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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
What looks to further resemble Battlefield's single/multiplayer divisiveness from Battlefield 3 to Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts delivers more of an uneven experience. Ghosts' campaign is feeble. It's easily the most forgettable of the franchise with a painfully weak story, abandoned assets, and blatant redundancies among interesting yet overshadowed sequences. But while the franchise's tried and true multiplayer is Ghosts’ strong suit which offers the reasons why millions of players compete every year, it leaves a much less impressionable footprint than past entries.
Rinse, wash, repeat
Call of Duty Ghosts’ campaign is a refresher from Infinity Ward’s handlebar mustache toting Modern Warfare series. In place of chest thumping and occasionally suave British accented military comradery comes more chest thumping military comradery, but this time the relationship is blood deep. You play as the ineffectively mute protagonist Logan Walker, who along with his brother “Hesh” Walker, has joined what’s left of the American armed forces under command of their father in efforts to resist a devastating South American military threat.
It’s a story about two brothers fighting on American soil (and for some reason, across the globe of course) in an embroiled conflict to reclaim an already ravaged country, one that’s written by the Oscar award winning writer behind the highly regarded films Syriana and Traffic.
However the Hollywood talent behind Ghosts’ story is never apparent, ever. The posturing "We're Ghosts!" showboating, and graveled “’I’m proud of you son” one-liners is hardly good writing at all. Ghosts’ story, once again, moves forward in loading screens, but this time with dark, smokey, crystalized visual metaphors. It spends so much time utilizing loose rationale for location and sequence hopping across the globe and hardly ever enough time focusing on the brothers' story, that when it’s time for its predictable emotional climax, even more so than Call of Duty titles before it, there’s little reason to care.
Sooo... who are you guys again?
The campaign creates a number of new ideas bathed in numerous pace changing sequences that tries to keep things fresh. One minute I’m sneaking through a heavily patrolled forest Far Cry 3 style, the next I’m dipping under chest high water for cover as I move up on blasting enemy forces undetected.
One moment, I’m controlling a canine via remote sensors mauling unsuspecting enemies (which only lasts one chapter in the game), the next I’m barreling through a desert in a high speed tank blowing up enemy bases in a bright vastly open plane.
Some sections have me floating through space station debris engaging in muffled space shootouts; others will have me taking cover behind sunken ship remains from concussive sonar blasts deep underwater or– if I so choose – fend off sharks before they violently devour me.
You get the idea.
But with every fresh idea comes recycled ones as nearly all of Ghosts' levels conclude with an expected payoff which are different variations of "holy s**t" mad-dashes from angry pursuers as the world falls apart around you. It’s a bullet point adherence that fulfills criticisms of the franchise’s single player campaigns being little more than a series of explosions. This insidious volley of every fresh idea countered by recycled sequences creates a cantankerous experience, especially as it's layered under a deceptively shallow story.
New Motivation
Jumping into Ghosts’ multiplayer may expose players to a bit of a culture shock. But the biggest revelation is this: for over half a decade, Team Deathmatch was more than enough to keep Call of Duty players exclusively invested; however Ghosts seems to find most of its strength more on tactical gameplay.
This primarly has to do with the multiplayer map design which favors noticeably bigger, more obtuse levels – where somehow spawn kills have become more infuriatingly frequent – with many of them lacking obvious points of contact. While more explicit vocal locators are mildly effective inclusions, not much of Ghosts’ design makes finding enemy players easy, which is exacerbated by the unnecessarily complicated new SAT-COM killstreak which, in place of a straight forward single use radar, is now a two SAT-COM minimum placement requirement just to begin spotting enemies via radar sweeps.
On one end, Freight – a tighter industrial train depot – is the most classic style Call of Duty map in Ghosts with a centralized area where competing teams meet; but it doesn’t mean it’s as great as Call of Duty’s true classics. On the other you have Stonehaven, a massive Scottish themed location littered with stone built remnants where snipers and long ranged riflemen reign supreme. Some oddities fit in between such as Sovereign, which feels like a disorganized set of rooms and walkways on two floors, and Flooded: a slightly better designed three story dam split in half that draws attention to locations on either side. Whereas many of these maps excel in one particular play style – Octane is a s**tty TDM map, but a spectacular Cranked map – they are not properly optimized for others.
Keep your head way the f**k down.
These newly designed maps do however do a decent job in supporting the new maneuverability mechanics. Slightly raised obstructions invite you to vault over them and keep your momentum going, and vertical accesses are less of a hassle to get to. Ghosts’ overall level design is also peppered with plenty of corners to peek around, which is where the knee slide and contextual lean find their purpose. And though you may not find yourself using these mechanics as much in Team Deathmatch (outside of the vault of course), they have better placement in more objective based match types.
Being that game types with a greater purpose than kill-kill-kill make better use of Ghosts’ new maps, your time will often be better spent in some of multiplayer’s new modes. Chief among the new objective based additions are Blitz: a one way Capture-the-Flag style game, and Search and Rescue: a fusion of Search and Destroy and Kill Confirmed.
Blitz alleviates the headache of being a flag carrier by only requiring players to run into an enemy's defended zone to score points. This simple omission of escorting flags drastically changes the behavior in this new variation. Skilled and even coordinated players will grief the opposing team by holding them off from defending their own zone before entering it one by one during 10 second countdown timers between each score. It's a straight forward if not streamlined way to play, and you won't ever miss playing another round of capture the flag in Call of Duty.
Search and Rescue is one of the most methodically encouraging game modes in Call of Duty’s history. The objective of destroying the enemy’s high value targets while risking being killed out of the round permanently remains the same. However Search and Rescue borrows Kill Confirmed’s dog tags where if an enemy picks up your dog tag, you’re out for the round; if an ally recovers your tag, you’ll get a second wind. Search and Rescue strongly encourages teamwork not only to defend bomb sites, but to keep your buddies alive.
But in efforts to not only keep the kill stacking driven attitude of Call of Duty, instead to enhance it, Call of Duty Ghosts brings us Cranked, a highly skill based match type much like what SWAT is to Halo.
In this very aggressive new game mode, initial or after death kills rewards players with a dramatic speed boost. Perks like Stalker, Lightweight, Marathon, and Slight of Hand are all activated and super charged. The catch is that you have to earn a kill within 30 seconds to reset your time or else you'll explode.
Though Cranked is a TDM variant, Cranked pressures players to take risks that wouldn't be justified in any other mode, forcing everyone out in the open frantically hunting down other players to reset their clock. It feels like playing on Nuketown on every map it takes place in, except with an added layer of gratification earning a kill just milliseconds away from detonation, and the hilarity of watching those not as fortunate.
No performance enhancement drugs necessary.
However if Cranked’s intensity is too overbearing, Kill Confirmed is still a great alternative, eliciting much of the same risky behavior that alleviates much of the downtime and diminished focus these new maps bring.
Blitz, Search and Rescue, and Cranked are all welcomed additions to the Call of Duty franchise. But there’s a lack of experimental game types that have given options for Call of Duty players to toy around with. Party Games are noticeably missing, and some of the other additions such as Hardpoint and Multi-Team Deathmatch – both in which would have been perfect for Ghosts’ new expanded level design – are also out of the picture. This continues the franchises strange back and forth between the two developers, injecting new ideas while taking others away.
Ghost in the Machine
I gave considerable credit to Combat Training’s learning curve for newcomers in Black Ops 2. Squads Mode carries the same intention as did Combat Training, however it’s much less academic than Treyarch’s offering.
Squads feels more appropriate for those that graduated from Black Ops 2's Combat Training than for those who are new to the franchise in general. The AI controlled players are properly cheap, knowing where to aim at the precise time -- even if your loadout is strictly optimized for stealth -- and are more challenging in general. They're either far too challenging for new players (outside of Recruit difficulty on Wargame) or far too simple on one end and behaviorally unfair on the other for players who are looking for a more organic experience.
All the modes are different variations of bot challenges. Wargame is the most new-player friendly where you’re simply facing off against randomized bots on selected difficulties, whereas Squad Assault has you challenging bots that are hand selected by other players asynchronously. Squad v Squad is the most interesting iteration of the bunch where it has two players and their chosen squad members battle each other.
Outside of being an overzealous training grounds, playing Squads does contribute earned EXP to your standard multiplayer progress, and the sheer number of squad member loadout slots open opportunities for players to experiment with Call of Duty: Ghosts’ massive number of customization options.
The odd man out in Squads is Safeguard, which was assumed to be the return of Survival from Modern Warfare 3; however it's considerably less interesting than its predecessor albeit it being mindless fun. Safeguard strips much of Survival's core assets which you'll only find in Extinction: earning cash for new weapons, equipment, and support, and granted down time to properly prepare for the next wave.
What's left is a barebones, straight forward standoff against waves of enemies with frequent supply drops that gift perks, weapons and auto supports. Progression only lies in nebulous leveling weapon proficiencies, however weapons aren't customizable. And the longer you last gives you more opportunity to stack perks which makes guilty fun when running circles around the AI controlled competition. All in all however, Safeguard isn't nearly as compelling as MW3's Survival Mode, and it can't be helped but to think that it was intentionally designed this way just to siphon attention to Extinction.
Your move Zombies.
Extinction is what Dead Ops Arcade was to the original Black Ops. It's a surprising addition to Ghosts in the same vain as Treyarch's Zombies and offers a different co-op experience to Survival Mode. Unlike Zombies, Extinction's objectives are more direct and simple enough for even a team that isn't communicating can understand. Four players must carry and escort a drill around a ruined city and defend it against agile aliens as it destroys each hive -- marked on the HUD -- until you reach the crater. Gunning down aliens gives a vastly different flavor than what's expected in Call of Duty games. The leaping predators demand you to keep your attention above as well as on the ground, making the game much more akin to Left 4 Dead than anything else.
There's only one chapter available for Extinction currently, and though more chapters are bound to arrive via DLC, Point of Contact can hold its own replayability for the time being. The unlocks are separate from Ghosts' multiplayer proper, much like how Survival was in MW3, and Extinction doesn't completely abandon Zombies' idea of discovery with hidden secrets tucked away throughout the city. Extinction is a more than welcomed addition to Call of Duty, and is easily one of the very best co-op experiences in the franchise.
A Flavorless Investment
What players might grow to learn is that Ghosts' competitive multiplayer also feels as if it's artificially engineered to produce longevity. With 35 perks, 12 different pieces of equipment, 24 killstreaks, and 30 firearms each with their own number of attachments – some of which have their own manufactured attachments integrated, there is a significant amount of unlocks to choose, purchase, and assort in Ghosts’ version of the Pick 10 system. But this is where the ingeniousness comes in, the market place.
The original Black Ops introduced a currency system in place of just earning rewards via leveling up. Black Ops 2 streamlined this system by having fewer perks, making it easier for players to make decisions. However Ghosts carries ever Treyarch's monetary system paired with a daunting level of unlocks that gives the impression that you're in for the long haul, especially when perks like Marathon, Overkill, and Stalker are made available in the much higher levels at a cost.
But what's most offensive is the squads themselves. Though it makes sense to charge per new squad member (up to 5 extra members only cost 3 SP a pop, the last 4 charge 200 and up), it makes for an even longer investment when you have to repurchase all the weapons, perks and killstreaks for each new member. It doesn’t feel honest, and makes playing Ghosts a hassle just to access everything that's available, especially given that Ghosts doesn’t have the robust feature suite the Black Ops series has built to keep players properly distracted.
Hire a new squad member, and you gotta buy ALL this s**t again.
This is Call of Duty Ghosts’ biggest flaw. Say what you will about the Call of Duty franchise, but each new installment has brought something of significance to the brand. Modern Warfare reinvented the franchise and shooters this generation, World at War made World War 2 relevant and introduced Zombies, Modern Warfare 2 evolved and expanded the killstreak system, Black Ops began taking the franchise in an all new direction, Modern Warfare 3 brought us Strike Packages, and Black Ops 2 began the Pick 10 system.
Call of Duty Ghosts doesn’t have its own feature to live by, let alone an extensive feature set as we’ve seen in past entries. Extinction could have been that new addiction if it simply wasn’t for the already established Zombies Mode. Squads is nothing more than an elaborate training ground for less experience players, and the new modes don’t make up for what’s gone missing. Ghosts presents a significant amount of unlocks to earn and choose from, however the journey getting there will likely get tedious far too quickly.
The Bottom Line
Call of Duty: Ghosts is the weakest jump in the series, which makes you wonder if this is a product of being a three studio project. The campaign is almost a miserable waste of time, often a frustrating tease of inventive ideas at best. This may not mean much to immediate multiplayer divers, however those who have enjoyed Call of Duty’s past stories in all their flawed glory will find little to appreciate here.
Multiplayer, both competitively and cooperatively, is a divisive surprise as a whole. Despite new instant classic modes, Ghosts’ competitive space doesn’t have a whole lot to say so much so as giving players a lot to work for. Extinction however is this entries strongest contribution, delivering the franchise’s most entertaining cooperative experience to date while still retaining incentivized replayability.
But in light of Ghosts’ let downs, it’s a profound example showing that the COD formula still works, making a still good shooter seven annual installments in.
+ New classic multiplyer modes
+ Plenty of opportunities for custom loadouts
+ Extinction Mode
- Cannot recommend the campaign
- Unnecessarily complex map design
- Loss of quantitative variety in game modes hurts
Being that I posted pre-release impressions of the Xbox One earlier last week, this week's A Week in Gaming is a bit abbreviated.

Now, let's take a look at a week in gaming from 11/18/13 to 11/22/13. Below is a feature discussing impressions of the Xbox One's line up based on launch day reviews.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Ms. Male Character (11/18)

Anita Sarkeesian’s Trope vs Women in Video Games continues with the moniker, "Ms. Male Characters" which signify games’ history of identifying female counterparts of male characters with specific visual and characteristic tropes.
The earliest example of the Ms. Male character in video games is Ms. Pac-man, originating from Crazy Otto (Pac-Man with legs) to the most successful American arcade cabinet game of all time. Ms. Pac-man was easily distinguishable by the bow on her head, coupled with lipstick, long eyelashes, eye makeup, and a beauty mark. While the argument can be stated that in the 8 bit era, there was no other way to differentiate male from female, the proper follow up question would be, do all women wear a bow, have long eyelashes, wear makeup, and have beauty marks?
An easy example of gender neutrality is Metroid on the NES. Though there’s the issue of Samus’ increased physical sexuality as seeing her wear pink underwear, her Chozo armor gave no indication to her gender.
Ms. Male Characters have been identified by bows and other trope aesthetics for decades from Minnie Mouse, to Bubble Bobble, to Super Monkey Ball.
Anita drives the point that bows themselves are arbitrary in functionality as there’s no definitive exclusivity for them to be defined as female. In fact, stating that only women can wear such attire offends men that wish to express their sexuality in preferred and abstract ways. This expectation does send a message from certain male characters, such as Mario’s Birdo, which IGN alum Zack DeVries mentions in his Fake or Gay piece back in 2011. Here it shows a description of the assumed sexually confused character, “He thinks he’s a girl, and spits eggs from his mouth. He’s rather be called ‘birdetta’”.
The opposite can be said for the Angry Birds series, in which the white bird – who was revealed by Rovio – is actually a female named Matilda, underwent a character redesign with the obligatory “feminine” additions so that there would be no mistaking her gender.
But much like the colors pink and blue, there’s a socialized attachment to such aesthetics. And when coupled with other gender tropes, they create very clear stereotypes. Much like Princess Peach in Super Princes Peach for the DS, the koopaling Wendy expresses signifying characteristics in both her mannerisms and dialogue as being spoiled and bratty, all part of what Anita likes to call “Personality Female Syndrome”.
Another term Anita refers to is the “Smurfette Principle”, which describes a single female character in a roster of male counter parts. There’s the aforementioned Wendy koopaling, Scribblenauts’ Lilly of 42 children, Megaman’s Splash Woman of 78 bosses total, and Wonderful 101’s Wonder Pink.
The originator of the Smurfette Principle succinctly states:
“The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls are the variation; boys are central; girls are peripheral; boys are individuals; girls are types. Boys define the group, the story and its code if values. Girls only exist in relation to boys.”
Anita follows up with this realization with an even more profound historical concept. As authored in the Bible, Eve was iterated from Adam’s rib who was created in God’s image. This just goes to show just how peripheral females have been viewed in societies for centuries.
To my ignorance, Anita also discussed the viral marketing of Mass Effect. Though the game itself sits comfortably in both gender and sexual orientation accommodation, ads have primarily featured the male version of Shepard instead of “Fem Shep”, the moniker given to the female version to differentiate her from Shepard, not “Male Shep”.
Anita closes with some examples of more appropriately female depictions in titles such as the blue cube Claire in Thomas Was Alone, and half of TowerFall’s roster as being female.
The Ms. Male Character trope, much like societies abided stereotypes, runs through an undercurrent in our subconscious. It seems to come natural to developers to “put a bow” on it, and dazzle them up with make-up and pink attire whereas what’s seen in other games such as Knytt Underground and Ittle Dew may be efforts of developers and writers to go out of their way in avoiding said tropes.
We’ve come a long way from being completely ignorant to tropes and stereotypes to holding active awareness. Let’s hope for a time where proper diversified depictions become second nature.
Day One with Xbox One (11/22)
The Controller
The Xbox One controller has surpassed the Xbox 360 controller as the most comfortable gamepad I’ve ever held; I specifically said “held”, not “used”.
It feels like my hand size is the target and ideal demographic for controller’s handling. Picking up the controller from a flat surface, I can roll my palms over it, and both of my hands position over it almost perfectly. The analog sticks feel as if they were specifically engineered for first person shooters. The textured edging on the joysticks make up for the smaller diameter; allowing a grip from every angle and helping to keep the sticks under your thumb. The height also helps, giving your thumbs an easier time to tilt the joystick in every which direction, and they make you feel more in control of camera movement.
The height of the sticks however do interfere with my reach to the View and Options buttons, forcing me to arch my thumbs down over the tall sticks. The Guide button now is completely out of the way, sitting at the top of the controller instead of dead center within reach. In retrospect, the Guide, View, and Options buttons are less comfortable to travel to than the Start, Select, and Guide buttons on the 360 controller.
The D Pad on the Xbox One feels more intuitive than that even on the Wii U Gamepad, with satisfying individual clicks instead of a bulky push of the entire pad. However, its diameter is too small for a controller in my opinion, leaving the better D Pad to the Dual Shocks 3&4. Continuing on the bridge of the controller, the face buttons are lower than the 360’s, requiring a little more effort to find than the previous generation.
The triggers and bumpers are a funny thing to describe. As the controller guides your hands closer, they feel more as if they’re going to meet at the top than ever before. For me, this causes me to slightly pull my index fingers outward to hit the triggers comfortably. I am more confident in saying, however, that I’m not a fan of the bumpers. The bumpers angle upward from the outside in, causing me to work on adjusting my indexes to match the angles instead to moving to a more comfortable horizontal position.
All in all, the Xbox One controller is sleek when holding; but in operation, if forces my fingers to do more work than they have on the 360. And if I were given an option to connect the 360 controller to the Xbox One, I would much prefer that.
The Home Screen
There seems to be only one circumstance in using gestures and voice recognition, if I’m already doing something with my hands preventing me from using the controller.
Voice recognition seems to work roughly 75% of the time, with a very annoying 25% of “Xbox, Xbox, Xbox…” Gestures are functional as long as you’re very careful, and are most reliable in my experience if you grab and drag to either left or right. Pushing to select an icon is even more cumbersome. You can’t just flick your hand towards the screen, you will have to carefully move your hand forward as it gradually reads the entire hand cursor. It’s a quick gradation that takes about a second to a second and a half, but it never bests using buttons.
But let me be honest, there’s nothing cooler than walking into a room saying, “Xbox, On.” and having the system respond to you before even picking up the controller.
Much of the UI is coached through tutorials which are now found under the default Featured column. You can learn all about voice commands and many of the system’s promoted apps, many in which you have to download briefly.
Waiting Patiently for Battlefield 4
As one who’s alien to the expectations of PC gaming, having to sit down for an install is a huge adjustment. It took about 15 minutes before I could dive into Battlefield 4’s campaign, and well over a half hour later, the full game download sat at 82%. That being said, this is the reason why I could only comment on Battlefield 4 and not having the chance to get hands on with Dead Rising 3.
Battlefield 4 is as good looking as one can expect it to be on next gen hardware. There’s full geometry and environmental objects that are present unlike – and I’m going to have to get used to saying this – what’s seen on last gen hardware. The lighting is sublime, illuminating specs of dust and bathing open environments exposing all their glory. The detail is also equally impressive, even down to the 3D modeling of leaves on a branch showing off their sprouting veins, casted shadows, and natural folding. It doesn’t look quite as impressive as the PC version; however such hardware only bests the Xbox One by a small margin, much smaller than the difference between the 360 and the Xbox One.
By the time I’ve finished writing this piece, the Battlefield 4 download now sits at 99%. Time to get used to next gen
…what was your first day with the Xbox One like?
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
Xbox One Launch Title Review Blowout
Originally reported on November 21st 2013
Delivered in piecemeal throughout the week, Xbox One’s launch lineup reviews have finally gone live. The Xbox One might have the console edge with more retail releases, however some are said to be better than others.
Lococycle has been given the benefit of the doubt due to Twisted Pixel’s pedigree. But in spite of this, Lococycle has not been positively well received.
It’s 90’s B-movie parody seems to be the only thing holding Lococycle together. From goofy banter between sentient bikes IRIS and Spike, to grill cheese sandwich worshiping bikers, Lococycle doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. However the questionable inclusion of Pablo, who’s mercilessly attached to IRIS as she speeds down highways brawling against bad guys, doesn’t hold much contextual justification, and might offend those who were skeptical of Lococycle’s content such as myself.
Lococycle is said to control as bad as it looks, which is surprising coming from the studio that has created tight platformers and even managed to create well designed software from the Xbox 360’s Kinect. You can just look at footage to pick up on awkward camera angles, and there hasn’t been a whole lot to say about the gameplay itself.
In a very short campaign, Lococycle is said to slip into spells of repetition of recycled sequences and drawn out sections that seem to bore even within its brief inclusion. We see glimpses of fighting game simulations, scrolling shooter sequences, high speed brawling, and water based surfing; however if critics are complaining that this game is boring even as one that’s between 2-4 hours, that’s not good at all.
Lococycle seems to be worth little more than a few short laughs. But if reported loose mechanics, bad camera and boring gameplay reign true, than Lococycle is far from the launch title you need to pay
Crimson Dragon
Guided on-rails shooters seem to be a dying genre only minimally revived what is now last generation. Having said that, there are very few who have stated that Crimson Dragon gives any indication that this genre or franchise needs to be revisited.
Crimson Dragon has hardly left any other impression than a soulless grind. RPG elements sounds like a fresh additive to the straight forward play style; however having to revisit levels over and over in an already repetitious game while slowly building up your dragons doesn’t sound fun at all.
Crimson Dragon looks to mix things up in the genre by adding free flying sections, however reported struggling cameras and difficult controls – primarily the lack of a hover functionality – seem to make these sequences a frustrating affair.
Based on critic reception, it’s hard to see any reason for Crimson Dragon’s inclusion in the launch line up other than taking the opportunity to grab some attention before these consoles evolve.
Killer Instinct
Killer Instinct looks to the bonus content in Xbox One’s line-up, a game that is said to be so fundamentally sound that both those enthused and intimidated by fighting games (such as myself) can easily pick up.
The first reason for this is simple, it’s free. Killer Instinct’s free-to-play model allows inexperienced fighting gamers to dip their toes – with the all-round balanced Jago – in the arena without cost before deciding if they wish to make a tangible investment by picking up multiple characters.
Killer Instinct is said to guide those players though well instructed and intricately designed tutorials, teaching players the fundamentals of Killer Instinct’s basics – and most importantly – its attack, counter, and counter-counter system.
Killer Instinct’s combat system is described as being digestible, yet dynamic without the technical memorization of button combinations. The focus here is Combo- Breakers. During a combo, the receiver has to combo-break with the same strength as the combo that's being executed. Attackers should anticipate a combo-breaker to counter with a counter-breaker. This overrides combo-breakers, allowing the attacker to stay on the offense. Combo-breakers don’t cost anything, however if the combo isn’t matched properly, you’ll receive a lockout, making you further vulnerable to a combo. Counter-breakers do come at a cost, half your energy to be exact. Failing these will, like a failed combo-breaker, will make you vulnerable after a lockout as well.
There seems to be little reason not to at least give Killer Instinct a chance. It’s a free fighter with a deep combat system that is also said to go out of its way to accommodate for newcomers as well as satiate experienced players.
Dead Rising 3
Though Dead Rising 3 isn’t the open world game to replace Watch Dogs this year, but nonetheless, numerous critics have reported that Dead Rising 3 is the “zombie squishing” escape that many of us have expectedly hoped for.
There are a number of complaints depending on who you talk to. The city is surprisingly small and cumbersome to wade your way through. The framerate issues haven’t been completely fixed, falling victim to mass vehicular devastation. The parodied stereotypes can be painful to watch and listen to. And, the game doesn’t always quite control well, particularly during boss fights.
But endless onslaught of creative zombie destruction has had an overbearingly positive impression on critics, overshadowing issues that would normally make other games unrecommendable. The incessant spamming of blueprints offering recipes for useful if not hilarious weapon and vehicle combinations has been said to keep investments locked. The incentive seems to compound upon itself with its leveling system which allows lead Nick Ramos to create even deadlier combinations, and ultimately watch more zombies break, peel, and split into bits.
All of the positive reception Dead Rising 3 received paint this sequel to be exactly what players were looking forward to, and ultimately give Xbox One purchasers a 30 hour justification to for their new system.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Ryse: Son of Rome seems to be more or less the Knack of the Xbox One; maybe not quite as disappointing, but reportedly underwhelming nonetheless.
Crytek seems to have this obsession of creating dramatic experiences that garner mixed appreciation. Ryse attempts just that with its narrative, and it might hold your attention well enough depending on your tastes.
Amidst its interesting-on-paper combat system that awards players with different perks based on the elicited execution, there’s an overwhelming consensus of lamenting Ryse’s shallowness in being too quick to show its entire hand. Action games hinge on the discovery or steady exposure to new ways in which to attack. But if Ryse stops showing anything new too soon, there’s little just incentive to keep on through monotonous tedium.
The multiplayer appears to be an expanded version of the co-op mode from God of War: Ascension with Mass Effect 3 style booster packs that hold pleasant surprises or disappointments. I never liked that in ME3; but even if you did, there doesn’t seem to be much to Ryse to keep one invested otherwise.
Ryse: Son of Rome seems to be your quintessential launch title: a technical show piece forced into a video game.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza Motorsport 5 is probably the most confident game – next to Playtation 4’s Resogun – across both platforms. And it earns that confidence with only two common complaints being that there are less tracks and less cars.
But novice players will hardly notice the shortage with roughly 200 cars, and would more benefit from Forza’s pulsating and organic feedback, a literal meaning of both terms. It’s been said that the rumble feedback on the Xbox One controller teaches players how to drive better, with a very explicit line of communication indicating when players are running over rough terrain, when they’re taking hard turns, and other physical intricacies of the ride.
The other classroom sessions is reported to come from the AI themselves via Forza’s Drivatar system. Mimicking the behavior of cloud saved styles of real life players, competing cars are unpredictable, and will likely properly prepare you for direct competition online.
New comers can benefit from the rewind feature and broadcasted drive lines on the track, and veterans can extend their thumbs to open wheel racing, adjusting to F1 and indie car driving.
With Turn 10’s staggering attention to detail, celebration of car culture, and accommodating game design, critics agree that the drive-curious and drive fans can’t go wrong with Forza Motorsport 5.


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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Impressions are predictions based on video demonstrations. Expect full hands on impressions, including titles Battlefield 4 and Dead Rising 3, the weekend after Xbox One launch day.

“I don’t look forward to the graphics, features, or anything else first. For me, it’s the controller.”

The Xbox 360 controller is arguably the most ergonomically designed controller in the history if console hardware. Without getting hands on the Xbox One controller yet (no, I haven’t had the time to pick one up at Gamestop), I’m curious as to how significant these changes are, particularly the rumbling buttons and the taller smaller sticks, and the D pad. But just when they’ve got me hooked on the nuances, they throw in AA batteries. It’s a minor gripe, but one that has been the single advantage that the Dual Shock 3 has had over the 360. Sure there are play and charge kits, but I cant imagine I’ve been the only one who has had bad luck with those accessories. Here’s hoping for longer battery life.

Getting Started

We have been for warned numerous times, Xbox One requires an initial internet connection to activate all of the system’s functionalities. This is the future, and it is inconvenient. The juvenile “I want it now” kid in me has not gone away, and I fully anticipate my impatience in calibrating the Kinect’s audio, as well as everything else for the Xbox One.

It does seem to have an odd pay off for your patience. Remember when console boxes had a set of screen shots for relevant games at the time of its manufacturing plastered on the side? Xbox One seems to assault you with a sizzle reel of footage from the launch line up. Curious to see how that changes if you pick up an Xbox One in March if you know what I’m getting at.

Xbox, Record That

As one who’s always been intimidated by purchasing video recording hardware and software, the next gen systems’ DVR features is a blessing for folks like me, especially ones who recreationally writes about and reviews games. Looking at the run through for recording and uploading footage on Xbox One seemed simple enough, however I’m curious – along with all of Kinect’s other features – to see if the system offers tutorials on how to take advantage of the Kinect’s properties. Trimming, editing in intros, and inserting voice over are all basic and vital features for video editing, and I cant wait to mess around with it after launch.

QR Codes

Every single 360 user has run into the issue of navigating the virtual keyboard typing in codes – whether that might be for Xbox Live, Points, or games – only to run into the message rejecting your input just so that you have to look at that one mistake that you’re convinced you never made.

It may be a small convenience, but the Kinect’s QR Code reading functionality is a god send, allowing you to hold up a QR sticker to Kinect and it automatically redeems it. It’s a neat little feeling of just how “futuristic” this hardware – particularly the Kinect sensor – really is. I can see myself going out of my way to pick up QR codes just to play around with this feature.

Xbox, Listen to Me

As one who’s never used the 360’s Kinect, I wouldn’t be able to speak to the vast improvements the new sensor has made over the original. Seeing how the camera tracks players in front of the screen and how you can use “Select” to reveal all of the dashboard vocabulary is very neat. However hearing testers having to repeat Xbox phases twice, numerous times, is very discouraging. Communicating with the Xbox One vocally to help edit videos seems really slick without having to scroll through windows; but if I have to repeat myself, I will quickly strictly rely on using my controller.


One way I’ve conceptualized the drag of current gen systems is this: If your computer at home was as slow as the Xbox 360, you’d have a fit. Of course, who’s kept an 8 year old computer lying around without upgrading it at least? All in all, that’s a testament to how comparatively archaic this hardware is.

Seeing demoers jump from game to TV, to recording, and back to home in and of itself is a sight to behold. Just as I’ve struggled with patience in looking at the spinning orbs of the Playstation 2, it would be increasingly more difficult for me to tolerate watching the cycling rings before a 360 fully boots up.

As it was with the 360, Kinect’s integration in the Xbox experience has always said to be best used in conjunction with the controller. You will never catch me holding up my hand pulling across and pushing it forward to navigate and select options from the dashboard. It looks like a hassle, and many seem to agree.

One big issue off of IGN’s livestream that was mentioned was the inability to manage the hard drive at this time. Currently, in order to delete games – which we’ll be doing a lot of in this download mandatory console generation – you will need to go to the games individually instead of going to System => Memory and go from there. That’s a huge burden that thankfully Microsoft is aware of, and hopefully they address the issue no more than a few months after launch.

The Xbox One experience…

… looks fresh, it looks slick, it looks next gen. Kinect seems to be both the bane and the beacon of your interaction with the console, making certain tasks easier, and struggling – in certain settings – to keep up with others.

Look forward to my impressions with the system the weekend after launch day.
Let's take a look at a week in gaming from 11/11/13 to 11/15/13. Below is a feature discussing impressions of the Playstation 4's line up based on launch day reviews.

Good-bye Discs. Hello Digital Age (11/11)

Silly me. I was foolish to think that my frugal sensibilities in saving hard drive space this generation would work next gen. For 6 years, I’ve budgeted every KB of space within my 20GB Xbox 360 and my 40GB Playstation 3. I’ve deleted pictures, demos and old downloadable games to make room for Halo 4’s mandatory install, and happily erased God of War Ascension and Final Fantasy XIII, keeping favorites Journey and The Last of Us to give my PS3 more breathing room.

It was a practice that I stood by, avoiding irrational game downloads when I could have played the content off of the disc. But with next gen’s mandatory installs, I don’t have a choice.

Playstation 4’s architect Mark Cerny describes the inability to stream content off of the disc as a “physics issue”, confirming that indeed, disc based games will also need to installed as well. Kotaku reports:
“The machine may have a Blu-Ray drive that's about three times faster than the PS3 with about six times as much memory, but it's still more expedient for it to read data from its own hard drive.”

Like what we’ve heard about downloadable titles, disc games will allow play mid download, doing the rest of the heavy lifting in the background while we enjoy the game. Cerny notes that playing disc based games will allow gamers to access the data sooner than if they were downloaded off of the Playstation Network, and that games such as Knack will be playable 10 seconds after inserted into the Blu-Ray drive.

Early Xbox One users, particularly AndrĂ© Weingarten AKA Moonlight Swami, revealed some of the system’s mandatory installation details. Much like the Playstation 4, disc or digital, games on Xbox One will require installs.
According to Swami, looking at the list of Xbox One launch titles, if some crazy person picks up all of these games, they’re looking at roughly 342GB of mandatory occupied space on a 500GB (minus the OS and preloaded software) hard drive.

Supported external and swappable hard drives couldn’t come soon enough for these consoles, as space budgeting can become an issue for many gamers as early as this time next year. For competitive gamers such as myself, multiplayer titles will be hard to let go of; and the rest of us all have those games that are so cherished that we refuse to part ourselves from them.

This might be a life lesson, learning how to grow up and release ourselves from our irrational attachment to games while PC gamers bluntly state, “Welcome to our world”. Or it will be a test, challenging us to go out of the way to continue to hang on to the things we love.

You got some Skyrim in my Dragon Age (11/12)

There couldn’t have been a better response to Dragon Age 2’s criticisms for restrictive gameplay.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has been painfully private since its announcement compared to attention greedy next gen titles since E3 this year. But Inquisition is stealthily shaping up to be one of the most significant RPGs of 2014.

An uphill climb reveals the accessible vistas of the land, a painter’s fusion of snowcapped mountains, a canyon orange temple in the distance, the sun-lit glaze of the grassy plains, and the emitting green aura rising from the sea. Dragon Age Inquisition is massive. And from the sprawling fields of Crestwood Hills to the uninviting jaws of the dark caves, as we’ve see thus far, much of the world explored in Inquisition can be entered without load times. It’s a feature that we’ll have to get used to seeing with so many of next gen’s titles broadening to open world, much like the transition between the last console leap.

Contextual animations further indicate the open world intention of Inquisition. Your Inquisitor takes knee-high steps when walking in muddy docks, and presses their weight forward when climbing a steep ridge, then balancing it backwards when carefully making their way down. Everything from character animations to seamless transitions to other locations, all appear to be engineered to create this feeling of vast exploration.

I was happiest to see Varric, easily the most charming and most interesting character to have in your party returning with his sardonic delivery to one of the other party members. It was a tiny reminder Dragon Age’s exceptional characterization, and with a new dynamic dialogue system incorporating different variables such as characters present and even character stats – even amongst the unsurprising yet appreciated choice based content inclusion and exclusion – I can’t wait to see the results in major decisions made.

You can’t blame the presenter for making a point to mention that all of the armor and weapons of each of your party members can be customized. In Dragon Age 2, Bioware deliberately relinquished armor customization for party members in efforts to enhance their story. White armor and more inviting apperances reflected the decisions they’ve made and their likeness to your character. More sinister looks were more telling of their miserable attitude.

This new RPG carries over many of the mechanical elements from previous games. One to one action gameplay is here to stay as Dragon Age continues to play as a third person action game. But then the camera tilts overhead to reveal the return of full tactical control. This is a return to form from 2’s simple and serviceable order command view. Here we see the player issue explicit commands such as ordering positions in the battle field to casing spells in precise locations.

Lastly, dragons seem have an intimidating presence, even more so than Skyrim. Wandering the dusk desert, the player comes to a sunken wasteland shrouded in poisonous gases. A dragon cries, landing on an arched rock formation with a formidable crash before taking off again, pulling some of the lingering gases with sweeping flight. The demo closes right before an encounter of a dragon touching down with its hot breath steaming from its gaping maw readying for a fight.

There won’t be a whole lot of room late 2014 with Dragon Age: Inquisition landing in Fall.

Don’t leave your PS3 behind before Left Behind (11/15)

WARNING: The Last of Us spoilers ahead.

One of the biggest mysteries of The Last of Us was what predated Ellie as a character. Why is she immune to the Infected? How did Ellie meet Marlene? And under what circumstances did Marlene promise her mother , Anna, to watch over her?

The Last of Us’ first DLC, Left Behind, may answer these questions for some, and provide exposition or a different perspective for those who’ve already gotten a glimpse of Ellie’s history.

The Last of Us: American Dream, was a four issue comic series that ran through before and after The Last of Us’ release date on June 14th. It was a condensed look at a 13 year old Ellie, and the life she lived before she met Joel. Ellie attends a military school where she’s bullied as the spunky, yet still isolated trouble making outsider. She meets her new friend Riley, a fifteen year old student who she goes through a similar relationship transition with as we saw between her and Joel. Riley’s juvenile dreams to join the Fire Flies leads them to escaping from the military school and venturing out into the infected concrete jungle. We also see where Marlene came into the picture, revealing her role in Ellie’s life after making a promise to Anna.

Just enough background was given in American Dream that even after the unnerving confrontation at the end of The Last of Us, there’s still much to be known.

Left Behind brings Riley back into the picture, and as seen in the brief trailer, they’re up to typical teenage venturing shenanigans. One can predict that Left Behind takes place after the events of American Dream being that there was only one Infected encounter in the comics, and we can assume that there would be several in this upcoming DLC.

This gives room for further exposition to further flesh out Ellie’s history. Deep in the game, we hear Ellie refer to a friend and an incident where they were both bitten. Could this be Riley? One of the most emotionally impactful moments in the game occurred in an argument between Ellie and Joel when Ellie stated, “Everyone I have cared for has either died, or left me.” Could she have been referring to Riley’s death?

It comes to no surprise that The Last of Us’ DLC has you partnered up with another character. The game’s story telling hinges upon a leading duo. We can also expect its intense stealth gameplay and desperate item management. Playing as Ellie, we may very well see the return of her indestructible blade, which made her even more effective against enemies in some situations than Joel, particularly when you chuck a projectile at a Clicker’s fungal dome, and stabbed them in their crusty face until they’ve fallen.

This leads into what I’m eagerly hoping for, which are sequences that replicate Ellie’s finest moments from The Last of Us. In a game that was deeply rooted in stealth mechanics, Ellie and David’s stand offs against waves of infected was a drastic change of pace for the game, and featured The Last of Us arguably at its gameplay best.

Next to Bioshock’s Burial at Sea, The Last of Us’ DLC has been my most anticipated add on content this year. Too bad we have to wait longer until early 2014.

A week in gaming special feature:
Playstation 4 Launch Title Review Blowout
Originally reported on November 13th 2013

This pas week, Playstation 4 game reviews have gone live helping us to determine what console exclusive will earn our wallets in justifying our purchasing of this next gen system.


Killzone: Shadow Fall has received mixed but relatively positive acclaim for its less than linear campaign and experimental multiplayer. In a post Far Cry 3 world, first person shooters with chosen objectives have become more appealing, and in a holiday matched up against two painfully linear, and quite frankly, not very good campaign modes between Call of Duty: Ghosts (look forward to my review between the next two weeks) and Battlefield 4, Killzone Shadow Fall has an opportunity to scratch that shooter itch in a noncompetitive fashion.

Competitively speaking however, Killzone Shadow Fall presents an unusual proposition in a post Call of Duty era. It is a multiplayer shooter not contingent on accumulating EXP, allowing players to rummage through a toy box full of customization options. Few games can get away with such a lateral approach. The Halo franchise has been able to hold on for so long without fully committing to a reward as you play system because of the richness of its idiosyncratic core mechanics and expert level design. Shadow Fall doesn’t look to be much different in terms of differentiating itself mechanically, and some reviewers have lamented over its map design.

What does look appealing is its unrestrictive approach not only to custom classes, but modes as well. Few shooters allow players to tinker with their rule sets, but in Shadow Fall, it appears to be one of its leading attractions.

Killzone Shadow Fall looks to be just the obligatory shooter that a new system needs, but will it be the shooter of choice outside of Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4?


Resogun appears to be the Geometry Wars of this generation, which comes to no surprise coming from the same developers that brought us Super Stardust HD, which was lauded to be Playstation 3’s comparable title to the Xbox 360’s smash hit.

It takes Stardust’s concept of battling on a singular spherical plane and confining the dimensions to left and right, adopting the style of side scrolling sh’m-ups and creating a cylindrical arena.

High score chasing, multiplier racking, bomb managing and weapons upgrading all seem to be here from Housemarque’s past, but the single restriction of now only moving and shooting side-to-side look to make Resogun novel enough to be one of this gen’s definitive pick-up-and-play titles.


What might be Knack’s biggest problem is how it might betray players into thinking that it’s a shape shifting brawler platformer, where it said to be really a straight forward and surprisingly tough brawler.

The word is that Knack is a lot of things that you might not expect it to be. It’s long for a game that’s expectedly shallow, it’s challenging for a game that looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, and according to IGN's Steve Butts, you don’t dictate the size of Knack so much as the levels do.

It seems that Knack is very much the throw away title everyone expected it to be, a game that Mark Cerny just threw together as a pet project after leading the design of the Playstation 4 itself; all in all an expectation that was easily honored.


Among the mainline launch titles, Contrast seems to be the black sheep of the bunch. Contrast is heavily aesthetic. The 1920’s musical and visual sheen, the touchy subject of a child caught between a parental feud, and the incredibly unusual story telling devices “contrasting” the physical Didi and the silhouetted individuals she interacts with make Contrast one of the most unique launch titles across both systems.

Contrast bridges two gameplay styles together, neigh Limbo style 2D platforming, and 3D exploration. With both coexisting within the same space, allowing you to transition seamlessly between the two, it raises a concern that the mesh of the two styles may be interesting together, but present a weaker experience in isolation.

While the gameplay might be divisive between odd platform sections, annoying glitches, and repetitive puzzles, the game’s story is universally praised, taking dark turns such as murder, divorce, and residential eviction.

Contrast seems to be the experience worth having despite the execution of the gameplay itself.

…which will be your console exclusive game of choice within this breadth of both AAA and intimate small scale titles?