Grand Theft Auto V for the Next Generation

 

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The term, “broke the mold” comes to mind when I think of Rockstar Games. No one does it like this anymore. Video game companies pump out title after title, sequel after sequel, year after year… Call of Duty has a new arcade shooter every November, as does Assassin’s Creed and countless other franchises. But not Grand Theft Auto.

You see, Rockstar has this crazy idea that if they spend years building and perfecting the best game they can possibly make, that the quality of said title alone will be enough to get them in the black. They spend six years and hundreds of millions of dollars making GTA V, and much to their investors’ delight, they were absolutely right.

Grand Theft Auto V was the greatest game of the last generation, and it’s about to make its Next-Gen console debut on Tuesday, the 18th of November. I imagine that right about now everyone at Rockstar Games has got to be feeling pretty good about themselves. Last September GTA V broke nearly every video game record there was when it launched on PS3 and XBox360, selling over $800 million in its first day of release and breaking the $1 billion mark just a few hours later. As of now, it sits just below Mario Kart and Minecraft as the most popular game of all time… And that was just on the two 10 year-old consoles.

IMG_0676Tuesday, when the long-awaited ball drops, and GTA V hits the streets for Next-Gen, the records will start falling just as quick. I’ll tell you right now that it’s going to be the biggest launch of a Next-Gen title yet. Never mind that a 4K-resolution PC version of the game will drop in January.

You might ask why I think that so many people will run out to buy a game that’s been out for over a year… And I’ll ask you a simple question in return: Have you played it?

If you’ve played GTA V (and you’re not one of the immature minority that lives to hate for hate’s sake) then you know why every single person that owns a PS4 or an XBox1, and is old enough, will absolutely buy this game. We’ve seen a few re-masters of last-gen games now, the highlight being Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which I played through way too quickly over the summer, despite trying to take it slow and savor the sublime gaming experience that it is… But GTA V is something else entirely.

First of all, Rockstar basically rewrote the game from the ground up in order to bring us a fresh take on a familiar story: First Person Mode.

IMG_0638This isn’t just a gimmick where they put the camera on the 3rd person character’s shoulders, no, they scripted thousands of new animations for hands, guns, weapons, cars, planes, everything. Let me stress that: EVERYTHING. So on top of the 1080p 30fps graphics with Next-Gen textures and shadows, this new First Person Mode drops you, literally, right into the action in San Andreas. With a menu full of customizing options, we will be able to play through the entire Single Player Mode and GTA Online as a 1st Person shooter… Complete with designated grenade button and both 1st person and 3rd person cover mechanics. In fact, you can tell the game which order you want to play in. You can set it to 1st person when on foot, 3rd person when driving, and then back to 1st person for all of the rag-doll effects… Because there’s nothing as disorienting as being hit by a car in the 1st person. One second you see sidewalk, the next you’re spinning wildly through the air.

First Person Mode is a revolutionary step for Rockstar and for Grand Theft Auto, which has always been traditionally a Third Person Game. The design team has thrown down the gauntlet and directly challenged its only competitors, 1st Person games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Far Cry.

IMG_0691I’ve said since launch that GTA V is the be-all end-all for video games, simply because it has everything you could ever want to do with a video game all in one package. Now that First Person is coming to GTA, fans of other shooters will be able to set up their own First Person Only matches using the Content Creator. I can’t wait to see homage levels springing up in GTA Online… Since the creator allows you to basically wall off any portion of the huge map and turn it into your personal racing/shooting/flying playground, I expect to see themed jobs springing up constantly. it would be fairly simple to set up the same exact Battlefield: Hardline demo level in downtown Los Santos.

With First Person Mode, the games damage effects are over-hauled to a ridiculous  and disturbing, degree as well. For example, running up to a pedestrian on the street and socking them in the face produces actual feelings of guilt as the new 1st person mode and crisp graphics shows their reaction, pain, shock… The new hatchet weapon is particularly trauma-inducing when it gets lodged in the flesh of your victim and you see your character’s foot come up and brace the body while you yank it free. The expression on peoples’ faces, the blood effects, and the 1st person mode all make for a VERY hardcore GTA experience.

Along with the new First Person Mode comes a newly-designed and fully-functional interior for every vehicle in the game. From the working speedometer and tachometer in your favorite super car to the altimeter and artificial horizon dials in aircraft… Rockstar pulled out all the stops with this one. If you’re like me, and drive most of the time in “hood-cam” mode, you’ll love 1st Person driving. For those that are still weaving in and out of traffic in 3rd person, I expect many a T-bone collisions with traffic that’s just out of sight.

IMG_0688Rockstar has also announced, nonchalantly, that Online Heists will be coming in the first title update to hit the Next-Gen version. If you don’t know already, this is a REALLY big deal to fans. Rockstar originally intended for Heists (which are the best missions in the story mode) to be included with Online when it launched, however the unexpected popularity and a bunch of early hackers breaking the game caused multiple delays, and the release kept getting pushed out… Much to the chagrin of Twitter and Youtube commenters. Alas, a year and many delays later, it’s finally (almost) here. If nothing, I won’t have to listen to fanboys cry about how Rockstar personally let them down anymore.

This is the same GTA V you know and love, new and improved. The animal count has been raised to include many different dogs, cats, supposedly bunnies, and tons of others. Traffic, which is strangely scarce for a city modeled after Los Angeles, has been raised as well. Because there’s nothing like hitting an armored car, jumping on the freeway to get away, and running smack-dab into a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. I mean, come on, this is L.A. right? Plus, all of the new DLC cars that have been released over the last year will be blended in with regular traffic… Which hopefully means no more, “I’m driving around the city and the same car is everywhere.”

IMG_0672There’s bark on the trees, needles on the cacti, leaves on the bushes, and dust on the wind. There are dolphins, killer whales, hammerhead sharks, and more swimming in the HUGE underwater portions of the map. There’s a new hatchet weapon as well as a new Railgun that causes thins to explode instantly if you can hit your target. There’s also a hundred-odd hours of music and original radio station chatter included… Which is alone one of the best ways to make GTA seem fresh: Change the damn music. Nothing gets more repetitive than the same songs over and over.

Rockstar has added a whole new level of detail to an already breathtaking game. When you’re driving on the back roads of San Andreas, and the sun dips below the horizon, lens flare shoots across the screen while lightning flashes in the distance, and soon only the car’s headlights are visible as rain pelts off the hood and fills puddles on the ground… For fans like me, this is a no-brainer. Grand Theft Auto V was the first game of a new generation, despite being constrained by the limitations of the last-gen consoles… Now, a year later, it’s finally here.

The last year has been warm-up. Spring training. I’ve spent hundreds, HUNDREDS, of hours playing GTA V… And now it’s time for the big game… Training wheels off… And many, many other sports analogies. If it isn’t clear, I love Grand Theft Auto. The freedom, the driving, the flying, the heart-skips-a-beat gunfights, everything. It has everything a video game about criminals in a fiction Los Angeles should have… Except for surfing. I’ll never understand why a game as researched and as developed as GTA V left out one of the essential elements of L.A. life: surfing. The ocean looks amazing on PS4, and I still can’t grab a board and hang ten.

But I can toss a brick of C4 on a surfboard and blow it out into the ocean. Or I can push a donut-shaped float out into the surf with the characters’ legs… Choices, choices…

 

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Infinite

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“There’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city.” – Elizabeth Comstock, Bioshock: Infinite

It’s like a dream. No sense of time, no sense of how I got here, or what’s going on… But alas I find myself in a dinghy off the coast of Maine, accompanied by the strangest pair of siblings I’ve ever met. Stormy seas churn the water around the small boat while my two companions chatter away about things I don’t understand. Up ahead, the turning beam of an island lighthouse pierces the darkened sky. The brother keeps rowing while she hands me a small box, smiling. There is something about these two, a glow about them, as if they had their own source of light.

As she hands me the box, she states matter-of-factly, “bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” Inside the box I find a dusty old photo marked Elizabeth, a silver key with a cage on it, a few pamphlets and pieces of paper… and of course, a gun.

Where I come from, there’s always a gun.

IMG_0553The year is 1912, and I’m standing in the pouring rain, trying not to capsize the damn boat while I climb a ladder to the dock above. The chattering twins wave goodbye, resuming their nonsensical arguing over particle physics and quantum mechanics, and I begin to wonder if the things they’re saying aren’t, in fact, somehow important… Somehow vital… Like clues to a puzzle I haven’t seen…

I make my way to the roof of the lighthouse, but only a large glass door greets me, barring passage to the inner chamber. On the outside of the door are symbols I remember from somewhere, but I can’t seem to place them… Until suddenly it dawns on me, and I pull out the photo and turn it over. Drawn on the back are the same symbols, with hash marks next to them. I figure what the hell right? And I hit the symbols in time, each one sending out an organ-like sound into the dark grey clouds above… Each symbol a different note… Then I wait, but not for long.

Note and LighthosueBehind me, above me, all around me, sound waves shake the foundation of the island as thundering blasts from some unseen horn seem to come from heaven itself. Deep red lights burst through the clouds with each thundering blast, shaking the glass panels around the top of the lighthouse. For a minute or two the music from the lighthouse and the music from the clouds seem to talk to each other, holding some kind of deafening tonal conversation…

Then, just like that, it’s over.

The doors open behind me, and I find a dubious looking chair has swung up from the floor. With nowhere else to go, I sit down. “Prepare yourself pilgrim, the bindings are for your protection.” A woman’s voice tells me as the doors clamp shut, an alarm blares, shackles spring out of the chair around my ankles and wrists, and all I can think of is what a fool I am for walking right into this obvious trap. I’m gripped with the realization that no one is going to pay my gambling debts, no one is going to offer me a way out. This is it. The Pinkertons have set up some elaborate trap for their number one most wanted ex-employee, and I stepped right into it. originalMy name is Booker DeWitt, shamed at Wounded Knee, the horrors of war, and the depths of the bottle. I gambled my way into the worst kind of debt, and now I’m going to die in some kind of electricity-chair trap. I close my eyes, drop the box, waiting for the end…

But then the building starts to shake… Like an earthquake I feel the lighthouse begin to sway in the black stormy sky. There’s a rumbling underneath me like a million fires, and for a second I think the lighthouse is collapsing as I open my eyes to see it begin to fall away through a small hole in the door. I stare at that tiny black hole, covered in the dark of the storm clouds, until suddenly a shaft of light blinds me. It’s not until then I realize I wasn’t falling at all, but flying. The rumbling was not the lighthouse collapsing, but some kind of engine beneath me.

Not a trap, but a flying machine, taking me high into a perpetually cloudy sky. The woman’s voice counts off the altitude as I rocket up past fifteen thousand feet, and the engines cut out. I brace myself for the fall, feeling my stomach drop, but it doesn’t come. Instead I glide down slowly toward the tops of the billowing white clouds, only to see gleaming white towers of brick, mortar, and stone.

IMG_0544This is Columbia, the mysterious city in the clouds that disappeared decades ago after its tyrannical religious leader, the “Prophet” Zachary Comstock, declared it the truer ideal of America and seceded from the Union… And the setting for Irrational Games’ 2013 blockbuster Bioshock: Infinite. A city that has shrugged off the shackles of modern American life for a utopia in the Clouds. Governed by the Prophet and his vast army of soldiers and mechanical monstrosities. Columbia is an ever-growing Eden in the sky. The last bastion of true American ideals as the world below descends into the chaos of the 20th century.

The_Flying_City_of_ColumbiaHeld up by quantum particles suspended in space (and time), a technology developed by the city’s brilliant scientist and co-founder Rosalind Lutece, Columbia is an awesome sight. Whole city blocks, squares, museums, theme-parks, even a floating beachfront all hang gracefully in the sun-lit afternoon, linked by a vast network of rails and gondolas that carry people and freight from one place to another. Columbia is breathtaking. A steampunk masterpiece of lush gardens, fairs, carnivals, and houses. Imagined by Comstock, funded by the US government, and held in place by Lutece’s quantum-levitation machines, Columbia was completed in 1893. Originally presented as a floating Worlds Fair, the enormous city circled the globe for years touting the supremacy of the United States of America… Before Comstock’s true vision of a modern-day Ark came to fruition…

IMG_0542The world of Columbia is one of the most original places I’ve ever explored, and when I say explored I mean ran through frantically while dogging bullets and mechanical soldiers sporting Gatling guns. From its floating city streets to its flying ships; from “super-powers” known as vigors that enable you shred through waves of oncoming soldiers to phonographs that scratch out a ragtime version of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World… This place is never quite as it seems.

Thanks to 2K and Irrational Games, Infinite (the third game in the Bioshock series) gives us one of the more imaginatively realized settings in video game history. A flying city where experimentation into quantum physics has allowed the upper crust to thrive amongst the technological marvels brought through from other dimensions and other times (getting the Tears For Fears song now?). A place where on the surface everything gleams of peaceful utopia… But just below the cobblestone streets and the green gardens lies a horrible truth… This American Utopia only exists if your skin color is white… A fact that snuck up on me during the first few minutes of the game when I found myself caught up in Secession  Day festivities that included an old-fashioned, all-American stoning of a bi-racial couple. Heavy topics like racism, slavery, inequality, and quantum string theory aren’t usually present in your average blockbuster adventure game. 

IMG_0550Nevertheless, Bioshock Infinite still manages to be one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to play through.

A mission to save a girl soon turns into a fight to save the known universe as inter-dimensional travel and catastrophic powers threaten to rip apart the very fabric of time and space… And only one man, tortured by guilt for deeds he can’t remember and a past he can’t seem to escape, is the only hope for the future of mankind. With Elizabeth, in tow, Booker must battle the forces of The Prophet as a brutal civil war rages across Columbia. When she’s not tearing holes in between dimensions or fishing ammo out of thin air, Elizabeth is an entirely sympathetic character that exceptionally contrasts Booker’s anti-hero status.

Bioshock: Infinite is available on PS3, XBox 360, and PC. It’s even available for free for Playstation Plus subscribers, which is how I laid hands on this instant classic. Despite never making it far into either of the first two Bioshock games, Infinite got its hooks in deep from the first few minutes. Blending elements of sci-fi, mystery, steampunk, and fantasy together, this game’s plot is one of the better thought-out stories in recent gaming history… IMG_0546With a twist that will have you mulling over the implications for days, and an ending that will send you straight to the internet to find out what the hell just happened, it’s no wonder Infinite was voted third best game of 2013 behind Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us.

In fact, the only complaint I have about an otherwise immaculate game, believe it or not, is the insanely graphic and over the top violence. Normally I wouldn’t have an issue, but in this beautiful world of gorgeous backgrounds and suspenseful storytelling, it’s out of place. So much so that it detracts from the game itself. Yes it’s a video game, but do we really need to see Booker shoving his grappling hook spinning hand-thingy into bloody face after bloody face? 

I suppose it’s on purpose. A contrast. Something to show the hypocrisy and the brutal truths of Columbia in their own light… But as much as Elizabeth looks like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, it’s hard to turn around and pop a guy’s face off when she’s watching. It makes the violence more real and yet sterile and detached at the same time. Oh well… I don’t mind, but Infinite is something I’d love to show my son more than the first few minutes of. Irrational is limiting itself by succumbing to the bloodlust of its hardcore fans. Why not every once and awhile make a game where the evisceration of your enemy isn’t the hook to get people to buy it…?

Oh well, for a game that I downloaded because it was free and played because I remembered hearing it was great, I can’t believe I almost missed this gem. Most movies don’t get a plot this realized… Even if it starts to get a little dodgy at the end due to all of the multiple universes and time travel and what not… It’s still one of those rare games that manages to expertly use pacing, acting, setting, and storytelling to evoke real emotion. I found myself at the end of the game, knowing that my next button click would reveal the final twist and end the game, and I couldn’t do it. I found myself in the strange position of saying goodbye to a character in a video game… Because after everything we’d been through together, it just somehow seemed right.

Guess I should go back and play Bioshock I and II now…

IMG_0541Highest recommendations.

Mass Effect Trilogy Vol 1

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Bioware‘s massive science fiction franchise Mass Effect has been a favorite of fans for half a decade. If you like epic storytelling, ass-kicking heroes, and an open-world galaxy to explore, Mass Effect should be your next play. Spanning 3 hit games, a graphic novel series, a handful of books, and many more, Mass Effect is modern sci-fi entertainment at its best.

MEAliensIn the future, humans will live among the stars as newcomers to the galactic melting-pot. A well-established society of aliens living amongst themselves exists out there, and we’re just the latest, hot-shot kids to the table. That means we’re always getting picked on, always getting the shit jobs, always without a shred of respect from the others races of the universe. From the blue-skinned and beautiful, ancient and wise Ansari, to the religious, jellyfish-like Harnar, there are dozens, if not hundreds of intelligent species out there.

What we lack in experience, we make up for in everything else. urlOut of all the races, none seem to encapsulate the full range of knowledge, wisdom, experience, emotion, drive, self-reliance, like us humans. So this makes us simultaneously the butt of all jokes and the object of all desire. Ironic right?

It was mankind’s settlement on Mars that finally kick-started interstellar spaceflight and propelled us into the galactic community in 2148. When scientists begin poking around the planet’s south pole they find a long-abandoned alien outpost buried underground… Proof that we are not alone in the universe. Mankind’s identity is shaken to the core. Religions fall, tensions ease, and peace begins to take shape after centuries of strife. Technology from the alien outpost is adapted and it isn’t long before another, even more important discovery is made. Charon, the frozen moon of Pluto, is actually an ancient alien space station known as a mass relay… tumblr_lz5ggqUxui1qee5lgo1_1280A giant slingshot. Believed to be built 50,000 years before by the ancient and powerful Prothean civilization, with the help of the relays mankind begins to explore the galaxy. The Systems Alliance Charter is signed by the 18 largest nations on Earth, and for once humanity starts acting like a single species instead of squabbling children.

Soon colonies begin springing up, the first in the Arcturus system, where the massive Alliance Fleet is built, then later at Terra Nova and Eden Prime. Aided by the Alliance Military, mankind settles into the galaxy, still unaware of the bustling universe of alien life around them. MassEffect_2008-08-13_12-37-22-09Until scientists at Shanxi begin an attempt to restart a dormant mass effect relay, and are attacked by an unknown force. Unbeknownst to us, activating dormant mass effect relays is a strict no-no. What bumbling children mankind is, throwing their ego around wherever they go, assuming they are the wild west inheritors of the galaxy. The incident at Shanxi ignited what is now known as the First Contact War. 

All in all it was a big misunderstanding. Isn’t it usually? Citadel_Council-Turian_council_memberA Turian patrol came across an unknown life form (us) trying to jump start a gate that led to a sealed-off section of space inhabited by an extremely dangerous species known as the Rachni… The Turians had no idea who we were, they just saw some life form breaking galactic law so they killed it. We fought back, they fought back, we fought back harder, escalation, escalation, then “Woops! Sorry!”

Humanity stumbles onto the galactic stage as the shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of irritant we’d normally shrug off. First impressions aren’t always the best.

It is 2157, and Shepard is 3 years old.

UP NEXT: The Citadel

What’s millions of years old, maintained by a race of little green guys, and perfect for the propagation of sentient life in the galaxy? The best damn space station ever built, that’s what.

Welcome to the Citadel.

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Mass Effect I, II, and III are available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC

Toomb’s Tomb Raider Review

286142-blackangelMaking a new Lara Croft game is a tricky proposition. A franchise that has spawned countless games, 2 Angelina Jolie-starring movies, and inspired one of the best been-caught-masturbating scenes ever filmed (Grandma’s Boy). So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider-reboot, simply titled Tomb Raider, was announced a few years ago, everyone’s reaction was pretty much the same: “Well of course they are.”

Don’t you love it when you get proven wrong?

2446979-tombraider_2013_03_05_22_24_38_600Holy shit this is one of the best games you can get for any console ever! They hit it out of the park on this one ladies and germs, cause Lara Croft is back in a(nother) origin story that is filled with edge-of-your seat action, palm-sweating-climbing, and so much more. Tomb Raider also comes with the highly coveted “my wife played straight through in a couple days” seal of approval that only comes along maybe once a year. I knew from the moment I first rented it that it was one of those special efforts that transcends the typical “awesome game” experience. In fact I had to return the rental and go trade in some old games so I could own a copy. It’s good enough to go in this broke guy’s keepers collection.

Lara Croft is the most famous heroine in modern fiction. She’s sexy, she’s independent, and she kicks ass in a pony-tail. In Tomb Raider, we find out how she becomes that way. Her character crosses platforms, media, and pretty much picked up where Indiana Jones left off on, and where only Nathan Drake has been able to continue. I mention Drake on purpose here, because it’s so obvious that Square Enix drew heavily on the EXTREMELY successful Uncharted series for their latest reboot. uncharted-2-among-thieves-1902Uncharted and its sequels are hands-down the most fun you’ll have outside a Rockstar Game. They are not video games per se, they are playable action movies. If you’ve never played Uncharted and you’re a gamer, you need to take a look at your priorities… Uncharted 2 is in my top 5 favorite games of all time (a list that, should it expand at all, will undoubtedly include Tomb Raider).

The reason Uncharted works so well, and also why Tomb Raider works even better, is because of the cut scenes. There aren’t any. With traditional “cut scenes” you’ll play a level, then it will cut to a mini-movie that moves the plot forward (if your lucky enough to have a game with a plot) before you play the next level. Rinse, repeat… It’s boring and monotonous and makes most games sub-par. Cut scenes can ruin a game (Dead Island) or, if done right, can truly elevate a game to a different level of entertainment.

lara-7Like Uncharted, and now Tomb Raider, time and effort were put into the story, the voice-acting, the motion-capture animation, and the way they all work together. The result is truly astonishing. Cut scenes stop being just that and become seamlessly integrated into the game. Video games are always STOP-GO-STOP-GO because of cut scenes and I think they break up the action and take away from the immersion. In Tomb Raider, right from the start you’re shot out of a cannon and the action never slows down.

Camilla Luddington has stepped into Lara Croft’s climbing boots, and with the use of some remarkable motion-capture CGI, the new Lara is an unforgettable character. From the first scene where she is shipwrecked, hit over the head, and hung from the ceiling in a scary cave, you empathize for her. When she falls and is impaled (albeit slightly), you feel the shock… Tomb-Raider_2013-1When she scrambles under collapsing rocks in a cave-in, you scramble too, mashing buttons to get away as a scary bad-guy tries to grab her legs, you break out in a sweat… When she jumps across a mind-numbingly-high chasm to barely grasp the opposite ledge, you hold your breath… Any flaws this game might have are so overshadowed by the brilliance of the M-rated action that they don’t even register. Tiny things like handling (Lara has a tendency to NOT turn around and grab the nearest ledge, resulting in more than a few accidental falls) and frame rate issues become insignificant with all this beautiful game going on.

Plainly said, this is what a video game should be… Mystery, suspense, action, vertigo-inspiring climbing, immaculate graphics, hidden treasures, and the best part? It’s open-world for the most part. Once the main story line is over, you’re free to explore the island… Where plenty of side-missions, hidden booty, and of course, tombs to be raided.

“It hate tombs.” Lara says after emerging from the first one. I’ll try not to get offended.

tomb-raider-2013Lara is 21 years old in this prequel. Fresh out of college with a sound theory on the ancient Japanese legend of Yamatai, a forbidden island reminiscent of Lost meets Apocalypse Now. When she and her friends are shipwrecked on the island, it’s up to Lara to learn how to survive in the jungles, caves, mountains, and shanty towns of the island. At the beginning of the game she is a normal girl, in an extraordinary situation, where she must adapt, overcome, and yes, kill in order to survive and save her friends. When Lara has to kill for the first time it is brutal, intimate, and disturbing. On the other hand, because it is still a video game filled with bad guys, within minutes Lara becomes a cold-blooded arrow-shooting assassin telling her mentor, “I had to kill a man.” “Lara, that couldn’t have been easy,’ He responds.

“It’s scary how easy it was…” replies Lara.LaraBloodyGoodTime

You climb to the highest peaks, and zip-line to the deepest caverns, you sneak-attack with arrows or you’re caught in a full-on firefight with the homicidal cultists on the island. Nothing like a homicidal cult to ruin your expedition eh?

Go out and rent or buy this game right now. You won’t regret it. The graphics, the story, the acting, the gameplay, they’re all nearly perfect. Tomb Raider is available on all platforms, PS3, Xbox, PC, and it boasts a fairly-fun multiplayer as well. It’s guaranteed a great time!Tomb-Raider_Screenshots-12-3-9

Crysis 3 Tries Really Hard to Take the First-Person Shooter to the Next Level

iRhD5QPRZfw0LI rented Crysis 3 from my local Redbox on a whim. I’d never played either of the first two, in fact I didn’t even know it was a first-person shooter when I got it. With the miracle of modern technology I was able to yank up my Google app and look at some reviews from IGN while I was standing there contemplating getting it, and man am I glad I did. By the time I was finished with Crysis 3‘s main storyline I was sad I had to return the game. I could have played it over, and lately that seems to be the gauge for a good game.

crysis3dammap1First of all, it’s a visually stunning experience. Using the new CryEngine 3 it manages to pack more awesome particles on the screen than any game I’ve seen recently, and that was just on the PS3… I can only dream of how it looks on the PC with the settings turned up. What it really adds up to is very cool looking grass and water effects. I found myself being distracted by the environment MANY times throughout the short storyline, leading me off on little side adventures… Nothing as cool as Tomb Raider, but that’s another review. All in all Crysis 3 is a very well acted, written, and produced game. It almost felt like I was playing something next-generation. Along with a Call of Duty-caliber multiplayer on top, EA’s latest release is a good step in the right direction for this kind of game.

Crysis 3 takes place in the near future, when super soldiers wear special nanosuits made from stolen alien technology. crysis22011032311210878The suits enhance their abilities and let you jump higher, run faster, and best of all: turn invisible! The extremely complicated plot involves a mega-corporation that controls all of the energy on the planet. I don’t want to say too much but they get it from a source they shouldn’t be messing with, so it’s up to you, Prophet, the ultimate super-soldier, to stop them. The game is mostly an open-world experience, where exploring every nook and cranny will net you rewards. The weapons are fairly standard, except when you pick up an alien gun… But even then they’re nothing to write home about. The real fun comes from using the new bow and arrow. You get different tips on them for different situations, and it’s extremely satisfying to put an arrow through an unsuspecting bad guy’s head.

Unfortunately Crysis 3 has some glaring downfalls that really distract from the experience. One is the length, this is the shortest story mode I’ve played. They’ve trimmed off all the fat and made it a straight-forward break in and save the world plot. crysis-3-review-fpsI wouldn’t have minded so much, but it was such a great story, with some top-notch voice acting. Secondly, the use of the cloaking device is not nearly as good as it should be.  Before too long I found myself repeating the same situation over and over, I’d get to a new area, sneak around and arrow a guy or two until their buddies catch on that someone is there and start lobbing grenades everywhere. Then I’d hide until they calmed down and go around trying to take each one out. Then I’d move on to the next area. It wasn’t until the middle of the game when all hell breaks loose that it got really interesting. Then by the time I got around to enjoying the story and the game play it was all over.

Crysis-3-Explosions-Beneath-the-Liberty-DomeWhen I think about it now, Crysis 3 is more of an action movie than a video game It doesn’t feel immersive and it never stops reminding you that you’re playing a video game. You drop in, blast your way through what’s left of New York, watch a lot of well acted cut scenes, and then an extremely satisfying and rousing ending… Then it’s over and you’re left wanting more. I don’t know if it’s because I had rented it and was pressed for time, or if it simply seemed too short, but when I was done it felt like I’d just played the last half of a really cool, epic sci-fi shooter.

It’s a good rent, but other than the arena-style multiplayer, the outstanding graphics, and the above-average voice acting and storyline all add up to something that is less than the sum of its parts. Crysis 3 is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Dead Space 3 Proves There’s Still Plenty of Life Left in Sci-Fi

Isaac_DS3Let me tell you a quick story. While it may be one you’ve heard before, I won’t keep you long…

Not long ago, Isaac Clarke was just a clever engineer on a rescue mission to save his girlfriend. This is in the future, after the human race almost caused its own extinction by using every resource it could get its hands on. This is after the Concordance Extraction Corporation (or CEC) unveils the colossal USG Ishimura, the ship that became a symbol of mankind’s endurance and will to survive. Not only was it the biggest ship ever built, but the first “planet-cracker” as well, using gravity tethers to pop giant chunks of rock from the crust of lifeless planets. CEC, and the Ishimura were almost solely responsible for bringing humanity back from the edge of extinction and jump-starting space expansion.

Deadspace_CrackedNearly a century later, our hero’s scientist girlfriend Ellie is stationed in the Ishimura‘s medical research wing when it is dispatched to CEC’s not-so-legal mining colony on Aegis IV. You see in the 26th century, the dominant religion is Unitology… A faith based on the belief that mankind was created by an alien race through the power of an all-power object known as “the marker.” This isn’t one of those flower-holding religions where you’re accosted in the airport, this is the “death is only the beginning” kind where followers adamantly believe they will be reunited with their alien architects after death and their leaders ascend to the highest levels of military, business, and government.

Dead_Space_Vs__Alienware_by_DarkCrash100The Ishimura is sent to Aegis IV to retrieve “the red marker,’ an alien object which is believed to be a holy object and the source of life in the universe… However not long after the marker is discovered, the colonists start to suffer from hallucinations, outbreaks of irrational behavior, and violence. Once the Ishimura arrives at the planet and the marker is brought up from the surface, all hell breaks loose, and all communications are lost.

Unitology_010With religious zealots scheming to bring about the “evolution” of mankind, greedy corporations who are only after what they can exploit, and a REALLY gross alien virus that reanimates dead tissue and turns your dearly departed into twisted monsters called Necromorphs… It’s up to you to help Isaac Clarke and his suspiciously gun-like engineering tools to save the universe.

Dead_Space_3_Ice_Demo_01Welcome to Dead Space… Welcome to science fiction horror gaming at it’s best… Welcome to a silent universe, where new planets are always lifeless, and where only the scuffling of razor-sharp claws in the ventilation ducts is there to keep you glued to your controller at 1:45 in the morning. I’m talking NASTY critters here, the kind your girlfriend is going to hate this game for. The kind that have to have their arms and legs blown off to really slow them down at all. The kind that send you screaming into controller-throwing frenzies when the limbless corpse of your digital hero goes tumbling through a darkened corridor for the fifth time in a row.

This is also really fun.

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I haven’t finished Dead Space 3 yet, EA‘s latest installment in the blockbuster, multi-platform franchise released last week on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, but that’s because I’m deliberately going slow. Normally I cruise through Dead Space games, including the original, the sequel, the spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, and even the two animated movies (available on Netflix). I eat it up like chocolate, pulse pounding and palms sweating… But I always end up completing these games too fast… And while my first inclination is to run through these horribly scary environments as fast as I can, I’ve made the right choice. Visceral Games has given us something worth taking our time.

dead-space-3-ice-planetThere are enough reviews of Dead Space 3 out there right now, so I won’t go into too much detail, suffice it to say that the game has its faults… But you barely notice them. One of the biggest complaints for this iteration is the action-heavy theme this time around. Making Isaac more maneuverable, able to duck and roll and climb ladders, the significant jump in ammo count, but these aren’t just thrown in… I was never happy with the Resident Evil-style slow-walking Isaac from the first game, with his stiff movements and unconventional weaponry. These “changes” feel more like fixes to me, but that’s just my opinion. They haven’t turned Dead Space into Mass Effect… This game is straight up terrifying… And I like horror. I live for the thrill, the jump, the yelp. Dead Space takes it to a whole new level. See, one thing other reviewers are missing is the bigger picture here… And I think it’s because a lot of reviewers have a quota. dead-space-3-pc-1343203492-020They have to rush through and finish 3 or 4 times to test out what most consumers can take weeks, even months to savor… And that’s when I realize that Dead Space, while action-packed this time around, is meant to be savored.

It’s a feast for the senses. A gruesome, suspenseful, and epic sci-fi adventure that takes Isaac and his crew across the galaxy chasing the origins of the marker conspiracy. It looks bright and colorful on my LCD, and nearly flawless on the plasma screen. The crowded corridors and giant machinery of the environments are all accented by the scariest soundtrack I have ever heard in my life. Seriously, turn up the levels on your surround speakers a little and it practically drops you into the game. Noises like creaking ducts, slamming doors, awesome weapons, and all manner of beeps, blips, and alarms fill the scene… But it’s the whispers that truly freak me out. Dead-Space-3-PS3-610x400One of the main aspects of the plot is how the marker gets into people’s’ minds and seeps poison that drives them to insanity and murder. These whispers make you want to turn the game down, it’s that creepy.

I want to stress how visually stunning this game is. It’s easy to forget the graphics in a horror game where everything is dark and gory with disturbing monsters jumping out of nearby air ducts to surprise you as you walk down a seemingly safe passageway… But in Dead Space 3 there is a moment in the first few chapters, when Isaac must use his engineering smarts to fix up a 200-year-old space ship from a floating junkyard in orbit… This is genius level designing… Various half-wrecked hulks and abandoned space stations all connected by a handy little taxi system that lets you explore a staggering amount of free-roaming space… And the best part? It’s all in zero-gravity.

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When Isaac emerges from the taxi to see the ancient spaceship graveyard for the first time, standing on a flimsy metal platform that overlooks the never-ending debris field that orbits a mysterious and stunningly rendered planet… It’s nothing less than poetry. It’s a special kind of magic that only video games can give you, and that’s when you forget you’re playing a game. It’s when you’re transported into the screen. Isaac and EllieWhen you’re actually standing on that flimsy metal platform, with the abyss of space before you. You can feel that first step off the platform…  The vertigo is real… The suspense is maddening. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of pop art that deserves more praise and analysis than I can give. With an intricate plot, professional acting, outstanding graphics, intense gameplay… However it ends I know it’ll leave me wanting more. This is Dead Space.