Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation - PS Vita Review

The latest Hyperdimension game for the Vita makes the most of the handheld and series

Farming Simulator 15 - PC Review

Down on the farm - again. This simulator provides plenty to do for fans of the series

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Xbox One Review

The latest in the Witcher series does almost everything well - a definite Game of the Year contender


This shooter gets almost everything right, throwing lots at you but making it fun

Big Pharma - PC Preview

A fun simulation game with some social commentary to share as well

Friday, July 22, 2011

Limbo Review

This is actually a slightly older review of mine (from when I had almost no followers to this blog), but with the game coming out for PS3 and PC now, I thought I'd dust it off as I found it to be a very interesting Xbox 360 game. Here it is once more for those who may have missed it:

What is Limbo? Well, here’s one set of definitions:

–noun, plural -bos.

1. ( often initial capital letter ) Roman Catholic Theology . a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants (limbo of infants) and of the righteous who died before the coming of Christ (limbo of the fathers or limbo of the patriarchs).

2. a place or state of oblivion to which persons or things are regarded as being relegated when cast aside, forgotten, past, or out of date: My youthful hopes are in the limbo of lost dreams.

3. an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.

4. a place or state of imprisonment or confinement.

That said, it’s also an Xbox 360 game that is part puzzler, part platformer and filled with more questions than answers in the end. My oldest daughter is not much of a gamer, and this is a game that caught her eye in one of my Game Informer previews, and then she has since sat and watched me play through about half of the game. It’s a almost disturbingly captivating experience that is far too short but deeply engrossing as well. Here’s my review of the game.

Graphics – 9:

There’s no color. The detail is not amazing, with loads of textures and flashy 3D effects. But visually this game is incredibly unique, and it’s deeply involving. I’ve included some screenshots and the usual video at the bottom. If this is a game you have any interest in at all? Do yourself a favor and check these out. There’s gorgeous play on shadows and light. Darkness and fog. It can be a bit disconcerting at times – a world of shadows and movements, and you will die wandering into the dark now and then. All the same, turn off your lights and play this in a dark room to fully appreciate the contrasting environment.

Music and Sound – 8:

Really almost no music to speak of, but honestly? You don’t miss it in this game. That’s because the environmental effects are so good. They don’t help you in the way that a surround system in Modern Warfare 2 does – you don’t hear a bullet striking near your back, left shoulder or anything like that. But there’s a wide variety of creepy sound effects, squeaking sounds and specific cues that not only effectively assist in presenting a spectacular atmosphere, but are useful in some of the puzzles as well (especially near the end where listening to the beats can help you navigate some very precisely timed puzzles).

Gameplay – 8.5:

The controls, like so much of the presentation, are both simple and yet beautifully implemented. You move your character around, and you have a jump button (that if you hold down can enact a sort of skipping animation that is rather nice) and an ‘action’ button that you press to interact with various things in your environment. That’s it. And while the control scheme itself may look shallow at a glance, its implementation is anything but. That same action button can pull crates, flip switches, activate levers and all of these things tie into the puzzles in their own way. Just when you think you’ve figured out what the game is going to throw at you, it tosses you something new. The difficulty of the puzzles scales nicely, from very simple early on to rather complex by the end of the game, but you very seldom get too frustrated. There were a few puzzles where I died a lot, but the game is very kind in that you respawn at the start of a new puzzle. Now, some puzzles are a bit longer to complete than others, so you may find yourself doing the same thing over and over again as you try to get your timing down, but the game doesn’t cheat – it’s your own fault and your own timing you need to perfect.

Intangibles – 7:

The game has amazing atmosphere. I was lost in it while I played, and it was almost jarring at times when one of my kids would ask me a question or if I had to get up to do something. There’s some unlockables that you can get which are kind of cool. For starters, the achievements are mostly based on finding ‘eggs’ along the way, and most of these are not in plain sight and easy to acquire. You can get a couple of items for your avatar though, if you enjoy changing those around on Xbox live – you can get a “Limbo” shirt (naturally it’s black with white lettering – simple yet fits the theme) for finding an egg, and another item you can get is a little critter as a pet. He’s a little black… well, critter, and you earn him by beating the game. It’s a small set of things, but it’s nice. The puzzles are varied and the game never really bored me. So why only a 7? It’s just too short. Short enough for me to recommend against it? Probably not – I’m very glad to have gotten to play it and I picked it up as part of the Xbox summer of arcade deal – having grabbed 2 other games and getting the bonus 400 Microsoft points. But the came can be beaten in about 3 or 4 hours. 5 if you die lots. In fact, there’s an achievement I haven’t gotten to try yet but plan to where you have to beat the game in a single sitting without dying more than 5 times. Taking a look around the internet and leaderboards, and it looks like quite a few people have done this. For roughly $15/1,200 points, that just doesn’t feel like enough game time. Make it 800 points/$10 and I think it’s a bit more fairly priced.

Overall – 8.2:

This is a very atmospheric game that is a fun blend of platforming and puzzling. It’s just short. Way too short. And without any kind of multiplayer and online, there’s really not much to encourage a 2nd playthrough other than looking for the achievements you missed the first time through. Also it should be noted that the main protagonist is a young boy. This young boy meets a variety of grizzly ends. You don’t see red blood splattered over the place, but you die often and to things such as spiders, buzz saws, drowning and even bear traps. The imagery may not be suitable to young children, especially those prone to nightmares. The game is like a single giant nightmare for a young boy, really.

And then there’s the story. Limbo – one of the definitions from earlier: a region on the border of hell or heaven, serving as the abode after death of unbaptized infants (limbo of infants)

The game starts with a simple cut scene. Keep in mind, there’s no voice narration or even long scrolling blocks of text to detail the story. When you reach the end it’s left a bit ambiguous. The developers have even said as much – that they are leaving it open for interpretation. I know how I took it, but it’s certainly not the way everyone else will – just looking up limbo ending discussion on Google returns tons of theories on it, and I will link these three here – each site/link is different for those curious about it – but it’s left open-ended by the developers for us to draw our own conclusions. It’s open-ended stuff, and there’s plenty of spoilers on those pages. What else can I say about the game? It's a bit too short for its price, but it's a hauntingly beautiful yet eerie one that certainly made an impact on me during and after playing it, and I'm glad I had to chance to do so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

20 years of Sonic

My wife sent me this - I completely missed it. Given the fact my 2 youngest were HUGE Sonic fans for years, I thought this was pretty cool.

Anyway, my youngest thought this was really cool when I showed her right now:

I think we've owned about 2/3 of those games - I know I played the first 4 that showed up on that list. I haven't played Sonic Colors or Generations yet, though my youngest did ask me for both while watching that with me. Fond overall memories, though like Mario I enjoy Sonic much more as a 2D, high-speed plotformer than as a 3D adventure game.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition Director's Cut - PC Game Review

The Witcher video games are based on a sries of fantasy short stories and novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski featuring the witcher Geralt of Rivia. The sequel to the acclaimed original released recently, and they both promise a good deal of flexibility in your decision making, which does allow the games to take some liberties from the story cannon.

I picked this game up rather cheaply ($5) around Christmas time, not having known much about it but I found the premise and reviews interesting enough to warrant acquiring it. Overall, I'm glad I did, but I am not quite as big of a fan of the original as a lot of players and reviewers seem to be.

Graphics - 7:

The environments look really good, despite the game's age (2007). Some of the cut scenes look good - I particularly enjoyed the intro scene to the game before starting it up. Characters often look a bit stiff though during the dialog sequences - Geralt in particular seems almost 'stuffy' with his general pose being standing upright arms hanging straight but at an angle to the side - almost like a scarecrow. Still, there are a lot of really nice touches, with an almost elegant look to the menus and interface, though the Aurora engine (used in Neverwinter Nights) feels a bit dated at times. That said, small things like weather and lighting effects are handled very, very well most of the time.

Sound & Music - 8:

These hold up nicely over time. The sound effects are actually quite varied, and there is really good ambient sound in many of your environments. The music is excellent the majority of the time, working well with the set pieces. Voice acting is a mixed bag - most of it is pretty good. Thankfully I liked Geralt's voice since his is the one you hear the most of, but some of the more peripheral characters feel a bit overdone at times.

Gameplay - 7:

The combat is unique, but I don't know that I am always a fan of it. There is this sort of timed click interface where you try to time the 'sweet spot' to click on your opponent and chain attacks together. It gets credit for innovation, but sometimes the execution is lacking as environments or odd camera angles can keep you from clicking when and where you want to. The bar fist-fighting mini-game is just more of the same 'combat' - and suffers from the same problems where you occasionally just cannot click on your target. The dice mini game is pretty nice though, and the alchemy system is interesting if a bit cumbersome at times.

The real standout here is the way your choices in the game later affect things. There is no painfully obvious gauge to measure your 'good versus evil' choices like in Mass Effect, and it works well here. I've only given the game one play through so far, but I have read that sometimes your actions do not show their consequences until much later in the game. If that is true, then there is some significant replay value to be had here.

Intangibles - 8:

And now we lead into the replay value. There are a lot of instances where you have a freedom of choice that can make you want to see how events might play out in another way. There are a ton of side quests as well - almost too many if you ask me. It can be a bit overwhelming when the quests add up, and if you are like me and have a compulsion to finish them all, it can take a long time to beat this game.

There are sometimes long and frequent loading times, and I managed to crash the game several times on an early cutscene, but once I skipped that scene things moved along pretty well. I think I dropped about 50 hours on beating the game the first time, and I did mess around with many of my loaded states to try various outcomes as well.

Overall - 7.5:

The combat really annoyed me at times, and since so much of the game is based on it, I found myself annoyed more times than I should have been for a game that was so carefully crafted in other areas. It should be mentioned, but this is definitely not a kids' game. There is some pretty rough language at times, nudity and tons of adult themes. To put things into perspective, Geralt can have sex with quite a few people over the course of this game, and you get a semi or completely naked card of the lady (conquest) in question afterward. There is some relevance to these relations as well though, as you have a chance at one of two romantic interests in this game.

I have read that when this game first came out, it did so with a ton of bugs, long load times and instability. This is the final, patched version of that, and while some of those things were still present, they were nothing like what was discussed with the game's initial release. I'm curious about the recently released sequel, but will probably hold off on it for awhile until I can pick it up cheaply as well.