Category: Uncategorized

The Last of Us: Remastered

The Last of Us, was released by Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Unchartered) in June 2013 to unparalleled and unanimous praise. It was developed as a PS3 exclusive and served as the swan song for a system about to end a successful seven-year lifespan. Not only was it labeled as one of the best games for the console; it later topped many lists for representing the pinnacle of gaming in it’s generation. Having missed out on the original release, I finally got the chance to play it thanks to a Remastered version for PS4 which included the ‘Left Behind’ DLC, improved 60 fps frame rate and additional in-game features. Let see how this new version holds up 13 months later.

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 TLoU provides you with many options designed to extend the longevity of the game. For both the main campaign and the Left Behind storyline, you can chose from 10 difficulty settings. These tiers follow a sliding scale that decreases resources while increasing enemy damage. To get a good understanding of these settings I played the game thru on Normal, Normal+ and Survivor mode.

Generally speaking gameplay is extremely linear, occasionally you reach open areas that can be explored but you mostly follow a very structured path. I kept waiting for the game to open up but it never did, from the opening scene to the ending credits, you are guided by a series of visual cues and cut scenes. Occasionally your path will be blocked, causing you to search for objects, but unfortunately these objects are always in close proximity and never require much thought. A shame, because this is the only type of puzzle solving in the game and could have played a drastically more significant role.

Scattered throughout the environment are collectable items and resources available for crafting. There are also parts and supplements that you can use to upgrade weapons and Joel’s skills respectively. Crafting was a nice addition to the game, however it’s quite basic and is another area that could have easily been expanded upon. For my first play thru on Normal, I had a completion time of 18:44 and found only 87 of 141 collectibles. I spent a lot of that time exploring my surroundings but was occasionally distracted by the game itself. This is because there is so much triggered conversation, that if you want to double back or explore an area you will often miss key sections of dialogue.

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 While the gameplay provides some negative commentary, it’s the mechanics that really highlight the worst aspects of the Last of Us. Both Joel and Ellie are clunky to say the least. There is no cover system in the game so you are often forced to just crouch behind various pieces of rectangular cover then stand up to aim when your enemy does the same. As for combat, there are essentially two types of enemies and two ways to attack them. Non-infected humans are your standard militia forces that occupy areas in larger groups, while infected will vary in size and attack differently. Runners and Stalkers will charge on sight while Clickers only attack if they sense you close to them. The game promotes two ways to dispatch of these enemies, either by stealth or by force. Unfortunately the stealth option falls completely flat and it wasn’t until I found the bow that I even attempted anything that even resembled stealth. Sneaking up behind Clickers is a 50/50 outcome at best, even if you press the left stick to tread lightly they still sometimes hear you and it’s game over. As there are no silenced firearms in the game, tactical shooting from cover is often your best approach – shoot, move and repeat. This is fine but confrontations never really get that difficult, only on the higher difficulties does it become a challenge when ammunition is scarce. On Normal I got 740 kills, with a 64% gun accuracy while only crafting 20 health kits.

For the purposes of this game Naughty Dog really should have taken note of franchises like Splinter Cell, which have shaped the stealth genre. In general I feel as though the gameplay was extremely confused and never excelled in any area.

Lastly on the subject of mechanics is one of my least favorite acronyms (I hate them all)…Q…T…fucking…E’s. These things are quickly becoming one of the worst troupes of modern gaming – everyone hates them, yet they’re everywhere!! In TLoU they are prevalent and not only do they appear often, they aren’t even time based (generators aside). You can just go ahead and mash that button whenever you want with no skill involved. If your going to include them as a design choice that’s fine, but at least be smart enough to make them as organic as possible.

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 But where The Last of Us fails, the voice acting and story telling exists as a polar opposite. They quite literally couldn’t have been better if they tried and both elements reach unprecedented levels for the industry. Ironically, both are often sub par in modern games, but here they shine through with clarity and emotion from the entire cast. In addition the character models are exceptional and act as beautiful vehicles for the characters. Facial movements are seamless, expressions seem real, and the smallest of gestures have been animated to give you a full sense of immersion. No once have I ever seen a game achieve these heights and for this Naughty Dog deserves the highest of accolades.

Graphically I was also impressed and often stopped to view my surroundings. The 60fps held true and I noticed no drop in frame rate or clipping of any kind. Again the beauty here is in the details, footprints in the snow, rain running down a window, reflections in water. All of it was crafted to enhance the realism and it does so flawlessly.

One new feature for the Remastered version is Picture Mode. It allows you to freeze the game at any point and manipulate the scene in a multitude of ways – from camera angle, to depth of field, to color filters. I’ve spent hours doing this and still find myself stopping every few minutes to compose a new image and export it onto my hard drive. It’s is feature that I would absolutely love to see as standard across all games and kudos for Naughty Dog for implementing it so well.

The music is very much a complementary medium in the Last of Us. That is to say that it adds tonally but it is also guilty of becoming anonymous. The Foley work however was excellent and sound effects were key to the success of many scenes.

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 The Last of Us: Remastered is a complex animal. It lives up to the hype in many ways, but fundamentally it is flawed at the most basic of levels. Certainly it should, and will be remembered as a pivotal title for voice work, character design and story telling; but that alone should not grant it a place among the elite. The gameplay and mechanics just aren’t fully realized, and unfortunately that is where you want…no…NEED to be on point. Without those core characteristics, I don’t believe that a game can truly be considered great.

To me this game is more about how it will serve to evolve the industry. Naughty Dog not only raised the bar for story telling, it has ripped the bar off and smashed everyone else in the face with it. If other game designers can follow suit and develop titles with this level of narrative but pair it with high quality gameplay then the future of gaming will be extremely bright. If there is ever a Last of Us 2, and they address these flaws – it may well be a perfect game.

{Game} The Last of Us: Remastered

{Plus}  Character design – Voice acting – Storytelling – Graphical details – in-game features

{Minus} Linear gameplay – Clunky controls – Combat – Underdeveloped features

{Overall Rating} +3

{Player Comparison} Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals). Ovechkin dominated the world of hockey when he was drafted first overall by Washington. But over time, his weaknesses became apparent and have detracted from his performance. While still certainly a powerhouse in the game, time has shown that even the greatest players have their faults.

World Record for Largest Video Game Collection

10,607…that’s the new number you’re going to need to beat if you want to hold the title of having the world’s largest video game collection. A title recently acquired by Michael Thomasson, a teacher from none other than…Buffalo NY!!

The 31 year old collector set the record in November and will appear in the newest edition of ‘Guinness World Records 2014 Gamers Edition’.

Megalixir is extremely proud to know that this awesome feat was accomplished so close to home. And now Sam knows where all the mint condition copies of Demon’s Crest ended up. Congratulations Michael!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/24/michael-thomasson-video-games-world-record_n_4497742.html

Gone Home

With the sheer amount of indie games on Steam it requires significant momentum for one of them to stand out and grab the attention of the media. Released in August by developer The Fullbright Company, Gone Home was able to do just that.

It tells the story of a daughter returning home from Europe to find her family home empty. Only by reading notes around the house is she able to determine where everyone is. In turn these notes trigger audio samples that deliver the primary narrative from the perspective of her sister. Unfortunately to obtain these samples there is no need for exploring, there are no puzzles, there are no choices, no critical thinking is required – the entire time you simply move from point A to point B and listen to the dialogue. Certainly at the start of the game you have the whole house to explore, but once you start finding relevant clues they lead you directly to your next point of interest. As a result I find it difficult to even call the overall experience a ‘game’. Rather an interactive short story.

Which makes we wonder how Valve even had the audacity to price this game at $19.99. That isn’t to say that value should directly relate to experience, but there must be some substance and the substance here just isn’t enough. I feel that pricing it under $5 would not only justify the experience, it would also encourage a much wider audience to enjoy the piece.

The highlight of the game is the story telling – a stale cliché in the world of video games. All too often we’re spun the same, tired tales that start to leave you unreceptive. With Gone Home however we are presented with a refreshing narrative, rich with realism. Enhanced by some excellent voice acting it makes for a captivating experience. Aside from the main story arc, certain notes around the house will give you an insight inside other family members, but they leave more questions than answers.

Mechanically I also felt that the game was awkward, and graphically it looked dated. However if you focus on the positives in Gone Home, you can really see that The Fullbright Company had some great ideas. If they could transfer this approach to an actual game with substance, then I’m confident that it would have some real potential.

{Game} Gone Home

{Plus} – voice acting – compelling and realistic storyline

{Minus} – too short – characters not fully realized – awkward controls – dated graphics

{Overall Rating} 0

{Player Comparison} Ville Leino (Buffalo Sabres). He was supposed to be good and he just…isn’t.

Flower

By now, I’m sure many of you have heard of and/or played Flower. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s a vast departure from the carnage and horror aspects of many mainstream games, Developed by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony it was first released on the PS3 in 2009, and last month it was added to the Playstation Store for PS4/Vita which allowed me to finally try it out. Thatgamecompany is also responsible for flOw, and most notably, Journey. They produce games that focus on emotional responses which they achieve through visual narrative and the absence of dialogue. Journey blew me away so I had very high hopes for Flower, let’s see how it measured up.

The game is controlled entirely with tilt movements performed with the Dualshock controller. I fully respect this design choice as it connects you directly with the elements. However, as with many games that utilize similar mechanics they are far from perfect. Never did I feel fully in control at higher speeds (most of which are free moving) although there are occasions where you ‘snap’ to the flowers which provides a much smoother ride. There are also sequences where you are steered by the game and these too felt awkward.

Which brings me to the camera angles. Because the majority of flowers are at ground level they require you to approach them directly from behind. Doing so while maintaining speed forces the petals to often obscure your target which can be very frustrating when trying to follow a sequence.

While these two points are key to gameplay, my biggest issue resides with the philosophy on which the game was built. While I fully support the direction of the game, I think that Flower straddles experience and gameplay but never fully commits to either side. Those two worlds may well be a contradiction given the context, but I truly feel that the developers should have made a bolder choice. With some key changes I think that the Flower experience could be one of the most wonderful available in a video game, but as it stands the game leaves me with an overwhelming feeling of so close…yet so far away.

Without sounding overly negative, the game does have some wonderful moments. Brushing thru grass at high speeds as the orange glow of sunset washes over your screen is extremely rewarding. So are the times where your petals charge up and you burn through the landscape like a firework. It is then that you become mesmerized and the game transcends the medium.

Ultimately Flower brings me back full circle to Journey which came 3 years after the original release. Here I see a game that takes the previous faults and addresses them to create a better experience. Knowing that Thatgamecompany is trending in the right direction gives me a lot of hope, because game design is a learning process and I think that they will only continue to reward us.

{Game} Flower

{Plus} Beautiful visuals – philosophy

{Minus} Controls – Camera angles – core design elements

{Overall Rating} +1

{Player Comparison} Jason Pomminville (Minnesota Wild). A quiet player with a lot of talent. Were he to fully commit to his role he has the potential to be a leader in the league.

Best Metal Performance

So the Grammy nominations came out this week……….yep……..that happened………

Anywho, Dream Theater have once again been recognized by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the ‘Best Metal Performance’ category. This is their second consecutive nomination after ‘On the Backs of Angels’ from A Dramatic Turn of Events.

Even though I pretty much hate award shows like this, I thought it would be interesting to listen to all the nominees and break down the category.

Anthrax
T.N.T. [Anthems]

How a cover song gets nominated for a musical award is beyond me, especially in this context. T.N.T. is taken from Anthems, an EP of seven cover songs released in March. In my opinion, if you’re going to do a cover, at least give it your own vibe. Clearly Anthrax don’t share this sentiment as they do their best to mimic it verbatim and I’m left asking the question…why bother? As a result there’s really not much else to say about a replica of a song released in in 1976 that is being recognized in 2014…

Black Sabbath
God Is Dead? [13]

Black Sabbath apparently has 19 studio albums…..who knew. 13 is their first official release since Forbidden in 1995. Seemingly all that ‘God is Dead?’ indicates is that Black Sabbath has failed to evole in any capacity since their heyday. We are given the same sludgy choruses and meaningless lyrics that they’ve been churning out for decades. If ever a band just needs to stop, retire, move to Florida and start playing Bingo…it’s Black Sabbath.

Dream Theater
The Enemy Inside [Dream Theater]

The latest album from Dream Theater has produced drastically differing opinions from their fan base. Regardless of which side you fall on, The Enemy Inside is generally considered a strong track that showcases the heavier side of the band. As the lead single it’s no surpise that it feels a little cliche as it includes all the typical elements you would expect. It does however do a great job of highlighting the talents of each band member. The verses and melodies are strong and the musicianship is front and center.

Killswitch Engage
In Due Time [Disarm the Descent]

Finally, a song that represents current metal. Killswicth Engage are now veterans of the scene and have persevered with their signature brand of melodic metal. ‘In Due Time’ is a strong tune with biting riffs, excellent vocals/screaming and a well structured chorus. Unfortunately as with everything KE writes, it has a tendency to sound a lot like you’ve heard it before. But isolated in this context, the song is a bright spot in the category.

Volbeat with King Diamond
Room 24 [Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies]

This is the strangest entry given that Volbeat are a lesser known hard rock band from Denmark. It seems like their strongest market is Europe, although this latest album has received international recogntiton. In regards to the song, ‘Room 24’ is the definition of meh. It’s not new or fresh, it’s completely dated and offers nothing that should garner recognition. The inclusion of King Diamond is also a conundrum as he seemingly adds nothing to the song (guests vocalists rarely do). Another complete waste of a nominee.

In conclusion; only two of these bands are relevant in the current music industry. To think that these are the 5 songs that the NAoRAaS believes represent metal is embarrassing and short sighted. It continues to make me believe that this entire award show is beyond a joke . Also knowing that there are SO many metal songs that are better than all five of these makes it a joke wrapped in a tortilla joke. With that said, I would present the award to Killswitch Engage as I feel their song best represents the catergory. I look forward to not watching this award show and reading the following day that Black Sabbath won.

The Digital Age of Gaming

As a semi serious game collector I have a few topics in mind that I want to cover on this blog. A recent conversation between Joe and I prompted me address one that looms on the horizon for the collecting community…the road to digital media.

In recent years I’ve managed to come to terms with this inevitable transition…to a degree. My first hurdle came with Compact Discs. While I don’t collect them per se, I always enjoyed them; to experience the cover art first hand or to leaf through the liner notes. Their production continues but natural selection favors iTunes and eventually they will be phased out. I still purchase albums at release knowing that they will never see the inside of a CD player. So when they stop being made, I’ll remember to accept that the convenience far outweighs any need for physical ownership. Video games however are a different story altogether.

As a collector you’re naturally interested in everything – hardware, peripherals, promotional material – but it begins and ends with the games. Whether it be finding Shining Force II hidden under a blanket at a garage sale or bidding on Fritz Chess on eBay, the quest to find and aquire games is the primary focus. It culminates in being able to hold the prize in your hands; that collection of plastic and paper becomes a tangible object that serves to represent the very essence of the game.

And so it begins

I can’t blame companies like Valve. Being pro technology I understand that it’s the natural direction to go. Making all forms of media digital is part of us evolving. It even benefits the comminity allowing indie developers to make and release games. I get that and it’s great and all, yet the game collector inside me is screaming at them to back the fuck off.
Currently, Valve offers more than 3,000 games via Steam and they control 75% of the digital PC market. Consoles aren’t quite there yet, but their digital libraries are growing weekly. Past titles, indie games and new releases can all be purchased virtually in lieu of physical copies. How long until everything is digital we don’t know, but already consoles are seeing the changes of the digital age.

Believe it or not I could write an entire blog about manuals. From the perspective of a collector, they make up the triforce of elements when buying a game; the box – the game – the manual. Whether or not your game comes with a manual and it’s condition are a big deal. And rightfully so, because a good manual can be awesome. So when I opened my new copy of Sleeping Dogs yesterday, I was given a stark reminder. Instead of a manual, there was a slip of paper telling me that I could download the manual from the Square Enix website if I so desired. I should be used to this by now, but everytime it happens I still cry a little inside.

Of course once the games start to vanish so will the boxes, then it really is game over. In 10 years you’ll browse online libraries and download everything to your hard drive. My only hope is that some developers care enough to release physical editions of their games. Even if it’s just a digital copy on a flash drive, I’ll be happy. Of course old games will still exist, but their price will naturally increase.

So game collectors unite, and buy them now while you still can.

Bethesda, MD

Periphery are from Bethesda, Maryland. So are Bethesda Softworks, the developers that bought you such titles as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Video game link established!!

Yesterday, Periphery announced the release date of their new EP ‘Clear‘.

Joey and I are preeetty excited, cause well, we think Periphery are *algebraic*

Clear will be available 01-28-14. Their full length 3rd album ‘Juggernaut’ is also slated for release in 2014.