Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tales of Xillia Review

Alas, the life of a Western fan of the "Tales of" series is a rather trying one. Some of the flagships of the Tales series (most notably Symphonia, Vesperia, and Abyss) have been ranked as some of the greatest RPGs ever made, and continue to gain popularity years after their initial release.  Unfortunately, the series has not had the best track record for localization outside of Japan. The legendary RPG series has spawned fourteen mothership titles, and only half of those have been released internationally. However, the fifteenth anniversary has finally brought with it a new localization! Two years after its release in Japan, Tales of Xillia made its long-awaited North American debut earlier this month. Does this new title live up to the standards set by its critically acclaimed predecessors, or does it fall to the crippling cliches and development flaws present in many JRPGs today?

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 2013 Podcast

Join Devin and Colby as they talk about the PS4's release date, the Vita price drop, Payday 2, YouTubers and the next console generation, and marketing in gaming.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

AristoGamer August 2013 Podcast

Summer's finally ending and with it, hopefully the drought of good games to play. Today we'll talk about:
  • Payday 2
  • PS4 Release
  • HDCP on consoles
  • YouTubers and next gen

How to download and use Teamspeak

Date: Thursday, August 22
Time: 8:00pm Central Time

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Divekick Review

When a friend first linked me to the above video, I thought it was rather silly. A game with only two moves? That's weird, I thought. I laughed about it and went on with my life. Somehow word of its Kickstarter, and subsequent Kickstarted cancellation, never made it to me, so the next time I saw it was PAX East 2013.

And my word was I surprised.

I rushed hurriedly to the booth and hopped on a system with a two button arcade box, one of the most unnecessarily overengineered and beautiful pieces I had ever seen. Lovely art with two huge blue and yellow buttons int he middle proudly labeled Dive and Kick. Two matches later and I was hooked. I interviewed the creator, I bought a shirt, I kept up on the news, I raved about it whenever possible, and I waited with anxiousness. It came out yesterday and I was so excited, I wrote a haiku about it.

divekick, Divekick, dive
Divekick divekicks; Divekick, kick
divekick, Divekick, win

If all of the waxing poetic about the game wasn’t an indicator, I like it. Superficially, Divekick is a joke. Obviously. One of the characters is a doctor named Dr. Shoals who has rocket boots and its looking for a cure for a foot disease called Foot Dive. Of course it’s a joke.

But if you give it a chance (i.e. exactly one match), you quickly realize it’s so much more than that. It's a fighting game that attempts, and succeeds in many ways, to equalize all competitors. Gone are people who juggle your character across the map for 30 seconds and leave you with 2 hits until death. No longer can you put your controller down while waiting for someone’s massive combo to end. And obliterated is the feeling that no matter what you do, there are some people that know way more about the game than you and will exploit programming flaws to eviscerate you. By limiting your input to jumping, kicking, and having a few variations on moves for other characters, it’s as close to one on one, equal combat as you can get. You always know exactly what you did wrong and the other player did right to get you.

At least in theory.

As Divekick matured, its roster grew, and with more characters, things to distinguish between characters needed to be added. As a result the roster is significantly expanded, allowing players to choose a character to fit their playstyle. With that comes a certain degree of having to learn a character and I was initially scared that this would mean the end of what I enjoy most about Divekick—its transparency. But as I played, I found that these fears were unfounded as it’s as complex as it is understandable. The metagame of Divekick—trying to figure out when your opponent will attack, how high they’ll jump, etc…—is incredibly complex, but the controls and movesets are so limited, you’re always in control and your opponent's moves are never an unknown.

Put simply, that’s why Divekick is currently my favorite fighting game. There’s nothing mystifying about it. If you lose, it’s because the other person is either faster with their fingers than you, able to outsmart your moves, or lucky enough to land the first hit. And when you are defeated, you see exactly what happened and you can learn from it. Divekick is the first fighting game I’ve ever played in which I didn’t feel alienated when playing friends proficient in fighting games, and that’s intensely satisfying. Even playing pros online, I could win a few matches because I happened to position myself in such a way that they were caught off guard.

The game features single player mode, which has exactly as much story as you'd expect—somewhere between five and six panels of moving comics plus three dialogue banter sessions. Of course there's a local versus mode, even on the Vita, but there's also an online portion which boasts the best netcode of any fighter out there. To be fair though, I've had more than one match with a little lag, and one in which the loading screen came up for a few seconds before the battle resumed.

The art style is hand drawn and can be a little amateurish at times, but it all fits with the themes of the game. The music is unobtrusive and the backgrounds aren’t distracting, lending to the idea that in Divekick, combat is king. Just like in most fighters, you can complete story mode in about half an hour per character if you’re bad. Matches are completed in anywhere between 15 seconds and the absolute maximum of 3 minutes, meaning it's as quick as it is intense.

Though things may seem to be all raindives and sunkicks, there are few things to be mad at Divekick about. The loading screens are far more boring than they should be. Here’s what it looks like, except the circles don't shrink away and the background is black:

No, that’s not the image loading, that’s the whole loading screen. Black background, swirly circle. JUST PUT IN A SWEET BACKGROUND OF DIVE DOING SOME MATH HOMEWORK OR KENNY LOOKIN’ AT A TOURNAMENT. SOMETHING.

Also, the Vita’s static portraits on the character select screen and during the fight were scaled down versions of the PS3 version, resulting in some jaggy graphic artifacts. A simple update could fix that, though I'm not sure why nobody caught it sooner.

Verdict: Come on, have I not gushed enough? Divekick is hands down the most simple, elegant, fair, and accessible fighter I’ve ever played. To fighting game terri-bads like myself, it’s perfect since the investment to get proficient is so low. And to fighter pros, it’s also perfect since the movesets are so simple, you’re forced to be creative and quick thinking to pull off a victory against a seasoned pro. Or lucky. That’ll work too.

Just go buy it, come on man.

As a side note, Iron Galaxy was kind enough to give me a review code for the game the day before its release on a far too late request from me. Even though he wasn't in the office, the CEO himself handled my request quickly and got me the code very quickly, so thanks so much to Dave Lang. Also for the record, I bought the game on Steam just so I could support them with my dollars. You should too!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

UnEpic Review

Recently, I’ve been looking for games to keep me occupied between my irregular working schedule and had UnEpic suggested to me. Always willing to try out new indie games, I threw caution to the wind and bought it from Steam for a wonderful $7.99. To my unfortunate discovery, I found the game lives up to its name, UnEpic is actually un-epic.

The first issue I encountered before I even began playing was trying to run it on my computer. Admittedly my Alienware is older now, and has a harder time running the new and shiny software, but upon booting UnEpic, I was greeted with a black screen and menu sounds. To my dismay, it was a problem that could only be solved by updating my graphics drivers, which are now out of make and no longer have supported drivers. After dealing with this error, I got in to playing the game.

What struck me first about the game was the hand drawn title screen, which was well animated and lent a sense of foreboding about the game to come. Would I be thrown in to a gritty and dark adventure with monsters to slay and quests to complete? The scene opens with a group of players playing a tabletop RPG, where our protagonist excuses himself to the bathroom. Thus our adventure begins.

UnEpic places you straight in to the action with a rudimentary starting story, basic introduction to your inventory and equipment. There is also a severe lack of basic movement tutorials, and I was left to figure them out on my own. The controls however, feel well tuned and you have good response from the character, which is great when compared to other metroidvania style games.

As I progressed through the game I was provided with many more basic tutorials for looting items, and how to split my bag in two to make sorting easier. I'd have preferred an inventory option to sort my items by type, or have some other form of inventory management instead of having to do it manually. I found myself spending a lot of time in the inventory comparing weapons and armor, locating potions to bind to hotkeys and sorting potion ingredients that dropped with sheer abundance.

UnEpic does implement a crafting system, so you can make various potions with effects that are very useful - 3 levels ago. Potion crafting is learned by purchasing a recipe from any of the vendors that are located throughout the dungeon, for exuberant amounts of money that you must then learn from your inventory. The entire process from learning to creation is too long and drawn out, with the final result of creation being handled poorly. Many of the crafted items are simply dropped on the ground and must be reacquired before leaving the area, instead of the items being added straight to the inventory. This is frustrating, especially if you take in to the account the random encounters with thieves inside the dungeon, that steals any item left behind on the ground while you are away from that room. Yes, this adds an element of life to what is essentially a stagnant dungeon crawler, but often it is easy to lose those essential items that have dropped or been crafted.

The combat in UnEpic is enjoyable, with a very hack and slash feel. There is not a whole lot of opportunity to dodge, and most of the time it's easier to soak up the damage. There are definitely areas where crouching to dodge incoming missiles would be handy, but if you can equip yourself with enough healing potions, and are savvy enough with getting yourself to a save point, you won't need to worry about avoiding damage. This can be frustrating as it does take time to drink a potion, which can often mean the difference between life and death. Poison is a commonly occurring status effect, with many creatures able to stack instances of poison on you, which can dramatically and quickly drain your health.

UnEpic also implements weapon type switching to get the best damage out of your weapon against specific enemies. For example, a mace is excellent for breaking those deadly barrels that sit in the corner and glare at you and a sword is good for stabbing living things. It's great that the developer thought of trying to add a little more complexity and meaning to weapon types, but after putting a handful of points into my sword skill, I could take down pretty much everything that sniffed at me funny with either magic or a well placed sword swing to the everywhere. of the big issues with UnEpic is that there is a sheer amount of backtracking involved in the game. Not only do you have to retrace your steps to complete side quests as you adventure, but you need to backtrack to get to save points, fast travel gates, and to progress to different areas. Out of the seven hours I played, two hours were actual story content, the other five was spent trekking back and forth completing side quests, shopping and saving the game. All this traveling became monotonous and boring, and I soon found myself getting tired of navigating ladders and corridors. I nearly freaked out walking down my own apartment corridor after seven hours of this, thinking a ladder and another corridor awaited me.

Verdict: UnEpic lives up to its name; it is very un-epic. Combat was well tuned, and it definitely promotes exploration and character progression in classic RPG fashion. What it lacked though was a well developed story, natural dialogue and too much backtracking. I found myself having to retrace my steps often, and I would often ignore the weapons mechanic for my sword which was pretty effective against everything. UnEpic has charming graphics reflective of many older metroidvania games, and the sound design is pretty good. UnEpic is good for those afternoons where you don't have much to do and want to kill an hour or two before you go out, or are just looking to chill and not think too hard.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Elsword Review

Join J as he stumbles upon the free to play beat 'em up MMO Elsword. How can they screw this one up?

Monday, August 5, 2013

July 2013 Podcast

Devin, Casey, and Colby discuss the upcoming Quakecon, games and tech shown at SDCC 2013, and the indie gaming policies on the next generation of consoles

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Or download here directly

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2

"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." 

"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."

        Why yes, those should sound familiar, especially to you ardent fans who've read all my reviews (all 6 of you).  My review of the first Sniper: Ghost Warrior really tore into the lack of balance in stealth elements and obscene difficulty. With Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, it's as if City Interactive read the above lines and decided to take THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE APPROACH. I have a lot of experience in playing scout recon/sniper with FPS games, especially in the few sniper "simulators" that are out there. But that shouldn't mean that I can play the entirety of Ghost Warrior 2 on the highest difficulty with 90% or more accuracy in every single level...on the first play through. I'm not kidding! I didn't even expect this to happen! I only started at such a difficulty to give myself a bit of a laugh. I mean hey, if the difficulty in the first game was ridiculous, I can only imagine what an improved and battle-tested AI would be in the sequel! So let's start the first level, get absolutely trampled, have a laugh, then restart and actually play. Only I finished the 100% completion (including the always stupid "collect the somehowsignificant tokens we've hidden to add game time)...with 92% accuracy...and taking no damage. At first, I sat back and thought, "Man, have I really improved that much? It has been quite a long time since the first game was released. Well, let's load the first game back up and play a little of it on the same difficulties, make a fair compariAND THERE GOES MY LEG YAY!". 

I'm going to thuper kill him. Theriously Diaz.

        I couldn't believe it. The game has really been dumbed down! And the real kicker is that nothing else has changed! NOT A BLASTED THING. The levels are just as linear as before, the environments are the same, even the rifles are a bloody joke. All throughout the game, you have the option to pick-up a Dragunov from a fallen soldier. Maybe it's an improvement from your starting rifle? Nope! The sights aren't near as accurate to use and most of the time you'll need to keep the silencer in order to maintain your stealth. So maybe the damage is better, as a trade-off for the lack of noise suppression? Wrong! Damage is the same throughout, especially for the killshots you're aiming for. The scope magnification? The amount of ammunition in a clip? The colored stickers on the stock? I can say variations of no in only so many ways. So yeah, you'll pretty much always stick with the starting rifle, unless you feel the strange need to sneak behind a man and pop him with your pistol. Granted this is a legitimate tactic as it not only conserves your rifle ammunition but it also allows you to get up-close observations of your surroundings, especially in those moments when night-vision is needed and the coloring now matches the surrounding foliage, giving your enemy even more camouflage. But heck, that's what the pistol is for! Why would you ever want to use your scoped rifle from a perfectly dark and well hidden vantage point when you could instead just hike across the creaking wooden bridge and bust a cap in thug Joe?  REAL SNIPERS ONLY POLISH THEIR EQUIPMENT.

There you are! Now if I shimmy down this ledge, crawl across the road, work my way around the building...
        So by now you may have noticed my lack of details in aspects such as controls or the physics with the actual sniping. To be honest, there's really nothing to say about them as they're pretty much duplicates from the first game. It's a little sluggish, but still overall fairly simple. At the highest difficulty you won't have the little red circle helper dancing around your scope, indicating the compensations for wind and bullet drop. Otherwise, he's there to help whether you like it or not.
        Now here is something I have to commend Sniper Elite: V2. Not a perfect game by any means, but it did have a unique feature that allowed you to set the difficulty of the AI separately from the level of realism you wish to have with your sniping experience. You could have the helper dot available as you fight through mutant Nazoviets, or you could give your focus on the physics of the scope with absolutely no help against an enemy that needs his squad leader to demonstrate proper procedure for blinking. With Ghost Warrior 2, it's just a tad more basic in customization. I guess you could say that difficulty lies in knowing which scope you're actually using, since the level of magnification and power of rifle affects the tic interval on your scope. Now, it's not like I would particularly want an in-depth explanation of my rifle scope each time I started a level, but a little journal entry or blip of info in the mission briefing would've been nice. Certainly would've saved me from having to draw crude scopes and write in that each large tic was 100m for rifle A, 75m for rifle B, etc. No, that's obsessive! Either you have little numbers indicated on your scope so you can figure out your shot while in the moment, or you at least given an indication to what you'll be dealing with.  The best part is, even on the missions when I realized that my rifle was at some wonky interval and not the basic 100m distance I had been using, my accuracy never drops below 90%. I deliberately missed several shots in order to figure out where to friggin' aim, and it was still ok! Expert level for only the really experienced players. Ha! Imagine coming to an amusement park horror house and reading a disclaimer that anyone with heart conditions or certain phobias shouldn't consider entering because of the extreme use of scare tactics. You're excited, your heart is racing, you can't wait to see what nightmares or ideas they have! This could be one of those places where the actor is dressed up in some professional quality outfit and prop weapon whom will chase you after you walk in on him sawing through the leg of a screaming victim. The wait is over, it's your turn to walk! You round the corner and...BLEGH! Count Chocula is standing in a room, playing with a yo-yo. Elaborate set-up for a lame comparison joke, right? The same can be asked of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2.

Stahp. Moveng.

OH! THE CONCLUSION! Ok, so story wise this plays out like any action movie of the 80's and 90's. Guy is in jungle, guy finds super evil men. Guy flashbacks to his previous missions in Russia. Guy gets revenge. Guy's buddy asks him if anybody is waiting for him back home. Guy says "my rifle is my best friend, it is my life" because I guess that was the deep meaning behind this or something. I don't know, no one cares, helicopter into sunset, the end.

The Colonel's Conclusion:

            Overall, it's just a giant disappointment. Once again, there's so few games available that are geared for a tactical scout sniper experience, you'll probably end up picking this up during a Steam sale. And you'll play it. And you'll see exactly what I mean. The only redeeming factor in this sequel are the missions where you're in a nest position and there's a .50cal waiting for you. It's really unfortunate you only got to use that scoped cannon a few times in the game because those were pretty rad (yes, I'm bringing rad back. Fight me.)
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