Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday Special Video

Just in time for the celebration of a new year, Aristogamer presents to you our Holiday Special in which we give you our top five games of the year and exchange gifts with one another. Our MW3 vs. BF3 video review will be up in a few weeks, so until then, please enjoy our last video of 2011.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Videos!

Good day, lads! J. here to give you an update on the status of our latest videos. Our holiday special is ready to go and will be posted a week from today, and the MW3 vs. BF3 review is taking longer than expected, but will be posted in the beginning of January. I am not entirely sure you could even fully prepare yourself for how wonderful they are/will be, but I suggest you steele yourselves properly, lest your minds be blown.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Uncharted 3 Review

To be honest, I had never expected much of the original Uncharted. Upon its reveal, I dismissed it as a Tomb Raider rip-off and thought nothing more of it. That all changed when I was gifted the game the holiday season of its release. I gave it a go and have been in love with the series ever since. Of course when I heard of a third Uncharted game, I reacted as any self-respecting fan would—by shaking violently and emitting sounds akin to a kitten in distress. Was my entirely embarrassing reaction merited, or did the third installment blemish my favorite adventure series on the PS3?

Nathan Drake makes his return, this time looking for the Atlantis of the Sands. The third game takes the series back to its roots, in a way, as Nathan’s fascination with this find is driven by his ancestor Sir Francis Drake. The story also includes more about how Nate came to be the treasure hunter he is currently, adding a more personal touch to this game. It was a bold move to make on Naughty Dog’s part, as most origin stories are the most boring part of a character’s development, but this one was brief and action packed enough to feel justified and fun. It flowed quite well with the rest of the game.

In typical Uncharted fashion, Drake embarks on a journey with some friends to find treasure of some sort, and things go completely awry when a foreigner with an accent has other plans. Though the plot is formulaic, having a character as well-written and entertaining as Drake at the helm certainly helps drive the story forward. In a way, the plot takes a backseat to Drake’s character development and his interactions with others, a fact that is bittersweet to me. On one hand, I very much enjoy seeing Nate develop and love his dialogue with others, but on the other, I feel the plot could have been stronger and less convoluted. If you play the game, you will know what I mean when you go from a burning building to some ruins to jumping about on old ships in the span of two hours. As a fan of the series, it feels as if Naughty Dog phoned this one in to cash in on a Subway deal.



The plot could have progressed more smoothly and felt far less forced, though it still succeeds at being entertaining.

The gun combat feels different from the second game, much to the dismay of hardcore fans. Recoil on guns is more exaggerated, making killing enemies difficult. And perhaps I just think myself better than I actually am, but it felt to me as if my bullets would not do anything while enemies were jumping. Other than that, combat was quite satisfying and fast paced, and the variety of weapons available allowed me to play exactly how I wanted.

I oftentimes found it difficult to remain stealthy as I so enjoy giant gun battles with enemies. This leads me to a point of contention amongst fans, and a paradigm in gaming that I believe needs to be addressed. Nathan Drake is a smarmy, good-hearted thief who wants no trouble. Yet throughout the game, he bluntly murders perhaps 500 people.



Granted, those people were shooting at him first, presumably, but this presents a rift in the dichotomy of the character. By now, this is a well-established theme in games like these, so it is not terribly jarring, but upon closer examination, Nathan Drake is really a trigger-happy, blood drunk fiend doing whatever he has to in order to get rich. This problem is not limited to just Uncharted, but I felt it worth mentioning.

The cinematics and climbing sequences are just as tense as ever, breaking your sense of security and heightening the urgency of your actions on a regular basis. Be it ladders breaking, bending poles, or enemies catching you off guard, Uncharted certainly keeps you engaged and on your toes. This flows quite well with the rest of the game, as shifting between gun-fighting and making a getaway feels natural and exciting. Fans of the series may see this coming as it is a sort of hallmark of the series, but it is still entertaining, though less surprising for them.



Where this game really shines is in its online multiplayer mode. Before Assassin’s Creed had an online mode, Uncharted was nearly the only game in which climbing on walls was an integral part of online game strategy. This fact may not seem like much, but when Uncharted 2’s multiplayer was released, it opened a dimension of gameplay that gamers were not used to, and thus was more challenging and entertaining. Uncharted 3’s multiplayer plays like a more refined Uncharted 2, but that is not a bad thing. The controls are tight, maps are fun, weapons are varied, and the breadth multiplayer mode is wide. I can think of very few contenders for a more fun multiplayer experience on consoles.

Verdict:
Uncharted 3 is for you if you like action/adventure games like Tomb Raider, fun multiplayer experiences like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, or feeling like you are part of an Indiana Jones film. If you own a Playstation 3, you should feel ashamed for not owning at least one game in this series, as it is one of the best the console has ever seen. Though Uncharted 2 was a stronger game in my eyes than the third installment, that should not discount it, for it is incredibly entertaining and a worthwhile buy. Uncharted 3 simply feels more "Hollywood" than any other game in the series, and I'm not quite sure that's a good thing. It's like a Michael Bay movie is to a Christopher Nolan film -- similar action, but one is far better than the other at justifying it.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a burnt-out chateau in which to shoot the English waiting for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sniper Elite V2 & Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2

For the full review of Sniper Elite V2, click here.

Yes. You read that right. If my review on Sniper: Ghost Warrior got any point across, it's that Sniper Elite got right what Warrior didn't. Well as chance would have, the latest news and trailer been released for Sniper Elite V2. Exact details haven't been released for the sequel yet, but we do know that the game will stick with being brutally realistic, especially in stealth and sniper combat. But then again, I can't say I'm surprised by this since the first Sniper Elite showed us what sniper mechanics can be achieved in a game. We also know that the game is take place near the end of the World War II (like the first game) and will continue its defining use of the bullet following kill-cam. This game is definitely going to be at the top of my wishlist.




Also, I just want to point out the ending of that trailer. Kill-cam going into an x-ray view? I had chills. This isn't about just making your one bullet count, this is now about watching said bullet's path of damage through an entire body cavity. Bloody brilliant!


Now as for Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 being on the horizon as well, all I can say is that I sincerely hope for the best. Information does suggest City Interactive has a larger team working on this so perhaps they'll now put in a lot more effort to make up for what the first game severely lacked. We'll just have to wait and see. The trailer does look pretty nifty.


Click here to view the teaser trailer


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Monthly Podcast #4

We are pleased to tell you that our next podcast is up and ready for your enjoyment. Granted this is from November and is a little late in posting, but with the busy season delays obviously happened and for this we apologize. But without any more delay, here it is!




And click here for our iTunes page!

Or stream the podcast here:


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sniper: Ghost Warrior


Sniper: Ghost Warrior. The mere mention of this game puts me in a foul mood. I thought it had potential, I thought that just perhaps there was finally a sniper experience to rival the incredible 2005 tactical shooter Sniper Elite. But instead it appears that City Interactive took a look at what Sniper Elite did correctly, copied a few ideas and then decided their time was better spent playing with a paddle ball. Rather than simply listing what this game did right or wrong, I’ll instead look at a comparison of the game to its predecessor. I’ve taken this approach because if you’re playing Sniper: Ghost Warrior, there’s a good chance you’ve played Sniper Elite. If not, I must advise after this sentence you should seriously consider opening your steam account and purchasing Sniper Elite. Or if that is not an option, it is also sound advice to go home and enjoy a refreshing afternoon nap. Whatever suits your fancy, really.
Now luckily for both games, controls for a stealth-based sniper FPS game are not intended to be too difficult in the first place. You have your basic movement, weapon aiming and firing, tactical equipment such as grenades or throwing knives, and breath control when using your sniper rifle. You control a fictional recon sniper soldier going behind enemy lines to eliminate specific targets without being seen or caught. This unfortunately marks the point where the similarities between these two games come to a grinding halt. Now we’ll take a moment to glance at how Ghost Warrior cloned Elite at all the right fundamentals and still managed to get it terribly, terribly wrong.




Stealth. The entire point of a recon sniper. To be deadly without being seen. Shoot and blend into your environment. The modern day ninja as it were. The ultimate game of hide and seek. Both games used similar mechanics for determining how well the player blends with their environment by use of a simple icon. If you’re roughly 25% hidden, your icon is a brighter color compared to if you’re 75-100% hidden, in which the icon transitions to a much darker shade. Ensuring that the icon remains dark isn’t a bad way to keep the player focused on sneaky movements; it helps maintain focus and awareness of your surroundings without cluttering the view on your monitor. However Ghost’s AI difficulty curve nearly renders your stealth focus into a pointless effort. Set the game to its easiest difficulty and one could almost run head first into the enemy compound, stop behind a truck of some sort and pick off all the guards with a damned pistol. Raise the difficulty only slightly and despite remaining perfectly off the grid and out of sight, you’ll still find your every slightest movement amplified to the world. In fact, I will go ahead and warn any perfectionists reading this that if you feel the need to achieve the perfect stealth kill each time with your rifle, you're going to become very good friends with the save/load game button. You can line up a perfect shot, hold your breath, fire your silenced rifle, and the moment the guard’s body hits the ground the ENTIRE BLOODY PLANET IS AWARE OF YOUR EXACT LOCATION AND WILL FIRE 10,000 ROUNDS OF RIFLE FIRE AT YOU AT ONCE. Load your game save, take the same shot, and this time no one’s the wiser. Other reviews on this game have stated the obvious difficulty in the AI curve. Personally, I’ve found the AI in this game to be not only difficult and terribly inconsistent throughout. Any game that makes it feel necessary for even non-perfectionists to constantly hit the quick-save button before each shot obviously hasn’t determined how to reasonably configure difficulty settings. Yes, one could expect such challenges in-game should the game be set to, say, nightmare mode, (no Sniper: Ghost Warrior doesn’t have a literal nightmare mode, just bear with me) but a medium setting certainly shouldn’t be nightmare mode with an improved silencer option for select weapons. Oh! The silencer is itself another damning aspect; if a game chooses to utilize the classic James Bond “pffew!” sound, that’s certainly fine for more fantasy-esc FPS games. But surely a title released under the pretense of being a real-world sniper experience would be well aware that suppressors don’t actually produce such a cartoony tone, especially if it's a suppressor affixed to a firearm of significant size such as the Mk. 12 SPR rifle. (Google it, it's a big rifle) But there again it matters not because once one ventures above the easiest difficult setting, your 007 perfectly-silenced rifle shot at 200+ yards is still going to give your exact position away about 70% of the time.




The actual sniping gameplay is also very similar to Elite, utilizing both breath control and the bullet-camera style kill videos. I will give both games credit in that they recognize at least the basic physics behind a sniper shot. Depending on the difficulty setting, you will need to compensate on your scope for the distance, wind speed, wind direction, height of target, and target movement. In layman’s terms, you can’t always line up your shot in the middle of your crosshairs, you will have to raise and adjust it accordingly. When you feel you have it lined up, you inhale and hold your breath to steady your rifle and finally take your shot. THIS is the moment things become magnificent with the bullet-camera. When I initially played Sniper Elite and got my first kill with this bullet-camera, I admit I was giddy with delight. To hear the rifle fire and immediately have a slow motion angle-changing camera follow this bullet the entire trajectory the moment it leaves the rifle barrel before dramatically striking your target is truly fantastic. Sniper: Ghost Warrior decided to take this concept and make it, quite frankly, stupid. In this we can look past how horrible the scope movement is, though I will say it’s as if the character has never had training holding a rifle and needs to wave it back and forth to keep himself amused. First mission and here sits my character draped in a ghillie suit in the thick of the jungle at the top of a cliff overlooking the enemy compound. Stealth icon is at 100% darkness, a cold pint has refreshed my thirst; it was time to eliminate my objective's target. Taking aim through my scope and inhaling for my shot, I suddenly see the entire screen in my scope reverse colors and add a gray-monochrome tone. While this eye-straining cluster of color changing occurs, my ears were treated to a comical Matrix style time slowing sound. After a few more seconds, my character leaves this silent film mode from holding his breath too long and needs to regain it before trying again. Time was slowed, so why did the shot not happen? Simple. It was impossible to take the shot when I was too busy rolling my head on my desk with laughter.




All that remains is the story, and trust me when I say you should not set any kind of expectations higher than a blade of grass. You’re a recon sniper soldier pursuing a maniacally evil drug lord slash South American General all while leaving a trail of blood in your wake as you hunt him and his cronies down. Sounds like the premise for a Bruce Willis movie, eh? The interchangeable characters one plays throughout the campaign lack any kind of depth, development, or back story. Plot progression? Nearly non-existent. I will say that for this kind of game I wasn’t expecting a Batman: Arkham Asylum level of story depth, but they could have at least tried. With Ghost Warrior, as with Elite admittedly, the story is just a big graphical cliché. In Ghost Warrior, they did at least give the player increased information about General Devilsatan throughout the game and why his increasingly evil plans need a hero to bring them to an end. But trust me when I say that game’s ending is one of the best examples of an anti-climatic conclusion that I’ve ever seen in any form of media. I go from positioning for the final long range shot and getting said kill to having my monitor dissolve to a black background. A white "The End" credit title fades in and out, then the Caribbean techno starts up. I swear to the Almighty I'm not making this up, have a look for yourself.

The Colonel’s Conclusion:
If it’s not obvious already, I was entirely disappointed by this game. I’m rather partial to sniper classes in FPS and tactical shooter games and felt one pang of frustration after another with this title that should have been just my cup of tea. I feel it only appropriate to remove the words “sniper recon” from the game and replace them with “prime murder clown”. This seems to better fit what one plays as in this game: a clown who has somehow blundered down the rabbit hole and entered the Matrix with a scoped high-power rifle.

...

I just watched that ending again...I need a drink.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Batman Arkham City Review

Just when gamers were sure no worthwhile Batman games would ever come, Rocksteady swooped in like the Dark Knight himself and delivered the masterpiece that is Batman: Arkham Asylum unto a woefully unnourished community. Two years later, Batman: Arkham City has been released and expectations are understandably high. Can the sequel possibly rival the original, or was Arkham Asylum a diamond in the rough?



About one year after the Joker’s defeat in Arkham Asylum, a division of Gotham has been sectioned off to house not only the mental patients of the Asylum, but also the criminals of Blackgate Prison. Bruce Wayne finds himself a political prisoner inside the new corrections facility after publically denouncing it. One call to Alfred and a costume change later and the Dark Knight is on the case. From the moment Batman appears on screen, everything from Arkham Asylum comes back, though with some obvious improvements. The first thing you will notice about Arkham City is its colossal size. Gone are the days of running through tunnels to reach other sections of the game as Arkham City is one free-flowing area. If you so choose, Batman can swing from one corner of the map to the other without ever having to touch the ground, just gliding and using the Batclaw. Going from Arkham Asylum to Arkham City is like emerging from a hallway into a theater, an odd claustrophobic feeling you were not even quite aware of is suddenly lifted.

The combat is nearly identical to that of its predecessor. Essentially, you press the attack button as fast as your thumbs will allow until an enemy has lighting around his head, then you press the counter button.



Every battle with a mob of people follows this template, with the exception of knife wielders, those with body armor, and ruffians carrying shields. It can certainly get repetitive, but most of the missions space out combat in such a way that sneakiness is highly encouraged and all-out brawls are rare. The stealth portions of missions are identical to that of Arkham City, though new tools such as the freeze grenades and disruptors certainly make it more interesting.

Come to think of it, the same can be said for most of Arkham City; it’s Arkham Asylum with some upgrades.

One of the most significant updates is to the characters and subplots. I shan’t ruin what villains make an appearance, but their numbers are nearly too great and each actually has a story to tell. One could get easily lose in the side-quests involving one specific villain and deter entirely from the main storyline. This feature is both a strength and a weakness of the game as the player rarely feels an urgent need to continue the main quest line, not unlike Grand Theft Auto 4 or Fallout: New Vegas. However, this is not to say the main plot is not exquisite, because it is. Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker seem made for one another and hearing the two interact with one another is a treat. The story takes odd turns here and there, but finishes with one of the most dramatic scenes in Batman history, in my opinion.

The DLC is the only complaint I have about the game thus far. Upon purchase of a new game, you are provided with a code to download Catwoman as a playable character. This fact means that gamers who purchase the game used will have to also buy a Catwoman code in order to play her parts of the story.



Locking off parts of the story to those who choose to buy the game used is a rather dirty tactic. I understand that game makers do not profit from used game sales, but doing about getting more money this way makes you seem slimy, Rocksteady. Gobs more DLC is available including playing with Robin and Nightwing and downloading new skins for Batman if you did not preorder it. Total, that makes over ten pieces of downloadable content for this game, some of which were available on day one. I know downloading them is optional and that they do not impact gameplay, but having that much meaningless DLC rubs me the wrong way and makes me think Rocksteady has gotten greedy.

Verdict: If you liked Batman: Arkham Asylum, you will be pleased as punch with Arkham City. Its additions only help the game along and the larger environment opens a realm of possibilities for the Dark Knight. Even if Arkham Asylum passed you by, give Arkham City a go. Its engaging story, quick combat, and challenging levels make for an enjoyable experience, even if you know nothing of Batman.
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