Sunday, February 28, 2016

Cubed3 Exclusive Review: Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae (PS4)

In this review, I take a look at the indie PS4 hack and slash game Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae (Translation: Subpar Sword Game).

Update: Captain's Log Stardate February 28,2016

Greetings, the following is an update regarding a slight shift in schedule to when reviews will be posted in March.  In my year in review editorial, I briefly mentioned a black belt grading which I would be attending that month, said grading is being held Easter weekend and it starts with a seminar on Thursday the 24th. Me, my father, and my sister will be traveling to Boca Raton, Florida on the 23rd; because of this, there's been a slight shift in schedule in terms of when reviews will be posted.

On my regular schedule, reviews get published during the middle of the month, but due to grading the three reviews scheduled in March for Gears of War 3, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Tomb Raider will be published starting at the beginning of the month.  Afterwards, things will be quiet on the blog for the next week or so but after I return home from grading I will write a post explaining what will happen and the posting schedule will return back to normal for April.

This upcoming grading is an exciting time for me, and I have been getting ready for the grading by attending classes and also doing various workouts when I'm not at my dojo.  I hope to tell readers about what happened at the grading and the ultimate outcome of this four day event.

By the way, I recently emailed in a review to Cubed3 of the hack and slash title Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae, the last time I checked the site the review was not on there but it should be eventually, so a link to that review can be expected shortly.  Till next time, this is William Lowery, signing off.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Review

In the past ten years, the LEGO games series has grown in both popularity and complexity.  Since the release of 2005's LEGO Star Wars: The Videogame, developer Traveler's Tales has gone on to create titles based off of the likes of Batman, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter; 2012's LEGO Batman 2: D.C. Superheroes shook up the formula established in prior entries by featuring an open world to explore.  Recently, LEGO Dimensions took the concept of LEGO-izing popular franchises to another level by featuring various properties in one game.  Before the release of that game, Traveler's Tales made a game in 2013 which featured virtually every single Marvel character to date, that game being LEGO Marvel Superheroes.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes' story follows the efforts of various heroes from the Marvel universe, including the Avengers, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, as they work to stop an evil plan being concocted by Dr. Doom.  Dr. Doom has recently gotten his hands on Cosmic Bricks, which are what Silver Surfer's board is made of, and working in conjunction with Loki and other Marvel villains he plans on using the bricks to create a deadly superweapon.  This is what his plan seems like at first, but it's later revealed that Loki wants to use Doom's device to attract the colossal being known as Galactus, so that he may devour Earth and the heroes and villains who inhabit the planet.  Thus, the good guys and the bad guys find themselves working together to stop Loki and his diabolical scheme.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes takes advantage of the property this game is based off of by having each of these various heroes and villains later on work together.  For fans of the different properties, it's a treat to see members of the X-Men work together with the Avengers or vice versa, and the writing leads to entertaining banter between the characters in every mission.  The game does take some liberties with a few of the playable characters in order to retain the family friendly tone these games are known for; Mr. Fantastic is able to contort his body into different types of equipment via special pads in addition to elongating his body, and the Punisher, who you can accept missions from in the open world, is an eco-driven vigilante and not a brutal, revenge driven vigilante like he is in the comics.  As in every LEGO game, humor is prevalent throughout, both in dialogue and in various physical gags that can happen during gameplay and cutscenes.

LEGO Batman 2: D.C. Superheroes introduced open world gameplay into the already established formula that had been used in previous entries; this game utilizes that same structure, with an open environment in the form of New York City to explore, while the story missions are linear and focused on combat and puzzle solving.  The gameplay is enjoyable but makes it unique from past titles is the large roster of heroes and villains to choose from and play as.  Every character, whether good or bad, has their own powers which are utilized well in both combat and puzzle solving; though the different characters do have shared traits.  For example, Spider-Man and Wolverine are able to sense hidden objects in the environment, Hawkeye and Black Widow are able to wall jump on certain structures, and big characters like the Hulk and the Thing are able to lift and throw heavy objects.  Using these different abilities in combat is fun, even if defeating enemies is as simple as mashing the attack button.  On the other hand, puzzle solving is more satisfying as you have to utilize the characters' powers in order to find objects and activate machinery in order to continue on.

When you're not completing story missions, you'll be exploring New York City in search of any number of collectibles strewn about the environment.  Unlike in LEGO Batman 2, where the pedestrians of Gotham City were constantly in a state of panic and were rarely calm; here, citizen life in New York feels more natural and not as hostile, which is good, because in this game there are side missions to undertake.  Scattered around the city are citizens and different characters from the Marvel universe who require you to do something for them; after completing the task, the reward is either a gold brick, a new character, or a new vehicle.  Additionally, there are also special story missions called Deadpool Tales narrated by Deadpool that are unlocked once a certain number of gold bricks have been found.  The collectibles you earn from completing side quests can also be acquired by exploring the city and completing puzzles in order to retrieve them.  The amount of things to do and collect in this game is stagerring, and if you want to find everything, this game will keep you busy for a long time.  The story levels also contain their own collectibles in the form of minikits, most of which are found in free play mode as some require characters you may not have in order to retrieve them; there are also red bricks, which unlock special modifiers, and in every level legendary comic creator Stan Lee can be found and rescued.

Visually, the game uses a mixture of real life environments and LEGO characters and objects which help give the visuals a unique look, and the animations for when Mr. Fantastic morphs into something or when Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk and back are always fun to watch.  Similar to LEGO Batman 2, spoken dialogue is utilized instead of grunts, and the performances from the likes of Troy Baker, Steve Blum, and Roger Craig Smith, among others, are solid.  Unfortunately, the music, while retaining the epic scope of a soundtrack for a superhero film, is mostly forgettable.

While LEGO Marvel Superheroes doesn't bring anything new to the table, it's still a solid game.  The mixture of open world exploration, simplistic but fun combat, puzzle solving, and many collectibles to find is enjoyable, but the usage of characters from the Marvel property help inject some uniqueness into the established formula of the LEGO games.

Final Score: 7/10

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bioshock Infinite Review

Back in 2007, gamers were treated to a game called Bioshock.  Created by Irrational Games, Bioshock saw players guiding a man known as Jack through the ruins of an underwater utopia known as Rapture in search of answers.  After its release, the game was heralded as a classic and three years later a sequel, Bioshock 2, was released.  Despite not being developed by Irrational, the sequel was still a hit both critically and financially, but in 2013 the studio responsible for the first game in the series returned to bring a new installment that may carry the name "Bioshock" in its title, but is actually its own, separate entity, not connected to the first two games.  Thus, we have Bioshock Infinite.

Bioshock Infinite is not connected to the other games in the series, though there are some clever nods to the older entries in this game.  The story follows Booker DeWitt, a former agent for the Pinkertons who is seeking freedom from his past debts by finding a girl named Elizabeth for unknown assailants.  Said girl is bring held somewhere in Columbia, which Booker quickly learns is a city in the sky.  When he arrives things seem perfectly fine in Columbia, there's a festival going on and people are enjoying the festivities, but shortly after arriving Booker discovers the dark side this city harbors, while also finding out that he is a wanted man in Columbia, despite this being his first time in the city.  Columbia's governor is Zachary Hale Comstock, whose beliefs and ideologies have acted as a template for how the city is controlled.  Eventually, Booker finds Elizabeth, locked away in a tower, and the two narrowly escape the place after evading Elizabeth's protector, Songbird.  Now, Booker must ensure Elizabeth's safety out of Columbia which will hopefully result in Booker's freedom from his debts.

Bioshock Infinite's story starts out simple but quickly becomes complex and intriguing as events roll into motion.  The game's story tackles the issues of racism and class division which are best exemplified by Columbia itself.  The floating city features various districts and areas showing how divided the place is in terms of class and race; a majority of the city is well designed and livable but later on the more dingy portion of the place becomes present with poor citizens and terrible living conditions prevalent in this part of the city.  Another running theme is the concept of alternate realities; Elizabeth can open up rifts called Tears to bring items into the current reality, which is not only just a gameplay mechanic but also an integral part of the story.  Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that makes you think about certain events and aspects of the story.  A simple one is a moment that happens early in the game when Booker encounters a barbershop quartet singing "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, even though the song didn't exist back in 1912, the year the game is set in.  The ending of the game, while wrapping up the story nicely, is open to interpretation about what it's trying to say.

Besides an intriguing story, Bioshock Infinite features a memorable cast of characters.  Booker DeWitt's troubled past makes him an interesting lead, especially when more of his history is revealed as the game progresses, and Zachary Hale Comstock's misleading beliefs and ideologies result in a memorable bad guy, but its Elizabeth that steals the show.  She spends a majority of the game with DeWitt and over the course of the game she goes through a dynamic shift in character.  At first, Elizabeth is an individual brimming with energy and curiosity, considering that she has been locked away in a tower for all her life, but due to various situations in the story she becomes a more hardened person, a shadow of her former self.

Story and setting are not the only aspect in which Infinite differs from the previous entries as the gameplay is also largely different from the predecessors.  The only two elements that the gameplay of the previous installments share with this one are the special abilities and emphasis on scavenging and looting in order to find supplies.  Instead of wielding Plasmids, Booker uses different abilities called Vigors.  With Vigors, Booker can throw fireballs, shoot electricity, put up a polarity shield that catches bullets, and summon crows that attack and distract enemies, among others.  By holding down the left trigger, Booker can use the currently equipped Vigor's alternate function, which is normally a trap enemies can be lured into; each of the abilities is useful during combat although certain ones will be relied on more than others.  Vigors consume salts, which can be refilled by finding vials of the material or by consuming certain drinks or edibles.  Bioshock Infinite puts an emphasis on exploring and searching the world in order to find supplies; searching bodies, containers, et al will yield either health, salts, ammo, or money.

In addition to using a variety of salts to fight back the hostile foes of Columbia, Booker will also yield a large range of weapons.  The selection of firearms includes pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and sniper rifles, plus heavier firepower such as rocket launcher, Gatling gun, and a flak cannon (i.e. grenade launcher); however, Booker can only hold two weapons at a time, meaning choosing the right weapons is a must, given the various types of enemies he'll face.  The foes of Columbia consist of standard mooks armed with a melee weapon or firearm, heavily armored versions of standard bad guys, or ones who rely on Vigors as their method of attack.  On certain occasions there will also be deadly machines known as Motorized Patriots, which are Gatling gun wielding animatronics that resemble George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, or Booker may encounter the Handymen, part human, part mechanized beings that take a lot of hits to bring down.  To help Booker defeat foes he can upgrade his weapons and Vigors at vending machines scattered around Columbia.

After rescuing Elizabeth, she spends a large portion of the game with Booker, but don't worry, even though Booker does have to ensure she lives, Elizabeth is not prone to getting killed during combat and she will stay out of harms way when firefights ensue.  As I mentioned earlier, her special ability is opening up rifts called Tears.  These rifts can be used to offer Booker various means of assistance during combat, whether it be weapons, health, or cover, yet she can only open up one Tear at a time, so make sure to wisely choose which Tears to open up.

While the game is focused on combat, there are plenty of times throughout the story where things slow down and the player is allowed to take things easy and explore the surroundings.  The level design keeps a nice balance between linear areas and more open, sandbox-esque spaces which encourage exploration and to take in the surroundings; when combat does happen in these areas you're encouraged to move around and utilize the environmental advantages offered, especially when Booker is equipped with the Skyhook.  This device can be used as a melee weapon but it can also latch onto railways which are like mini-roller coasters that are very fun to use, just be aware that enemies can latch onto the railways as well when using them.

From a technical standpoint, Bioshock Infinite's visuals are quite gorgeous; the game uses a bright and colorful art style that acts as a sharp contrast to the brutal violence and seedier locations of Columbia.  Equally great is the voice acting, which features top notch performances from Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper, the voices of Booker and Elizabeth respectively, and the music composed by Garry Schymann is also excellent with its dynamic soundtrack and creative takes on songs from various decades that are strewn about the game.

Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that is immediately compelling from start to finish; the story and gameplay are strong enough to warrant multiple playthroughs but it's also a game filled with various moments and surprises that will be discussed heavily with those who have played the game.

Final Score: 9/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition Review

Resident Evil 4 is a title often considered to be one of the greatest games ever made; it was a game that moved away from many aspects that were established in prior entries in the series in order to bring something new to the table.  When the game was originally released back in 2005, the game was highly praised and Resident Evil 4 became not just a classic, but also one of the most ported games ever.  A few months after the game's original release on the GameCube, the game was ported over to the PlayStation 2, and that version featured new content not found in the original release; subsequent ports of the game would be released in later years for different systems including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the PC, twice.  This version of Resident Evil 4, released in 2007, was my first introduction to the series, along with the divisive Resident Evil 6, but regardless of your own experience with the franchise, this version of the highly praised classic remains the definitive version of Resident Evil 4.

Set six years after the events of Resident Evil 2, the game follows Leon S. Kennedy, who was one of the two protagonists of that game.  Since those harrowing days in zombie infested Raccoon City, Leon has shifted from his days as a cop and survivor of an outbreak to the role of a government agent.  Leon's latest assignment has him finding the President's daughter, Ashley Gramm, who has been kidnapped and held hostage in a remote part of Spain.  When he spots a nearby house, Leon goes to check and see if anybody is there, and he finds a person inside tending to a fire, but when he asks the man about Ashley's whereabouts he doesn't respond; instead, he tries to apply an axe into Leon's head.  After shooting the man, things go south when Leon's vehicle is attacked and ran off the road by some of the locals.  Eventually, he makes his way to a town where the hostility increases after he gets spotted by the townsfolk, and after fighting off the attacking villagers, they mysteriously stop trying to kill him and head into a church, and all of this happens within the first thirty minutes of the game.

When it comes to story and pacing, the two aspects clash together, creating a rollercoaster ride of a game that finds Leon not only just saving Ashley, but also stopping bad guys with evil intentions.  It's an entertaining story filled with many memorable moments, set-pieces, and characters, both good and bad or somewhere in between, and the game's writing and dialogue are sure to make certain that you remember these characters, even if said dialogue can be laughably bad.  In certain ways, Resident Evil 4 reminds me of the movie Aliens, primarily for the contrast in tone between this game and older installments and also for the previously mentioned pacing.  Like Aliens, Resident Evil 4 puts less of an emphasis on creepy environments or scary bad guys, though those are still present in the game, and more of an emphasis on action, and just like that movie, the shift in tone works successfully.

In porting this game over to the Wii, developer/publisher Capcom has done a successful job at translating the controls found in the other versions over onto the system's remote and nunchuck combination.  The biggest strength these controls have over the other versions is the remote's pointer functionality, which makes aiming at enemies accurate and very satisfying.  There are motion controls, but they're used sparingly; although you can hold the C button and press A to use Leon's knife, it's much better to rapidly flick the remote to knife enemies.  Also, a majority of the game's quick time events involve waggling the Wii remote from side to side, but this never becomes annoying.

Resident Evil 4 shook up the formula established in prior entries in various way; namely in the perspective and how progression through the game is made.  Instead of having fixed camera angles, the game utilizes an over the shoulder, third person perspective, though you can't directly control the camera; instead, camera control is limited to left, right, and overhead turns via the d-pad.  As for game progression, Resident Evil 4 is a more linear and focused experience than the earlier games; there is some backtracking and light exploration for finding objects necessary to open locked doors, but otherwise, you're constantly moving ahead in the game, rarely revisiting any previously explored locations.

Besides shaking things up through camera perspectives and progression through the story, the game also shifts its focus from a mixture of combat and puzzle solving to putting more of an emphasis on combat and not as much on puzzle solving, which is still prevalent.  Yet, the game's puzzles are a weak aspect of the gameplay; most of them involve finding the right item to put into the correct spot where it belongs in and only a few of the puzzles are legit ones that need to be solve.

As for combat, it's very satisfying; for starters, the enemy selection is quite varied.  The roster of enemies includes standard enemies, or Ganados, that move slowly, but are more than capable of using weapons against Leon and primarily rely on their numbers to overwhelm him.  These foes are the most common enemy Leon faces, with the other bad guys varying in terms of size and attacks.  Sometimes there are Ganados armed with chainsaws or piloting minigun turrets, and they can soak up more damage than regular ones; other times there are human sized insect creatures that will grab Leon and try to spit acid onto him and there are also terrifying enemies called Regenerators that can only be killed by attacking their weak points which can only be seen with a thermal scope for the sniper rifle.  Each of the enemy types shifts Leon's tactics up and requires him to keep an eye out for certain weaknesses; for example, shooting Ganados in the head or knee opens them up to a melee attack.

Fortunately for Leon, there are a variety of weapons for him to acquire over the course of the game.  The weapon selection includes various types of handguns, shotguns, and sniper rifles, along with a submachine gun, a powerful magnum, and a few other weapons.  These weapons can be purchased from a mysterious merchant and Leon can also sell guns he doesn't need anymore, upgrade the ones he currently has, and sell treasures to the merchant which can be found hidden about in every level.  All of your guns, healing items, and ammo are held within an attaché case that can also be upgraded to hold more items.

Each of the guns Leon can purchase and use feel satisfying, but you'll have to make sure not to run out of ammunition.  Although the game is more combat focused, conserving ammunition is still important in this game; while ammo can be found from enemies and from breaking open objects such as crates and vases, certain ammo types, like magnum or submachine gun ammo, are more hard to come by.  Ammo conservation is especially important in the game's boss fights, which are challenging but satisfying to fight.

At a certain point in the game, Leon rescues Ashley and he rescues her there will be times in which he needs to ensure that she stays alive and doesn't get killed by the enemies.  Fortunately, most of the tedium involved in such parts of a game is alleviated since she always sticks close to Leon and he can order her to wait or hide in certain spots while he takes care of any enemies ahead; although certain parts where Leon has to protect Ashley while she does something can be annoying.

Resident Evil 4 is a game that is hard to put down; it's a satisfying experience from beginning to end, and I'm only just scratching the surface of what this game offers.  After beating the game, new game plus is unlocked, which allows you to replay the game with all of the weapons you had from your first playthrough; alternate costumes are available for use as well and ultra-powerful weaponry is available to purchase from the merchant.  There are also additional modes unlocked for play, which are Separate Ways, Mercenaries Mode, and Assignment Ada.  Separate Ways, which was originally in the PlayStation 2 version, reveals more about the Umbrella Corporation's involvement in the story as well as the role of series character Ada Wong in the events to.  This is a fun side story that offers more Ganado shooting action.  Mercenaries Mode is a score attack mode in which you play as one of six characters, five of which must be unlocked before using, and you earn as many points as possible from killing various enemies before time runs out, and this mode is quite fun as well.  Unfortunately, the last mode, Assignment Ada, is the weakest of the three, it feels more like filler content, takes about an hour to beat, and doesn't warrant much replayability.

While this is a port of a game originally released in 2005, the Wii version's graphics still look really good, with solid character models and environments, some of which do give off an unsettling atmosphere to them, like the forest and abandoned labs filled with the creepy Regenerators.  Though at times the textures can look rough and the cutscenes in Separate Ways have a grainy look to them.  Voice acting is good, even if some of the performances and lines of dialogue do sound cheesy, but in a good way, and the music does a great job at sounding ambient, creepy, or intense, depending on the tone of the situation.

Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition is a great port of what was already a great game, with an entertaining story mode and various unlockables it's a game filled with tons of content and replayability.  For those who have yet to play this game, this is the version strongly recommended worth playing.

Final Score: 9/10

Friday, February 5, 2016