Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Diablo 3 Review: Part 1

When a game has been in development for 10 years, reactions about its release are bound to be interesting. When said game is the next Diablo, the amount of buzz and excitement is cacophonous. Back in 2008, Blizzard announced it was coming… someday. Until now, fans have been getting gameplay videos and a beta to sate the thirst to play the next action-RPG in this popular franchise. Like Duke Nukem Forever, Diablo has a wide fan-base that loves the franchise.  Now that the game has been released, does the game meet the enormously high expectations gamers placed on this, a game 10 years in the making? To continue this in-depth look at Diablo 3, I’ll be looking at a player’s first play-through and review the game as a whole. As for the rest, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Your first experience after creating your first character is an amazing cutscene that could be in a movie. Not only does the cutscene effectively set the stage for the first part of your epic adventure, but also everything from the facial animations to the embers erupting from a fire look stunning and are nothing less than Blizzard’s best cinematic work. While there are very few cutscenes in the game, each one looks just as impressive and moves you from act to act. The story begins with an angel falling to earth and your character searching for the fragments of his holy sword to restore his memory. In that, you’re introduced to the city of New Tristram and the characters therein that will come to shape the story.

Like in Diablo predecessors, the story is separated into acts with major cutscenes. Unfortunately, the story does not flow that well from act to act. Within each act, the world is fleshed out well with plenty of NPCs to talk or listen to. Out in the dungeon-filled areas, there is a plethora of lore and side quests providing insight and details behind the massive universe of the Diablo series. Even better, almost all of the lore, side quests, additional text and details, are voiced. Since there is so much history in the Diablo universe, conveying 90% of the story through spoken word gave the plot a voice that you want to listen to. Instead of spending time catching up on light reading, Blizzard made a great move by letting newcomers to the series, and action-RPGs as a genre, spend their time grinding levels and killing hordes of monsters while listening to the history behind the land of Sanctuary your character explores. However, although each act is successful in conveying a riveting plot, they do not blend well together as part of a larger story arc. As soon as you finish an act by fighting a boss battle, your character talks to the NPCs once or twice and then on to the next act in another part of the world. While the cut scenes do some work in smoothing over the transition, it still feels a little odd playing in a desert city, then moving to cold, snowy mountaintops in about 5 minutes.

When you start the dungeon-crawling, the NPCs really shine. Many major NPCs, like your Artisans for crafting and Followers, who accompany your character on you quests, have several side-stories and conversations regarding the finer details of Sanctuary. Not only that, but they can also lead to cool revelations and side quests for more loot and rare items. And unless you’re prepared to wiki the story of the previous games, there will be some details and characters that may not be fully appreciated because of the lack of knowledge of the back story. Overall, I felt the story was too short and ended abruptly. All four acts feel like they could be one or two acts in an RPG. While the story has a distinct beginning and end, it seemed way too short. Maybe they could have added more quests and side stories in each act or crated more acts to spread out the story more. Either way I felt like there was a portion of the game that had been cut out for whatever reason. Also, the story is the same for any class you choose. While I understand that each character class couldn’t have a full story on their own, a unique starting area or class-specific sidequests would have been a good variation. Considering the fact that most of the replay value derives from going over the same story on harder levels or with friends, additional, class-specific content added later on could go a long way in encouraging multiple playthroughs. The thought of having to play the same story, even if it’s on a harder level with better items and more money, seems a little boring without some extra incentives. Either way, the gameplay itself is still a fun and engaging experience.

The gameplay of Diablo 3 feels both addictive and polished. Random dungeons and rare loot kept me exploring every part of every area for more and more items that I could either sell or use. And when I use “random” that applies in almost every way. Every time you log in, you could go to the same dungeon 4 or 5 times, and find new loot and a new layout every time. Blizzard made the exploration and leveling very appealing with various random events, shrines, dungeons, and loot to find every time you go through the lands of Sanctuary, and that same addicting quality of grinding to the next level or doing just one last dungeon makes replaying it on higher levels even more alluring. At the same time, I feel like it has all been done before. While everything in the game is polished, upgraded, and overall feels great, there isn’t much in the way of innovation or original ideas within the series or even the genre. The old cliché seems to fit – “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Yet with 10 years and mountains of money invested in this game, I expected some new or original ideas to be peppered in with the standard RPG elements. Either way, every aspect of the gameplay from dungeon-crawling to crafting is solid and fun to play for both an RPG veteran and someone new to playing a PC action-RPG.

Blizzard made a few concessions on either side of the casual-hardcore line when it comes to gameplay. In Diablo 3, your character levels ups and gains access to new skills and abilities at each level. Depending on your class, the game automatically increases stats, Dexterity or Intelligence, based on what class you chose. Each new spell you unlock also has runes to customize the strength and versatility of said spell. Yet, each unlock is predetermined based on the game, instead of being based on how much time you spend using a particular spell. I appreciate the fact that some people do not enjoy spending time figuring out the math behind each point in a Dexterity statistic, and would rather find a set of spells and abilities early on that suit their needs and focus exploration and demon-slaying. Blizzard made the right move by essentially making the first playthrough, on normal difficulty, a tutorial. A lot of the normal RPG aspects and gameplay elements are introduced very slowly so a new player would not be overwhelmed by all the new things he/she has to understand. For hardcore gamers, the challenge comes on the second playthrough – in Nightmare difficulty.  Using the same character you played with the first time, you must battle enemies who are much harder because they are the same level you are. For RPG veterans, the first playthrough might seem a little boring, but it doesn’t take that long to get into the subsequent playthroughs that are truly challenging.

 One of the aspects Blizzard definitely tweaked to suit a more casual play style is the crafting and follower portions of the gameplay. In most RPGs there are artisan systems in some form where you invest money to make better armor and weapons as the game progresses; specialist NPCs like a blacksmith, jeweler, and maybe a tanner or hide specialist produce these goods. Usually, you’ll also gain a sidekick or two to accompany you on your grand adventure. Generally your sidekick, called a Follower in Diablo 3, is a lot like your character, with skills and spells to choose from as well as weapons and armor to customize. In Diablo 3, your Follower (a choice between an Enchantress, a Scoundrel, or a Templar Night) doesn’t have as much customization as you do, but they are meant to fill a more thematic role. For example, if you play as a Wizard, then a Templar Night might suit you better since you could use a meat shield to tank damage while you sit back and sling spells. Each Follower has their own side story you can listen to throughout the game and even have special items that can be found during your loot searching. However, the Follower isn’t as functionally useful as you’d want him/her to be. The Enchantress and Scoundrel aren’t nearly as useful as the Templar, since he’s the only one with a heal spell, and their customization evens out around level 20. While they can be leveled past that, the Follower doesn’t get any new spells to learn or any new armor slots past each hand, 2 rings, an amulet, and special Follower-specific item. If you’re playing through Diablo 3 for the first time, then you should take one along for the story and fun banter thrown back and forth. But past that, you’d be better off inviting a friend to your game and slaughtering the harder foes with him/her. Thankfully, the Artisans are much more useful.

The Artisan NPCs in Diablo 3 consist of a Blacksmith and Jeweler. Both can be leveled up through investing gold, and as you do, you’ll be able to craft better armor. In the higher levels, you’ll find recipes and sets for Legendary Armor that your Blacksmith can craft if you have the gold and your Blacksmith is at a high enough level. The Jeweler is just as important, as the more loot you find, you’ll notice that the more valuable stuff has a “Socket” attached to it. The Jeweler can combine common jewels, like a Flawed Topaz, to make rare jewels, like a Flawless Topaz. Even better, when you try to separate a gem from a piece of armor, you don’t destroy it, something done in almost every other RPG I’ve seen. Just like the Blacksmith, you can dump your gold into the Jeweler to increase his level and gain the ability to craft rare gems. The best part is that the levels and gold acquired through crafting and selling armor and weapons is persistent through every character you make. If your level up your Blacksmith on your first playthrough as a Barbarian, when you start a Wizard at level 1, you will retain all the gold you had when you last used your Barbarian and your Blacksmith will be at the same level. This means that you can buy and craft all the best armor, which is now cheap in comparison to level thirty armor, for your low-level characters and get through the early stages of Diablo 3 quickly. Blizzard toned down the crafting and focused in on these NPCs, giving them a back story that you can hear more and more of as you progress, as well as enough leveling and crafting options to make investing money in them worth it. And in case you were wondering about the details of each character class, and the armor, weapons, and spells that go with them: Check here for my guide to the classes of Diablo 3.

Verdict: In everything that I have experienced in Diablo 3, I have felt the work, polish, and enthusiasm that was put into making this game great. And it is truly amazing. Blizzard has made a great example of an RPG with a lot of traditional RPG elements that would normally scare away people who haven’t played this genre before. While doing so, they still included aspects of gameplay that are challenging, interesting, and fun to the more hardcore audience that has been playing Diablo since 1996. I think fans will be satisfied with Diablo 3 as a whole. Although there is a lack of variety or new ideas, Diablo 3 is still a game worth investing in. All in all I would recommend this game for anyone. Even if you’ve never played an RPG before and have no clue what a Diablo is, or if you know every detail of the previous Diablo games, I would say pick this game up and give it a shot. Diablo 3 is well worth the investment for all the fun and entertainment you get out of it.
Check back on Friday for my second part of this review where I go into detail about the subsequent playthroughs, Levels 31-60, multiplayer aspects, the Auction Houses, and much more! Happy Looting!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mechwarrior: Online Enters Closed Beta

The future of the Mechwarrior franchise has always been a little shaky and unclear.  A few years ago a trailer for Mechwarrior 5 surface and had a huge amount of people overcome with joy. After said trailer, however, information could hardly be confirmed and nothing was certain on the what and what of the game.  Enter Piranha Games and the confirmed development of Mechwarrior Online (teaser here).

The good news of Mechwarrior Online? It uses the always awesome CryENGINE 3 engine, it's being developed with the mind of a pure multiplayer experience, and it's going to be free-to-play.  The bad news? You can't play it right now.  Mechwarrior Online has just entered into a closed beta that is unfortunately only available to residents of North America.

To make things a little more interesting for the game launch, Piranha has also announced that players can spend extra money to get early access to game content. Starting on June 19th, pre-orders for the Elite Founders and Veteran Founders packages will be available at the respective prices of $60 and $30.  The Elite Founders package will include $80 of in-game currency, available access to premium services for 2 months, and a custom BattleMech only available to Elite Founders.  The Veteran Founders package will include $40 of in-game currency, access to premium services for 1 month, and other stuff that's not yet announced.  Both Founders packages will also include early access to the game upon its official launch, which is set to be July 17th of this year.

Diablo 3 Character Class Guide

One of the great things about Diablo 3 is the depth of its character classes. Although there are only 5 classes that pretty much cover the basic archetypes in an RPG, each class has a distinct feel and thorough skill set that can be explored for hours on end. Also, there are a multitude of builds and skills that fit a person’s play-style. To help out a little, here is a guide for anyone who wants to try something new or find out a little more about how each character works.

First off, there are some basic similarities that are present in each class. All classes have a unique resource for casting spells. Although the resource is different for each class – spirit, mana, fury, etc. —the resource always has a way of regenerating and each class has spells or abilities that utilize the resource for more power. Each class also has unique weapons and equipment that can only be used by that character. Everyone can use the basic items like swords, shields, axes, and bows. But when you put a staff in the hands of a wizard, or a crossbow in the hands of a demon hunter, that’s when you really start harnessing the power each class has at its disposal. When it comes to stats and leveling up, each class has one stat that directly improves the character’s power and one or two stats that supplement the strengths the character has. With strength also comes weakness, so be prepared to notice where your character lacks in some way. Each character has around 22 spells/abilities that create various effects from fireballs to a horde of zombies. While you can only have six of the 22 skills active and usable at a time, there is a large amount of customization and exploration in each set of abilities a certain class has. Never have I had so much fun thinking of new ways to deal massive amounts of damage to my enemies. But enough of all this sharing and connection stuff, let’s get to the heart of what makes each class unique and entertaining.

The Wizard:

While the other characters have multiple ways to both spend and regenerate their resource, the Wizard just spends his Arcane Power to create massive effects that deal damage in creative ways. Whether you are summoning a hydra to spit fire at your enemies or calling down a meteor to decimate your foes, the wizard is all about big, damaging effects. Not to worry though – the Wizard can be a sneaky little guy too, with spells like Teleport, Slow Time, and Mirror Image, where your wizard can move around the battlefield fighting where and when he chooses. During your first 10-15 levels you don’t have too much to work with, but your basic spells are just as useful. Use Magic Missile and Arcane Orb once you unlock it. Both spells are pretty high damage dealers and do well to keep the monsters away. One of the downsides to the Wizard is that he’s probably the slowest to gain power. Even through level 14 or 15 you might feel a little overwhelmed when fighting large hordes of monsters. That all changes once he unlocks higher level skills past level 20 or so. Like most spell-slinging classes, the Wizard takes a little patience which gets rewarded big time when you can use spells like Disintegrate and Archon to really nail the bosses. Pay special attention to the Archon skill once you acquire it. Archon transforms your wizard into a being of pure energy, and includes a jump in power level to go with it. Although the wizard only has 3 spells when in Archon mode, they deal gargantuan amounts of damage and can lay waste to almost anything.

Since his Arcane Power regenerates really quickly, the Wizard has only a few abilities that let him regenerate AP. Still, pay special attention to Power Hungry and Prodigy. Power Hungry gives you AP when you find health globes from fallen enemies, and Prodigy regenerates AP when you hit an enemy with your signature spells (Magic Missile, Electrocute, Shock Pulse, etc.). A special thing to note is that the signature spells don’t cost Arcane Power. As a result, signature spells aren’t as powerful as other spells, but you should always keep one or two of them selected for when you need to regenerate AP. Unfortunately, the Wizard is on the lower end of the defense spectrum, vulnerable and weak when his AP runs out or is surrounded. Generally, I like to keep 2 evasive or defensive spells, like Ice Armor and Teleport, to help me get out of a pinch. The rest are straight offense: use Arcane Orb, Blizzard, Electrocute, and Disintegrate to decimate anything that could stand in your way. To fight large amounts of enemies, use Area of Effect (or AoE) spells like Blizzard, Slow Time, and Hydra to keep control of the battlefield and aid you in putting pressure on the enemies. Personally, I use Ice Armor and Diamond Skin for defense when I need it, and Disintegrate, Arcane Orb, and Electrocute to dish out the pain. My Sixth slot rotates often to try out new spells that I acquire through my leveling. However, this is just my own way of playing with the wizard; feel free to find a set of skills that suit your own play-style. When you want to fight a big boss or are with some friends, feel free to have only one defensive spell and pick all the cool offensive attacks you want. Also, make sure to wear a Wizard Hat to look extra cool.

Since the Wizard doesn’t do physical damage often, most of the armor you wear will either be to protect you when you do get hit, or include useful magical traits that increase your power or do something to help you along the way. I would use any armor that gives you Intelligence and, at first, armor that gives you extra experience for killing enemies. That way, you go through the first 10 or 25 levels fairly quickly. After that, I recommend steering your focus to Intelligence and Vitality. When you deal over 500% damage with a single spell and have 2000 health to keep you standing, not much can hurt you. If you feel the need for some utility, things like extra life from health globes or damage dealt to monsters when they attach you are useful traits on armor. Always prioritize items that are special to the Wizard: wands and staffs, Skulls and spheres, and wizard hats. They will almost always give you more intelligence and damage, and have some unique benefits that can be quite useful. Overall, there is a lot you can do with a Wizard and his wide range of spells. Using the right equipment, the demons of Diablo 3 don’t stand a chance against the Wizard’s arcane might.

The Witch Doctor:
Oddly enough, the Witch Doctor is the only character that actually uses Mana. Like the Wizard, he has spells and abilities that deal damage and hurt his opponents in various creative ways; However, his spells have a more realistic shape. While the Wizard just slings power around and can send an orb of pure magic at your face, the Witch Doctor uses his magic to summon allies like bats and zombie dogs to do his bidding, or create toxic smog to debilitate his opponents. Although he has six different skill-types (offense, defense, spiritual, and so on), the Witch Doctor’s 22 skills can be separated into three main groups: Physical, Spiritual, and Command (or Support). Physical skills are things that do more physical damage (clever, no?). Things like throwing an exploding skull or summoning zombies and spiders to attack other monsters count as Physical skills. Spiritual skills hex your enemies, causing de-buffs, like turning them all into chickens. His passive skills help generate Mana, or increase the harming effects of hexes. Circle of Life is one of the first you get and it helps keep your Mana from draining by giving you a small chance to have an enemy who dies near you automatically turn into a zombie to control. Early on, I kept spells like Firebats and Summon Zombie Dogs to attack minions while skills like Plague of Toads persistently damaged my foes. The Witch Doctor’s power really grows when you start combining his Spiritual and Support skills with the Physical ones. Skills like Haunt and Soul Harvest that can kill your enemies and give you intelligence while Plague of Toads poisons them and your zombie dogs are still biting them for lunch. Not only that, but his wicked-looking unique items really boost the Witch Doctor’s effectiveness in battle.

Unlike the Wizard, the Witch Doctor can get in the thick of things and fight off his enemies. He still has less Defense than the Barbarian or the Monk, but putting a dagger or two in the hands of a Witch Doctor is common enough, especially when those daggers are ceremonial knives, specialized for human sacrifice. Knives, shrunken heads, masks, and mojos (dead snakes) all boost the main stat for the witch doctor, Intelligence. With armor, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little more damage and life-steal, since you might want to jump in and get your hands dirty from time to time. Plus, who wouldn’t want to walk around with an awesome looking knife, shrunken head, and scary looking mask that makes you look awesome? There is a lot of variety in the Witch Doctor, which also makes him a little difficult to start with. His damage dealing isn’t so straight forward, and takes some strategy to get the maximum efficiency out of his spells. However once you invest some time and energy playing around with the Witch Doctor’s toolbox, you’ll find a lot of exciting things to spend Mana on.

The Demon Hunter:
In Diablo 3, I think that the Demon Hunter is probably the most strategy-centered character out of the five. The Demon Hunter uses a dual-resource pool for his various skills. Hatred and Discipline both have their uses in battle, from throwing knives and grenades, to laying down caltrops and traps to slow and bind your foes. Hatred regenerates quickly, and some of your skills can generate Hatred to help out, while Discipline regenerates much more slowly and is utilized for traps, turrets, and other crowd control. The Demon Hunter has the lowest Defense in the game inherently, so it is crucial to always try to have a battle plan in mind and keep all your adversaries at a distance. The Demon Hunter always likes to pick people off with bows and crossbows, letting the monsters die at a distance. His Passives can be dangerous when used in the right combination. Thrill of the Hunt immobilizes enemies when you strike them and Steady Aim increases damage when you are more than 10 yards away from your enemies. When you use two crossbows, your enemies can experience some demoralizing pain.

The Demon Hunter’s special equipment almost seems weak in comparison to a Wizard’s staff or Witch Doctor’s voodoo mask, but his dual-wielding crossbows might be the most effective. Dexterity is his main source of strength so focus on that when you can, finding armor and weapons in the various dungeons. But also consider finding items that increase his critical hit chance, or add additional elemental damage to each hit. These kinds of effects let you get as much effective damage out of each shot you do, increasing your efficiency. When you increase his Dexterity, the Demon Hunters’ dodge chance also goes up, so Demon Hunter-specific hoods and such are useful to boost that stat. The Demon Hunter is one of the few that I recommend having more defensive and utility spells than offensive. The power of the Demon Hunter comes from being able to control every part of the battle: using his caltrops to slow his enemies, firing of a shot or two then vaulting away and firing again. Skills like Smoke Screen and Vault let him move around while Chakram and Rapid Fire deal the damage he needs, throwing down a trap or using a Fan of Knives spell to deal damage and slow his enemies. For most of my play-through, I used the Vengeance and Steady Aim passive skills, increasing my Hatred and always doing more damage by keeping my foes at a distance. Like most rougue-esque classes, the Demon Hunter doesn’t have much inherently obvious power and is difficult to work with in the beginning. But once you start playing with all of the tools the Demon Hunter has, it’s hard to ignore the fun in one-shotting a zombie or two from 15 yards away.

The Monk:

If the idea of being a kung-fu master, eliminating foes with swift and powerful justice, appeals to you, then the Monk is your class.  Using Spirit, the Monk uses his fists as his weapons, and that’s all he needs. Instead of having a varying amount of spells, the Monk uses his Spirit and Skills to amplify the three-hit combo that is the basis of the Monk’s attack. Skills like Fists of Thunder and Deadly Reach simply empower his kicks and punches with added force or elemental abilities. Once you understand the flow of his combat, you will be throwing down with the most difficult monsters and putting them away with ease. Since you regenerate Spirit only by connecting with attacks, it is important to always tactically be aware of who is around you, and how much Spirit you have. If you don’t, your Monk could end up with only a little bit of Spirit left before a large battle ahead – not a good combination. To help out with the offensive frenzy, the Monk has defensive skills that can protect and heal you and Mantras. Mantras are an effect that lasts for around 3 minutes, buffing you and your teammates. These are especially useful when applied correctly. Abilities like Mantra of Healing give your teammates increased health regeneration, incredibly useful in a pinch against a big boss fight. Oddly enough, I think some of the Monk’s passive skills are the most powerful in the game. Transcendence heals you for every point of Spirit you spend, while Chant of Resonance extends your Mantra’s length from 3 minutes to 10 minutes and increases your spirit regeneration while a Mantra is active. Those two together with a Few Mantras and offensive attack skills, and your Monk invariably becomes a tank that wades through his enemies smiting them down with vengeance and satisfaction.

To make sure your Monk has the tools he needs to fight his foes, invest in fist weapons.  Things like Bladed Knuckles and Shukos not only increase the power of the Monk’s fighting attacks, but the right weapons can also increase his attack speed and life steal. Attack speed and life steal, in some form, are the most useful stats to focus on, minus his main stat, dexterity. If you find armor increasing his attack speed and that give him either a percentage of life steal (when you deal physical damage, you gain a portion of that as health) or gain health on hit, then your Monk can move through dungeons with speed and efficiency. The Monk has the second highest defensive capabilities, but that doesn’t mean he should be standing still. The Monk’spower comes from moving throughout the battlefield, dispatching his foes with swift, holy justice.

The Barbarian:
Instead of calling this character class the Barbarian, they should have called it 5he Tank. The Barbarian has the highest defensive and physical offensive capabilities in the game. His Fury resource lets him leap into the fray and knock back his enemies with devastating force. The Barbarian’s skills are separated into 3 groups: Fury Generators, Fury Spenders, and Utilities. By the obvious names, Fury Spenders cost Fury but deal damage. The cool thing about Fury Generators is that they deal damage, too. At first I figured that for the generators to create Fury, they wouldn’t do much physical damage – and I was happily proved wrong. Some of the coolest generators have abilities that can stack to give you more attack speed or strength. Others let you leap in the air and strike down, dealing heavy damage to enemies in an area of effect ability. His shouts are even cooler, buffing your team or de-buffing your enemies with a ferocious roar. From the beginning, the Barbarians’ attacks, skills, and passives all buff his strength and defensive capabilities. Skills like Revenge which deal massive amounts of damage to opponents and healing you for a percentage of the damage dealt, or increasing your armor with nerves of steel. However, even with all of his power, he needs to reach his opponents to kill them. His reach isn’t too good and he will die easily if surrounded. While there are a few abilities that can get him out of tight spots, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind where and how many opponents you have to kill.

With the weapons in Diablo 3 ranging from swords and shields to voodoo masks and shrunken heads, the Barbarian can wield some of the biggest and most fearsome weapons in the game. Not only can he wield two single handed weapons like axes and swords, the Barbarian is the only class that can wield mighty weapons, like giant clubs or hammers. Along with a mighty weapon goes a mighty pelt, showing off some cool achievement while increasing strength and armor. For the Barbarian, it’s all about strength. Increase it with whatever you can find. Critical chance is also a stat worth increasing, as some of the Barbarians abilities work off of critical hits. I turned my Barbarian into a tank, getting the highest amount of vitality and damage I could. Using Cleave and Rend, I rendered my enemies worthless (ha-ha rend--rendered, get it?). With skills like frenzy and Threatening Shout, I kept pouring damage onto my enemies ruthlessly. And I had a lot of fun doing it.

In the end, the best class and best “build” is the one you feel most comfortable with and enjoy. Experimenting is always fun to do when you get a new spell or ability, so try new combinations often, even after you found a set of skills you like. Diablo 3 has some really fun classes to use while exploring sanctuary, and all the variety that goes with it can keep you playing for a long time.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Diablo 3 has Triumphs and Tribulations

 With almost every game released, there are always successes and problems. And with any game that has had a 10 year development cycle, there was bound to be as many great achievements as there were problems in the beginning. Diablo 3 released May 17 and did so with high expectations and a lot of buzz surrounding the finished product after many a gameplay video and beta test. While my full review will take place next week, there has been a lot of action concerning Diablo 3’s release in the past 7 days.

Server complications and overloads created a 2-day inability to play Diablo 3 from the very beginning. Since the game required a constant internet connection, most players in North America could not log on and play the single player experience they paid $60 for. The servers were down for over 48 hours due to the massive influx of traffic on the servers, multiple performance problems, and a game-breaking bug. Blizzard quickly released an apology with a very witty twist hoping to appease the many angry games waiting to play Diablo 3. While it seems that server problems were inevitable, it seems that Blizzard should have taken more thorough precautions regarding the launch, especially considering that the similar problems we prevalent in the beta test.

Unfortunately that is not the end for Diablo 3’s woes, for later in the week, reports were coming in that Diablo 3 accounts, and the subsequent Battle.Net account attached to it, are being hacked. In-game gold and loot was swindled from a multitude of accounts. Blizzard once again apologized for the inconvenience and also took the opportunity to advertise the “Blizzard Authenticator” security measures available for use to better secure your Battle.Net account.

Enough of the bad news; there is some good news too. Early financialreports show that Blizzard has broken PC sales records by moving more than 3.5 Million units in only 24 hours. The number has certainly grown by this point, but the numbers alone are a testament to how popular the game is as well as the publicity surrounding its release. Despite the trials Diablo 3 has gone through, it still made money for Blizzard and will certainly survive for players to sink hours upon hours into it. Whether or not it should be bought and played--you should check out my week-long look at the game next week.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Aristogamer May 2012 Podcast

This month, Colby, Devin, and Casey discuss Diablo III, the handheld gaming paradigm, and potential E3 2012 announcements.

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Starhawk Review

Warhawk was a reasonably popular game for the PS3, and one of the only worthwhile multiplayer titles exclusive to the console. It was also one of the first full-fledged PS3 games to be released both physically and digitally. The 0.5-1 million or so Warhawk players made the game one of the most successful multiplayer games for the new console, which was convenient, since the game had no single player mode. Lightbox Interactive just released Starhawk, the spiritual successor to the original PS3 success story, with updated graphics, story, atmosphere, and gameplay elements. Can it follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, or has the market had time to grow and mature out of the *hawk series?

Starhawk Multiplayer

Whereas Warhawk had no single player, Starhawk not only has a single player campaign, it has a rather large emphasis on single player. The game follows Emmett Graves, a hired gun looking to protect miners of a volatile natural resource called Rift Energy from Outcasts, people corrupted by said Rift Energy. Our protagonist was in an accident himself, and though his powers are not fully explained, he is visibly half Outcast, though certainly human. We follow Emmett as he tries to protect the town of White Sands from the Outlaw, an Outcast banding his brethren together in a way no one has seen before. Though this story is rather basic and rife with clichés, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the universe and the new human way of life. I was given the absolute briefest explanation on what life is like now, not why, and thrown into it. I learned the names of vehicles, the way things worked, how monsters reacted, how to build things, and the politics of the new world all by doing and through dialogue, not by reading a backstory or having some narrator or character plot point explain it to me.

Starhawk Outcast

Nothing twists my knickers more than being treated like I’m in kindergarten.  Though I suppose that would be better than being dropped in with absolutely no context and being confused. I’m staring at you here, Dear Esther.

The narrative was also bolstered by a talented voice-acting cast, breathing life into the characters. I was quite happy listening to character interactions since most of their dialogue and way of speaking seemed natural.

Starhawk Voice Actors

In fact, the only voice out of place that made me cringe was that of Jonas toward the ending – if you play, you will know which scene I am referring to. That entire sequence made me embarrassed to watch. Also, the voices sometimes had trouble matching up to the mouth movements on screen, something that annoyed me to no end. Luckily, in-game cut scenes were kept to a minimal and most large narrative breaks were done with short animated featurettes — think Infamous 2 with a simpler art style and set in the wild west, and you’ve hit the nailhawk on its head.

The gameplay is quite similar to Warhawk, as expected, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The original game was arguably the most enjoyable multiplayer experience on PS3, and Starhawk just adds to the fun. It's a standard third-person over the shoulder shooter in which the protagonist gets a variety of weapons, some useless and some not, to fight a horde of enemies who range from quick and weak to large and overwhelming to planes that are actually mechs. And yes, that is a feature that’s seen heavily in the *hawk games, Hawks—large mecha that turn into planes, making them suitable for heavy ground combat, or high-flying, heart-pounding dogfights. From intense shootouts to outmaneuvering and boosting your way through enemies, Starhawk delivers a fun gameplay experience.

One huge difference between this game and its predecessor that I fell in love with is the ability to build structures. Pressing Triangle brings up a build menu, allowing you to construct objects from Hawk-spawn stations to supply depots to a good old fashioned wall.

Starhawk Building

The game switches quickly between sections of mowing down Outcasts to giving you a few brief seconds to breathe, put up some structures, and get ready for the next assault, before bombarding you with far more than you could handle without building.

Starhawk Rift Energy

This gameplay element is both well executed and hellaciously fun, adding a level of strategy to an otherwise standard shooter title. 

Your options for multiplayer online are about what you would expect—multiplayer campaign, versus matches, and exploration modes. The multiplayer campaign is nearly identical to the single player campaign, the only difference is that your AI helpers are now people. Most people help immensely, so if you have the opportunity to play through the campaign mode online, I highly recommend it as the AI is usually useful, but definitely has its stupid moments.

Starhawk AI

The versus modes are mildly off balance. Essentially, whoever can build the most, fastest, and prevent the other team from building will be victorious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re focused on capturing someone’s flag, and they’re focused on making a Hawk before you can so they can destroy all of your buildings, why even play capture the flag? Nevertheless, playing with other people proves to be a strong point for the *hawk series. In fact, straight after this review, I think I’ll play a little team death match and hope I get spawned on the team who had the good sense to put up beam turrets.

Verdict: Starhawk may be a spiritual successor to Warhawk, but it far surpasses it in every category. The multiplayer is sharper, the single player campaign exists and is quite interesting, and I actually care about the universe instead of trying to brutally murder random people on the internet.  If you like third-person shooters like Dead Space, online multiplayer games like Uncharted, or strategy games like Starcraft, you’ll love Starhawk. 

Full disclosure: The title was presented to me by a Lightbox Employee, but that in no way affects my judgment of the game.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC

It has been confirmed that voice actors Lance Henriksen and Tricia Helfer will be reprising their roles as Admiral Hackett and EDI for the upcoming Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC that's due to be released this summer.  Henriksen recently told G4TV "I just did another session with them...they were saying there's a little bit of a problem with the abruptness of the ending, so we did a whole series of things to add to the end of the game, to live up to the quality they've been doing."

BioWare Co-Founder Dr. Ray Muzyka's written statement in early April stated "Since launch, we have had time to listen tot he feedback from our most passionate fans and we are responding. With Mass Effect 3's Extended Cut, we think we've struck a good balance in delivering the answers players are looking for while maintaining the team's artistic vision for the end of this story arch in the Mass Effect universe."

Granted everyone who's a huge fan of the Mass Effect universe (myself included) are more than ready for this DLC to be released and provide more closure to those infectious "what if" and "what next" questions, hearing that BioWare is taking this DLC release very seriously can give us a chance to exhale with relief.

May Podcast Preview

Yes, lads and lasses, it's that time of the month again! And this should prove to be a treat with a summer of gaming conventions, news, and new titles to look forward to. Topics for this week include:
  • Diablo 3
  • Possible E3 announcements
  • New games we're playing
As always, instructions for connecting to and communicating in the podcast are below:

How to can download and use Teamspeak

Date: Tuesday , May 22nd

Time: 9:00pm Central Time

Attire theme: Rustic Western (no pearl snaps)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Activision Announces Black Ops 2

Since you can set your clock to a yearly release of the Call of Duty franchise, it was an inevitability that something would be announced about the next FPS to come from Activision. This year Modern Warfare takes a backseat to Treyarch’s Black Ops franchise. Week after week, more video content and information is circulating about Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, revealing a few interesting twists to the old run-around-and-shoot-people strategy.

One of the intriguing bits to think about is that the story will jump from the first Cold War, experiencing it through the eyes of the same characters you interacted with in the first Black Ops, and the second Cold War in 2025, where robotics and drone technologies have revolutionized combat and warfare. Since it is set in the future, Treyarch has worked to create this “fringe future” where the fictional second Cold War is presented as a somewhat plausible future for the real world. Most of the details involve conflict over rare earth metals, which are used in most technology today.

Another twist in the storyline of Black Ops 2 is the unprecedented application of choice in an FPS. Throughout the campaign, you will come across various “Strike Force” missions, which have an impact on the broader storyline. As some happen at the same time, you as a player will have to choose which mission to partake in, and that choice, as well as whether you succeed or fail in your mission, will have an impact on the story as a whole. To go even another level deeper, you can switch roles inside the “Strike Force” missions, from controlling various drones on the battlefield, to changing soldiers in a larger theatre of war, experiencing the combat from different angles. As a player you have the option of setting up troops in an “Overwatch” mode, which has some RTS influences, and then zoom in on the action to experience your strategy in a first person view.

And of course the multiplayer aspect will be as present as ever. Treyarch is pushing what they can do in the realm of multiplayer, but haven’t yet announced any specifics on how they are doing that. What they have released, to the happiness of many, is the return of zombies in full force. So far it seems that Black Ops 2 is going to offer a more complete package than most FPS’s have in recent years, and looks to be a fun game this November.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sniper Elite V2 review

Sniper Elite V2 is exactly what every fan of the original Sniper Elite desires it to be: a true sequel.  Rebellion completely understood that this game wasn't supposed to take on the likes of Mass Effect or Call of Duty, but rather it needed to further explore and expand on what made the first Sniper Elite a unique experience. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that Sniper Elite V2 is a superb game, I'm just saying that it's a proper sequel to the first game.  Plus it doesn't have one of the STUPIDEST endings imaginable in a sniper game (yes I'm referring to Sniper:Ghost Warrior's ending and no I'm never letting that go).

Sniper Elite V2 places the player in the role Karl Fairburne, an officer of the OSS who was deployed behind enemy lines in Berlin near the end of the European Front in World War II.  Now let's see if we can predict the plotline of this game! Given it being set in World War II and being done by Rebellion, it shouldn't be too difficult a challenge to figure out but I'll go ahead and list out some cliché options to help you along:

1.)  Hunt down the top Nazi and/or Wehrmacht officers to throw the German army in chaotic disarray.
2.)  Shoot your way through the defensive lines of the main Germany army encampment to single handedly stealth kill the final assault force.
3.)  Take out Hitler from 400+ yards and plant evidence to blame it on suicide just to make him look like an even bigger wuss.
4.)  Shoot a Soviet officer with a German rifle, thus personally creating the real reason for the Soviet Union to turn against Germany.
5.)  Kill an assortment of V2 rocket scientists for some cockamamie "if you don't, the world could end" James Bond-esq story arch.
6.)  None of the above, this game has an intriguing and thoroughly detailed plot with tragic literary elements that could rival that of Christopher Marlowe.

If you chose option 6, feel free to smack your own face right now.  Otherwise, it's a tough call to make since all other options would make a great movie or comic book, but since this is a game with V2 in the title, looks like the dart has hit option 5 with this game, though option 3 is available should you have purchased the pre-order DLC.  So as described above, this game puts the player in a race against time to take out the majority of German V2 rocket scientists before they are captured by the Soviet Union and allowing them to get weapons technology that could be used against the United States in the Cold War. But the important thing to focus on is the double meaning in the title. V2 is both the rocket based weapon of the age and the 2 signifies this game being a sequel! Get it? It's a double meaning! Oh you clever Rebellion writers. And by clever I of course mean apathetic but you get the idea.  *spoilers* You win both World War II and the Cold War. Congratulations, now go have a drink. I certainly need one.

The main strengths in this game are all around the gameplay itself, and this is where I find the game to be truly entertaining and unique. With taking on the roll of a sniper, one would expect to utilize stealth, observation, planning, accuracy and precision. In previous titles that have sniper focuses or even just sniper based missions, this option is available but it's not your only option. You could grab an enemy AK-47 and run into a building wearing your ghillie suit and shoot up an entire army if you wanted. Entertaining notion and even more entertaining image in your head, especially if you replace all those in the opposing army with a formal wear dinner party, but still incorrect in what makes a sniper different from a one-man army commando. V2 instead forces the player to use their head and actually think like a stealth sniper. Sure you have a submachine gun as one of your weapons, but you only start with one magazine worth of ammo and should you find ammo on dead soldiers, you can find up to a magazine of one additional clip.  This pretty much makes it impossible for anyone to be tempted to run and gun, something I greatly appreciate from this game. Your other weapons only include a backup pistol and your rifle. Sure you have your trip wire grenades, frag grenades, and other support weapons but ammo is still limited and you still have to be somewhat smart in using them. The point is, you have to plan out each attack and that's something I absolutely love. There's a fair amount of missions in the single player campaign and each mission can take anywhere between 2-5 hours to complete, depending on the patience of the player. For myself, I took my sweet time. You achieve better camouflage from the enemy in prone than just crouched so often I crawled to my desired shooting position like a drunk...well, anything.

The main focus of a sniper game should the shooting of the rifle itself, and this game fine tuned what the first Sniper Elite game achieved so well. The player can set the difficulty to not have as much of a challenge in using the scoped rifle with pretty much just aiming at a head and pulling the trigger, or they can have it at a high difficulty setting that makes one need to focus on heart rate, altitude, distance, wind, and movement of the target. One thing I really love with V2 is how you can even create a custom campaign that has the highest difficulty in sniper physics but the lowest difficulty in the AI of the enemy, allowing someone who wishes to hone their skills to do so without fear of messing up one shot equaling their instant death by a volley of 10,000 enemy bullets. The different rifles in the game also have slightly different physics, that being different power scopes, muzzle velocity, the crosshair style of the scope itself, or even semi-auto rifles over bolt action  There really is a lot of customization allowed in this game and that's never a terrible thing to have.  But there's a cherry on top of this sniper flavored sundae and that's the bullet killcam.  When you have your distance shot lined up and it indeed is a killshot, the game rewards you with one of the most brutal killcams I've seen yet in a game and certainly the most brutal in a sniper game. The game follows the bullet the moment it leaves your rifle, much like it did in the first Sniper Elite. However, instead of just following the round until it hits your target, often times the moment it hits your target, a circular x-ray path is provided to show exactly what the bullet does to the bones and organs inside said target. In other words, not only did you get a great headshot, but you actually see the bones in his skull shattering into pieces as the bullet passes through his forehead.  This killcam is something that never got old and even though its brutality could make others squeamish, I found it to be done rather tastefully (as far as slow motion x-ray head shattering sequences can go at least).

Overall the game is simple, sometimes frustrating, but overall a game any true fan of sniper games would thoroughly enjoy.  The way Rebellion actually forces a player to use stealth and planning for each kill makes me appreciate their efforts to continue the tradition of the first Sniper Elite game, and all without that horribly STUPID "limited times you can save during a mission" crap that the first game had.  Sure there are some minor complaints to be said with the current game, such as it having only a checkpoint save system and the AI's aim with submachine and machine guns being so accurate you question why you're even bothering trying to snipe them at all. But those complaints don't ruin the experience of Sniper Elite V2 and if anything they just add to the challenge the game brings.

Oh and that "Kill Hitler" DLC? It was very short and frustrating and had one of the laziest lead ins I've read in a long time (basically saying "I found out somehow that Hitler was nearby so I'm putting my time sensitive mission on hold so I can go shoot him"), but in the end seeing a bullet enter through Hitler's abdomen and puncture through his liver was very rewarding. Why his abdomen? I wanted to see if the game had a way of fixing history prepared should you not shoot him through the head. *more spoilers* It didn't.

Verdict: It's not a stupendous game on its own and its story is laughable, but if you look past those you'll realize that this game does exactly what job it was supposed to do and that's provide a challenging and thoroughly rewarding stealth sniper experience. With incredibly simple yet smooth controls paired with great gameplay, I honestly feel this game is underappreciated and should be enjoyed for what it is. This isn't Mass Effect with a sniper character, but it certainly isn't Ghost Warrior and that's something anyone can be proud of.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lone Survivor Review

If the zombie apocalypse was at your doorstep, what would you do? Pick up some strange plants, a veritable arsenal of weapons, and spend hours putting gemstones in statues’ eyes like in Resident Evil? Or would you hole up in your room until the last possible moment and then try to find survivors? Let’s face it, as much as we all want the former, we would most likely indulge in the latter.

Lone Survivor is about that side of the zombie survival paradigm—the one where you’re searching in terror for food and desperately hoping to find another life form before you go absolutely mad. The monsters aren’t really zombies per se, but you are presumably the last human in this apartment building and notice your food supplies are running low, so you must venture out to try and escape the city and find any other possible survivors. By taking an approach of mostly sneaking and psychological horror, could this indie adventure game rival the horror or zombie games it’s bound to be compared to?

This game puts you in the shoes of a nameless, masked man trying to find his way out of his apartment building and to the safety of other humans. The problem is that his building and city are swarmed with infected monsters and he’s running low on supplies. I rather enjoy the feelings of helplessness and terror that the game instills with short cut scenes, the noises the monsters make, and how limited your supplies and options are. You’ll often find yourself hiding from and distracting monsters to inch by them in an attempt to run into a door before they catch you, and that’s quite fun.
The gameplay has standard adventure/puzzle type controls with arrow keys to move and an interact button. Lone Survivor sends you on fetch quests to different areas to unlock puzzles and progress the game primarily by finding the widget to unlock the doodad to summon the whatsits and escape from the dreaded boogityboo. Some may not enjoy this type of game, but it is right in my wheelhouse as I grew up on games like Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. Adding in the horror aspect is new to me, but certainly not unwelcomed as the genre brings with it an emotion rarely seen in this genre—frightfulness.

Lone Survivor does a wonderful job of building tension by making you feel human. By that, I mean that most titles in the horror category—Resident Evil, Dead Island, Resistance—put you in control of  people who seem to be demi-gods that aren’t scared in the least of the horrific creatures surrounding them and whose weapon selection rivals that of the U.S. Army. This game puts you in the shoes of a man with one pistol, low ammo, and a backpack full of rotting meat to distract the monsters. That’s it. And four or five hits kills you, so remaining hidden is absolutely essential, and you can feel every mistake you make, raising the stakes and, by proxy, the fun.

A small but incredibly clever mechanic in the game is the way in which mirrors are used. Using a mirror will take you back to your home, while using the mirror in your home will take you back to the last place you used a mirror. It’s a portal wherein you can go back home to save, collect rotting meat, or cook some food before running back into the monster-infested hallways of your apartment complex hell. Though such a feature has the potential to be relied upon as a crutch, the restrictions and usefulness are such that it is really nothing more than an enhanced savepoint. I’m sure there’s something to be said about the symbolism of using a mirror to save yourself, but luckily this is not a literature class.

The graphics in this game did their job, but just barely. The pixelation is very nostalgic and harkens back to the days of yesteryear, but seem mildly out of place for a horror game. I couldn’t really tell what the creatures looked like, what I looked like, or what some of the more gory rooms looked like. The lighting changes, noise, backgrounds, and filters over the graphics were enough to keep me slightly unnerved, but I only found myself genuinely scared with the startling, Dead Space-esque moments where something suddenly appeared or disappeared. If this game was trying to genuinely scare me, it failed, but if it was trying to consistently keep me two degrees from comfortable, then bravo.

Though most of the gameplay elements work well, shooting does not. This may or may not be intentional, as the game does try to make you use stealth, but I found myself in more than one situation where using firepower was almost compulsory. In order to enter firing mode, you must first press the C key, then X to fire. Since the game is dark, it’s oftentimes difficult to tell if you’re in firing mode or not after you press C. I’ve died more than a few times because my weapon was undrawn but I was still pounding X like a fiend. Even when you’re in firing mode, you had better hope no enemy comes behind you, because you have to exit firing mode to turn around. Yes, there’s no simple way to turn around whist firing in Lone Survivor, and that can actually get you killed far quicker than just running into the monsters.

The game has multiple endings depending on how you played. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice to say there’s a good ending and a bad ending. Unfortunately, the criteria for how to get this ending are not laid out in straightforward terms. I would be fine with this if the bad ending did not result in me not understanding what the game was about in the slightest. I actually had to spend twenty minutes searching for what my ending meant before just watching the good ending and having it all click. I understand that good work should be rewarded, but I believe the criteria for good work should first be clearly laid out. Not rewarding me for not doing something I didn’t know how to do makes about as much sense as this sentence.

Verdict: Lone Survivor is worth the money, but I would choose many games over it. There are better horror games, zombie survival titles, and mind-bending narratives for the same price point. It’s good enough to merit playing, but only barely. You’ll enjoy this game if you like adventure puzzlers or psychological thrillers. Lone Survivor is certainly not the king of the hill, but it’s not the bottom of the pile either.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Elder Scrolls Online Announced

You read that title correctly. Quit your job, stock up on sticky buns and prepare to have your life sucked away by The Elder Scrolls Online.

Details are few on the heavily rumored game. Some possible leaked screens have surfaced on Tom's Hardware, and Game Informer has created an online hub for the game, hosting the latest news on the title as well as one official screenshot:

The Elder Scrolls Online release date is sometime in 2013, though it's anyone's guess as to exactly when.

If the other Elder Scrolls games are any indication, numerous races, factions, and questlines will be playable in the sprawling world of Tamriel. Many have tried to be the WoW-killer, and only one, Star Wars: The Old Republic, has had marginal success. Could this be the title to finally shift the online gaming paradigm away from Blizzard?

I don't know about you, but I'll be anxiously awaiting the release of this game next year, and more details at this year's E3.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale Announced

Earlier this year there were a few rumors about a Super Smash Bros for Sony characters. After a recently released preview, those rumors seem to be true. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royal is exactly what it sounds like--Super Smash Bros with a layer of Sony characters sprinkled over the cake. From the gameplay videos and character roster, to the stages and gameplay mechanics, this game looks about like what you would expect if you took SSB and integrated Kratos and Sweettooth instead of Mario and Link.

SuperBot Entertainment has been given the proverbial key to the city and is throwing popular characters from many famous franchises. Already characters like Parappa the Rapper, Kratos, Sly Cooper, and Sweettooth have been shown off with different fighting styles and abilities. And just like SSB, each character will have a super special move that is flashy, damage-dealing, and awesome. The full character roster hasn’t been announced yet but I’m sure SuperBot will pull as many characters from a variety of franchises to make it as fun as possible. The stages will be a sort of mash up, with each stage drawing from two separate franchises. Think of a Titan from the God of War series trampling through a Little Big Planet world while fighting Sly and Parappa.

 If this sounds like a carbon copy of Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros with a layer of Sony --well it is, but I don’t think that makes it any less awesome or fun. Each character in PSASBR will have 3 special moves that are used through building up a power meter throughout the game. Similar to SSB, each character will have basic and advanced attacks that can be altered through using the directional pad. If SuperBot is following a very well laid out blueprint to a fighting game that Nintendo has laid out through the Super Smash Bros series, then let them use it and make an exciting fighting game with all the bells and whistles that go with putting Fat Princess and Kratos in the same room.

So far the announced Playstation All Stars Battle Royale Character Roster is:

Sly Cooper (Sly Cooper series)
Kratos(God of War Series)
Fat Princess(Fat Princess Game)
Parappa The Rapper(Parappa the Rapper series)
Colonel Radec(Killzone series)
Sweettooth(Twisted Metal series)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Closure Review

Every month I like to take a look through the new titles released on XBLA/PSN to see if anything interesting has come out. I’ll download the demo and try it out to see if I like the game enough to actually pay money for it. When I noticed Closure on the PSN store as a new release, its unique art instantly drew me in for a closer look. After playing the demo I decided to fork over the $15 and play through the entire thing. From playing the demo, I could tell that it was a puzzle platformer akin to Limbo and Portal. The mechanic was interesting and something I hadn’t seen before, so I hoped I was getting a solid return on investment with this game.

The mechanics of Closure revolve around navigating the darkness that covers each level, save for the light surrounding various light sources. Some can be carried by your character, while some are stationary. Some can be rotated to reveal various parts of the area, and some need a light source to be turned on. The main goal is to get from your starting point to the door which is somewhere in the level. Strategy comes into play, as 98% of each level is pure darkness and once you move away from the light, you fall off and die. To move anywhere, you must use a light source to illuminate your path, which becomes increasingly complicated as you get into the later levels.

I found the mechanic very interesting and fun to play with as I moved through the 82 levels. If there was a wall in the way, I had to put the light source I was carrying -- a crystal ball of light -- down where the darkness covered up the wall, and then jump over to another part of illuminated ground on the other side of the wall. I think that this kind of perception-altering puzzle is the right direction for puzzle platformers. Like Portal, Closure forced me to think in a different frame of mind. I had to think in terms of where my light was and where I could use other light sources. Unfortunately, the game was almost too easy. Aside from a few tricky timing situations and the final 10 levels, I went through the game without much frustration. That may be a good thing, but I feel that a puzzle-platformer should provide a small level of frustration as the difficulty increases to keep you coming back. That way, when you do solve the puzzle and get through to the next level, you feel a sense of accomplishment and want to try again. Since the story is non-existent, that sense of accomplishment is all you’ll really get from this game.

The character you control goes through the first 72 levels by changing into one of 3…costumes…I think. Your four-legged main character puts on a mask and transforms into something different. Each of 3 “masks” separates the 72 levels into 3 sets of 24 with each group having some common artistic theme and roughly similar tactics. For example, the last set is mostly set in a circus-themed place, with odd distorted carnival music playing and use of a pop-gun to solve puzzles. I definitely got a creepy vibe from each setting, and I liked it for the first 20 minutes. The same MIDI song plays in every level of a group and it gets old after the first few rooms. Also, the music slows and eventually stops once you enter the water found on some of the maps. While it is a kind-of cool effect that adds a small amount of continuity, like the music, it gets old really quick. The black-and-white art style is out of the ordinary, unless you’ve played LIMBO and remembered that most of what is in here was done better by games before it.

Verdict: I really like the concept of utilizing light as a form of movement in Closure… and that’s about all I like about it. Everything else, from the difficulty of the levels, the lack of anything extra or interesting, to the disappointing aesthetic and absence of story, shows of the game’s mediocrity. If you like games like Braid, LIMBO, Portal, and Outland, then you might want to check this game out for a new puzzle-solving mechanic. However, I don’t think the game is worth the $15 it costs when there is a plethora of other games that give more value than Closure.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Super MNC Video Review

J Wellington Rommefeller rubs elbows with the free-to-play shooter Super Monday Night Combat. Do the cartoonish graphics hide an ugly game underneath, or are they a sign of great things to come?

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