Video Game Review: Defiance [Xbox 360]

Defiance [Xbox 360]

Defiance
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Third-person shooter, action RPG
Developer: Trion Worlds, Human Head Studios
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Release Date: April 2, 2013

Defiance is nothing if not ambitious. The latest effort from Trion Worlds (creators of the popular MMORPG, Rift) is a third-person shooter set in a large MMO world, with the caveat of being a tie-in for the Syfy show of the same name. Defiance also has the distinction of being a rare MMO on the home console market.

I have to admit I am a novice when it comes to massively multiplayer online games, but Defiance‘s Borderlands-esque gameplay had me intrigued from day one.

Much like Borderlands, the core of the game revolves around shooting and looting. There are five chapters of main storyline missions, a handful of missions based on episodes of the TV show, and countless side quests. There is certainly no shortage of things to do.

Defiance [Xbox 360, 2013]

While exploring the in-game world, you will frequently come across others playing at the same time. While most people seem to be doing their own thing, occasionally you will see someone working on the same mission as you, allowing you to team up and work together. These types of encounters are when Defiance is at its best — it’s an especially great feeling to receive unexpected backup during a tense situation.

This is also an excellent game to play with friends. There are five co-op specific missions available, and main story quests can easily be started together as well (aside from a select few that are solo-only).

At the same time, if you prefer to go the solo route, the game can still be a blast. In fact, in many ways, Defiance feels like a single player game in an MMO environment. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to be able to do what you want without having to worry about others, but it’s also difficult to communicate with strangers online when you might want to. The in-game chat system is a disaster, as the only way to really talk to anyone else is by using the Xbox party chat function. There are a handful of default sayings and emotions that can be used, but these are laughable at best. Just being able to voice chat with others in the surrounding area would be a huge addition to the game.

On the plus side, anyone who has played a third person shooter will feel right at home with the controls. The game is easy to pick up and play, and combat is fine-tuned. There are a wide variety of guns to choose from, including traditional weapons like assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as those infused with alien technology. Weapon types can be mastered over time, and the more you use them, the more XP you get.

Defiance [Xbox 360]

Now, even though there are quite a few weapons available, the game has a bizarre looting system. It’s quite possible to find a decent gun at the beginning of the game and just keep it for the rest of your playing time. Loot is plentiful, but it’s difficult to find a weapon that is significantly better than what you may already have. There are various forms of each weapon (ranging from white “common” types to the ultra-rare oranges), but each upgrade only slightly tweaks the overall gun performance. For a game that prides itself on looting, it’s disappointing that there is rarely anything useful to be found. It is rumored that Trion is performing a complete overhaul of the weapons system, however, so this may no longer be an issue at some point.

Defiance is constantly being patched, so the game is always worth keeping an eye on, even if you haven’t played in a while. A recent upgrade finally allowed for the release of more hard-to-find weapons, a much-welcomed feature. Most patches just fix bugs and glitches — of which there are many (more on that later) — but occasionally Trion will make some major changes. While it’s fantastic that the game is still being updated months after its release, it can get frustrating to try to play the game, only to find a number of patches being forced to download first. By the way, on your first time playing Defiance, brace yourself for a lengthy download of mandatory patches (I’m talking well over an hour, regardless of speed).

The in-game world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but there are always random events happening. At any given point in time, there is at least one Arkfall taking place. These events are where you will meet the most gamers. Arkfalls happen when massive chunks of alien ships fall from the sky, causing enemy scavengers and ark hunters (players) alike to fight over the wreckage. Successfully clearing out an Arkfall will net significant XP and loot.

Defiance [Xbox 360]

Aside from these random events, the wasteland setting is actually rather decrepid. There aren’t many memorable areas, aside from perhaps the ruined Golden Gate Bridge. It doesn’t help that the game is ugly — it could probably pass for an original Xbox title. A major sacrifice was clearly made in terms of the game’s visuals, and there are constant issues with graphical draw-in, disappearing objects and the like. This didn’t bother me too much, and in fact, some of the glitches are quite amusing, but it’s worth noting for those who prefer slick-looking titles.

What’s amazing is that even while Defiance has so many bugs and annoying issues, I still find myself coming back to the game. In fact, according to my Raptr profile, this is my most-played video game from the past year. The core gameplay, although repetitive, can be insanely addictive, and it’s a blast to play through the game with a friend. I love being able to earn XP in a variety of ways, and there are just enough tweaks and settings to keep the game fresh.

The suggested retail price of Defiance has dropped to just $9.99, and at that price, there is really no reason to take a flyer on the game, especially if you are a fan of third-person shooters. While it is by no means a perfect game, it’s still a fun adventure that serves as one of this year’s more underrated titles.

8/10

Video Game Review: Dragon’s Crown [PS3/PS Vita]

Dragon's Crown [PS3/PS Vita]

Dragon’s Crown
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Action RPG beat ’em up
Developer: Vanillaware & Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Price: $49.99 (PS3), $39.99 (Vita)
Release Date: August 6, 2013

Dragon’s Crown is a stylish throwback to the old school beat ’em ups that once ruled the gaming world (think Golden Axe). In a genre that has struggled to maintain relevance in recent years, this latest offering from Vanillaware & Atlus feels like a breath of fresh air. By adding RPG elements to the classic brawler gameplay, the end result is one of the most enjoyable (and surprisingly in-depth) gaming experiences of the year.

The core of the game consists of side-scrolling hack ‘n slash action. There are six different characters — Fighter, Amazon, Wizard, Elf, Dwarf and Sorceress — to choose from, all of which are completely unique and offer their own brand of gameplay. The most popular choices seem to be the Amazon and Sorceress, but I opted for the Dwarf for my first playthrough. What can I say — I was feeling nostalgic for Gilius Thunderhead from the Golden Axe series.

The Dwarf’s biggest asset is his massive strength, and he has the ability to pick up enemies and throw them across the screen. These traits are quite useful, and they work especially well when paired with some of the other characters. The game is at its best when four players, all of different classes, are working together to annihilate whatever is on screen.

Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]

Each character can be upgraded with new combat techniques, increased health, etc. by gaining XP through the game’s campaign. There are a total of nine stages that can eventually be unlocked to play through at your whim. This may not sound like much, but each level has alternate routes, hidden rooms and diverse enemies, making each trip feel different than the last.

The stages are also wildly distinct from each other in terms of design. Underground caves, abandoned temples and fortresses are just a handful of locations you will come across. These areas always have randomized content in the form of both loot and enemies, and they culminate with some truly epic boss battles. These big fights are a major highlight, and they make each playthrough immensely rewarding.

Another addition meant to encourage multiple romps through each level comes in the form of side quests. These can be anything from killing a certain amount of an enemy type to finding a specific hidden room that is only accessible via rune magic. These are all completely optional missions, but they deliver huge XP bonuses and are usually quite fun to seek out.

Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]

As mentioned before, the levels can be played through at your discretion, but only after clearing the initial run through the first half of the game’s storyline. Once this is complete, however, the game really opens up, and it unlocks the ability to play online. This is where Dragon’s Crown positively shines.

While the game can be played — and enjoyed — solo, it’s even better when playing with others. The AI partners are decent, but nothing beats working together with a few friends. When connected online, other players can jump in and out of your campaign, immediately taking over control of an AI character. You also have the ability to join a random room and help others. The transition to online play is seamless, and it’s incredibly easy to sync up with friends.

Now, this wouldn’t be a proper Dragon’s Crown review without discussing its controversial art style. Ever since the game was announced two years ago, there has been a bit of an uproar in some circles about the hyper-sexualized visuals. This is an understandable concern, especially since the Amazon and Sorceress characters in particular both constantly seem on the verge of busting out of their tops. On the flip side, the men are mostly covered from head-to-toe, aside from the beefy, bare-chested Dwarf. Although I agree that some of the women are ridiculously designed, the overall art style is absolutely gorgeous. The hand-drawn visuals are stunning with smooth animations, and they remind me a lot of classic fantasy illustrations. I do not have a problem with this artwork — in fact, this is easily one of the most beautiful beat ’em ups I have ever come across — but of course, your mileage may vary.

Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]

Dragon’s Crown is available for both PS3 and PS Vita, and the two versions are nearly identical. The Vita version suffers from occasional slowdown during some of the more intense battles, but this is outweighed by the nifty touch screen features. The PS3 requires using the right analog stick to point a cursor on screen, whereas the Vita only requires a simple touch. The bite-sized levels are also perfect for the handheld, and I found myself playing on the Vita more often. However, the PS3 does have an advantage in that offers local co-op. Unfortunately, this isn’t a Cross Buy (or Cross Play) title, but characters can still be shared between the two systems using the cloud save function. You can’t go wrong with either version, so it comes down to a matter of preference (and convenience).

Dragon’s Crown isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel here, but it is offering a refreshing and incredibly well-executed spin on one of the classic gaming genres. With so many quests and ways to play each stage, there is plenty of replay value. Completing a campaign with one character unlocks a brand new one at an increased difficulty — all things considered, there are upwards of 120 hours of potential gaming here if you were to play through every difficulty level with every character. And with such infectious, easy to pick up and play gameplay, that is certainly possible for any dedicated gamer. Don’t be surprised if this shows up in my Top 5 list at the end of the year.

9/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Borderlands 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Action RPG, First-person shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: September 18, 2012

It’s hard to believe that it has been three years since Gearbox Software’s Borderlands created a smash sensation just by merging two long-running gameplay tactics — shooting and looting. With the long-awaited Borderlands 2, Gearbox has upped the ante and delivered the goods just like any proper sequel should: by keeping what worked so well before while also refining the overall experience.

Using the same gorgeous cel-shaded visuals that impressed the first time around, Borderlands 2 begins five years after the ending of the first game. Four new Vault Hunters are introduced, and they are on a mission to find new villain, Handsome Jack, who has taken over Pandora and is ruling the land with an iron fist. Just like before, each hunter has their own traits. There’s Salvador, the Gunzerker, who is an absolute brute that becomes especially dangerous when holding two guns. There’s Maya, the Siren, who can suspend enemies in midair, making them easier to target. There’s Axton, the Commando, who has the unique ability of making turrets appear out of nowhere, mowing down anything in sight. Finally, there’s Zer0, the Assassin, probably the most used character this time around. He has the ability to go invisible for a short period of time, allowing for deadly sneak attacks or other stealthy actions.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Each character offers a different playthrough experience, and they can even be tweaked via skill points to allow for greater customization. For example, Zer0 can be built into an impeccable sniping marksman or a melee fiend, depending on your personal preference. With four unique characters (and a fifth now available via DLC), the amount of depth and replay value in the game is staggering.

While Borderlands 2 can be played on your own, it undeniably works best as a co-op adventure. With up to four players, the game becomes an absolute blast while working together, especially if each user has a different character. Tag-teaming enemies by suspending them in air via Maya’s “Phaselock” and then throwing down Axton’s turret is a thing of beauty. Playing with others also increases the difficulty and the chance of finding better loot, allowing characters to level up faster. When playing with friends, there is little to no monotony while traversing the expansive Pandora, and it’s fun to even go back and replay missions just for the communal experience. Again, this still works quite well in single player, but this is arguably the best co-op experience of the year.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Borderlands 2 offers well over 100 quests in total, and the rewards for completing them include cash, weapons or other forms of loot. It’s always a rush to finish a quest or two then turn them in to hear the familiar “cha-ching” sound. In fact, searching the environments for any and all types of loot can be an absolute addiction. Any box, locker, barrel or even port-a-potty that has a green light on it can be searched for new goods. Oftentimes these will only have a few dollars in cash or ammo, but every now and then it’s possible to come across a new, badass weapon. There’s no greater joy than discovering that an enemy dropped a rare, orange gun that is better than anything else you own.

Seriously, if you have any addiction to Diablo or other hack ‘n slash looters, Borderlands 2 will consume you.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

I would be remiss if I did not mention the game’s improved writing and overall storytelling. The original lacked true narrative substance and didn’t have very many memorable characters. That’s not the case at all here, as new writer Anthony Burch has penned a more rewarding plot with even more humor than before. The new villain, Handsome Jack, is hilarious as he randomly appears over the in-game communication system just to verbally abuse the Vault Hunters. Old favorite, Claptrap, the peculiar little robot, is back and full of even wittier banter than before. Other new characters such as the English gentleman, Sir Hammerlock, and the 13-year-old ball of terror, Tara, are quite memorable.

Now, while the writing is improved overall, it occasionally dabbles into low-grade humor that appears to have been included with teenagers in mind. For example, there is one sidequest that involves hunting down a particular monster species in hopes of coming up with a new name for them. One name suggestion? “Bonerfarts.” Yeah.

Moments of immaturity aside, there are some rewards within the writing, particularly when you stumble across any of the countless hidden Easter Eggs. From references to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Breaking Bad, the Double Rainbow Guy and the Skyrim “arrow to the knee” meme, there are endless bits of pop culture references scattered throughout. It’s a real treat finding them all.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Aesthetically, Borderlands 2 also offers a number of improvements. The cel-shaded visuals are even more beautiful than before, especially when it comes to viewing the landscapes far off in the distance. An early area takes place in a cold, icy environment with large icebergs in the background. Looking up at the star-filled sky is always fun, especially when observing the full moon with a space station nearby. The game owes a great deal of its charm to its graphical appearance, and it does not disappoint at all. The voice acting is also noticeably better this time, and the music hits all the right notes.

In short, Borderlands 2 has all the makings of a strong “game of the year” candidate. Right now, I would be hard pressed to find something better. Its flaws — such as the occasional juvenile humor, and a somewhat overlong tutorial — are incredibly minute in the grand scheme of things. If you have friends to play this with, purchasing Borderlands 2 is a no-brainer, and it comes highly recommended even when going solo. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to looting.

9/10

Quick Thoughts on… Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

This post contains spoilers.

After a month of devout playing, I finally finished Mass Effect 2. One word sums up my thoughts: WOW.

Seriously, this has undoubtedly become one of my favorite games from this generation. Mass Effect 2 builds upon and improves its predecessor in every way imaginable.

Gone are the tedious Mako driving sessions, weird graphical glitches and framerate issues. The occasionally shaky combat has been drastically improved, with a better covering system and more intelligent squad AI. The inventory system has also been revamped, and there are far less items to have to worry about (a good thing).

The game’s structure is tried-and-true, but it works oh so well. The game plays out in simple fashion: Shephard is brought back to life and sent on a “suicide mission” to defeat the evil Collectors who are hellbent on destroying humanity. In order to increase the chances of surviving this epic mission, Shephard is given the task of recruiting several team members and later gaining their loyalty. It’s a long process, but it always feels like you’re working toward something BIG. I felt like I needed to do absolutely everything I could in the game to secure my chances of defeating the Collectors.

It paid off.

With a full and loyal crew, I successfully destroyed the Collector base and made it with the entire squad in tact. It was an intense mission and one hell of a way to close the game.

Mass Effect 2

I made a few changes to my Shephard character this time around. I tweaked his appearance, changed his class (from soldier to vanguard) and swapped romantic partners. My love interest from ME1, Liara, was not willing or able to join the Normandy again (at least it appeared that way), so I went after the wild biotic convict Jack. I have already heard spoilers about her character arc, unfortunately, but it will be interesting to see how that develops in the third game.

Now I am at a crossroads. Do I start up Mass Effect 3 immediately or do I look into picking up ME2’s DLC? Or maybe I’ll take a break from Mass Effect entirely, at least for a little while. I made the mistake of buying ME2 used, so I would have to cough up the $15 for the Cerberus Pass. Is it worth it? Are there any pieces of DLC that I absolutely have to play?

Either way, I am pretty excited to play the conclusion. I just don’t want to get burnt out on Mass Effect at the same time.

My rating for Mass Effect 2: 10/10, easily.

Video Game Review: Torchlight [XBLA]

Torchlight [XBLA]

Torchlight
System: Xbox Live Arcade (also on PC and Mac OS X)
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Runic Games
Developer: Runic Games
Release Date: March 9, 2011

With the recent non-stop releases of major video game blockbusters, sometimes it’s nice to go to a mindless diversion — one that is fun to play, but doesn’t require any serious thought. Enter Torchlight, a 2011 XBLA dungeon crawler, to fill that void.

Essentially a spiritual sibling to the Diablo series (developer Runic Games is composed of ex-Diablo designers), Torchlight is a fantasy game that is all about hacking, slashing and looting. The plot is entirely irrelevant — that is to say, there is one, but it basically boils down to someone telling the main character to just keep working through a 35-floor dungeon in order to save a town from impending doom. Throw in some cheesy voice acting, and yeah, it’s ultimately rather laughable.

Torchlight [XBLA]

Regardless, Torchlight delivers the goods in terms of gameplay. After creating a main character (male or female), selecting their class (Destroyer, Alchemist or Vanquisher), and determining an animal companion (wolf, lynx or “Chakawary”), you are sent to a small village and given free reign to pick up new quests.

The main adventure sends you into a huge dungeon where you must work your way through floor-by-floor, battling countless enemies and the occasional bosses. The floor themes change at regular intervals, offering some new visuals to break up the monotony. Completing the main quest takes roughly ten hours, but additional sidequests and random exploration can easily stretch the game into a much higher number.

How much you will get out of Torchlight depends on how much you like looting dungeons and leveling up your character. The XP system is well-developed, as you can boost attributes in a number of areas, as well as learn new skills to help in combat. The battle system is particularly brilliant, as each button of the controller can be used for a different, monster-bashing spell. It’s all fluid and easy to learn.

Torchlight [XBLA]

Torchlight is great at what it sets out to accomplish, but it could be even better with a few adjustments. My biggest complaint is a lack of multiplayer. This dungeon crawler has the perfect setting for a co-op mode, but it is nowhere to be found. The upcoming Torchlight II rectifies this, but it should have been included in the original anyway. Also, the game has a bad habit of using small text in the menus. I have a good-sized TV but still had to squint to be able to read some of the items in the menu. Finally, some showdowns with multiple enemies on screen can lead to occasional slowdown. Nothing too terrible, but it can be a tad bothersome.

Still, if you’re in the market for a fun Diablo-esque adventure, Torchlight comes highly recommended. Ignore the weak story and just dig into the addictive hack ‘n slash gameplay. Keep an eye out for any future deals because the game does go on sale on XBLA from time to time (I bought mine half off for $7.50), but this isn’t a bad deal at full price either.

8/10

Video Game DLC Review: Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta [Xbox 360]

Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta [Xbox 360]

Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Release Date: August 3, 2009

Mothership Zeta, the fifth and final installment of Fallout 3’s downloadable content, is a bit of a disappointment. The premise is undeniably cool and offers a welcome diversion from the standard nuclear wasteland: you begin to receive an unintelligble radio transmission, and after wandering to its source you discover a crashed UFO site. Upon investigating the wreckage, the spacecraft beams you up into Mothership Zeta, a massive aircraft in which aliens are holding other humans hostage. You wake up in a cell with another abductee, and the two of you team up with a few others to take down the unworldly bastards that are conducting god-knows-what experiments.

The entire campaign takes place on the UFO, which is both a blessing and a curse. This is refreshing because it offers a different environment that is unique from the normal game. Unfortunately, it also completely wipes out one of Fallout 3’s greatest traits: the ability to roam freely. Mothership Zeta is a predominantly linear adventure that only offers corridor after corridor, with intermittent firefights behind certain doors. For those looking to explore a massive alien spaceship with lots of quirky nooks and crannies, you will be disappointed. Outside of a few amusing Easter eggs, there is little in the way of excitement.

Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta [Xbox 360]

A greater variety of enemies would have helped break up the monotony, but there are exactly three nuisances to come across: aliens, sentry bots, and turrets. By the time most gamers will have acquired this DLC, they will likely have powerful enough weapons to easily obliterate any adversary aboard the ship. The bonus weapons that can be found in Mothership Zeta are hardly anything to go crazy over either, as they are mainly variations of guns that can already be found in the wasteland.

Although the general combat and exploration is lackluster in comparison to the main game, Mothership Zeta isn’t a total drag. The human characters you meet are mostly entertaining, and there is a certain Japanese Samurai that is especially amusing. There’s still that same Fallout charm that will keep avid fans interested throughout the 3-4 hour runtime, and the DLC caps off with a satisfying (and explosive) conclusion. It’s just hard not to feel like more could have been done with the killer concept.

6/10

Video Game Review: The Baconing [XBLA, 2011]

The Baconing [XBLA, 2011]

The Baconing
System: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3, PC and Mac)
Publisher: Valcon Games
Developer: Hothead Games
Release Date: August 31, 2011

Mmm… bacon.

Hothead Games have quietly released a trilogy of fantasy action/RPG spoofs that are humorously epic in nature. All three titles revolve around the loud and boisterous superhero DeathSpank, whose name is oddly lacking in the third game’s title, The Baconing. I played through the first DeathSpank last year and had a blast. I sadly missed out on the second adventure, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, but I am happy to pick the series back up.

This time around our macho-yet-frivolous hero, DeathSpank, is bored. After his efforts in the first two games, he has conquered all of his enemies and now sits inattentive on his throne. Somehow he gets the bright idea to wear all six of his recently attained Thongs of Virtue at once, and this sets off a catastrophic series of events that creates an evil version of himself: AntiSpank. In order to fix his latest problem, DeathSpank must destroy the thongs one by one in the Fires of Bacon. And so begins the journey of our Hero to the Downtrodden.

The DeathSpank trilogy’s claim to fame has always been its sense of humor, and The Baconing’s story certainly reflects that. This is the first entry in the series not to have input from Ron Gilbert, the famed Monkey Island creator, but the jokes don’t miss a beat without him. There were many times where I got a good laugh out of DeathSpank’s witty retorts, as well as some of the downright bizarre characters he meets along the way. This game takes pride in its jocular approach, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Baconing: Forest of Tomorrow

The Baconing offers the same tried and true hack ‘n slash gameplay DeathSpank is known for. Our hero has access to all sorts of weapons — clubs, swords, crossbows, grenades and the like — and can upgrade them as he levels up. The same goes for armor and magic potions. All of these can be obtained through frequent looting, and it is rare to have to actually purchase anything in the game because of this.

There is one noticeable difference in combat this time: it is a hell of a lot more difficult than before. It’s rare that I have to turn a game down to “Easy” to make real progress, but I had to with The Baconing. Even then, fighting foes could be brutal. My favorite method from before — running in and hacking away — does not work so well here, as that is a surefire way to get killed fast. Combat now requires a certain amount of strategy. There are more barrels scattered around that can be used to damage or temporarily stun enemies, and it is generally a good idea to take full advantage of them.

DeathSpank’s shield is also revitalized for this game, and he can now charge up and perform a bash move to hit the enemy and push them back out of melee range. It took me a little while to get the hang of this new function, but it certainly helped with combat after doing so.

DeathSpank’s adventure is fairly linear, there is still a lot to do. This game has more than 100 new quests in total, and there is a fun Arena feature where you can battle through waves of enemies in order to gain access to a massive treasure chest. Occasionally the quests provide puzzles, some of which can be challenging. Thankfully DeathSpank can collect fortune cookies which are used to obtain hints, if ever needed.

The Baconing [XBLA, 2011]

If there’s one general complaint that could be made about The Baconing, it’s that the game is almost identical to its past efforts. This is both a blessing and a curse. The style of gameplay works just fine for the most part, but I can see how some will be disappointed that The Baconing doesn’t really try anything new. It helps to come into this with the mindset that this is more of the same DeathSpank that was so well-executed before.

Visually, The Baconing doesn’t look any different, which is certainly a good thing. The art style is whimsical and full of color, and some of the locations are an absolute riot. I got a huge kick out of Z.I.M.O.N., a supercomputer from the 1980s, and his TRON-like area looks unlike any other found in the game. There’s even an amusing little mini-game that riffs on his name. Little things like that are what make The Baconing worth playing, and the impressive character voice acting helps as well. DeathSpank reminds me a little of The Tick, and he is played to perfection. Hothead Games really nailed the audio/visual aspects.

You will know right away if you are going to like The Baconing or not, as this type of game isn’t for everywhere. You don’t need to have played a previous DeathSpank title to play this one, although it certainly helps since a handful of past characters make amusing cameos. While the difficulty levels could have been evened out a little better, and it would have been nice to see more changes to the general gameplay, I still had a blast with The Baconing. The same hilarious sense of humor is present, and the action/RPG elements are fun as ever. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of our testosterone-filled hero.

8/10

Video Game Review: Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: July 20, 2011

First it was Braid, then it was Limbo, now it is Bastion.

It seems every year or so a new artsy indie title arrives on the Xbox Live marketplace that gets a huge amount of critical acclaim. This year’s title, the action RPG Bastion, is the first entry in Microsoft’s annual Summer of Arcade promotion, and it is one hell of a way to start the event.

There are two things you will notice right away upon starting Bastion. One, the game is stylish as fuck. This is a beautiful game with gorgeous, vibrant designs that cover all areas of the color spectrum. The game’s isometric camera helps to show off the stunning visuals used in the many in-game environments. Seriously, just take a look at these screenshots. This is a great-looking title, and the visuals certainly add to the overall experience.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

The second thing that is immediately noticeable is the game’s narrator. Everything you do in the game is narrated by a gravelly-voiced man known as Rucks. He will comment about your actions on screen and provide bits of back-story as you progress throughout the adventure. It appears the old man has a sense of humor, too, as some of his remarks are actually quite funny. Early on in the campaign, I picked up a weapon for the first time and started bashing everything in sight. Rucks simply stated “Kid just rages for a while” then waited until I was done with my destruction before continuing his narration. This feature really is brilliant because you will never feel alone despite the lack of a party system.

In Bastion, you play as a silent protagonist named The Kid. You awaken in a mostly destroyed world, one that is feeling the aftereffects of a catastrophic event known only as the Calamity. Your goal is to build up the Bastion, a safe haven that can potentially be used to bring back the world The Kid once knew. As you progress through the game’s world, pieces of the environment will fall into place. Frequently, the ground will form right under your feet and lead the way to the next area. This makes it feel as if you are really making some progress in getting things back to normal, and it is a great sense of accomplishment.

Bastion’s core gameplay is comprised of traditional hack ‘n slash methods. You are given a button for different weapons, and you run around on the screen killing enemies and gaining XP. New weapons are unlocked throughout the game, and all of them can be built up by acquiring new materials. Progressing through the game also builds up the Bastion, the homebase that provides the means to level up weapons and items. This is all standard action RPG fare, but it is very well executed overall and is simply a lot of fun to play.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Bastion’s campaign will take roughly 5-8 hours to complete which may seem short for a $15 game, but there is a surprising amount of replay value here. The main campaign has a number of “Proving Grounds” side quests that are essentially combat mini-games, and they offer a good amount of challenge. Also, after completing the game a “New Game+” option is unlocked in which you can play through again with all of your current abilities already available. I rarely play through single player games more than once these days, but I am already going through Bastion for a second time. Yeah, it’s that good.

There really isn’t much to speak of in the way of game flaws. My biggest problem, which is little more than a minor nuisance, is that it can be too easy to roll off the game’s playing field, but it will pick you right back up with only a dent in health damage. There are occasional quibbles with the direction of shooting arrows and such, but these rarely hinder gameplay.

Quite frankly, Bastion is one of the best games to be released this year and is one of the better titles available in the Xbox Live Arcade library. This is an amazing debut from Supergiant Games, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings with this company. If you have any doubts about giving Bastion a shot, definitely download the trial. Chances are you will be sold as soon as the game starts. I know I was.

9/10

Fable III [Xbox 360, 2010]

Fable III [Xbox 360, 2010]

Fable III
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: October 26, 2010

I wanted to love Fable III. I really did. After all, I greatly enjoyed Fable II, even when others dismissed it as being “too short” and “lacking innovation.” Fable III is similar to its predecessor in many ways, but yet it somehow manages to be significantly worse. All of the loving charm from the second game is missing, and instead we are left with what feels like an empty shell of the Fable franchise.

Lionhead’s latest Action RPG effort is nearly identical to its Xbox 360 brethren in terms of gameplay. This time around you play as the son/daughter of the Hero in Fable II. Your brother is the King of Albion, but he is also a tyrant who is pissing off the citizens of his country. Fed up with his bullshit, you embark on a mission to start a rebellion with the townspeople and take over control of the kingdom. Standard fare, but it works.

Fable III starts off slow, really slow. Seriously, it took me at least a couple of hours to actually get into the game. In the beginning, the game sludges along as you work on mundane tasks while leaving the castle. I nearly gave up on the game then and there, but I held out hope that it would harken back to what I knew and loved before. Unfortunately, while it did improve over time, I noticed so many problems that dragged the game down.

Here are some of the annoyances that bothered me as the game progressed:

– The game is incredibly easy. You cannot actually die; instead, your character is knocked down temporarily. Most gamers will be able to make it through without being incapacitated even once.

– The combat system needs some work. The game offers random execution hits that tend to happen at the most inopportune times. While these attacks often look cool, they leave you prone to being attacked by the enemies and therefore cause more harm than good.

– Communicating with NPCs (non-playable characters) is even worse than before. Now when attempting to converse with an NPC you are presented with pressing A for “good” and B for “evil.” Good options include dancing, hugging, and playing patty cake, but you are never given the option to choose exactly which function you want to do. It’s pretty ridiculous that in order to win over someone’s heart all you have to do is hit “A” twenty times in a row. To top it all off, the expressions have some annoying load times in between that make the whole process tedious.

– The new anti-menu system is bothersome. In lieu of a menu, you are transported to a central hub every time you press the START button. It takes a little bit longer than necessary to access any of the usual functions here, such as navigating a map, changing your wardrobe, and browsing your stats. To top it all off, the portal has a butler who makes redundant quips every time you enter. Sorry Peter Molyneux, but this just didn’t work.

– Fable II’s dog was one of my favorite aspects of the game. While you are given a dog here, unfortunately it is more cumbersome than anything else. This dog is just plain dumb and runs into walls/fences/rocks instead of taking you to the treasure it allegedly found.

– The golden trail that is a staple of the series is back, but it tends to fade in and out. This was one of the biggest issues with me because the trail would just randomly disappear and/or become ridiculously hard to see.

– You are only given one save file. Really? In 2010? Better hope it doesn’t get corrupted, which is something that apparently a lot of people have had trouble with.

Shockingly, despite all of these problems, Fable III is not a *bad* game. It takes a while to get cooking, and it has a surprisingly large number of gameplay annoyances, but it is still enjoyable for the most part. The section where you have to make important decisions for the country is brilliant, as it brings about some terribly challenging questions that show life as King isn’t as easy as you would think. Fable III could have used some more time in the incubator, as it feels like we have received an unpolished version of the final product.

6/10

– On a side note, I had some serious issues playing Fable III on my older Xbox model. Apparently the game disc uses new technology that older models have difficulty supporting. The only way I was able to play the game was by playing a different game for a little while then swapping discs. Frustrating to say the least; keep this in mind if you are in the same boat.