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Keen’s Game of the Year 2013

AC4 Edward Kenway and CrewAssassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag is my absolute favorite game of 2013.  I had never played a single Assassin’s Creed game until Black Flag launched, and I wasn’t even looking forward to its release.  I picked it up on a whim as one of the few launch titles for the Playstation 4 that looked interesting.  I’ve always had a predilection for pirates, the 18th century, open-world settings, and secret orders like the Templars and Assassins.  AC4 and I are a match made in heaven.

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A Link Between Worlds

hyrule-and-lorule

We haven’t had a traditional 2D Zelda in quite a while. I think the last one was Minish Cap. The DS Zelda games were fun, though many disagree with me on that, but they didn’t quite capture the same feeling that you got from games like Link’s Awakening and A Link to the Past. It’s actually kind of funny that the return of classic 2D overhead gameplay arrives via the 3DS. Interestingly enough, however, at the same time the series returns to its roots it also makes a rather large change to the whole dynamic of the game.

Gameplay

link-on-a-wallThe shake-up I’m referring to is renting items. From pretty near the beginning of the game you are able to rent out many of the series staples like the bow, boomerang, hookshot, etc. You no longer find these tools in each dungeon. At first I was really unsure how to feel about this; even now I’m going back and forth on the issue. On one hand it lets you utilize a lot of these cool items right from the get-go rather than looking it in dungeon #6 or whatever. The trade-of though is that you lose out on the excitement of finding your next piece of equipment.

Having access to all of the gear so early does let you tackle dungeons in more of a non-linear order. Some dungeons still require certain things before you can access them but other than that the order is largely left up to you. A few items actually need to be found outside dungeons as well, like the power bracelet and zora flippers. I was actually having a really fun time just exploring around and happening upon these things which ended up being required to get into certain dungeons anyway. Inside the dungeons you still get to find some good stuff even though most of it is for rent. It’s pretty much just passive stuff, though, like new tunics or power gloves or pieces of ore for upgrading your sword.

Once you have enough rupees you can actually buy the items, that way you wont lose access to them when you die. Owning an item is also required if you want to get upgraded versions, which is done through a side quest where you need to find 100 little octo dudes scattered around the world(s). For every 10 you find you can trade in an owned item for an upgraded version. The biggest complaint that I have with items in this game is that they all utilize a magic meter of sorts, which basically renders shops pretty much irrelevant. You no longer hold X amount of bombs and arrows, which I find a little annoying. The worst part is that even items which have no ammunition still require energy. Firing the hookshot, for example, drains the meter. Why the heck is this? I have no idea.

The big gimmick of this entry, which I don’t mean to use with a negative connotation, is the ability to turn into a painting and merge with a wall. It seems curious at first but there is actually a lot that can be done with this mechanic. You are forced to look at the gameworld a lot differently and think about all of the new areas you can possible reach now by simply merging into a wall and traversing a large gap or sliding between bars or a thin crevice. There are a lot of really neat puzzles and exploration elements that really take advantage of this new-found ability. Plus, slipping through special cracks is also how you gain access to the alternate kingdom of Lorule.

a link between worlds 3dVisuals & Presentation

The game has great style. Link looks more like his classic self rather than the pretty boy we mostly see today. The game’s perspective is the classic overhead view of the past games but everything is rendered in 3D. The 3D depth effect also adds a whole lot to the experience, especially with several parts of the game utilizing elements of ascending and descending. It’s one of only a few games where the 3D effect actually enhances the experience without any noticeable detractors.

The game world is set in the same area as A Link to the Past but I’m not entirely sure about the timeline. At first I assumed it was a direct sequel with the same Link, like OoT -> MM, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Through various conversations you can tell that Link has never met Zelda before, done any heroic stuff, etc. So it’s either some kind of retelling or just a straight up new game in the same game world. The whole Zelda timeline gives me a headache. Still, the overworld should obviously feel very familiar.

The story itself is actually pretty good and deals with an alternate world/kingdom of Lorule and its princess Hilda, who is basically just a dark-haired Zelda, and a bad guy name Yuga, who looks kinda like a female Gannondorf but apparently is a dude. It’s good stuff so I won’t spoil anything.

Wrap-up

A Link Between Worlds is a fantasic Zelda game that shakes up the classic formula while at the same time returning to its roots. Easily the best handheld Zelda game.

+ Classic 2D Gameplay
+ Fantastic visuals and art syle
+ Great 3D depth effect
+ Cool new portrait Link Mechanic
+ Fun Dungeons
+ Good items/equipment and upgrades
+ Cool story and new characters
+ Being able to complete dungeons in a non-linear order

+/- Item renting… I’m still torn. It’s fun but let’s not make it ‘a thing.’

- Magic meter for item use rather than ammo, which makes the item shop irellevant
– Non-ammo based items require Magic Meter? Dubya-Tee-Eff?
– Dungeons feel kind of short
– Some troll thought hanging Majora’s Mask in Links’s house would be funny and not infuriating since Nintendo won’t be firm on a 3DS remake happening or not

A Link Between Worlds easily earns a 9.5/10.

PS4 Day 2: Assassin’s Creed and DCUO

We’re two days into the launch of the PS4 with lots more to talk about.  These aren’t full reviews — just a quick synopsis of our experience with a smidgin of impressions.  The images used for these games were taken with the screenshot sharing feature.  The quality on them isn’t great, but it’s nice to finally be able to take pictures without having to use a third-party device.

assassins-creed-black-flag-ps4

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

This might sound crazy, but this is the first Assassin’s Creed game I have ever played.  I’ve watched Graev play all of them, and I knew exactly what to expect, but I wasn’t quite ready for how awesome the free-run and acrobatic movement felt.  The high frames per second and gorgeous graphics made my first hands-on experience with AC really quite something.

I love pirates.  I live for this setting.  If there’s one setting I may love more than medieval fantasy it’s Pirates!  Black Flag captures everything I love about the setting and then some.  I talk all the time about being able to control my own ship, and Black Flag does not disappoint.  I love being able to sail around.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but the story in the previous AC games looked really crummy.  So much so that I almost didn’t pick this one up. Ubisoft takes the story in a much more believable, interesting direction.  Expect my full review to come when I’ve logged significantly more hours into the game.

dcuo-ps4

DC Universe Online

Years ago I played DC Universe Online for the PC, and along with Graev and several of our friends we reached the max level and completed everything there was to do in the game at that time.  When we stopped playing it was never because the game did anything wrong — We simply ran out of things to do.  Years later, the game is free to play with lots of microtransactions.  I can’t say for certain how the F2P model has improved or harmed the game, but I know I’ve been able to play everything I can remember without spending a dime.

The PS4 version is great.  I feel like the controls are perfect, and perhaps even better than the PC version.  I remember thinking that DCUO was always meant to be a console game with this inherent sense of combo button presses and beat’em up nature.  Using the new DualShock 4 controller, I never felt wanting for a keyboard or mouse.

I think they did a nice job upgrading the visuals.  Everything looks high-res, and load times are quick.  I haven’t experienced any slowdown or performance issues.

If you just got a PS4, or heck even if you’re still gaming on the PS4, it can’t hurt to give DCUO a try.  I think the potential for MMOs on consoles is quickly catching up the PCs.

PS4 Launch Day Game Roundup

We spent most of the morning setting up the system and working through general placement logistics. It’s a real mess up here and with the Xbox One due out soon it’s only getting worse. I’d show you a picture but I doubt Keen would ever own up to this cord jungle.

After the initial patching and mass downloading of free stuff we decided to check out some of the launch exclusives and share some quick impressions before we eventually get to reviewing.

Knack-PS4

Knack

This game is getting pretty badly panned across the board but Keen and I don’t quite share that sentiment. I mean, sure, it’s nothing mind blowing but it is enjoyable all the same. We put in several hours of the co-op and were enjoying ourselves the whole time.

It’s part platformer, though only lightly, but mostly action-brawler. You run around levels as the titular character and bash on bad guys while collecting various artifact pieces that increase your size. It’s actually pretty neat to see the character grow over time and completely decimate foes that earlier were giving you grief. So far it seems to be pretty linear but there are a few secret areas along the way for you to collect. In co-op mode the second player plays as a robot version of Knack and can fight alongside and even heal you. It’s all on one screen and the camera follows player 1 which means P2 has to keep pace or get left behind. It all works out pretty well, although Keen screamed at a few of his off-screen deaths.

Really my only complaint about the game is it’s take on difficulty. Being the typical fun-hater than I am, I put it on hard from the get-go. Unfortunately the game seems to go for the whole pseudo-difficulty of just making everything that hits you take all of your life. It can be a little frustrating, especially with no block, and having to re-do segments several times due to cheap deaths can make your co-op partner rage. Or maybe that’s just my experience.

Killzone-Shadow-Fall-PS4

Killzone: Shadowfall

I played the first two games and the PSP game but I haven’t touched the series since then. Having missed out on 3 and the vita game I have no idea what is currently going on story-wise in the game. Something about the Helghast’s planet getting made uninhabitable by the Vektans so now they have to share Vekta. I need to hit a wiki page or something.

Anyway,  this evening I played through the first few segments and I’m really enjoying it so far despite the confusing narrative. The game looks absolutely fantastic and runs very smooth. It definitely makes me excited to see what the system will be capable of down the road. There are a lot of really neat lighting and visual effects.

In the first main level you initially have to sneak in with just a knife and take out guys with stealth all while avoiding cameras, etc. You also get a handy little echo-location type device which can spot enemies through walls, but it will emit a large sound and alert enemies if you activate it for too long.  One cool thing you can do is jump onto a guy from above, stab him in the neck, and then throw your knife at another guy in your field of view. It’s very reminiscent of the kind of thing you could pull off in FarCry 3. The first gun I got was a really awesome combo weapons. The first configuration was some kind of automatic weapon that shoots little blue things and the second form turns it into a long range rifle that charges up and releases a powerful shot.

Probably the coolest thing I’ve seen so far is the little drone that follows you around. It can do basic stuff like hacking terminals for you but it can also order it to kill enemies, stun them, defend you, and create a zipline. The last one is actually pretty awesome. If you need to get access to an area below you then you can order it to shoot a zipline which you can slide down. The drone, which I think is actually called an OWL or something, can also revive you if you die. Provided you have adrenaline or something.

More To Come

We’re also going to be trying out CoD: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag this weekend and we will be sure to write up our impressions of them. Since the PS4 can stream straight out of the box we might even look into doing that as well, but so far our internet connection hasn’t been very cooperative. I think Keen also has plans to try out DC Universe and some other free-to-play titles as well.

It’s been a pretty smooth launch so far and we made it through the whole day without bricking our system. Take that .4% failure rate!

Finishing Up Last Gen

I haven’t posted in a while because I’m currently trying to wrap up as many backlog PS3 and 360 games as I can before the new systems come out. Not only that but there are several Wii U games I’m still playing, but I’m not in such a hurry with those. I feel all sorts of things when a console generation winds down and a new one is set to start. Mostly just stress, though. Anywho, I figured I’d write about some of the last games I’m playing from this generation of consoles.

batman-arkham-origins

Batman Arkham Origins

This particular game seems to be getting mixed reviews. It’s not made by the same guys who made the previous 2 Batman games and in all honesty it’s just more of the same. That’s not such a bad thing, though, especially since Arkham City was a fantastic game. It may not do too many new things, but what is does is still enjoyable.

My main gripes with the game would be the following:

– It’s partially the same city layout as Arkham City so it feels like a lot of retreading.

– A lot of the new areas seem to have rather poor grapple points. It’s really difficult to latch on to high places and trying to make your way across the city can be a chore.

– The combat seems to have been tweaked a little. You don’t seem to be able to interrupt your animations anymore to counter somebody. I suppose this makes the combat system a little more realistic but it really messes with you when you are used to the old system.

– Pretty much the entire voice cast has been replaced. They’re pretty decent soundalikes but I can tell and to be honest it irks me.

– A little bit glitchy. Sometimes things don’t seem to trigger right and I’ve fallen through the floor several times along with some enemies which makes it impossibleto kill them.

As bad as it may sound… it really isn’t. I’m still having a blast roaming around the city and pretending to be Batman while growling out one-liners. There are several pros to the game that I should also mention.

+ The story isn’t that bad — It’s actually kind of interesting. I wasn’t really expecting that, especially since I don’t think they brought back Paul Dini to do it.

+ Some of the new gadgets are pretty cool. I particularly like the remote claw which can shoot out a batclaw to a target and then launch an additional line to something else like a propane tank or fire extinguisher or another guy. It’s fun to play around with.

+ Getting to actually visit the Batcave is nice. You can do challenge missions there and talk to Alfred

+ There’s a neat crime scene mode where you reconstruct what happened to a victim and gather new clues and info. It’s cool to see Batman do some of his detective work, which I’ve always been a fan of.

So yeah, I enjoyed it and I think most people who like the originals will as well. It really just depends on if you can enjoy more of the same, especially if it’s more of something that was already really good.

LEGO-Marvel-Superheroes

Lego Marvel Superheroes

Keen and I were both blown away by this game. Being huge fans of the Lego games we’ve come to expect quite a lot but I don’t think either of us saw this coming. It’s actually kind of interesting to note that every new Lego game that comes out ends up being our favorite. I don’t think I could say the same about any other series. Anyway, if you’re played any Lego game before then you know how they work for the most part but here are some of the things that we love:

+ HUGE CHARACTERS! I’ve always loved Hulk and seeing his figure like 3x larger than regular heroes is ridiculously awesome. This holds true for pretty much every large character like Abomination, Thing, Juggernaut, Hulkbuster Armor, etc. Personally I would have loved it if Venom was at least slightly larger than Spider-Man but I’m just thankful for what I got.

+ So many different characters to play. You’ve got like every freakin’ Marvel hero here: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Wolverine, like every other X-Man, Mr Fantastic & Co., etc. I haven’t unlocked everybody yet so I don’t know the full extent of the roster but it’s at least every major hero. Not only that but all of their villain counterparts. When I got to swing around the city as Venom I lost it. Some of them tend to be clones of other heroes but on the large they are mostly unique and have some rather awesome abilities. I’m sure anybody that has seen Lego Thor call down lighting to charge Mjolnir will understand what I’m saying.

+ Giant open-world New York. Between missions you can roam around the city and do various sidemissions or find collectables. It’s absolutely great. To get there you just SKYDIVE off of the SHIELD helicarrier and free fall until your chute deploys or your webs or boosters or whatever. Flying characters like Iron Man and Thor can zoom around the city at incredible speeds and fly high into the air. Spider-Man can swing on his webs quite stylishly, too. The only thing that disappoints me is Hulk can’t super jump. He can rampage down streets but there’s no large leaps or wall-running. It kind of makes me miss the Ultimate Destruction Hulk game.

+ The game is pretty hilarious, especially now that the Lego games have voices. There are tons of comic and pop culture references. I think they even got the same guy to voice Phil Coulson, which should be a plus all on it’s own.

It’s just all-around a fantastic game and easily the best Lego game ever. Heck, it may be one of the best Marvel games ever. There is honestly only ONE thing wrong with the game and that would be the Dynamic Splitscreen. This thing has been the bane of our existence ever since it hit the Lego games. It is most assuredly the easiest way to make yourself go cross-eyed and get a migraine. The screens spin and separate and just go flat-out nuts. Really the only way to avoid this is to just turn on static vertical splitscreen. It may not be quite as nice as the instances where you can actually share one screen and sometimes it may make seeing certain areas difficult but it is pretty much required if you want to play co-op and not feel sick.

So yeah, one flaw that is fairly easily remedied. Other than that it’s just amazing, fantastic, sensational, spectacular, incredible, etc. Insert your favorite.

The List Goes On

My gaming backlog is like some kind of undying and ever-growing entity. It’s constantly dogging my steps and haunting me. I still have several games I want to finish up before Friday and the arrival of the PS4. Hopefully things go well enough and I can get my thoughts and impressions of the new systems out with a decent amount of haste. So stay tuned in the coming weeks for our take on the PS4 and Xbox One. It should prove fairly interesting.