also raved about the controller’s responsiveness and how it seemed to respond to every instance in the game that called for any action. For example, when forced to hit the brakes in-game, the responsible trigger reacted much like a car would once the ABS kicked in for the driver. More on his overall impression at the end of this post.

4. Ryse: Son of Rome: As you may have sorted out, I played this demo myself. It offered a Gladiator-like play-through in which you partner up with either a friend or the AI and then proceed to fight your way through a series of challenges. Visually, Ryse is incredibly pleasing, with extraordinary detail in the environments, armour and weaponry. Game play, however, was a bit confusing to get a handle on at first, considering there was no explanation of controls at the beginning of the demo. However, once I figured out the two-button combination for blocking and countering, combat flowed smoothly and was bloody and brutal. And yet, it was still the usual medieval slash ‘n stab to me; this might be an unfair impression, considering it was just a demo of a gladiator setting, but the general thought was that the story should serve to carry the game through its business-as-usual combat. The AI companion: I can’t even with the world right now. I did truly enjoy the controller; it was a smooth design and was tons more comfortable than the 360’s. Good job, Microsoft.

Once we ended off at the XBox One booth, we took a walk around and enjoyed some of the Ubisoft’s booth Just Dance action, as well as the FIFA 14 station. Somehow we ended up stepping into a demonstration for Raven’s Cry, an upcoming title from Top Ware (the studio behind Two Worlds II) and Reality Pump, I guess? I know that TW handed the title to Reality Pump, but the branding all over this booth belonged to them. Inside was a build of the game dated October 2nd, 2013, loaded onto a PC and played by one of their booth attendants. While the game has some decent graphics, the movement of the main character was slightly off. He seemed to be fighting with himself on whether to do an Ezio-like swagger or a Connor-like stride. Either way, buddy was trying to pull off an Assassin’s Creed gait, even while speed-walking through water like he was Christ himself. Seriously, the man was practically walking on the surface and it was the first of three main complaints that we had about this demo. The second, and most important, would be the combat system. It was incredibly rudimentary and was perhaps the most telling factor behind their decision to transfer the project to Reality Pump’s control. Two combat situations were played on screen, both of which resembled little more than a fencing lesson. And finally, the naval component needs some serious work to even light a candle to hold beside Assassin’s Creed IV. I do hope they get this title off the ground now that Reality Pump’s taken the wheel, because it does look promising and you can never have enough pirate games.

Or...Not So Much?

Or…Not So Much?

After some time, we decided to brave the PlayStation 4 line, which at one point curved two ways across the walkway. With the day winding down, the line moved swiftly and within a few moments we were inside the PS4 booth. This is where you see that, regardless of their earlier communication missteps, Microsoft sometimes does a better job at picking themselves up and marketing their product right. I’m not sure if Sony is so confident in their self-assured superiority that they don’t think they need to put on a good show at these events, but they did not impress me nor any of my friends. While I didn’t have the chance to snap images in the Microsoft booth (you know, because I was playing), I managed to get these two of the PlayStation 4:

The Console.

The Console.

As you can see, the console itself is neat and slim, which I do appreciate. Not particularly flashy or snazzy, but it works.

The Controller.

The Controller.

I have never been a fan of PlayStation controllers, so it would be unfair of me to comment. However, my friend (whose hand you see) and some others with us didn’t particularly think it was as revolutionary as Sony thinks it is. The general verdict within my Magnificent Seven was that if today had been a competition, the XBox One would have won (heh). We’re not fan-boys or fan-girls; we just love games. I fear that the PS4 might suffer from the same launch issues that its predecessor did, but I could be wrong. I previewed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag in my play-time with the PS4, and the game looked as beautiful there as it might have on the XBox One. This makes all the ridiculous name-calling and posturing on message boards even more useless, but I know that’s what the companies love. Stir the pot, thicken the stew or whatever? I don’t know.

I ended my day with a visit to the booth I’d been waiting on since the start of the day: Warner Bros’, where I got to have some fun with Batman: Arkham Origins.  I was not allowed to take pictures of the booth itself, so here, have this instead:

He's not the hero First Look deserves, but he's the hero it needs...or something.

He’s not the hero First Look deserves, but he’s the hero it needs…or something.

Running on a PlayStation 3, Arkham Origins was as beautiful as they’ve promised it would be. You were only given one mission to complete, but since there was no timer, you had the opportunity to swoop around the city and beat up thugs. The combat system you’ve come to know and love is still there, and it flows even smoother than it did in Arkham City (is that even possible?). I am most anxious to see how Troy Baker (Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman) will hold up to their predecessors (the incomparable Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy). Baker has such a distinct timbre (most recently, as Bioshock Infinite‘s Booker DeWitt and Joel from The Last of Us) that it will be odd to hear him in insane-mode as The Joker. Smith is most notable as Ezio Auditore da Firenze of Assassin’s Creed II (and all subsequent sequels, aside from III) fame, and I’m interested to see how he handles Bruce Wayne

Fun Fact: Troy Baker voiced Batman/Bruce Wayne in LEGO Batman: DC Superheroes Unite.

Also available at the Warner Bros booth was Dying Light, a zombie game that in all actuality looks and plays like a Dead Island clone with a dash of Mirror’s Edge sprinkled on top, except with an incredibly clunkier combat system. I am not sure if this game should have been first-person; it made it feel awkward and enhanced the unrefined combat mechanics. Zombie game fanatics will enjoy it, but for now, it’s not on my Must Buy list.

Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve played both systems, I can honestly say that the hoopla surrounding their specs and which is better than the other is almost a moot point. Both ran at the same speed when I played, with the PS4 doing a slightly better job at handling the heavy weight that is Assassin’s Creed IV, but I encountered a tiny lag with both consoles, so it’s not as if either one was a perfect smooth ride. Black Flag on the PS4 even seemed choppy at some points, but then, that could have been the monitor they had me playing on. This is where most casual gamers find reason to complain: the graphics. And you know what? I reckon that both consoles have more or less the same to offer in that department. More and more it seems that the display you opt to use for your experience will be the deciding factor in the image you are faced with at play-time. For example…outside the XBox One booth, they had a stream of Forza 5 on an LG 60-inch 4K television which was, in a word, amazing. Inside, we played on LED SMART TVs, which didn’t affect the beauty of the games that drastically, but you could see the obvious difference. I’ve always told people that in the end, if you have a crappy display device, what you see will be crappy. HD doesn’t quite work unless your display is, well, HD.

The Forza fan who accompanied me on Sunday had the following to say about his experience, and I agree with him on every point:

After a few minutes of playing both the XBox One and the PS4, it’s still a difficult choice for me to make a conclusion as to which is better. Theoretically, on paper, the PS4 has the advantage. They both have equal-level graphic cards, both are AMD 7000 HD. However, the XBox one uses 8 GB DDR RAM as the processor with a 32 MB eSRAM, which are current generation and for future game development I’m a bit skeptical if the XBox One launch version will remain a strong fighter in the long run. Of course, they might launch new versions in the future, as both companies did this generation. The PS4 has the same graphics card, but their processor is 8GB GDDR5 RAM so…theoretically, the PS4 wins as a gaming system that is geared towards new game development. When it comes to the gaming experience….this was an entirely different story. The exclusive titles for the XBox One dominates PS4 left, right, and centre. The XBox controller feedback was amazing; I didn’t get the same rush or effect when playing on the PS4. This is where it becomes difficult to choose. I’m trying to keep an open mind and not be brand loyal; the facts and theory tell me to go for the PS4, but the feel and exclusivity of games, along with the experience, has me leaning towards the XBox One.

After First Look, it honestly felt as though we were heading to a similar launch scenario as we had with the PlayStation 3: a short catalogue of launch titles, whereas the XBox One has the advantage of, among others, Killer Instinct. On the train ride back, we discussed the fact that as the years tick by, the number of PlayStation exclusives have slowly dwindled; even Metal Gear Solid is no longer safe. For all the marketing push of the PS4 being more developer friendly than the XBox One, why haven’t they landed the prime real estate titles and held onto historically PlayStation exclusives? It’s something to think about, particularly if you, like me, are exhausted with both companies’ PR machines churning out one silly snarky article after another. Personally, I would love to own both systems; however, if I look at what I play and what I plan to play in the future, then an XBox One it should be…just not right away, because I’m not the launch-day-purchase kind of gamer.

Whew! What a post, eh? I hope you enjoyed this run-through of First Look 2013, and I hope it’s at least given you a clear view of where both consoles stand, as we await their release this year. I sure enjoyed attending it, and I’m looking forward to next year. If you attended and have your own thoughts, please feel free to share them. Until then, peace!

GTA V. That Is All.

You might be wondering where my review of GTA V has been, considering the game launched on Tuesday and other sites/blogs have all frothed at the mouth and tossed theirs up like graduation caps.

Well, obviously, my review is late because I’ve been busy playing the game! Duh. And for one very simple reason…

There’s so much STUFF to do in this game, I often find myself loading it up with all intentions of playing the main story line, before succumbing to the lure of the side quests, hobbies, overall mayhem and the fantastic vehicles that populate this incredible world that Rockstar has cooked up for us.

And an incredible world it is indeed. I am a fan of all GTA games with the exception of GTA IV. While my friends were having kittens over that game’s open world, side activities and overall story line, I sold my copy of the game after struggling for a week to develop some interest in it. It didn’t help that my favourite GTA game is Vice City; the music alone in that game gave me reason to play it as often and for as long as my eyeballs could stand. There hasn’t been a game that did that to me since Halo 2, and that was mostly due to the multiplayer. Halo 2 was also the last game I pre-ordered and anxiously awaited. Enter Grand Theft Auto V…



Everything I despised about GTA IV, this edition seemed determined to correct. As I mentioned before, I haven’t yet finished the game because I’m having too much damn fun playing it. Let’s get along with the rundown:

– The driving mechanics are by far my most favourite fix. One of the reasons I put GTA IV down after just a week was the horrible way in which the cars drove, regardless of whether or not you were in a good car or a clunker.

– The actual script! Holy Hannah Montana, I can’t get enough of this script, from the main characters’ dialogue to the NPC chatter on the sidewalk. I always wonder why people complain about the amount of profanity in Rockstar games; a simple read of what the plot line entails would tell you why there are more F-bombs dropping than a Thanksgiving gathering at Chris Rock’s house. There’s a reason the ESRB rating of M-for-Mature is slapped onto the cover. Do your job as a parent and spare me your whimpering about curse words.

– I was a little hesitant about the introduction of multiple main characters, but switching between them is surprisingly seamless. On most missions, you shift from Michael to Franklin to Trevor with absolutely no interruption in play and it is brilliant.

– The soundtrack. But that’s always been a Rockstar strong point.

– The Great White shark! That is all.

– The main characters themselves…I have to say that Trevor is like a redneck version of Vas from Far Cry 3, and thus he is both hilarious and scary.  Michael is like a more modern (and henpecked) Tommy Vercetti and Franklin is great so far as the hood gangster who wants to be a highroad gangster (a la Michael Corleone).

There is the usual controversy surrounding the depiction of GTA’s female characters, and unfortunately, I do tend to agree with Carolyn Petit’s assessment:

“It’s deeply frustrating that, while its central and supporting male characters are flawed and complex characters, with a few extremely minor exceptions, GTA V has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humourless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.”

We won’t discuss the pathetic responses to her review (which as you know by now was a 9 out of 10), many of which were filled with the usual name-calling that passes for “critical discussion” these days in the gaming world. I understand that it may seem hypocritical to defend the profanity while condemning the misogyny, but I do believe there are ways to tell a story without stepping on the face of a marginalized group within the art piece (the game, movie, etc). I’m not going all Anita Sarkeesian on you; she sees misogyny everywhere, I see it where it actually exists. It is worth saying that the reason many people still dismiss the gaming industry (despite the ridiculous money it generates; US$1 billion in 3 days?) as a childish and immature hobby. Thankfully, the response to Petit’s bashers is encouraging, so it appears there is sunlight on the horizon!

Overall, I do agree with the average rating of 9/10 for GTA V, but not because of the misogyny. There are instances where combat is a little sticky, although this might be because the XBox 360 has some issues handling the game itself. It is enough of a problem for me to dock it one point, since when you’re running and gunning, getting stuck in a wall makes for a very bad time. So there you have it: 9 out of 10. A beautiful game, an engaging world, and a hell of a story.

I will be absent for a bit until First Look Utrecht which, if you don’t know, is a Dutch gaming and technology convention that invites gamers and tech nerds and all others to view new hardware and game titles that are due for release this year and early 2014. You know what that MIGHT mean right? Oh yes.

Let me touch you, my preciousssss....

Let me touch you, my preciousssss….

Follow me on Twitter at @DHMelChan, where I will be live-tweeting everything I see and touch at First Look. Until then, be easy and game on!

E3 2013: “Do you not have games?!” – The Microsoft Press Con

I went into the Microsoft press conference live stream hoping against hope that they would stick to their word and make it rain games like Lil Wayne at a Vegas strip club. After the communications disaster that has been Microsoft in the wake of their April XBox One Reveal Event, everybody from Don Mattrick to Steven Ballmer’s driver scrambled to drive home the point that yes, E3 would be all about the games. Now that I’ve had an hour or two to digest the entire press conference, let the E3 excitement ease off somewhat and go over my notes and tweets, it’s time to take an objective look at what Microsoft did and did not say at their E3 2013 press conference.

Metal Gear Solid Comes To XBox One

True to their official press statements leading up to E3, Microsoft started and continued their press con with games. What I mean by that simple statement is that they kicked down the door, threw in a couple flashbangs, fired off some shots and when the smoke cleared, we had the reveal trailer for Metal Gear Solid 5. For the XBox One. Meaning, Metal Gear Solid 5 is coming to the XBox One. The game itself boasted the new open world feel, as well as real-time weather, numerous modes of transportation and more. Don Mattrick trotted onto the stage with Hideo Kojima, who beamed while saying that the graphic power of XBox One would make MGS shine. A bold statement, Kojima-san. A bold statement.

OMG It’s An All-New XBox…360?

Completely out of place in the middle of this press conference was the announcement/reveal of a new XBox 360 console, a “smaller, sleeker and quieter version” than the previous slim unit. There will be a 4GB non-Kinect-inclusive edition priced at US$199, and a 250GB model at US$299. The thing is…I don’t think we needed another 360 console. This is my biggest issue with Microsoft lately: the muddled communications message they’ve been putting out. What does a new 360 have to do with communications? Let me explain by using a statement from the late Steve Jobs regarding his thoughts on Google and what they were doing wrong. He told Larry Page that Google needed to focus and not be like Microsoft, i.e., all over the place with their products. As much I am not a fan of Apple, their products or Jobs for that matter, I cannot deny that sometimes, stringent focus is a good thing.

The carefree attitude of companies like Google, such as launching one product and then murdering it off like a character named Stark in a George R.R. Martin novel, does not work for every organisation. I personally think that Microsoft should have focused all the energy in their Interactive Entertainment Division on the XBox One and making it the console that gamers would not hesitate to purchase. This convoluted communications strategy of “Next-gen! Mobile! TV! Social!” and the distracting departure to a “new” current-gen console makes me believe that Microsoft is caught in a serious concentration rut. Don’t come at me with next-gen promises and then randomly toss a “new” 360 in there; it’s unnecessary, and you could have reallocated the cash spent to develop this slimmer slim model into the XBox One design and features in which you don’t actually screw gamers out of ownership. I’m just saying.

It’s Raining Titles

At certain points in the press conference (read: right after the MGS reveal), the event took on a hurried pace, veritably sprinting from one title reveal to another, some for current-gen, some for next-gen. Each received maybe two minutes of screen time before the presenters were bundled off-stage before the next set were brought on. Don Mattrick’s face was one of “Here! Have all the games!” Let’s just have a quick run-through of what was previewed/revealed, and general reactions:

  1. World of Tanks: I viewed gameplay of World of Tanks at last year’s First Look Event in Utrecht. While not 100% impressed, I can see the appeal of the game, but not so much that I would want it on a console. Still though, it will be free to download and play this summer on the 360.
  2. Max – The Curse of Brotherhood: Also for the 360, this is a pretty cute title  from Press Play in Denmark, about a boy who wishes that his brother would disappear. When it happens, he has to face platforms and puzzles (pluzzles?) to rescue him.
  3. Dark Souls II: The first medieval slash and stab of the event. I didn’t really enjoy the first one; maybe the sequel will be better at pulling me in. This title is also coming to the 360.
  4. Ryse – Son of Rome: At this point, all the games are for the next-gen XBox One. We start with Ryse: Son of Rome, which started off with a sleek intro and voiceover about a shining city on seven hills. Then, good gracious gameplay, featuring gratuitous historical violence, including the player issuing commands to their squad. There are QTEs galore in the combat mechanics, which are actually fine with me, but others mind them…a lot. I like the look of the game and I am a sucker for Roman history, so I’m willing to set aside the disdain for QTEs. The phalanx commands add something to the gameplay beyond the usual thrust and parry, bringing every character, both player and AI, into a neat mix.
  5. Killer Instinct: In a literal blitz of a reveal, we discover that Killer Instinct is coming to the XBox One and guess what? It will be ULTRAAAAA EXCLUSIVVVEEEEEE.
  6. Sunset Overdrive: Insomniac (a historically Sony-focused developer, I have to add), introduced this game for XBox One. It made me think of Mirror’s Edge but then, with lots of tie-dye thrown into the spin cycle.
  7. Forza Motorsport 5: A shiny and undeniable sexy McClaren P1 joins the announcer on stage for this title, boasting their new “Drivatar” feature, which learns from other players’ drive techniques, and even races against them when you aren’t actually playing. This took the Creep factor of next-gen social gaming to DEFCON 3, but I can see how true Forza fans will dig it.
  8. Minecraft: Phil Harrison announces the XBox One edition of Minecraft, featuring bigger worlds and multiplayer, as well as grander possibilities. I think I played Minecraft for a total of an hour once on my Galaxy S3 and I didn’t actually enjoy it. I plan to check out the console version soon, so I’m declining to actually comment on this game, as that would not be fair.
  9. Quantum Break: The title previewed by Remedy at the XBox One reveal event is given some more screen time, with  the aim of blurring the lines between gaming and television. Your gameplay creates a personalised version of the TV show…or, Defiance. In any event, it looks beautiful and the ability to freeze, unfreeze and stutter time is interesting enough to make me follow this game’s progress.
  10. D4: Next up, from Hidetaka “Swery65” Suehiro, is D4, a cell-shaded beauty of a game that takes on the episodic style of Telltale fame. The reaction from the Internet varied from “Awww yeah” to “Damn you for making this XBox One exclusive!”
  11. Project Spark: While not exactly a game, Project Spark was what would happen if Kinect and Little Big Planet had a baby and named Smart Glass as godmother. It lets you create, develop and edit your own gameworld (and thus, your own game) that can then be shared with others. You may have read my previous post about Sploder, and what it was doing to foster curiousity and interest in game design. It may not seem like much, but little tidbits such as that, and now Project Spark, are steering us in the right direction with regards to industry growth. I thought it was a cool offering and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.
  12. Crimson Dragon: Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the sound was absent for this demo. However, I can report that it looked pretty freaking cool.
  13. Dead Rising 3: Having never played the first two iterations of Dead Rising, I went into this preview pretty blind. However, I may just have to consider picking it up. Capcom promises no load times for this persistent world and what looks like Dawn of the Dead-esque zombie counts. And really…can you ever have enough zombies?
  14. The Witcher 3: Promising 100 hours of play-time, new combat and a non-linear story. The Must Have game of next-gen? Possibly.
  15. Battlefield 4: What was up with the sound? It was absent at the start of this demo as well, but then they got it back up and running so we could properly enjoy Angry Sea. As pretty as it is, it’s still another military shooter. Hearkens back to warnings about lack of originality. They do promise the first BF4 map pack on XBox One before anywhere else (read: PS4).
  16. What Lies Below: Holy Hannah Montana, an indie game! A creepy but excellently done trailer highlights this multiplayer dungeon game by Capy.
  17. Black Tusk: It’s not the title of a game but the name of a studio, just one of five that Microsoft has churning out titles for the XBox One. They preview it, but with no title.
  18. Halo 5: While not the official title, this started off looking like another trailer for Destiny, but then they mentioned “exclusive” and I realized they were talking about Master Chief. He will be back in 2014 on the XBox One, an all-new Halo enhanced by “cloud computing” and running at 60 FPS. The fan girl in me went “Eeeee!”
  19. Titan Fall: The last XBox One exclusive comes to us from Respawn Entertainment. Basically: Call of Duty meets Mass Effect meets Halo meets Michael Bay. The usual space marine adventure shoot ’em up. Next.

Architecture Digest: The Moment For Clarity Flies Away

Marc Whitten, who so enthusiastically presented the XBox One’s architectural assets at the reveal event, takes the stage to discuss improvements to XBox Live, including but not limited to:

  • SmartGlass connectivity, which provides a timeline, stat comparisons to your friends, video highlights, hints on what to tackle next, and more. In other words, they took almost the entire user interface and experience of Raptr and put it on Smartglass.
  • Smart Match, which enables the player to hunt for a multiplayer match in one game while actually playing another. I’m not too sure of the benefit of such a feature; when I’m deep in, let’s say, a BioShock: We’re Not Done Yet session, I don’t know how likely I am to just duck out of it because I’m a good match for someone in Call of Duty 25: Ninjas. But maybe that’s just me.
  • Upload Studio, which is by far the coolest feature thus far, especially for those who want to be YouTube famous and show off their victories and gameplay. You can edit, record commentary and put your own personal touches on your footage prior to upload.
  • XBox Broadcast, which highlights the partnership between XBox and Twitch TV and the new ability to share directly through a player’s Twitch channel.
  • You get all the friends, so no more Live friend list limits at 100. Additionally: your Microsoft Points will no longer exist. Instead, you will use real money, which is great…I just hope they sort out the various payment methods available to non-North American consumers (such as iDEAL for the Netherlands).
  • XBox Live Gold membership and features can be shared across your household.

Despite all that, Microsoft missed their big chance to finally address (and hopefully, correct) some of the worrying things we’ve been reading about XBox One’s online requirements, privacy concerns over the Kinect, and the catastrophe that is the policy on used/pre-owned games. This bounces us back to my earlier point about the communications message and its confusing delivery. On the one hand, you claim to have produced a console built by gamers, for gamers. On the other, you tout features that were clearly developed by corporations, for corporations. I understand that piracy and other copyright concerns are the priority now, but surely there are other ways to go about protecting yourself than destroying the secondary games market, as I so desperately hoped they wouldn’t. The rest of the world isn’t North America; heck, some parts of North America aren’t Redmond, WA or Silicon Valley. One must keep this in mind when making a machine that wants to claim ‘for gamers, by gamers.’

The End of the Road

The final bit of information was revealed close to the end and it’s the one we were all waiting for: the price. You can get your own XBox One sometime in November 2013 for US$499 or EUR 499 or 429 pounds. Can I just say that I was right and I should really start betting money on these things? Additionally…I am really getting tired of the lazy pricing methodology of just changing the currency symbol for European consumers. EUR 499 is NOT US$499. This isn’t the Cayman Islands; we don’t match 1:1 because we can. In reality, if I were to buy the XBox One at launch, I would be shelling out the US$ equivalent of $660, and that’s before they add the 21% BTW (VAT) onto my bill. Add to this that the rumor is that games will cost US$80 (the same in EUR, so about…US$100?) and you have a recipe for disaster and also, PIRACY. Not by me. But I do know some who are already itching to take a crack at a hack. Stings a bit harder for us, Microsoft.

All in all, I was impressed with the line-up and delivery of the titles we can expect for 360 and XBox One. While still not enough to make me consider a launch-time purchase, it was much more gamer-focused than the reveal event yet still leaves us with some lingering questions and concerns. I’m not staying up for the Sony press con, but will have that review for you tomorrow when I see the replay.

The New Lara: Tomb Raider 2013

So I finished the new Tomb Raider in two and a half days. The only reason it took me that long is because my girlfriend insisted I try these things called eating and sleeping. Yes, I found the game just that entertaining, and it’s been a while since something other than Mass Effect caused me to miss Lasagna Night! I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum but just in case:


As a little background, I enjoyed the first Tomb Raider, despite some obvious drawbacks within the gameplay and the graphics, to name just two. Does anybody else remember that alleged waterfall shimmy “glitch” that fueled the concerns of women everywhere?

Sharks weren't even a problem at that point.

Sharks weren’t even a problem at that point.

Future iterations of the game didn’t really grab my attention, and the movies did nothing to help with that. Lara became pretty wooden to me, as did the games; all jump here, go there, yadda. Still though, I was properly excited when Square Enix announced an all-new Tomb Raider for 2013. I pre-ordered it, something I almost never do, and sat down over a weekend for a play-through. Since I like having an idea of what I’m getting into, I checked out a few reviews that contained minimal spoilers. Throughout most of them, the common thread was that this game just had too much violence and not enough tombs, to which I say, really? Was I the only one who assumed from the trailers that there would be less tombs, more action? Or did we all get different trailers?

The game itself opens with a bang, wherein the freighter ship carrying Croft & Co is coming apart at the seams. She is rescued at the last possible second by Roth, and let me tell you, these split-second moments are abundant throughout this game, making me devolve into a button-smashing noob for as long as it takes to shimmy across a crumbling bridge. Anyone heading into this game assuming that they’d be sidestepping spikes and army crawling under a ceiling of snakes while ninja kicking tigers should check that assumption at the door by the time Lara gets to shore, as it gets crazy from then on. I had no delusions that this was going to be the usual Tomb Raider game, with lots of, you know, tomb raiding. I guess because I just took it as Square Enix marketed it to me: an origins story about Lara Croft, before she became the short-shorts wearing, cliff-shimmying diva we know and love. What I was more concerned about were the game mechanics, Lara’s movement and overall gameplay, and on this note I was not disappointed. Player engagement levels rank at an all-time high for me with this game, particular in those moments that required climbing with the pick. Imagery also featured high on my list of Things I Love About The New TR, as this Lara is much more believable both as a woman and as an archaeologist (but I betcha Anita Sarkeesian’s mad that Lara’s still wearing a tank top and has a nice figure…because clearly you don’t have to be fit to raid tombs). Camilla Luddington does a great job as the voice of our zip-lining heroine, and Robin Downes is much more engaging here than he was in Assassin’s Creed III. If I had to pick a gripe (and I’m really reaching to find one here), it would be that in situations where I personally would keep my mouth shut and just think instead of speak my words, Croft & Co seem to have no issue practically yelling their revelations in dark tunnels or creepy burial chambers. Maybe this was done on purpose, because I quite recall yelling “Stuff a scone in it, you muppet!” at my TV on several occasions.

Seriously. Shhh!

Seriously. Shhh!

As for the violence…it wasn’t on the excessive side and I found it perfectly acceptable, as it was meted out in doses I considered believable for a group of people shipwrecked on an island populated with certifiably insane religious zealots. It’s an island, and though the in-game map and concept art may give the impression that it is a vast and easy to get lost in, take it from someone born and raised on an island: it’s not. Add to the fact that it was properly established through in-game collectible journals that Mathias has been collecting minions for his brotherhood for quite some time, and you’ve got a recipe for gun-slinging disaster. One reviewer mentioned that it seemed like the franchise’s DNA was spliced with Call of Duty; I have to vehemently disagree here. Honestly, I find that irresponsible games journalism. At no point in time did I feel as though I was playing something that was laced with traces of Call of Duty. That pop-rocks-on-soda-and-acid feeling wasn’t there, and the game offers enough stealth-based combat that I only found myself running out of ammo in the last 15 minutes. It doesn’t take NASA to figure out that every gamer plays a title differently; Dishonored was a perfect example of that differentiation between the ninjas and the John McClanes of this world. More than once, Tomb Raider put the option in front of you to either go in guns (or arrows, depending on your style) blazing, or you take care of an enemy quietly. The only difference here is, unlike her Square Enix colleague Agent 47, Lara’s not dragging bodies out of sight.

Hit Raider...or Raider Man...whatever.

Hit Raider…or Raider Man…whatever.

Overall, I think the game does Croft right and does her justice. Think about how many origins stories have been bungled or plain-out disastrous, reducing beloved characters to something akin to wallpaper and discrediting years of fan adoration. Rhianna Pratchett took a tough task and followed through with it, showing us a Lara Croft that was believably innocent yet necessarily ruthless. The lack of actual tomb raiding was necessary for this, I believe, because really (and duh) she wasn’t an actual tomb raider as yet. Maybe they should have just called the game ‘Lara Croft: Origins’ to save themselves some of the headache? Be reasonable, people. Bellyaching about how there weren’t actual tombs to raid is nitpicking at best, and at worst it frames you as a fanatic who is against change. Visually and emotionally, the game accomplished what it set out to do and that is to tell a story about how Lara Croft became LARA CROFT, with the mistakes and tough choices people sometimes have to make blocking her every path. At the end, you’re left feeling the same way she is; exhausted (and in my case, hungry), but excited for what’s to come.

Also, for that one guy…don’t worry…in the future, there will be tombs.

Assassin’s Creed 3: Ubisoft Grows Up

I’ve not yet finished AC 3, and I have seen glimpses of reviews regarding the ending. Some players were unsatisfied, some indifferent and others think it rocked. This post, obviously, won’t reveal anything about the ending but for those who haven’t yet played the game, it might contain some bits about the story that some would consider spoilers. So, reader beware and all that good stuff.

Just kidding!

Just kidding!

So with that out of the way, can I just say that I am impressed with Assassin’s Creed 3? I’m aware that some elements of the game are reminiscent of other titles (Red Dead Redemption‘s hunting metagame, for one) but in this day and age, there’s always something borrowed, like weird marriages between different mediums (games and movies). I’m not here to rehash all of that, because it’s already been done by the Big Dogs, aka IGN, Machinima etc. I’m more impressed with Ubisoft’s handling of two incredibly sensitive historical topics that have not often been touched on by developers, for the simple fact that getting it wrong would set off a frenzy of bad publicity.

The depiction of Native Americans and the African slave trade in video games has never really gone well, which is due to a combination of factors, not least of which is an overall lack of respect for the portrayal of minorities in interactive entertainment (women and LGBT people included). Haven’t we always been the white male protagonist, gunning down the Islamic extremists, African warlords and Native American troublemakers (Red Dead Redemption)? I’d read other blog posts regarding the character you play in AC3 prior to it’s release, and most authors regarded it with a sort of careful optimism. After all, just saying it was going to be an awesome game wouldn’t suffice; since its first installment, Assassin’s Creed has probed deep into underlying societal issues that have mostly been associated with religion. From Al Mualim’s misguided zealotry in AC1 to the final boss in AC2, Ubisoft’s never been afraid to make you ask the question “Who exactly was the bad guy in this historical sequence?” It’s no secret that organised religion has had a helping hand in some of history’s worst periods of war, among other atrocities. But that’s a discussion for another blog.

Questionable guy.

Questionable guy.

AC3 goes off the beaten path a bit in the sense that Connor’s not really doing battle for any particular organised religious right, but it sails into all-new territory just by having Connor as its main character and by touching briefly on the African slave trade. There’s no sense of either the rebels or the British being the clear good or bad guy, since after all, we know how this story turns out. We can’t change history, but games that pull from specific periods tickle your brain into looking at a situation from a different angle, provided it’s done right of course. AC3 gets it so right, particularly when you start the mission with your Templar father, Haytham, discovering a missive from George Washington to his troops, ordering the destruction of Connor’s village…his second one thus far, considering his first was razed to the ground. Up until this point in the game, you (as Connor) have been helping Washington and the other rebels to further their cause, believing in your heart of hearts that the Templars are backing the British. It’s incredibly hard to convey the true physical reaction involved with the discovery of a betrayal, but Ubisoft manages to make Connor look both tortured and near-homicidal all at once. On his way to foil the delivery of this order, Connor discovers that his village has also gone crazy and is preparing a stealth-attack of their own. His conflicted emotions are evident when he’s forced to end his friend and fellow villager.

Did Washington himself order the destruction of Native American villages? Ubisoft wants to bring you to the point where you say “It doesn’t matter who gave the order, just that the order was given.” That’s why these games are brilliant. You’re forced to admit to the idea that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. The sheer boatload of information that the game overloads you with helps you ask the question of “what way do you turn and which devil do you trust when your back is against the wall and nothing makes sense anymore?” And then you’re left to answer it, knowing that irregardless of your actions in this historically-inspired work of fiction, it’s all already happened. The beauty of it is that now, you can ask questions you never had before. To me, that’s when a work of art has done its job.

So well done, Ubisoft. Well done.