Brooklyn is (almost) the new Manhattan, with more people flocking to the bar/lounge scene here than ever before. There is a different air there when referring to a night out, and that may stem from the less congestion one may feel when they enter a Brooklyn establishment. Taking that aspect into consideration along with the people in Brooklyn being less stuck up (maybe) makes people more comfortable and relaxed when they cross the bridge. Lantern Hall is one of those reasons to cross said bridge. [Read more…] about Lantern Hall Brings a Modish Level of Swankiness to East Williamsburg
Guild Wars 2 goes “mega.”
Welcome back! This is the third and final part of our coverage of the Guild Wars 2 Feature Pack, which goes live on the 15th! We’ve covered balance updates, PvP, quality of life upgrades, the new wardrobe feature, and new traits, but this part of the patch figures to be bigger than them all! Responding to the game-wide issue of certain zones and cities being barren and unpopulated, ArenaNet has seen fit to completely overhaul the way servers operate, giving birth to the “Megaserver System.”
How will it work? Well, for starters, it won’t be going entirely into effect on the 15th. It will be a deliberate process, beginning with the Heart of the Mists PvP hub and the maps with the lowest populations, and should be complete by the end of the year. The Megaserver System seeks to provide players with well-populated zones around the clock, that way there’s always someone to play with and the less populated events in the game get done more often. Instead of each server having one main copy of a given map, the Megaserver System will combine all worlds together and only have the number of copies it needs to accommodate the player population in a given map. It will also allow for players who are in the same party or guild to play together more easily, with functions dedicated to ensuring that related players are placed in the same instance of a map or can easily join friends if they’re separated.
But wait! World bosses spawn at different times on each server! How will they be affected? Fear not, players. With the rollout of the Megaserver Systems comes a standardized schedule for the various world bosses, which you can find here. Bosses that previously did not have failure mechanics or timers will be getting them, to ensure that the game remains on schedule. Also, many of the bosses will be tweaked to preserve balance, and this includes abilities, overall difficulty, or even the event chains that lead up to their encounters. Such changes were not detailed in the reveal, but will be available in the release notes next week.
Waypoints, dungeons, and temples will be slightly affected by the new changes as well. For instance, you will no longer be able to tell if a waypoint is actually uncontested until you arrive on the map that it’s in. In the Orr maps, which have many contested waypoints, this figures to be a bit of a hassle. The same goes for the three dungeons that require event chain completion to open: Citadel of Flame, Crucible of Eternity, and The Ruined City of Arah. You will now have to waypoint to Fireheart Rise, Mount Maelstrom, or Cursed Shore, respectively, to find out the status of these dungeons. As for temples, the god statues that normally have cross-map mechanics will no longer function that way, and instead will only be active when the nearest temple becomes contested.
The final aspects of the Megaserver System covered were guilds and World vs. World. Guilds will remain separate for now; they will still be server-specific until the Megaserver System is completely implemented, but once that happens guild members will earn influence towards the same total regardless of their home world. Guilds will still have a hard cap of 500 members and if a guild has chapters on multiple servers, they cannot be combined. World vs. World will remain unchanged for the time being and logically speaking, it’s unlikely to be affected by the Megaserver System at all. ArenaNet is making many ambitious changes here, so it’s nice to see that they’re preserving the identity of Guild Wars 2‘s WvW game mode for the sake of those who have made their legend on the battlefield.
With all of these imminent changes coming to Guild Wars 2, the game will never be the same again! I’m admittedly skeptical about a few things that ArenaNet is trying with this patch, but I’m also greatly excited that a number of issues that have existed since launch are finally getting the proper attention they need. If you’ve never played Guild Wars 2, now would be a great time to jump in; it really is a fantastic MMO during its high points (and it’s on sale for $24.99 until Saturday). They may not get everything right, but I have a strong feeling that ArenaNet knocked this out of the park.
The best goodies in the basket.
In honor of Easter Weekend, I decided it would be a good idea to compile a short list of my favorite Easter Eggs in video games. Easter Eggs are fun secrets that exist in various games, normally accessed without the use of cheat codes or hacking software. Oftentimes they’re interesting or humorous things that developers want gamers to search for and over the years they’ve truly helped games have more staying power. Here they are, my top five Easter Eggs in games:
5. Half-Life – Made by Valve, Half-Life‘s console has allowed gamers and modders alike to adjust the experience however they see fit. By loading up the “c1a1c” map and activating “-noclip” mode, the player can gain access to areas outside the map. One of these is a black box that is covered with the mug of Valve founder Gabe Newell on the inside. I’m talking a thousand copies of this man’s face.
4. Grand Theft Auto IV – Ever wondered what the heart of Liberty City looks like? Well, it… it looks like a heart. Don’t believe me? If you fly a helicopter to the Statue of Happiness, there’s a set of doors that says, “No hidden content this way.” Go through it, and you’ll find a giant heart bound by chains. If this is some kind of social commentary, I’d love to know more about it.
3. Chrono Trigger – Sometimes, if you try really hard and do your best in a video game, you get to meet the developers. Well, not really, but there is a hidden developer room in Chrono Trigger. To access it, clear the game once and start a New Game+. Once you do that, a gate will appear at the start. Take it to do battle with a super-powered Lavos, and should you emerge victorious you’ll encounter the developers (in-character) at the End of Time.
2. Halo: Combat Evolved – Never ones to shy away from having fun with their player base, Bungie always had fun gags to show players who completed the Halo games on the hardest difficulty setting. In the first entry, the extended ending shows Sgt. Johnson batting an Elite for his assault rifle. However, the scene takes an unexpected yet hilarious turn once the Pillar of Autumn’s self-destruct sequence gets activated. You need to see it to believe it.
1. Mortal Kombat – The game that practically invented the ESRB rating system tops my list. Sometimes before a match, a green ninja appears and drops hints on how to encounter him. This ninja’s name is Reptile, and he was the biggest secret in the game. To battle him, you had to wait for The Pit stage to appear in single-player and hope that a silhouette flies past the moon. Once those conditions are met, you must get a Double Flawless and finish your opponent with a fatality in the second round. Then, and only then, do you get to fight Reptile. This is also the only way of fighting on the bottom of the pit, which is covered in spikes and made a return in Mortal Kombat Trilogy years later. Click here to see the method in action.
You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.
Welcome to Part 2 of our coverage of the Guild Wars 2 feature patch! After last week’s reveals focused on game balance, traits, and gear upgrades, this new round of changes are mostly cosmetic. Not to the official site, of course, but revolving around dyes, the new wardrobe feature, new ways to earn gear, and general quality-of-life improvements. If you’re a guild leader, there are some improvements headed your way too!
We’re going to start things off this week with the new wardrobe feature, which was arguably the most demanded part of the feature patch. You can click here to watch a short video explaining some of the functions. Whenever you gain a weapon or piece of armor in-game, whether through drop, trading post, cash shop, or vendor – you permanently unlock the skin for that item as well. If you’d like to swap skins, you can do so from a new panel on your equipment screen. Doing so costs transmutation charges, which is a re-work of the current stone/crystal system already in place. Those items will be disappearing and players will receive one charge for every crystal in their inventory, and another charge for every three stones they possess. In a sense, it’s a similar system to the already-present Gear Locker in PvP, but it’ll now be game-wide. As a result, all of the PvP gear you’ve unlocked will also be a part of this system, so you may now apply those skins to your PvE/WvW gear as well. This feature will keep collectors busy for a long time to come!
Another heavily demanded change that ArenaNet is delivering is an overhaul of the dye system. Instead of being soulbound (per character), dyes will now be account bound, which means that all characters you’ve made can choose from the same pool of dyes that you’ve unlocked. In addition, if you have the same dye available on multiple characters, you’ll receive a free unidentified dye for each unique color you’ve consumed twice or more. To balance this, dyes will no longer be on the loot tables, and instead only available through the Mystic Forge, crafting (specifically the cooking profession), laurel merchants, and other special rewards. As a further bit of balance, the legendary staff known as The Bifrost, which currently requires 250 unidentified dyes as an ingredient, will now only need 100 unidentified dyes to craft the Gift of Color used to make it. Other changes to the system include making previewing colors easier and more streamlined confirmation of changes.
The next reveal involved the quality-of-life changes for guilds, and even though I’m currently a one-man guild I appreciate ArenaNet’s efforts here. Not being able to see the last time a guild member logged in was inexcusable, and that will be rectified when the feature patch hits on April 15th. The LFG (looking for group) system will also be getting some new bells and whistles, allowing players to group up for not only open world content, dungeons, and Fractals of the Mists, but after the feature patch hits, World vs. World will also become available. There will even be separate channels in the tool for each map, including all three borderlands, Eternal Battlegrounds, and Edge of the Mists! The LFG tool will also include specifications for language, as many of the European servers are multi-lingual. Throw in some backend support for guild members themselves, and Guild Wars 2‘s social abilities figure to be better than ever.
In what is sure to be welcome news for the battle-hardened folk who frequent WvW, world experience will now be account bound instead of soulbound. Points can still be spent differently on your various characters, so you won’t get stuck with the same bonuses across your entire account. This will allow players to change styles of play simply by switching characters, as you can be a supply master on one and a catapult master on another, for example. This reveal also came with news that any legendary or ascended gear possessed by one character will become account bound as well. So if you like, you can craft an ascended dagger and simply move it between characters using the bank as you see fit! You’re still restricted by the weapons and armor that potential recipients can equip, so don’t think you can make a spiffy piece of plate armor for your mesmer, for instance.
Speaking of armor, repairing your damaged or broken armor will now be free of charge! ArenaNet felt that the damage from dying is punishment enough and is removing repair fees from the game. The NPCs will still exist and I assume you can still sell items to them if you choose. While we’re on the subject of free things, players who like to experiment with builds will be glad to know that the new instant trait refund system I talked about last week will also be free! Simply click and tinker away, mad scientists!
The final reveal from this week is one that I’m sure will get many people interested in PvP. Reward Tracks are being introduced, and they’re a secondary achievement system of sorts, except that instead of rewarding points towards milestone chests, they reward items, armor, and weapons! Every major region of Tyria will be featured in these Reward Tracks, so players who like to stick to PvP can get drops that would normally come through PvE play by accomplishing given objectives. Dungeon-specific armor and weapons will also be made available through this feature on a rotating basis, or players can complete the story modes of the eight dungeons to allow them to complete the tracks at their leisure. In addition, future Living World and holiday events will be added as they are released. While I’d love for this system to be added on the PvE side too, PvPers have been getting the short end of the stick in this regard ever since release. They deserve the bone they’ve been thrown. To go along with this update, PvE/WvW gear will now carry over to the PvP side, as it previously did not.
In next week’s reveals, ArenaNet will be talking about “facilitating friendly play” in Guild Wars 2, as it currently says on the official site. Check back here for the latest news about the upcoming feature pack!
Or, how to enrage Xbox One gamers from miles away.
With the advent of online console gaming back in 2001 (yes, the first major console that could go online was the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, but let’s be real, it was pretty bad for what it was), the original incarnation of Microsoft’s Xbox changed the game forever. Two generations later, and we now have the Xbox One, with all its bells and whistles like the new and (allegedly) improved Kinect, apps, and voice commands. One of the main concerns with the voice command setup has been that another person could walk into a room where you were playing and start shouting commands that could potentially interfere with your gameplay. Now, some clever individuals have upped the ante on that inconvenience.
As a seasoned troll myself, I can always appreciate an artfully done prank. Taking the above scenario to the internet scene, trolls are now fouling up game sessions for others from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. How, you ask? Simple: by making their gamertags exactly the same as some of the voice commands, such as “Xbox Sign Out”, “Xbox Off”, or even “Xbox Bing”, to cue up the search engine feature. This alone isn’t enough to cause a disturbance of course, but given how juvenile and angry the Call of Duty community is, it’s easy enough to goad them into unwanted occurrences by bothering them in-game.
Of the possibilities, I think my favorite has to be “Xbox Bing.” What better way to both aggravate someone and give them a harsh reality check than to make them pull up their search engine and have all their profanities and other anger issues plastered on the screen right in front of them? This might be one of the first documented occurrences of internet trolls operating for the greater good. Having been in the online FPS community for about 12 years now, I’ve seen some of the worst of the human race. Not much makes people rage more than killing their character and then dancing on their corpse… until now.
As a small disclaimer, this post is not intended to make people stop playing Xbox One, Call of Duty, or anything of that nature. Do what you want to do. However, if you happen to see one of these jokers online, don’t fall into their trap, stay informed, and happy hunting!
Nintendo World Championships gets king’s ransom.
How much would you pay for a classic, extremely hard to find game that you really want in your collection? $50? $100? $200? Well, the price paid for Nintendo World Championships on eBay yesterday was well above those figures. Back in 2011, another copy of the game sold for $11,000 on the auction site, but this figure from a day ago dwarfs that: $99,902. Now I know what you’re thinking… this can’t be real, right?
Well, while it certainly could be a fake bid, the bidder was the first and last person to make a play for the game. Also, the bidder also has a “100 percent positive feedback score of 775,” according to Gamespot. The only thing I could think of to debunk this auction is that maybe the bidder entered the wrong amount, though for a game this scarce I’m leaning towards it being correct. Of course, the entire auction itself could be fake, which is another possibility, but all indications thus far are that this is a legitimate sale.
For those wondering, the reason why Nintendo World Championships garners so much money in auctions can be explained by the fact that only 116 copies were ever produced. Given away in 1990 to the finalists of a competition by the same name and then as a prize for winning a contest through the magazine Nintendo Power, it is a highly sought after cartridge. The copies given away to the finalists are grey and individually numbered, making them hard to counterfeit. The other copies are gold and considered to be worth more, simply because there are fewer of them.
The $99,902 bid sets a new record as the highest amount ever paid for a video game. Another copy of the game has popped up on eBay for auction here, with over six days left before it closes. Personally, I don’t think that the final figure for this new auction will reach the heights of the previous one, but I’ll definitely be tracking it to see how high it goes.
Project M for marvelous.
If you’re a fan of the Super Smash Bros. series like me, you love the fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action that has been gripping gamers for the last fifteen years now. No series has combined a smooth fighting game experience with skilled platforming as well as Nintendo has with Super Smash Bros. However, if you share my thoughts on the most recent release, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, you know that it doesn’t live up to the standard set by the first two releases. Enter Project M, a game that seeks to capture the greatness of the past. With the ‘M’ standing for Melee, the second game in the series that was released for the Gamecube in 2001, the creators of this homebrew game want their work to highlight what made Super Smash Bros. Melee one of the greatest titles of all-time.
Removing the tripping that plagues Brawl and reinstating small combat mechanics to their Melee counterparts, Project M greatly succeeds at delivering frantic and fun skirmishes that keep me playing for hours. The roster now stands at 41 characters, which includes every playable character from the Super Smash Bros. series. While the creators have stated that the most recent 3.02 release is not a “final” or “gold” version, they’ve certainly outdone themselves by having a fleshed-out roster. Add in the massive number of usable items, 42 stages, online play, tournament mode, and customization options, and you have a lot to do here.
While the game is epic in both scope and execution, there are some minor, almost nitpicky flaws that I’d like to address. First up is the balancing. Now, Nintendo has never been known to care very much about characters being broken in these games (looking at you, Pikachu from the N64 version and Meta Knight in Brawl), and the creators of Project M have done a nice job rebalancing things, certain characters leave a bit to be desired. Some could use buffs, others nerfs (or debuffs), but since the intent is there to continue balancing I can’t fault them too much. Next, some of the faster characters simply feel too slippery. I’m sure this is by design, but picking up items and managing to avoid suicides can prove to be extremely difficult at times. Finally, the AI. This isn’t as easy of a fix as other areas, but in the original release of Melee, setting CPU opponents on the max difficulty was a definite test of skill that forced you to adapt on the fly. In Project M, even at the highest setting the AI seems to have a penchant for offing itself, whether by simple jumping off the side or by deliberately attacking explosives.
If you’re looking for a game to play with others and already have a copy of Super Smash Bros. Brawl (that, along with an SD card are required to play), look no further than Project M. It faithfully replicates the frenetic gameplay of Melee while adding a few wrinkles of its own in order to remain fresh. Even after the new entries in the series hit shelves later this year, I still see myself firing up this game for long sessions with my brothers and friends.
Final Grade: A
Platform: Wii + SD Card with game downloaded to it + Gecko OS
Players: 1-4 simultaneous
Price: Free (if you already have Brawl)
For more information regarding Project M, including downloads and instructions, click here.
WRITER’S NOTE: I do not endorse or promote any hardware or longterm software modifications to copyrighted equipment and content. Project M is a game that can be played without hacking or modifying anything having to do with the Nintendo Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
This is my first writing piece in a while. In fact, it’s been just over three weeks since I made my last contribution to Manhattan Digest, and this lack of output on my end has been a real thorn in my side. I always like to keep active as a writer, and in a timely matter, but for some reason November just hit me with a bad case of writer’s block, and admittedly a little bit of a depression too. I honestly found myself uninterested in going-ons in the world of film and music which is a shock to me as much as it is for you, and I did find myself rapidly looking for a new fix. That new fix turned out to be a retreat into an old past-time of mine: video games!
I’ve often told people that I’m about an eighth of the video gamer that I used to be, but I’ll also be first to admit that the vicarious thrill of of enacting digitized violence in video games can be oh so nourishing (name a video game where your favorite weapon isn’t the shotgun), and it actually felt good to return to this old comfort zone of mine. In this past month I’ve played through The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto V, and Bioshock Infinite, the three acclaimed games that popular consensus would seem to say are 2013’s most likely Game-of-the-Year candidates. I have to say it was quite an experience to play all of these games, and the order in which I did certainly paved me back to the direction I so desired
The Last of Us
Genre: Third-Person Action – Survival Horror
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog Software
Synopsis: 20 years after a viral outbreak began turning people into raving flesh eaters (call them zombies if you will), an aging survivor named Joel must traverse a disparaged America with a young teenage girl name Ellie, who might carry a cure to the virus inside her.
My Thoughts: While all three of these games turned out to be well worth my time, I’d have to say that this is the one game in the trinity that really, truly lives up to the hype. Granted, I don’t know if I’m the utmost authority on the matter, but in hind sight it would appear that The Last of Us really is an A+, and as close to perfection as modern video games get. It’s a game that’s devoid of a dull moment, but most impressively it tells a very emotional and shocking story, that is only enhanced by the gameplay.
The post-apocalyptic scenario has been done innumerable times over the last few years, that it’s hard to think there is anything more to mine from it. Instead though, The Last of Us makes the genre feel fresh again, by setting the action in the story 20-years after the outbreak hit, and also focusing on a very complex dynamic between it’s two main characters. Taking on the role of Joel, a broken man who has lost everything to this world gone mad, as well as Ellie, a teenage girl that is immune to the virus, we see them form a huge bond over a trek that takes nearly a year. Everything in the story seems so realized, including twists and chapter transgressions that complement your intelligence rather than insult it, to gameplay that is often challenging, never repetitive, and always fun. You really do feel like a survivor in the game, as your ammo and health supplies always run the risk of running out, but the combat is brutal enough to give you the feeling of being a real bad-ass. You really feel the plight of these two characters during their harrowing journey, and it’s also beyond commendable once you realize that your character of Joel may not have the primary objective of saving the world. Dare I even call this game psychologically dense?
Not to give away much, but by the time you reach the ending, your gonna have a hard time believing what you just witnessed (and did). It’s one of the most ballsy endings I’ve ever seen in a video game, and that alone is enough to label Naughty Dog as the best developer of this generation of gaming. While the company found gargantuan success both critically and commercially with it’s Uncharted trilogy, even those games feel amateurish and tame when compared to the The Last of Us. It truly is a game for the ages, and I’m hoping we never see a sequel to it, just so we can preserve it’s legacy in a singular and unaltered form. So if you haven’t guessed, I reallllllllyyyyyy loved this freaking game, and it raised my standards for quality gaming by quite a bit. In a way, it did to video games what The Wire did for me and television.
Grand Theft Auto V
Genre: Third-person action – sand-box
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Systems: PS4, Xbox 360
Synopsis: Three criminals find themselves in circumstances beyond their control, and have to perform a series of heists and robberies together.
My Thoughts: Grand Theft Auto is pretty much the one video game franchise I still regularly follow. Whenever a new entry in the series hits home consoles (as I don’t own any portable systems), I find myself playing the shit out of the goddamn game. My commitment to this series definitely stems from my interest in crime fiction stories, but I also feel that the writing, design, and game mechanics for Grand Theft Auto is always top-notch, and really speaks to the movie lover in me. Thus, I’m not surprised to say that yes I did indeed love the latest entry in this venerable series, and if it’s not my all time favorite Grand Theft Auto game, than it’s pretty damn close.
The series has received most of it’s accolades for giving players so much freedom, and gameplay options. Grand Theft Auto V not only ups the ante by introducing it’s biggest world yet, but by also incorporating plenty of options for how one can go about the story. It was truly an ingenious move on the developers part to make Grand Theft Auto V the first game in the series to give players the ability to switch between three different characters, and even more brilliant to decide the game would have a central focus on heists. All five of the game’s big heist missions (which can all be planned and executed in various ways), are so much fun to play and watch, and the fact that your constantly switching between characters (who all have a different feel to them) really makes players feel like their playing the movie Heat (albeit a cartoony one, that has a much larger body count).
Still, what really kept me coming back to the game was not the gameplay mechanics, but for the writing instead. It’s obvious right from the beginning of the game, that Rockstar is trying to lampoon Hollywood and contemporary America, from the hilarious dialogue, to the R-rated parodies on celebrity life-style, to main character Michael’s constant jabs about how movies are so much better than video games. There’s certainly a lot of ground to cover if the game wants to ridicule our country yet at the same time recognizing it’s appealing stature, so what better venue to do it than in a giant sand-box game that’s modeled off of Los Angelas. It’s hardly subtle in it’s views, but it does it in such an intelligent way, such as giving the game an aesthetic that recalls the 80s, a decade I find to be far more superficial than the one we’re in now. I for one feel that Grand Theft Auto V ‘s social commentary is doing exactly what Harmony Korine’s film Spring Breakers tried to do, by both fantasizing and exposing the rampant excess that exists under America’s candy-coated media-saturated surface. It all adds weight to the game’s main story too, and it makes sense (at least in the games hyper exaggerated world) why these characters are performing these crazy heists and criminal acts. In fact, when you reach the main quest’s finale (which I won’t be spoiling) gamers might want to go for the two “tragic” endings instead, just to see how this crazy pulp-fiction world is able to actually give us some well thought out drama. I blame this game and Breaking Bad for my recently revived interest in crime fiction.
Issues that people have had with the previous entries in the series (virtually indestructible cars, monotonous driving sequences, an occasionally inefficient aiming system) are still more-or-less present here, but in the end it hardly matters. Rockstar knows precisely what their fans want from a Grand Theft Auto title, and this one gives them all that and more.
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Systems: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Synopsis: Set in an alternate version of 1912, a rogue named Booker DeWitt finds himself in immense debt, and his asked by his suitors to travel to the floating city of Columbia, and bring them a young girl named Elizabeth whom is being held captive. Upon rescuing the girl, he discovers that this girl has some truly majestic abilities, and the two work together to hold off the seemingly endless army reserves that the city of Columbia throws their way.
My Thoughts: I’m so glad I saved my play-through of this game for last, and I’ll get to that in just a second. The original Bioshock is one of my favorite games of this generation. It was a highly imaginative game that was often creepy and enigmatic and is almost solely to blame for the bizzaro-retro aesthetic that many games have carried since. Still, it didn’t sacrifice fun gameplay for it’s enticing style, and I might even go as far to say that Bioshock is the most exemplary first person shooter to come out since Goldeneye on the N64. I became excited that this sequel to the game would be taking gamers to a different city, especially after Bioshock 2 failed to impress. Unfortunately, Bioshock: Infinite is the one game of this 2013 trinity that I happened to find disappointing.
My main gribe with the game is that it lives too much in the first one’s shadow, which would be fine, it’s just the game doesn’t really elaborate on things in quite the same was the original Bioshock did. While sure, the story becomes less vague as it goes along, and observant players will discover the special voxophone recordings throughout the game that give more details into the world’s backstory, but we don’t really ever understand why Elizabeth holds such god-like powers (no less why she couldn’t excape on her own!), or how it’s connected to this floating city in the sky. Also, while I knew the ending received a divisive reaction months before I played it, I honestly think it’s one of the most ridiculous conclusions I’ve witnessed in a game in quite some time, if only because it seemed to feel like it was being poetic, while in reality it felt like M. Night Shymalan had directed a Disney film.
Don’t get me wrong though, as there’s still plenty to like in Bioshock. The world is simply a marvel to look at, combat is often fun and visceral, and at times the game has the flourish and sense of humor you’d find in a Terry Gilliam film (i.e. Brazil). I also like that they gave your character a voice in this game, as in the original game you played an unnamed and silent protagonist which worked for that game’s design, but this one definitely needed a change of pace in that regard. It’s also worth noting that I played the game on the normal difficulty setting, and I found it extremely easy, as not only is it impossible to die in the game (a fault I had with Bioshock, admittedly), but the power-ups and upgrades you receive throughout the game are very powerful and often lay waste to enemies quickly. So in essence the game is more a visual rollercoaster than anything else, but then again I can’t think of too many other video games that can present themselves as such, and work in the way this one does.
I certainly enjoyed my excursion from my daily tv and movie viewing prerogatives, but it also feels like a weight off my shoulders to have played these games to my satisfactory level of completion. As explained previously, I traded in my gamer card for that of a cinephile, and I really don’t think that video games will ever reach the storytelling potential that movies do, but it’s great to see developers are trying so damn hard at it. As you can tell, I feel all three of these games are worth your time and money (a bit more hesitantly for Bioshock: Infinite though), and they all make great Christmas gifts. Hell, if I find myself snowed in during the next few months, I feel I could be giving these games another visit…although movies are more important, right?
Its beauty is only skin-deep.
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to complete my playthrough of Knack, I think it’s high time that I give it a proper review. Knack was developed in-house by Sony as an answer to those wanting new entries in the Ratchet & Clank series or similar titles. It serves as the Playstation 4’s kid-friendly foray into the blend of action and platforming at launch, and also is a nice break from all the shooters that have come out alongside the platform. Is it a good game, though? Yes and no.
Story – Knack begins with a meeting of the minds, of sorts. It follows the stories of Doctor Vargas, who was responsible for the creation of the eponymous protagonist, Knack; Lucas, the Doctor’s assistant; and Ryder, the poor man’s Indiana Jones who is also Lucas’s uncle. Other pertinent characters include Viktor, a shady executive whose love of robotics and high-tech weaponry has powered his empire; Katrina, Viktor’s head of security and femme fatale; and Charlotte, the Doctor’s former lover, presumed dead after falling into an abyss twenty years prior to the game’s occurrence. At the outset of the game, you’re told that the goblins are a prime threat to human cities and settlements and that they must be stopped, which is where we meet the cast and see them discuss the best course of action. The story then shifts to Viktor being an evil son of a gun, and then it kind of gets disjointed from there. There are thirteen “chapters” to the game’s story, yet by the middle of chapter five it felt like endgame. After that, it was a series of buildups to potentially major encounters with little to no payoff. You do eventually get to battle one of the main villains, but the final boss of the game is almost completely unexplained. If you were fighting Viktor’s minions, you’d reach a point where a fight against Viktor and/or Katrina would be teased heavily, only to have them run away with their tails between their legs before a cut to the next chapter. There is a rather significant plot twist in the second half of the game that was fairly well-executed, but the overall body of work with the story is marred by a number of unexplained events and plot holes. Since I’d like to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, I won’t mention specifically what happens, but you can find a video with all the cutscenes edited together here.
Story Grade: D+
Gameplay – Knack plays like your typical action platformer, except on a more linear scale than most. Nearly every level in the game is set on a clearly defined path from start to finish, so you’ll never get lost or forget where you need to go. As far as level design goes, those are really the only positives about linearity. With so little room for exploration aside from a few breakable walls and secret rooms, I felt at times that Knack was more about working my way through the mobs to the end of the level than exploring and taking in the beautiful visuals that were created for this title. That’s one of the biggest issues this game has; playing a video game should never feel like work. Another gripe I have with the game is the controller mapping. Knack has three basic maneuvers: he can jump (X button), punch (square button, can be pressed repeatedly to string together hits), and evade (moving the right stick). As a veteran of shooting games, I find it aggravating when I can’t jump and aim, which are typically on the bottom face button and right stick, respectively, in a fluid motion. Evading is awkward enough in its own right, especially because the timing is tough to nail down and you aren’t granted any additional invincibility frames while you’re stuck recovering, which means that other enemies on the field can still hit you. Potentially the largest issue with the controller setup is the fixed camera. With nothing else mapped to the shoulder buttons, it’s inexcusable that there is no way to rotate the camera. This is 2013, people. Having moments in the heat of battle when enemies drop in the foreground, obscuring my character, with no way to remedy that except to jump over them and possibly take a hit in the process is highly unforgiving.
Knack can collect sunstone to unleash one of three special abilities by pressing the O button followed by O again, square, or Δ. These serve to quickly clear the area of enemies if you’re in a tight spot, but for me they were used more for breaking the monotony of the “punch everything” system when I didn’t feel like fighting a mob. Tying into the sunstone feature is the checkpoint system. If you die, and trust me, you’re going to die a lot in this game, sunstone does not revert to what it was at when you hit the last checkpoint. This works two ways: the positive is that you can sort of grind sunstone through dying a bunch, eventually giving you enough to use a super move and clear the fight that you were having trouble with; however, the opposite side of the coin is that should you use some of your meter on a super move and then die anyway, you’re stuck grinding it out again unless you can prevail without it. This brings me to another issue I take with the gameplay, which is that due to how quickly Knack dies no matter how big he gets, the name of the game is memorizing attack patterns and defensive play, as opposed to instincts and skill. This type of “know your enemy” system doesn’t sit well with me, especially in a game that’s allegedly geared towards children. I don’t know what types of kids they’re targeting with this game, but the “Normal” difficulty of Knack is plenty frustrating enough.
Gameplay Grade: D
Aesthetics – The saving grace of Knack is the graphics. With cutscenes and landscapes that could pass for a DreamWorks film, this is an impressive piece of visual artwork. The game runs smoothly, with very few slowdowns occurring from start to finish. Landscapes range from mines to mountains to forests to cities and everything in-between. Goblin enemies look like dumber and evil versions of Shrek, which actually works pretty well. The true winner in the graphical department is Knack, of course, because he has so many moving parts and his size changes rather frequently. Though it sadly has no effect on the gameplay itself aside from certain sections, the extra materials that Knack can utilize over the course of the game, whether ice, wood, metal, or crystal, are all rendered nicely and add a bit of visual flair to the game. Sunstone pickups glow and cause Knack to illuminate as well when they are broken and consumed. I keep coming back to the FMVs in the game though. They’re very well-animated, with solid voice acting and crisp sound effects. It’s a shame that they’re wasted on an inner core of a game with such little depth to it, but perhaps someday there will be a sequel that has combat equal to its animation.
Aesthetics Grade: A-
Fun Factor/Replay Value – Hardcore trophy hunters will be glad to know that there is a lot to do postgame. Subsequent playthroughs will allow players to re-open chests in secret rooms, in order to complete the many gadgets that Knack can use and also gain crystals that allow Knack to become better versions of himself. Whether or not you choose to pursue those upgrades and accolades depends on how much you enjoy the overall package here. I probably won’t be going back to Knack, not for a long while at least. This is not to say that the game is completely devoid of enjoyment, however; the game really shines when Knack grows to enormous proportions and you can run through areas while killing almost everything in one hit and flinging tanks at the opposition. I took these sections of the game as sick, twisted revenge against it for the profanity and near controller throwing it caused me, but how you enjoy these sequences is completely up to you. To summarize this section, if you don’t mind farming or grinding to obtain some power-ups and have a superhuman resistance to the mind-numbing gameplay of Knack, go nuts.
Fun Factor/Replay Value Grade: C-
Final Thoughts – I want to like Knack. I really, really do. I want it to be the Crash Bandicoot or Spyro of its generation, that seminal action platforming game that redefines a genre and gets the masses playing something other than a first-person shooter for a change. However, there simply isn’t enough here to be that game. It doesn’t do much that we haven’t already seen, and the unforgiving difficulty means that Knack isn’t the most accessible launch title in the PS4’s library. This title is yet another example of how graphics are not the most important factor in a video game’s quality. If the development team had spent even half as much time on everything else in Knack as they did on the visuals, it might have been one of the better launch titles for the Playstation 4. As it stands, it’s a beacon of mediocrity that left me very disappointed.
Final Grade: C
Platform: Playstation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure, Platforming
Players: 1-2 (co-op)
PS4… worth the wait?
Ever since E3, there has been a lot to like about Sony’s new toy. Amid much fanfare, the Playstation 4 released this past Friday, and after spending some time with it today I must say I’m impressed. Sony’s user-friendly approach to this generation of consoles can be seen in just about every aspect of the new interface, with easy-to-find features and neatly organized menus. You can even go back to the system’s home menus without having to fully quit the game you’re playing, and can pick it back up whenever you choose. Streaming gameplay is nearly seamless and is always available with only a few button presses once you link your Twitch or Ustream account. It’s certainly a step up from the previous generation of consoles, and thus far I feel that I’ve received a great deal for my $400 purchase.
Perhaps the most attractive qualities of the PS4 when compared to Microsoft’s XBOX One are the financial ones: it’s $100 cheaper, its online service is $10 cheaper per year, and there are a good amount of free and discounted games available for download on the PSN Store. Aside from the launch title I pre-ordered, Knack, I also picked up and played a couple of the downloadable titles off the PSN Store, Warframe and Flower.
I’m going to start my quick reviews with Knack. If you’ve ever played the old school Crash Bandicoot games or the Jak & Daxter series, you should have at least some idea of what to expect here. The gameplay of Knack is sort of a hybrid of those two entities. You play as Knack, a being made up of relics. You guide Knack through mostly linear levels, defeating enemies using either hand-to-hand combat or super moves, which must be charged by collecting sunstone. Knack’s maximum health is tied to his size, and at certain points you pick up enough relics to make him grow bigger and stronger. The graphics are very sharp, with cutscenes that look like they’re straight out of a Pixar movie. It’s clear that the in-house developers at Sony wanted this game to show off the capabilities of the Playstation 4, and they’ve accomplished that. However, not all is well here.
I’ve been a gamer for over 20 years now, and I have to admit the following: I find Knack to be a frustratingly hard game on its normal difficulty setting (there are easy and hard settings as well). Sadly, it isn’t difficult because of mechanics that the game teaches you along the way, or even a fulfilling battle system that rewards skilled play. No, Knack is rage-inducing because no matter how large your health bar is, you die in two to three hits. Damage appears to be percentage-based in this game, and so what the game’s battle system really rewards is patience, avoidance, and timing. This, combined with checkpoints and health-replenishing relic boxes that are oddly spaced make some levels drag on. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind difficulty in games – I come from the Sega Genesis generation where some games were nigh-impossible (Ecco the Dolphin anyone?)… but when you have a game that is clearly geared towards children, scaling the difficulty so that they have to play on the Easy setting is not the way to go. Had the enemy damage been constant instead of percentage-based, the experience would be far better. As it stands, Knack is a stunning piece of visual artwork laid on top of an average platformer/beat ’em up.
Digital Extremes’ Warframe is a free-to-play shooter available for download on the PSN Store. In terms of comparable titles, Warframe combines the gunplay of the Gears of War series, the special ability mechanics of the Mass Effect franchise, and the customization options of the Borderlands titles and even reaches into MMO territory. Needless to say, that’s a lot of content for a free game. You play as a race of creatures called Tenno, using the Warframes (each with their own stats and abilities) to fight the hostile Grineer, Corpus, and Infested factions. Missions come in a variety of flavors, including Sabotage, Survival, Assassination, Rescue, and many more. The game takes place in the solar system, with each planet or moon representing a recommended level range for players. There are currently 14 planets and moons to choose from, with 239 missions to play, all of which are named after real places and objects in the solar system.
The game itself is very complex. In fact, I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the features here. You visit the Arsenal menu to change or upgrade equipment with mods. Mods have different polarities, and warframes have upgrade slots that can only be filled by mods of certain polarities, whereas weapons can be upgraded by any mods as long as they are specific to that weapon type. You can also “supercharge” your warframes, sentinels, and weapons by using certain items, which will double the amount of points you can spend on mods for that object. You can even upgrade mods by using fusion cores or consuming other mods to power them up.
New items can be purchased from the in-game market, using either the credits accrued from normal gameplay or with platinum, which is a currency bought with real money. You can buy finished weapons, warframes, equipment, gear, packs of colors to customize your appearance, and blueprints to create many of these items in the game’s Foundry menu. Items crafted in the Foundry require some time to complete, or you can “rush build” them by spending platinum, which creates the item immediately for your use.
Gameplay involves third-person shooting combined with dodge rolling, sliding, sprinting, crouching, running up walls, ziplines, and climbing walls with up to three other players during a mission. You can revive teammates who are in the downed state, but dead players are given a choice to revive (an allotment of four per 24 hours is given, more can be bought with platinum) or forfeit the mission. It’s a lot to think about and the varied enemies and powers greatly make up for the repetitive level design, which right now is the only real qualm I have with this game. Warframe is a solid shooter with a lot of depth, and it comes with the best pricetag of all: free!
If you like games that are therapeutic, then ThatGameCompany’s Flower is perfect for you. Originally a PS3 title, Flower has no forced objective to it. You can simply fly around the fields and take in the soothing background music. However, if you wish to complete an area, all you have to do is touch each of the closed flowers strewn about, which both add to the music and turn the field a lush green color. At a cost of $6.99, it’s fairly priced and surprisingly fun, even without the concepts of score and winning. The Playstation 4 version really shows off the platform’s graphical capabilities. Blades of grass have never looked better. The skylines are so well-done that they’re almost distracting while playing the game. Unfortunately I don’t have much more to say about this title, but I think it’s best left there because there isn’t a lot to it… it’s a delightfully simple game. You’re either going to dig Flower or you won’t, because it’s one of those games that doesn’t really have flaws; its reviews will be largely based on personal preference. I couldn’t see myself playing this game for hours on end, but for what it is, I can definitely jump into Flower to de-stress for a little while.
You can watch me stream Playstation 4 gameplay at various times by visiting http://www.twitch.tv/eirewolf10