Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cubed3 Exclusive Review: Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition (PS4)

Pro-Tip: To properly enjoy the Duke Nukem add-on, here are the following steps:

1. Beat the game and unlock the Overkill campaign option
2. Bump up the difficulty to Hard
3. Have fun, Nukem style!

Link to review:

Friday, April 14, 2017

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (Wii) Review

In 1986, a movie called Highlander was released.  Featuring memorable characters and an intriguing setting, the film, while initially a box-office failure, would later become a cult-classic that is still fondly remembered to this day.  Unfortunately its legacy was soiled by the release of Highlander II: The Quickening, a sequel which took the mythology established in the first and turned it into a nonsensical science fiction plot, souring the charm of the original in the process.  Yet, what does a movie about swords and immortality have in common with The Force Unleashed?  Because like Highlander, the first game also received an unnecessary continuation that unwrapped the meaningful ending of the prior entry, and continued the story of a sith-turned-jedi through convoluted means.

(WARNING: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD FOR BOTH THE FIRST AND SECOND GAMES) After sacrificing his life so that the captured Rebel Alliance members could escape, Starkiller is brought back as a clone by Darth Vader, who intends to use his new project to track down the rebels and put an end to their operation.  Unfortunately for him, the clone is plagued with the memories of the original, and he begins to doubt if he truly is a clone, so Starkiller escapes the planet in search of answers.  His searches head him to Cato Nemodia, where General Kota is being held in captivity, forced to compete in an arena for the entertainment of the man who runs the place.  After Kota is rescued, the two head off to meet with the rebels to lay out a plan that will cripple the empire's operations, one which involves their cloning facilities on Kamino.

With a lazy story and characters that have taken a step back in regards to depth and likeability, The Force Unleashed II fails in keeping the gamer's attention on the plot.  The game's one interesting hook: the idea of whether this is the real Starkiller or not, is never fully explored and most information given is left to interpretation.  Also, his characterization here is dull; simply put, the man who redeemed himself at the end of the original has been turned into a clueless individual whose sole goal is to get back with a former love that may not even be truly his.  Speaking of which, Juno Eclipse returns in the sequel, but only as a cameo, a notion which applies to the remainder of the cast, except for Kota and Vader.  Like Starkiller, Kota is very different in regards to his personality, as he spends most of the game yelling orders at Starkiller and acting like an angry old guy.

Meanwhile, the menacing Darth Vader has been turned into a mad scientist, since we learn that his overall goal is to create not just one Starkiller, but an army of them capable of overthrowing both the rebels and the empire for which he helped the Emperor establish.  Yet, the worst offenders of the roster are the glorified cameos of Yoda and Boba Fett.  Yoda shows up halfway through the game when Starkiller decides he needs to clear his mind by going to Dagobah; there, the little green munchkin points him in the direction of a cave that will provide the answer's he's looking for, and then he disappears, probably to get his paycheck.  The same notion applies to Boba Fett, who is hired by Vader to find Starkiller; afterwards, he's only seen in a few moments during the campaign, one of which is in the game's terrible ending.  Not to spoil much, but let's just that it ends right about at what should be the halfway point of the story, leaving an empty pit in players' guts.

This sequel retains the same hack-and-slash style of the first, but a lack of improvements and many design flaws dour the experience.  One positive to the gameplay is the control scheme; the Wii version was handled by Red Fly Studios, the same team responsible for Ghostbusters, and the set-up they have created makes using Starkiller's twin lightsabers and his array of powers a breeze.  Except for the QTE events, which utilize swipes of the remote that can easily be misread, the remainder of the gestures for moves such as the force push or lightning work well.  Additionally, there's also a multiplayer mode not present in the 360/PS3 versions, but that was unable to be tested.  Unfortuately, it's bolstered to a game littered with many shortcomings.

For starters, most of Starkiller's abilities are lifted straight from the first, including force push, lightning, repluse, and lightsaber throws, and what has been added is either game-breaking or not implemented well.  There are three new powers in the form of force rage, force sight, and the mind trick.  Force rage is a technique that can only be used when enough energy has acquired; once full and activated, time slows down and after highlighting enemies with the remote's pointer, Starkiller unleashes a flurry of attacks.  Yet, this move severely diminishes the difficulty since it one-shots all foes, big or small.

His other abilities do little to stand out.  Force sight is a riff on the Arkham games' detective vision, as it highlights objects of interest and can allow the player to see invisible enemies such as the Predator troopers, who can cloak themselves.  The mind trick, which can hypnotize bad guys into attacking their allies, is fun in concept but is never used in any meaningful way and comes off as tacked on.  However, the biggest problem facing this title is its repetitive and limited scope.  There are only a handful of enemy types to confront, including the returning Stormtroopers, jetpack soldiers, plus the new carbonite droids and previously mentioned Predator troopers, but the lack of challenge, combined with the cheapness of some attacks, makes fighting boring and at times, annoying.  Additionally, the level design is painfully linear and the amount of locations to travel to is small, consisting of only five areas, one of which is visited twice.

Even though the Wii isn't quite the technical powerhouse that the 360 or PS3 were, the visuals still come off as average.  The visual effects for attacks and the character models look decent, but the environments are bland and uninteresting.  Meanwhile, the cinematics, both in-game and computer-generated, vary in quality; although the cut-scenes done with the graphics look fine, the quality of the CG ones is rough, with many scenes often looking reminiscent of FMV's for PlayStation 2 games.  Sound is competent but unspectacular; voice acting is good despite the choppy script, and the music, which relies on a mixture of old and new Star Wars motifs, is equally solid.

Short, pointless, and all-around lazy, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II does little to improve upon its predecessor and comes off as just an inferior sequel.  The story is borderline fan-fiction and though the control scheme is unique and intuitive, its bolstered to gameplay that lacks the thrill of the original and like a Stormtrooper, misses more than it hits.

Final Score: 3/10

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review

Within the past seven years, the zombie genre has exponentially grown from its simple roots as a voodoo myth to become a monster for which the public is commonly aware of.  Although the genre had received prior attention through various films and games including White Zombie, Night of the Living Dead, and Shaun of the Dead, it wasn't until 2010 with the debut of the television series The Walking Dead that the genre hit the big time.

Based off the still-running graphic novel of the same name, the show follows a man named Rick Grimes, a law officer who was critically wounded during a shootout and goes into a coma, and later wakes up to a world populated by the undead, resulting in him having to team up with other people to survive.  Featuring great character drama in addition to gory zombie action, the show has garnered much success.  Of course, from fame and fortune comes merchandising, including video games.  Although most people are familiar with Telltale Games' the Walking Dead series, that game takes more inspiration from the comic than the series, but in 2013, developer Terminal Reality and publisher Activision brought us The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, a game which aimed to explore the backstory of two of the show's popular cast members, Daryl and Merle.

Set before the events of the first season, the game follows Daryl Dixon, a local Southerner who gets word of the outbreak that is sweeping the country when him and a hunting party are attacked by the undead.  Daryl's father is severely injured, and with no other choice, he is put out of his misery by his son; afterwards, him and uncle Jess decide to heed the warnings on the radio and head to Atlanta, where an evacuation is taking place.  Yet, before they can head there, Daryl must figure out the whereabouts of his older brother Merle.  At one point, Jess, who was bitten early on, turns and is killed, but Daryl does find Merle, and the two then set out for Atlanta, hoping that the evacuation isn't a bust.
Although the idea of focusing on characters from the show and what they were doing before their onscreen debut is an interesting set-up, Survival Instinct's plot and characters lack any purpose.  The television series is best known for its engaging characters and their effort to work with one another, and though it is present, the writing simplifies much of the drama and offers nothing new that we didn't already know about the Dixon brothers.  In summary, Daryl is a good-natured person but his brother is reckless and has a short temper, yet they still look out for each other, despite their differences.  The remainder of the cast doesn't stand out and serves as nothing more than cannon fodder, and the actual plot is rather threadbare, it's just a series of scenarios in which Daryl and Merle stop at a place, find what they need, and then leave.  Thus, when the story reaches its conclusion, it lacks build-up and feels rushed, leaving the player with an empty sense of satisfaction.

Like the narrative, the gameplay has its share of interesting concepts, but most of them are not fully realized in this half-baked experience.  As Daryl, the main goal of the game is to reach Atlanta, along the way, he will scavenge for supplies, help survivors, and avoid an ever-growing undead menace.  Whereas other zombie-themed games such as Dead Rising or House of the Dead encourage gamers to freely kill zombies, this one flips that equation, and has them avoiding and sneaking around the infected.  Though stealth is your friend, it's not as fun as it should be, but more on that later.

Over the course of the five-to-six-hour campaign, you'll travel through various location in Georgia to reach your destination.  Each area, whether story-related or optional, features a multitude of tasks that must be completed to continue.  There are survivors scattered around which can be recruited to come with Daryl, and in turn, be sent out to look for resources such as fuel and ammunition.  Additionally, searching an area may also result in a brand-new vehicle to drive.  Each type of automobile can only hold a certain number of individuals and supplies, and if the number of people exceeds the maximum capacity, he or she must be left behind.  Yet, there are no repercussions for ditching them whatsoever, which is a missed opportunity.  Then again, survivors that are recruited don't impact the story as ones you send out are never seen in a level, and when they do return, he or she often comes back low on health and with meager rewards.

Vehicles take up gas to reach a location, and how much is consumed depends on whether the highways, streets, or backroads are taken.  Thus, there is the chance for your form of transportation to run empty or break down, if that happens, then you're given the opportunity to look for extra materials, but when you get such chances is inconsistent.  Sometimes, your vehicle may be fine on gas and in good shape, but will stop a few miles from the next spot, and other times, the car might continue its journey after Daryl has found a new part, only to stop after a few seconds because the newly discovered battery just died.  However, these issues don't hold a candle to Survival Instinct's greatest design flaw: combat.

As stated prior, this is a game that prioritizes stealth over noise, since running or firing off guns can easily alert walkers to your vicinity; therefore, Daryl will be crouching for 90% of the experience so he can get the drop on enemies more easily.  While zombies aren't the brightest creatures, their intelligence is wildly inconsistent in Survival Instinct.  Often, they fail to realize when there's a man with a knife or other weapon sneaking up on them, even when they can clearly see you, but there are also moments in which one walker may spot Daryl from a long distance away and start heading towards him, but due to the poor audio, you can't properly tell which direction its coming from.

Should he find himself in a struggle, the game's pitiful combat makes fighting the undead a chore.  Melee weapons lack impact and the animations look like Daryl is slapping them with the side of the object rather than properly using it.  Despite this, the player might as well let him perish if he ever gets grabbed by a walker.  When such an incident does happen, this triggers a mechanic where you must line up his knife with the walker's head, the problem is that the constant swaying can make it hard to line up your shots, and while this is happening, more walkers might start to show up and surround him.  Fortunately, the zombies are more than happy to wait their turns to grab and bite him, which results in a never-ending conga-line of death.

In addition to having a thin plot and mediocre gameplay, the title, like a zombie, is an ugly sight to behold.  Environments are drab and lazily designed, featuring repeated locations and a limited color palette consisting of brown, grey, and sewage green.  Character models are average at best, and there are numerous physics glitches such as dead enemies getting stuck on walls or debris flying ten feet into the air for no reason.  The audio doesn't fare much better; actors Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker reprise their parts as Daryl and Merle, but most of the time, they sound like they're just doing it for the paycheck, as does the rest of the cast.

There's a way to make a good game with the ideas of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, but that vision is not realized here.  The concepts are interesting, but they are lazily implemented and are more annoying than they should be.  The game is reminiscent of the infamous Governor, underneath the smiling face is a cunning, manipulative monster more than happy to manipulate you for its benefit.

Final Score: 3/10