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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.net. 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 Bungie.net 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. 


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

Strider is a flashy game, an action side-scroller that convulses with neon swipes and slashes and a strict expectation that you can keep up with it. I've only before heard of Strider, to then get a short hands-on with it several months ago without any frame of reference. My non retro gaming knowledge and brief sit down outside of the comfort of my own home led me to misunderstand what Strider really is. Read more.


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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

It wasn’t until I completed The World’s Grave mission on the moon that I had finally started loving Destiny.

Wielding a ballistic trifecta of a scout rifle, a sniper rifle, and a rocket launcher, my stand-off with the Hive put both my skills and arsenal to the test as I popped headshots from afar, blew up clusters of enemies from above, and held back the sprinting sub-class of the disgraced race while dancing around creatively using any vantage point imaginable. This is what Bungie’s Halo was, and this is what Bungie’s Destiny is.

This type of encounter is quite common in Destiny. In fact, most missions I’ve seen thus far have ended in an enemy flooding stand-off. It’s Bungie’s way of showing off the dynamic interaction of multiple enemy types ranging from close quarters, to shielded mid-range, to hard hitters from afar. But as common as they may be, they’re spectacular finales that are distilled from yawning environmental combat and traversal.

Thus far, Destiny is in some cases the Halo game that I wanted. I’ve always held onto my Ghosts and rocket launchers for as long as possible, but in Destiny, you carry everything with you, and the game is very much designed around that. Wide stretches call for summoning Sparrows, and different sized battle grounds appropriate themselves for whatever you may have in your arsenal.

I’ve taken a particular liking to the Hunter class which I didn’t get a chance to try out in the Destiny beta that I started writing about this past July. The suitably named Golden Gun acts as a temporary 4th weapon that disintegrates foes on impact, with an additional two shots to the body if they’re of a heavier class.

I find the Golden Gun particularly useful in multiplayer over the Fist of Havoc and the Nova Bomb because it’s deadly at any range. Speaking of multiplayer, I’ve already spoken atlength about Destiny’s Crucible, and my opinion hasn’t changed much 5 matches in. I still, however, can’t get over how persistently brilliant the level design is regardless what map I’m playing on. Bastion feels painfully familiar from some of the large scale maps between Halo 3 through 4, and Fire Base is an unusually brutal close quarters map with automated doors blocking your view in hallways, and insidiously placed points of elevation that welcomes death from above.

Despite how much I’m enjoying the game, there are some concerns that linger about. Unlike what I experienced in the beta, I’ve yet to run into a Public Event, which effectively ruins any incentive to interact with any other players that I come across on my venture. I haven’t investigated whether or not if this is gated behind a level. If it is, I apologize.

After the beta, many questioned the size of Destiny. Bungie’s aggressive assurance that Destiny will be a big game because it’s “the biggest game that they’ve ever made” doesn’t say much looking back at their legacy. Looking at the complete map, it doesn’t seem all that big at first glance with a handful of “planets” (planets including the Moon in this case), but I’m hoping that Destiny will surprise me.

Surprises could lurk in areas where I’m out leveled. I’m sure we’ve all ventured into a cave, only to be pulverized by a powerful enemy whose level reads “??”. And while this is an exciting incentive to return later in the game, it often dis-incentivized me to explore in fear of facing another unknown leveled enemy. As a shooter RPG, I’m conditioned into exploring and finding loot. But why would I chase loot when death could literally be waiting for me around the corner?

Nonetheless, these are early game woes, as I’m sure that Destiny will turn out to be much more than it is at first glance. Check back in within the coming weeks for my Destiny review.

Image courtesy of The Fuse Joplin 


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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

Justin and I met at the gym as we do every once in a while. As I talked about the suicide and self-mutilation training that I went to, he reflected on the categorization of games that discuss such serious matters: Depression Quest, That Dragon, Cancer (my heart goes out to Ryan Green and his family), Super Columbine Massacre RPG -- all in which I wrote about I'm my expositional piece. The conversation then bled into the infamous "is it a game?" debate. As the talk grew, it attracted two other gym members making their case. While traditionalists would argue that "games" have to be built on fail states and objectives, others would argue that all a "video game" needs is a level of interaction to elicit a state of play.

That is what Proteus is. Read more.


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Friday, August 29, 2014

Jamaal Ryan

It’s been difficult keeping up with what is perhaps the most embarrassing weeks in the history of the video game community. From Zoe Quinn, to Phil Fish, to John Smeldey, to Jordan Mathewson, to Anita Sarkeesian; they have all been victims one way or another of internet abuse within just a short span of two weeks.

While we are a little more than a week away from the eruption, I feel terrible that I overlooked Zoe Quinn’s kerfuffle while focusing on the mainstream’s media coverage on Phil Fish and the news of him announcing that he was selling his company and its property. Understanding that sites such as IGN and Polygon likely chose to ignore the controversy in efforts to avoid sensationalizing the topic whilst remaining uninvolved with Quinn’s alleged personal life, I dug into some of the crevices of the internet to peer into this personal conflict between Zoe and her ex-boyfriend.

Don’t think I’m going to provide commentary on their relationship, because as it’s been stated, it’s not our place or platform to discuss private matters; and I respect Zoe’s decision to instead of retaliating against Eron Gjoni publically, to nip it in the bud that she will not exacerbate this discussion into a “he said/she said” debate.

“I will not negotiate with terrorists”

But the irony and “slut-shaming” stands. Though the writer in question, Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson, was accused of writing a favorable review for Zoe’s Depression Quest, this review doesn’t exist. And even if it did exist, why wasn’t it Nathan’s butt who was crucified instead of Zoe’s? It’s the internet abusers' golden opportunity to reinvigorate hatred against a developer (a WOMAN for that matter) who took a chance to offer others some insight into mental illness. Because a Twine multiple choice game on depression is offensive, is hostile to the greater game’s industry, will take your games away like Obama tried to take your guns away earlier this year, because the shrinkage of the AAA publishing model bent at the existence of games such as Depression Quest.

Because all of that delusional bullshit makes perfect fucking sense.

Bringing down airplanes off of some grievance that I don’t know or care to explore at the moment, and calling men with guns to a streamer sitting behind his computer playing Counter Strike, form the narrative of the complete lack of adult rational, foresight and consideration. But coupled with the “slut-shaming” of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian’s death/rape threats paint gamers as a bunch of rabid, masturbatory monsters.

It just takes one.

The deranged mind behind the truly traumatic tweets directed at Sarkeesian that were so alarming, she took precaution to ensure her safety, colored a very ugly picture of gamers; despite how racially, morally, and genderly diverse we are. It represents the low end of the totem pole that is the “Anita- spiracy” (doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as “Quinnspiracy").

I get it. Tropes vs Women in Video Games is not a pleasant thing to consume. Opposing perspectives rarely are. After watching a few episodes, I’ve grown very critical of some of the games I play. “Oh that’s sexist”… “Oh that’s misogynistic”. That’s what you’re afraid of, viewing the games that you love and hold to a completely sanitized standard in a negative light. Rockstar and Nintendo can do no wrong right? But we are capable of acclimation. Even through Anita’s critical gaze, she can still enjoy video games. And if you don’t believe that she plays video games, then I can personally attest to this as one who’s apart of the underrepresented demographic. I too can still enjoy video games despite the under/misrepresentation of Black characters in video games.

I hope this discussion doesn’t ignite another debate as we have reached what feels like the calm after the storm.

But do us a favor, and don’t ever embarrass us like that again, internet. 


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Last week, I reacted to Phil Fish’s sale of Fez and Polytron after him and his company’s personal information was reportedly compromised and exposed. Sitting at the apex of online abuse, by either the dark magic propagated by the full moon, or – more realistically – the sensational nature of internet attacks, this was followed by a series of incidents, two of which occurred this week.

Playstation gamers were victimized yet again, though not nearly to the degree of the blackout of 2011, after hacker group Lizard Squad claimed responsibility of taking PSN down a day before its scheduled maintenance last weekend and also sending a bomb threat to SOE president John Smeldey, causing his flight to be diverted for security reasons. Lizard Squad also reportedly targeted Blizzard and Xbox Live.

But wait, there’s more.

If you’re unfamiliar of the douche baggery of SWATing, it’s the ill-advised act of when one makes an anonymous prank call to 911 and issues a false report of an individual terrorizing their community. The SWAT team is then dispatched to the alleged terrorizer, kicking down their door with guns drawn. This crime is typically committed in multiplayer games such as Counter Strike and Call of Duty. Word to the wise, since stating “DON’T FUCKING SWAT” will fall on deaf ears, if you hear someone threatening to SWAT you in an online match, remove yourself from the game immediately and be sure that you react safely if god forbid the SWAT team does come knocking on your door. It’s a difficult problem to work around since people would think that making idle threats is funny, but it’s one of the best precautions to take for such a new form of online abuse.

For a more detailed overview of SWATing, watch the video below:

Today Jordan Mathewson, AKA Kootra of The Creatures, was SWATed during a game of Counter Strike after false reports indicated that there was an active shooter on the loose with multiple victims. You can catch the entire SWATing incident in the video below:

I cannot stress how incredibly dangerous SWATing actually is, not to mention how expensive it can be as indicated in the VICE video above. SWATing pulls resources from other potential real threats to the community, and if an incident were to happen where a startled SWATing victim reacted in a way that would be perceived as a threat when the SWAT team kicks down their door… congratulations asshole, you are now directly responsible for the cost of someone’s life.

This week, Anita Sarkeesian directed yet another excellent issue of the Feminist Frequency video series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This time, she discusses the grotesque incidental decoration of sexualized and victimized female NPC violence as a “cheap” way to raise the grungy and distressing nature of their harsh and often “red-light-district” worlds. She draws the contrast between these women and the lack of portrayal of sexual context for male victims, though I would also argue that there’s a lack of non-sexualized context for female victims.

Sarkeesian is no stranger to online abuse since critiquing many beloved video games and their gender misrepresentation. But in efforts to shed light on just how BAD the abuse can get towards her, she presented these heinous threats that were tweeded to her which had forced her to remove herself from her home in fear of her safety:

“I’m going to go to your apartment at [REDACTED] and rape you to death. After I’m done, I’ll ram a tire iron up your cunt.”

Good fucking lord.

In retrospect, I’ll ask this: why you mad bro? Mad cause someone kicked your ass in Counter Strike? Mad cause a feminist provided sociological critique into some of your favorite video games? Mad cause you just like to shit all over online systems in search of some form of relevance or purpose?

If falsifying police reports, threatening rape, issuing bomb threats, and compromising businesses isn’t socially, lawfully, or morally acceptable, than cowarding behind the anonymous and boundless access nature of the internet doesn’t change a damn thing.

I’m so disappointed in you, internet.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan

Even within the realm of JRPGs, Dragon's Crown is a unique one. Styled as a side scrolling beat-'em-up, Dragon's Crown maintains a Diablo-esque stride of incessant button mashing and cycling through loot after every battle. It goes further than that however, in which it earns my respect through its budgetary nature of gold and the morality of my allies. I, however, did not appreciate its obnoxious and juvenile sexualized nature of its women. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan

“Seriously, shut the fuck up about Fez 2. never going to happen. you don’t deserve it.”

These are some of the words we’ll remember Phil Fish for in quite some time, an un-ceremonial nail in the coffin that encases Fez 2. I get it Phil, internets are jerks, they’re mean, they’re unrelenting and out of control. But there are nice fans of Fez who’d like to see the sequel. Telling them to STFU and that they don’t deserve it is a slap in the face.

But those aren’t the final words, not after he went on a crusade on Twitter coming to the defense of Depression Quest’s Zoe Quinn. But after his incessant outbursts on Twitter, Fish and his dev company Polytron suffered one of the most devastating attacks that the internet can commit to an individual: the breaching and releasing of their personal information to the public.

Passwords, email accounts, financial records, social security information, all violated and exposed. Zoe Quinn also suffered from the collateral damage, having her Drop Box account compromised as well.

This is unacceptable. This is criminal. This is immoral.

A big mouth and a hot temper don’t warrant internet terrorism, especially when the attacks cause a number of casualties. The internet is so quick to issue death threats, commit sexual harassment, SWAT fellow players, and in this case, hack personal accounts.

If we’re seeing developers give speeches specifically discussing how to deal with hostile communities, consider establishing support groups for abused developers, and createspecial interests groups to investigate their mental health, you know it’s fucking bad. 

Image courtesy of Gamezone


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Between last night and this morning (in US EST at least) Reddit spotted a 24 hour free games beta tile named “Free Play Day” under Games with Gold on Xbox One.

Showcasing Max: The Curse of Brotherhood – which was available on Gold for free in May (finally playing it now), it was essentially assumed that Games with Gold will allow titles to be demoed within a full 24 hours.

One Reddit user stated that, “Yes I am in the preview program. I already own the game so it doesn't work for me. All it does for me is go to the store and I can select play from there because I already own it.”

Eurogamer reported that Microsoft stated on Twitter that they will be making an announcement on the matter shortly, however Kotaku reports Microsoft posted this official statement: "A promotional tile for 'Max: Curse of the Brotherhood' was posted briefly on the US dash in error yesterday. We apologize for any inconvenience. We're constantly exploring different ways to offer more benefits to our Xbox Live Gold members and will keep them updated when special offers become available."

It seems that Microsoft posted the service accidentally ahead of their intended announcement. But this slip up is an exciting tease. Similar to EA Access’ early access feature (yes, I’m positively obsessed with the concept of this program) Microsoft could soon be allowing gamers to test full games within a 24 hour period before purchase.

Now I’m not sure to what degree in which they’ll allow this access as some gamers could complete entire games from start to finish in one sitting. I myself beat Guacamelee! within a 24 hour period. So what could this Free Play Day program look like? Hopefully we’ll know soon. 

Image courtesy of Gamespot


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Today, Polygon’s Opinions editor Ben Kuchera validated the “late gamer”, the consumer who picks up games long after their initial release, despite those that stress the felt need to buy games day-one to help developers keep their jobs. He speaks of “Game of the Year Editions”, “Enhanced Editions” and other ‘editions’ that add more value to older titles, with packed in DLC that would have put an additional $30 or more to the original release of the game.

This isn’t always ideal of course, as stepping into multiplayer communities 6-12 months + after launch often leads to repeated failure by the hands of hardened online veterans, and the longer you wait not playing The Last of Us, the more evasive you have to be to avoid spoilers.

Though unreasonable an impossible to predict, publishers have us covered with a growing handful of remakes and remasters from Tomb Raider, to Sleeping Dogs, to a slew of PSN classics. We sometimes get package deals as well, with Metro Redux coming next week that includes both 2033 and Last Light, and Bayonetta 2 on Wii U that packs the original Bayonetta on the box. I’ve never played a Bayonetta or a Metro game, so I get four games for the price of two.

This notion doesn’t exclude diminished pricings of games, online store sales and game trade ins. There are many gamers who monitor this economy in search for games for cheap.

Repackaged editions that come from games earlier in the console’s life cycle and a previous one can come at anytime from anywhere, making them more unpredictable; but waiting for games to come out for free is a satisfying gamble.

Between May when I bought Watch Dogs and the time of this writing, I’ve spent a total of $60 on games. Yes, that includes game trade-ins for Mario Kart 8 and Wolfenstein: The New Order (both in which I reviewed), but those are just 3 of the 12+ games I’ve played over the past few months. The remainder is thanks to the Playstation Plus and Games with Gold subscription programs, providing a small handful of free games each month. The phrase used to be, “I’ll wait for the Steam Sale”; now it’s also “I’ll wait ‘till it’s free on Plus”. These two console service programs have been a bastion for low budget gamers such as myself, offering well received titles such as Fez, Dragon’s Crown, Dark Souls, and Dishonored for free. And with third party publishers stepping into the game, it seems like it’ll be even more worthwhile to be patient.

EA Access, EA’s new digital subscription service program, mirrors PS Plus and GwG in that they offer free titles with discounts on all other digital purchases. I spoke about how EA’s Vault setup allows us to relax as we can enter their collection at any time and have access to all games that historically have been included. Though with a measly 4 titles included in the Vault at this time on a less-than-a-year old system, EA Access isn’t quite worth the $30 annual/$5 monthly subscription, but it will over time… and other publishers will recognize that.  Seeing other third party publishers enter the subscription mix will make for an interesting time, converting some day-one goers to digital late adopters. They may lock you within their publishing umbrella for another asking price of thirty or-so dollars a year, but the numbers tip in the consumer’s favor once they’re surpassed that annual fee within a month’s worth of games.

New editions, bonus inclusions, digital sales, and online subscription programs, all of these pricing models and practices make our hobby much cheaper. We’ll just have to be patient. 


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Monday, August 18, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

On October this year, all mental health facilities in the U.S. will be mandated to utilize the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manuel (DSM 5), the next iteration of the diagnostic assessment tool psychiatric professionals use to determine and diagnose individuals suffering from mental health symptoms. The significant changes that will come about include moving away the multiaxial model (Axis I-V) which is currently broken down into primary diagnosis, personality disorder, physical health, environmental stressors, and what is called their Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) categories. Other changes that will occur include the rebranding or rephrasing of certain diagnosis, along with the addition of new ones. Among the new additions will be Internet Gaming Disorder. Read more.

By Jamaal Ryan

Writer's note: This article was originally written on the day of the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare reveal, but due to scheduling challenges, it was posted late.

Jump. Dash. Jump. Dash. Those moves repeated over and over again in my mind and throughout the reveal of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer earlier this week.

After the story debut of Advanced Warfare back in May, just as Activision’s Eric Hirshberg stated, the immediate question was, “Will it be in multiplayer?”

Exosuits? Jumping and dashing? How will all that work in multiplayer?

On Day Zero of Gamescom 2014, Call of Duty dedicated an entire hour to inviting us to take a deep dive into the radical changes of Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer. Now, I can say with great certainty that I haven’t been this excited for a Call of Duty in several years. Read More.