Tag Archives: Xbox 360

Destiny’s Optimism Is Desperately Needed

If the majority of science-fiction is to be believed, the future isn’t all that great. While the circumstances are always different — evil mega corporations, alien invasions, depressing dystopias, war and pollution — science fiction has a history of making the future out to be mighty bleak. Authors, filmmakers, and game developers always count on humans to never learn from their mistakes. We will continue to kill our planet. We will continue to wage war against our fellow man. We will continue to fail.

Destiny, then, is a breathe of fresh air, but not necessarily from a gameplay perspective. It’s a shooter with RPG elements, a fun and addictive combination of gameplay that will no doubt keep players hooked for a long time. But that isn’t what has me excited for the game. What makes me excited and what I find so refreshing about Destiny can be described in one word — optimism.

It can be found everywhere in Destiny: from the game’s fictional past to the purpose of the Guardians, to the sun filled environments and the NPC dialogue. Humanity once lived in a golden age, where they expanded to the cosmos and unlocked the secrets of the universe thanks to help from the Traveler. Human life span tripled.  It was a time of miracles. This was a future where humanity lived up to it’s utmost potential and shined.

When players start their journey in Destiny that future is no longer the case. Humanity has been pinned down into one city, protected by the power of the traveler, and their cosmic civilization has crumbled. Darkness encroaches on all sides and it is unclear for how much longer the Traveler will be able to protect humanity.

Rather than wallow in the bleakness of the situation, Bungie takes a different approach to their new universe. The darkness can be fought back they say. Hope is not yet lost, and humanity can once again reach their potential and reclaim the civilization that was at once lost. Fight back the darkness. Unite.

That optimism is a far cry from the majority of other sci-fi shooters. The future presented by popular third person shooter Gears of War is about as bleak a future as you can get, with humans waging endless wars over limited resources only to be decimated by the monster like Locusts from deep beneath the earth. The world of Gears of War is brown and gray, filled with despair, hardship and a never ending sense of doom and pointlessness. None of the characters feel like there is much reason to continue fighting, other than to simply survive and keep their friends alive. Bungie’s own Halo series is a constant uphill struggle, with humanity at the brink and the Master Chief really being the only force strong enough to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Covenant and the horrific Flood.

All three franchises — Halo, Gears of War, and Destiny — have a similar core theme of humanity being on the edge of destruction, but the way they go about presenting them are wildly different. Destiny is bright, vibrant, and filled with the hope that Earth’s heroes, the Guardians, can fight back the darkness and lift up humanity once again. That isn’t present in Halo, Gears of War, or most science fiction for that matter.

That’s because Destiny embraces an older idea of science fiction, one that isn’t about predicting one of humanity’s potential dark futures but about capturing that special kind of wonder that can only come from gazing up at the stars and wondering “What’s up there?” This kind of sci-fi is about exploring colorful alien worlds and discovering the mysteries of the universe. It’s about a humanity that isn’t grounded on Earth where it is destined to stagnate, but about a humanity finding it’s place in a wide universe filled with mystery, danger, and adventure.

It’s refreshing. In an industry where dark, gritty and hyper violent Mature rated games are far too often the norm, Destiny is a Teen rated game that can be played and enjoyed by nearly anybody. Destiny embraces optimism, the idea that humanity’s best days are not behind them but ahead, the idea that maybe we can overcome our faults and our challenges and rise to the occasion. Maybe, just maybe, we can take to the stars and carve out a new destiny for the human race rather than suffer the bleak one that so often is presented as our future. I don’t know about you, but I think the game industry could use a little more optimism.

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Dark Souls Isn’t For Me, And I’m Okay With That

Few games in recent years have garnered the amount of attention from the hardcore gaming crowd as the Dark Souls franchise. With it’s zero tolerance for hand-holding and bone crushing difficulty, the franchise has won many a fan.

The first game initially passed me by, but after continually hearing good things about Dark Souls II, I decided to give it a try. After spending about 11 hours with the game I’ve come to a conclusion – Dark Souls isn’t for me.

Dark Souls isn’t fun in the same way less difficult games are. The game is renowned for repeatedly handing players their collective butts over and over again, forcing you to improve. The fun of Dark Souls comes from learning how to play a game that gives you nearly zero help, as well as those triumphant moments when you finally defeat a challenging foe after numerous attempts. I did actually experience this. I experienced all the moments of self-paced discovery, brutal difficulty, and eventual victory that causes so many gamers to hold Dark Souls upon high. I can easily see why people enjoy the franchise. But I don’t.

Before we go into my problems with Dark Souls, let me go ahead and lead with this statement: I love a challenge. Nearly every shooter I play I crank up the difficulty to the max. I balked at the idea that many gamers declared Witcher 2 too difficult. I’m about as stubborn as they come, especially when it comes to losing. I will try over and over again to come out on top. I play League of Legends in unhealthy amounts, and if you know anything about LoL then you know it’s a game with steep learning curve that is constantly infuriating.

It’s not the difficulty of Dark Souls that turns me off (I actually really enjoy the combat). Rather, it’s the core gameplay mechanic that for the purposes of this article I will call “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” that makes enjoying the game difficult for me. Improving the stats of your character and purchasing items is done with souls. Souls are acquired from defeating the game’s various enemies. Sounds simple enough, but once you die (which is almost constantly) you drop all the souls you were carrying on your person, requiring you to run back to your corpse and pray you are not killed again before you pick them back up. If you die in route to picking up your soul stash, the souls are gone forever. It’s all very stressful, which I guess is by design.

My main problem with this mechanic is that the entire point of the game is to trial and error your way through increasingly difficult battles. Many battles require way more than two attempts, and more often than not instead of focusing on strategy or tactics, you are instead primarily concerned with recollecting your souls and running far enough out of harms way so when you die again your souls will be easier to recover. The entire point of the game is to try, die, try again, but doing so puts your primary means of improving your characters ability at constant risk. This encourages you to spend your souls and upgrade your character whenever possible, but stats can only be improved while sitting at a bonfire, which are of course few and far between.

The result is I would regularly lose thousands of souls, especially during boss fights when I have no means of retreating and usually die over and over again. For every step forward I would make, I would take two steps back after messing up and losing thousands of souls, putting me back another lengthy gameplay session before I could get back to the amount I had before. Dark Souls isn’t a game where a less than stellar player can grind their way to eventual victory. It instead forces you to improve your skills, and if you can’t, it wants nothing to do with you.

From what I’ve read, Dark Souls II takes the idea of kicking the player while their down up another notch by knocking off a portion of your characters health bar after death in addition to losing souls, up to a maximum of 50 percent reduced max health. The more you die, the more difficult the game becomes, despite the entire point of the game being to die.

If dying simply meant I sucked and needed to rethink my strategy, I wouldn’t have a problem with Dark Souls. I do, however, have a problem with a game that artificially creates length by robbing players of progress, punishing them time and time again for failing by inhibiting character growth.

I can appreciate the game’s zero tolerance policy towards hand-holding and tutorials. In theory. In actuality, I find myself constantly suffering from a feeling of inadequacy. What stats should I be improving? What gear should I be using? How do I improve items? What the heck does this thing do? You kind of figure it out as you go, but when I talk to friends who love the game they just tell me “Look up a guide online, that’s what I did and it became much more fun.” I don’t want to have to look up a guide online just to be able to play the game. This, coupled with constantly losing progress, to me does not a fun game make. But to each their own.

A game does not necessarily have to be fun for me to enjoy it. The Last of Us, for example, isn’t a fun game. It’s a stressful, violent, and intense ride from start to finish. Its gameplay isn’t “fun.” I finished and enjoyed The Last of Us not because of its difficulty or its gameplay, but because of the game’s story. The scarcity of resources and violence found in the gameplay reinforced the themes of the narrative, making me care about its characters and crafting a compelling experience that I had to see finished. I played through The Last of Us to see how the tale of Joel and Ellie concluded, and fought through each encounter to see what developments would happen next.

Dark Souls has none of that. I can’t tell you anything about the world of Dark Souls, the characters, the story, any of it. You are a zombie, trying to not become a zombie, and you die a lot. Occasionally you encounter strange side characters who you have very little interaction with and whose purpose is entirely unknown to me. The story of Dark Souls is your personal story of overcoming adversity and reaching salvation.

That doesn’t captivate me in the same way a great story does. If I’m going to play a game that is distinctly not fun, one that punishes me at every turn, I need a good reason. As the classic saying goes, “What is my motivation?” Dark Souls doesn’t really provide one. It doesn’t care if you make it to the end or not. If you want to bite the bullet and fight your way through just for the sake of doing so, go for it. Dark Souls will be there for you, kicking you every step of the way. Me on other hand, I’m perfectly fine not participating, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything essential.

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My Top 5 Games of 2013

This year was a pretty huge year for gaming – it’s not every year that two next-generation gaming machines hit store shelves, and few console launch’s have been as heated or as controversial as the debate among gamers about the merits or flaws of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. But even though much of the news centered around Microsoft’s and Sony’s clash of the titans, this year’s best games aren’t to be found on the newest pieces of hardware. No, this year I found the best gaming experiences to be the small, short, and often thought provoking independent game titles that I could pick up for $15 or less and play in an afternoon. Below are my top five video games of the year, with number one being my Game of the Year.

5. Injustice: Gods Among Us

Fighting games have a certain affliction which seems to plague them year after year – lack of single player content. The most recent example of this is the Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, which features absolutely no arcade or story elements. To me, a primarily single player gamer who still enjoys the skill and complexity of a good fighter, this is a problem.

Thankfully Netherrealm Studios, the makers behind the excellent 2009 Mortal Kombat, know how I feel. When I learned they would be making a fight based in the DC Comics universe, my expectations as both a comic and fighting game fan were sky high. What Netherrealm delivered was Injustice: Gods Among Us, a visually stunning fighter filled to the brim with content, both online and off. While most fighters provide bare bone single player experiences or none at all, Netherrealm delivered a full length story mode, complete with voice acting, cinematics, mini-games, and what I would call the best alternate DC universe storyline in the history of DC Comics. Coupled with the S.T.A.R. Lab challenge missions, tons of unlockables and plenty of online matchmaking options and Injustice is not only the best fighting game of the year but one of my favorite games of last year as well.

4. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed III let me down. It really didn’t fulfill any of it’s promises. The controls were sloppy and unresponsive. The main character Connor showed no emotion or complexity. The storyline, with it’s constant shoehorning of Connor into practically every pivitol event of the American Revolution, is boring at best and cringe worthy at worst. If this was the future of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I wanted no part of it. But among all the crap was one shining beacon of hope, the naval missions. Soon rumors began to surface that an Assassin’s Creed pirate game was in the works, drawing heavily from the naval combat of III and expanding it and perfecting it. I told myself I would come back to the franchise if the rumors were true.

The rumors were true, and I came back to the franchise with arms wide open. I don’t regret it. Black Flag is an improvement on III in just about every regard, with more precise controls, beautiful visuals and a more captivating historical background. I feel a little guilty including this on my top game list. Black Flag’s narrative isn’t very impressive. It is sometimes confusing, and for the most part doesn’t accomplish much or move the storyline of the franchise any further. What is does do however is provide the ultimate escape from reality. It is so easy to get lost in this digital version of the Caribbean, exploring every nook and cranny. Who hasn’t dreamed of sailing the high seas, free as can be, with your crew of pirates and friends, doing what you want when you want? Now after nearly 100 percenting Black Flag, I can safely say it is not only the best and most polished Assassin’s Creed game, but also the best pirate game in gaming history.

3. Bioshock Infinite

A long time in the making, Bioshock Infinite let some with too high of expectations down. Some criticized it’s violence or it’s linearity. Others compared it to it’s predecessor, saying the floating city of Columbia wasn’t as interesting or as well done as the sunken dystopia of Rapture. I beg to differ. The themes of race, American exceptionalism, and religion found in Infinite I found to be much more captivating and thought provoking than the economics of Rapture. Throw in the sci-fi element of alternate realities and the idea that one choice, one single act, can change the course of one’s life entirely and you have me hooked. The gunplay is just entertaining icing on the cake.

Infinite is on this list, despite it’s flaws, because it made me feel uncomfortable. Entering a temple dedicated to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, made me uncomfortable. Being asked to lynch an interracial couple made me uncomfortable. The level of violence Booker directs towards his enemies, violence he can’t seem to control, makes me uncomfortable. If something in a game makes me uncomfortable, it is probably doing something right, and Bioshock Infinite hit just enough right notes to make it one of my top games of 2013.

2. Gone Home

There is no combat in Gone Home. No mini-games. Almost no voice-acting. It takes only about two or three hours to finish.

Which is exactly why Gone Home is so brilliant. Players occupy the body of a young twenty-something girl coming home from an extended trip across Europe. While she was away overseas, her family moved into a strange new house, and when you arrive nobody is home. Cryptic messages tell you not to snoop around, and to definitely not go up to the attic. What follows is a simple game of exploration, finding documents, notes, and other clues that help the player piece together what has happened to this family, in particular your younger sister Sam, who is the author of many of the notes lying around the house.

I loved Gone Home because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I finished it in one single, intense and focused sitting as I searched every inch of this spooky and foreign empty house. The game throws curveballs at you, at times making you think it is something it isn’t. At the end, the very real and very strong feeling of dread I had before opening the door to the attic was something I haven’t felt in a video game in a long time. Gone Home is important because it shows games don’t have to be about guns or violence. They don’t have to last 30 hours to be considered “worth it.” And they don’t have to be told in cinematics that take you out of the experience, but rather can be told simply through the gameplay. For all the reasons above, Gone Home is one of my favorite games of 2013.

Game of the Year – Papers, Please

Papers, Please is an indie game about stamping passports. And reading rule books. And verifying birthday’s and expiration dates.

Sound exciting? Not really, but place these mundane sounding game mechanics in a dystopian country called Arstotzka, reminiscent of Cold War Soviet Russia, where you work as an immigration official on the border and things get complicated quick. With one simple “Access Granted” or “Access Denied” stamp can save or ruin somebody’s life. Do you deny this man entry because his paper’s aren’t up to date, even though it would separate him from his wife and child? If you let him through your job might be on the line, as every mistake you make cuts into your already measly paycheck, which you must use to pay for food, heat, and medicine for your family. Do you accept bribes? Do you detain innocent people because you get money for every three people detained? Do you help rebels trying to smuggle agents into the country? Every chapter of Papers, Please includes more heart wrenching choices like these than any other game I’ve played. The consequences of your actions are near immediate and painful. For more than half of the game I wasn’t able to provide both heat and food for my family. Soon all of them were sick, and I was forced to allow my uncle to die so I could have enough income to buy medicine for my wife, son, and mother-in-law. All of this is told in in the retro aesthetic of the game were people for the most part are just pixelated silhouettes and 90 percent of your time in the game is spent at a desk staring over documents.

This simple gameplay and clean interface, combined with it’s social commentary on security checkpoints, full body scanners, privacy and immigration law, makes Papers, Please without question my game of the year. Check it out. Glory to Arstotzka.

What games were among your favorites this year?

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Colonial Marines Review: An Express Elevator to Hell (and not in a good way)

Video games have been borrowing from the Aliens franchise for a long time.  Halo’s space marines are almost carbon copies of the foul-mouthed, rough and ready colonial marines from the film franchise. It’s not hard to see where the space-horror franchise Dead Space drew its inspiration from, and even Samus Aran herself was inspired by the iconic female heroine of the Aliensfranchise, Ripley. It only seems fitting then that the granddaddy of them all to get its own big budget video game. Well, Aliens: Colonial Marines is finally here, and it’s about as fun as being raped by a facehugger.

On its surface, Colonial Marines sounds promising. Picking up were Aliens left off, the game follows a group of marines sent to investigate a distress signal left by movie characters Ripley and Corporal Hicks after the events of the film. The reality is a storyline of absolute zero consequence. On top of that, rather than adding to the mythology of the franchise,  it instead stomps all over the continuity of the films and doesn’t even bother to explain why.

Upon arriving in orbit over LV-426, the marines discover the U.S.S. Sulaco, the ship Ripley and Hicks flew away on at the end of Aliens and the same ship seen in an entirely different star system in Alien 3. But it’s back at the colony, for reasons never fully explained. What follows is barebones plot that only serves to let players follow in the footsteps of the Aliens film. The only problem here is that Hadley’s Hope, the main setting of the film and the primary location featured in the game, was blown sky high by a colossal nuclear explosion that could be seen from space at the end ofAlien just a few months ago. This is apparently no big deal for the writers of the game. Your marines, seemingly immune to massive levels of radiation, simply stroll on into Hadley’s Hope, finding it to look almost identical post-nuclear explosion as it did in the film.

This is all bad, but it gets worse. A reveal towards the end of the game completely eviscerates the continuity of the film series – a literal WTF moment so mind boggling that even the game’s main characters can’t comprehend it.  As the baffled marines ask how this shocking plot twist came to be, they are literally told “We don’t have time to explain that right now.” And the game doesn’t ever make time. The question goes unanswered, even after the credits roll. It’s a slap in the face to fans of the films, and makes me question whether or not the games writers ever even watched the movies to begin with.

I don’t understand it either, Bishop.

Now, this could forgiven (maybe) if Colonial Marines made up for its atrocious story through stunning visuals and intense gunplay. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The game, with the exception of one mildly interesting and suspenseful stealth sequence where you are stripped of your weapons, consists of running from point A to point B, blasting everything in sight. Occasionally players will participate in what I’m assuming are supposed to be epic and intense last stand scenarios reminiscent of the film. Instead, players are treated to boring segments that involve finding a safe corner and lying on the trigger until the game tells you to move on. The previously mentioned stealth segment and two terrible boss fights are the only attempts at diversifying the gameplay.

A big problem with the core gameplay is how devoid of intelligence the game’s enemies are. As viewers and fans of the movies know well, the Alien from which the franchise gets its name is the ultimate predator. They are incredibly stealthy, have the ability to climb on walls, are covered in razor sharp spines and claws, and have that nasty second mouth thing. The Aliens featured in the game must be another breed entirely, because, aside from occasionally leaping onto a wall, these monsters from outer space are about as dumb as they come. Their only tactic is to run straight at you and hope for the best.

Colonial Marines also suffers from an extreme lack of enemy diversity. You will fight hundreds, upon hundreds of the same brain dead xenomorphs. Only twice in the game will you encounter the terrifying and grotesque facehuggers. Only twice towards the end of the game will you fight a slightly different brain dead xenomorph. Sprinkle on top one segment featuring bizarre blind, exploding aliensand another handful of segments featuring equally brain dead human enemies in the form of Weyland-Yutani mercenaries, and you have every encounter in the game. The guns are even boring and uninteresting. I used the starting weapon, the pulse rifle, almost exclusively the whole game, finding the other weapons ineffective. Even the flamethrower, used to devastating effect at the end of Aliens, is underwhelming.

Fun fact, the game doesn’t actually look this good.

Once again, some of this could be forgiven if Gearbox delivered a dark, spooky and atmospheric setting to cover up the poor AI. Instead, we have what could easily be mistaken for an original Xbox game. Poor character animations, from the marines to the xenomorphs, take players out of the experience. Textures pop in and out almost constantly. The games lighting does little to elevate the games already dirt poor graphics. The result is an Aliens game that bears almost no resemblance to what makes the film franchise so enduring.

There is some fun to be had in the game’s co-op mode, if only because misery loves company. For fans of the film exploring familiar locations in Hadley’s Hope while discovering audio logs and the “legendary” weapons of the film’s fallen marines is fun fan service, but ultimately to call Colonial Marines a missed opportunity is an understatement. Gearbox has not only managed to contribute nothing to the Aliens franchise, but may have actually detracted from it through their sloppy and irresponsible use of the film’s continuity. Simply adapting the film would have been a better call. After the final cut scene rolled and the achievement “Game over, man!” appeared on my screen, I was relieved for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t relieved because I had completed an eight hour long campaign of terror, suspense and blood pumping action, but because I could finally wipe the game from my memory and ignore its status as “official canon.” Game over, indeed.

NOTE: This review is based solely on the campaign and co-op experience played on the Xbox 360. I did not play multiplayer.

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The Story of Griffball

Griffball can be summed up easily in two simple sentences spoken by the Halo 4 announcer at the beginning of every match: Smash enemies. Score points.

On the surface, that’s about it. Each match of the popular Halo gametype is raw, adrenalin pumping fun as you bash the enemy team with gravity hammers or run for dear life as the ball carrier, bobbing and weaving between opponents to reach the goal. It’s easy to see why the virtual sport is popular, but there is another reason as well, a more symbolic one. Griffball represents the creativity and the connectivity shared between the Halo fans and Halo developer Bungie and now 343 Industries that at the time was something new for console gamers.

Griffball Logo

The origin of the gametype goes back to Rooster Teeth productions, the creator of the popular Halo mahinima Red vs. Blue. In one episode of the show the red Spartan Sarge is taking pot shots with a sniper rifle at Orange Spartan Griff. Sarge , enjoying himself, exclaims “This is the best game since Griffball!”

Griffball didn’t actually exist at the time, but Rooster Teeth began wondering what exactly a game of Griffball would be like. What they came up with was a game similar to rugby, but with more hammers. Also, an exploding bomb.

The objective is simple – pick up the bomb and plant it at the enemy’s goal. Each player is equipped with a gravity hammer and an energy sword to help kill the enemy team and protect/ kill the ball carrier, depending on which team has the ball. Whoever acquires the ball becomes “Griff” turning orange in color and receiving a speed boost and an over shield. Matches are divided into 5 rounds, resetting the map after each point. The first to score 3 wins the match. Upon scoring, everything near the goal explodes, including Griff. True to the initial idea of the sport and character of Griff, no matter what happens, whether he is hunted down and beaten to death by the enemy team or arms the bomb and scores a point, Griff loses.

As with anything though, there is an abundance of hidden strategy, tactics, and teamwork required to be a successful team. Gravity hammers can help launch teammates across the map to score, or if you aren’t careful can accidently catapult the enemy ball carrier into your own goal. Knowing the right time to swing the hammer or when to swap to the energy sword is essential and requires on the fly thinking from every player. Every point scored is a huge team effort. Players not in possession of the ball serve as blockers for the carrier, keeping enemies at bay and attempting to forge open a path for the carrier to sprint through and score a goal.

Griffball League

Rooster Teeth crafted the sport using Halo 3’s Forge gametype and map builder and debuted it to the Halo community. The simple fun of bashing players with hammers combined with the surprising depth of the game led to competitive leagues for the sport, such as the National Griffball Association and American Griffball League of America, popping up all over internet. It didn’t take long at all for the “disease” to spread. Griffball was a huge hit.

So huge a hit, in fact, that developer Bungie took notice. Bungie created a specific Griffball playlist in both Halo 3 and Halo: Reach to accommodate the demand for the sport. The rest as they say, is history.

So why is this important? One word – community.

Community created gametypes and mods were nothing new to the PC gaming crowd. They’d been doing it for years, but consoles weren’t so lucky. Never before had console gamers been given the tools to contribute to their favorite game. Bungie was among the first console developers to allow gamers to not only modify the game, but to improve it. This sense of community and sharing of the game made many a loyal Bungie and Halo fan, myself included.

Griffball and other popular community game types such as the zombie gametype Infection, continue to be some of the most popular gametypes in the Halo matchmaking.  The Halo 4 Griffball playlist launched just last week. Developer 343 Indsutries took Infection to the next level with Halo 4, turning a gametype that for over 7 years games existed as one team of Spartans versus another team of Spartans into Spartans versus actual flood infected zombies.

343 Industries, like Bungie before them, understands what makes Halo so special to so many. Without the great community created maps, movies, gametypes, and more, Halo would be just another shooter. Instead, it’s something more – it’s a community. And Halo is much stronger, better, and important than it would be otherwise because of it.

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Dishonored Review – The Power of Player Freedom

Player choice and freedom is an idea many video games try desperately to capture. Ultimately, the vast majority fail, instead only offering brief glimpses of what a game could be like if it truly let you play it your way.

Dishonored is not one of those games. In the dark, steam punk, rat plague ridden port city of Dunwall, developer Arkane Studios gives you, the player, incredible power. Better yet, they give you freedom to do whatever you want with it.

Players done the mask of one time royal bodyguard turned assassin Corvo. After a bloody coup that leaves the empress you swore to protect dead and her daughter stolen, you are framed for the deed and imprisoned. After a daring prison escape you learn of a resistance aimed at removing the conspirators who captured the throne. From there the game is a series of daring assassination missions on key targets, paving the way for the return of the rightful heir to the throne of Dunwall.

Every mission sends players to a large, open ended environment. Aside from a few clues, it’s up to you to piece together the best way to eliminate the selected target. First you have to figure out how to get there, which is where the real beauty of Dishonored’s gameplay comes in.

Central to the Dishonored experience is the Blink ability. Corvo’s first magical gift from the Outsider, Blink allows players to navigate huge gaps of space in the blink of an eye. Warping across rooftops or quickly appearing behind an unsuspecting guard can be done instantly, eliminating the slow and methodical pace many games with an emphasis on stealth suffer from. Combine the Blink ability with the open environments and multiple ways to reach and accomplish each objective and you have a freedom that is almost unheard of in video games, aside from pioneers such as Deus Ex.

A variety of tools are at the player’s disposal. Corvo, being a bodyguard, is skilled with both swords and guns, and thanks to a little visit from the mysterious otherworldly presence known as the Outsider, he isn’t half bad with magic either.  Stopping time outright? No problem for Corvo, magician extroidinaire. Summon a swarm of man eating rats? Easy. Possessing one of said rats? Done with the press of a button. Players can find hidden Bone Charms that provide small passive bonuses such as more mana regeneration or faster knock-out attacks, allowing you to tune Corvo to your playstyle.

Now combine all of this together and you begin to experience the possibilities, and fun, of Dishonored. Should I possess a rat and sneak into the Overseer’s office through a grate? What about Blinking up to the balcony, stealing the key from a guard and opening the door? Or I could simply waltz up to the heavily fortified front door and hack, slash, and shoot my way inside. The choice is yours – there is no wrong way to play Dishonored.

Except when there is.  My only real gripe with the game, aside from a plot twist over half way through and a rather abrupt ending, is that though the choice of playing the game your way is there, if you want a certain ending (of which there are several) your play style must adapt accordingly. Killing enemies in the game has consequences in how NPC characters react around you and the state of the already dismal Dunwall. Players that kill with reckless abandon will receive a much darker and more depressing ending than those who snuck their way past every guard and performed the nonlethal options for removing assassination targets. While the choice in how to play is yours, so are the consequences. If you want the best ending, you really only have one way to play the game; with the upmost stealth, essentially eliminating a large, and satisfying portion of the game – the combat. Sword play involves well time parries to be successful, making it hard to simply hack and slash ones way through large groups of enemies. When combined with one of Corvo’s magical abilities however, such as Stop Time, you can quickly become an unstoppable force.

Perhaps the true star of Dishonored is the richly detailed world of Dunwall and all the interesting characters that inhabit it. Upon your first encounter with the Outsider you are granted a strange and grotesque, heart. This heart speaks to you, showing the locations of bone charms and hidden runes used for upgrading your abilities. When pointed at an NPC, the heart dives deep into the characters mind, revealing their inner thoughts, experiences and thoughts. I spent at least an hour just learning the hidden fears and ambitions of random NPC characters, even learning some very interesting background information about some of the games more important characters. Players can learn about the world of Dishonored and the city of Dunwall by reading books and notes littered throughout the game. It’s there for players who are into that sort of thing (I am) but is completely optional. From just looking and exploring the game environments you get a sense of Dunwal being city of real history, now suffering from a crippling plague that is bringing the once proud city low.

Dishonored is one of those rare games that truly is a joy to play. It’s variety of refined gameplay and it’s simple but precise controls combined with a detailed world setting evoke a near perfect mixture of gaming nirvana that is part Deus Ex and part Bioshock. Arkane Studio knows that if you give gamers the tools, they will figure it out how to play the game themselves. It’s this trust and faith, to simply let gamers play the game, which makes the game great. There is no hand holding in Dishonored, no right or wrong way to accomplish any given task. There is only freedom – and all the fun that comes with it.

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Half Minute Hero and XBLA cures boredom

Xbox Live Arcade is probably the best thing about Xbox Live. I find so many great games to occupy myself with, whether they are old school arcade titles with a new coat of paint (Pac Man Championship Edition DX), fun light hearted shooters (Snoopy Flying Ace) or great indie rpgs (Breath of Death, Cthulu Saves the World). Last night provided me with another game that I instantly fell in love with, once again found on XBLA.

I was incredibly bored last night. When I boot up my Xbox and don’t know what I want to stick in the disk tray, I find myself browsing through all the latest XBLA and indie game releases. I found two games of significance. The first was an indie game by the name of Fluffy: Operation Overkill. This game places you in the role of a squirrel (I think) in a hazmat suit who is tasked with eliminating the infected animal populace. Reminiscent of games such as Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the recent Naughty Bear, you play as a cute animal doing bad things to other animals, in this case shooting big guns at other animals with loads of over the top violence. The gameplay was actually pretty damn solid, and I actually played it until the trial timer ran out.

Sadly after my brief excursion with Fluffy, I was still suffering from boredom. Until I found on the new XBLA releases the game titled, Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax.  Upon reading the description I found myself willing to give it a try. Play 62 classic rpgs, all in 30 seconds? Ok….let’s see how this goes. Once I reached the main menu I saw an option for old school 8 bit graphics. Turned that on, then booted up the game. OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING!? EVERYTHING IS SO FAST. THERE IS NO WAY I CAN GET THERE IN 30 SECONDS!!!!!

That was my initial impression. And as a matter of fact I was right. There was no way I could achieve my goal of defeating an evil lord in only 30 seconds of time. Upon being defeated you are visited with a time goddess who ( not so generously it turns out) offers to help you. She allows time to stand still when in towns, makes it easier to level up, and allows you to turn back time (for a fee of course).

The game then becomes a series of adventures to beat various evil lords, all in 30 seconds. It is incredibly fast paced and also incredibly fun.  You have to manage the time you have wisely, dashing from place to place, always with the giant timer in the top of the screen winding down. The writing spoofs on familiar rpg standards and the 8 bit graphics along with the soundtrack really make this a great and unique rpg experience. If you are looking for something to play on and off over the summer draught or if you are an old school rpg fan, definitely give this game a download and try it out. It just might blow your mind.

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