Game of Thrones - Telltale Game series

It was a couple years before I hopped onto the Game of Thrones bandwagon. My girlfriend insisted that I watch it, so I went through the entire backlog of seasons one through four over the fall and winter. So when I saw that there was a game available on Steam, I bought it for her. Unfortunately, she doesn't have the patience for this game's style of narrative gameplay, and she got bored with it and gave up within an hour. I had hoped that the excitement of new Game of Thrones content would offset the lack of interaction, but I was wrong. So I figured I'd play it in order to get my money's worth, since I'm more tolerant of "interactive movie" games, and I liked Telltale's previous Back to the Future game just fine.

Only the first two episodes (Iron From Ice and The Lost Lords) are currently available, and the remaining four episodes are expected to be released every couple months through the rest of the year.

Telltale is always absolutely dedicated to making their games look and sound like the source material,
right down to the show's stylish (and surprisingly informative) intro sequence for each episode.

As an "interactive movie", Telltale's Game of Thrones title is definitely worthwhile, as it's basically like watching episodes of the series. It adds to the narrative of the TV show by telling the tale of the Forrester house, who (following the events of the show's infamous "Red Wedding") find themselves suddenly under the dominion of the hated rival family, the Boltons. The game requires you to play as a small handful of family members (spread out between Forrester's own Ironrath keep, King's Landing, and the Black Fort) as they seek political alliances in order to protect the Forrester house from the Boltons' tyranny.

Or at least, that's the set-up. In true Game of Thrones nature, it doesn't take long for shit to hit the fan, and for all your expectations to fall apart.

The game has very little "action", as most of the focus is on conversation and plotting between characters. So if you're expecting a hack-n-slash game in the style of Skyrim, then you'll have to look elsewhere. Maybe that hack-n-slash game from Focus Interactive is what I should have bought for my girlfriend. Or maybe not...

Even the more intense action segments of the game (such as battles or brawls) require very little interaction or decision-making from the player. Most of the time, it's just an elaborate quick-time event, requiring you to complete the scene by just following on-screen prompts.

Once you get comfortable with the commands, action sequences require virtually no thought or skill from the player.

The action sequences were quite challenging at first, because they required the use of mouse commands and the arrow keys and other keyboard commands. And I only have two hands. Alternating between the mouse and arrow keys on the keyboard was a challenge, until I realized that the W,A,S, and D keys can be substituted for the arrow keys. Then the action sequences became trivially easy.

These sequences were extremely disappointing because of the lack of active participation from the player. The open exploration and puzzle-solving from Back to the Future is almost completely gone ...

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Bloodborne title

I haven't talked about Bloodborne on this blog yet, other than in passing. This has been because there wasn't much information on it except for the most superficial information and a few minutes of gameplay video. But over the past few months, more information has come out, so I'm going to take a moment to talk about some of the features and mechanics that I am excited about.

If you're not already aware, Bloodborne is the PS4's spiritual successor to FROM Software's hit games Demon's Soul and Dark Souls. Both of those games are among my favorite games on the PS3. I'm eagerly awaiting this game, as it is likely going to be the reason that I end up buying a PS4.

Overall, the game looks to play similarly to the Souls games with one major exception: it takes place in a steampunk, Victorian setting instead of a medieval fantasy universe. This means that the traditional sword and shield gameplay doesn't transfer to the new setting. In fact, shields don't seem to play a role at all. Instead, the player's off-hand can be used to equip a second bladed weapon or a gun. The lack of a shield means that the game is designed to be faster-paced, and combat is intended to be more aggressive and offensive so as to encourage players to attack and dodge rather than backpedal behind their shields.

Bloodborne - bloody combat
Bloodborne looks to be a darker, bloodier, and faster-paced variation of Dark Souls - with guns!.

Little is known about the game's story so far, except that it involves people transforming into vicious beasts, and the player character is hunting them. There might also be a bit of a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" theme here, as it's been hinted that players can transform into beasts. This is presumably a replacement for the "soul form" and "hollow form" in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls (respectively). There will be multiplayer components similar to the previous Souls games, but specific details are limited.

According to a preview at a recent Sony expo, the PS4-exclusive Bloodborne will have some interesting new features:

A demo shown in December's PlayStation Experience expo in Las Vegas, Nevada (apparently, there was an official Sony PlayStation convention in Vegas that I didn't hear about until the week after it was done?) revealed an intriguing new feature: the game will include a procedurally-generated dungeon.

The "Chalice Dungeon" (as it is called), is an optional dungeon that will vary from player to player, or character to character, or game to game, or visit to visit, or moment to moment (depending on how you interpret the tranlator). A key semantic point is that the dungeon is being called a "procedurally-generated dungeon", and not a "randomly-generated dungeon". The extent of the randomness isn't entirely clear ...

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Demon's Souls - title

With a new generation of consoles coming into their own, the lifespan of the PS3 and XBox360 is rapidly coming to an end. It's not quite as monumental as the end of the PS2's lifecycle, which is arguably the single best gaming console ever made! With the PS3 and XBox360, our console games started to have consistent online functionality, and with online functionality comes a sad side-effect: a game's life-span is finite. I can always go back and play my favorite PS2 games (like Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Ace Combat 4, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Gran Turismo 3, and Devil May Cry) and have pretty much the same experience that I had the first time I played. But I won't be able to do that with some of my favorite PS3 games, because some of them have online features that won't remain active forever.

favorite PS2 games
As long as my PS2 is functional, I can always go back and re-play my favorite PS2 games.

PC gamers have been dealing with this problem since the dawn of the internet, but they have work-arounds. PC Games can be modded to support direct TCP / IP connections in order for their online communities to stay online. Hypothetically, you could keep your favorite MMO alive for yourself and your circle of friends in this fashion. But with console games, there are much more significant technical hurdles to overcome, and when the producer shuts down the servers, that is basically the end of that game.

And that is exactly what is going to happen some day with my favorite PS3-exclusive: Demon's Souls.

Every console has its defining games - those games that are reasons for owning the consoles. The original PlayStation had Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, the Nintendo 64 had Goldeneye, the Dreamcast had Shenmue and Soul Calibur, the XBox had Halo, GameCube had Resident Evil 4 and Eternal Darkness, the PS2 had Shadow of the Colossus. For me, Demon's Souls is that game for the PS3: the game that makes owning a PS3 worthwhile.

Demon's Souls is a game that completely redefined the way that I think about gaming. My ideas about how a player can interact with a game world and with other players were completely turned on their head with this game. So I want to take a moment to pay tribute to this masterpiece of interactive art with a full review while its servers are still up and running. And maybe - just maybe - I can sell a copy or two to some new players.

The gameplay is based on a simple control configuration in which weapons are mapped to the left and right hand and controlled with the left and right shoulder buttons (respectively). The design is reminiscent of a simplified version of FROM's other major game franchise: the mech-combat sim Armored Core. Weapons equipped in the right hand have a basic attack and a heavy attack, and weapons or shields in the left hand have a block and heavy attack (sorry, lefties, no left-handed characters for you!). These basic controls are very simple, and any player can start hacking and blocking away as soon as they pick up the controller. But more advanced controls and variations in weapon functionality make this seemingly-simple combat system very deep.

Each weapon class has different movesets, ranging from the slashing of a sword to the thrusting of a spear, to smashing of a giant hammer. And shields (and some off-hand weapons) have an advanced parry feature that allows you to stun and counter an attacking foe to land a critical hit. You can also attack while running or out of dodges in order to keep a foe guessing. Mastering these various features takes a little bit of time, but it is immensely rewarding when you finally have the skills to go toe to toe with a giant, butcher-knife wielding skeleton with confidence. But don't get overconfident, because this game will punish you for every mistake!

Demon's Souls - Vanguard rematch
With patience and practice, you'll soon stand confidently before the Vanguard that killed you in the tutorial.

If you die, you lose all your accumulated souls (i.e. "experience"), and must restart the level from the beginning! But there is a shining glimmer of hope: you have one chance to reach the spot where you died in order to recover your lost souls. If you get there...

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Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss - title

I may have been a bit hard on Dark Souls in my original review (despite spending like six months playing it before I reviewed it). I guess - despite my best efforts - I just couldn't get over my love for Demon's Souls (which I still think was a better game for its time). But Dark Souls ended up eating up a lot of my time, and I have fallen as much in love with it as I had for Demon's Souls. As such, I have updated my original review with a new, retrospective score to go along with this DLC review. I bought and downloaded Artorias of the Abyss DLC on day one (PSN) when it was released last year, but didn't get around to playing it until earlier this year.

Instead of just unlocking a special quest as soon as the DLC is download (ala Skyrim), the DLC of Dark Souls can only be accessed by defeating an existing, but entirely optional boss in an existing, but entirely optional area of the world; then defeating an existing enemy that allows access to a specific NPC; then defeating another monster in one of the end-game areas (after acquiring the Lordvessel) in order to unlock the "key" to the DLC content. Phew. That's a lot of hoops to jump through! So it took me a while just to be able to access the new content - let alone play through it. Sure, you may have paid for this DLC, but FROMSOFTWARE is still gonna make you work for it; and kudos to them for not compromising on their principles!

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This review was originally published 07/30/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

NCAA Football 11

NCAA Football 11 cover (PS3)

The game has nice ideas and looks great, but new gameplay mechanics only seem to create more bugs and problems.

EA really needs some competition in the football gaming market. I can’t imagine any football gaming fan NOT wanting the NCAA to discontinue EA’s NCAA football-exclusivity license when it expires either this year or next. [Update: EA has agreed to not sign another exclusivity agreement!] Comptetition is always good for the consumer, and right now, EA really isn’t giving us games that are up to par with our expectations. For the past two or three years, EA has given us NCAA football games that have contained some great new features and gameplay additions, but every year, they manage to fill the game with new flaws or take steps backwards in terms of gameplay.

Two years ago, excessive turnovers made the game almost unplayable. Last year, the oppressively fast game speed made the game look and feel so chaotic, that it almost completely overshadowed the improvements such as the “"Dead Duck" passes and the "Setup Play" feature. Like in past years, the new game gives us a lot of welcome improvements, but also introduces new problems and takes several steps backwards in certain areas.

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Gaming for life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to opinions about video games and the video game industry. But occasionally, I talk about other stuff too. Feel free to read about the blog.

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Humble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II onlineHumble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II online09/22/2014 I recently posted my much-belated review of Dark Souls II. In it, I criticized the game for having lackluster online components, but didn't go into much detail other than to say that Soul Memory seems like a non-optimal matchmaking method and that invasions are rare and reserved for elite players. I wanted to take a moment to...

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The gift of Civilization IVThe gift of Civilization IV03/30/2011 Samurai, I choose you! A friend of mine called me up just a few minutes ago to ask me for advice on how to set up his first game of Civilization IV and what civ to pick in his first game. He's going with Japan. Because "Samurai sound cool". Yes they do. Yes they are.