A Ranking of the Gods

by Matthew Thompson

I spent the early parts of 2014 catching up with the God of War series and am really glad I finally jumped in. It’s an impressive series overall and while a couple entries fell a little flat for me, I found it to be a fairly well balanced action/adventure game and makes me really curious what Sony’s Santa Monica studio is up to next. Today I will be ranking the six entries in the series so far and explaining a little on why they landed where they did (also worth noting is that I played all of these on PS3) Continue reading

Best of 7th Gen: #24-Resistance: Fall of Man

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the Resistance: FoM page found here)

(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)

Resistance Fall of Man Logo

Coming into this past generation, Insomniac was second only to Naughty Dog on my favorite developer list. And while I was much more excited to see the Lombax jump into next gen, their new IP for Playstation 3 was something I was curious to check out as well. It was this title, Resistance: Fall of Man, that helped keep me busy during the early months after Sony’s new console launched. Even seven years later, I have lots of great memories of the game that introduced me to the PS3.

Resistance was a big departure for a studio who had most recently developed colorful platformers like Ratchet & Clank and Spyro the Dragon. The drab color palette and grim setting were a far cry from the beautiful alien planets I’d explored in their PS2 series. And the cast of characters wouldn’t exactly fit in with a purple dragon or a wise cracking robot. But there was one common thread for people like me who fell in love with the studio because of their work on the Ratchet & Clank series: creative weaponry. And it was here that Insomniac’s new FPS series would find its identity.

Resistance Fall of Man 1

Each weapon came with a clever secondary fire. For some of the more basic weapons, this alternate fire wasn’t particularly inventive, but effective nonetheless. The fairly standard Carbine rifle was equipped with a grenade launcher while the Rossmore shotgun allowed players to fire both barrels at once for some added punch. These secondary fires shined brighter in Resistance’s more creative weapons. The Bullseye allowed you to shoot a tag. If you connected with an enemy with said tag, all your bullets would home directly to the target. Tagging a baddie and quickly sliding behind nearby cover before firing and you could watch your bullets bend to track down your enemy while you stayed out of harm’s way. The Auger’s bullets would shoot through walls and its alternate ability would place a shield in front of you which would protect you from enemy fire while allowing Auger bullets to burrow through and take out the opposing Chimeran forces. The unfortunately underutilized Hailstorm unleashed bullets that would richochet off nearby walls until they pierced enemy skin while its alternate fire sent out an autofiring turret that would unleash a flurry of bullets on surrounding foes. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Jak 3’s blaster upgrades when using this armament… which of course was a very good thing.

And that describes only a handful of the game’s unique arsenal of guns. Insomniac’s creative juices also seeped their way into the grenades. The most memorable was the Hedgehog grenade which after thrown acted as a proximity mine of sorts sending quill-like spikes into any foes who approached it. This was good for setting traps or just heaving into a group of enemies during frantic shootouts.

Resistance used all these funky weapons across a few different modes. It packed a lengthy solo campaign filled with memorable moments and large-scale skirmishes. The story wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but I do feel it was the series best. The narration technique worked well and the game featured the introduction of some fascinating lore involving the origins of the Chimera who acted as your main opposition in the series.

Resistance Fall of Man 2

I think my greatest enjoyment from the game came through its multiplayer though. While my number 25 choice on this list helped introduce me to online multiplayer, Resistance: Fall of Man allowed me to share my brand new PS3 with friends by way of its excellent local multiplayer. It started with the campaign’s splitscreen co-op which is how I first experienced the game playing through the whole of it alongside my brother. And Resistance’s competitive modes continue to entertain me and friends at get togethers to this day. The fantastic weapons and pickup-style setup made this just my kind of multiplayer FPS while a myriad of scalable maps made it easy to find areas suited to our four-player matches. If only there were bots then this multiplayer would be about as good as it gets.

It also birthed the wonder that became known as Rocket Subway. My friends and I experimented with all kinds of weapon combinations to mix things up. It was on the claustrophobic Subway map that we struck gold. Armed with just rocket launchers on this small map, you were always seconds away from perishing. Climbing the stairs to the area’s central room was something you did cautiously. You never knew if you’d be greeted with a rocket to the face or a rare chance to sprint to its enclosed back room and be the one to pick off the next person who dared ascend the steps. And there was the awful clicking sound that meant you were out of ammo and likely out of luck. What followed was either your certain death or the off chance that someone was in the same dire situation as you. Then you could engage in the awkward dance of death that was a melee battle in this mode. Would you find glory as the winner of such a confrontation or suffer the shame of dying this way. And there was always the possibility that you both were blown away by a third party while you flailed about. These are the joys of Rocket Subway. It’s not the most satisfying way to play Resistance, but it is the funniest. So any time Fall of Man’s disc finds its way into my PS3 on game night, we always finish with a round of Rocket Subway and its always a blast.

Resistance Fall of Man 3

Resistance: Fall of Man delivered on both the campaign and multiplayer fronts making for a fantastic overall package. It was a great way to help kick off the seventh generation of consoles for me and the fact that I still play it from time to time to this day is a testament to the kind of fun it can deliver.

A few more things:

  • My favorite weapon is probably the Bullseye. The Hailstorm is close, but its ammunition seemed a little rare. I do wish it appeared in the other games though.
  • I did consider choosing Resistance 3 over this one for a brief time while making this list. It had a well-paced campaign and its Ratchet-like weapon upgrade system was an amazing addition to series. I’d highly recommend FPS fans play it and Fall of Man. But with R3‘s campaign lasting a measly five hours and Insomniac going the complete wrong direction with the multiplayer, it really can’t compete with the original and the memories it holds for me.
  • I did not consider even for a moment including Resistance 2 on this list which will certainly end up on a most disappointing games of last gen list if I decide to craft a blog for that along the way.
  • Clue for #23: One of the greatest party game experiences ever in my opinion.

More Spoilery Left Behind Impressions

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of The Last of Us: Left Behind site found here)

(In this blog, I give more impressions on The Last of Us’ recent DLC Left Behind. This time I have included spoilers and this post is aimed at those who have had the chance to play Left Behind for themselves already. If you have not yet done so and are curious whether it is worth your time, check out my spoiler-free review over here.)

The Last of Us Left Behind 5

It only took a few seconds for Left Behind to surprise me. It opens with scenes from the end of The Last of Us’ University section and right then a light bulb went off in my head. My big wonder going into this DLC was how Naughty Dog would handle combat. While I believe the segments spent exploring TLOU’s locales, talking to Ellie, and gathering resources worked well in the main game, they really don’t without acting as breathers between the more intense sections of combat that make up so much of the game. So how would content focusing on Ellie in a time before she ever shot a gun work?

Well after watching the intro that became obvious. Along with Ellie and Riley’s prequel adventure, we’d be playing as Ellie as she searches for a way to patch up Joel in an unseen section that took place between the Fall and Winter of the full game. And it was in this portion that Left Behind would deliver its much needed dose of action and along with it came a new twist. The last few encounters see Ellie not just facing hunters or infected, but both at once. More importantly it allows you to pit the groups against each other. One well tossed brick and you’ll have clickers mauling Hunters as they fight for their lives. All the while, you are safely tucked behind a nearby checkout counter (probably giggling to yourself). It undeniably takes some of the challenge out of things, but it sure is fun. I was also impressed on a second playthrough how differently things played out. The infected dominated these matchups in my first go ’round, but I was happy to see the hunters win out in several of the fights in my second time through if for no other reason than to show that these battles were a bit more dynamic than I had originally thought. This new mechanic  seems like a great addition to the series. Assuming there is a sequel in the future, it will add another layer of variety to the game’s wickedly fun enemy encounters.

The Last of Us Left Behind 4

Raja’s Arcade isn’t the only reference you will find to some of Naughty Dog’s older games in Left Behind.

While Ellie’s solo trip through the snowy mall might look to some as just a way to sneak some combat in, I thought it fit nicely. It makes for a good contrast to the much lighter side of this DLC that finds the girls on their own mall adventure. And I think I came away even more impressed with this part of Left Behind. Naughty Dog had to think outside the box a little here. With no combat to be had and no reason for Ellie to be gathering supplies, they needed something to make this more than just walking around. What I found most clever was their use of existing mechanics to create activities for Ellie and Riley to engage in. First with a contest to see who can break all the windows on a car with their brick throwing abilities and later with a stealth hide and seek battle that mimicked some of the game’s traditional combat, but with a pair of super soaker-esque water guns.

Along with this, there were a couple of decidedly less game-y activities that I really enjoyed as well. My favorite occurs when the girls hit the arcade. There they find an old cabinet for The Turning (one of many things that connect to conversations Ellie had with Joel in the main game). It isn’t functioning properly anymore, but Riley walks Ellie through what it was like to play it. For us, it is kind of just one big QTE, putting us through some typical fighting game button combos. But there is this moment where Ellie goes from thinking the whole exercise is silly, to getting really into it. And the way the visuals and sound effects compliment this change in attitude makes this a wonderful moment for me. Other stuff like this works too. The photo booth is goofy fun as are the myriad of jokes you can read off from the pun book. And the Halloween store is loaded with little things to interact with. Of course, the game has plenty of optional conversations to be had throughout as well. I thought some of the references to the comic book found in various pieces of dialog were a neat touch.

The Last of Us Left Behind 6

Make sure to hit the square button from time to time in the prequel sections especially in the Halloween shop.

A lot will be made of the kiss. And I personally thought the moment was well-earned after all the things that preceded it in this DLC. But to me the most important thing was just seeing how strong their bond was. All these little ways you interact with Riley and the world really drive home just how close they are. And better understanding of just how important this relationship was adds a little extra weight to the main game’s ending which to me was pitch perfect already.

I really think Naughty Dog knocked it out of the park with Left Behind. The snowy side of things brought me more of the combat that I loved from the main game with a new wrinkle to liven things up. While the other side of this mini-adventure let us explore a relationship that clearly had an impact on the Ellie we came to know in the full game. There was also an interesting juxtaposition of the bleak white landscape as Ellie tries to survive on her own matched up against the brighter, lighter fun of two girls cutting loose during the other segments. And yet, these two sides compliment each other so well. Not just by exploring different types of gameplay, but because the prequel is just another reason why Ellie would fight so hard for Joel in the opposing sequences. While the DLC wasn’t without its issues (something I touched more on in the objective spoiler-free review earlier this week), I just loved the overall package Naughty Dog delievered to us with Left Behind.

What did you think of Left Behind? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments below. And thanks for reading!

Remembering Remember Me’s Memory Remixes

by Matthew Thompson (images courtesy of Dontnod Entertainment’s website found here)

Remember Me Fight

Shortly after the PS4 launch, I decided to start up a Gamefly trial to try and snag some PS4 titles which I had no intention of buying (Knack and AC4 in particular), but would give me something to do with my new console other than play the brilliant Resogun and the disappointing Killzone: Shadow Fall. This was unsuccessful due to the new system’s titles being in high demand, so I decided I might as well put my trial to use catching up on some of the 2013 titles I missed out on for other platforms. One of those was Remember Me and with the game recently popping up on PlayStation Plus’ Instant Game Collection in the US, I figured now was as good a time as any to take a look back at some of my thoughts on the title.

Remember Me was certainly a flawed experience. For everything it did right, it felt like it faltered elsewhere. The art design for the game’s futuristic Neo-Paris was beautiful and made for a game worthy of exploring. Unfortunately the game was extremely linear, so exploration was very limited. And I’m not one to knock a game for being linear. In fact, I get frustrated when people randomly suggest a title should go open-world with a sequel for seemingly no good reason. Linear can be best in some situations, but this was exceedingly so. Just some wider level design here would have gone a long way towards helping me enjoy the sharp design and wonderful sights of the city more.

Remember Me Nilin

Some of Remember Me’s character designs came off a bit silly to me, but I found main character Nilin’s rather striking.

The combat was another mix of good and bad. Remember Me gave players the ability to craft their own combos, a neat idea and something that on paper seems like a fantastic idea. The combat itself played out a bit like the recent Batman games which while a bit overdone in the wake of those titles, isn’t the worst game to try and copy. But the devs handcuffed you too much in their clever new system, with only a handful of combos able to be created and a slow progression when it came to unlocking enough moves to really fill them out. There was an interesting element of strategy to assigning the different button presses too. Some inflicted damage on enemies, some regenerated your health, some filled your special meter while others amplified the effects of the button pressed after them. This was another positive for the game… until you found the right set of combos which pretty much made changing them a waste of time.

One thing that I loved without exception however was the game’s memory remixes. In Remember Me, you play as Nilin, a Memory Hunter. One of her special abilities is that she can hop into someone’s mind and change their memories. It doesn’t change history, but just the way that person perceives it. You can imagine the kind of ripples this sort of thing can cause and it makes for a fascinating mechanic and narrative hook.

From a gameplay standpoint, these play out in the following way. You’ll watch a scene as it occured originally. You can then rewind it. And as you do little glitches will pop up which you can mess with. It could be as small as knocking something off a table or as big as switching the safety off on a gun. And all these changes will alter the outcome of the memory. Your job is to find the right combination to achieve the ending you are seeking.

Remember Me Memory Remix 1

Remember Me likely won’t be receiving a sequel, but I’d love if Dontnod or anyone else could build on their memory remix idea in the future in some way.

If it sounds like it involved some trial and error, that’s because it did. But even that didn’t work against this mechanic. Because when you did things wrong, you weren’t just greeted with a screen indicating your failure. Instead you saw another possible outcome which could be fun in and of itself. The game even included some trophies for arriving at a particular unintended end to the memory.

Of course, diving into someone’s mind isn’t exactly the most moral thing to do. The whole process feels a bit unsettling especially when you see some of the effects of your handiwork. But that isn’t something Remember Me shied away from. It knows how messed up what you are doing is which makes the uneasiness you feel a point in its favor… at least from my perspective.

The only drawback to this particular aspect of the game is that there are only four of these sequences. I so wish there were more, but regardless of the amount, they helped shift me to having an overall positive attitude about the game. Despite some of the flaws I mentioned (and some truly forgettable travseral *grumble grumble*), Remember Me was a game I am glad I played. For its stellar art design. For its music (oh man the music!). And most of all for its memory remixes. Remember Me is definitely a mixed bag, but if you have access to it on PlayStation Plus and some free time on your hands, you might just find something you like in there. I know I did.

The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC Spoiler-Free Review

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of The Last of Us: Left Behind site found here)

(Due to some things I believe are better discovered for themselves in the The Last of Us’ DLC Left Behind, I have kept this as spoiler-free as possible. I plan to do another piece where I discuss things in greater detail for those who have already completed it.)

The Last of Us Left Behind 3

As a huge fan of Naughty Dog and their most recent release The Last of Us, I was really excited to get a chance to play through last week’s downloadable content, Left Behind. Not only is it a chance to jump back into a world and gameplay I found myself enamored with last year, but it also represents Naughty Dog’s first foray into singleplayer DLC. While this is generally a tricky endeavor, I found Left Behind to be a success despite some small issues.

Left Behind acts as a prequel to The Last of Us and gives us a bit more time with everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed fourteen year old, Ellie. Taking place after the comic series tie-in American Dreams (which helps give a better context for this content’s core relationship) but before we pick up with Joel and Tess in the full game proper, Left Behind explores Ellie’s bond with fellow military school attendee Riley as they make their way through an old abandoned shopping mall. Despite knowing how it all ends due to things mentioned in the main campaign, this piece of DLC tells a worthwhile tale that helps us better understand some of Ellie’s actions in the main game.

The Last of Us Left Behind 1

Despite being largely abandoned long ago, the mall hosts some beautiful sights.

My big question going into this was how the developers would handle combat. Based on the premise, it didn’t seem like a natural fit, but Naughty Dog found an interesting solution to this problem which gave Left Behind its requisite action component. And with it came a new twist on TLOU’s typical encounters. This new element to the combat is fun to mess around with and, assuming the series continues in the future, will be a nice addition going forward. In general, the enemy confrontations don’t quite stack up with the main game’s best and the new wrinkle is still a little rough around the edges, but this DLC is much better for having found a way to transfer over the kind of action that was such an integral part of The Last of Us.

Make no mistakes about it though Left Behind represents a much less action-oriented affair than the game it spawned from. But it was the adventure side of this action/adventure that managed to impress me the most. Along with the kind of basic exploration that was featured in TLOU’s quieter moments, Naughty Dog crafted a number of little activities to occupy Ellie and Riley’s time at the mall. Particularly clever was their use of existing mechanics like stealth and brick-throwing in a couple of games that the girls played. But a few cute minigames were added to the mix that helped flesh things out as well. Overall it was a nice improvement over the ladder and pallete puzzles of the main game. And it really had to step it up given the bigger emphasis on this aspect of the game.

The Last of Us Left Behind 2

Left Behind’s short campaign is packed with dialog that sheds light on Ellie’s relationship with Riley which in turn helps inform some of her actions in the core game.

The question of value is always a tough one especially with DLC. Left Behind clocks in at 2-3 hours depending on how much you explore as well as which difficulty setting you play on. Given the ample length of the main game by today’s standards for the genre, I kind of expected this to be a bit longer, but still walked away satisfied with what I got from this piece of content. But what works for me, might not work for everyone. I guess the question is does a slightly more adventure-focused two and a half hour slice of The Last of Us seem worth your fifteen dollars.

What I can say is that Left Behind comes highly recommended from me. Downloadable content is a perfect time to experiment a little with established formulas and Left Behind does so successfully with a new addition to liven up enemy encounters and some neat fresh ideas explored in the game’s less action-driven moments. And really it has a different vibe too. It isn’t exactly uplifting, it is still The Last of Us through and through. But an abandoned mall is a perfect place for a couple of young girls to cut loose and joke around, so it has a lighter feel to it. But it does it with all the kinds of things you’d expect from The Last of Us – great visuals, wonderful music, realistic characters and dialog, even a fair bit of drama and touching moments to go along with some of the sillier antics featured here. All in all, Left Behind is an excellent addition to The Last of Us and a must-have for big fans of the game.

As I mentioned up top, I will be back with another look at Left Behind, but I am still working on the exact format. It will give me a chance to dive into spoilers and give those who have completed it another opinion to compare to. So look out for that soon. Thanks for reading!

Dustforce: Sweeping Your Way to SS Grades

by Matthew Thompson (images courtesy of Hitbox Team via their website)

Dustforce 1

It’s great how video games can make something fun out of seemingly mundane activities. I wouldn’t normally decide to sweep the kitchen floor or dust the mantle when I’m looking to liven up a boring afternoon. And yet the past few days, I’ve been having a blast cleaning up the dusty old libraries and gunk-covered labs of Hitbox Team’s Dustforce.

Dustforce puts you in control of one of four janitors with the goal of ridding the world of its dust problems. These maintenance workers have some slight differences in speed and jumping ability, but all have the kind of acrobatic skills you’d expect to see from one of gaming’s more typical protagonists: the ninja. You’ll be running along ceilings, bouncing off walls and slashing up baddies as you try and make it through the game’s tricky 2D platforming levels. Except your weapon is a broom or vacuum and your greatest foe might be a dusty old book or a filth-dumping trashcan.

Dustforce features multiple area themes including caves, streets and a mansion. I believe the above is from the "Snap your Vita in half" world.

Dustforce features multiple area themes including caves, streets and a mansion. I believe the above is from the “Snap your Vita in half” world.

Merely making it through levels isn’t your main goal either. You want to leave the level spotless and do so with style. Along with having your time tracked, you are graded on two criteria: completion and finesse. Completion has you attempting to clear away every speck of dirt in the level while finesse means keeping your combo building by never going too long without sweeping something up or striking one of the game’s dust monsters. If you want to achieve that coveted SS grade you’ll need to clean up the level completely while never losing your combo. What it ends up feeling like is Super Meat Boy meets Devil May Cry or N+ meets Resogun. And like some of those games, you’ll find yourself restarting levels often trying to achieve that perfect run.

The game is no pushover either. It took me a couple days to really get the hang of the controls and they still feel a bit finnicky at times. And despite my better grasp of said controls, some spots are kicking me around all the same. Just finding all the levels in Dustworld’s hubs can be hard and practice is definitely needed if you want to get enough keys to unlock the toughest challenges. The good news is each world has levels of various difficulties so you can cut your teeth and up those grades on easier areas before tackling some of the more sadistic ones that await you as you delve deeper into each world.

Some levels are more combat-driven and task you with clearing all the enemies. You'll have to avoid getting hit to snag that S grade.

Some levels are more combat-driven and task you with clearing all the enemies. You’ll have to avoid getting hit to snag that S grade.

This is a gameplay-focused 2D platformer, so those looking for snazzy presentation or some kind of compelling narrative will have to look elsewhere. Dustforce sports a simple, but effective look that I think is quite sharp and I really enjoyed the music. It gives a off a calming vibe which was a good way to prevent me from heaving my Vita across the room during the game’s more difficult segments. I did experience some framerate issues in a couple levels so far which definitely can hinder things a bit.

I’ve only spent a few days messing around with Dustforce, so I wouldn’t quite call this a review (I have not tried the game’s multiplayer either). It’s really too early to say exactly how much I like it (though quite a bit at the moment) and even tougher to wholly recommend since it seems like an acquired taste. I’d at the very least recommend trying the demo if this sounds like your kind of game. Between its challenging 2D platforming and that “just one more run” reaction it elicits from me, it really is right in my wheelhouse. And if the first few days are any indication, this is a game that will continue to grow on me as my skills improve. And games that reward your practice like that are always a good thing in my book.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (PS4) Impressions

by Matthew Thompson

Tomb Raider DE 2

I just finished playing through Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4 this past weekend and I feel about the same as I did after playing it on PS3 last year. This reboot is a good cinematic action game in the vein of Uncharted with some twists to the formula. Even looked at as this type of game it has some issues, but remains a fun romp for those looking for that sort of experience. As a Tomb Raider game though, I found it disappointing. It gets too far away from its platforming and puzzle-solving roots to really deliver for me as a fan of that series. And maybe worse is when you do get to spend some time doing those more classic adventure-y Tomb Raider types of gameplay, you realize those elements have been stripped down to a much easier simplified version of their former selves.

But I’m not going to harp on that right now. I’ll be taking a much more solution-oriented look at this issue in a few upcoming blogs as I make my pitch for a sequel to Lara’s latest adventure. For now I wanted to chime in on what the Definitive Edition offers.

Tomb Raider DE 4

I can’t say enough good things about how it looks. I kind of thought all the talk of how they were revamping the game’s graphics was lip-service to try and justify the absurd asking price, but they really have done a great job making this look “next-gen.” Tomb Raider was already a pretty game with some quality art design, but everything in the PS4 version just looks so detailed and crisp. This wasn’t a game that was exactly begging for 60 frames per second, but it certainly doesn’t hurt and it really runs smoothly. Lara also looks a bit different. Most notably she features bigger eyes and a slightly different jawline or at least that was my take on it. It was a little strange seeing side by side pics, but it ends up being a non-factor as she looks fine in the game. A lot was made of the new hair tech that was already featured in the PC version and I rather like it. I didn’t experience many of the odd glitches I heard complaints about so it was a positive for me. Overall I was impressed with the graphical leap this version took over its PS3 counterpart though I imagine PC gamers with good setups might not be quite as dazzled by the updated visuals.

Tomb Raider DE 3

As for actual changes to the game, there aren’t a ton. The Dualshock 4’s LED light glows different colors according to the on-screen action. For instance it flickers red and orange when you have a torch lit which is a neat touch. Some actions are mapped to the touchpad or can be controlled via voice-commands (though both are optional). And the game includes all the DLC. Most of this was multiplayer stuff which I didn’t try at all here and didn’t bother much with the first go round. The one extra tomb, The Tomb of the Lost Adventurer (pictured below), was nice and one of the better ones in the game, but still pretty small compared to the classic tombs we’d come to expect from the series. I did dig a couple of the outfits they included as well, particularly the Sureshot and Mountaineer ones (shown in the  screens above).

Tomb Raider DE 1

So you pretty much get the same game as on last-gen consoles with a few minor tweaks that don’t really hold much value in my opinion and some amazing graphics. I should probably go play Killzone: Shadow Fall again before saying this but it’s probably the best looking game I’ve played at least when looked at technically. Ultimately though these changes don’t warrant them charging the full $60 price for what is an almost one-year old game at this point. I think $30-40 would have been more appropriate and waiting for a price drop or perhaps renting it (which is what I did) would be best. It’s a solid enough game that it might be worth a go to help you deal some of the PS4’s intermittent first-year droughts. It’d also probably have a lot more value for someone who never tried it the first time around. And might go over better for people new to the franchise (I like to think big Tomb Raider fans already checked this one out and have made up their mind whether they liked the new direction the reboot took anyway).

I’ll be back within the next couple weeks sometime with some thoughts on how I’d handle a sequel to this Tomb Raider reboot. So keep an eye out for that soon. Thanks for reading!

A Greater Hope for Almost Human

by Matthew Thompson

(This post contains Almost Human spoilers particularly for the latest episode, “Unbound.” )

Almost Human Unbound 3

Most people know that my all-time favorite TV show is Fringe. So when I heard one of the showrunners from it, Joel Wyman, would be creating a new show for FOX, I was in. When I heard the initial description of said show, I was a little less enthused. Something about a futuristic buddy cop show where one partner is a robot just didn’t sound great to me. But the trailer won me over. The production values looked excellent and it got me excited in the way I really wanted to be for a new show by Wyman. That excitement continued up to and through the first few episodes, but it wasn’t long before it started to wane.

Of course the show I’m talking about is Almost Human. The two night premiere event showed a lot of promise. The futuristic setting was interesting, the technology fascinating and most importantly the two leads showed a great rapport with each other. The first episode laid the groundwork for what looked to be some overarching plotlines for the series involving John Kennex’s ex-girlfriend and a criminal organization known as Insyndicate while the second teased the kind of original cases that this 2048 version of LA might yield even tying some more emotional beats for both John and Dorian into the week’s storyline.

Almost Human Unbound 1

I’m hoping Vaughn can help add a much needed dose of serialization to Almost Human

But as Almost Human continued, my excitement for the show started to die down. For one, the cases seemed to be ripped straight from your more modern day cop shows, but thrown into the future as opposed to capitalizing on the show’s unique setting. But I think the real bummer was realizing just how much of a procedural this was going to be. Weeks rolled on without a hint of serialization. The LAPD solved the week’s case and that was it. This isn’t so terrible. I grew to really adore the banter between the Kennex and Dorian. The show is legitimately funny. Watching them riding around in the car for forty minutes would probably be pretty entertaining on its own. And some of the tech they come up with is just… so damn cool. As a procedural it isn’t so bad, but rarely have I seen even these type of shows have so little overarching narrative. It was an extra big bummer since Wyman did so many amazing things with Fringe’s mythology during his time with the show. As it was, I felt like Almost Human was destined to be a good solid fun show, but probably not a great one to me.

This past Monday’s episode gave me some hope for more though. In “Unbound,” we are introduced to several new elements that could flesh out the show’s overall storyline. The biggest is John Laroquette’s new character, Dr. Nigel Vaughn. Vaughn is actually the creator of the DRN model of android which is what Dorian is. He’s also the man behind the XRN, an advanced combat android with a more militaristic side that uses similar technology to Dorian’s. So when one of these is out and about and the police run into Vaughn during their investigation, he decides to help them out. I can’t say I was surprised to see that Vaughn was actually behind the XRN’s actions. You could see that twist coming a mile away. But I do like that it gives the show a big bad so to speak, a villain that can operate in the background and pop up from time to time to amp things up. How this ties into Insyndicate I’m not sure exactly, but the fact that Danica’s head was the evidence that they were trying to get back in the pilot sure seems to indicate a link. And then there’s “The Wall” which the show gives a few more hints about and we see Vaughn going over at episode’s end. Throw in the parallels between Dorian and Danica and the show gets a little more intriguing. Instead of a show you just watch and move on from, it might be something that you think about during the week.

Almost Human Unbound 2

“Unbound” also featured a pretty sweet fight scene toward the end of the episode

And maybe this is fool’s gold. Maybe we don’t hear about this kind of thing for another ten episodes, but it gives me hope that Almost Human will become something I can sink my teeth into a little more. Next week they will apparently air the fourth episode produced (“Unbound” was the tenth), so we won’t be seeing any of this touched on then, but the final three episodes should be the final three produced (though who knows what order FOX might air them in!). I’m hoping they can take the elements introduced in this episode and use them to create the kind of mythology that helps hook me into the best shows as well being something that really puts some of Wyman’s skills with that sort of content to better use. I think it would help them build some steam creatively down the stretch and into a potential Season 2 (which I am fairly confident now that it will get). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how they handle things going forward. I’ll probably check back in when the season’s finished to see how all this panned out.

Best of 7th Gen: #25-Burnout Paradise

by Matthew Thompson

(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I compiled the list in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)

Burnout Header Final

Back when this last generation of consoles began, I had never tried playing games online and to be honest I never thought I would. I just didn’t see the appeal of playing with people I didn’t know. But that all changed a few years later. It was actually through my blog and some forums that I met some other gamers that made me want to venture into the world of online multiplayer.

Burnout Paradise wasn’t the first game I played online. I believe that was the underrated Crash Commando or maybe LittleBigPlanet, but it was the first game I really got into in a big way. Freeburning with my online buddies became something I looked forward to whenever we could manage to cobble together a game night. There were cooperative challenges to conquer, stunt competitions to master, and races to be had. Nights always seemed to  end with one final giant lap around the city. So often so that anything else felt wrong. And we didn’t have to be involved in an event to be having fun. One memory that makes me chuckle a little looking back is how in between events things just devolved into everyone trying to take each other down and find themselves on the plus side of their various revenge tallies. Not even the sitting duck that was the leader of the freeburn was immune while he sifted through menus trying to set up our next competition. I don’t find myself playing online as much as I used to. It’s just hard to make the time and I still prefer to spend most of the gaming time I do have on singleplayer affairs. But when I think back on all the adventures and experiences I have had in the online space, many of my favorite memories are still from Burnout Paradise and I think that will remain true many years from now.

Burnout Paradise 2

But freeburning wouldn’t have been such a blast if the core game wasn’t so great itself. Paradise City packed a plethora of activities to engage in which made it so you were never bored while trying to attain your next license. The sense of speed was incredible and crashes had a sense of beauty they probably shouldn’t have. With everything moving so fast, it was easy to miss turns and find yourself on the wrong path. But as I became more familiar with the layout of the city, the freedom of the game’s open-world began to show its advantages adding an almost puzzle-like element to finding the best way to zoom through the game’s race modes. And exploring Paradise City was just as fun as besting its races. Searching for secret areas and finding gates to smash was always a good way to waste some time around town, but I personally loved finding the game’s many jumps and looking for big air.

Burnout Paradise also represented DLC done right. With this generation of consoles’ greater online integration came some bad side effects. Games were shipped unfinished just to be patched later. The rise of online stores and downloadable content paved the way for publishers to nickel and dime us. For the most part though, Criterion used this power for good. Free updates added all kinds of new content including motorbikes with their own challenges and modes along with a day/night cycle. They also packed some value into their DLC. My favorite, Big Surf Island, represented a huge playground designed for stunts with all kinds of creative design elements. And this came over a year after the initial release showing the kind of sustained support the studio gave to the title.

Burnout Paradise 1

I think I will always remember Burnout Paradise most for all the multiplayer fun it gave me and for getting me into online modes in a bigger way. But it was an excellent arcade racer online or off. Whether darting around the labyrinth of skyscrapers downtown or drifting through the winding curves up on the mountain sides, my time spent in Paradise City was always a blast and one I won’t soon forget.

A few more things:

  • Due to being a big part of my custom soundtrack for Burnout Paradise, listening to Paper Route’s Absence actually makes me think of this game.
  • I believe I was one trophy away from the platinum in this for years before I finally got it. It was that damn PlayStation Eye trophy. I think one of the first things I did when I got the Eye with my Move bundle was polish off that platinum.
  • Clue for #24: This game features a weapon that reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorites in gaming.

Best of 7th Gen: An Introduction

by Matthew Thompson

Intro Header

So this is something I’ve been planning for a while and after much internal debate over the choices, I will be starting up a countdown of my top 25 games of the seventh generation of consoles this month. I will be giving each game its own blog, but I’m not in a huge hurry to finish these. I’m hoping to roll them all out by the end of 2014, but if not… no big deal. In addition to these blogs, I will have the occasional supplementary post about last gen as well. These will probably be in the form of top five lists about some specific elements of the generation (like boss fights for instance). Anyway, before I kicked the thing off with my number 25 choice I wanted to rundown some decisions I made in making the list. It was very tough to come up with this list and even tougher to rank them (and I’ll probably shuffle them a bit more before publishing all of these), so these will be some guidelines I opted to use in coming up with the list.

  • These are generally my favorite games of the generation which I find a little different than best. How good they are does play a part of course and at times I used their more objective qualities to help break ties in my mind. Ultimately it is a mix. These being my favorites also means they favor the kind of games I like the most.
  • Ordering these was hard. I love the top eight or so and then things get muddled. They’re very close in my mind especially those within a few spots from each other. I guess I’m using this point to cop out of the order a little!
  • I decided for variety’s sake to only include one game from any particular series with the exceptions of a couple spinoffs and games I consider different series under the same umbrella so to speak. This will give me a chance to cover more different franchises and if other games would have been included I will cover them briefly in the blog of the one I did include from that series.
  • I was a little unsure what to include. I decided to include retail and downloadable games from the PS3, 360 and Wii. I decided not to include handheld games. Partly because I don’t like how their generation ran on a slightly different timeline, but more because it was one more thing that made ranking tough. While I think handheld games can generally stand up with ones I play on the big screen, this just made it easier for me. I will do a separate list of them at some point along the way though.
  • As of now, I decided to include a couple remakes. Both could be considered last gen games, but part of the reason I want to do this list is to talk about games that had a big impact on me during the time of last-gen, so I am working them in. And they aren’t simply up-resed ports. Plus I prefer them to their more recent entries this gen. Is it the right call? I don’t know, but I think the reasoning will make more sense when I write about the games in question. I still may swap them out for one of the more definitively last-gen outings from those series I suppose, but I’m leaning towards keeping the remakes in.

Well that will properly set things up. Look out for the first blog very soon (hopefully tomorrow)!