Video Games

Darksiders 2 game review

And Platinum Trophy no. 17, huzzah!

I played the Deathinitive Edition on PS4 and thought it was decent, but nothing special. Darksiders 2 is an open world, third person, hack and slash, adventure rpg—or something along those lines. You play as Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, on a mission to redeem his brother War.

It sounds wonderfully fun, but the execution (teehee), while broad in scope, is exceedingly shallow. The story was sufficient to provide purpose for Death’s actions, but failed to move me in any way. It was also cliched, poorly told, and occasionally confusing. You meet a handful of marginally interesting NPCs along the way, but without an engaging story or meaningful character development, it all falls flat.

Now, I  don’t expect every game to spin a tale on the same level as The Last of Us, not by any means. But the longer it takes to play through a game, the more the game needs to do to make you care. Tetris is great, but I’m not going to play 50 hours of it over the course of 3 weeks.

Story aside, Darksiders 2 suffers from not knowing what it wants to be. I think it aspires to be something like an open world God of War, but being open world isn’t a good thing if there’s no worthwhile reason to explore. It just means time wasted while traversing to the next point of interest. It lacks Witcher 3’s narrative depth, Dark Souls’ sense of wonder/dread, and God of Wars’ focus. The end result is that it’s not very good at being open world, or at being an RPG, or at being a hack and slash adventure game.

Well, at least the fighting is fun right? Eh, it’s just okay. The combo system pales in comparison to God of War, Bayonetta, or Star Wars: The Force Unleashed—to name a few. I used the same handful of moves throughout the game, regardless of the enemy or situation. When things got particularly hairy, I’d summon some ghouls to help out and that’s about it. But, you get a lot of cool gear right? Um, not so much. I got an axe with Life Steal early on and it remained my best weapon option well into NG+.

I don’t mean to sound soooooo down on the game. I mean, I was entertained enough to finish it and then go on to get the Platinum Trophy. It’s just, I can’t point to anything about it as being exceptional*. I can’t even say it ran well, as it crashed numerous times. Ultimately, I think Darksiders 2 is reasonably fun, but starts to feel like a slog about two thirds in and your time is probably better spent playing something else.

 

*Correction, the voice acting is generally very good and Michael Wincott, who voices Death, has a phenomenal voice.

Video Games

Aaru’s Awakening game review

There’s not much to say really. Aaru’s Awakening is a side scrolling platformer that I got as a free PS+ at some point. The only reason I played it is that it had the distinction of being first alphabetically in my games library.

I enjoyed the visual style and challenging gameplay, but that’s about it. There’s not much story to speak of and it’s told by a narrator who sounds like a child giving it their best effort, but who is in no way cut out to be a voice actor. The music and sound effects are unremarkable, though at least not annoying.

As the golden bird-bear beast Aaru, you make your way through four levels, then fight a boss—rinse and repeat. The levels simply require you to navigate increasingly treacherous environments. You’ll encounter a few enemies along the way, but killing things is by no means a focal point of the game. Boss battles are quite involved and require puzzle solving skills in addition to coordination.

If I had to describe Aaru’s Awakening in one word, it would be: hard. If I had two words, it would be: brutally hard. Three: brutally fucking hard. And finally six words: brutally fucking hard side scrolling platformer. It is quite possibly the most difficult game I’ve ever managed to finish. When I started it, I was like, “hunh, this is entertaining in an old-school sort of way and seems pretty short; I’ll play through it.” Yeah, well little did I know. I finished it purely because I didn’t want this to be the first time I quit a game because it was too difficult.

The difficulty of it is in timing and coordination, but not in a good Dark Souls kind of way; more of an arbitrary—you’ve got to be kidding me with this shit—kind of way. If you enjoy platformers and love a good challenge, then by all means, have a go at Aaru’s Awakening. For everyone else, you’re not missing much if you pass on this title.

Video Games

For Honor game review

I already reviewed the beta and talked a bit about what For Honor is. So for this post I’m just going to summarize my final thoughts.

First off, let’s get Story Mode out of the way. It is, in a word, an abomination. To say it’s a glorified tutorial is a slap in the face of good tutorials. It’s a disjointed, nonsensical, poorly written mess covered in cheese sauce. I have not a single positive thing to say about it except that it’s blessedly short—which is the only reason I was able to power through it.

For Honor is a multiplayer game. Buy it for the multiplayer and only for the multiplayer, lest you be forced to ask yourself how the hell a viking berserker with two axes at hand was jailed in a cage made of wood and rope.

The multiplayer on the other hand, is really, really good. The centerpiece of it all is the “Art of Battle” combat system. It is fun, innovative, challenging, deep, and rewards both twitch skill and tactical thinking. Each of the twelve playable characters feels unique and requires a significant investment of time to properly learn. This along with the many customization options and gear upgrades is what gives For Honor its long term playability.

One of the biggest things that stands out to me as compared to other PvP games is how each and every engagement with another player feels significant. It almost doesn’t matter what game mode you play. Whether it’s 1v1, 2v2, or 4v4 deathmatch or dominion, the gameplay always comes back to individual engagements. Sure, some teammates may join the fray now and then, but you’re still always locked onto one opponent, trying to win that duel in the moment, regardless of whatever else is going on.

Despite all the goodness on offer, a few issues dampen the experience. Sometimes play is very smooth, other times it feels laggy and unresponsive. Parrying is incredibly inconsistent. Matchmaking often results in poorly balanced teams. The maps all feel samey same and the servers have been flaky.

If you like competitive play and melee combat, For Honor is an absolute must. I’m not a fan of PvP and even I enjoyed it. That said, it has pretty much run its course with me. The more time goes on, the more people who excel at this sort of game pull away from the rest of us. PvP matches seem to get harder by day. Pile on the technical problems and I suddenly want to throw my controller at the wall. A sure sign it’s time to move on.

Video Games

God of War 3 game review

God of War 3 is a solid game—good but not great—that never reaches the level of the original. All of the elements are there, but it somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. Held back by a weak story and a tragic hero who is neither tragic nor hero.

All of the things that God of War is known for are present: great score, brutality, twin blades, Greek mythology, and over-the-top action. You’ll fight across the surface of Gaia as she scales Mount Olympus. You’ll cut your way out of Kronos’ gut. You’ll take Hermes’ boots with his feet still in them, and use the head of the Sun God as a flashlight. You’ll even get to role in the sack with Aphrodite—before and after killing her husband. The kind of stuff that can only happen in a God of War game.

That’s all well and good, but there are a lot of things that just fall flat. We’re once again fighting with the same twin blades, using the same combos, and ending fights with the same quick time events. Sure you get some other weapons along the way, but as in previous games, they’re never as good or have as wide a variety of moves. The enemies are variations of things we’ve seen before. The boss battles aren’t particularly remarkable, and the puzzles aren’t particularly puzzling.

The biggest things holding the game back however, are the clumsy story and continued unlikability of Kratos. In the first God of War, Kratos actually is a tragic figure. The story involves Kratos saving Athens from the God of War in the hopes of receiving forgiveness for his sins. (Actually he wants the nightmares to stop, but assumes forgiveness will do that.) He’s a monster on a hero’s errand, and we get to learn how all this came to pass. Ultimately, he fights both Ares and his own inner demons in what is one of the great final boss battles in all of gaming.

In GoW3, Kratos is on a mission of revenge, pure and simple. He happily destroys everyone and everything in his way, be they man or god, beast or bystander. He plunges the world into chaos and darkness without any care at all. Athena urges him along this path for reasons of her own, and the whole thing hinges once again on Pandora’s Box. The history of the box, its purpose, what it contains, and the key to opening it are where things get clunky. For instance, Kratos needs the power that resides in the box so that he may kill a god; thus allowing him to take vengeance upon Zeus. But he kills like six gods along the way and never wonders “hey, maybe I don’t need the stupid box”. I think this is a case where action dictated the story, rather than story dictating the action.

As for Kratos, he never becomes a hero and never finds redemption, which is fine. Redemption isn’t always possible. But at this point, we’ve got two full games since the original that are nothing but a shitty dude doing shitty things for shitty reasons, and it’s wearing thin for me. If you liked the first two, go ahead and play GoW3; it’s more of the same. I found it better than the second but not as good as the original. If you’re new to the series, then like I said at the beginning: it’s good but not great. If you’re a lover of hack and slash, then go for it, otherwise, I’d say pass.

As a side note, I’d like to talk about one particular scene in the game where Kratos shoves a bare-breasted princess around until finally using her as a wedge to hold up a large contraption. She screams momentarily, before being brutally crushed.

I’ve played a lot of games, seen all kinds of violence, and all manner of horrible things done to scantily clad female characters. This is the first time I ever recall thinking, damn, that was a bit much. Most games that aren’t serious, I don’t take seriously. I don’t have a problem dismissing silly things from my consciousness. But this made me stop and wonder, what the hell was the point of that? I understand Kratos is a merciless, brutal character and the developer is trying to portray that, but at the same time, it’s hard to play the role of someone so despicable. The whole thing struck me as cheap shock value entertainment.

Video Games

For Honor beta review

I was able to spend some time this weekend with the For Honor beta, or rather, pre-release demo, seeing as it’s a bit late for testing. The game drops in two days. Beta testing semantics aside, I was pleasantly surprised with the game.

The things that stand out the most to me are how beautiful the game looks and the depth of its combat and customization systems. At the most basic level, For Honor is all about thrilling melee combat. Its unique system, dubbed the “Art of Battle”, delivers on that in spades. This game is the complete opposite of a button masher. The best way I can think of to describe the combat system is that it’s like a tactical dance.

You must move in time with your adversary to block their attacks, or take the lead to launch a successful attack of your own. You can block attacks, dodge them, or parry them. You can attempt to attack around your enemy’s guard, break their guard, or if you have the right ability, attack through their guard. It is one of the most innovative takes on melee combat I’ve seen, and it’s outstanding.

The beta has nine playable characters—three from each faction. Each character has a unique set of abilities, feats, and combos. Some of these are fixed, but many can be swapped out with different options that you unlock over time. The way these special abilities interact with the combat system makes each character play very differently. I can definitely see that to be successful, you’ll want to find a character that suits your style and master their nuances. Jumping around from one to another isn’t going to get you very far.

As far as customization goes, you have a number of options to make each character your own. You can change out armor pieces. You can change the patterns on each shoulder, your back and chest, your leggings, and left arm. You can change your color scheme or add custom ornamentation. You can also add symbols and images to create a theme for your warrior. To be completely honest, visual customization is not generally something I give a shit about, but in this game, where the character models are large enough to see the details in play, and you’re typically locked in in 1v1 encounters, the customization really does add something.

On the technical side, the beta played fine. I was able to join matches and group with a friend. I didn’t notice any significant lag or framerate drops. Loading times are quite long, but that’s not something that bothers me a great deal. You can set up private matches with friends, solo with bots, or a combination thereof, which is an absolutely fantastic feature given the learning curve of the game’s systems.

So I’ll be jumping all over this game, right? Eh, probably not. While I can appreciate what it has to offer, the focus is clearly on multiplayer PvP, which is not generally something I enjoy. There was no story mode to try out, so whether it has a strong single player campaign remains to be seen. If my friends go wild for it, I may pick it up; if not, I have plenty to keep me busy until Horizon Zero Dawn comes out.

 

Video Games

Journey game review

This is going to be an awkward review for me. I played the download version of Journey on the PS4 and had the game crash repeatedly. It seems this a fairly common, but inconsistent issue. Some people, like me, have occasional crashes but are able to get through the game. Some people have the game constantly crash at the same point and they can’t get beyond it. Still others are able to play through without any problem at all.

It is extremely frustrating, as it would be for any game, but with a game like Journey, the enjoyment comes from the trance-like meditative state that playing induces. The blue screen of death doesn’t much contribute to one’s tranquility. Towards the end (snow area), I tried signing out of PSN and was able to play the rest of the way without a crash. Whether or not that was a coincidence, I don’t know, but it’s something to try if you’re having similar problems.

Let’s assume from this point on, that the game functioned as intended.

Journey is a meditative game. You begin as a lone soul in the desert, trying to make your way to a distant mountain. You do this through a combination of walking, sliding, and gliding. Movement is smooth and graceful, as are the movements of the many ‘cloth’ objects in the worlds.

Progressing from one area to the next requires some simple puzzle solving. Enough to keep you mentally engaged but never frustrated. Predominantly though, the point is simply to experience the sights, sounds, music, and graceful movement. The game is very peaceful, with moods ranging from somber to jovial depending on the particular environment.

During your journey, you may happen across other players also making their way to the mountain. You can’t communicate except via an emote that displays your symbol. It’s a nice touch that makes the world seem not so lonely, but without the annoyances that often come with multiplayer.

I enjoyed Journey, but it surely isn’t for everyone. If you don’t get easily immersed, it’s probably not for you. It very much depends on the player ceasing to be self-aware. It doesn’t have a story in the regular sense, or lots of action, or high scores to go after. If you’re looking for a challenge or competition, then look somewhere else.

Journey is very niche game, but what it tries to do, it does very well. I prefer it to its siblings Flower and flOw; I think because it’s more human. Oddly enough, I also like that the game is very short. It can easily be completed in one or two sittings. But if you enjoy the feeling you get from playing, then it basically has endless replay value, and each time it will be an enjoyable, relaxing, compact experience—just like meditation.