Fanservice Fiesta: Girl Fight

 

Girl Fight is a fighting game title that does exactly what you would expect from a game called Girl Fight: it depicts well-endowed girls fighting it out in one-on-one, martial arts arena combat. Girl Fight is essentially a Dead or Alive clone that excels at just one thing – being average in every respect.

 

 
Fanservice Fiesta: Girl Fight

Faries Reviews: Onigiri for PC

 

Onigiri is an MMO set in mythical feudal Japan which exhibits a great aesthetic style and can be described as a Tera clone. Join Ross as he reviews this fantastical title which is scheduled to be released for PS4 in the near future.

 

 
Faries Reviews: Onigiri for PC

Quest Quorner: Persona 3 Portable for PSP

 

In this edition of Quest Quorner, Ross reviews Persona 3 Portable for the PSP. Is this title as good as Persona 4? Find out in this latest Faries and Game Tangents review. Some words of warning: viewer discretion advised if you’re squeamish witnessing anime teens shoot themselves in the head with a pistol.

 

 
Quest Quorner: Persona 3 Portable for PSP

Star Wars: Empire at War Review (PC)

 

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What better way is there to spend Star Wars Day than to play Star Wars video games while The Empire Strikes Back plays on the television in the background.

 

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Star Wars: Empire at War is a real-time strategy game that feels like a cross between a streamlined Galactic Civilizations and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. It is time-consuming and addictive, strategic and brutally difficult; and when overcome, it can be exceptionally rewarding. Well crafted and designed, Star Wars: Empire at War may just be one of the best Star Wars video games I have ever played.

 

Players are given a choice to start the game as either the Rebel Alliance or the Empire. Star Wars: Empire at War is broken up into three main gameplay modes: the galactic metagame, space battles, and ground battles. All three aspects of the gameplay feel diverse, and when played in a rotation, they break up the monotony of playing the same type of battle repeatedly.

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On the galactic map, players are tasked with taking and holding planets, managing resources for each planet, and building a fleet and ground forces with which to launch future offensives. Like with Galactic Civilizations, each planet must first be attacked with a fleet of spaceships. Once victorious, ground troops must be deployed to eradicate enemy ground forces and take crucial resource points. Each planet has a disparate and limited number of slots with which to build structures. Structures are used to produce various resources: space stations are used to monitor nearby enemy fleet movements, deploy orbital defenses, and manufacture ships; land structures are used to produce money, ground troops such as infantry and tanks, and surface based planetary defenses.

 

Once a planet is occupied, strategic planning for future movements becomes imperative. Because some planets have more resource slots than others, players have to decide how best to use each planet. Things become even more complicated when you factor in the planet’s proximity to enemy transportation routes. Players would be wise to stack large fleets and ground troops on planets near these transportation routes, while leaving distant occupied planets lightly defended and producing currency, the games most vital resource used to purchase ships and troops. Occupied planets near these transportation routes are subject to repeated attack from enemy fleets, and the enemy is not shy about throwing everything they have at you. Here is where the difficulty can spike relegating battles to an arduous back-and-forth exasperated by poor strategic planning. Being able to produce multitudes of troops and ships means having a high maximum population potential. Players can expand their maximum population by taking planetary systems. Strategic prudence in Star Wars: Empire at War means occupying planetary systems away from enemy transportation routes while positioning the bulk of your forces near those routes until your armies are large enough to mount an offensive. Doing otherwise makes the game a difficult and painful slog which may lead to your humiliating defeat.

 

EmpireAtWar10Space battles are initiated when the player or A.I. moves a fleet into orbit over an enemy occupied planet. Once in battle, the gameplay resembles what is to be expected from a traditional RTS. Although the number of ships in a fleet have a fixed limit, the number of reinforcements is only limited by the size of the fleet allocated to that particular planet. Once a ship on the battlefield is destroyed, players can call reinforcements from the pool of ships in their allocated fleet. In other words, victories in these hard fought battles are largely dependent upon the overall size of your fleet and number of reinforcements you have at your disposal.

 

Each ship has very distinct characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. Star Wars: Empire at War follows a very formulaic rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay, making it crucial for players to have a diverse mix of ships in their battle squadron. For example, heavy cruisers are slow but absorb a lot of damage and have long range laser attacks. Y-Wing bombers are quick but can be picked off easily by laser fire, but their bombing attacks are devastating, especially when you need to take out a shield generator on a space station. Bombing runs require the Y-Wings to be dangerously close to their target, so having cruisers and corvettes draw away laser fire is a prudent strategy.

 

EmpireAtWar6Powerful frigates and heavy cruisers are units found at the far end of the tech tree. Unlike other games in the genre, players don’t research new technology. Instead, new tech presents itself organically when story-based mission objectives are satisfied, or they can be stolen by sending C-3P0 and R2-D2 on espionage missions. Having powerful units in your fleet is crucial to defending occupied planetary systems or mounting an attack against the enemy. When attacked, players must protect their space station from bombardment; when on the attack, players must destroy the enemy’s space station. Taking down an enemy space station follows a pattern of systematic destruction. Destroying the station’s shield generator further weakens the station’s defensive integrity, and taking out its hanger bay halts the production of enemy reinforcements. Getting near the space station requires thinning or eradicating the enemy’s fleet of heavy cruisers and smaller ships. None of this is easy, and the battles can be so hard fought that they become exhausting. In the end, victory in space is thoroughly satisfying, but sometimes frustrating.

 

EmpireAtWar3Ground battles follow suit with space battles in a few key game mechanics, with a few significant differences. Like with space battles, combat strategy requires conformity with its rock-paper-scissors style rule set. Also, troop allocation on the battlefield is limited with the potential for reinforcements being called from the fleet of transport ships in orbit, again limited only by the number of troops moved to that planetary system. The number of troops on the battlefield can be expanded by taking and holding key strategic positions located on the map, a mechanic that is similar to the aforementioned Dawn of War. Once secured, that position converts into a landing zone for reinforcement placement. Another similarity with Dawn of War is that each individual unit is comprised of a small group of foot soldiers and/or vehicles. As your units traverse the map, platforms can be found and converted into turret emplacements specialized for taking out specific unit types, or healing or repair stations for foot soldiers or vehicles, respectively. There is no resource management or production during the ground battles in Star Wars: Empire at War since resource management is all handled in the galactic map metagame.

 

EmpireAtWar8Completing a ground battle typically requires players to hunt for and destroy enemy barracks and factories, putting a halt to enemy unit production. After all of the enemies are wiped out, the level ends. Sometimes denizens of that planet will either aid you or fight against you. This means you may find yourself fighting alongside Wookies, Ewoks, or Gungans, or you may be required to destroy civilian cities and villages.

 

Ground battles become easier once the player learns the nuances to combat and strategy, at least until the end of the campaign where the difficulty spikes upward, leading players into long, exhausting battles. During these battles late in the game, you may find yourself starting a level pinned down in your landing zone while endless streams of enemy troops, civilians, and AT-ATs continuously attack your position. Just make sure you bring a large fleet of reinforcements with you into these battles.

 

The story in Star Wars: Empire at War follows the events leading up to the battle with the Death Star seen in Episode IV: A New Hope. The story gives players and fans some insight into those events where the Rebel Alliance scrambled to gather intelligence pertaining to the Empire’s weapon of mass destruction. Some astute observers may find a few anachronisms within the story, however. For example, did Han Solo help the Rebel Alliance before meeting Obi-Wan and Luke on Tatooine? Did the Rebels find schematics for assembling X-Wing Fighters just prior to their attack on the Death Star? With all nerdy fanboy questions aside, the story does a good job of adding weight to the events taking place in the game, enhancing the player’s sense of involvement and interaction.

 

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Production wise, Star Wars: Empire at War does a lot right, but takes a minimalist approach to achieve this. Graphics, sound, and music are all authentically Star Wars, but the story is told strictly through holographic projections of key figures giving orders on the side of the screen. Developer Petroglyph Games opted to tell its story organically during gameplay rather than through high production cut-scenes. Because this title is an RTS, it works, but it still feels like something is missing. Also, graphics are dated by today’s standards. Character models are low detail and most of the ground maps look generic and ordinary, but the ships are identifiable and space battles look good. The sound and music, however, are exhilarating and they engender fond nostalgia for the classic franchise this game based upon.

 

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Star Wars: Empire at War is an amalgamation of diverse ideas synergistically coming together to produce a unique RTS experience. It may be frustrating and prohibitively difficult for some, but the meticulous merging of its gameplay systems, and its effective use of the Star Wars license, make for an exciting title for fans of strategy games and Star Wars, alike. My youthful fanboy excitement for Star Wars has waned in recent years. Star Wars: Empire at War is a game that helped renew my interest in the venerable franchise, and has helped me to experience that childlike excitement I had thought long forgotten.

Star Wars: Empire at War Review

Story

7

Gameplay

9

Presentation

7.5

Lasting Appeal

9

Overall

8.5

The Library Episode 1: Fighters Megamix for Sega Saturn

 

The Library is a new Faries and Game Tangents series where Ross does an impromptu play-through and review of a game he pulled off the shelf of his vast library of games. In Episode 1, Ross reviews Sega Saturn exclusive Fighters Megamix, a combination of Sega’s popular Virtua Fighter and the lesser known Fighting Vipers. Watch as low-poly anime girls beat the clothing off of each other.

 

The Library Episode 1: Fighters Megamix for Sega Saturn

Retro-Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Retro-Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Gameplay: 6/10 World Design: 3/10 Character Design 3/10 Story 5/10

Overall 5/10


Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES is a JRPG in the traditional sense. You have a group of brain dead teens running around saving the world from evil shadows in a modern setting with oodles of fantasy, deception, and romance elements thrown in. Combat is turn-based, there is stuff to collect, and you can go on dates. Like other Persona games, to cast spells you have to shoot yourself in the head - perhaps they felt that it would make the game more edgy - it doesn't.
This game is not very good... sorry all you die hard fans, but this is not an above average RPG. It's unoriginal and it has no outstanding, or even above average, qualities. Look at the pictures on this post. You will notice that the creatures look extremely generic, one being a blatant ripoff of Ghost Rider. The other pictures are of the environments which you visit over and over (and over and over). I think I walked into that mall at least 100 times in my game. I probably sat in that school desk mashing buttons another 200 times while pinching myself to stay awake. The game is, however, playable in the same sense that Enchanted Arms was playable on the Xbox 360; but it was not enjoyable. Persona 3 has overly repetitive combat taking place in only one dungeon named Tartarus that looks essentially the same through the whole game except for texture color. The enemies are also unimaginative and repeat over and over. Combat is turn-based and is basically the same 99% of the time with no thought required to win. The few times you do need to think is because the enemies are designed to be cheap. You are never defeated because of better AI strategy. Rather, you only lose because the designers wanted an enemy (like a boss) to be very cheap, and you simply have to rinse and repeat to find a solution. This is not fun; it's just tired, old design. There are very few areas to explore outside of combat, and they are even less interesting. Without solid gameplay, a video game is nothing more than a very long 20 to 40 hour movie, but this was not a high budget, cinematic game. This means that the game depended entirely on story, but that element was even weaker than the gameplay. Further, if I want a movie, I'll spend two hours and watch one. If I want a book, I can read one. But when I get a game, I really want interactivity unlike hands-off media such as movies or books. That is not to say that I don't enjoy a crossover of media; in fact, my favorite RPG of all-time was Morrowind, and that game had very deep lore and more story than any JRPG I have ever played. I also enjoy traditional JRPGs very much including classics like Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, the Suikoden series, FFIV, FFV, and more recently Lost Odyssey, which is incredibly underrated. The problem isn't the cookie, it's the baker (I'll explain this reference in the last paragraph).
Here is how I would break down my play-through of Persona 3 FES:
  1. A lot of time is put into character development, but it's done very poorly and without depth. I don't like or dislike any of them, but at about hour 15, I just wanted the game to end and I got annoyed.
  2. Turn-based combat is setup similar to every JRPG since the NES. This is not good or bad on its own, but the problem is that effects, animations, and enemies are simply unimaginative, and there is little strategy for the most part.
  3. The social simulator aspect is unbearably bad, and it's forced on you whether you like it or not. Again, the concept isn't bad, and I have seen it before, but the application in Persona 3 FES is bad. Click on a door, select an action, then wait 3 seconds and the game gives you experience... now do it again over and over... this is not PS2 caliber gameplay, this is NES quality.
  4. There is creature collecting by fusing 2 or 3 of them to create something new. Problem is that creatures feel repetitive because many are just the same as others in their class. Further, there is almost no interaction at all with them outside of combat so I really didn't care about them.
  5. It has a dungeon and dungeon crawling!... But it looks the same on every level with very little enemy variation. Again, this is a game on the PS2, not the PS1. Persona 3 FES needed better level design.
And that pretty much sums up Persona 3. Remember this game is not that old relative to similar games from the early 2000s. It came out in 2007/2008 and the story is similar to Final Fantasy X which came out in 2003 and had better gameplay by far. It is not as if Final Fantasy X was great either, yet Persona 3 FES was much lower quality all-around in comparison. Graphics were not as good; game play was less interesting; character progression was equally boring; and world design was non-existent with only a few locations to explore. Like Final Fantasy X, the story devolved into a tired philosophical perspective about how humans bring about their own horrors because they have no courage and cannot see past their own nose. Of course, as one gets older and hopefully, wiser, one realizes that this philosophy is not just false, but is a product of arrogance and the need to stroke ones own ego to make oneself feel better about oneself. As for more similarity (Spoiler alert! Skip this sentence if you don't want to see it), both Final Fantasy X and P3 FES have a mentally challenged hero who saves the world from itself via sacrifice; and in both cases, I couldn't wait for the game to end. I did manage to finish this game, albeit it took me nearly 3 months because I was not enjoying myself.
It's hard to talk about a game like Persona 3 FES without defaulting back to the subject of why JRPGs lost so much popularity in the last decade. It is my opinion that JRPGs have become a lazy way to try and milk money. They have become formulaic, and it just feels like there is no love in their creation. They are just pumping them out to a recipe and every studio has their own mixture. But no matter how hard you try to reinvent your recipe, ultimately a cookie is a cookie. I am aware that you can apply this metaphor to all games, but again, it's not the genre that is bad, it's the application of the genre and lack of courage. It's almost like some creators are burned-out and they just don't care to innovate the genre anymore, which is unfortunate because the genre is still fun when done right. The problem with JRPGs seems to be that they put too much emphasis on esoteric elements (like the color of the sprinkles), and they don't spend enough time on the most important part: the gameplay (or taste of the cookie). Perhaps they are doing this because it is tried and true for marketing purposes. Add over the top gore and sell y amount of copies. Add scantly clad women and you sell x amount of copies. This is really sad if you think about it because it means that the creators have run out of ideas. But I don't believe that this is the case at all; I think there is something else going on. After all, do you stop loving warm chocolate chip cookies after eating one, two, ten, or a hundred of them? No, you will still love those chocolaty, chewey, obesity-causing sweets. I think that it's all about greed by a handful of very wealthy developers who simply wanted to milk the genre shamelessly. To save money, they found ways to make development easier and cheaper. For instance, it's much easier to write a new story - especially if it is generic in itself and only requires a new setting and new names - than it is to create all new gameplay and develop a new system. Some developers might also say that it's better to make a mediocre game, make a few bucks, and walk away with some credit, than to take a chance, be ridiculed, and possibly lose money. At some point, however, the well of opportunity will run dry if there is no innovation. This is what has happened to JRPGs. It's not that people all of a sudden hate cookies, it's just too much competition all doing the same thing, using similar formulas that are turning the genre into a bore. Persona 3 is simply another personification of the problem... no pun intended.

TMNT: Out of the Shadows Review (Xbox 360)

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For years, fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) have been itching to get their hands on a qualified successor to the gaming franchise, but TMNT: Out of the Shadows promises more than it can handle. Although the easiest route taken would just be playing on the sense of nostalgia, TMNT: Out of the Shadows delivers a thoughtful experience that has plenty of depth. Developer Red Fly Studio set out to create what they felt is a Ninja Turtle experience that resounds with its audience both of the generation growing up with the current Nickelodeon TMNT show, and the audience that grew up on the comics/animated series/live-action movies decades back. Did they achieve this goal? I can say it was accomplished, but it comes bundled with a bit of tough love.

Story
fight1TMNT: Out of the Shadows is based within the same universe of the current running TMNT television show but tries to be something more of its own turtle powered story. The best thing to come from the story mode is the online co-op. Right from the beginning, you’ll feel a bit unsure on how the story will unfold and if it’ll be worth it in the end, and unfortunately, you may leave disappointed. Although there’s some great dialogue that comes out of the story between your heroes in a half-shell, it’s not enough to keep the story afloat. Between the generic plot, the very glitchy and uninspiring boss battles, and the very basic cut-scenes, you’ll find yourself going through the motions to unlock the rest of what the game has to offer. On the upside, the online co-op is actually quite enjoyable if you can get your team attacks timed correctly, and the overall plot is somewhat turtle reminiscent. However, this doesn’t seem to match the same quality we’ve actually come to see from the current running Nickelodeon series.

Features
Although I found myself playing more of the challenge mode than any other mode the game has to offer, there’s something available to please all types of players. Story mode is a single player, 2-player split-screen, or 4-player online experience; Arcade mode is a classic side-scrolling beat-em-up that uses the new combat system for couch co-op for up to 4 players; Challenge arcademode is a single-player mode that allows you to take on 4 rounds of enemies, while trying to get the best score possible; and Survival mode is the final mode, consisting of a single player that is in control of all 4 turtles at once, struggling to survive as many waves of enemies as possible. The total package of what TMNT: Out of the Shadows has to offer is actually quite surprising. It’s a little upsetting that neither the Survival or Arcade modes are online co-op, both of which would leave very fulfilling online experiences. Between all the modes available, a very intriguing combat system, and an added depth provided by the stats to customize your play style, TMNT: Out of the Shadows is enjoyable turtle fun.

 

 

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Gameplay
It’s pretty inspiring what Red Fly attempted to do with the depth in both combat and customization. Although there’s a bit of a learning curve, fans of other titles like the Batman: Arkham series may feel very at home with the combat system. You’ll find similarities between the counters, fighting, and Turtle-Power KO’s, all that are vaguely reminiscent to that of another crime fighting individual. TMNT: Out of the Shadows adds its own flair by throwing special attacks your way that take advantage of the modifier button and the right thumbstick. The way this works is that you hold down the modifier button and rotate the right thumbstick in a 90°, 180°, or 360° motion that will provide a different special attack that consumes a portion of your energy displayed at the top corner of the screen. Shortly after some practice, you’ll find yourself chaining special attacks with special counters, combo attacks to fight3Turtle-Power KO’s, all working your way to that 99 hit combo Achievement. The further you play into the story and other game modes, the more experience you gain and level up, and the more points you earn to spend on customizing your turtles further along. In what is possibly one of the most interesting concepts of this game, the stats section of TMNT: Out of the Shadows actually lets you spend ability points to level up your turtles in certain aspects of their abilities. There are a few spots where you’ll actually have to decide which ability you’d like to have over another, bringing a bit more personality into your play style. There’s really a lot to love in this game, but a lot of what makes it so special is also what makes it so frustrating. If you’re not fast enough or watching your surroundings carefully, simple combat techniques, such as countering, can become infuriating combo breakers. Other times you’ll find the combat to be a little too sensitive and you’ll find yourselves evading a little too much. Combined with various technical issues, the game’s full potential is not fully reached.

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The Final Word
As someone who was looking forward to this game, the end result was somewhat of a disappointment for me. The overall experience is enjoyable, full of personality, and offers a multitude of options, but the lack of polish and constant issues leave much more wanted. The potential is there leaving room for a possible sequel to fix these issues in the future. As a downloadable game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows offers an entertaining and challenging bundle worthy of the TMNT namesake.

 

Story

5

Gameplay

7

Presentation

5.5

Lasting Appeal

8

Overall

6.5

 

State of Decay Review (Xbox 360)

 

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It is a difficult proposition to innovate upon the familiar video game theme of the zombie apocalypse which is now so commonplace that it has become a veritable cliche. It seems as though a new zombie game or zombie themed DLC is releasing on a weekly basis. Leave it to Undead Labs and Microsoft to put forth a commendable effort to take the familiar and ubiquitous and create something fresh and novel, then release their title on the unlikely service of Xbox Live Arcade. The end result of this collaboration is the fun, but flawed, State of Decay; a title which aims to readjust players preconceptions behind the concepts of survival and horror within video games while establishing a new paradigm for the interaction between players and the game world within the zombie themed genre.

 

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Because of the confinement of the 2 gigabyte limit for games uploaded to the XBLA service, Undead Labs was faced with the difficult task of bringing a full retail priced game experience contained within a spartan digital download file size. One of the compromises made to stay within this limit was to State of Decay’s tautly written story. Players begin the game thrown into the post-apocalyptic madness by assuming the role of Marcus who, along with his friend Ed, is in Trumbull County attempting to escape the madness of everyday life by camping within the county’s secluded rural borders. After a violent introduction to the zombie infestation, Marcus and Ed take refuge with a small group of survivors and the game’s main quest begins. It becomes clear from this point that the narrative’s main function is to provide players with a pathway towards the game’s completion. Since playable characters are expendable and replaceable, the game’s main story proves ancillary to the component involving the efficacy of player decisions and interactions within the in-game world. State of Decay is a quintessential RPG which thrusts players into the role of community organizer with an emphasis on survival over in-game identity.

 

carAs an RPG set within an open-world sandbox environment, players are allowed to explore the entire map from the beginning at their leisure, all while avoiding or fighting zombie hoards in the process. Players can hike on foot to and from locations, but quicker and safer traversal can be achieved by driving cars which are found in surplus around the environment. Cars are a most effective weapon against relentless zombie encroachment since large groups can be killed off by running them over with the vehicle. Cars do sustain damage with every impact and they can become unusable, or even explode, over time. Still, it is prudent to always be within reach of a vehicle given the frequency of desperate situations the game presents players with, especially those where you find yourself in need of making a quick escape when faced with an insurmountable zombie horde converging on your position.

 

mapWhile exploring Trumbull County’s idyllic countryside, players are tasked with building and maintaining a community of survivors. By completing quests as the game progresses, more survivors can be invited to join your community, increasing the necessity to manage community morale which is quantified by a meter located on the player’s HUD. When morale diminishes, community members become more inclined to fight each other, run away, or commit suicide. Players must keep the community well stocked on food, medicine, and weapons in order to keep morale at acceptable levels. In order to do this, players must brave the zombie infested abandoned neighborhoods and business buildings in a constant search for supplies, then return safely home. This is the main game play focus of State of Decay; the urgent struggle to maintain balance between resource consumption and survival in the face of an ever-present threat.

 

Completion of quests and depositing items and weapons into the community storage earns players Influence points. Influence points are State of Decay’s form of currency. Removing powerful weapons from storage, expanding and improving facilities within the community, calling for help when scavenging for resources, and setting up outposts around the neighborhood set with zombie traps, all cost Influence points. Influence points wane continually as the player stands idly by, heightening the sense of urgency to explore the environment in the hopes of surviving a successful scavenger hunt, or to complete randomly occurring side missions.

 

friendsAs the community grows, so does the need for an improved or a larger location to set up your home. While on scavenger hunts, players may come across construction materials or containers of fuel, which are required to power the homestead. More beds may be required as the population grows, and better medical facilities and sniper outposts are helpful at increasing recovery speed for injured characters and protecting your group, respectively. Workshops can be built and upgraded enabling players to perform tasks anywhere from repairing damaged weapons and vehicles, to building molotov cocktails and grenades. All of these facilities require construction materials and Influence points to be exchanged for their construction, and the types of specialized facilities built are dependent upon the research choices players make based on their game play preferences.

 

The community within State of Decay’s game world is a very dynamic group filled with needy and ambulatory survivors. While the player’s chosen character is busy completing missions, other community members controlled by the A.I. are also running errands, having quarrels at home, and generally getting themselves into trouble. It oftentimes becomes the player’s responsibility to help resolve personality conflicts at home, help out a fellow survivor who is cornered by zombies, or help a friend hunt the more powerful Freak type zombies. These random side quests appear frequently and tend to overlap. This becomes vexing when players realize some of these side quests can end up in failure if they do not address them in time. Because Trumbull County is a very dangerous zombie infested nightmare, A.I. controlled characters can die when doing tasks away from the player’s attention. Acknowledgment of these game mechanics helps to heighten the player’s sense of urgency in assigning priority to specific tasks, giving weight to the player’s in-game decisions while producing a satisfying experience hinged upon a balanced system of risk/reward.

 

executionCharacter progression is a central component for State of Decay’s systemic design, and it is integral to the game’s overall fun. Each playable character is assigned specific attributes which denote the character’s aptitude in performing certain tasks. For example, the Cardio skill determines how long the character can sustain a sprint or repeated melee combat; the Wits skill determines how quietly and quickly a character can rummage through drawers and cabinets in search of supplies; and the Fighting skill determines how effective the character is in combat. These and other important skills can be leveled up by simple repetition of their corresponding action. As character skills improve, selections of specialized skills become available. Here, players are given an option to select a focus on specific abilities which are governed by a given attribute skill. For example, although Shooting is a main attribute skill, players can select to specialize in hand guns instead of rifles; another example would be choosing blunt weapons instead of bladed weapons. Some specializations allow players to attack multiple enemies at once in order to escape being surrounded, or to perform flourishing finishing moves that typically ends with the satisfying crunch sounds of a zombie’s head being crushed with concrete. No matter how efficient your character becomes at the art of zombie apocalypse survival, that character will become tired after extended periods out in the field, resulting in a penalty to the character’s stamina. When this happens, players can return to their home base and exchange the playable character with another survivor in the community, who comes complete with his/her unique set of attribute skills to develop. Character progression is a genuinely enjoyable aspect of State of Decay, and it is functionally necessary since the game’s design forces players to keep characters on a steady rotation.

 

breatherCharacter death is a distinct possibility in State of Decay, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s game over. If your character should succumb to the ferocity of the zombie hordes, the game will resume in the body of another survivor. Thankfully, death may be likely, but it isn’t inevitable. Although there are carry weight restrictions and inventory slot limitations, each character can still carry a few melee weapons and a firearm to aid in survival. Despite the game’s somewhat rough presentation, melee combat manages to be tense, fluid and fun. Nothing beats doing a golf club swing finisher with a crowbar directly to the head of a downed zombie. Unfortunately, gun play doesn’t fare as well. At best, the gun play mechanics are functional; at worst, they are stiff and imprecise (a recent patch has helped ameliorate this). Fortunately, using guns is not the focus of the combat in State of Decay since zombies relentlessly approach and ammo is scarce. This intentional design choice serves well to convey a sense of palpable horror. State of Decay is not a traditionally scary game, but the tension spawned from the player’s desire to remain undetected while scavenging as large groups of zombies pass outside elicits a visceral response. One wrong move may mean detection, inciting the zombies to doggedly pursue, and thrusting the player into a desperate struggle to survive and escape. Moments like this are what makes State of Decay one of the most terrifying and exhilarating games in recent memory; when the conflation of the meticulously interwoven design mechanics coalesce into something great. A converging zombie horde doesn’t mean instant death. Should the zombie bodies pile on top of the character, the game allows players the opportunity for a second wind by vigorously tapping the A button. bloodyWhen successful, the nearly dead character triumphantly rises from the pile with great force, knocking the zombies back, all while experiencing a slight restoration to health and stamina at the cost of serious injury that shortens the overall length of the character’s health meter. Experiencing the thrill of barely escaping and watching the character limp back home is very rewarding, leaving players with the sense of relief that the character has lived to fight another day.

 

There has been a lot of attention directed at State of Decay’s lack of polish and technical shortcomings since its release. Undead Labs’ unique vision of producing a huge, zombie infested open-world for XBLA was evidently complicated by a limited budget and XBLA file size policy. The game still manages to look acceptable for the current generation, but in motion the game’s flaws become glaringly apparent. Texture pop-in and frame rate issues abound, especially when driving fast in a vehicle. Character animations appear stiff and clipping with objects occurs frequently, specifically when zombies are climbing a fence or through windows. It is rare that any of these shortcomings affect the game play or the overall enjoyment of the game, nor do they undercut the game’s deftly honed underlying systems. What does pose a barrier to entry for the novice RPG player, however, is the lack of a proper tutorial at the beginning of the game. Learning the game’s sim and RPG systems is further obfuscated by the confusing in-game menu system that requires patience and attention to detail to fully understand, even for experienced RPG players.

 

dead zed

 

State of Decay presents gamers with a fresh and novel interpretation of the zombie apocalypse set in an open-world RPG characterized by a complex and well balanced game play system. Undead Labs has done a great job of injecting palpable exhilaration and terror within a virtual world mounted upon the foundation of the concept of survival. State of Decay is a title whose addictive and ambitious game play design stands at the precipice of brilliance, marred only by its technical issues. Thankfully, State of Decay is a game that merely buckles, but never bends, under the weight of its own ambition. In this era where Xbox fans have few console exclusives to look forward to, State of Decay is one of the best Xbox 360 games to come out in some time, and could have been one of the best new franchises of the generation. It is a game that deserves to take its place among the pantheon of great Microsoft exclusives, if only the publishing giant would come to realize the value of the rough diamond they have in their grasp, and give it the polish, and financial support, it deserves in future iterations.

 

Story

7

Gameplay

9

Presentation

6.5

Lasting Appeal

9.2

Overall

8.3

 

 

The Last of Us Review (PS3)

 

The Last of Us cover
 

Few games in this generation can evoke the range of emotions that The Last of Us does and provide such an engaging experience that’ll keep you coming back. From heart wrenching moments, to frantic encounters, you’ll find yourself lost in the world developer Naughty Dog has dropped you into, struggling to survive. The Last of Us not only proves itself in its realistic gameplay, but together with its powerful storytelling, paints a larger picture that only the strongest survive in this world.

 

dynamic duo

 

Story

The main story has a general focus on the relationship and journey endured between our two main protagonists, Joel and Ellie. Within minutes of the game’s opening, you’ll find yourself feeling a bit more invested with the characters than you may have been with any other game. I have never broke into tears in any game before, but with The Last Of Us I found myself getting misty-eyed at least three separate times. What makes these characters special is more than just their past, but the growth and emotions that come with their character progression. Joel is a man torn by his past, broken by the tolls taken for survival; while Ellie is a vocal, mysterious teenager hiding more than just her emotions. Although verging towards a classic story cliche, Joel is tasked with helping Ellie cross the country while the world has been destroyed due to the spread of an infection. As I said before, it’s not the task at hand that is at the core of this story, rather it’s the hardships Joel and Ellie bear on the road to their destination. Not once through my play-through did I ever feel torn out of the immersion I was sucked into from the start. Every single moment felt as realistic as it could be in a world torn apart by the basic instincts of mankind. From the struggles faced encountering other survivors, to dangerous measures taken to escape the grasp of an infected individual, The Last of Us did a fantastic job of keeping the world grounded.

 

Moving along, you’ll come across many different key characters, all of which deliver outstanding performances. It’s expected to see this from Joel and Ellie and their interactions with each other, but The Last of Us really seems to deliver some of the best moments with the interactions from characters like Tess and Sam. At some point these performances were so powerful that I had to put down my controller and really think about what had just happened. Yeah, it was that good. Although we’re never really given much detail in the history of these characters, you’ll quickly find yourself absorbed into their fiction and what they’re fighting for. However, some of my favorite story elements implemented are the use of ambient narrative. What I mean by this is the use of letters, voice recorders, and other collectibles to paint a picture of what happened during the days the infection spread. The use of ambient narrative helps burrow you into the fiction and helps you grasp a better sense of the kind of struggles people other than Joel and Ellie have endured. You’ll feel sad, angry, or even chuckle a little when coming across these pieces of interest. These range from stories of families torn apart, diaries, logs, or even a chart categorizing the stages of infection. These subtle cues make The Last of Us stand out even more so than other games out there today.

 

clicker

 

This isn’t your basic adventure tale, however. You’ll be faced with some tough decisions and some of the most intense moments that’ll really make you question you’re judgment at times. This is a story of survival, and at the end of the day, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that it’s either you, or them. This tone is circled around many times over with Joel and Ellie. Whether it be Joel giving little hints at his past about what he had to do to keep on living, or the desperate actions Ellie takes to keep on moving forward to their goal, it might not sit well why you kill fellow survivors, but it’s made clear that you must do what is necessary to survive.

Gameplay

shotgun ellie anticipationStory aside, this is a game at its core, and it is successful at conveying the struggles of surviving through its gameplay. Like mentioned before, you’ll never really feel like there’s a reason to be broken out of the submersion The Last of Us plunges you into, and it’s prevalent through your play-through in many more ways than your basic run and gun adventure. The Last of Us combines systems that are common in a lot of different games these days as it attempts to capture the dangers of the world. You’ll find yourself trying to go through levels as stealthily and quietly as possible trying to avoid infected, actually portraying survival horror better than most other survival horror games these days. Other times, you’ll feel as if you have no other choice but to run though guns blazing, becoming the predator other survivors need to fear if they attempt to steal from you. Breaking down the game, however, you will have to play this game smartly, keeping in mind that you won’t always have the ammo or supplies necessary to progress through each level as a force to be reckoned with. The Last of Us breaks away from standard game logic, bringing the realism even further when it comes to finding supplies in believable locations. I constantly found myself searching through houses, opening every drawer and cupboard expecting to find something only to be left disappointed. Ammo and supplies are not a commodity, be forewarned. The most unrealistic part of survival is the amount of broken scissors I kept finding (Honestly, why are there so many broken scissors?).

molotov ready

Supplies play an integral part of the crafting system The Last of Us implements. Crafting gives you the choice of creating stronger weapons, molotov cocktails, smoke bombs, nail bombs, shivs, or even first aid kits. What really makes this system feel balanced is the fact that a lot of these supplies actually supplement each other. For instance, the items needed for a molotov cocktail also are the same supplies for a first aid kit. This system makes you think about what is needed for each situation you encounter.

 

Overall, the combat is more involved and streamlined than I ever imagined. Shooting works just as well as you might expect, with little indicators flashing on the reticle telling you just what kind of hit you landed. Melee combat is by far the best representation of fight for survival. Players have the chance to grab enemies when they’re down or unsuspecting to use them as a shield or just take them out. Weapons like 2x4s and pipes tend to be a bit more brutal than any other weapon you may come across. Zooming in on your joel_plankfight with the enemy showcases barbarous executions. You’ll even find the option to improve Joel’s skills to craft or apply medicine faster among other skill-sets. Lastly, you have the stealth aspect of the game which, more often than not, is a better idea than one might think. Ironically, this is the only part of the game that took me out of the experience, but it wasn’t enough to break the game in any way. Sneaking and seeking cover is essential, especially around infected, and it further pushes you to find bottles and bricks which can be thrown to steer your enemies away. Even the listening mode, which quiets down everything in the room and allows Joel to detect where enemies may be, is integral to the entire stealth ambiance. However, you may find your AI counterparts running louder than necessary, or even running into enemies. It doesn’t affect your status with enemies overall, but it does tear away from the realism from time to time. That being said, Naughty Dog did a fantastic job of making such a strong control system that you’ll never really find yourself fumbling over menus to break away from your experience.

 

stages-of-infection

 

Presentation

After previous games like Uncharted 2 or 3, Naughty Dog provides, yet again, a gorgeous, engaging world that is easily brushed off through the vast majority of the campaign. The environments are easy to pass up, but the time taken to explore these landscapes is not time wasted. Naughty Dog has put a lot of detail into the game that unfortunately is often overlooked in the heat of the moment, moving from shelter to shelter. From the abandoned and overgrown streets of Pittsburgh, to the flooded and murky sewers, The Last of Us impressed in atmosphere. But how this atmosphere reacts to characters is what makes it special. The way cover and vantage is cleverly hidden as a broken down car, fallen roof, or boarded up window makes the experience more engaging. As mentioned, the voice acting is top-notch only adding to the cinematic experience.

 

Joel_bridge

 

Multiplayer

Like most games of this generation, The Last of Us features a multiplayer aspect, called “Factions”, that translates the core elements of the main game into a 4 on 4 skirmish. Although there are only two online modes, there is an interesting back story that comes along. You play as the leader of a clan of Fireflies or Hunters, which are out there fighting each day to bring some food to your group. With each match comes more survivors that need food, and a need to make sure your clan survives for 12 weeks. The multiplyer as a whole turned out to be much more enjoyable than I had expected. The gameplay worked a lot like the single player experience already had in terms of combat, crafting, and stealth, but also offers some great balances to the fight. In each battle, you have a loadout with one or two weapons, and a set of skills of your choosing (up to 4) that all have to fill the requirements set by the loadout point limit. For instance, you have 10 loadout points: a gun takes 2; two more skills take 2 each; two more skills take 1; and another weapon takes 2. Moving into game modes, you have 2 to choose from: Survivors and Supply Raid. Of the two, I found Survivors to be much more of a true experience to the tone of the game. There are multiple rounds where each person has one life per round. The first team to win 4 rounds is the overall winner. What makes this special is the feeling that you have to play it calmly, stealthily, and precise. Supply Raid is the second of the two modes, which is your basic team deathmatch mode. Each team has a pool of 20 spawns and as the match progresses, the first team out of spawns loses. Factions is a great addition to an already amazing single player experience that is well treated and very fitting.

Final Word and Score

The Last of Us is a game that can arguably be considered one of the better games of this generation, but also has its shortcomings. The friendly AI brings about most of the issues I  experienced through the game. As a total package, Naughty Dog has outdone itself again with an emotionally capturing narrative as well as a grasping tension contained within a world of struggle and dismay. Although it may not be for everyone, my play-through with the game was one that was highly enjoyable and one that spoke to me on a level I’ve never experienced in any other game.

 

Story

10

Gameplay

10

Presentation

10

Lasting Appeal

9.8

Overall

10

Yakuza: Dead Souls Review (PS3)

 

Tile1

 

Much like its zombie antagonists whom infest the Japanese district of Kamurocho, Yakuza: Dead Souls is a title that exists within a strange dichotomy. One minute it shambles and stumbles about, teetering on the edge of being dysfunctional; the next minute it is nimble and vigorously fast, a fluid and entertaining gameplay experience. Yakuza: Dead Souls is perhaps the very epitome of a modern Sega developed game, an analogue for its parent company’s long, frustrating history of providing the pinnacle in arcade style gaming fun for an audience of patient gamers who are willing to get past the many bumps and hurdles along the way.

 

Kaz

 

In Yakuza: Dead Souls players take control of one of four main characters including loan shark Shun Akiyama, Tojo Clan patriarch Goro Majima, former Omi Alliance Chairman Ryuji Goda, and series protagonist and hero Kazuma Kiryu, all of whom play mechanically identical to one another, minus the inclusion of character specific weapons such as Goda’s prosthetic Gatling gun arm. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a non-canonical sequel to Yakuza 2 set in an alternate timeline where the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho has been besieged by a zombie outbreak. Kazuma is lured back to the city and life he left behind after receiving a phone call informing him that his adopted daughter, Haruka, has been abducted and is being held hostage in the city. What follows is a serviceable yet enjoyable narrative that effectively provides the player with a platform for zombie killing mayhem as we follow our heroes’ intersecting journeys while they fight to survive the expanding threat of zombie mutation. Both absurdly hilarious and, on occasion, unexpectedly dramatic, the story of Yakuza: Dead Souls culminates in a workmanlike climax which, unlike other modern zombie themed fiction, gives a reasonable explanation for the biological disaster.

 

gameplay3Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fully featured Yakuza game which replaces the franchise’s traditional martial arts combat with third-person shooting. Although it may appear to play similarly to games such as Dead Space or Resident Evil, in actuality it is very different. Yakuza: Dead Souls is perhaps best described as a sandbox action-RPG, complete with a fairly deep leveling and crafting system, dozens of optional side quests and challenges, a vast world filled with eccentric characters to meet and places to visit, and a myriad of mini-games with which to keep players distracted. If you want to go bowling, shoot pool, sing karaoke, or try your luck at the casinos, go right ahead. If you want to enter into the quarantine zone to level grind, find crafting materials or complete side quests, you can do that, too. Players will want to complete these side missions because every little task, including eating at restaurants to restore health, confers either valuable experience, cash, or crafting items. Upon leveling up their characters, players earn skill points which can be used to purchase new abilities such as adding new inventory and equipment slots or increasing the chance to score head shots. Money and items are used to purchase new weapons and armor or upgrade equipment to transform your character into an even more proficient instrument of zombie genocide. Defensive equipment can be improved upon by combining them with crafting materials or new equipment can be created after players discover rare recipes after completing specific missions. Yakuza: Dead Souls offers players a huge world to interact with and discover. The main quest will take most players about 20 to 30 hours to complete, but completing optional side quests and challenges and playing mini-games can easily add over 100 hours of additional content for those persistent enough to overcome the game’s most glaring obstacle, the non-intuitive control scheme.

 

gameplay4HulkDifficult to learn controls can certainly pose an intimidating barrier to entry for many gamers. Although Yakuza: Dead Souls uses a control scheme that presents players with a steep learning curve, they are not mechanically bad, just awkward. In fact, as players acclimate to the game’s design over time, the purpose of the controls starts to make sense. Yakuza: Dead Souls exemplifies the phrase “run and gun” as players frequently find themselves running from the zombie hoards while attempting to carve themselves a path by simultaneously shooting down enemies. During exploration and ordinary traversal, the camera follows the player from behind, allowing camera rotation using the right analogue stick. During combat the camera sometimes pulls back slightly, giving players a better view of approaching enemies which literally spawn from everywhere. Here is where Yakuza: Dead Souls feels like an old style arcade shooter by allowing players to run around freely while shooting in the general direction they are running. By holding down L1 on the PS3 controller, the camera locks behind the player’s character which allows for strafing and better aiming control. However, aiming is still imprecise as fired shots automatically hit enemies positioned in the general direction you are aiming. Shot effectiveness is more dependent upon leveled up abilities and weapon stats than aiming. While most enemy encounters involve cliché zombie types which are easy to dispatch, monolithic level bosses and mid-tier bosses, such as the rollerblading Monkey Boys and hulking Meatheads, have weak points to target or require head shots to summarily defeat. By holding L2 on the PS3 controller, an aiming reticle appears at the expense of locking character movement, allowing players more precision aiming control. Unfortunately, reticle movement is mapped to the left analogue stick requiring players to use the same hand to hold down the L2 button, completing the recipe for awkward control design. Despite these foibles, the control scheme generally works well and proves conducive to zombie extermination after a little practice. The flaws in the control design are best exploited when players find themselves in tight spaces surrounded by droves of enemies. Here the camera can become spastic and difficult to control. This issue is compounded upon by enemies that have a penchant for knocking the player’s character to the ground. When this happens, the camera typically swings away from the enemies, making it difficult to re-establish aim upon getting up. Enemies then proceed to hover over the character, waiting to time their next attack to knock you to the ground repeatedly. Although this happens infrequently, it happens enough to be the most frustrating aspect of the game, and an issue that the developers should address in future iterations.

 

gameplay1

 

 

gameplay2For the most part, Yakuza: Dead Souls technically performs competently while handling dozens of enemies on screen simultaneously, but as the game’s story progresses and the zombie infestation spreads, enemy spawn rates dramatically increase, setting the stage for massive slow down and frame rate drops. This issue serves to aid enemy A.I., enabling them to catch up to the player’s character during large scale battles. Thankfully, this problem can be remedied by taking out large groups of enemies at a time. This process for mass destruction is facilitated by the inclusion of the Snipe Gauge, which fills up gradually over time. The zombie infested quarantine zones in Kamurocho are replete with exploding barrels and tanks, electrical boxes and vehicles, which become targets when the Snipe Gauge is full. Upon successful completion of a brief quick-time event, players can shoot these environmental objects resulting in large scale destruction. The Snipe Gauge’s recharge rate and usage frequency are also dependent upon purchasing skills after leveling up, incentivizing players to concentrate on side quests in exchange for reaping rewards to get an advantage in difficult battles.

 

The quality of the presentation in Yakuza: Dead Souls falls somewhere in between a last generation PS2 game and a modern PS3 game. Main storyline cut scenes are graphically impressive, characterized by large, detailed character models with distinctive and expressive facial features. Spoken dialogue is exclusively in Japanese with English subtitles, embellished with solid voice acting which appropriately represents the characters on screen. In game zombiegraphics, however, are less impressive. Character models are noticeably less detailed and barely exceed the standard of a last generation game. Environmental detail is good in the uninfected, glitzy, and colorful areas within the city, but in the dilapidated quarantine zone, the graphics are repetitive and become boring over extended play. Most side quest cut scenes involve minimally animated character models gesticulating silently as dialogue text scrolls at the bottom of the screen. Sega has apparently opted to adhere a little too closely to the principle of sticking to the same formula, offering gamers little improvement in the game’s overall presentation since the franchise’s inception on last generation hardware.

 

Goda

 

Yakuza: Dead Souls is a difficult game to define and recommend. On one hand it is a vast, activity filled world, full of replayability that even allows completists to continue their adventure and tackle unfinished side missions after the ending credits. It is a game filled with likeable characters, absurd and memorable humor, satisfying and addictive leveling and upgrading, and, most importantly, mindless zombie killing bliss. On the other hand, Yakuza: Dead Souls is technically unrefined, characterized by controls that are difficult to master; a game capable of pulling it’s players into the depths of volatile frustration. Yakuza: Dead Souls exhibits a perplexing duplicity, not unlike the zombie trait of being both alive and undead, which unfortunately, establishes an impediment for the gaming masses to playing this title. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a quintessential Sega title, filled with charm and unpolished arcade style fun that should not be dismissed upon cursory examination by both Sega fans and hardcore gaming enthusiasts.

 

Story

7.3

Gameplay

7.5

Presentation

7.5

Lasting Appeal

8.5

Overall

7.4