Category Archives: Video Game Reviews

Warlocks official game reviews.

Jonesy’s Journal: Arkham Knight

Good evening, America. Gather around whilst I tell you a tale. A tale of a young man, and a dark knight. A tale of high’s and low’s, ups and downs, rights and…ok, I’ll just get on with it.

Let’s go back in time a bit, to when Batman: Arkham Knight was first announced. I can’t tell you when that was off-hand, but I do recall trailers and information for it near the beginning of last year. I remember this because a good friend of mine was still currently serving with me in the Marines, and he brought to my attention something that seemed pretty noteworthy: “Bro, it’s going to have the Batmobile.”

I was instantly hit with a feeling of…apathy, mixed with slight disappointment.

“But Jonesy!”, you scream at me, flailing your arms like a madman, “the Batmobile is totally radalicious and groovy funkadelic! (Is that what the kids are saying these days?) Why on earth would you have issues with the Batmobile?!” The answer to that is simple. When you are younger, and still delving into the idea of video games and creating experiences and memories, you are able to see the full potential of things such as the Batmobile. You let your imagination soar to new heights, wondering what could possibly unfold before you on your journey as the Caped Crusader. As a slightly more experienced player, however, the only things I could imagine was the joy of “Pursuit Missions” and “Escape Missions” and the such that is involved with automobile’s and video games. Though many people may be fond of these types of missions (hence the vast success of car games like Need for Speed and GTA), I am not too keen on them. Something about a lack of hand-eye coordination and skill at gaming. Who knows.

I would like to fast-forward to now. I have currently beaten the main storyline to Arkham Knight, and though I am glad that I took the time to play this game, I was left with a feeling of general lack of enthusiasm afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, the game was very well designed and had some great qualities to it. I am just still currently trying to decide if it was worth it. I will now do the world a favor and voice my disappointments on the Internet (I know, it’s a new concept).

(WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!)

To me, the greatest disappointments came in a few different forms. Of these upsets was the notable inclusion of the Joker in the game, despite the fact that the entire first few minutes of the game are him being incinerated. Now, I completely understand the fact that he was all part of Batman’s fear-induced trip (Bats was gassed by scarecrow’s toxin), and truthfully my encounters with the Clown Prince of Crime were some of the most enjoyable of the game. The writing for him was superb. I just…wish that we could have a game focusing on the other villains. In the end, I was glad he was added as a character, but my initial (and still somewhat lingering) feeling was that it would have been interesting to see a world for the Detective without his nemesis.

My other regret of the game was that I allowed myself to figure out the big plot twist of the game. The main bad guy, the Arkham Knight, is supposed to be this intense enemy of Batman due to his incredible anonymity and deep knowledge of Batman’s skills and playbook (none of which seem to matter, as you tend to trounce his armies pretty easily). SPOILERS! When the game was close to coming out I looked at one of my co-workers, as we finished reading an article during our union break, and half-joked that the Arkham Knight was most likely a prior Robin. As I went through the game and had my interactions with the Knight, I realized more and more that this had to be the case. I continued to play the game, knowing that it wasn’t Tim Drake (the current Robin) or Dick Grayson (currently Nightwing) underneath that mask. As the game series had never mentioned the existence of Damian Wayne, there seemed to be only one likely suspect: I figured it out for certain about three missions prior to the big reveal, and the scene in the game where joker is internally taunting you about Jason’s death nailed the door shut. When the big reveal came and the mask came off, I was left feeling emotionless and, frankly, not very interested. I was more emotionally stimulated by the side missions than I was with the super-duper plot twist. I enjoy being surprised by these things, and generally they get me pretty good, yet I saw this twist a mile away. To top it all off, you have a big fight, you punch the dude in the face a bunch, you let him go, and then…he comes and helps you? Batman seems to be in on the joke, but I was not amused.

Of course, there was also the aforementioned Batmobile. It was surprisingly really easy to handle and use, and was pretty fun from time to time. Unsurprisingly, it was used excessively throughout the game. I found myself taking the long way to get from place to place with gliding. This was all to be expected, though, so I won’t go into it too much.

This isn’t to say that it was a horrible game. There were some really great elements to it. The combat system felt incredibly clean, and the more complex combo’s felt accessible to a not-so-great gamer like me. The ability to tag team with NPC teammates like Nightwing or Catwoman was incredibly fun, and there were some great emotional set pieces throughout the game (the kidnap and “murder” of Barbara Gordon, the entire portion in the blimps, the reveal of Scarecrow and the twists and turns that came with it). And as mentioned before, I was eventually glad that the Joker was included so heavily in the game, despite his obvious demise. At the end of the day, however, I was not entirely sold on the idea that this game was better than its predecessor, Arkham City. Maybe the bar was set too high. Perhaps I was wearing my judgment hat more often than my fun hat. Overall, this game just didn’t live up to what I knew an Arkham game was capable of. Maybe next time, Rocksteady.

Mario and Luigi: Dream Team

Mario is no stranger to RPG’s since his original Square Enix jaunt, aptly named Super Mario RPG. Since then, he’s starred in dozens of titles from the two franchises Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga. The latter being my main focus for this review.
The Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga captured the absolute zaniness of Mario RPG as well as its more traditional role playing elements. Surprisingly, it cut the cast of the usual RPG down to a party of two and focused more on teamwork as well as harrowing two target control puzzles. The blend was amazing and even to this day holds up as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Then Nintendo decided it was time that the 3DS had a dream…team.
Enter the latest iteration of the series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. The first RPG outing for the two on the big N’s latest and extremely popular handheld. To be honest, the premise scared me quite a bit before I picked it up and started playing. After Iwata-san dubbed this the year of Luigi and showed off a game about him sleeping…my eyes rolled at what I believed would be a new addition to Nintendo’s house of failed gimmicks. But boy was I wrong.

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Story:

The story is very plot driven. Mario and Luigi are brought to a place called P’illo Island to vacation with Peach and her posse of Toads. Everything begins kosher as they enjoy a whimsical tour through the amazing amount of puns they can create with pillows and ends with Luigi finding a magic artifact. In his infinite wisdom, the green plumber decides to fall asleep on the artifact and suddenly a portal opens above his head. Long story short, the Princess ends up being kidnapped. Surprise! Anyways, from there the story continues to take quite a change in pace. With great twists and intriguing lore that I had not witnessed in a Mario RPG to date. Of course, the art style made it that much easier to get enveloped into the story.

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Art Direction:

I’ve decided to no longer focus on the graphics of games as they are not necessarily a feature anymore. Graphics are kind of the icing on the cake. If the gameplay and story are solid, the graphics can be crap as long as they don’t break the game in some way…like blue screening you because they failed to load. Anyways.

The art style in Mario & Luigi is exactly like the title: dreamy. From the little fluffy pillow guys to the weird bosses, it all has such a level of attention that most studios can only dream of. What really stood out to me the most are the way the character models are drawn. I was expecting a more hardcore cell-shaded look but it looked a lot like a cross between water color and a pop-up book, especially when the 3D is turned on. The appearance of a certain scaly, spiky bad guy was particularly exciting as, despite his design not changing, the level of detail to him was astounding, especially with the limited power of the 3DS. All in all, I’d say this art style pushes this RPG to great heights and may even be the best part of the game.

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Gameplay:

In every RPG, gameplay equates immediately to the Battle System. However, this is a Mario RPG so I also have to mention the platforming. The platforming is wonky at times. There. Moving on!

The battle system employed is very similar to the old turn based games of yore with the Mario action buttons added in. You can hit A or B (Corresponding to Mario or Luigi) with the right timing to evade attacks or counter attack when on the defensive. You can also hit these buttons to add some extra damage while on the offensive ending in amazing results. In addition to jumping and using a hammer to smash your foes, you can also use powerful bro attacks which take advantage of the 3D plane and create a massive damage dealing mini game.

Surprisingly, when you enter the dream world, Luigi (named Dreamy Luigi in the dream world) inhabits Mario’s body making him a one man wrecking crew. The battles in the dream realm differ quite a bit as you’ll often be one Mario vs. 10 – 15 enemies per encounter. Your power makes these matches even but one wrong mistake and you immediately are taken out. Worth mentioning is that your dodge/counter becomes a more active affair as you can move with the stick in some situations to better position your defense.

All in all, the gameplay is solid and is very rewarding with the additions of achievements for battle prowess, as well as a very traditional level up system that lets you pump the bros up to the highest of heights. All of this and a very decent difficulty scale make for quite a great foray into the world.

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Overall:

So, I loved the story. I loved the art. I loved the gameplay. But why do I feel a bit of emptiness inside when I reach the conclusion of this review? It’s simple. Potential. Nintendo has always wowed the world with their incredible innovation and genre bending elements. However, this game could hardly be called anything more than another Mario and Luigi RPG. It’s not a bad thing but when rating Nintendo games, you must weigh them against their predecessors. Games like Legend of Zelda are always 10/10 on almost every gaming site because they are made to perfection. This game as well is damn near perfect as a Mario and RPG but, compared to the magic I felt the first time I played the series, it seems to have lost its luster along the way.

I still played the hell out of it. It was like a dream within a dream within a doughnut within a cake within a turkey within a chicken. But after the whole experience, I was left with a bland aftertaste. Hopefully the next entry will re-spark my fire.

Game Review: Aliens Colonial Marines

“After years of waiting, countless demo videos, and general teasing from Gearbox, the penultimate Aliens experience has arrived!” is how I wish I could start off this article but in reality I feel disappointed after spending upwards of 30 hours with this game.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a sci-fi shooter following the movie of the same name. In this game, you get to play events that transpire between the 2nd and 3rd movies in the franchise. Not only that, but the team that handled the fantastic Borderlands games are behind it! Sounds like a dream come true, however what was produced was a messy, surprisingly dull single player experience with an obviously tacked on Multiplayer.

The single player experience puts you in the shoes of general bad ass private. Winter who is about to have a really bad day. The game starts off simply enough, you get your sea-legs through some basic training while rescuing the Rhyno team who happen to have gone to your sister space ship, the USS Sulaco. Shortly after arriving and beginning to free your brothers in arms from some gooey alien bits, the true stars of the show appear. The Xenomorphs begin their attack and you’re thrown into your first pit of battle with an objectively simply named, “Kill the Xeno.”

This objective sums up the core idea behind the game and sadly this is a bad thing. Xenomorphs go down quite easily without much resistance. In fact, from the first Xenomorph until the very last, you will not be threatened or afraid for your life unless you are on the highest difficulty. However, even at that point, tension never mounts as idiotic AI and friendly invincible NPCs take away from the terror of the Xenomorphs. This is not even the most disappointing feature of the game.

 

What we expected

 

What we got

 

If you look back to the graphical prowess and textures that Gearbox sported back at E3 2012, you will immediately notice a huge graphical dump when playing the final incarnation. At that time, Randy Pitchford roared on claiming, “We’re big nerds so we’re so happy and devoted to be working on this Aliens’ game.” This love equated to a lackluster presentation with faulty shaders and lighting effects. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if we weren’t teased by a superior product almost a year before.

That aside, the story will make you feel something. For me it was nausea but for others they seem to have enjoyed it. Typical characters doing typical things without much else going on. With its story, game-play and graphics all turning up negatives, is there really any reason to buy this game? Well, if you have friends, then yes.

Surprisingly, the only time this game shines, if feebly, is during multiplayer. The campaign is bearable if you can get some friends together to replace the NPCs and turn the difficulty up to the highest. The Xenomorphs will rip through you like butter but the excitement of going through with a friend will keep you coming back. Not to mention, the tacked on competitive multiplayer ended up being where I spent most of my time. The Xenomorph vs. Marine game-play is very synonymous to Left4Dead as there are different classes to play as and each class can do quite interesting things. More so on the Xeno side of things.

Pushing aside all of the controversy over the game’s release, the supposed crookedness of Gearbox in relation to Sega and the possibilities of them being sued, this game is all around unpolished.

I can understand what they were going for, but the final product felt rushed, messy, abstract(in the bad way) and simply not nearly as enjoyable as it could have been. The reviews and media around it have been so bad that rumors of it being canceled by Nintendo on the Wii U have been blazing through like wildfire. Sadly, this reviewer will not be able to issue it a glowing review unless and HD pack or game-play fix comes out. Game over man.

 

Score: 2 out of 5

 

Author: Andron Hill

Game Review: Hotline Miami

“I’m here to tell you how to kill people,” the game begins – unequivocally stating it’s set stance. Pure violence. It starts by breaking the fourth wall, and then bodies.
After your short trial, you’re thrust into a neon slashed slab of brutal violence. Point to point, enemy to enemy, strings of violence erupt in a quick frenzy, accompanied
by a boisterous 80’s tinged soundtrack; it’s all the more engaging and most important of all, fun.

It’s simple. Blow a door down over the unsuspecting, take their weapon. Tear through the hall in a hailstorm of fire, scale the stairs, blow through the crowds with scattered
shotgun blasts. Wrap a wire around the neck’s of the writhing survivors. Leave no one. The practice of this mindless killing is honed in on after your inevitable stumbling through
the first mission. Soon after you’ll be gliding through the roofless buildings, poised above in a top down view leaving behind masses of tarnished leftovers. Death is quick
though, for both you and them; it’s a one hit game, you’ll be taken out as quickly as you can dish out kills. And you will die, a lot. This never becomes too much of an annoyance
given the pronouced fluidity of it’s nature. The only stand still moment you’ll encounter will be as you beset the entrance of the given location and plot out your first move,
studying the sequenced paths of the enemies.

This doesn’t always carry out successfully, enemies swarm in if you’re within their auditory range, firing off a weapon. Bullets are a limited luxury, and in the heat of the fight
empty arms need to be quickly be exchanged for another. Enemies that survive must be quickly dispatched before making themselves available to another weapon. Processing the
building variables and reacting to them within time is chaotic, and exhilarating. It’s an arcade environment, wrapped in a vibrant, pulsing, majestic display of bloodshed,
all in the name of – well, nothing. The protagonist tumbles further into this emotive void as the story develops. The only moment of horror follows after the first mission.
Leaving the back alley, our faceless anti-hero tears away at his mask, with his knees planted on the ground, curls over and vomits in a physical display of anguish.
He’s conditioned further – taking on more missions through an answering machine with purported lies: pick up a package, babysit, take a date out to dinner. We never
get to interact with anyone that isn’t linked to this whirlwind of vehemence; not the girlfriend that randomly starts lurking around the apartment, nor the creepy janitor that
smiles as we glide by, nor does it matter, the point is to move from kill to kill and pick up the payment, whether from the pizza parlor, or the “VHS Palace.” You’re
securely enclosed within the idle mind of the killer, focused purely on the murder, and the next.

After you complete each level and your points are racked up, based on swiftness and skill, you can unlock several new weapons that will randomly appear on maps and the most fun,
new masks. Each mask attributes a unique power, the wolf allows you a knife from the get-go. The rabbit gifts you with the quickest of feet. And my personal favorite, the elephant; being
able to endure one more shot before death. Each mask aids in you in one manner or another in avoiding the pull of death, adding replay value in allowing various ways to exact carnage in
custom style and finesse. Can it be said enough that behind the glorious 80’s neon radiation and gore is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in any game this year? Beats crafted by
various artists including Jasper Byrne (behind the fantastic “Lone Survivor”) embrace every tonal quality of the game – from being drenched in obscurum to paranoia and dance fevered rhythms,
laden with snare hits.

It’s not just the swift gameplay that garners all the appeal but the unexpected and intrguing story behind the storm. It left many with a scratching head and seemed to be a bit lacking, but I found
it fulfilling in it’s strict adherence to the mystery – the point was that there wasn’t one. Hinting to a commentary that the average gamer makes no quip about involvements in murderous mayhem,
with or without a purpose, the purity of the kill and reward for it is enough to satisfy and stimulate. Hotline thrives on this and makes no fuss about it. It’s deadly, precise, quick and a definite must
even for those who don’t consider themselves casual gamers. Behold the mask and maim, it’s the smallest of packages executed perfectly.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Author: Joseph Herrera

Game Review: Lone Survivor

A surgical mask, a pistol, and a seemingly stoic demeanor claim our ‘lone survivor.’ He inhabits a reality eerily similar to a one— Silent Hill. Not at all to the detriment of the game, in fact Jasper Byrne takes all the right cues and manages to improve upon some of them. The two-dimensional aesthetic is refreshing and welcomed to the survival horror field; a new veil over a rather visually grated genre. The muted colors and the pallet coupled with Byrnes varied score — from cool jazz laced hip hop beats to textured keyboard swells and electronic blips — sets the ominous tone for a game deeply involved in it’s psychological aspect. What you eat, how you sleep, how you interact with your dreams and hallucinations all play a role into the status of your mental well-being.

Immersed in solitude, like any good horror game – muddied in obscurity and abstract visuals – solidifies a tone that never let’s up through it’s roughly 3 and a half hours of game play. The retro sticker is the important variable that accentuates this obscure and pale toned philosophy the game embodies. The Silent Hill inspired twitching faceless baddies and monsters aren’t the only only beings to be feared. As you encounter both characters in the real world; men with boxes for heads, and wandering cats, and those you face in your dreamscapes speak to you in riddles: equally sketchy. Their individual intention is unknown and sustains the tension as their cryptic dialogue remains a mystery throughout. This method of jagged and dreary movement is engaging despite the lack of linear direction involving the characters, with the exception of one who appears to be a companion – the man with a box on his head (box for a head?).

A majority of the game can be spent in stealth when encountering the creatures; hiding in the crevices and recesses of 
the walls, and to lure the unmoving ones – strategic placement of festering, rotting meat. It’s during these moments of terror, as the music is replaced for a more appropriate shrieking cacophony of noise, the 2D aspect of the game brings another element of trapping, enclosing enemies capitalize on this insecurity. The gun has little use for you when overwhelmed in this regard. The mechanic seems a little outdated and making well placed head shots requires an uncomfortably close distance between you and the enemies. The odd angle and lack of a cross hair is especially difficult, when encountering both ground lurkers and the upright standing creatures. Bullets are scarce but can be acquired easily with the just the ingestion of pills which in turn will reap certain consequences – The deterioration of mental health, and a different ending.
Managing a routine and resources is pivotal. When you sleep, what you eat prior to sleep, is directly in tune with your
mental stability. Preserving flashlight battery is a must as they’re almost intensely scarce if you’re not willing to explore.
Long bouts of exploration is discouraged with the hero’s constant complaining of hunger and fatigue but can easily be
remedied with the use of mirrors scattered throughout the maps. The mirrors themselves serve as a portal through time-
space back to the apartment room where saves can be logged (which is either a tell to his overall psychological condition
or a supernatural element)into a journal that also serves as a mission log and reminder of tasks to be accomplished.

Verdict:
Seething in ambience and artistic fervor, Jasper Byrne has managed to create a short but sweet and memorable experience for not only Survival-horror fans but anyone interested in
the retro worship area of indie games. This has capitalized on the old schools foundations and limitations for the solitary and haunting solo experience. With minor gripes about
the gun mechanic aside this bout of horrorscape and monsters is highly recommended. Truly one of the best indie games, and horror survival games I’ve played in quite some time. 
A feat to be taken note of by some of the more popular companies in the industry.
Score: 4 out of 5
Author: Joseph Herrera

Game Review: Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2: Explosions?!?!?

Are you looking for a game where you get to shoot people? How about a game that gives you loot like Diablo? Now, don’t tell me that’s all you want. Maybe some driving and top notch humor? What, can’t get that all in the same game you say?! Well, allow me to introduce you, gamer, this is Borderlands 2.

Set five years after the events of the original Borderlands, the sequel picks up by introducing us to our four new vault hunters and the main antagonist Handsome Jack. You will hate Handsome Jack, it’s inevitable. Following a brief tutorial with Fan Favorite Clap Trap, you’re sprung into a world bustling with life, adventure, and above all else attitude. One of the strongest points of Borderlands 2’s story is how it submerses you into this world and continues to tease you with its underlying lore. The story is a strong one, ranging from light-hearted topics like getting Clap Trap a pizza to the surprising and tragic death of a great character. The openness of the game is another way the story helps push you into the eyes of the Vault Hunter as there is a myriad of side quests and people who all have interesting back stories. It was one of the few games where I really hated the villain and wanted to see his demise before the end…or else.

Graphically speaking, this game looks and runs great. The frame rate never dips even when there are quite a few cell-shaded enemies on screen shooting their colorful bullets. The world of Pandora even looks different. The desert/bunker lay out of the last game has been washed away for more varied locales such as an area completely covered in ice, a beach paradise aptly
named Oasis, and a futuristic city complete with killer robots.

Whether cruising through the world on your way to the next quest or starting a battle against a bad ass, the sounds and music
of Borderlands 2 never cease to deliver. I’m serious. The music in Borderlands 2 will have you tapping your foot, banging your head and just about getting up and dancing as you Phaselock another hapless psycho.

When it comes down to it, this game handles about the same as the first Borderlands. The controls are tight and responsive and you can feel the kick of just about any gun you shoot. The series’ iconic FPS character skill trees make a return and feel a lot more balanced this time around. Current level cap at the moment is 50, however you have 45 points to spend along the way to make your vault hunter really stand out. This, coupled with the ability to re-spec your character for fairly cheap has really won me over.

The most important aspect of BL2’s gameplay however is its’ battles. The AI is anything but stupid. I can’t tell you how many times I had a perfect shot lined up only to find an enemy rolling out of the way right before my trigger finger could take his head off. Not to mention, the stark difficulty of the campaign when you run into a bad ass is worth mention. You will never find
yourself having a sense of Deja vu in battle.

Well, you now know this game looks good, plays good and will keep you enthralled with a great story and atmosphere for a long time. When it really comes down to it, the real question is, “is it fun?”. Yes and no; I love the missions, the world, the atmosphere, a lot of the guns, and all the DLC. What I hate is playing alone. When you play BL2 alone, it really makes you feel alone. The enemies take no effort to take out, the jokes make you feel awkward because you’re laughing alone, and ultimately the experience itself is the same as its predecessor. Where this game really shines is when you team up with 3 other players and begin to whup ass while laughing and having fun blowing through the game. Literally blowing through the game…with grenades. What?… you still want more? Go buy it already! Handsome Jack is waiting!

Score: 4.75 out of 5

Author: Andron Hill