REVIEW: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Based off the old Chinese tale "Journey to the West"Enslaved: Odyssey to the West follows a man known as Monkey and woman named Trip on their journey home to freedom.  Taking place 150 years into the future, Earth has been all but decimated by global warfare with plant-life flourishing over once magnificent buildings and robots(or "mechs") killing any surviving humans not already captured into slavery by "Pyramid".  Breaking free from one of the slave ships deployed by Pyramid, Monkey finds himself under the control of fellow escapee Tripitaka (more commonly referred to as Trip) after she hacks one of the slave headbands used by Pyramid to respond to her commands and become lethal if her heart stops beating.  Angry at first, Monkey realizes he has no choice but to aid the young woman back to her home and that he really has nowhere better to go anyways.  Upon finding out what has happened to her home, Trip refuses to let Monkey go as she had promised until he helps her take on Pyramid head-on, an endeavor that requires the help of a sleazy scrap merchant and friend of the family named Pigsy.  With Pigsy's help, Trip and Monkey have the best chance anyone has ever had against the slavers and take the fight right to the source where they learn of the true intentions and origins of Pyramid.

Ninja Theory aren't strangers to creating personality in their characters and the work they did here is especially satisfying to watch when you realize that these things on the screen aren't real people.  Each character (of which really there are only three) has a very specific swagger to their movement that articulates their individuality and personalities sublimely, giving an especially dynamic feel from the very deliberate and static movements of their robotic opposing counterparts.  The voice acting is some of the best I've heard in awhile and by the end I think it would be hard to separate the characters from their voice actors. Monkey with a strong, almost Brooklyn-like accent hits every note with good intention whether the scene calls for anger, sarcasm or humor and when paired up opposite Pigsy, with the voice and mannerisms of a sleazy used-car salesman, there is a real nice exchange of dialogue and dynamic range that aids to bring both characters to an eerily life-like quality.  At first glance, the differences between Trip and Nariko(from Ninja Theory's last game Heavenly Sword) seem few to none but really come to the surface as soon as we hear her fragile yet tough tone and learn more about her.  It would be fair to assume that what I noticed out of Trip would pale in comparison to that of a female audience as it is hard for me to really relate to a lot of the little undertones in the same way I did with the other two characters, but this is in no way to say that her performance should not be heralded as an exemplary example of building a strong, sexy and charismatic female character without the need to simply over-sexualize her.  Sure, it is abundantly clear at some points that Trip was still a product of a video game created by men for men but overall the writing and strong characterization of her personality was enough to take control and save her from being another stereotypical flesh-bag included as simply something to stare at for a few hours.  What is interesting is that although only three characters are featured in the entirety of the game, I feel the addition of any others would have been detrimental to the perfect feeling of loneliness and how strong a bond is created both between and for the characters.

Seeing early screenshots is what really got me hyped up for this game.  In a bitter haze of grey and brown tinted images of what many other developers have decided would be the look of the post-apocalypse world, Enslaved was like a light in the darkness with the vision that the world after humanity would be beautiful.  Once trounced by people of the world and outright destroyed, Mother Nature reclaims what was once hers by covering the rubbles of an old memory destroyed in the great war, adding color and vitality to an otherwise barren and depressing scene. While admittedly not an extraordinary trek around the world in terms of diverse location, there is something awe-inspiring about seeing things like a destroyed theater with vegetation creeping in every corner or riding on a disc (known as a "Cloud") across lakes of motor-oil and chemicals in the graveyard of a mech factory.  I've always thought that the mark of a good environment is being non-intrusive to the overall game play experience mixed with an ambient quality to enhance the mood presented by story and in this respect Enslaved is a masterpiece as not only is it non-intrusive but is game enhancing and more than ambient paints a world and future that is almost tangible.

First glance would lead one to believe that Ninja Theory are one-trick ponies when it comes to game play experience and that Enslaved would be very similar to Heavenly Sword.  Thankfully this is not the case as Enslaved takes a more tactical approach to the action-adventure genre where deceit is more valuable than strength and speed in a fight and traversing a world is more important than simply platforming.  The game play mechanics focus on splitting Monkey and Trip into two separate entities with different skill-sets to successfully help each other reach their goals.  Monkey is strong with combat experience and can climb pretty much anything with a ledge while Trip focuses on technological achievements to stun and confuse enemies, providing distractions Monkey is able to capitalize on.  With this formula in mind, much of the game can be broken down into Trip using her dragonfly to scout an area, Monkey crossing the area eliminating any immediate threats and Monkey reaching the end of the area to activate something to help Trip follow along.  There is some deviation from this however, specifically in the late third, and some exciting set-pieces sprinkled in here and there to keep the player on their toes.  For how little emphasis there really is on combat there are some really smooth and responsive controls.  Basic conventions of hack-'N-slash game style makes it easy to pick up with unlocked combos and moves that are challenging to master but provide a great sense of accomplishment and flow to combat. 

Enslaved has had an impressive pedigree behind in; with Ninja Theory working on game development, Andy Serkis("Gollum" from The Lord of the Rings) directing the cinematics and providing motion capture for Monkey and Alex Garland (writer of The Beach and Sunshine ) writing the story there was little chance that this game would be anything short of good.  If there is any negative to say about Enslaved, it would be that it suffers from a lack of replay value (for me at least) which is a common problem for story based single-player games and while I don't have any suggestions to fix it, the initial journey makes up for any real need to see it again with just how well-crafted it is.  Ninja Theory is fast becoming one of the best development studios for their games and I feel completely renewed in my faith that they will be around for a long time, making some amazing products in the future.

Enslaved: Odyessey to the West is a journey that everyone should take and stands out as one of the year's best for anyone interested in good writing and character/level design.  A lack of re-playability makes it the perfect weekend rental but a purchase is far from wasted as well.  A Must Play! 

RATING: 9/10


Fanboys May Cry...

… but I kind of like the direction taken by Ninja Theory for the new Devil May Cry.  Yes, Dante has a new look that is almost a complete 180-degree turn on what we know and feels like he could be a lead singer for AFI but where are all these misplaced comparisons and disgust coming from?   Seriously, I am not a fan of Twilight but this is in no way even closely similar in style; since when do well-dressed, clean-cut faggy vampires share similarities with a clinically insane scenester half-breed demon hunter?

As a final note on the subject, sorry Hideki Kamiya but where do you get off ridiculing another developer’s vision?  Yes, you’ve done some very good things with games, created an iconic character and while you may be disappointed there is no excuse for being a dismissive asshole about it.  Nothing has been said that this will be the new direction of all DMC games; in fact quite the opposite as Capcom themselves have gone on record stating that this is a new universe with the same premise and name and will not be even considered canon.  It makes me sick to see such division in an industry that should be promoting a unity in both the creators and players over something so petty.

Ninja Theory is fast becoming one of the studios I wait anxiously for announcements from.  They may only have two games (with the third coming out in less than a month) to their name but it is hard to deny just how good their games look.  Kung Fu Chaos was great fun for what it was, Heavenly Sword was the first game I truly felt had a “next generation” feel to it and Enslaved has beautiful environments and animation that shows just how much attention was paid to detail.  Devil May Cry looks to be no different, except it may finally bridge the gap between the “gamey” look all the others have been cursed with to something more cinematic and I am all for that.  It is naive to think that a new look will change everything the true fans loved about the series for the worst, but the internet will be the internet and breed all kinds of hate on something that doesn’t matter either way.

All in all, I suppose this was just a long-winded rant but the bottom line is this game looks fantastic so far and, personally, I am really excited to see more information as it comes. 


Dumpster Diving: Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit

We all see them, the bins full of games forgotten, used or too terrible to be paid full price for littering the aisles of game stores.  Although they tend to bring a crowd, little other than the sports titles of years passed can be found that are recognizable to many people.  As an experiment, I have decided to purchase a game a week and do a brief write-up of my findings.  Check back every Monday as I attempt to find a lump of gold in a pile of shit. 


Year Released:  2008

Price Paid:  $2.99

Time Spent/Completion:  3.5 hours, unlocked everything

Expected Rating:  3/10

Overall Rating:  4/10

Value For Price:  B


I don’t know a lot about the universe, so I had a friend who is a big fan play with me and give me insight as to how true it was to the source.  Aside from some liberties taken with the chronological order of the fights involved in each saga, I am to understand that there is a rough symmetry to the animated series with the characters and story. Of course, if you are looking for a story-based game this is definitely not it;  I couldn’t follow what the hell was happening half the time with the characters or their motivations.  This being said, the game has neat fighting mechanics, beautiful HD animated scenes and characters and a smooth flow of movement.  Some work could have been done to better the experience and give some sort of replay value but if you are a fan of fighting games, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal than this at this price.

REVIEW: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

A few years after the events in the first game, we find Lynch living in Shanghai with his girlfriend Xiu, who he actually has feelings for.  Getting by doing small jobs for a gangster known as Mr. Glazer, Lynch jumps at an arms deal that becomes available and calls in his old “friend” Kane to help out and make a few bucks.  As expected things get completely fucked up and we once again find Lynch (and Kane) as the prime targets for rival gangs, police and anyone in between.

I had high hopes for this game and am happy to report I wasn’t let down… completely anyways.  Playing through Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, one of the few things I was hoping that would be carried over if they made a sequel was the crazy set pieces that turned a rather bland third-person shooter into a crazy crime-based action movie and while this was kind of accomplished (largely due to the visual style) I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was getting a watered-down version of what should have been a sequel.  I can count on one hand the number of parts I truly felt were pushed to a somewhat exciting limit with every other time stuck somewhere between “meh” and mediocrity, which for a game half as long as what is considered short by today’s standards is a death sentence.  No word of a lie, in the time it takes someone to go to work and come home, I could have finished this game twice in a row on a medium-hard difficulty with maybe two parts (if any) that would take over 30 minutes.  In an age where video games are a generally a minimum of $60.00 new, being able to complete a game in a day or weekend is inexcusable.

Although we played through Kane’s story in the first game, I had always liked Lynch more as a character.  Both are gritty, disgusting and all around terrible humans but where Kane felt more sympathetic and cliché as an anti-hero Lynch was just a psychotic asshole who heard voices and needed medication to stay somewhat normal.  Now tell me, which of those you would rather play as?  I was more than happy to take the reigns as Lynch and was somewhat surprised to see how much he had changed.  His girlfriend seems to have taken a lot of the chaos and crazy out of his life as he no longer needs medication and seems to have a genuine concern and love for her that I wouldn’t believe was possible of such a low-life.  Without spoiling anything major, this was the perfect set-up and counter-balance to the latter half of the game when, after a certain event, Lynch completely loses it and we are treated to a magnified version of the personality from Dead Men complete with the ambient grumbles and swearing until the end.

Although Kane and Lynch are the main characters, the star of the game is undoubtedly the new visual style.  A gritty game deserves a gritty look and what could be better than a flash-based handycam or cellphone camera recording everything that happens?  I cannot even imagine how hard it probably has been to develop technology to make computer animation look as crisp and clean as possible up until now, but I know how much of an effect reversing that idea has been to keep my interest.  From simple things such as blown-out colors and lights to pixelation and artifacting from explosions destroying the camera’s tiny sensor, IO Interactive did a stunning job keeping true to theme that brings what could be a generic third-person shooter into the limelight and does so with neat little enhancements throughout (like a “buffering” percent as the load screen).  What I consider the best thing about this game seems to have had a negative effect however as many reviewers have complained that the look made it hard to play the game and made them feel nauseous.  I personally didn’t have a problem with it while spending four hours straight staring at the screen but began to feel the disorienting effects a little after playing and, as a person who gets motion-sick somewhat easily, it was still mild enough that I had no issue.

This would normally be the part where I talk about how the game plays.  Honestly, if you are a newcomer to the series it will play like any other third-person shooter on the market and has a very low learning curve but I think it is those of from the first game who will be impressed.  All those annoying little nuances that Kane & Lynch: Dead Menhad are thankfully gone and incrementally increased the ease of getting into the combat.  It is by no means a new concept to be able to snap in-and-out of cover or that after dying the player probably doesn’t want to be revived only to stand straight up in the middle of gunfire and this is fortunately finally realized.  It is amazing how something so basic could make such a difference.

The multi-player in Kane & Lynch 2 is a lot like the first game; the game mode Fragile Alliance comes back along with some new things like Undercover Cop.  In what has to be my favorite online mode, Undercover Cop is Fragile Alliance with the twist that at the beginning of the round a random player is chosen as the “undercover cop” and will therefore not be tagged as a traitor for killing their teammates, which forces them to stealthily take out all the criminals before the time is up or they get away.  New to the game is the Arcade Mode which is essentially just offline multi-player with A.I. filling in where other players would be, a somewhat fun waste of time although the computer will never betray you (as opposed to players generally ALWAYS betraying you).  While being somewhat fun for the time spent with it, there is definitely not enough in either the online or offline components to keep one’s interest for longer than a few days at best.

Taken for what it is, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a decent shooter with a beautiful style unlike anything else seen on the market, however it’s lack of content and effort doom it to being a great rental or good bargain-bin purchase and little more.

Rating: 6/10


MicroView: Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light


Searching for an artifact called the Mirror of Smoke, Lara Croft accidentally leads a local warlord and his band of mercenaries to the lost item.  After foolishly playing with powers they could not comprehend, Xolotl awakens from his tomb along with Mayan warrior Totec (leader of the Army of Light and imprisoner of Xolotl), steals the mirror and runs into the ruins with it causing a whole shit-storm of problems in the path.  Blaming Lara at first for the whole situation, Totec realizes the only way to stop Xolotl before dawn is to work together.

I remember being no more than 13 years-old the first time I played a Tomb Raider game.  As an impressionable young male at the time it is no surprise what I saw in the character of Lara Croft; she was smart and tough like an 80′s action hero while simultaneously being sexy and approachable like a Playboy bunny or high-brow hooker.  This being said, I don’t remember ever liking the games very much at all as if they weren’t repetitively boring they just had very little to hold my interest story-wise at all.  There have been ups and downs in my mind with the title “Tomb Raider” with an unfortunate emphasis on the downs over the last 10 or so years and it wasn’t until Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune that I was able to break myself away from the stigmatic thinking that all treasure hunting action rpgs were tired with a predictable story-line.

This is NOT your grand-daddy’s Tomb Raider.  It becomes blatantly obvious the reason those terrible two words have been left out of title the minute the game loads up from it’s rather cliche intoductory story cinematic to an isometric viewpoint and all my preconceived notions of what I was in for began to take a 180-degree turn to something that felt familiar again, like a hug or playing Diablo 2 for the first time.  Sure the scenery is straight out of “Tomb Raiding 101″ and there is the collecting of treasure and weaponry that is common with every game in the genre, but it is amazing what can be said about good pacing in a video game.  What would usually feel like a drawn out, over-the-top excuse for taking up game-play time was sped up to have a natural flow that is easy to get lost in and there wasn’t a single point that I felt was boring.

Being a huge fan of co-operation in video games, this game struck a particularly good chord with me although getting off at the wrong foot.  Hearing that this was to be released without online multi-player until a month after gave me a sour taste in my mouth that I was sure would be the kill shot of any hope I had to have fun, but this wasn’t so.  Admittedly, online co-op would have been welcomed with arms open (and the overall score suffered with the lack of thus far) but local play was surprisingly well done.  Whether taking down giant enemies, traversing landscape otherwise impossible without help or fighting for treasure, it was nice to have another person around to enjoy the experience and a small learning curve with forgiving game-play make it easy to find anyone able to keep up with even hardcore gamers.

Only playing through once so far (since it was released only today, give me a break) it is still easy to see how much replay value is in this title and how it was an objective to make the player want to go back.  Every chapter has mini objectives that unlock a variety of things from power-ups to heavy duty weapons that are easy to miss but not hard to achieve, a true staple of inciting addictive behavior (there were, in fact, a couple of times I even found myself stopping progression of a level for a few more treasures to boost my score to one of the objective scores).  There have been some great games to come out of the Xbox LIVE’s Summer of Arcade event this year, but I don’t feel any of them come close to the replay quality that this game has and in addition to a strong end is a quality purchase, if not now definitely in a month when online support is patched in.

Without the burden of trying to pretentiously live up to a name that people for better or worse have grown up with for years, Crystal Dynamics succeeded in simply creating a nice experience for two people to have together that doesn’t involve taking any clothing off.

Rating: 7/10


The “Deadly Premonition” Conundrum by Nathaniel Rohr (Kraznor)


I cannot recall any budget title in the history of the video-game industry ever garnering the attention that Deadly Premonition has gained since its release in late February. Not only that, but the way it grew from literally nothing to one of the most hotly debated games out there is truly miraculous. Funny now, in retrospect, that the eagerly anticipated Heavy Rain was released that very same week and it has almost completely faded from my memory. The same may be said of other devoted game enthusiasts out there, I can’t be sure, but let me make this absolutely clear: I believe Deadly Premonition to be one of the defining releases in the history of the medium. It has single-handedly changed my perception of the entire industry and drawn to light hypocrisies in both game reviewers and the people that read these reviews. Don’t agree? Well, I hope you shall take the time to consider the following observations.

 View whole article here!

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II release date was announced…

…and I know I should probably be excited at the prospect this game offers, forgiving the first for the flaws I feel made it no more than an exercise in redundancy, but I just can’t do it. Maybe if not for the fact that I replayed a healthy chunk of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed recently, to get a good feel for the controls again before biting into the DLC, would I have felt the excitement I know I should clouding over my better judgement along with a healthy dose of misplaced nostalgia. The fact of the matter is there are many things to love about The Force Unleashed that are lost in the pile of shit we were given to feast on and I would be lying if I trusted things to get better (even though I hope they do). For me to truly have fun in the way I hope I can, the following issues must be addressed: 

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REVIEW: Batman: Arkham Asylum

I grew up as a fan of Batman.  There are few memories I remember with such fondness as getting the Bat-mobile on Christmas morning or coming home to watch the original Batman cartoon that my grandmother had recorded for me on VHS while I was stuck at school.  Growing up as a Batman-kid, I have been with the “world’s greatest detective” to “the caped crusader” to “the dark knight” and have loved most of the representations of such for differing reasons, however the Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth graphic novel absolutely blew me away.  Arkham has long been more of a representation of the criminally insane than a fictional building in a fictional universe, and it seems appropriate that a Batman game step back into the dark comic world that Frank Miller (The Dark Knightseries) and Alan Moore (The Killing Joke) helped create rather than follow the new Christopher Nolan trend as of recent.

View whole article here!

MicroView: Beat Hazard

Do you love music and hate your optical nerves?  Beat Hazard is a fun debut from Cold Beam Games that follows along the lines of dual-stick shooters such as Geometry Wars.  The game begin with the classic seizure warning of most games, however no game I have ever played have even come close to truly needing a warning as much as this has.   
The basic premise is that colors, enemies and even the power of your weaponry are all determined by the intensity of the music.  Naturally, being skeptical of just how well this would work after reading about it, this meant the first song I had to try was Through The Fire and Flames by Dragonforce which, as anyone who has heard the song before knows, is pretty much a relentless assault of guitar riffs to a never-ending drum beat.  I figured that if there was any song in my arsenal that would prove to be more intense than the game could accurately depict, it would be that and boy was I wrong.      
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Future: Friendly?

Remember when the image of the future included servant robots, befriending new species and exploring far beyond what we could ever imagine?  Maybe it’s just the rose-tinted glasses coming off with age but it seems that the focus of the future has gone from technological achievement to the struggle to survive complete annihilation.  Whether or not the fear of what is to come has always been around, it is painfully obvious that game design has become much more cynical in its portrayal of our future with the underlying theme of how we fucked up overtaking how we succeeded.

The following are a few of the bleakest futures we hope to never see.