Video Game Reviews

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Very pretty and very heartfelt.

Assassins Creed: Unity
Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also on: PS4, PC
Street: 11.11.14
Alright, let me just get this out of the way first. Seriously, Ubisoft, what the fuck? How did you release such a broken game? Okay, now a deep breath. Look, for a few weeks, this game was borderline unplayable because of frame rate problems. But since then it’s been patched, and on top of that, Ubisoft has promised free shit for everyone who bought the game. So let’s put the controversy to rest, because ACU is a new zenith for this series. First of all, it’s beautiful. Like, ‘stop-in-your-tracks mid-exploration and just stare,’ beautiful. And every bit of gameplay has been improved, including movement and combat—which both were feeling a bit worn in the pirate simulator they released last year. This game isn’t without its faults, mostly falling into the same repetitive nature that other Assassin’s Creed games have been victim of, but this might be the most impressive, and enjoyable effort from the Canadian studio since ACII. –Blake Leszczynski

A Bird’s Tale
Freebird Games
Reviewed on: PC
Also on: Mac, Linux
Street: 11.07.14
When considering how interactive video games are, it’s surprising that more developers don’t take advantage of the emotional investment that players place in their avatars.  A Bird’s Tale seems expressly created for this purpose. It’s more of an interactive story than a traditional video game, and the end result left me sobbing like a little bitch.  It’s a simple concept: The player takes control of a little boy who, judging from the fact that all other NPC’s are expressionless shadows, is a bit of an outsider. Our hero befriends a small, injured bird which he spends the game trying to nurse back to health. Kan Gao, the game’s director and music composer, takes this opportunity to craft a singularly beautiful story about the powerful friendship that can grow between two bruised souls.  Perhaps my strong emotional reaction was due to its nostalgic JRPG graphics, or perhaps it was due to the melancholy tone of Gao’s musical score, but either way, this is a gorgeously surreal experience that immerses the player in the storyline.  Be prepared for an emotionally draining push of a button during the game’s final scene—just make sure you have some tissues handy. –Alex Springer

The Collider
Shortbreak Studios
Reviewed on: Steam
Also On: PC, iOS, Android
Street: 09.15.14
The Collider is a very simple, fast-paced game with only one premise—do not collide with things. The controls are very basic: If you are on a computer, you move your mouse around to dodge things, and with a touch-screen device, you use your finger to dodge. When I first saw the trailer for this game, I was afraid that the mouse control would be too touchy, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the game doesn’t punish you for moving the mouse off track. The game quickly becomes fast-paced, and if you are good at this style of gaming, you can finish it in 10–20 minutes. If you are horribly blind and jumpy like I am, the game will provide you hours of entertainment. I would recommend purchasing this game for your mobile phone instead of your computer because I can really see this being a great bathroom break game instead of a desktop game. The music is very fast-paced to match the game, and it also doesn’t require you to invite friends to get bonuses or extra content, which I love. As a mobile game, I’d say it’s worth it for $2.99. –Nicole Stephenson

Dragon Age: Inquisiton
Bioware/EA
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also on: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Street: 11.18.14
It might be the simplicity of jumping from quest to quest in such a massive game—or maybe how the game makes you feel like everything you are doing (or saying) is actually affecting the world. Maybe it’s the strategy and thought that goes into the composition of your character and party, or maybe it’s just a combination of all of these elements. Whatever the case may be, Dragon Age: Inquisiton is the deepest, most impressive RPG experience to grace consoles since the Dovahkiin trudged across the frosty Skyrim terrain. In it, you take on the role of the herald of Andraste, a savior of sorts that has the ability to close demonic rifts. From there, the story is seemingly up to you. How you go about saving a hopeless world, which characters assist you, and how much of a prick you are while doing it—everything is your call. While the slow-moving narrative—that really takes center stage over any action—may turn a certain section of gamers off, anyone who enjoys the genre (or the previous games) will bury themselves for hours—much like I have—in the vast, rich continent of Thedas. –Blake Leszczynski

The Forest of Doom
Tin Man Games
Reviewed on: PC
Also On: Mac
Street: 06.12.13
Before the days when epic single-player games like Skyrim and Dragon Age were able to render a fantastic landscape in 1080p, folks who wanted a solo fantasy game experience relied on the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.  In a labor of love, Tin Man Games has digitally adapted some of these classic relics of the early ’80s.  Keeping true to the original experience of these “choose your own adventure” books, Tin Man has taken Ian Livingstone’s original text and rules system and created a user-friendly text-based adventure that hearkens back to an earlier age of nerdery.  The adaptation is surprisingly smooth, since one of the biggest hassles with the original books had to do with the amount of supplementary materials that the gamebook required.  The game manages the character’s inventory and dice rolling for you—leaving the focus on Livingstone’s story.  It also offers three different game modes that are designed to suit casual gamers who just want a shot of nostalgia or hardcore gamers who are looking for a bit of punishment.  It’s certainly a niche game, but Tin Man does a nice job putting some polish on an old piece of gaming history.  –Alex Springer

GTA V: Remastered
Rockstar
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also on: PS4, PC
Street: 11.18.14 (PC: 01.27)
The scene: Me rolling down the coast in my custom, drop top Albany Manana—a full moon perfectly glistening off of the brand new midnight blue paint job. The ocean is clashing against the rocks as I weave in and out of the thick highway traffic. Feeling thirsty, I stop at a convenience store on the outskirts of Los Santos—but when inside, I decide to stick up the man at the counter. After he fills my bag with cash, and with sirens approaching quickly, I decide to put two bullets in the man’s head. I jump back into my ride and led Blair County’s finest on a 20 minute chase through the mountains, ending with an on foot pursuit that is abruptly interrupted by a pouncing cougar that kills me almost instantly. I wake up, the next morning, in a rural medical clinic and start the whole thing all over again. This is GTA V and, now on the new consoles, Rockstar fully realizes their vision with a fuller, more beautiful, more complete version of one of the best video games of all time. –Blake Leszczynski

Halo: Master Chief Collection
343 Industries/Microsoft/Bungie
Reviewed on: Xbox One (Exclusive)
Street: 11.11.14
343 and, to a certain extent, Microsoft botched this one badly. This space should have been reserved for effusive praise of this love letter to Halo fans, its beautifully remastered graphics, flawless presentation, and polished gameplay. Instead, I have to talk about how, in a week of trying to play multiplayer matches, at least one hour a day, I can honestly say I’ve only played one full match. That’s embarrassing for everyone involved. The Master Chief Collection is more than multiplayer, no doubt, but I think it is safe to say that a lot of the people who plunked down their $60 did so to at least jump into multiplayer when they wanted to. That’s just not the case, and what should have been the greatest re-release ever suffers greatly for it. On top of that, this was supposed to be Microsoft’s chance to show off the Azure cloud’s multiplayer gaming capabilities—a shame on all fronts. 343 and Microsoft will have a lot of work to do to satisfy the folks who already bought this, but I can’t help but think that MCC’s multiplayer population will never come close to what it could have been. –Blake Leszczynski

Jagged Alliance Flashback
Full Control
Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)
Street: 10.21.14
When you’re working with a franchise that has built up a considerable amount of fan love, it’s important not to screw things up. Jagged Alliance Flashback may have screwed things up.  Set as a prequel to the first game, Flashback brings back the squad-based tactical gameplay that was previously established. Aesthetically, Flashback’s music and character portraits evoke a ’80s action movie vibe, which pairs nicely with the plot to invade a drug lord’s island fortress. The ability to hire mercenaries and purchase new weapons also adds to the feeling of managing a covert operation. With all of that cool subtext, it’s too bad the gameplay wasn’t a bit tighter. A game like this lives and dies by its player-squad interface, and Flashback had a few problems in this area. Squad member selection, movement, targeting—everything that the player needs to be working at 100-percent—was choppy and often inaccurate. Usually, moving a squad member to a more advantageous tactical position results in a better chance to hit an enemy, but based on my experience, the percentages were little more than randomly generated numbers.  There’s a solid framework here, but the flawed gameplay gets in the way.  –Alex Springer

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Traveller’s Tales/Warner Bros. Interactive
Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Street: 11.11.14
Even for a hardened, story-driven gamer like myself, it’s tough not to love the Traveller’s Tales Lego games. For the third installment of their take on the Caped Crusader, a roster of 150 characters from all over the DC Universe are up for the unlocking, making this feel like less of a Batman-centered game and more of a riff on the Justice League of America—not that I’m complaining. One thing that these Lego games do extremely well is to offer engaging gameplay with surprisingly low stakes. Since dying isn’t that big of a deal in Lego Batman, the player is encouraged to explore the painstaking, Lego-constructed world in search of different upgrades and unlockables. The game’s challenge factor comes from using specific combinations of characters and their unique abilities to discover inaccessible areas and find ways to liberate TV’s Adam West, who is in some state of distress within each mission. The game’s signature humor is everywhere—from the snarky cut-scenes to an excellent use of Conan O’Brien—and it’s also a nerdy treat to have all of this superhero action take place to the original music of Danny Elfman and John Williams. –Alex Springer

Majestic Nights: Season One
Epiphany Games
Reviewed On: Steam
Street: 10.30.14
Conspiracy theories are everywhere in this innovative RPG, where you find yourself in the middle of the ’80s both solving mysteries and avoiding the CIA. The game gives you great dialogue and a fantastic soundtrack, as well as the option to choose how the gameplay comes together based on the decisions you make with everyone you interact with. The two biggest hurdles the game has going for it are the controls and the view. First, while some may enjoy controlling movement with the letter keys, there are far more players who prefer to use the arrows, which this game won’t allow without modifying the game code (there is no easy-choice menu). Second, I can’t recall how many times I was killed because the view on my screen was too short to plan ahead. If I’m supposed to be a badass spy, you’d think having a full view of a room would be simple, as opposed to getting shot on sight because someone is standing in a corner. The story is fun and intriguing to play through, but a lot of elements stifle the gameplay and make it frustrating to the point where you might not care how it plays out. If you’re up for a challenging game where half the elements are against you, this might be your title. –Gavin Sheehan

Mushroom 11
Untame
Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)
Street: Mid 2015
There is one thing, besides cockroaches, that would survive a post-apocalyptic landscape: fungus. Mushroom 11 takes a living organism, gives you a maze to traverse, and an eraser. You erase bits of the organism and it grows back, clutching onto the road ahead. For each pixel you erase, the equal number of pixels regrows elsewhere. Mushroom 11 is a great beginner puzzle game, and a great “wait, so if I do this then…OH!” game. Erasing the fungus and watching it regrow gets tedious after a while, but it’s almost mesmerizing when set to a soundtrack by the Future Sound of London. I played this game on my PC, but if this game was available for my phone, I would never stop playing. –Rebecca Frost

Randal’s Monday
Nexus Game Studios / Daedalic Entertainment
Reviewed on: PC
Also on: Mac
Street: 11.12.14
The point-and-click genre has seen a bit of a revival amongst indie game developers.  In their first outing, Nexus Games has taken the genre to an interesting place with Randal’s Monday—a geek-culture infused tale about a sociopathic protagonist’s quest to unravel the mischief of a cursed gold ring.  Though the game borrows the voice talents of View Askew alumni Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes, it only dips its toes into the world created by director Kevin Smith.  From a gameplay standpoint, Randal’s Monday makes solid use of the point-and-click mechanics.  I was especially appreciative of the snoopkey that highlights all of the objects that Randal can interact with, along with the fact that hints can be activated from the options menu—though, each time the player unlocks a hint, a kitten dies.  As the game progressed, I found myself not caring about the death of so many poor kitties, because the game gets pretty damn hard pretty damn quick. And the narrative doesn’t provide a lot of help to those playing without the hint guide.  Anderson’s sarcastic line delivery and the exhaustive cache of pop-culture references still make this game worth a look.  –Alex Springer

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Bandai Namco Games and Sora Ltd. / Nintendo
Reviewed on: Wii U (exclusive)
Street: 11.21.14
The new Super Smash Bros. is fun, full of collectibles and has top-notch graphics. The core of Smash has also been updated in a big way—eight player smash. You and your friends can fight it out on the game’s largest maps with a variety of controllers—Gamecube controllers are back for the hardcore fans, even 3DSs can be used as a controller. In a long night of battles, we never had any lag in our eight player smashes. Amiibos, Nintendo’s beautiful toy-to-life figures, also join the fight—they gain levels as they fight and you can power them up with custom badges and special moves. The stadium, All-Star and Solo modes are all updated and awesome. There are some new modes in addition to all the typical stuff you find in Smash—special orders and Smash Tour. Smash Tour is basically Mario Party with battles mixed in. Instead of collecting stars, you’re collecting fighters for a final battle between all the players. Special orders are a fun, quick way to score trophies, and special moves for your customizable characters and amiibos. Smash Tour isn’t a great addition, but you can easily spend hours going through everything else. –Ashley Lippert

This War of Mine
11 Bit Studios
Reviewed on: PC
Street: 11.14.14
First and foremost, the art in This War of Mine is gorgeous. Upon first glance, one would expect the premise to be “navigate this zombie apocalypse” because of the dark tones and eerie settings. It’s more realistic than that. You manage three characters as they survive a war-torn city, creating shelter, caring for each other, and scavenging at night for supplies. It’s fun—at first. Then it gets scary real. You manipulate characters to turn on each other. Worse, they feel bad about it. You watch morals disappear. Cigarette and alcohol addiction evolve. Accidental murder gets you that shovel you needed. It’s brutal and genius. It’s a refreshing game for players who, like me, dislike first person shooters and are more interested in what would actually happen should the government descend into oblivion.  –Rebecca Frost

World of Keflings
Ninjabee
Reviewed on: Wii U
Also on: Xbox Live Arcade, PC
Street: 11.13.14
World of Keflings is a city-building game that’s quite charming. You play as your Mii, a giant among Keflings. Keflings are reminiscent of wooden marionettes, and they’re about that size compared to your Mii. You wake up in the icy land of the Eskimo Keflings where the mayor needs some help building up the town. The Keflings are willing to be your minions in exchange—they’ll mine resources, and transport them to the building of your choosing. Keflings level up as they work, making them more efficient. Resources can be refined as you construct complex buildings, which lead to more things you can manufacture. It gets a little confusing when you have to keep track of 20 or more minions who will randomly start piling up resources in the middle of the map instead of their designated building. There are a few visual glitches as well: The Kefling that started up a conversation wouldn’t be on the screen, an occasional minion would disappear when they leveled up, and only a starry imprint with the level-up icon remained. Despite those minor bugs, it’s still fun to help build many a kingdom with the quirky Keflings in their bright, colorful worlds. –Ashley Lippert

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