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Friday, October 24, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I’d have to say that Nintendo’s Direct for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is easily one of their best efforts at addressing fans… directly. With one of their strongest franchises shepherding one of their biggest fanbases, Nintendo’s much more comfortable being quirky and creative, and rightfully so. What they’ve had to announce in yesterday’s Direct was overwhelming and exciting.

After some of the more obvious improvements in resolution and improved fidelity, Nintendo dropped the massive surprise of supporting up to 8 players at once in some of the game’s larger exclusive stages. Such a feat has merely been dreamed of before from the likes of kids on a school yard or drunken games of Smash, but Nintendo took the dive and made it a reality.

It’s a real bummer that it’s limited to local play, only reserving such chaos for those who can manage to fit 8 people in their living room (let alone gathering that many people together in the first place). I question the decision as perhaps a way to avoid online connection problems, as between Brawl and the recent 3DS game, Smash has never had a respectably successful network performance. Nonetheless, it feels like Destiny’s Vault of Glass, I just can’t manage to get that many people to agree in playing all at once.

New stages take center stage of the first portion of the Direct starting with “Danger Zones”. “Danger Zones” (or patches of lava) are sections of the stage that cause damage which you’ll find within the labyrinthine level design. More than the obvious damage infliction, Danger Zones will cause instant KOs if fighters touch them after reaching 100% damage. It’s a brilliant inclusion to solve the problem of fighters ricocheting (like many have in the underbelly of Hyrule Temple) while taking up to 400%+ damage without dying.

 I’m not sure how I feel about Jungle Hijinks though. It’s an interesting concept of taking one of the characteristics of Donkey Kong Country (where you barrel cannon into the background), and continue the fight there while players can carry on their battle up front. I can already predict issues of line-of-sight with the foreground battles getting away with what’s happening in the back. Though once again, to counter balance potential abuse of the complex design, players will be punished for constantly barreling back and forth which is signified by a temporary shroud of flames (doesn’t really look like flames) that will cause barrels to explode if they’re still active.

 Along with structural and balancing design, stages for Smash Wii U will get some aesthetical fan service as well. The Miiverse stage is inspired to the console’s social hub where players can sketch their own art and have them appear in the game. They didn’t go into great detail as to how exactly it’ll work, but it’s great fan services for the spontaneous phenomenon nonetheless. We’re also introduced to Palutena’s Guidance. In the Palutena’s Temple stage, players can hit down on the D-Pad to activate commentary and banter between Kid Icarus characters such as the Pit, the aforementioned Palutena, and more. I find this relatively annoying honestly, since the characters in Kid Icarus for the 3DS just couldn’t shut the fuck up.

Though Star Fox banter is totally acceptable.

Gaur Plain and a new Metroid level called Pyro Sphere feature event enemies that are exclusive to their stages. While we have Metal Face (I’m assuming he’s from Xenoblade; never played that game) who looks to be just a bastard, Ridley makes an appearance on Pyro Sphere and can actually join the fight like an elaborate assist trophy after receiving enough damage by a player. Ridley is susceptible to damage however (Metal Face is too by the way), making him more of an extra AI combatant rather than an annoying invincible nuisance. I’ve finally grown tired of things interrupting my Smash games, so I hope there’s an option to turn it off.


I’ll make this declaration out front, the SSB series has arguably the best soundtrack out of Nintendo’s franchises. Sure you have some classics from Zelda and Mario (particularly Galaxy), but the wide selection of music found in SSB can exist as a separate piece of merchandise on its own (as the announcer said, such a soundtrack could cost more than the game itself – available for Nintendo Club members). Smash for Wii U wears its music selection on its sleeve, allowing you to tinker with music options on the menus screen, matches themselves, and collect songs as well just like in the Brawl version. I’m surprised I don’t see more games using a song collecting feature (kudos to Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag).

Along with changes to Classic, All-Star, and the addition of Event mode, Smash Tour takes the concept of Smash Run, and dresses it like Mario Party. Admittedly, I’m still not entirely sure what Smash Tour is, but from what I understand of it, players will move their Miis across a board collecting power-ups, fighters, and other items. Once players meet, they engage in “battle” that can result in one player stealing fighters from the other. I quote “battle” because it doesn’t seem as if an actual fight ensues once players run into one another, and that players won’t throw down until the “final showdown”.  I was expecting more fights in-between, but I’m hoping Smash Run is as good a board game as core Smash is a fantastic multiplayer brawler.

I’ve already written about how I wish that Smash for Wii U would bring custom fighters to online matchmaking, unlike what was found in the 3DS version. That decision would determine my investment in Special Orders Mode. Special Orders – Master Orders & Crazy Orders – are the two modes that were teased on Miiverse a few weeks back which grant players prizes depending on how long the player lasts, creating a game-show-style test of endurance. I care less about the mode itself than I do about the insane amount of custom parts you can earn for your fighters. But all of this is moot if I can’t use them online in a game where I don’t know many players that have Wii Us who I can play with.

Since Melee, SSB has functioned as a Nintendo museum with its trophies by introducing many franchises to players, especially here in the west. I know I’m not the only one who found out about Earthbound and Fire Emblem collecting their trophies in Melee. Smash for Wii U is blowing up its trophy feature with different modes of display from galleries to trophy boxes and filling it with even more of the collectibles, turning it into a Nintendo (Capcom, Sega, and Bandi Namco as well) encyclopedia.

And while I’ve grown out of the compulsion of collecting trophies to catch up on my gaming history, Masterpieces looks to be one of the best history lessons in retro gaming. Though I’m 25, my gaming experience was very limited up until the Gamcube era. Masterpieces will give me a chance to get my hands on Punch-Out!, Balloon Fight, Megaman 2, Metroid, and hopefully much, much more.

We knew that the 3DS only had a fraction of the online features that we’d see in the Wii U version, and the Direct didn’t disappoint. Tournaments are back just as everyone predicted, but tourneys offer players a chance to organize their own conditions Mario Kart 8 style. I’m wondering if online rankings will incorporate a point system that scores a player’s performance, making easier to identify whose a badass and who’s still learning. And while voice chat is hamstringed by “potential connection interruptions”, Smash for Wii U does its damnest to establish a community with Miiverse like sketching tools for Smash photos and customs stages making a return from Brawl.

There is just too much content to talk about all at once discussing what will be included on release and in the future for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. The development collaboration on this project has turned it into something of a love letter to Smash and Nintendo fans, along with what looks to be the most robust multiplayer game to ever come out of Nintendo. Smash for Wii U appears to be more of a platform rather than a game itself with tons of custom and/or community options and inevitable additions yet to come. People have stated that they believe that the 3DS was the lead platform of SSB. Perhaps that may be true in sales, however the Wii U version seems to be the definitive version. Full stop. 

By Jamaal Ryan

My Galaxy Note 3 is huge.

In fact, it’s so damn big that it fully eclipses my 3DS XL, and I’m afraid that if I remove it from my holster, a cop might mistake it for a gun.

I carry my phablet with pride despite its bulkiness. However with the recent launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, I’m facing less ridicule for the size of my phone (because you know, tech trends don’t become cool until Apple says so). Samsung wasn’t too far behind Apple with their Galaxy Note 4 released last Friday, which is getting stellar reviews from multiple outlets including this one. But what hasn’t been talked about as much is the device’s capabilities as a gaming platform that go above and beyond your average smartphone. Read more.
By Jamaal Ryan

Earlier this week on Miiverse, Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakuri teased two new game modes that will be exclusive to the title's Wii U version. Yesterday on Famitsu, Sakuri stated that he’s “not done yet” on the development of SSB Wii U, adding that created characters that were made on the 3DS can be transferred over to Nintendo’s home console. With the effort in bringing over custom fighters from 3DS to Wii U, could we finally be able to use our augmented roster in online matchmaking? Read more.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
I’m not sure when I unconsciously abandoned the Super Smash Bros. franchise. It was either when I eventually hung my Nintendo fan-boy hat in search for gaming experiences on other platforms, or when Brawl sacrificed speed and control by tying weights around the fighters’ ankles that made them slow and occasionally trip. Either way, it’s been a long time since I’ve last taken SSB seriously.
This 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. has the potential to reel me back in. It’s mechanically similar to Melee and what those wizards accomplished with Project M, and Smashing on the go is much easier than going through the hassle of hooking up my Gamecube. However it doesn’t satiate my competitive nature as much as I’d assume a proper console release would. Read more.


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Friday, October 10, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

So check this shit out:

Talk about poor PR training.

I’m not gonna get into the preachy “Women should get paid equally” speech because, well… no shit they should. That’s a given. The archaic justification that women should get paid less because “They have to take care of their children” is about 70 years outdated.

Granted, this was in response to a specific question about women’s raises at a women’s conference, but that’s not an excuse for the tone-deaf language specifying that women shouldn’t ask for a bump in salary.

Before I ridicule the whole notion of “karma” within the context of his response, I do want to establish an understanding that the idea of karma could mean something totally different to Nadella than how we perceive it here in the west. Karma is treated with a level of tangibility in Indian cultures, particularly in the Hindu religion. My mother is a Buddhist (we’re Trinidadian, not Indian in case you’re asking), and the balance between “Good Karma & Bad Karma” is revered with the utmost importance. So I’m reluctant to be insensitive and claim, “Karma is bullshit”.

Having said that, I still think that his answer is ridiculous.

Though the question was fishing for his advice to women in the work force, Nadella, as the CEO of one of the biggest tech companies on the planet, should take ownership and responsibility of the gender pay gap, not leave it up to “karma”. This was his chance to encourage women to ask for deserved salary raises while establishing Microsoft’s full support matching their dollar to their male counter parts. He may have double backed on his statements, but I’m afraid that the 29% of women that work under the tech giant may get a bit thinner.

And rightfully so.

Image courtesy of The Telegraph 

By Jamaal Ryan

Even in vanilla Crucible, Destiny’s competitive multiplayer has balancing issues. From one shot melee attacks, to tracking grenades, to overpowered weapon performances (with shotguns, fusion rifles, steady auto rifles, and exotic weapons), to acquired abilities, many deaths feel cheap in this off-kilter yet mechanically sound multiplayer.

While some of these issues exist in the standard, stat-flattening Crucible modes, Bungie has claimed to deliberately shift the tides in favor for heavily invested players in Destiny’s Iron Banner event where armor and weapons with higher attack and defense numbers actually matter.

However the problem is, they actually don’t.

Shortly after the Iron Banner went live, players started flooding complaints in claiming that they, as high level players, were getting stomped by lower level guardians; a strange turn of events in a game where facing up against enemies 20 levels above you would be instantly fatal.

YouTuber OohaPieceaCandy lent some validity to these claims, recording Xbox One footage of his level 4 Warlock mopping the floor with level 25+ players.

Pretty obvious right? However some disagreed with Candy’s footage, claiming that his team members heavily influenced his performance. So for my own piece of mind, I decided to test out the Iron Banner myself.

After rummaging through the obligatory first mission coming out at only level 2, I dived straight into Iron Banner. Now don’t expect me to weave a story about how I crushed the opposing team, I didn’t. However with no heavy weapon, no double jump ability, no special melee, and no Super, I came out with 9 kills averaging a .82 K/D ratio. Those 9 kills were earned by both double teaming enemy players and taking out opponents on my own from full shields to 0 with that crappy auto rifle you first pick up. Judging by my performance, I'm almost certain that if I leveled up just enough to unlock all the aforementioned weapons and abilities, I would be just as competitive as if I were playing with my level 26 Hunter.

This doesn’t upset me, as I’ve largely walked away from Destiny altogether. Even the idea of the Iron Banner itself did nothing to reinvigorate my interest in the game because wielding a level advantage defies the very meaning of “competitive multiplayer” to me. But nonetheless, I can still fully empathize with players’ frustrations about the Iron Banner that were looking for an opportunity to show off their gear against one another.

This isn’t the first time Destiny has disappointed with event based add-on content. The Queen’s Wrath was a half-step in the right direction. With three updates to the game thus far, and only the Vault of Glass offering a fully enjoyable experience, I fear for Destiny’s near future and its ability to give players like me a reason to return.   

Image courtesy of GameZone.

By Jamaal Ryan

I was going to write about how un-phased I am about Nintendo confirming not making the Gamecube controller compatible with other Wii U games. But as I took out my dusty, crusty colorful game pad that I have fond memories of since middle school, I just realized… I really love the Gamecube controller. Sure the C-Stick is garbage, the controller itself requires a wire, and it has fewer inputs than modern day pads, but I still love the Gamecube controller.

Even as I’ve aged, the Gamecube controller fits my hands swimmingly compared to most game pads, especially when comparing it to Wii U’s other pro’ish alternative. The Wii U’s pro controller is much wider, and its analog stick placement feels incredibly awkward sitting on top of the face buttons on the right side instead of under them like nearly every other controller ever designed.

Like the rational for the nub’s lack of movement on the New 3DS, I have no issue using a controller that’s not properly formatted for shooters, which in this case, would be the Gamecube controller. The Z button is the only shoulder button, the analog sticks have octagonal movement as opposed to perfectly circular, they don’t click, and the triggers are borderline useless. But shooters are less likely to show up on Nintendo’s handheld (though I would love to see the return of Renegade Kid’s Moon), and with the hopeful exception of Splatoon, shooters are becoming less and less popular on the Wii U with major franchises like Call of Duty looking to bow out, at least for the time being.

That said, I think that the Gamecube controller is a superior controller to the Wii U Pro for almost every other genre. The key here is the placement and arrangement of the A, B, X & Y buttons. Jockish critics ridicule the Gamecube controller for its asymmetrical design. Little do they realize that it’s purposeful and brilliant. Every game has a main action button, which is what the large A button represented. The locations of X and Y border the northeastern quarters of the controller to allow your thumb to roll of A, allowing you to hit three buttons without having to lift your finger off of the controller (at least that’s true for folks with hands similar to mine). Try doing that with today’s diamond pattern. It’s not as easy. That only leaves B which is a simple sliding thumb away. Think of action/adventure games that use a main attack button, fighting games that require button combinations, and platformers where all you do is jump.

It’s a real bummer that the Gamecube controller is, indeed, not compatible with other Wii U titles. Thankfully, its sole existence on Wii U – at least for the time being – is used to make old Smash players feel at home. 

Image courtesy of Wired


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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

My thumbs hurt. They really fucking hurt.

After playing several hour sessions of Smash for the 3DS, and walking away with cramps in my palms and sharp pain shooting up and down my thumbs, I’ve thought about setting up a big ole bowl of warm water and Epsom Salt for some post Smashing recovery. That said, I’m not convinced that the 3DS is an appropriate platform for SSB.

And it’s not just pain that makes me believe so. Read more.


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Friday, October 3, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Watch this anyway.

I can't muster the interest in playing a game like Minecraft because I prefer playing something more than creating something. And as for Doctor Who, well... I just can't care.

But this? This is...


By Jamaal Ryan

I want to get ahead of this discussion because I can see it coming.

Today, Ubisoft revealed a trailer lavishly showing off its variety of weapons in their upcoming shooter, Far Cry 4. It shows an impressive array of sizzling auto rifles, punchy explosives, cringe-worthy crossbows, and weaponized wildlife. It certainly looks to be the follow up we both wanted and expected to Far Cry 3. Also in the video, we’re introduced to who is presumed to be your go-to weapons dealer, an assumed African native that’s seems to be infatuated with firearms. This, I can see, can cause some stirs.

Far Cry 3’s criticisms entered around the upswing of the advocacy of social representation, calling for more gender, racial, and sexual orientation diversity. The game’s vacationing-gone-wrong narrative was, if nothing else, sophomoric in its execution and grandiose in its vision, thus creating some unsettling interpretations of the depiction of our protagonist’s interactions with the island’s natives. That stench lingered for quite some time. And while ignored, a simple cover art for its sequel, Far Cry 4, was enough to re-ignite the uproar, offering a platform for new accusations of colonial racism. While I very much understood where this was coming from, I attempted to rationalize the debate by looking at the game’s – then – rumored lead character, the depiction of Pagan Min, and the creative minds behind Far Cry 4.

The flames have largely been doused, with the background of Pagan Min revealed, and the intentions of the script writers themselves. However after today, we may see this discussion again.

The terms “race” and “Far Cry” are well acquainted, and not in a good way unfortunately. Because of this, I couldn’t help but pay more attention to the weapons’ dealer’s accent than I did to the gameplay footage itself. This could be easily justified as an expected circumstance of being set in the Himalayan region, not too far from Africa.

“But what about a Black guy selling you guns?”

Yes. That certainly could generate suspicion as well, since Black characters in video games, from FF VII’s Barret to FF XIII’s Sazh (and almost everything in between), have often been associated with guns. The illustration reinforces the stereotype that is heavily influenced by America’s gang culture, and draws the assumption that Blacks are predisposed to violence; particularly gun violence. Here, we very well see a Black man who is enjoying the business of arms dealing.

By and large, it’s a simple 2-and-a-half minute video, whose purpose is to solely show off the ballistic action that emerges from Far Cry 4’s many, many guns. And regardless where you stand, it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

But for some, this video game be a sliver of foreshadowing, an irritant for the sore spot that is Far Cry’s controversial past. However as I’ve emphasized before, hold your convictions until November 18th.

Image courtesy of Lightning Gaming News 


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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

PAC-MAN and Ms. PAC-MAN are relevant again! At least they’re gonna be more relevant in the month of October than they have been in quite some time. We’re all already clamoring to play as PAC-MAN and almost 50 other characters in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, and see where he stacks up against the other line up of newly added characters to Nintendo’s brawler. And while PAC-MAN will be fighting Nintendo and other popular Japanese characters, Bandi Namco is also using Ms. PAC-MAN in the fight against breast cancer in Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Together with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, BN has launched their Ms. PAC-MAN Pink Ribbon Campaign. The campaign will add an additional maze to PAC-MAN and Ms. PAC-MAN titles on both iOS and Android devices for $.99, in which all proceeds will then go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Ben Acevedo, Senior Producer at BANDAI NAMCO Games America Inc. states, “Breast cancer has directly affected my immediate family and it’s a fantastic opportunity for gamers and the industry to get involved. While the mazes we are offering in October are fun, the real challenge is to raise awareness and get players, producers, artists, and programmers across the mobile industry to join us and Join the Pac.”

On Android, you can pick up:
  • -          Ms. PAC-MAN for $3.99
  • -          PAC-MAN + Tournaments for Free

On iOS, you can pick up
  • -          PAC-MAN/Ms. PAC-MAN for $3.99
  • -          PAC-MAN Lite/Ms. PAC-MAN Lite for Free
  • -          PAC-MAN/Ms. PAC-MAN for iPad for $5.99

You can identify each titles that support the promotion by the pink breast cancer theme. 

Image courtesy of Gamer Headlines


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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Despite the insurmountable amount of hype from across the gaming populous, including here at TZR, Destiny is an unequivocal disappointment. Its Metacritic rating on PS4 sits at a 77 (yes, I’m referencing Metacritic despite how unreliable a metric system it is) which aptly represents the divisiveness of how critics have received the game. But even for those who have a high tolerance for its repetitive mission design, awful storytelling, recycled environments, and severe lack of social features – I’m very much part of that camp – we can all agree that Destiny’s loot system is completely busted. Read more

By Jamaal Ryan

From the Black marine at the opening of the co-op trailer revealed yesterday, to the woman wearing the vicious looking Head Hunter mask, gender and racial representation in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare tops almost any other game that I’ve ever seen before.

Sure, you have your Commander Shepards, your Skyrim avatars, and your Destiny Guardians, but Advanced Warfare doesn’t simply open the option to adjust skin tone, there are preset races and sexes present throughout both the campaign and the multiplayer.

There’s something about seeing a game taking the time to model characters from different races by not just sliding the color slider to dark, but rendering hair texture and modeling facial features so that they don’t simply look like the early black Ken dolls in the 90’s. There’s also something about watching women look totally badass with big guns, and decked out armor, duking it out in this high octane military shooter.

People were all to cynical about Call of Duty: Ghosts’ proud reveal of enabling players to customize their soldiers as female characters, often scoffing it with, “Well it about fucking time.” But I ask them, “How many military shooters featured female avatars at the time?” Not many.

Activision and Sledgehammer seem to be making a conscious decision on promoting the fact that they have such a diverse representation. It’s no mistake that we’ve seen so many women and blacks in all of their trailers.

This not only proves that there is growing recognition that players are mixed in both sex and ethnicity, but it also proves that the illegitimate fear of social awareness in games has zero negative impact on the titles themselves, both indie and AAA. Here is Activision’s most lucrative franchise representing minorities and women. Later this year, one of Ubisoft’s most successful franchise will feature a non-white lead whose heritage comes from the Himalayas. Neither decision compromises the fact that both Advanced Warfare and Far Cry 4 look fucking awesome.

It won’t be long before we get a lead in a AAA game who’s a Hispanic or Asian woman. Some may argue that Mirror’s Edge’s Faith fills that slot already. 

Image courtesy of The Independent 


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Modern Warfare 3’s Survival Mode remains to be my favorite co-op experience in the franchise with Ghosts’ Extinction Mode shaving in at a close second. I’m very candid about stating that wave based multiplayer modes are my all-time preferred style of co-op, dating all the way back to Mario Bros. (how Nintendo has absolutely refused to bring this multiplayer mode back is excruciatingly criminal), to – oddly enough – Star Wars: The Clone Wars for the Gamecube, to Horde Mode in Gears 2 and every franchise’s take on it moving forward. I’ve always preferred the idea of a neigh endless session with your friends in place of a finite campaign co-op round.

Today, Seldgehammer revealed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s co-op mode, Exo-Survival, which leads me to believe that MW3’s Survival Mode was largely handled by Sledgehammer themselves. In many ways, it seems that Exo-Survival isn’t unlike what we saw in MW3. Waves of grunts, dogs, and heavily armored opponents flood the game’s multiplayer maps for you to fend off, upgrade weapons and armor with earned currency, and continue to hold the line moving forward.

Of course, Advanced Warfare plays much differently with exo donning enemies that demand both vertical and lateral awareness, something that only Ghosts’ Extinction Mode was able to fully accomplish with its wall crawling aliens. IGN’s Ryan McCaffery holds out hope that the exo-powered A.I. in the campaign will practice the same level of aggressiveness as they to in Survival Mode, however I’m not as optimistic. Having said that, Survival looks like it can offer non-multiplayer centric players an opportunity to feel like a badass when shooting A.I. soldiers out of the sky.

Exo-Survival is taking a turn similar to what Uncharted 3’s co-op mode did after Uncharted 2’s excellent predecessor by mixing in objectives into the flow of assaulting waves. Fail to complete the objectives, and you’ll be penalized with image blurs, limited weapons, or hostile sentries. Though I didn’t like the inclusion of objectives in Uncharted 3 because if it’s limiting 10 rounds and little opportunity to play it at its best, Advance Warfare continues the trend of ceaseless monster closets, supplying endless waves of enemies thus granting plenty of opportunity everything it has to offer.

On paper, Exo-Survival doesn’t appear to be dramatically different in terms of its features from MW3’s mode of the same type. You’re still facing off against endless waves of enemies. But with the radical behavior of the exosuits that combine super human movement and tactical abilities, along with mixed-in objectives that reprimand if you’re not careful, this could be - and excuse the phrase - the most insane co-op experience Call of Duty has ever seen. 


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Monday, September 22, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

Writer's Note: This review has been edited for fact checking and grammar. Apologize for the mistakes,

Destiny is probably the most divisive game that I’ve ever played.

It’s both incredibly fun and boring as hell, captivating and uneventfully sterile, provides lasting appeal and turns players away. It straddles both sides of the fence constantly by wearing so many hats - from first person shooter, to RPG, to amateur MMO - that some are bound to fit, while others are awkward and uncomfortable, or just completely fall off.

Enjoying Destiny means that you have to, A) Have a level of appreciation of everything it has to offer and, B) Figured out how to navigate its segregated structure so that you’re constantly entertained. I happen to be lucky enough to fall into both categories, thus I’m still having fun with Destiny today.

But it’s irrefutable that the game isn’t without its significant problems.


There are many dimensions of design that Bungie baked into Destiny; and those that come from its legacy are unquestionably exceptional. One such dimension, which I’ve raved about again and again, is its encounter design. Bungie knows how to make shooting things fun. Throughout the course of the main story, you’ll face up against four different races of enemies, three in which are impressively distinct from one another. The Fallen meet your standard light-mid-heavy tiered sub types along with rush and marksman variants, the Hive scales towards  more brutish behavior by pounding heavy damage from both up close and from afar, and the Cabal are the most diverse of the three with their vertically agile, DPS, and shielded characteristics.

All the races in which you face challenge you to use your surroundings better than they can. Witches are notorious for floating behind cover, sword wielding Knights will chase you to the ends of space regardless where you flee, and vertical vantage points only provide temporary solace until you’re faced with enemies jumping towards you, thus forcing you to reposition yourself constantly. Even though the coordinated differences between the Hunter, Titan and Warlock classes are all but nonexistent until you unlock their subclasses, when playing co-op, the simple spike in A.I. quantity seamlessly perpetuates quality, as more enemies of various types automatically sets a high bar of teamwork, especially in the entertaining – albeit bullet spongey  – boss battles.

Destiny is at its best in the early game when trucking along from Old Russia to the Black Garden. While all missions begin from the same general space on each planet, they never lead you to the same location. And while mission objectives are nearly identical, the path between points A & B, C & D are reliably differentiated.


All of this is enjoyable if you completely negate all interests in getting to know the world around you, both physically and narratively. There’s a significant difference between world building and storytelling, the former in which Bungie has always excelled at. However I would argue that Bungie was never a great story telling studio when it comes to the games themselves, and that seems even more evident in Destiny.

The story here is dismal and nonexistent. Many of the characters in the game are literally and figuratively faceless with no perceived personal motivation outside of facing the ambiguous “Darkness” that threatens the universe. When looking at Destiny’s impressive atmosphere, which effortlessly balances fantasy and science fiction, it leads you to believe that there is a deeper story to tell. And there is…on Bungie’s constant reliance on written media, electronic or physical, has always segregated the level of appreciation of the in-game lore. Fuck no I’m not gonna go to to read a story you should have already told me in the game I’m playing right now.

Diablo 3 comparisons, as a loot heavy RPG with bad storytelling, are painfully evident. And while many loot driven games trip up on a hokey narrative, there’s a certain formula that they adhere to on how to incentivize exploration. Unfortunately Destiny completely misunderstands what that formula is.

Early in the game, Destiny tucks away high level opponents in certain areas as a way to say, “You’re not ready yet. Come back later.” Proper world structure ensures that areas where over powered opponents reside are completely isolated in their own sector. But in Destiny, they exist in little pockets that you can easily stumble into if you find yourself too nosey. There’s no way of predetermining “I’ll stay away from there” as a way to ensure that you’re not running into corners of the world in which you’re not supposed to. It makes these areas both difficult to avoid and to then find again once you return at a higher level.

Though I myself didn’t have an issue returning to the same hub worlds again and again for every mission, these persistent spaces are incompatible to the idea of exploration. On two separate occasions I diverged off the beaten path in search for these rare chests I kept hearing about. Both times I found myself wondering aimlessly for up to 10 minutes before I guessed that these were areas in which the story might not have taken me to yet. Lo and behold, I was right, as a separate mission and a later objective eventually brought me to said areas. The lack of enclosed environments leaves you open meandering about as the game has no way of communicating to you that you’re literally going in the wrong direction (like what the sector of high level opponents I insinuated above would have done).

This is all exacerbated by the questionable lack of any kind of world map to provide some information on your whereabouts, and the fact that the chests are so infrequent that I can imagine many eventually deciding not to bother embarking on a search for them, especially after hearing that you can actually level out of their usefulness.


As irrelevant as the chests may be, loot chasing is your primary incentive in continuing to return to Destiny. And once you’ve reached the post-game that is the level 20 soft cap, it often becomes your soul incentive. Making your way past level 20 is inexcusably unclear outside of knowing that armor with Light attributes allows you to continue to level up. But even once you’ve figured out what Crucible reputation vs. Vanguard reputation vs. Faction reputation is, or even how to join a faction in the first place, and what it all means in regards to eventually getting Legendary loot, it becomes a hassle. You can very easily fall into a long period of stagnation of earning useless loot while grinding your way through bounties attempting to earn enough Crucible/Vanguard Marks – two of the several types of currencies among Destiny’s convoluted economy – to purchase the desired Legendary equipment. Bungie and Activision have long tooted the horn with the quote, “The game doesn’t even start until you’ve reached level 20”. But I’d argue that feeding the game with rotating daily bounties isn’t enough to prevent the game from slowing down.


Part of what sustains the staying power of Destiny is the much talked about Crucible, Destiny’s competitive grounds. I’ve raved about what I love in the Crucible, but after spending countless hours with it, I very much recognize its balancing problems. As I’ve stated before, all damage and defensive stats are flattened in the Crucible outside of what will be the Iron Banner. That includes attack and defense upgrades in each of the weapon and armor skill trees. But because Destiny’s upgrade system works to make your characters more powerful as a proper RPG should, that doesn’t necessarily translate well in to the Crucible where most competitive shooter upgrade systems typically offer more options of play.

Some of the skills obtained in each class compound this problem even further, creating a larger issue aptly described by Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker, “The number of ways you can get one-shotted in that game is fucking staggering!” Outside of shotguns, sniper rifles, and the ludicrously over powered fusions rifles, recharge abilities inflict brutal insta-kills. In the later game, players will begin to obtain Rare armor that offer attributes in which increases three character stats: Intellect (determines Super recharge time), Discipline (determines grenade recharge time), and Strength (determines melee recharge time). These attributes aren’t flattened in the Crucible, thus putting higher level players whose abilities recharge faster at a noticeable advantage. The Crucible is a highly entertaining space to test your skill, but at this stage of a game whose audience is very much committed early adopters at level 20+, most folks below level 10 are in for a rough time.


Ultimately, Destiny strives to be a social experience, one that is said to revolutionize console multiplayer as Bungie did with Halo 2. However unfortunately, the social opportunities are hardly more developed than your typical console shooter.

As a co-op shooty-shooty-bang-bang, Destiny works very well. Strike missions smartly match-make three players together for some co-op action, and they are easily the most popular post game content next to the Crucible. The Tower, Destiny’s most MMOish social hub, is where you’ll run into plenty of players who are participating in mood lifting dance offs, caught volleying the oversized beach ball, or going about their faction and loot grinding business.

But none of it quite seems to be enough.

If you’re not rolling deep with a predetermined strike team, Destiny can be a solitary experience. Public Events, the game’s biggest hook social since its reveal at E3 2013, have only surfaced in my game three times in the absurd amount of hours I’ve dumped into Destiny. When trying to invite other players that you run into, the process is walled behind a lengthy U.I. mess on the Playstation 4. And as a social RPG, it’s bizarre that Bungie has no intention in allowing players to trade loot at this time. I deeply appreciate the fact that Destiny is designed to accommodate for both solo players with a limited time budget and highly invested, highly social players, but the community features in Destiny are much slimmer than expected.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt that Destiny is in for the long game, a decade-long long game in fact with a myriad of content planned for the short and long term future. But Destiny as we know it in just the few weeks after launch has had a rough take-off. The mechanics and design of a first person shooter are firmly in place. However its RPG elements are just a bit too tedious, the competitive multiplayer is just a bit too unbalanced, and the social environment is just a bit too quiet.


+ Spectacular shooter mechanics

+ Excellent enemy encounter design

+ Engaging co-op multiplayer

- Incredibly fun yet unbalanced Crucible

- Poorly formatted exploration

- Convoluted and grindy post-game 

Image courtesy in order of appearance:

Gaming Trend
Attack on the Fan Boy


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Friday, September 19, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

You’ve probably already seen the new trailer to Final Fantasy XV, but look at it again!

When first footage of FF XV's gameplay hit E3 last year, it was both stunning and unexpected, rotating away from the RPG rooted combat of yore, and aligning itself more towards the action genre with Kingdom Hearts style gameplay and much like the most recent installment, Lightening Returns. 2013’s showing felt like a Platinum game in some respects; blindingly fast, with massive scale. It very much looked like it would be one of the most impressive action titles yet.

Gorgeous. Destructive. Epic. All would have been enough to recapture my interest in the FF franchise. But TGS 2014’s look at FFXV adds a significant level of realism to the game.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, FF XV is looking fucking amazing. It looked stunning last year, and clearly Square has been hard at work on the game. The lighting, the hair rendering, the vistas, the freakin’ skin textures on the bottom of that elephant-bison looking thing; FFXV is the most visually impressive game I’ve ever seen.

Now the combat this time around seems to be scaled back a notch, with less gravity defying gymnastics and rapid movement around 2 story enemies. Our heroes seem to be held back by weight and momentum, making FFXV look less like Devil May Cry, and a bit more like Monster Hunter. We’ve seen Noctis’ companions jump in and aid him in battle last year, however this trailer puts more of an emphasis on teamwork. The way that they trade blows on enemies, leap over one another, and carry one another out of harms’ way looks grounded and well-choreographed. I certainly respect the perceived move away from the over the top action for more personal combat. That’s not to say that FFXV no longer has scale. There are certainly creatures in the world, both cosmetic and combative, that you’ll encounter on your journey.

TGS has long stood as the mobile platform, let’s-dump-western-titles-here-because-it’s-another-trade-show convention, but the presence of FFXV alone has made it worthwhile for console fans. 

Image courtesy of Gematsu


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I have to admit, once I read that conservative group American Enterprise Institute had something to say about video games, my cynicism shot right up, and I  was ready to discredit.

Today, AEI published a video seemingly very much in response to the rising awareness in gender representation and sexism within the video game community. Christina Sommers leads into the video with a proposed distinction between the general qualification of female gamers, and female gamers who engage in “core” genres, thus emphasizing the point that video games are very much a male activity with a 7:1 ratio of hardcore gamers.

She captures the hearts of many by mocking the general hostile view of violent video games as a whole, but does so to further serve her point that “the video game gender police have become harsh and intolerant”. She asks the questions, “But are video games rife with sexism?” and “Do they promote a culture of misogyny and violence that must be dismantled?” before her swift determination, “No”.

While there have been some corners of the feminist movement in games that have, say, targeted games like the Last of Us just because Ellie was a partially dependent teenager and not the main protagonist, Sarkeesian and others have made valid points. The term “tropes” doesn’t necessarily paint artistic efforts as a hostile agenda to perpetuate misogyny, it mostly relates to laziness, misunderstanding, and the tendency to fall back on stereotypes instead of investigating and exploring proper portrayal.

It’s less of an agenda to, as Sommers believes, seek the death of male video game culture, and more of an eye opening effort to express what’s offensive. I did so with Dead Rising 3’s portrayal of black characters, IGN’s Jose Otero did so by expressing his discomfort with the Xbox One launch title Loco Cycle, and many did with Far Cry 3’s colonialist narrative which influenced the writers of Far Cry 4.

But it’s the last two minutes of the video where she really started to lose me.

She justifies the sexualized female figures in bikinis, boob armor, and skimpy outfits because of the male dominated demographic. Though that’s pushed by video game publishers, it negates those, such as myself, who are disinterested in such a (in my opinion) rote representation, and males of the LBGT community.

She also claims that feminists fail to realize the accomplishments that the industry has made with proper women’s representation, even though all of the episodes of Tropes vs Women I’ve seen have featured Sarkeesian discussing games that have treated women with more sensitivity and depth.

Lastly, she questions why the same gender criticism in games isn’t targeted towards shows like Oprah and The View, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Though I can’t comment on Cosmopolitan, most of us have watched Oprah and The View for years, and I’m almost certain that these shows aren’t riddled with abs, abs, abs. Is the occasional “hunk” featured on the show? Sure. But the gamut of “male representation” is wide and varied.

Sommers certainly makes an interesting effort to target the feminist movement in games with a wink and a nod to gamers, however I question the agenda behind it. But then again, “agenda” is inherently behind everything.

In the end, I don’t quite care for AEI’s stance on gender issues in video games. 

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

I remember Ubisoft’s first Price of Persia title being one of the first games I’ve played that incorporated time as a more instructive teaching tool than typical death, allowing you to rewind, observe, and readdress your mistakes just before your demise. It was a mechanic that continued to find itself in future games, most notably becoming wildly popular in the racing genre where rewriting small whoopsies is fundamentally useful. (What about Braid? Sorry. Didn’t play it.)

However death itself has rarely been more than an end game and a consequence for various levels of misjudgment, which has then recently become more of a brutal affair in the rapidly growing catalog of rogue-likes. Capy seems to understand permi-death quite well in their upcoming Xbox title Below, but Super Time Force exists in the opposite end of the spectrum by using time to weaponize death along with making it an empowering tool for necessary progress.

It’s an unusual mash up of rewind mechanics mixed into a side scrolling shooter that has become my favorite 8 bit action game since Hotline Miami.

And I don’t make that declaration lightly. Read more.


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Friday, September 12, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I was openly pissed about the series of internet harassment and doxxing that fever pitched at the end of last month to developers, games press, and social justice advocates. The dust has settled and cleared since then, but instead of refocusing on the incidents themselves, let’s look at the industry’s incredible response to it all.

At the top of the month, game developer Andreas Zecher addressed this open letter to the gaming community:

We believe that everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened.
It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish. 

If you see threats of violence or harm in comments on Steam, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook or reddit, please take a minute to report them on the respective sites.

If you see hateful, harassing speech, take a public stand against it and make the gaming community a more enjoyable space to be in.

Thank you

The first 600 signatures included representatives from Riot Games, EA, Infinity Ward, Bioware, and Insomniac. The signature count capped at just under 2,500.

The International Game Developers Association (IDGA) has expressed profound awareness to the subject of internet harassment towards developers since last summer when industry men and women such as Jennifer Hepler and Adam Orth were attacked. It comes to no surprise that the IDGA went public in response to the most recent incidents:

"Over the last several weeks, game developers and affiliates have been the subject of harassment and 'doxxing' attacks, including threats and posting of home addresses.  While we support diverse viewpoints and healthy debate on the issues within our industry, we condemn personal attacks such as these which are not only morally reprehensible, but also illegal in many countries.  We call on the entire game community to stand together against this abhorrent behavior."

Even before late August, the IDGA has been working with the FBI to provide resources for game developers on their site when faced with harassment that will be available in the coming months. The association was considering creating support groups for developers, to then refocus efforts on creating a special interest group to investigate the mental health of developers.

IDGA’s executive director told Polygon referencing this special interest group in relation to the online harassments, "If we see that an issue is getting worse or that there is a greater need then we will serve that purpose. Obviously, given the recent events, that may be the case.

While I’m happy to see tangible resources in development to combat online harassment, I’d like to see more done. While we may only hear of high profile developers, abuse of this kind is unfortunately rampant throughout the gaming community and industry. More support groups that target gamers, writers, and developers are in need. Game sites and developers may be taking a stand on abusive behavior, but this sort of stance should be standardized and highly responsive towards such incidents.

It’s easy to feel threatened by the opposing opinions of others. But at the end of the day, just remember that we all have one thing in common: we all love video games. 


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Setting the dress code issues aside, this teaser for MGS 5 reminded me about how I had recently started looking forward to Phantom Pain.

Don’t get me wrong, the Microsoft E3 opening trailer did a hell of a lot for me, but mixed in with all the other next gen talk, it got muddled in the white noise of high profile games.

But after seeing the multiplayer trailer at Gamescom, it cemented its spot on my must play list.

Metal Gear Solid experimented with multiplayer before, notably with MGS 4 and Peacewaker. Both had their following, but I didn’t have a PSP, and MGS 4 didn’t really interest me as Call of Duty 4 still had me hooked.

Phantom Pain creates an interesting synergy between single player and multiplayer, a trending cross-pollination that we’re seeing a lot of now a days. Most items that aren’t nailed down to the ground can be fultoned to your Mother Base. Like Peacewalker, gathering resources is important, and in this case, it contributes to building up your military establishment.

This is where The Castle Doctorine comparison comes in.

Mother Base is home to Phantom Pain’s multiplayer, in which you will build up your security to ensure that other players don’t invade it and steal your shit, while you invade other players’ Mother Bases and try to steal their shit.

What’s so perfect about the idea of Phantom Pain's (I just like the sound of “Phantom Pain”) is that it avoids the risk of designing a crappy, and often in a better case scenario, an uninviting multiplayer mode while playing to its strengths as a stealth action game. Even though you’re competing with others, you’re not engaging in direct combat where with MGS 5’s controls, can be frustrating and unoriginal. You’re instead navigating your way past AI and automated equipment set up by other players.

The idea of yoinkng freight, gun men, and other inanimate objects by lifting them into the sky give Metal Gear an all  new identity, and could arguably be one of the best “theif” games in several years.