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Take a beautiful, open-world.  Stir in an interesting plot.  Add a dash of humor.   Blend in some great first-person shooter action.  Finally, mix in some fun online game play.  This is the recipe for the must-have game of this current generation: Far Cry 4.

Released in November 2014, Far Cry 4 was developed by Ubisoft Montreal.  Following in the footsteps of the critically acclaimed Far Cry 3, it is an action-adventure, first-person shooter.  It also contains some RPG elements, such as an XP system that allows a player to upgrade or add different abilities.  Although there is multiplayer in the game, one does not have to be online to play through the game.

The game takes place in the fictional world of Kyrat, a Nepal-like, mountainous country in the midst of a cruel dictatorship.  Pagan Min (Troy Baker), Kyrat’s insane dictator, rules with an iron fist while a resistance group called the Golden Path tries to take back their country.  The game takes on the first-person perspective of Ajay Ghale (James A. Woods), a refugee of Kyrat who was brought to America as a child by his mother.  Upon her death, Ajay has been requested to sprinkle her ashes in Kyrat.  After arriving in the war-torn country, Pagan Min intercepts Ajay’s bus.  Some quick rescuing by the Golden Path ensues, and now, the fate of Kyrat rests with Ajay.

Throughout the game, the player is immersed in the world of Kyrat.  There’s not a great amount of depth to the actual plot, but that is not an issue because the story combined with the colorful characters and engrossing setting make it very entertaining.  In fact, the characters are so quirky that it really makes the game enjoyable.  Pagan Min may be crazy, but some of the things that come out of his mouth are hilarious.  This may be one of Troy Baker’s finest performances to date: dramatic, wry, and dynamic all at the same time.  There are also many other outlandish characters in Kyrat as well, including two druggies, an overly enthusiastic but ignorant gun-slinging American, a man who thinks guns and religion are the same thing, and a silly radio DJ.  The game can be laugh out loud funny at times, even with a more serious underlying tone.

The characters are a definite highlight to the game.

The characters are a definite highlight to the game.

Though characters and story are a definite highlight of the game, it is the game play that really shines in Far Cry 4.  It is a slick open world, first-person shooter with a lot of upgradable guns and many different game play strategies.  The map area is large and can become more and more visible by climbing radio towers and liberating them.  The player is free to explore, although some areas are more hazardous than others.  There are also outposts that must be cleared out in order to drive back Pagan Min’s men.  These outposts can be replayed as many times as a player wishes.  Missions appear on the map in a similar fashion to a Rockstar game like GTA.

The variety of missions given in the game really keeps it interesting.  Both main and side missions seem relevant to the story line, and therefore, do not get old.  Missions can involve anything from hunting wildlife, racing on one of the many vehicles, defending a Golden Path area, or hitting supply trucks.  Since Kyrat is very mountainous, there is actually a mountain climbing element to the game that is actually more enjoyable than the last Tomb Raider game.  The most fun, however, may actually be just exploring around Kyrat in one of the may means of transportation.  Besides the traditional cars and trucks, there are wing suits, hang gliders, and a helicopter.  A player can dive out of a helicopter, go into the wing suit, and then to a parachute in a matter of moments.

The helicopter is probably the best transportation in the game.

The helicopter is probably the best transportation in the game.

Though the game may seem like a standard first-person shooter, it does have some RPG elements to it.  Players gain XP from killing bad guys and finding different items, which in turn gives them skill points.  Skill points can be used to unlock or upgrade abilities.  Some abilities, however, cannot be unlocked without doing certain missions.  And, yes, one ability is elephant riding, something that adds a whole new dimension to the game.  Crafting is another way to upgrade the character, this time by allowing the player to hold more items such as weapons (up to four can be held at one time), loot, money, and ammo.  A player must hunt for certain animals in Kyrat in order to upgrade these items.  Different weapons can be bought and upgraded as well once they are unlocked by completing certain game play elements.  There is a nice variety to the what a player can carry and can really depend on play style.  Bows and weapons with silencers are great for someone who enjoys stealth.  More flashy, automatic weapons are for the run and gun type.  The best part of the game play is that a person is not–for the most part–forced to choose only play style.

Online play includes both player versus player and cooperative.  The player versus player aspect, titled The Battle of Kyrat, includes game play modes such as quick matches, seize the outpost, recover the demon masks, destroy Pagan Min propaganda, and defend territory.  Each mode feels very similar to the main game play and includes fun aspects such as animals and different weapons.  The cooperative is only two player, but it is quite entertaining.  One person plays as Ajay, while the other plays as Hurk, a crazy but hilarious American who loves guns and destroying stuff.  Both players basically go throughout the open world and do side missions together.  Unfortunately, story missions are turned off, but it is still a lot of fun to do the many side missions.  It is definitely the best co-op of this generation because it relies on the “you and a buddy” approach to online gaming, where it is more about fun than players trying to take the game too seriously.

To add the amazing game play, the graphics are slick.  They may not quite be the best of this generation so far, but they are quite pretty.  Exploring Kyrat is a pleasure in a very similar way to trekking around Skyrim.  However, the color palate is much brighter, emphasizing more greens and bright blues.  It makes for a great gaming experience.  And the cut-scenes aren’t so shabby either.

Kyrat is a very pretty world to explore.

Kyrat is a very pretty world to explore.

So, with a decent story, amazingly fun game play, and beautiful graphics, Far Cry 4 is a must have for this current generation, especially for first-person shooter fans.  It incorporates everything that is good with gaming, and though it might not the be the greatest game of all time, it will definitely one of the best games of this generation so far.

Oh, and Far Cry 4 has the best East Egg ever.  Google it.

 

evolve-title

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There are a lot of things I like about co-op gameplay.  Being able to coordinate with teammates to reach an overall objective is, in my opinion, the best way to play games.  Sometimes a single player campaign will catch your eye or stick with you, but for the most part when the campaigns are over most of us turn to multiplayer or co-op to get the most out of our games.  Occasionally, a company will design a game with little to no campaign and just focus on the multiplayer and co-op experience, but this is typically hamstrung by the fact you need to buy items in game or fork over a huge amount of cash for downloadable content to get a more rounded out game experience.  Destiny is a huge example of how you need the dlc to even play certain levels to get the most out of your game.  While I get the need to provide more content and make money at it, I feel that gamers without large wallets are starting to become victims of this pay to play mentality.   Thankfully, Evolve is changing this for the better.

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Evolve is the newest title from developer Turtle Rock Studios and publisher 2K Games.   Evolve is pretty straight forward in terms of basic gameplay, but where it shines is how you approach the various scenarios with your team.  Think of it like chess; easy to learn, and hard to master.  Evolve is a fully co-op game without a campaign mode and I know some of you are rolling your eyes already.  Patience.  The main concept of Evolve is that you are a 4-person squad tasked with your basic bug hunt, except that one of your compatriots is the monster.  This is a 4 on 1 battle for survival where the best man/woman or monster can win.

 

The overall story is that your group of hunters is dropped into hot areas and needs to assist the local scientists, rescue survivors, destroy nests, or defend certain points.  The hunter group consists of 4 players (or AI) each of varying classes; Assault, Trapper, Support and the Medic.  Assault is your basic tank/damage dealer, the Trapper is great at locking down the monster and slowing it, while Support buffs the team with different abilities depending on which character you selected. The medic is pretty obvious and tries to keep their teammates in the fight for as long as possible. This squad will be pitted against a certain monster in one of the previously listed scenarios.  One of the nicer points is that each class has 3 different characters to unlock as you become more proficient with your character’s particular abilities.  For example: Eva is your starting Medic and the group’s sniper.  She has a healing beam that continuously heals damaged players, and a bolt action sniper that has armor piercing rounds.  Now after you level her up, you will unlock Lazarus who is also a Medic, but he can cloak and revive fallen comrades instantly.  Each class progresses the same way and has enough variations between new characters to keep you engaged and entertained even if someone picks the class you wanted for the next round.

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If you select, or get selected, to be the monster you’re in for a treat.  There are a total of three: Goliath, Kraken, and the Wraith.  Like the hunters, each monster has their own strengths and weaknesses, be it brute strength, flight, or cloaking.  I won’t divulge too much on the monsters’ individual abilities because unlocking them is all part of the fun.  The monster, to me, is where the fun is at.  You get to hunt indigenous wildlife and feed while avoiding the hunters.  The reason you want to avoid them initially is because the hunters working in tandem are a force to be reckoned with for a fledgling monster… until you evolve.  When you start as the monster you assign a certain amount of points to the attacks and special abilities you want to use.  From there you gain evolution points every time you feed until it’s time to evolve.  Once you begin your evolution (5-10 seconds) you’re vulnerable in your egg until you assign the new points and emerge, bigger and meaner.  In total, your monster can evolve a total number of 3 times and once it hits level 3, the entire game changes.  At this point hiding really isn’t something to be worried about as you can knock a lone hunter across the screen and pummel them into submission.  Think of Hulk tossing Loki around in the Avengers.  Thankfully, the game gives you a total of three monsters to upgrade and unlock.  So that’s a total of 12 hunters and 3 monsters without purchasing any dlc.  That being said, there will be more hunters and monsters all available for download if you want to pay for them.  There’s even a season pass available so you can get all the content for the year as well.  The difference between Evolve and every other game DLC that’s out there (Destiny, listen up) is that all future map packs will be free.  The developers have gone with a concept that I think is stellar.  You get all future maps at no charge and the only thing you do need to pay for is characters or monsters.  That way if you go into a match with people who have dlc you can still play on the map and experience the new dlc and see if you actually want to buy it.  Whereas games like Destiny leave you in the cold, because the maps and weapons/armor are part of the DLC.  If you don’t have it then you’re out of luck.

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I think my favorite part of Evolve is that you can you play on random maps with random people or you can even customize your own battle experience.  This is one of the few games where if you make a custom/private match you actually keep the xp you earn toward leveling up.  So you can have a private match with 5 friends or you can do a match with just you and another person.  In that case, I can be the monster and my friend can actually control the remaining AI characters simply by quick swapping via the directional pad.  A word to the wise, if you play solo as the monster against the computer, be ready for a fight.  The AI is relentless and can spot you across the map and will hound you the entire match.  Now I know how any monsters who fought the X-Men felt.  That being said, the planet of Shear is highly inhospitable to both hunters and monsters, as you find some of the local fauna can take a monster out just as easily as a hunter(s).

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Just to mention a side note as well.  The game does also have a companion app for Android or iPhone users called Evolve: Hunter’s Quest that plays as a puzzle game, but will also unlock extra damage and abilities in the game once synced to the server.  Some of the unlockables for certain characters are definitely worth the time playing so you can upgrade your damage, healing duration, aoe, etc. for your hunter on the PS4/Xbox One/PC.

All in all my time with Evolve has been fantastic even though it’s only a co-op game at it’s heart.  That being said, with you able to play online with strangers or set up any sort of custom match you want, and being able to get free map dlc, this is the sort of game that offers a replay value that most gamers want and need.  So if you’re game, and think you have what it takes, grab a couple of friends and join the hunt.  The question becomes, are you the hunter or the hunted?

Mordor_title

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For those gamers looking for a lot of action similar to the Batman: Arkham series mixed with some high fantasy, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor could be a good choice.  Set in the Lord of the Rings universe between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, Shadow of Mordor is a great game for LOTR fans.  But, is it enjoyable for people who haven’t read the books or seen the films or for those who are not into the series?  Yes, one can play this game without any knowledge of the series.  However, it will be more enjoyable for LOTR fans.

The game was a sleeper hit when it came out in September of 2014, a hidden gem in a sea of mediocre games that had come out that year.  Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bro. Interactive Entertainment, it came out for PC, PlayStation 3 and 4, and XBox 360 and One.  For the purpose of this review, I will be exploring how the game felt for PlayStation 4.  The game is considered an action RPG and utilizes a more open world map.

The short version of the story is basically The Crow meets Lord of the Rings.  If you haven’t seen or read either, first of all I would suggest that you remedy that right away.  However, that might take some time so here is the synopsis: it’s a revenge tale about a Ranger named Talion (voiced by Troy Baker) who is killed, along with his family, and brought back to find those that killed them (the Uruks).  It’s an interesting revenge tale, and it’s fun to see familiar LOTR characters in the story as well.  Since the game takes place between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one can see Sauron’s minions getting stronger throughout the game.  Along with Talion, there is another undead wraith, Celebrimbor, who is helping out and giving him cool powers.  The relationship was a very similar feel to when Aragorn recruited the undead in Return of the King.   

 The biggest problem with the story is that, as a whole, it’s not strong enough to hold what I would say is the “average” person’s attention.  Sure, it’s fun, but it’s not super compelling.  Big-time LOTR fans would probably love it.  However, when I played it, I was playing more for the game play and not for the story.  As good as the beginning of the game started, it very much fizzled out over the end.

The story is in interesting idea but was executed poorly.

The story is an interesting idea but was executed poorly.

The game play, though, is very good, except for a few issues.  If you are familiar with the Batman Arkham games, Shadow of Mordor will be very easy to get into.  The game play is almost exact, and you level up in a similar way.  You fight in a similar way.  You can even change (most) attack commands mid-stride, making it easier to stop and counter and enemy.

The “RPG-aspect” (or leveling up system) of the game is very similar to the Batman: Arkham games as well.  Shadow of Mordor is not really the traditional RPG that I thought it was going to be.  When I heard it was open world, I was thinking more “Elder Scrolls.”  The game is very open world, and it’s very action oriented.  The leveling system is very interesting.  There are two skill trees to level up: Ranger and Wraith.  Each are interesting and fun to play.  There are ability points for getting enough XP, and the player can use those points to add certain powers and moves from the skill trees.  There are also options to upgrade the sword, bow, and dagger with runes that the player obtains from killing Uruk Captains (more on this later).

Overall, the basic game play mechanics of the game are very fun, but that’s not the crowning jewel of the game.  Technically, most of the game play is nothing new, since it borrows heavily from the Batman games’ mechanics.  However, the Nemesis System totally and utterly blew my mind.  It is new, original, and highly creative.  All year, I was looking for something new in gaming.  I was getting really tired of game play that is borrowed from ten or fifteen years ago.  Instead of relying on arena-style boss battles and push-the-button-oh-look-more-enemies, Shadow of Mordor gives us the Nemesis System, which I would describe as a roaming boss battle that remembers.

As you play the game, you meet Uruk Captains that can be pretty tough bosses.  If you kill one, you upset the balance of Sauron’s army.  If you or the boss run away during battle, the guy will remember you.  If one kills you, he will get more powerful when you come back (you’re already dead, so you can die as many times as you’d like–see the next segment for more details).  Not only that, but he may challenge a higher ranking Captain and change ranks.  If a normal Uruk kills you, he will get promoted up the ranks and so on.  If you die from something random, a lot of Uruks among the ranks get more powerful.  These bosses will remember that they killed you previously and comment on it.  You also can interrogate Uruks to gain information about bosses in the higher level ranks.  Each boss has strengths and weaknesses, and you have plan your attacks accordingly.

I have honestly not seen anything quite like this system.  I thought it was revolutionary when BioShock had the roaming boss battles, but Shadow of Mordor has improved upon that even more.  Sure, it can be a pain when you have a boss that has killed you several times and has gotten really powerful because of it.  But let me tell you, when you finally kill the guy, you will be cheering.  I also really enjoyed the strategy element that comes in when attacking these bosses.  You can’t go about doing things in just one way because what works for one boss might not for another.  Plus, you can make decisions such as allowing one boss to live so it will take out another (Uruks like to fight each other for power).

The Nemesis System really is the best part of the game.

The Nemesis System really is the best part of the game.

Here’s the only problem with the game play: besides a lackluster story line, the game can be very monotonous.  The side-quests are extremely repetitive and the nemesis system, which should be awesome, is very overbearing.  It’s hard to do ANYTHING without a boss targeting you out, which ends up being extremely annoying after about ten plus hours into the game.  The game play doesn’t translate well overall, unfortunately.  With a poor story line, the repetitive game play ends up being boring and hard to get through.  Sure, you can blast through the man quest with no problem, but for those who like to really get into the game, it ends up being very disappointing.

The graphics are fairly good, though there are much prettier-looking games out there for this current generation.  The overall look and feel of the game was a little dark and somewhat dull, which added to the monotony of the story after awhile.  However, I can understand the developer’s choice in this color palate, since it fits well with the dire tone of the story line.

The overall tone of the game is bleak and so is the color palate for the graphics.

The overall tone of the game is bleak and so is the color palate for the graphics.

Overall, the game is pretty decent: it makes great strides with the Nemesis System, but unfortunately does not do the same with the story.  However, it is refreshing to see a developer in the gaming industry try to do something different for a change, and I have to give Monolith productions a lot of credit for that.  Although I do not feel the game is a full price buy, now that it’s been out for several months, it would be a good addition to anyone’s gaming library at bit of a discount.

Dying-Light1

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I love me some zombies. Seriously, anything from Resident Evil all the way to Dead Nation, as long as there’s shambling corpses waiting to have their heads bashed or detached I’m game. In 2011 developer Techland graced us with a first person, open world romp called Dead Island and the sequel, shortly after call Dead Island: Riptide. This tasked us with picking one of several survivors (each who had their own strengths) and setting about the island with miscellaneous quests and lots of blood. This was one of the first zombie games I had played in a while that actually felt visceral in regards to the damage you could inflict and how an actual outbreak would be like if your were in the middle of such a situation. Needless to say, when I heard Techland was doing another open world zombie-fest I was excited. Then they said it included parkour style locomotion I was sold. Enter Dying Light.
Dying light is another open world adventure from Techland with a first person perspective that pits you against the undead in a more suburban type sprawl than in Dead Island. The main protagonist in this quest is an undercover operative named Kyle Crane who is dropped into the fictional city of Harran. Harran has recently been swept up in an outbreak that turns the infected into to the usual zombie fare. Crane is sent in to recover a file that’s key to the outbreak by the group he works for called the GRE. After parachuting in and almost being eaten alive Kyle meets up with a local group of survivors to begin his adventure. I don’t want to get into plot points here, but lets just say there are a LOT of side missions and quests to keep you occupied.

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Before we get too far I need to point out there are quite a few similarities between Dying Light and Dead Island. I mean, to the point where I thought I was playing the wrong game for a second. The combat, crafting , loot, etc. all feel like a sequel to Dead Island. This is good in it’s own right, but I was curious why this wasn’t just called Dead Island 3, then I started to notice things. First off, the graphics and sounds are excellent. Dead Island did a great job on PS3 for looking good , but the new consoles make tropical settings and suburban environments all the more realistic. Shadows are cast in very natural light as the day slowly progresses towards night, and when the sun rises in the morning. The infected even received an overhaul in regards to appearance and realism. The modeling accounts for layers so when you haul off and hit a zombie in the head with a sickle you get a pretty realistic result. They’ve even added a “stun” feature so when you hit a zombie with a critical it goes into an x-ray view to show the bone damage a la Sniper Elite.

The next thing that really changes things up is the infected AI. They’ll do their normal shambling and staggering, but with the new infected runners will come looking for you if you make too much noise. These runners make the ones in 28 Days Later look like pansies. I made the mistake of throwing a Molotov too close to an exploding barrel once, and although the resulting explosion was amazing the echoing shrieks that emanated from surrounding neighborhood let me know I was in for it. A pack of runners showed up and I figured I’d parkour my way out of the situation.

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This is where the free running aspect comes in big time. You can freely run, jump over obstacles, grab ledges just like Mirror’s Edge. Based on how much you run you level up your skill for Agility which in turn grants you more moves like sliding, vaulting, and even leg sweeps to break your pursuers limbs to slow them down. On top of it all of the mo-cap for the parkour moves was handled by the founder of parkour himself, David Belle. So when the runners closed in on me I thought I had it made when I climbed to the top of the house next to me. This is when I realized theses are not your run of the mill fast zombies, these are parkour zombies spawned straight from hell. They hone in on nearby sounds and will search for you until they find something else that interests them (IE another noise distraction). If they make eye contact you better get to running and try to break line of sight.

Needless to say, after being torn apart and re-spawning I made more of an effort to be aware of my surroundings. Then night fell. The voice over the loud speaker will tell you to find a safe house until morning. Now if you want to level up fast running around at night is the way to go. They give you double power and agility points for everything you do, but at a cost. At night is when the hunters come out. Aptly named, the hunters are night stalkers that can leap from rooftops out of the night to dispatch you quickly. This adds even more a difficulty because these hunters will chase you like the runners during the day.Dying_Light_Screenshot_12

On top of the next gen graphics, sound effects, and new aspects of game play there is also drop-in/out co-op for up to 4 players. This has worked seamlessly so far with hardly any issues. The inclusion of the “Be the Zombie” DLC rounds off the co-op and lets you invade another players game at night as a hunter. There’s also more DLC lined up with a season pass available through the PSN Store so the zombie goodness can continue.

Dying Light is definitely in the same vein as Dead Island, but with more crafting options, bigger and better zombies, and the inclusion of night time missions it certainly not the sequel people assume it is. This is one of the more fun open world adventures you’ll go on in a while. So, if vaulting off a zombie in to a crowd of the undead brandishing Excalibur (it’s an Easter egg) to remove some limbs sounds like your kind of party, pack up 3 of your best buds and see if Dying Light whets your appetite, or leaves you running scared.

 

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Well, delving into Citizens of Earth, a new turn-based RPG from Eden Industries and Atlus, I was only expecting it to be a short, basic, easy game that may or may not be fun. It turns out to be a prime example of not judging a book by its cover. What is seemingly a small digital title hides what easily could have been a full retail release, yet it only costs a quarter of the price. Citizens of Earth offers much more than your average AAA games released today.

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Within the first few minutes of starting the game I was already hooked on its charm. Even more so after the next few minutes when a clever parody of a well known coffee chain surfaces, Moonbucks. The first few groups of enemies including Cappuccinerds and Decaffinators already had me laughing to myself, even further as the story continued, with more zany enemies and characters to be discovered. The game is definitely not short on witty puns and references to other fabled video game franchises that will have you cracking up whilst playing. There is no rigidly set way for how you choose to continue on, with many side quests and challenges to complete. One must also pay careful attention to detail, including what is revealed as clues, many times only being revealed once and could leave you wandering the world aimlessly in hopes of finding what is required. Although there is a HUD available for the current section of the map there is no overall world map. Combined with the default zoom level, the intricate and specific ways that many areas need to be accessed add to the overall challenge. There were some minor bugs that made it a bit more confusing, like part of Chapter 3 was showing it still needed to be completed, while chapter 4 had already been finished. The game itself crashed a couple of times but the auto save is very liberal, leaving little to no progress lost.

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As the Vice President of the World, your quest begins with investigating all the strange on goings in your hometown. As you progress, you recruit more citizens to help on your journey. They also are responsible for not getting your hands dirty, as the VP, they will fight all you turn based battles while you cheer them on (no the battles aren’t automatic, the VP just becomes an NPC cheerleader during them). In total, there are 40 citizens that offer varying degrees of quests to recruit. Not only does each one have a level that increases with XP earned in battle, they also have unique talents that also increase with talent XP. Some of these talents are required to progress while others are very helpful, such as fast travel, difficulty slider (which offers differing bonuses base on setting), and removing obstacles on the map. Combat is basic turned based, with 3 citizens of your choosing, partaking in battles. As with their talents, each have unique combat skills, an unlock more through experience, the depth and variation of which can greatly alter the outcome. The voice acting is intentionally cheesy, yet puts shame to some other big name video game appearances of late that were rather lackluster. The VP especially, left me constantly reminded of an Adam West type performance.

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Overall, Citizens of Earth is an intricate, detailed, fun filled experience. Those that may scoff at it for its appearance of a small or indie game are truly missing out. Some have said it’s a knock off or a lower version of games of old, yet it is nothing of the sort. Of course there are similarities based upon the game’s inspiration, but it has enough merit to stand on its own. I enjoyed all 43 hours and 3 minutes that it took to achieve 100% completion and now that I have a full idea on the layout and progression, I look forward to a second play through. Those looking for a throwback, turn based RPG cannot go wrong with Citizens of Earth, especially at $15.99 (or less with PS Plus and Steam sales). So hop to it and save the world today.

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Borderlands_PreSequel_FeaturedImage

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Fans of the Borderlands franchise rejoiced when Gearbox announced that a new game would come out for the series.  Set between the original game and Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre Sequel (a made-up word that’s a play on prequel and sequel) would be the fix fans of the game needed while patiently waiting for Gearbox to start working on Borderlands 3.  So did it live up to what fans were expecting?  For the most part, yes.  However, despite being the best new game that I’ve played this year, it still does not compare to its predecessors.  But that’s okay.  It’s still a blast to play.

Overview

Borderlands: The Pre Sequel is a first-person shooter that supports both single player or online cooperative (up to four players).  It was developed primarily by 2K Australia instead of Gearbox, who is the original developer of the series, and was published by 2K Games.  However, Gearbox did work with 2K Australia during development.  Much to the dismay of many fans, it was released only for PC, PS3, and XBox 360 on October 14.  Gearbox stated that this was because there is much more of a demand of the game for the last generation of consoles versus the current generation (Source: Gamasutra.com).

The Pre Sequel is a nice addition to the Borderlands franchise.

The Pre Sequel is a nice addition to the Borderlands franchise.

Story

Taking place between Borderlands 1 and 2, the player gets to see Handsome Jack (or just “Jack” at this point) go from hero to the  much-hated (or much-beloved, depending on who you talk to) villain of Borderlands 2.  At this point, he’s just an employee of Hyperion, a corporate conglomerate with its eye making tons of money from Pandora (a wild, wild west type planet with a lot of resources; hence, “Borderlands”).  However, after the company’s Helios space station is attacked by a group called the Lost Legion, Jack must become the hero and save Helios and Pandora’s moon, Elpis.  In order to do this, he commissions the help of a group of colorful characters to go to the moon and gain back control.  It certainly was interesting to see Jack as the hero instead of the villain.

I will have to say that the set of playable characters you get to choose from this time are absolutely awesome.  I actually had a hard time choosing which one I wanted to play first.  They are all pretty cool characters, and it doesn’t seem like you can go wrong with any of them.  There’s Athena, the Gladiator.  Her special skill involves a Captain America-like shield that players can either use to block attacks or swing to kill an enemy.  Wilhelm is the Enforcer.  He’s the character that I’ve played the lease but has a cool little drone that flies around and helps you kill bad guys.  Nisha is the Lawbringer, and she is the character that I have played the most.  Her skill involves an auto-lock firing sequence that is actually quite powerful.  Then there’s Claptrap.  He is by far the most fun character to play, especially when playing in a group.  His special skill basically is a malware program that could be one of many different skills, some good and some not so good.  If you are playing with others, the program can actually affect your friends as well.  It sounds annoying, but it’s actually hilariously delightful.  Sure, your teammates might moan and groan if they get affected, but at the end of the day, everyone’s laughing.  The Jack Doppelganger is a DLC-added character as well.  I have yet to play as this character, but will update what I think of him in another article.

The Pre Sequel has a group of really fun characters to play.  It was hard to choose which to play first.

The Pre Sequel has a group of really fun characters to play. It was hard to choose which to play first.

One of the things that makes the Borderlands franchise so special is the fact that the setting and characters are so memorable, especially some of the non-playable characters.  Although some favorites from the first two games make appearances (my personal favorite happens to be Torgue), the new characters on and around Elpis don’t seem to be as memorable in the Pre Sequel.  Sure, there is still wacky humor and some interesting satire, but it’s not quite up to the same level as Borderlands 1 or 2.  The feel of the game is even a bit different, since it’s on a moon instead of on Pandora.  The whole Firefly-like space western vibe that the other two games had going on is lost a bit with the change in setting.  However, I did enjoy the futuristic electronic soundtrack.  It felt a bit Tron Legacy like in sound, but to me, that made it enjoyable (also, speaking of Tron Legacy: there are two characters on Elpis that look like Daft Punk, and I thought it was quite amusing).

 Game Play

The game play has not changed too much from Borderlands 2.  Zainy missions, skills trees, Badass Rankings, and tons and tons of weapon choices and loot are still there.  There have been a few new game play elements that were added as well.  Laser guns were added because, you know, it’s the moon and why not?  Besides the usual elemental effects for guns, a freeze one has been added, though it’s probably my least favorite of all of them.  Due to Elpis’ low gravity, players can jump higher and do “Butt Slams” (no, I didn’t make that up), where the players smash down on enemies from above.  Also, since it’s a moon without an atmosphere, non-robotic characters must wear Oz kits in order to breathe.  Oz kits also generate effects for Butt Slams.  I played with one in particular that made farting sounds every time I did a butt slam.  It was quite hilarious.  All of these new elements were pretty good additions.  However, the one thing that I really did not like was the wacky level designs for many of the areas.  Because of the low gravity game play, a lot–and I mean A LOT–of vertical level designs were used.  That might sound fun, but it can be quite frustrating when where to go isn’t exactly clear.  I had to go to YouTube several times to figure out where I needed to be to complete a mission.  Also, there were too many cracks and crevices throughout some of the larger maps.  Those made it very hard to just goof around with friends when there is constant worry about jumping over places.

The cooperative is pretty much the same as Borderlands 2.  It’s four player co-op at its best.  I wish that there were other games like it, but at this point, it’s pretty unique since I can play by myself as much as I want, and then invite a group of people into my game without missing a beat.  One of the things that I love about Borderlands is that it really does encourage goofiness and fun among a team.  You really can’t take the game that seriously with how it presents itself, and that’s a good thing, since I can’t stand when people take online FPS games too seriously.  The game was a bit glitchy at launch and didn’t seem as polished as Borderlands 2.  Still, it wasn’t too bad, and I was able to play both by myself and with friends without any major issues.

The Pre Sequel isn't as polished as Borderlands 2, but it is still a blast to play.

The Pre Sequel isn’t as polished as Borderlands 2, but it is still a blast to play.

 Graphics

The graphics are pretty similar to Borderlands 2.  Obviously, if you are looking for a pretty game to play, choosing the cell-shaded Borderlands franchise and a last-gen game probably isn’t for you.  With the new group of games that have come out, the graphics do show their age a bit, but that’s okay.  You don’t play Borderlands for the graphics.  You play it for the game play and the goofiness.  You play it for the amazingly fun online cooperative.  In a way, the very original style that Borderlands creates with its cell shading is making waves in its own way.  It’s immediately distinguishable from other games, and it also lets the play know that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I maintain that if it had been “pretty,” it wouldn’t have done as well.  Most fans would also argue that they wouldn’t want it any other way.

 Fun

At the end of the day, games are here for our enjoyment.  Borderlands: The Pre Sequel hits high marks under this category.  The zany story and characters are good enough to keep a player’s attention, the game play is a blast (even with a few issues), and the online cooperative is still probably the best in the industry.  It’s one of those games that you can get on with a good group of friends and have a blast and goof around.  The game will keep you laughing, regardless of whether it is something in the story, a silly character, or one of the crazy weapons.  For me though, the best part is the fact that I don’t have to be online to play if I don’t want to.  I don’t have to worry about if a server is working or not.  My game doesn’t become a paperweight if the Internet is out, which is one (of many) things I really don’t like about  Destiny.  Sometimes it’s just okay to play on your own.  However, if you want the awesome team experience, it’s right there for you.

The Pre Sequel is the most fun I've had in gaming all year.

The Pre Sequel is the most fun I’ve had in gaming all year.

 Overall

Unfortunately, the time frame that the Pre Sequel came out was a little too late.  Many people have moved on to a newer console and some have even sold their last-gen console.  I’m not seeing as many people playing, and there is a lot of steep competition from this fall’s slew of next-gen games.  The Pre Sequel probably could have done a lot better if it had game had come out in the summer when there was a dry spell in the industry for new games.  However, the game is definitely worth picking up if you are a fan of the franchise.  It’s actually been the most enjoyable game I’ve played this year.

 

By Akodo On 14 Nov, 2014 At 04:24 PM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments
Sony PlayStation 4

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PS4The PlayStation 4, will officially be one year old tomorrow. And I will give it a round of applause as Sony and the PlayStation brand have made a resounding start off of the now current generation. Even though the PS3 started off slow and finally gained traction, it still lost a large swath of its fanbase during last generation. Now, learning from its mistakes, and that a name isn’t the only thing that is needed for a console launch. They went back to basics, and making sure that the console put the gamer first, and nothing else. It went to developers and talked with them, and asked what they needed to make a solid, A+ game in their eyes. They essentially went back to basics. And its paying dividends!

The PS4 has led all ten months since its release one year ago, and hasn’t stopped. They have mounted one of the biggest, “We Hear You” campaigns since the console was launched. Listening to what we, the gamers, the consumers, the casuals, the hardcore, the every once in a while, to come to the fold, either switch, stay, or come back. Admittedly, it is tough when you friends continue on with the Xbox, or vice versa, since this generation will probably be determined by where your friends are, kind of gaming. But the ecosystem of the PS4 has gone from the multimedia hub that it was as a PS3, to the more streamline, games and broadcasting arena, that allows gamers to play, solo or quickly connect with friends before launching into a game. And with the features that were promised during that fateful shift at E3 a year ago, being released in a massive update (2.0, and 2.01), Sony is hitting strides at the right time, and giving games something to want during the Holidays this season.

With the massive influx of streaming content, ala YouTube, Twitch, or UStream, it makes the living almost akin to a theater and people watching you play. Some features like, recording to a separate device wasn’t available at launch, but Sony listened, and they removed the black box that was HDCP, and allowed YouTubers to rejoice and use their PS4s to stream. Additionally, they have polished up those interfaces giving the user, the gamer, more things to do from better comment sections during streams, to better usability for uploading clips and such to social media, and now YouTube directly. They even gave the gamer, a small tool, that does wonders for editing, albeit not like you could on a computer, but “Share Factory.”

playstation plusAs I have seen and heard from forums to in-person, people are switching, and happy about it, and the potential it has, or is currently showing them. But this is the reason why, I Akodo of Real Otaku Gamer, think that day one reviews of consoles are rather asinine in the fact that, you have a console, barely hours old, and not much to it, since it was just released. You can judge the wares it has and come with, but it can only go so far. At the year mark, you can judge the console, in its entirety. For instance, let’s talk about the PSN. Since the PS4 launch and the premise to play online service, for only the games, and not putting something you already paid for, behind another paywall, for the instances of netflix or Hulu or the ilk, you still have a solidly functioning console. As with the PSN you get automatically with the year subscription of PlayStation Plus, which allows you to  get a free game each month on the PS4, sometimes its something great, like Splunky, other times its something else like Velocity 2X. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses. But the PS+ always is adding. And with it being pay, means that Sony can upgrade infrastructure and improve the service as a whole, but that too takes time.

The games, the games are the main selling point of a console, for what is to come and what will be there the day you buy. And the lineup for the future is looking strong with games like Uncharted 4, and Order 1886, to name console exclusives, two unknown “AAA” titles being announced sometime in early december, and with the undoubted shift in developers going towards the console with the bigger base, means 3rd party exclusives that haven’t been announced and will, and current exclusive like InFamous, Knack, Killzone, and The Last of Us: Remastered. Side note: Didn’t think the masterpiece that is “The Last of Us” needed a remake, but its a damn gorgeous game, and for those who have turned to the blueside, i.e. Sony, from being on the 360 and not experiencing the master piece. To indie games, that as of right now, console exclusive like No Man’s Sky, and out now on the PS4 and exclusive, Octodad, Resogun. The PS4 has given a plethora of games to be played on it, and from now, and to the future.

The interface of the console, gone are the cool and sleek Cross Media Bar (XMB), and more individual folders, this has left much to be desired. And I believe with how receptive SOny and its Playstation team have been, the nuances will slowly take shape, and change to a more manageable feel. Another thing that was annoying at launch, seeing the notification for every single person doing something on their PS4. For instance, Person X joined a party chat. THis has been curdled a little but still, its less frequent. But a little thing from the PS3 that has been brought to the PS4 is the dynamic themes, so that’s a plus.

DS4 Wear!But as the good, of a console, there is bad. Although the revamped DS controller, now, DS4 has the worlds greatest feel, and is much of an improvement over the last in every degree, the DS4 knobs of the analog sticks wear out quicker. I have a DS3, from launch that still is functioning, and has its knobs intact. Gone are some of the functionality of the PS3 that was a sign on minimalist in the sense of moving to the PS4. The overall media hub that the PS3 was, like the music limitations, or the immediate USB support, and bluetooth as well. The cheap attempt to get gamers to talk with its cheaply made headset. But now the USB functionality are fixed in an update, and the headset market is entirely better!

So after a single year, the PS4 has grown with its audience, implementing things that the consumer wants, and continuing Sony’s drive of the “Gamer is first!” or more simply put, “Games!” Or like Steve Ballmer so elloquently said: “DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS DEVELOPERS!” I wonder where Sony will go with its massive momentum that it has gained in its entire first year, forcing the competition to rethink their entire way forward. And return to the Sony brand that dominated during the era of the PS2. But as we all, as gamers is, Watch and See!

Steve Ballmer

Watch_Dogs_front

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Watch_Dogs is the much-anticipated blockbuster game from Ubisoft that makes hacking look cool.  While the game feels very GTA-inspired, it actually stands on its own as a unique game play experience.  The game is a lot of fun.  It will definitely sell a lot of copies and make Ubisoft a lot of money.  However, it does not feel like a game that is going to stand out as one that people will remember for years and years down the road.  There’s a lot to like about this game, but unfortunately, there’s not much to love.

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Note: This review is being done for PS4 without any added DLCs.  PC users have complained of issues about the game.  My colleagues have reported buggy problems with the game as well, point to the Conspiracy DLC as a possible culprit.  I personally did not have any of these issues, but it is good to be cautious. Watch_Dogs is a third-person/driving action adventure game that was released on May 27 this year.  It was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft.  It is an open-world game that allows that player to explore the streets of a digital version of Chicago.  The game incorporates an online multiplayer element as well as several “mini games” throughout the main game. The story follows hacker Aiden Pearce, an anti-hero who skirts the law in order to bring about justice.  After a hacking heist that went bad, Aiden is bound and determined to go after the people responsible.  Known as “The Vigilante,” he is ready to bring down the people who messed up his life.  Overall, the story was pretty strong.  It’s actually a lot deeper than any GTA plot, and it definitely gives the player some things to think about.  Is it memorable for years to come?  Probably not.  But it is entertaining and does hold some value.

Aiden Pearce is a very cool character.

Aiden Pearce is a very cool character.

Game play is probably one of the game’s stronger points.  For one thing, there is a variety for the player.  Some of the game is car-oriented.  Other parts are solely on foot.  Most missions highlight Aidan’s hacking abilities, which are a nice added bonus to the game and can be quite fun.  The game play is often compared to a GTA game, but they are really only similar.  In Watch_Dogs, unless the player wants to go the “evil” route, killing pedestrians and police officers is a “no-no.”  Much of the game involves strategy and sneak skills.  It is very similar to a game like The Last of Us, where the player can go the sneaky route and not shoot a single round or go the more direct route and get into a fire-fight.  Having the option to do either adds to the game play variety.  There is also a skill point tree and a HP system.  Aidan learns new things as he gets more experience, making a ten minute police chase seem a lot less annoying when the player gets points after it.

The game may look like a GTA game, but it actually plays very differently.

The game may look like a GTA game, but it actually plays very differently.

The graphics in Watch_Dogs really demonstrates what the new next-gen consoles can handle.  The level of detail is amazing.  From the potholes in the street to the reflection of the rain to the dampness of Aidan’s coat when the player makes him take a plunge in a river, the graphics are definitely a highlight for the game.  Happily, though, the graphics are not the only good thing about the game.  The graphics could be horrible, and the game would still be a lot of fun to play. This game is a lot of fun.  Whether it be the smooth game play, the cool hacking abilities, the cute mini games, and the online play, the game can truly hold its own.  It is easy to blow thirty plus hours on the game without really even trying.  There’s a lot of game play variety as well, which helps to keep things fresh and the player still interested in the game.  Even buying it at full price, the player will get his or her money out of the game. Overall, there is a lot to like about Watch_Dogs.  It’s fun.  It’s hip.  It’s cool.  However, the biggest problem with the game is that it’s not exactly “epic.”  Even though Ubisoft will probably be making more sequels, the game doesn’t exactly feel memorable.  It’s not exactly “top video game of all time” material.  In fact, it’s not even close.  It doesn’t have the same feel as some other games that make you think about them even years after playing them.  Watch_Dogs is definitely a good game, but it’s not a great game.  That’s not exactly a problem, since most gamers don’t expect every game to be great.  But we can hope, right?  

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PAX welcome

PAX East 2014 was my fourth PAX but my first time going as Media.  As always, PAX East was a great experience! Every year PAX East is held in Boston, so I enjoy being able to see another part of the East Coast while checking out all the video games.

This year I got to see many different video games, the most notable of which included This War of Mine from 11 Bit Studios, Sniper Elite 3 and Defense Grid 2 from 505 Games and Hidden Path Entertainment, and Framed from Loveshack Entertainment.  All of these games were very different from one another but brought a lot to the table to create an enjoyable experience. This War of Mine allows you to gain insight into the struggle of a war torn country from a very individual level of trying to survive day to day.  Sniper Elite 3 brought a new and fun entry into shooters with absolutely amazing and awe-worthy graphics.  Defense Grid 2 was an amazingly fun tower defense game that doesn’t fail to keep you on your toes.  Framed was a very unique entry with a puzzle style journey through a mystery.  I plan to get all of these games the minute they’re available and I highly recommend each and every one of them.

Of course, there was far more to see during PAX East as the expanse of the show floor and panels is ginormous! 2014 was definitely the year of the indie games for PAX East.  The presence of AAA games seemed to be a bit light and I was quite worried when I saw the schedule, but PAX East did not disappoint.

OSD

An organization I would definitely like to highlight is Operation Supply Drop. As an Army brat (my parents served in the Army for a long time) and having a lot of friends in the military, it definitely makes me happy to see an organization that makes it their mission to help out the troops.  Operation Supply Drop does just that and more. I met with Captain Stephen Machuga of the US Army and Charity Founder. Captain Machuga, as well as everyone at OSD’s booth exhuded passion and enthusiasm about their mission to bring “video games to soldiers in combat zones and military hospitals.”  Being in a combat zone, in military hospitals, and other areas where soldiers serve can be extremely stressful so OSD does their best to make “fun where there is none!” There was never a dull moment at the booth while there or passing and I’ve seen so much enthusiasm from the gaming community to help their cause.  It’ll be very interesting to see how OSD expands and grows further to be such a great presence for our troops.  For more information about their cause and how to help out, check out their website at www.OperationSupplyDrop.org, their Twitter @OpSupplyDrop, and their Facebook page at Facebook.com/OperationSupplyDrop.

I also got to check out numerous booths on the show floor which is always exciting. GUNNAR Optiks never disappoints with their selection of gaming eyewear. I even snagged myself a pair from their Intercept line in Ink (purple). I always get a pair of GUNNARs every time I go to PAX East and absolutely love them. Whether I’m gaming or staring at a computer screen, GUNNARs help reduce the strain in my eyes. I’ve also found that their line of sunglasses are absolutely wonderful and are far better than all of the other sunglasses that I own.

GUNNARs Intercept Ink

Me with Gunnars

As always, PAX East was a great experience and I highly recommend going if you ever get the chance.  It’s worth the fun and craziness and the video game culture galore!  Everyone is excited and happy to be there with so many things to do with such a short amount of time!

Although I may not attend next year, you may be able to catch me at PAX South and PAX Prime next year. I, also, plan to be at Otakon this summer and Baltimore Comic Con this fall.

Did you go? What did you think of PAX East? Is there anything from my experience at PAX East that you’d like to hear more about? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @LadyLoveMonster!

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Inspired by Adventure Time, Minecraft, and Legend of Zelda, May’s Loot Crate has to be my favorite so far! Loot Crate is a monthly subscription box filled with nerdy goodies – toys, stickers, t-shirts, etc. It’s like getting nerd Christmas every month! This month featured a Legend of Zelda t-shirt. If you look closely, it’s Link made out of words. My very favorite item in this Loot Crate was the Adventure Time tin. Not only do you get an awesome character tin, but you get a blind bag figure inside. My tin was Fionna and I got BMO inside! This was my favorite because those are two of my favorite Adventure Time characters.

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A very close second for favorite item is the Legend of Zelda key chain. It doubles as a bottle opener and it has a picture of the famous scene, “It’s dangerous to go alone…” I always love when Loot Crates come with practical items. Another item worth mentioning was a Minecraft blind bag “hanger,” which I guess works as a key chain because the ring on it is sturdy enough for one. I got a skeleton.

Other items in this month’s Crate are tons and tons of stickers from Polaris and Maker studios, as well as a soundtrack for the talk show The Friend Zone.

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One strange thing about this month’s Loot Crate, however, is that it didn’t come with the usual monthly magazine that explains what came in it and the occasional article. Maybe it was just a mistake and they forgot to put it in my Crate?

Either way, I would consider May’s Loot Crate to be my all-time favorite so far. If you like what you see, Loot Crate is $20 per month, including shipping. Go to LootCrate.com to sign up and be sure to follow Loot Crate on Facebook for discounts and contests.

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