Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Special Announcement: Alien Month

The month of October is right around the corner, and I thought for that particular month, I would do something interesting.  During the next month, you can expect reviews for three different games based off of the Alien film series to be published.  I'm not going to say which ones are going to be reviewed, but the one hint I will give is that these three games came out during the last generation of consoles.  The game reviews will be posted on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weeks of October, but besides those reviews, in the 2nd and 4th weeks of October, there will be reviews for Alien and Aliens, respectively.  Last year, I tried something like this on my old blog by reviewing games from the Dead Rising series, but things didn't work out.  This time, however, things are different and this time, I'm prepared.

So in October, grab your motion tracker and pulse rifle, and bring a shotgun for any potential close encounters, it's Alien Month.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Review

The Transformers series has had a long history; it first started out simple with a toy that could transform between a vehicle and a robot, and since then, it has become a highly successful franchise with different television shows, movies, and a massive array of toys.  Yet, when it comes to video games, the franchise hasn't been so successful in that area.  Most of the games are either mediocre at best or flat out terrible.  This changed in 2010, when developer High Moon Studios created Transformers: War for Cybertron, a game based off of the Transformers that was actually pretty good.  Then, in 2012, the same studio followed up that game with Fall of Cybertron, a game that is essentially the best Transformers game ever made.

The game is set in the final days of the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons; though if you didn't play for War for Cybertron, there's no need to worry about knowing what happened in the previous game.  The long, civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons has made the planet Cybertron nearly inhospitable, and both factions are now searching for a new place to live on, or in the case of the Decepticons, to conquer.  From there, the story shows the events leading up to the Transformers' eventual departure of their homeworld through the perspectives of characters on both the Autobot and Decepticon side.  On the Autobot side, the story focuses on the Autobots preparing for their departure from Cybertron, and the search for a missing comrade of theirs, Grimlock.  Meanwhile, the Decepticon storyline focuses on the Decepticons finding and retrieving their ship while also trying to stop the Autobots from leaving Cybertron.  Also, there's a conflict going on between Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, and Starscream, his right hand man, who is trying to convince Megatron that he would be a good leader of the Decepticons, but his attempts aren't working.

Fall of Cybertron's story is compelling enough to keep you interested in the events that happen during the game, and the writing and story feature various nods to the franchise, including a moment in the game that directly references a scene from the 1986 Transformers movie.  Yet, where the game's story truly shines is in its pacing and characters.  Throughout the game, you're always playing as a different character from the Autobot or Decepticon side, and it keeps you on your toes, wondering what character you might be playing as next.  The characters, both good and bad, are all likeable and each character gets to have their moment during the game.

At its core, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is a third person shooter, but much like the Ghostbusters game I reviewed before, what makes this game unique from other games in the genre is what you're playing as.  In this case, the Autobots and Decepticons you play as over the course of the campaign are never similar to each other, as each one has their own vehicle form they can transform into, as well as their own special ability which reflects the playstyle of the current level.  For example, Optimus Prime's special ability to call in artillery strikes to decimate enemy forces and eliminate mission critical objects reflect the bombastic action of his levels.  A later level, featuring the Autobot Cliffjumper, features a strong focus on stealth.  Cliffjumper's special ability is that he can become invisible for a short period of time, allowing him to sneak by enemies or take them out stealthily.  Variety is the best word to describe the gameplay, besides the different Transformers you play as over the course of the campaign, the level design and selection of weapons to use are also varied.

The level design does a good job of keeping a balance between linear areas and more open spaces that encourage you to use a Transformer's alternate vehicle form.  This was especially noticeable in the level where you control the Decepticon Vortex, as the level strongly encourages the use of transforming into his helicopter form and taking to the air to eliminate the Autobot forces, while also completing his different objectives.

Scattered across the levels are Teletraan 1 terminals, where you can purchase and upgrade weapons, as well as purchase special power-ups that either defend you or act as an offensive tactic.  These power-ups include a shield  you can throw out to defend yourself from incoming fire, a drone you can deploy that will fly around and attack nearby enemies, and my personal favorite, a grenade that turns into a black hole when it detonates.  The weapons available for use include variations of modern day weapons such as assault rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers, but by finding hidden blueprints in each level, you can unlock special weapons with creative functions.  One example is a special shotgun that doubles the amount of energon shards that are dropped from a fallen enemy after it has been killed with the weapon.  Another unique weapon can shoot out saw blades that will bounce around briefly, unless they manage to hit something.  These weapons can also be upgraded in different areas such as ammo capacity or recoil reduction.

The game features a great art style that gives the Transformers and their homeworld bright and colorful designs.  The design of the Transformers is heavily based off of their designs from the 1980's TV show, albeit with slight alterations to reflect the fact that they haven't arrived on Earth yet and scanned our vehicles to get their new look.  However, the game froze on me twice during a particular section in the last level.

The voice acting and music are both great; veteran voice actor Peter Cullen reprises his role as Optimus Prime, who he voiced before in the original animated series as well as the animated and live action movies, and he gives a top notch performance.  Frank Welker, who voiced Megatron in the original cartoon, doesn't voice the leader of the Decepticons in this game; instead, Megatron is voiced by Fred Tatascoire, who also gives a strong performance, as does the rest of the voice cast.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron succeeds at being a highly fun game to play due to its varied campaign and for the different Transformers you get to play as, each of which brings something new to the table.  If Transformers: War for Cybertron is the Batman: Arkham Asylum of Transformers games, then Fall of Cybertron is the Batman: Arkham City of Transformers games.

Final Score: 9/10

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

Call of Duty is one of the biggest franchises in gaming to date.  Each new installment takes in a huge amount of cash in the copies sold and most people usually play the games for their multiplayer rather than the single player content.  Personally, I have only played three games in the series, including the game that is the subject of this review, Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Set during the late 1960’s, the story follows Alex Mason, who has been strapped to a chair and is being interrogated by a mysterious man who’s looking for the answer to a series of numbers that have been implanted into Mason’s mind.  From there, the story jumps back to different points in Mason’s life, with occasional jumps back to the present to show what progress has been made with trying to get answers from Mason.  The mysterious person finds out from Mason that a man named Dragovich is trying to release a deadly virus known as Nova 6 across America, and he’s put multiple sleeper agents across the country that are acting as the catalysts for Dragovich’s plan, and now the mysterious man needs Mason to explain the purpose of the numbers.
Black Op’s story is surprisingly good; it’s intriguing and you find yourself wondering what is going to happen next.  To my knowledge, this game is only one of a handful of games to be set in the 1960’s, and especially one of a few games to have a focus on the Cold War, which is a key element of the game’s plot.  The developer, Treyarch, deserves credit for trying something different by setting the game in a relatively untapped decade and for creating an interesting story featuring memorable characters.  Through flashbacks, several other characters Mason meets are introduced, each of which is rather interesting, especially Victor Reznov, who Mason meets while in a prison camp, and at the camp, Mason learns about Reznov’s personal vendetta against Dragovich.  A key theme, which is present throughout the story, is that some events that we perceive as having actually happened may not have actually happened the way we thought we did.  Over the course of the game, Mason’s mind gradually starts to break and through a plot twist, which I won’t spoil, we learn that someone Mason thought was with him most of the game was just a false lie created by his unstable mind.
It should also be noted that Black Ops pulls no punches when it comes to the violence in this game.  Weapons in this game can rip enemies to shreds and in one section of a level, we get an up close view of the brutal violence as Mason has to crawl through some tunnels while also killing Vietnamese soldiers that pop up along the way.  Additionally, there are a couple of shocking scenes such as one moment where Mason witnesses a partner of his in a disparate state after being tortured and mentally broken by the Vietnamese soldiers who captured him and Mason.  If you’re squeamish about such brutal moments and violence, tread carefully.
As for the gameplay, it’s nothing mindblowing, but it is enjoyable thanks to solid gunplay and varied objectives that you’ll complete over the course of the campaign.   There’s a good selection of weapons to use in the campaign with my favorite one being an incendiary shotgun you get in one level.  Most of the levels in the campaign are fairly linear, often funneling you to your next objective.  Aside from collectible Intel you can find that reveals more information on the story and characters, there’s not much else to keep you from straying off the beaten path.
Fortunately, the varied objectives and set piece moments in the game do keep things interesting.  Besides engaging in firefights with enemies, some parts in the game have Mason engaging in stealth or piloting a vehicle to blow stuff up.  One of the best moments in the campaign switches perspectives as you play as the pilot of a spy plane ordering troops on a mission in Russia, while also switching over to the leader of the squad, Jason Hudson.
The campaign can take about to 7-8 hours to finish, and besides the campaign, there’s also the multiplayer and the oh-so-fun Zombies mode.  The main goal of Zombies mode is to earn points by killing zombies and other assorted creatures, as well as boarding up holes that the undead come from.  Earning points allows you to open up new areas in the map, of which there are two to choose from on the disc, and you can also buy weapons and perks to help keep yourself alive as long as possible.  There are two maps to choose from, Kino der Toten, and Five, which is what would happen if four historical figures had to fight off the undead in the Pentagon.  This mode is a lot of fun because it allows yourself to see how long you can survive and opening up new areas on the map adds some depth to the mode.  In addition to the Zombies mode, there’s also Dead Ops Arcade, a fun top down shooter in which you collect treasure to increase your score multiplier and power-ups to help you fight off waves of zombies.
Graphically, the game looks really good and the framerate is super-smooth.  The only issue I had is that sometimes it could be kind of hard to tell who was on my side and the enemy because of their similar looking outfits.  As such, occasionally I would accidentally shoot someone on my side before realizing that they were one of my allies.  The voice acting and music are also great as well.  In particular, actors Sam Worthington and Gary Oldman give strong performances as their respective characters, Alex Mason and Victor Reznov.  Props to the game for its usage of “Fortunate Son” and “Symphony of the Devil” in the levels set in the Vietnam War.
In conclusion, Black Op’s strongest point is its story and characters, which are interesting and memorable.  The rest of the game is also quite enjoyable, with fun and well-polished gameplay, plus a fun side mode to keep you occupied.
Final Score: 8.5/10