Showing posts with label game reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label game reviews. 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.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Games on the AVE: GAMESPOT Reviews FIFA 14

Also on Xbox 360, XboxOne, and PS4





There's a change of pace about FIFA 14 that can be a little jarring at first. Those long-used run-and-gun attacks up the center of the pitch so beloved by FIFA players are met here with a steely wall of defence and a disheartening counterattack. This is a slower, more considered take on football that rewards careful buildup play and thoughtful strategy over brash tactics, and boy is it all the better for it. A slew of clever changes to the physics--some visible in the eerily realistic-looking animation and some working their magic behind the scenes--and clever control tweaks set this year's game apart from its predecessors. And in typical FIFA style, it's all wrapped up in some wonderfully compelling game modes and the glossiest of presentations.

There's no single new feature in FIFA 14 that screams "Buy me!" as perhaps the rag-doll collisions and 360-degree control did in FIFA 12, but it's how the game slickly combines several little tweaks to form a cohesive whole that makes matches sing. For instance, while you could previously manoeuvre the ball in all directions while a player was standing still, that ability now extends to when a player is running with the ball. It's an obvious tweak when you think about it, but it opens the game up to a multitude of runs that zigzag all over the pitch and to clever plays that outsmart defenders with more than a lucky through ball and a burst of speed.
This doesn't mean you can carve a mazelike path around the pitch without consequence, though. For every twist and turn you make, your players visibly shift their weight around and throw their arms out to keep balance. Overdo it, and the ball, which is no longer magically glued to a player's feet, drifts wide or too far out in front, giving defenders the perfect opportunity to swoop in and steal it. Naturally, some players are better at keeping control of the ball than others, depending on their stats. Figuring out who's the best man for the job and doling out the right strategy to the players is all part of the fun, and it's made easy thanks to a comprehensive and easy-to-use set of management tools that you can dive into before and during matches.
The best players are better equipped to perform showboating skill moves too, which are easier to pull off since you no longer have to hold down a modifier button. With just a few waggles of the right stick, you can indulge in all manner of body feints, stepovers, and sideways rolls, which--when combined with the looser dribbling and slick animation--look spectacular. The ability to actively shield the ball helps things along, giving you a little more time to plan an attack and giving your player those crucial seconds needed to line up a shot. It works well offensively too; some well-timed shielding lets you throw your player's weight around and turn on sixpence, and allows you to brute force defenders away from the ball.
What this all adds up to is a game that looks and feels more like a real game of football than ever before. AI performs more intelligently, boxing in players on the attack and performing runs in just the right places to create some real shooting chances, even if they're offside a little more often than you might like. And when you do get the chance to try to stick one in the back of the net, the ball dips, arcs, and moves with the kind of unpredictability you'd expect from a small round object being whipped through the air at pace. It's a wonderful thing to see in motion, and when you finally make your way to the box and score after a string of deft touches and considerate passing, it feels like you earned it. There's still an element of FIFA's heavy-handed automation at work here, but with FIFA 14 slowing down the pace and making you work harder for a goal, the automation is far less of an issue than in last year's game.
Off the pitch, things are largely the same, with modes like Head to Head Seasons, Ultimate Team, Online Friendlies, Virtual Pro, and Manager to play through, but they remain the most comprehensive and compelling you'll find in a football game. Real-world statistics ensure that every team is kept up to date before the start of every match, while the excellent EA Sports Football Club keeps track of any points earned and ties them to a real-world team for a ranking on a global league table. A slick new interface that mimics that of the Xbox 360 dashboard not only looks far better than its predecessor, but also keeps the action flowing smoothly in Career mode thanks to a simpler layout and navigation that lets you access all the core functions with just a few flicks of the analogue stick.
Career mode has received some much-needed tweaks, including the option to disable the first summer transfer window, finally giving you the chance to maintain a real-world squad up until the January transfer window. A Global Transfer Network has been introduced too, which masks a player's overall rating (OVR), so you've absolutely got to use scouts to find the best youth players. A tile on the Career mode page keeps you up to date on scouting progress, letting you choose to move forward with in-depth scouting, after which the OVR is finally revealed and you can decide who to purchase. This is far more engaging than simply hitting up the search box and looking for players with the highest OVRs, and it means you've got to put a great deal more thought into your purchases.
Fun skill minigames, swift loading times, and some excellent commentary (complete with rambling pre-match banter) put the finishing touches on what is a fantastic football experience. And, like previous FIFA games, FIFA 14 is beautifully presented. Animations are smooth, and famous players, kits, and stadiums are faithfully re-created with great attention to detail. You could argue that perhaps it all looks a little too perfect, and a little bit of grit here and there, along with some players who don't look like they've lost all feeling in their upper bodies, would go a long way towards making the game look even better, though it's still leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
Despite the lack of a defining new feature to attach itself to, FIFA 14 is far more than the sum of its parts. It's a fundamentally different experience to last year's game, and an entertaining one at that, moving the series ever closer to the realism it so proudly strives for. The only competition FIFA has this year is itself. With a next-gen version just on the horizon, complete with a brand-new engine, you may be thinking about sitting this one out until then. But to do so would mean missing out on what is a fabulous football game, one that feels fresh yet familiar and that pushes even FIFA veterans into new, exciting, and engrossing ways of playing.

Games on the AVE: GAMESPOT Reviews NBA 2K14

on Xbox 360, XboxOne, PS4, and PS3







You have to feel a little sorry for Tim Duncan. Labeled as boring throughout his career, The Big Fundamental captured four rings but never the hearts of the basketball-loving public. And there's no secret why; the man lacks style. A 12-foot bank shot may be an effective tactic, but it's not going to convince a casual fan to jump out of his or her seat to bellow a rowdy cheer. It's why a high-flying underachiever like Vince Carter was so highly touted while a multiple champion could elicit a collective shrug. Style is everything in basketball. NBA 2K14 embraces the artistic expression that surfaces only when trading baskets with sweaty men, and in doing so, it's an impressive and exciting representation of the real sport.
Last year's edition of NBA 2K tinkered with right analog stick control, but 2K14 goes full steam ahead with this initiative. Depending on what direction you move the stick in and how long you hold it, you can mimic the movements of a real NBA player. It's a worthwhile improvement that gives you greater control over how you attack defenders, letting you infuse your own personality into the action. Smoothly performing crossovers, jab steps, sweeping hooks, and even flashier moves such as behind-the-back passes with ease lets you orchestrate a show so entertaining even Miami Heat fans would show up on time to watch.
There's an extensive tutorial to guide you through the vagaries of your basketball repertoire, but you're better off ignoring it completely. Oddly enough, the practice floor is the worst place to learn how to play. Fiddling with the stick to pull off specific moves is frustrating, because if you're off by just a few degrees, you do something completely different. Basketball is all about context and reacting to what your opponent is doing, and the stiffness present in the tutorial smothers that freedom. So just head straight to the court. The only way you learn is if you're pushing yourself against the NBA elite.
Defensive players swarm like rabid hawks, relentlessly attacking entry passes and hounding ball carriers. And the only way you're going to consistently score is by being smart with both the ball and your positioning. Lazy passes are turned into fast-break baskets faster than you can flop for a foul call, and the added defensive intensity forces you to play smart or lose miserably. Master your back-to-the-basket game, and you can demand a double team. Pass to your open teammate for a couple of wide-open jumpers, however, and your defenders have to concoct a new plan. There's an enticing chess match going on as you and your opponent size each other up, implement strategies, and then readjust on the fly.
The improved controls are paired with diverse animations that make anything that could happen on an NBA court seem possible. Fouls happen because of how you and your opponent are positioned, so you know when you're smartly gambling for a steal and when you're just being stupid. Subtle body movements are important in creating (or eliminating) space between two players, and you usually feel in complete control of how things play out. Blocks are now a formidable weapon for a long-armed big man. Driving point guards can't expect to glide effortlessly to the hoop for free layups. If you're just trying to overpower your opponent, you're going to lose. You need finesse to get open shots, which makes you learn the intricacies of your players' skill sets and plan offensive sets accordingly.
There are still some oddities that detract from the realistic action. The most glaring quirk is that players often don't know how to react when there's a loose ball. They may stare longingly at a deflected pass instead of diving to control it, which would be worth a benching in real life. Plus, the ball doesn't always react like it should. Sometimes it might bounce as if covered in glue, or randomly ricochet like a Ping-Pong ball. These hiccups stand out starkly against the otherwise impressive visuals in 2K14. The franchise has always done a fine job of replicating the faces and movements of players, but now the rhythm of the action so closely mirrors the real thing it's almost eerie.
New in 2K14 is a mode called Path to Greatness that lets you follow LeBron James as he tries to elevate his place in the NBA's hierarchy. Two paths--one realistic and one zany--are on offer, and seeing the crazy hypotheticals play out is certainly interesting. Unlike a similar mode in NBA 2K11 that let you fill Michael Jordan's shoes, Path to Greatness doesn't require you to reach a specific stat line to progress. Because you need only win to proceed, you can play your way, which is a lot of fun given LeBron's wide assortment of talents. More fanfic than historical document, this mode is a good way to explore The King's options. And who knows, maybe he will end up back in Cleveland some day…
Despite the occasional technical missteps, NBA 2K14 is a great experience that deftly captures the essence of what makes the NBA so appealing. Nothing could perfectly replicate reality, but 2K14 has almost as much personality, and gives you the freedom to perform how you wish. With lifelike animations, realistic player models, and an assortment of moves that would make even Dwyane Wade blush, NBA 2K14 further blurs the line between the real game and its digital equivalent.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews NHL 14

Also on PS3




It's too bad that EA Sports doesn't have any competition for the hockey gaming market anymore. While the previous two editions of its long-standing hockey franchise were impressively playable--if not exactly groundbreaking refinements of the superb game that was NHL 11--too little of note has been added this time around. EA Sports is really pushing things this year with a game that incorporates nothing significantly new aside from arcade-style hitting, more fighting, and a lame re-creation of NHL 94.
It has now been two decades since NHL 94 changed hockey gaming forever, so EA is marking this with what's ostensibly a souped-up version of the usual release. But just like in Madden 25, there isn't much here worth blowing out the candles over. Game modes are similar to those offered last year. You still play one-off matches, get into careers running a player or a whole franchise, take on GM duties, mess around with Hockey Ultimate Team card-collecting, relive big games from last season in the expanded NHL Moments Live, and take the whole shebang online for multiplayer games, tournaments, and leagues.
Controls are identical to what was offered last year, save for the addition of a one-button deke move and some finicky dangles that are tough to pull off on a regular basis. And like last year, some moves are still overpowered, most notably poke-checking. You can control the nuances of nearly every stride and shot, or drop down to basic button-pushing as was offered in 1994. The game continues to include most of the international hockey world, from Major Junior in Canada and the elite European leagues to the NHL and its minor-pro AHL affiliate clubs. Team rosters are a little messed up, though, apparently dating back to June, and even the first downloadable update includes some noticeable mistakes and omissions, like the absence of the new division names that were announced in July.
Graphics and sound have been ported over almost intact from last year's game. Visuals remain very good, with impressive animations and TV-accurate depictions of players. The broadcast duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement spouts the same lines as before, the sound effects are ultrafamiliar, and the soundtrack includes the standard alt-rock lineup of new and old tunes where the most prominent track is Wolfmother's "Joker and the Thief" from its 2005 debut disc.
Additions are present, though they don't amount to much. The big new feature change is that the Be a Pro franchise mode, where you play an up-and-coming phenom or an existing star, has been converted to a slightly more elaborate role-playing experience called Live the Life. It never rises above being more than a half-baked version of what 2K Sports has been doing with its NBA 2K series, where you gain endorsements, design shoes, and even mess around with the media to make a name for yourself. Live the Life functions similarly, but there's no meat on this bone. Interactions are handled through bland text screens. You choose from several possible answers when teams quiz you before the draft, for instance, or simply say yea or nay when sponsors come calling with deals like putting your toothless mug on billboards in exchange for cash.
The results of how you mouth off to your team or the press directly translate to scores given to four audiences--fans, teammates, management, and family--that govern how things work off the ice. Be too much of a prima donna, and your team and management hate you, and might just trade you out of town. It's all too boring and rigid to feel authentic. Scores go up and down immediately after you finish answering questions, making the whole thing seem like you're painting a good guy like John Tavares or a nut like Steve Downie by the numbers, rather than creating a real hockey player.
The other headline new feature is NHL 94 mode. This is a retro option where you play arcade hockey just like you did in the Clinton era. It's a great idea, although it doesn't include many actual retro touches. The mode acts more like a dumbed-down NHL 14 sped up and locked to an old-school top-down camera. You get the distinctive blue-tinted ice, stars under players, 16-bit sound effects, and the zippy action that made NHL 94 so great back in the day. But the game uses the new graphics engine, mostly modern sound effects, and the current rosters.
Other modern touches that could have been more meaningful, like online multiplayer and league play, aren't supported in this mode. Ultimately, it's as if EA Sports couldn't decide between going full retro with the complete 1994 game or doing a modernized take on a classic, so it compromised and did neither. The result is barely a passing nod to this legendary hockey game, with the most standout detail being the bleepy-bloopy music you might remember well from long-ago marathons on the Sega Genesis.
Gameplay changes are also very slight in NHL 14. This is the second year of EA Sports' newest physics engine, but the action on the ice isn't noticeably smoother this time out. Granted, the skating physics are still very good. Momentum continues to be extremely well handled, especially when it comes to sharp turns and stops. Opposing defensemen get really aggressive in front of the net, and it's routine to see the net knocked off its moorings when forwards drive hard into the crease.


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