games

Grounded: The making of The Last of Us

If you enjoyed TLoS, or are just interested in behind the scenes documentaries, or even just like video games in general, then take some time and watch Area 5’s Grounded: The making of The Last of Us doc.  It’s available for free from Sony on YouTube and Amazon.  Spoilers if you haven’t played it yet.

Better luck next week…

I hit a wall this week.  I couldn’t focus and pull anything together at all.  I’m trying to write a game review, about a game I really like, but I can’t find the right words.  Beyond that, nothing really grabbed me this or sparked an interest enough that I felt like I needed or even wanted to share my opinion or thoughts on it.  So, better luck next week.  I’m going to let it go this weekend and work on something else.  Hopefully, next week, I’ll be more productive.

Another order of COD please…

call-of-duty-logo-e1280381258529So Call of Duty is transitioning into a three year development cycle, with three separate studios taking on the mantle of pushing out a new COD each year. Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and now Sledgehammer will be giving you that award winning COD experience that has come to feel as if you played something similar last year. Each studio will now have three years, instead of the usual two to work on their titles and while more time certainly doesn’t hurt, I’m not sure it helps either.

All sarcasm aside, I’m not going to be that guy on the internet that hates on something before it ever comes out. I hate those people. Those guys are dicks and I really do hope this allows them to improve and innovate. I doubt it will, but I hold out hope. A pure, singular hope that knows no bounds.

What I will say instead, is that I wish they were going in another direction. What direction would I like them to take, you ask? Well I’ll tell you internet friend. For a long time now, anyone you might have asked would tell you the COD single story campaign is nothing. It might as well not even be there. Epic knew this way back before Gears of War 3, when they wanted to make the campaign easier because their numbers were showing that a large percentage of players weren’t even completing the single player portion of the game. Much like Gears and Halo, COD is has always been a solid multiplayer game. *note: I’m one of those rare people who liked Gears of War for the story and didn’t care about the multiplayer. I generally don’t play multiplayer games at all and much prefer a single player experience.

Respawn Entertainment knows this now and that’s likely why Titanfall is an entirely multiplayer game. Forget the single player, people, (other people who aren’t me) want multiplayer. So that’s what they’re giving them. It should be noted however that Respawn is comprised of former Infinity Ward employees and were responsible for the first Modern Warfare game, which contains one of the best single player COD campaigns in the franchise.

Now you have the modern COD’s that are variations of a short single player campaign, with most of the focus on multiplayer. So why not cut out the fat and give people what they want. Or if you’re going to employee three separate studios, task one of them with creating a longer single story focused game and let the other studios focus on multiplayer content. Sell the basic multiplayer client, as if you were buying and playing an MMO, that could be patched and updated as needed. Once the player base has the basic client, you can then update it and add content as needed without having to release an entire new game each year. And there in lies the catch.

This hypothetical model cuts out the revenue from releasing multiple COD titles and updates every year. The strategy isn’t about making the best game possible, it’s about making the most money possible. Granted, I doubt anyone at Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and now Sledgehammer wakes up in the morning, trying to think of ways to make bad games or make Activision more money. That’s not how they look at it, I would imagine. They make the best of what they can, with what they have available.

At any rate, nothing lasts forever. I believe the recent performance of Ghosts has proven that they can’t simply continue with the status quo any longer. Whether or not Activision truly shakes things up, or simply adds one more COD title into the mix with an added year to make the games look and perform better, remains to be seen. There has to be a tipping point though, that high water mark that proves they can’t stick with the same old tired formula forever.

Better off Dead, Island

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Well, my replay through Dead Island didn’t last long. It quickly became boring and tedious. I like that I had the option of replaying the story with the saved progress I made the first time around, though that wasn’t enough to stick with the game for long. The weapon degradation was a big issue with me. I get that weapons break down with repeated use and I enjoy the mechanic of having to repair what you use, being able to upgrade those weapons, and even constructing new ones, but the break down from wear and tear is just far too high.

I understand that rotting human corpses will cause wear and tear and should be difficult to kill and I’m not suggesting that the take a Walking Dead approach where you can easily push any sharp object through a zombies skull. I just want a decent middle ground. Hard enough to kill that it prevents a challenge, but not so hard that it makes the repair mechanic tedious to use. In most instances, I simple knock most zombies down with a general kick and quickly stomp on their head to avoid using a weapon. This becomes tiresome as well however.

Oh well, such is life. I’m sure it won’t be the last zombie game I’m disappointed by.

Xbox Games with Gold: February

Dead Island is free this month on XBLA. I haven’t played the zombie face bashing game since its initial release and recall enjoying the experience for the most part, so it will be interesting to see if it holds up to a second play through. I do recall being disappointed that it didn’t offer a more serious story, given the dramatic tone the trailer presented. Still, mindless zombie killing is difficult to pass up, especially when it’s free.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War will be available February 16, a loss for me since I already own it. Cold War is fun tower defense game, with the interesting ability to take direct control of the turrets you’ve built as well as controlling a number of land and air vehicles. There’s also a bonus feature that allows for the limited use of special abilities, such as nuclear weapons, strategic bombing runs, and a Rambo-esque commando, straight out of an 80’s movie. The nostalgia factor is fun and if you enjoy tower defense games, you should give it a try.

The Walking Dead: All That Remains (Season Two)

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Season Two of the critically acclaimed TellTale adventure game, The Walking Dead begins several months after the end of Season One and finds Clem surviving with Omid and Christa. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, the extent to which I’ll discuss the plot is to say zombies attack and hijinks ensue. The game doesn’t drastically take a left turn into another genre, so if you’ve played season one, you’ll know what to expect in season two.

That being said, Season Two makes an important distinction of feeling like a different game. The gameplay is there, the voice acting is as top notch as it was in the first season, and the art style remains as engaging as ever. The difference is drawn from the shift in protagonists. In less capable hands, switching perspectives from Lee to Clementine could have easily been whitewashed with no discernible differences. That isn’t the case.

TellTale has created a benchmark in personality and emotional development that establishes the subtle differences between characters that exist in real people. Because of this, the game you play as Clementine, particularly how you play, is inherently different from the experience of playing as Lee.

In Season One, I came to the realization that playing The Walking Dead in the similar fashion as other games with a typical karma system, wasn’t possible. I couldn’t simply align myself with one side or another, or more likely, try and play nice with everyone. The choices I made as Lee while trying to keep everyone happy, not only affected me, but had a profound impact on the safety of Clem. To this extent, I soon realized that it didn’t matter how other characters interacted with Lee, so long as the actions resulted in Clem’s safety.

This time around, I can no longer play as Clem in the same manner in which I played as Lee. I have no idea who might be an ally and who is a threat. I can’t afford to trust anyone that comes along because even when having strength in numbers and someone to rely on, that trust could potentially be a liability.

That reckoning of gameplay is what makes The Walking Dead stand out from similar titles. Yes, the gameplay is engaging, the voice acting is top notch, and the story is moving. But what The Walking Dead does better than most, is make you question the fundamentals of survival and how to manage life altering decisions in a focused amount of time.

It’s more than just having a choice between right and wrong. It’s the choice between life and death and the decision to do what is necessary to survive, even if that means making the morally wrong choice. What can your conscience justify, if it means living to see tomorrow.

Those choices and the emotional turmoil that comes entangled with them, are what makes The Walking Dead a stand out title. In an industry populated with overly dramatic war themed shooters and fantasy driven epics, it seems almost ironic that one of the most outstanding titles of this generation, will be a game about protecting a little girl, not so much from zombies, but from the harsh nightmare presented by the other humans. Least we forget, the Walking Dead isn’t a reference to the zombie threat, but to those left behind, struggling to survive.

This season, I’m playing the episodes as they are released. I played season one after all five episodes were available, back to back, over the course of a few days. It remains to be seen if this will alter my opinion of the game, however I do feel waning interest that wasn’t present when I was able to move directly onto the next episode in season one.

The second season can never be what the first season was. That discovery and shock of how intense and emotional the game was, is no longer present for those of us coming returning for season two. We know what to expect and are prepared for it this time. In many ways this new season has more to prove in what it can accomplish on its own, even in a world that relies on previous installments as a foundation.

All That Remains is a worthy successor to an outstanding Season One.