Though the Assassin’s Creed series has seen its share of highs from its inauspicious debut in 2007 to the soaring highs of the Ezio trilogy, it hit an all-time low with the miserable face-plant that was Assassin’s Creed III. No doubt suffering from the apparent annualization of the franchise, Assassin’s Creed III got almost everything wrong. As such, the announcement of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag didn’t inspire much confidence in 2013. Combining the stealth and parkour-heavy gameplay the series was built on with island-hopping and naval combat in the salty seas of the Caribbean shouldn’t have made any sense; however, against all odds, it did, leading to perhaps the best game the series has delivered so far.
Few things get the gaming world interested quite like a free game on a console. Unlike on the PC, where free games are given away constantly, there’s an allure of quality (whether earned or not) to a full game available for free to download onto a console. Surely the makers of the console wouldn’t offer a new game for free that was broken or unfinished. Right? Well, Xbox challenges this notion with #IDARB, a.k.a. It Draws a Red Box. In the right hands, its unique concept could have helped it become one of Games With Gold’s more memorable titles. Unfortunately, in the hands of the developer Other Ocean, this game is an all-but-unfinished broken mess.
Gaming’s preeminent weirdo, Swery65, made the leap from cult video game director to full-blown phenomenon with the 2010 release of Deadly Premonition – a horror game that scared almost nobody, but managed to form an almost beautiful train-wreck of oddball ideas and storylines that still generates acclaim and controversy to this day. The newest game from Swery (a.k.a. Hidetaka Suehiro), and his first as sole writer and director since Deadly Premonition, is D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, a title that lives up to his notorious level of weird. D4 is episode-based, and as such only two full episodes have been released, so it’s tough to judge the game considering it doesn’t have an ending yet. It’s even tougher to say whether an ending is coming at all – D4 didn’t sell all that well upon release in late 2014, but a recent give-away as an Xbox “Games with Gold” and a port to PC may have renewed enough interest to get the rest of this game made. Even with a lack of clear-cut ending, it’s hard to imagine any of Swery65’s fans being disappointed with D4, although the general public looking for a more traditional gameplay experience may find it a tedious chore.
Ubisoft has been releasing games for nearly 25 years, and yet it took until 2014 for the developer to release its first ever full-fledged RPG, the downloadable title Child of Light. For their first foray into the genre, Ubisoft ended up reusing the Rayman engine and managed to build a simple and short role-playing game around it. This is the most unique twist on the formula Ubisoft provides, ditching the top-down perspective used by almost every single 2D RPG in existence in favor of an open-world side-scroller, and while the presentation here is phenomenal, there just isn’t enough depth to the gameplay and story to give Child of Light a strong recommendation.
The field of first-person shooters is extremely competitive and overcrowded these days, with new intellectual properties showing up seemingly every month and established juggernauts like Halo, Call of Duty, and Borderlands constantly churning out new installments that sell in droves. The Battlefield series has long played second fiddle to the Call of Duty series as a straight military shooter, so it makes sense that developer Electronic Arts was willing to hand the series over to a new developer, Visceral Games, and let them take the series in a completely different direction to stake out its own territory. Battlefield Hardline is that new direction, a game that trades traditional warzones for the more small-scale war on drugs in Miami. There’s less of a focus on big-budget action sequences and cut-scenes, and more emphasis on stealth, gathering evidence, and peacefully getting suspects to surrender, while still retaining the core first-person shooter gameplay that made the series famous. Unfortunately, while these new ideas mostly work well, a half-baked story and Visceral’s inability to fully commit to the small-scale joys of a police simulator keep the game from realizing its true potential.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has steadily improved as its first three episodes progressed, going from a by-the-numbers imitation of the older and better games in the series to a game that truly offers up something new. Though episode four has a few flashes of greatness, it is ultimately marred by some odd choices that keep it from being a truly great finale. Claire and Moira take up the first half of the episode, which can disappointingly be finished in fifteen or twenty minutes as it consists of a little exploration and a short chase scene without any boss fight or real challenge at all. Barry and Natalia get a much heavier focus, but it takes a long time before anything that’s happening truly feels like the ending of a memorable journey. The pacing feels off as far too much time is spent in the sewers and mines, areas that both suffer from poor level design. Eventually the two stumble onto a combination research facility/mansion that serves as a strong homage to the original Resident Evil mansion; at this point the game finally picks up just in time for a solid final boss fight. Nothing here is going to stand out to gamers weeks after the game is beaten as most of the creative moments of Revelations 2 occurred in previous episodes, but episode four provides a serviceable enough conclusion to the adventure even if it leaves some story threads dangling and can’t strike the right balance between its two sets of characters.
Chapter 4: 3.5 Chicks out of 5
Resident Evil: Revelations 2: 3.5 Chicks out of 5
After a nine-year period of Capcom focusing on side-stories and spin-offs, everyone’s favorite anime lawyer Phoenix Wright finally made his return to the center stage of his own video game in 2013’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies. Though the Ace Attorney series has always been an oddball of the gaming world thanks to gameplay focused on scouring for evidence and defending clients at trials, the wild stories, memorable characters, and bizarre game-world logic have kept fans coming back for more. Still, it’s been tough for any game in the series to live up to the original Phoenix Wright trilogy, and while Dual Destinies can’t quite hit the mark either, it’s the best new entry to the series in years.
Between 1998 and 2007, Nintendo released ten games in the Mario Party franchise including eight in the main series and two for handhelds. While the first title was arguably a revolutionary party game, each successive title has been less and less inspired. By 2007, considerable series fatigue had set in and Nintendo decided to take a much-needed break. The series did not lie dormant for long, however, as Nintendo was back with Mario Party 9 for the Wii in 2012. Still, many reviewers were disappointed with Nintendo for not doing more to change up their stale formula. With Mario Party 10, Nintendo looks to break from tradition and deliver a unique experience with two entirely new game modes: Bowser Party and Amiibo Party. Unfortunately, though these modes do differ from the also-included Mario Party mode, none of them differ enough from the Mario Party modes of the past to make Mario Party 10 anything more than mediocre.
With the rise of first-person shooters and real-time strategy games in the late nineties, adventure games all but disappeared. Starting in 2005, however, Telltale was able to begin reviving the genre by focusing on more episodic gameplay. Using intellectual property with established fan bases (Wallace and Gromit, HomeStar Runner, Back to the Future) Telltale released games of between four and six ‘episodes’, usually about two hours in length each, with releases separated by a month or more. This made their games feel more like shared, cultural events rather than something you can pick up and finish off over the course of a weekend. It also helped that Telltale smartly focused all of their resources on what makes adventure games great – story and dialog. The graphics and animations in your typical Telltale release are consistently below average for their time, but they offer up storylines and characters and well-designed puzzles that you’d be hard-pressed to find outside of smaller independent releases. Though this newfound formula for adventure games proved to be marginally successful, it wasn’t until 2012’s The Walking Dead: The Game that Telltale experienced its first true smash hit.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has done a fine job in its first two episodes of recreating the same beats that the series has long been known for – terrifying zombie encounters, a frustrating lack of ammunition, and fairly cheesy dialog. Yet it took until the third of its four episodes for the game to finally try out a few new tricks of its own. As such, episode three stands out as easily the best in the game so far. The central gimmick to the game has been its two duos of characters with different abilities – Claire and Barry are more adept at combat while Moira and Natalya are better at exploring their surroundings, allowing the player to freely switch between characters at any time. Until now, little has been done to take full advantage of this mechanic. Episode three features two separate instances where the duos must split up for significant lengths of time and fend for themselves, while struggling to help each other from far away. This is especially well done in Claire and Moira’s first half of the chapter, in which the two of them must separately navigate through a burning factory on the verge of exploding. The landscape in episode three is also filled with puzzles and hidden items, rewarding players who are willing to take the time to fully explore their surroundings. Finally, each half of the chapter is capped by a boss fight more memorable than any in previous chapters. There’s a feeling that the action is ramping up just in time for the home stretch. For the penultimate episode, it’s hard to ask for much more.
4.5 Chicks out of 5
Telltale is back in the Game of Thrones Universe with Episode Two: The Lost Lords roughly two months after its release of Episode One: Iron From Ice. While Iron From Ice had to live up to the lofty expectations set by HBO’s hit show, The Lost Lords has the added burden of living up to Telltale’s initial entry to the series. Unfortunately, though it does a few things better than before, Episode Two’s story fails to consistently hit the emotional highs and lows of its predecessor.
Back in 2008, the now defunct Midway Games tried their hand at a professional wrestling game. The problem is that they didn’t try very hard. TNA Impact! begins immediately with the masked wrestler Suicide. He’s holding the TNA World Championship above his head as confetti rains down on him. The celebration is cut short, however, as the tag team of Homicide (yup they have wrestlers named both Homicide and Suicide) and Hernandez, known collectively as LAX, beats him within an inch of his life. After waking from the beatdown-induced coma, Suicide finds himself in a hospital bed. His red and blue mask has been replaced with a mask of bandages and a body cast to match. He’s informed that he has been beaten so badly that emergency plastic surgery is required. This is where the player comes in. You are now tasked with reconstructing Suicide by creating your own wrestler. This premise sounds somewhat interesting (albeit ridiculous), but really loses steam when you realize that the create-a-wrestler system has less depth than systems from dated wrestling games like Wrestlemania 2000. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a tattooed man in purple tights, tasseled Ugg boots, and a white mask. He is an uninspired creation, but then again, so is this entire game.
Like clockwork, Activision has been publishing new Call of Duty games every holiday season since 2003, and nearly every year they continue to smash sales records and dominate the video game landscape with a combination of thrill-ride single player campaigns and addicting multiplayer competition. But despite all of this, the franchise has a reputation for not being innovative and is cited as often as the Madden series as a major cause of stagnation in video games. The staleness reached its peak with 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, which seemed to coast on its brand name alone. As a result, the series saw a major downtick in sales for the first time. The downward sales trend continued here with 2014’s Advanced Warfare, which is a shame because the series hasn’t reinvented itself this well since the original Modern Warfare.
There was clear room for improvement in Resident Evil Revelations 2’s second episode, and while it is a bit more fun to play than the first, core weaknesses remain to keep it from reaching its full potential. Things are a bit more open-ended in Episode 2 with a few nonlinear environments to explore and more of a focus on action. There are a few major gunfights that will challenge players more than anything in Episode 1. The structure of the episode remains the same as Claire and Moira must make their way through an abandoned village in search of a central tower where a woman known as “the Overseer” is presumed to be broadcasting threatening messages. Barry and Natalia must also make their way through the same environment while encountering different obstacles. Despite Moira’s notable weaknesses as a playable character, she and Claire get the better half here as their initial exploration of the village is reminiscent of the fantastic Resident Evil 4; the game even seems to acknowledge this with a not-so-subtle Chekhov’s chainsaw thrown in for good measure. Still, it’s confounding that the game isn’t doing anything special with its central cooperative mechanic. It could really benefit from temporarily breaking up Claire and Moira or Barry and Natalia, allowing all of the characters a few minutes’ worth of gameplay tailored strictly to their own abilities, but with two of the four episodes of Revelations 2 completed, that is starting to seem unlikely.
3.5 Chicks out of 5
Ever since its in-engine reveal trailer at E3 2013, The Order: 1886, a Sony exclusive developed by Ready at Dawn and Santa Monica Studios, has been looked to by gamers to justify their purchase of the PlayStation 4. With its unprecedented graphics and cinematic feel, The Order appeared to be the first game to deliver a uniquely next-gen experience. As a result, the game was burdened with some lofty expectations that it unfortunately fails to meet. Though it looks amazing and has its share of fun moments, The Order: 1886 focuses too heavily on attempting to approximate a movie and ultimately fails thanks to disjointed, derivative gameplay that is never quite woven together to create a cohesive narrative.
Now that the Resident Evil series has made the jump to the eighth generation of video game consoles with the episodically-released Resident Evil: Revelations 2, it’s sadly hard to have high expectations. After a strong run of main franchise games with Resident Evil 4, 5, and Revelations between 2004 and 2011, Capcom has run into a cold streak, with 2012’s terrible Operation: Raccoon City followed up months later by the only slightly improved Resident Evil 6 (for those wondering at home, there’s essentially no logic to what constitutes a spin-off and what’s a main numbered game in the Resident Evil universe). But Revelations 2 does have a bit of a reputation to live up to; the original Revelations was one of the strongest games in the early days of the Nintendo 3DS, a well-paced blend of old-school survival horror the series cut its teeth on and the more fast-paced action of the more recent installments. If Resident Evil: Revelations 2 could build off the strengths of its predecessor, it might make fans forget about Capcom’s recent failures. Unfortunately, while the recently-released first chapter makes for a fun few hours, it doesn’t come close to reaching the heights of the best of the series.
Ever since its initial release on the Nintendo 64 in 2000, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has existed in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s shadow. It holds the distinction of not only being one of the few direct sequels in the franchise but also the direct sequel to what many believe is the best Zelda game of all time. What’s more, it was saddled with an impossibly short development cycle of just over one year, necessitating the re-use of the Ocarina of Time engine as well as many of its assets. With the uncharacteristically short turnaround between games, the memory of Ocarina of Time was fresh in the mind of gamers as they embarked on their next adventure with Link. Because of that, it was nearly impossible to evaluate Majora’s Mask without making direct comparisons to Ocarina of Time.
Perhaps that is why Nintendo did so much to differentiate the two titles in all the areas they could. Majora’s Mask was darker and stranger with a much heavier emphasis on side quests. Unfortunately for Nintendo, it seemed gamers didn’t want a differentiated game; though it received similar critical acclaim, Majora’s Mask could never match the commercial success of its predecessor. By comparison, it was a bit of a failure. Well, it’s now been seventeen years since the original release of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask has finally been given opportunity to come out of the shadows and be evaluated on its own merits. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D remake for the Nintendo 3DS delivers in spades as developer Grezzo has made all the right tweaks to make a fifteen-year-old game relevant and accessible in today’s gaming landscape. This is absolutely the best version of the game and also one of the very best reasons to own a 3DS.
While entries in the Castlevania series had appeared on Nintendo handhelds before the 2001 release of Circle of the Moon, the results varied in quality and rarely lived up to their console brethren. Hardware limitations on the Game Boy resulted in short games with poor graphics and limited save capabilities. All of that changed with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, which launched alongside Nintendo’s new Game Boy Advance, ushering in an era of high-quality handheld Castlevania games that continued throughout the GBA’s run and then through the Nintendo DS as well. While I’ve played and loved the two games that followed this on the Game Boy Advance – 2002’s Harmony of Dissonance and 2003’s Aria of Sorrow – it was time to go back and play Circle of the Moon to see if it could hold up against its successors.
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.”
– Cersei Lannister
Okay. That’s a bit dramatic. You won’t die if you play this game, but you might find yourself making decisions that cost a character his life. When it was announced that Telltale Games would be tackling the Game of Thrones Universe I was thrilled. In many ways, it felt like a match made in heaven. After all, HBO’s Game of Thrones is a show that delves deep into relationships and how they can be forever altered by a slip of the tongue or a strategic misstep. To me, there’s no better studio to translate that dynamic into a game. Does Game of Thrones Episode One: Iron From Ice live up to my lofty expectations? Yes, for the most part, but it’s held back by a few nagging issues that prevent it from realizing its full potential.