Showing posts with label Playstation 3. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Playstation 3. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews Beyond: Two Souls






There are spirits all around us. Are they ghosts or demons? Malevolent or nice? What matters is not their nature, but rather how we react to their presence. In Beyond: Two Souls, Jodie's life is colored by an invisible force who never strays from her side, and we follow her down a volatile path in which her identity is constantly in flux. Those around her grapple with the existence of these entities, trying to use them to fulfill their own selfish needs with little regard for the ramifications of their actions. Jodie is the one link between the human race and the mysterious apparitions. And through the struggles that she undergoes, you examine the fragility of human nature and develop a strong bond with the beleaguered protagonists.
Aiden has been a part of Jodie's life as long as she can remember. An invisible entity, he hovers nearby, connected to Jodie although with aspirations all his own. You view the world through the eyes of both characters, switching between them with the push of a button. As Jodie, you move like a human does, inspecting items, walking through rooms, and talking to people. Your actions are restricted, giving you only a modicum of different objects and people to interact with as you're continually ushered down the story's path. Aiden has more freedom in how he traverses the world. Not bound by ordinary rules, he flies unhindered through the air, gliding through walls, flinging objects in anger, and inhabiting the bodies of oblivious people. The overarching plot is filled in by your curiosity. Communication gives you a better understanding of the people in Jodie's life, and Aiden can eavesdrop on conversations outside of Jodie's earshot.
By shifting your control between both characters, you understand each of their perspectives. Jodie is often exhausted by having this ethereal presence connected to her at all times. She's desperate to lead a typical life with healthy relationships, but feels as though Aiden prevents her from doing so. She may mutter to Aiden under her breath, urging him to stay quiet when she wants to be normal, such as when she's cooking dinner for her date. Other times, she asks for help from her companion; she wouldn't be able to corral a horse otherwise. She's kind to Aiden, but clearly resents that she doesn't have complete control over his actions. Aiden is trapped in a plane of existence that is not his own. Unable to communicate freely, he resorts to destructive behavior to get his point across. Maybe he wants to help Jodie and violence is the only path he knows, or maybe he just wants attention. The challenges both characters face are easy to relate to, helping you form a connection to them.
Choice plays a role in each of the 20 vignettes that make up the story. You decide whether Jodie responds aggressively, sarcastically, or in some other way to a question, and she can evade the truth or be honest when people ask about Aiden. Major plot points play out no matter which decisions you make, but depending on what kind of character your Jodie becomes, you find yourself in different situations. When invited to a high school party, do you flaunt your powers or shrink from them? Jodie can use Aiden to terrify those around her, but whether you take that route or present a more respectable facade is your choice. Most events take place in a vacuum. No matter how cruelly you react to others, the slate is wiped clean when the next chapter starts. This lack of permanence limits your role in constructing a story unique to you. However, there is enough flexibility in each scene to let you shape what kind of person Jodie is.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Games on the AVE: Madden NFL 25 Review

Also on PS3 and Windows PC




Since it isn't every day that a game franchise marks its silver anniversary, you expect something sublime from Madden NFL 25. This may be the most respected series in all of gaming, with a pedigree that goes back to before Ronald Reagan left the White House, so it isn't unreasonable to expect the developers at EA Tiburon to do things up right this year with something really special. They haven't. Despite the name, you get the same old story with the traditional roster update, a few tweaks to the graphics engine, new control schemes to rev you up, and a teensy bit of feature creep. Instead of closing out the current generation of consoles with a big bash, this year's Madden just plays out the string.

Madden NFL 25 still looks good, but this big anniversary isn't being properly celebrated.
Madden NFL 25 still looks good, but this big anniversary isn't being properly celebrated.


Not much distinguishes Madden NFL 25 from last year's Madden 13. The game has been refined overall, but not in enough ways to make a measurable impact on how it plays on the gridiron. With that said, the core of the game remains Sunday afternoon in a box. This is a remarkably full-featured NFL simulation where you can play, coach, and manage in just about every way possible through a range of single-player and multiplayer modes. If you have ever fantasized about what you could do with your favorite NFL team, player, or owner, chances are very good that you will be able to do it here. And if you can't do it here right out of the box, you can peruse the files available in the new Madden Share online feature, since it allows easy access to rosters and tweak files uploaded by fellow players that adjust the game in a variety of ways. Of course, the exact same comments about everything save the new sharing option could have been made about virtually every Madden game released in the last decade.
The one big feature addition is being able to play in the Connected Franchise mode as an owner. This completes the trifecta; you can now take on franchise play as a player (a made-up rookie, an existing NFLer, or a rookie version of a legend like Joe Montana or Sammy Baugh), a coach (fictional, one of the real guys wearing a headset on the sidelines this fall, or a legend such as Tom Landry or Madden himself), or an owner (also fictional or a real-life tycoon like Jerry Jones or Robert Kraft). There isn't enough difference between these options, however. You're stuck doing too many of the same things for any of them to stand out. It's strange, for example, that you need to run practice challenges to earn XP when playing as an owner. It's rather unlikely that Jim Irsay takes time away from his luxurious office in Indianapolis to head down to the practice dome and run scrimmages.
You would expect the owner mode to function like a sports management sim, but it really works as a traditional franchise option with a couple of actions grafted on, such as answering the odd media question, setting the price on merchandise like autographed footballs and stadium snow cones, and even deciding to leave town (here come the Rams, Toronto). There just isn't enough depth here. At least the developers have added back in franchise features like draft class imports from NCAA 14 and full offline 32-team control. And they have bolstered the long-term appeal of the collectible-card, multiplayer-focused Madden Ultimate Team mode, with player chemistry affecting team performance, and head-to-head season play. Madden Ultimate Team isn't for everyone given its odd complexity and focus on collecting player cards to field top lineups, but it now almost rivals more traditional franchise play with these added features.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Games on the Ave: Gamespot's Rayman Legends Review

Available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows PC





Did you know ducks could wall-jump? Well, maybe not all ducks. But fowl sprouting the head of a certain limbless hero definitely can. Rayman Legends is unabashedly weird--relishes in the bizarre even--though never to the detriment of its fantastic action sequences. As you dash across platforms to the beat of a mariachi "Eye of the Tiger," or tickle armored guards to lower their defenses, you realize that Legends is strange with a purpose. It uses absurd scenes to imbue this feisty adventure with enough variety to keep you continually amazed, and presents every disparate scenario with expert care. Rayman Legends' off-kilter identity serves as the foundation for this wild and crazy journey.

Momentum is the name of the game in this 2D platformer. Rayman runs, leaps, swings, glides, and swims with a kinetic grace that compels you ever onward. Being able to squeeze past spikes and thunder across toppling towers should be expected in any adventure that presents such formidable challenges, but what makes Legends special is how joyful such movements are. Rayman chains moves together so effortlessly that you often get lost in the rhythm. Pirouette across a series of platforms at top speed and then rocket toward earth in a ground-shaking slam. Follow that up by immediately bashing a nearby baddie before bounding up that vertical shaft. Such combinations roll off your fingers as you venture deeper into this fantastical world.
It's when Legends picks up steam that its impressive potential is reached. Varied situations keep you wondering what's going to come your way next. You may play red light, green light with a security system in an underwater fortress, or catch a ride on an updraft as you wind your way through spikes and parachuting meanies. Boss fights demand an inventive spark as you dodge their plentiful attacks while trying to puzzle out how to retaliate in kind. Your hovering pal Murfy may join you in some levels, spreading guacamole or poking creatures in the eye at your command. Plunging to the briny deep to torpedo past booby traps is particularly impressive. So often swimming segments derail the breezy derring-do of a platformer, but Legends makes the oceanic sections a high point. Fast and smooth, swimming's unshackled movement makes overcoming deep-sea dangers a satisfying detour.
A smooth difficulty curve welcomes those unfamiliar with Rayman's hijinks without annoying those well versed in the art of jumping. Achieving such a precarious balance is a testament to how enjoyable the core mechanics are. Despite minimal challenge early on, the sheer pleasure of dashing through these beautiful worlds urges you forward. And there are hidden collectibles that require a curious mind to track them down. Shining lums and crying teensies are waiting to be discovered, and nabbing all of them unlocks myriad rewards. There are goofy-looking creatures, additional playable heroes, and even dozens of stages from Rayman Origins. Such ample treasures make exploration well worth your time, and the fact that the early challenges are purely optional ensures that everyone can enjoy this game from the onset.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Lost Planet 3 Review

Also available on PS3




In the third iteration of the Lost Planet series, some things are gained, and some are, appropriately enough, lost. Lost Planet 2 was a frustrating and beautiful concoction, loaded with grand ideas that all too often sacrificed basic playability. In this mediocre prequel to the original Lost Planet, the frustrations are minimal, but so are the ideas; its predecessor's variety and visual panache are steamrolled in favor of perfectly decent, perfectly standard shooting encounters. Lost Planet 3 is a difficult game to hate and an equally difficult game to adore. It might feature monstrous aliens, but it never thinks big.One aspect of this third-person shooter that will keep you thinking, however, is its story, a surprise given the series' lack of a personal touch and grand plot ambitions. The early hours move slowly, introducing you to hero Jim Peyton, who has journeyed across the blackness of space to the planet E.D.N. III to assist the Neo-Venus Construction company in its mining efforts. Jim is an excellent everyman, frequently exchanging personal video messages with his devoted wife, who is raising their newborn son while Jim works toward a brighter financial future. The couple labor to maintain a tone of normalcy, but never fully contain their misgivings and personal longing. The dialogue is natural and delivered gracefully; Jim's love is not characterized by overwhelming passion, but by quiet adoration and sincere concern.

While performing odd jobs and fighting off the wildlife that threatens the mining operation, Jim spots a figure eyeing him in the distance. Jim's paranoia turns to confusion as he uncovers truths about NEVEC and the indiscretions of the company's past. Here, the tale begins to follow recognizable paths, invoking elements of stories like Pocahontas and James Cameron's Avatar by contrasting the greed of the invader with the purity of the land. But it's how Lost Planet 3 subverts cliches that makes it so compelling. In fiction, lines like "I didn't know you had a wife" often lead to predictable story outcomes--but not here. Lost Planet 3 avoids overt moralizing and soap-opera melodrama, instead placing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and allowing them to find their way.

On E.D.N. III, it's best not to anger the wildlife.
On E.D.N. III, it's best not to anger the wildlife.

That isn't to say there aren't sour notes. A miner with a deplorable French accent tops that list, though an annoyingly chatty engineer can also grate on your nerves. Both ultimately earn a vital place in the story, though not before injuring your sense of good taste with their cliched characterizations. The game's tone wanders, sometimes shooting for "space cowboy" a la StarCraft or Firefly, and other times getting jokey, going so far as to point out its own mechanical shortcomings. A little lighthearted humor is appreciated, but when it's a bit of dialogue pointing out how often you have to turn on an elevator's power, you can't help but wish developer Spark Unlimited had avoided repetitive mission design rather than cracked wise about it.
That repetition is a problem. Many of Lost Planet 3's missions have you heading out into E.D.N. III's icy wilderness to perform odd jobs for NEVEC or other allies, flipping switches, riding elevators, and shooting some aliens in a comfortable but overfamiliar pattern. Like in the previous games, your primary foes are the akrid, aliens primarily known for their insectlike appearance and the glowing orange growths that indicate weak points. Previously, fighting the largest of these creatures could be both a stunning and frustrating affair, with their outlandish attacks sending you flying through the air and into drifts of snow, where you had to struggle to your feet and resume battle. Combat arenas were often large and gave you the opportunity to pilot combat mechs, and giant akrid forced you to use your wits when you weren't busy cursing the frustrations of irritating knockbacks

Friday, August 16, 2013

Games on the Ave: Gamespot Reviews Saints Row IV

Also available for PS3 & PC





After Saints Row: The Third, it was hard to imagine how this series of increasingly zany open-world crime games could possibly get any zanier. Rather than attempting to tackle that challenge head-on, Saints Row IV sidesteps it by being an almost completely different type of open-world game. Sure, the core of Saints Row is still there; there are still plenty of absurd weapons, costumes, and activities. But the way you interact with the world has changed. No longer are you an ordinary earthbound mortal. Saints Row IV turns you into a superhero capable of running up the sides of buildings and flinging people with your mind. This isn't a refined game or a challenging one, but it is a sometimes hilarious playground of a game that gives you plenty of fun abilities to use and plenty of opportunities to use them.How does the game explain your new capacity for doing things like leaping tall buildings in a single bound and zapping enemies with freeze blasts? It's simple. You saved the world from a terrorist threat and became the president of the United States. Then Earth was invaded by aliens, and the evil alien overlord had you placed in a Matrix-style computer simulation of a city where, much like Neo, you can acquire all manner of abilities that break the rules of the simulation.
The simulation in which you spend most of the game is a virtual re-creation of the city of Steelport, and the city's layout hasn't changed much since Saints Row: The Third, but the evil alien overlord, Zinyak, has remodeled a bit, and he likes to keep it gloomy. Because there's no day-night cycle during the course of the campaign and the whole city is shrouded in darkness, Steelport is a drab, monotonous setting. But it's much more attractive on the PC, where objects are sharp and defined well into the distance, than it is on consoles, where objects even a short distance away look muddy by comparison.
Saints Row IV mines its goofy premise for all it's worth. When "What Is Love" by Haddaway comes on as you're escaping from an alien spaceship, the juxtaposition of grim sci-fi visuals with '90s dance beats is so unexpected that it's delightful. And there's an infectious joy in the way your extremely customizable character, puckish rogue that he or she is, delights in it all, whether you've opted for one of the male voices, one of the female voices, or the aptly named Nolan North voice.
Given that this is a game in which you can run around naked shooting people with an Inflato-Ray, you might expect the humor throughout to be crass and juvenile. And, for the most part, it is, but not always in the ways you expect. The game's humor is unabashedly stupid, but it's smart about being stupid, working in references to Shakespeare, clarifications about the distinction between alliteration and assonance, and knocks at those silly people who don't know the difference between a robot and a mech suit. The banter among Saints is consistently sharp and will definitely have you laughing out loud on numerous occasions.
Very early on in Saints Row IV, you acquire the abilities to leap incredibly high and to sprint at superhuman speeds, and by collecting ubiquitous glowing blue clusters, you can enhance these abilities and the others you gradually unlock. Once you can sprint, you'll probably hardly ever use a vehicle again, since you can run faster than any car, which makes all of the car customization options carried over from earlier games feel a bit superfluous. But it's hard to lament the lack of emphasis on vehicles given the exuberance that can accompany leaping 15 stories into the air and gliding all the way across town.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

Also on PS3 & PC
Sam Fisher is different nowadays. His gruff voice has smoothed, and he's not always keen to stick to the shadows. Sam isn't worse for the wear, but he isn't always the man you remember. Nor, for that matter, is Splinter Cell.




Just as Splinter Cell: Conviction represented a metamorphosis for the stealth series, so too does Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Blacklist nudges Sam further into action-hero territory; where Conviction's story was personal, Blacklist's narrative is about what Sam does, not who he is. As in its predecessor, your mission goals appear as text projected into the environment, but that text no longer reflects Sam's state of mind. Blacklist is all business, and the Tom Clancy-inspired, jargon-heavy dialogue of its early hours reflects as much.
The boilerplate story focuses on a group of terrorists seeking to annihilate a series of targets in the United States, though the overfamiliarity of the setup is frequently trumped by tense story beats that rival those of any good political thriller. A confrontation between Sam and a colleague signals an overall increase in narrative tension, and the real-world locales you sneak through communicate the high stakes by the very nature of their political importance. Returning operations manager Anna Grimsdottir rattles off technospeak at a faster clip, resident hacker Charlie Cole gets even more annoyingly precocious and hyper, and the secretive Fourth Echelon team grows more and more desperate as the finale draws near. This isn't a story about Sam, but rather, a story about surreptitious warfare. Information is power.

Perhaps it's appropriate, then, that Sam Fisher's presence isn't as commanding as it's been in the past, in part due to the replacement of longtime Fisher actor Michael Ironside. New actor Eric Johnson does a creditable job as Sam, though he doesn't possess Ironside's gravel-throated urgency. Nevertheless, the entire cast effectively communicates Fourth Echelon's calm-under-fire efficiency, as does Blacklist in general. Snazzy digital displays and computer terminals fill out the group's airborne headquarters, the Paladin, and each mission begins with the camera rotating into position above the base's main map before zooming into it. It's a fitting transition into a gadget-filled escapade across a dreary rain-drenched rooftop, or through a heavily guarded trainyard.

The best missions are those cloaked in darkness.

You need to get used to Sam's new digs; everything you do in Blacklist is performed there, from upgrading your gear to initiating multiplayer. Rather than accessing menus, you explore the aircraft and speak to your comrades, making the Paladin as much your interface as it is Sam's. The entire scheme feels unnecessarily convoluted and disjointed at first, and the game doesn't do a very good job of introducing you to its structure, though curiosity (and a bit of trial and error) should get you up to speed. But the player-as-Sam logic soon clicks into place, giving even the stand-alone cooperative missions context within Blacklist's fiction, rather than treating them as distinct and unrelated tasks.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Games on the AVE: IGN Reviews NHL 13








Also available on PS3





NHL 13 might be the only game in town this year for hockey fans. The threat of an imminent lockout leaves the latest addition to the long-lived EA Sports franchise as the lone outlet for puckheads through what could be a long and lonely fall and winter of listening to talk about salary caps and revenue sharing instead of the more agreeable slap of stick against puck. Thankfully, neither Gary Bettman nor Donald Fehr is in the game, despite what EA Sports' famous tagline claims. But things are in a holding pattern here just as in the real NHL's labor negotiations. This is a bit of a stay-the-course release, although there are some impressive additions under the hood, such as a superb new skating physics engine and smarter artificial intelligence. Some issues with the AI and the lack of noteworthy new features are disappointing, however, making this something less than a revolutionary improvement over NHL 12.
With all that said, it can't be denied that NHL 13 is a great hockey game when taken strictly on its own merits. Realism is the cornerstone of just about everything that happens on the ice. Players skate, shoot, slash, and brawl just like they do in the real NHL. Playing positionally sound hockey is a necessity, as is some sort of understanding of the actual game and the ins and outs of the NHL. If you need to Google what a diamond is or have no idea that cycling here does not involve wearing really tight shorts, you might want to do some reading before picking up a gamepad. This looks like an arcade hockey game, but it plays a lot like a simulation when the puck is dropped.
Features and frills are so numerous that you expect the game disc to bulge out of the box. There are modes of play for every taste. You can play single games, tournaments, and full careers, with most options being available online and off. As in NHL 12, you can take over franchises, set yourself up as a GM, create a player to lead from the junior leagues to the big leagues, take over a legend and try to lead him (or her--two female stars have been included this year for the first time alongside male greats like Gretzky and, um, Roenick) to greatness again in today's NHL, and much more.
Hockey Ultimate Team is back for a second season of card-collecting, micropaymenty goodness, and a new GM Connected mode of play supports up to 750 people playing in online leagues in nearly every role imaginable, from front-office boss to first-string goalie. The new NHL Moments Live borrows a trick from Madden and puts you in historic situations. There you have to either live up to what legendary stars like Gretzky and Gilmour accomplished in classic contests or finish off games by mimicking the highlight reels.
Another tweak is with the ratings system, which has been revised to rate players on a universal scale by position. This removes the confusing system from last year, which scored players based on how good they were in their individual roles. This inflated the overall ratings of marginal players who were good performers in their jobs, most notably tough guys. This year, goons have been dialed back to sensible numbers. Still, the ratings are odd in spots and still skew high for the most part. Whoever handled the ratings played some favorites. There is no other way to explain the declining Alex Ovechkin clocking a 93 as the second-best player in the game.
Some players also get dinged unfairly. It's hard to believe that Phil Kessel wound up with a lousy 86 after his 82-point season, especially when the likes of Mike Richards scored 87 with just 44 points in arguably his worst regular season in the NHL (nice ending, though). Stars are a little too dominant in general and have been given ratings more by history or reputation than current performance. Ryan Getzlaf and more than a few others haven't been this good or this motivated in the real NHL in a few years. Still, most players in the game perform in a true-to-life fashion.
Depressingly, none of the new features in NHL 13 amount to much. Changes to the standard modes of play include such dull additions as the ability to demand a trade in Be a Pro and some supposedly revised AI in the trade logic in Be a GM. Those AI revisions were insufficient, though; you can still rook the opposition into absurd trades by loading up on quantity to get quality. Revamped player ratings clear up some confusion but are not stop-the-presses material. The two new female "legends"--Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero--add an interesting twist to Be a Legend, although they add little glitz to the already disappointing lineup of hockey stars.

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Podcast on the AVE: BlvdAve Radio Ep. 79 "A Contract with Black America"

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