Devastation is All That Remains

Fans have eagerly awaited Telltale Games Season Two of The Walking Dead. The first episode doesn’t disappoint. The game has actually improved from the first season with better control and ramped emotional impact.
“All That Remains” is one of the most emotional episodes to date. After losing Lee in Season 1, Clementine has caught up with Omid and Krista, and the trio travel through the zombie wasteland. But the reunion is short lived.  Within minutes, a beloved character is dead, and Clementine is on her own to face the zombie hordes. Creating this loose so soon in the beginning of the episode truly drives home what a devastating and lonely world it is. Not only do you lose humans, but an animal friend turns foe.  The level of violence in this turn of events is quite shocking. Truly, Clementine (and the players) can trust no one, human or animal.

This episode also contains one of the most cringe worthy scenes. Between the comics, the show and the games, zombies are common place and it takes much creativity to gross viewers out. Telltale goes a different route. Instead of goring up the zombies, Clementine has to sew a gash in her own arm. Players must do this stitch by stitch listening to Clementine pain and shrinking away as if it were their own arm. I haven’t cringed this much since Rick and Glenn put on zombie guts in the first season of the TV show.

Finally, the controls have been updated allowing players to use both hands to guide the action and attacks. Gamers also move Clementine in new ways, ducking under objects and side stepping walkers. This rounds out the game play and makes the game less clunky.

The Walking Dead Season 2 is set up for success. But the biggest question is this: can Telltale produce nonbuggy episodes on a timely basis. Time delays and buggy episodes will be it’s only down fall.The-Walking-Dead-Game-Season-2-game

400 Days Later

The Walking Dead: 400 Days

Platforms: PSN, PC, XBLA, iOS

Rated: M

The latest installment of Tell tale Games The Walking Dead acts as a bridge between Season 1 and Season 2. 400 Days connects past actions to the upcoming season. 400 days refers to time at which each story takes places. The stories culminate on Day 400 with Tavia.

The short download is six missives introducing six characters that will really shape the future of the next Season.  Playable in any order,  players get a look at how each character responds to the zombie crisis.  Players follow Bonnie and her two friends as they race through a corn field.  Vince is stuck on a prison bus when the outbreak strikes, while Wyatt is being chased by a psycho path while Russell comes across the same guy while hitchhiking.  The fifth story is of Shel and her younger sister and their road to safety.

The stories are brilliant delving  into the human psyche and how one  reacts to the impending apocalypse. More so than previous installments, your actions truly change the plot. For example, I had two people go with Tavia while my brother just had one. In Season 1, the changes were minimal never truly changing the plot.

The story does succeed at making some connections between the new group of survivors and Lee’s gang.  This is small though. Some of the actions take place at the same mile stones and players finally learn what happened to Vernon and the cancer survivors.

Fun and original, 400 Days leads the way into what is sure to be an amazing new season.

Want to play in chronological order?

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Follow this sequence:

Vince

Wyatt

Russell

Bonnie

Shel

Entering Columbia

Reveling in Bio Shock Infinite

SOILERS AFTER THE PHOTOS.

Entertainments franchises often suffer as sequels are produced. Video games are notorious of this as they try to develop new and innovative game play. Designers feel a need to give players an even better experience than previous installments. The companies complicate the game mechanics and deviate character back history with detrimental effect to the game.  But some developers know when great is good enough. The makers of BioShock knew what they had and that fans wanted that.  BioShock Infinite melds familiar game mechanics with a new and intriguing story.

Infinite takes players out of the water and flies them into the sky. Gamers play as Booker DeWitt, a man with a mysterious past but with a concrete mission. In order to erase a debt, Booker must travel to Columbia to rescue a girl named Elizabeth. He knows nothing about her or this floating city in the sky but he quickly learns that he is not favored by the Prophet Comstock. Comstock rules over the idealistic floating utopia and holds Elizabeth hostage. Booker must battle the townsfolk as well as a resistance group to save the girl. Things become complicated when Booker learns Elizabeth has unique powers that make her a danger to this world but a help to Booker.
Infinite is the spiritual sister of the first two installments. The core elements are here: take an Average Joe throw him in a world free from government regulation, science has run amok giving people the power to throw fire or possess others and a girl is at the heart of the matter. A girl who is innocent and played upon by the villain to do his own dastardly agenda.

These facets continue to work weaving the past elements in new worlds allowing fans to relieve the excitement and intrigue while personalizing Booker’s tale for this new adventure. Elizabeth’s talents are different from any Little Sister’s and adds a new dimension to the game play (pun intended). Because Elizabeth can open “tears”, portals to other demensions, allowing Booker to by pas obstacles, call in reinforcements, and relive certain events.

The first person game play is still the same. Magically elemental damage in one hand, gun fire on the other. This helps veteran players not become confused with new game play mechanics which can be a problem with sequels. Instead, gamers fall into that familiar pattern of melee, shoot, and destroy.  The developers added several unique elements to allow Booker’s journey to be his own. The new Skyline is thrilling though somewhat confusing for battle.  It allows the player to move quickly around areas and even lets them shoot from the line. I personally found the aiming difficult, but loved the skyline attack when you dismounted. Booker can also pick up gear that gives him special abilities as he tours Columbia including the ability to add elemental attributes to his melee attacks.

A welcome addition is Elizabeth herself. As an AI, she is quite intelligent. She is neither a target nor a fighter and gamers don’t have to worry about Eluizabeth’s safety. She stays out of the way, peroidaclly providing health and ammo when the fight seems over. She finds cash for  Booker cash which you no longer have a cap on.

The game would rate as high as the first BioShock except for the ending. Like a conspiracy episode of The X-Files, the game leaves you with more questions than answers. The conclusion is unsatisfying and promises of DLC make me wonder if the ideas will be explored more in additional content. But why should players have to pay for more content for a concrete resolution. (For a detailed Discussion of the ending, read below the pictures).

BioShcok Infinite is beautiful and bug free. It is intriguing and beguiling whipping gamers into the world of Columbia. It remains true to the original game play (unlike a certain zombie franchise I shall not name) and philsphies leaving players with an Andrew Ryan taste in their mouths. Too bad the conclusion didn’t deliver the punch of the first one.

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Taking Apart Infinite’s Confusing Ending

SPOILERS

The first BioShock installment contained one of the best twists in video game history. The twist made the conclusion almost another game entirely as you realize you have been fighting the wrong villain. Infinite attempts to do the same concluding with an ending that made you rethink the game.

Infinite leaves the twist until the final scenes and leaves little time to truly explain the confusing and metaphysical ending that had been created. Saying that Booker was Comstock was a twist that made little sense to the plot. It seems that both version of Booker to kill the other. But why? The player’s character was trying to save Elizabeth from the evil version of himself. But was Comstock holding Elizabeth and why would he create a tear to capture here? The game does not explain at all why the alternative Comstock/Booker is bringing the girl across. What tool was she being used for? There was some talk of a syphon, but there was not a successful resolution.

Infinite goes for the shock of your character dying. But that is no longer a shock. It was when Fallout 3 was released and a fitting end for the Mass Effect Trilogy. But instead of Booker’s demise wrapping up the story, it just cause more questions. How was there a version of Elizabeth left? Why did he regenerate in his office after the credits? What the hell is going on?

The final issue is that Infinite pulls out a useless, superficial dalliance with the world of Rapture. Elizabeth pulls them from the sky to land momentarily in rapture. You catch a glimpse of a Big Daddy and Little Sister, and then they are gone. It was a cheap connection to help fans identify this game with the previous. I was so excited because I though, we were going to end up with a great twist that would connect the stories. But it seems it was just a coincidence that Elizabeth’s name started with an “E” and was referred to as the Lamb.

Fans have been promised DLC and my hope is that it expands these ideas. But is this fair? To pay for the game as well as extra content just to get the full story? I am not saying this is the case, but if it is, it’s a new low. The only other thing more dastardly is the buggy release of Fallout New Vegas.

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The Walking Dead Episode 5: No Time Left

PSN, X-Box Live, PC

Contains spoilers

In the final installment of Telltale Games The Walking Dead, Lee’s story comes to a close and Clemtine’s is open to possibilities. The game play is the same. Point, click a button. Very little timing or precision is required. The game, like the other installments, relies on the narrative to propel it forward, but that is slow going. Players start in the “hospital” looking for Clementine and her kidnapper.

Lee’s tale ends with repetition of previous Walking Dead Storylines. This coupled by the fact that your decisions don’t change the plot, make this the least satisfying episode in the series.  In the opening, Lee is affected by his zombie bite and the party wants to remove your arm to save you. What you choose does not affect the events that transpire or how long you live. Who is in your party and whose resolutions depend on past actions but you don’t change Lee’s much. In fact, TWD fans have been presented with the limb chopping idea in every facet of the series whether it is the comic book or TV show.  Once again, fans are presenting the zombie guts theory but by now the gruesomeness has worn off.

In fact, the episode is rather boring. The scares are few and far between. The resolution of Clem’s kidnapper is in left field, and their isn’t a lot of action at all. The best part is when Lee’s storms the hotel and dealing with Lee’s demise. Gamers, who have played previous installments, know how this one ends but there is a wide open facet that is unsatisfying as a conclusion. This open ending suggests what Season 2 will tackle, but that is not certain. After all the time and energy on protecting Clem, you are not rewarded with much.

Sad and poignant at moments, this installment is the slowest and weakest entry in the series. Let’s hope that Season 2 will play more like earlier episodes.

 

 

Ralph in Videogame Land

Wreck-It Ralph

2-D, 3-D

I have a thing for Disney movies, and I have a thing for video games. Combining the two puts me in Nerd Girl heaven. I had high hopes for Wreck-It Ralph and was not disappointed. WIR combines video game icons, moralistic story telling and humor to make a family friendly film for the generations.

Ralph is the delightful villain of the fictitious game Fix-It Felix Jr. After his stump is moved to a landfill, Ralph is so mad that he takes his anger out on the local apartment building reeking havoc on the citizens. Felix Jr. uses his magic hammer to repair the building and earn a medal that makes him the hero of the complex. But the animosity doesn’t end when the arcade closes; Ralph is shunned by everyone within the game. In an effort to win a medal and become a hero himself, Ralph leaves his game. On his road to self discovery, he travels through a first person shooter and a carting game that gives him a new perspective on life: he’s not the only misfit.

Gamers will be excited to see homages to their favorite games. Either in physical representation or verbal mentions, the movie runs the gambit of genres. In the Villain Support Group,  legends from Mortal Kombat, Sonic and Super Mario Bros. get together to accept their roles as villains. Game Central Station is teaming with character life and you can familiar creatures such Marlboros floating around. These are just a few examples how the movies take you into the game world, and I could spend all day making connections.

It’s more than just the cameos that make this a movie worth watching. In fact, non-gamers will enjoy the humor and story in this movie. The age old tell of discovering who you really are gets a 20th century face lift, but still tugs at the heart strings. In Sugar Rush, Ralph meets Vanellope, a glitch that is shunned by her fellow racers. The two makes friend and Ralph start to overcome his lack of self confidence by helping this little girl. The character’s growth is evident through out the movie keeping this from being some nonsensical child’s entertainment. It balances its sappiness with side splitting humor.

John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman really carry their characters. Reilly’s Ralph is great with the ones lines, and Vanellope shines with Silverman’s iconic potty mouth. (This includes the best gag in the movie involving a homophone gag on Hero’s Duty). The two actors are like their character, completely opposite but come together in a very harmonious way. This gives true depth to the character’s relationship.

WIR looks great. While it does not maximize its 3D capabilities, the CG is well done and brings a variety of character into a uniform look. The various video game characters do not seem out of place at all. But the best moments are when you see the games through the gamers’ eyes. The film takes on the look of the 8 and 16 bit games having some great fun with nostalgia.

This is a great family film that will thrill children and entertain adults. Gamers will be excited to see their favorite games represented on screen. It seems that this movie is on thing Ralph hasn’t wrecked.

Giant Sparrow’s Swan Song

The Unfinished Swan

PSN Exclusive

Games for download only are quickly becoming popular but haven’t been taken very seriously. Often these run as episodes that aren’t released on time or are filled with bugs. But every so often a downloadable game shows that they are capable of unique premises and quality gaming.

The Unfinished Swan takes a peculiar concept and invents a twisting puzzle game. A young boy’s mother dies and all he is left of her is her unfinished paintings. One day his favorite one, a swan, comes alive and goes missing. In his search for the swan he is taken in the blank canvas with only his mother’s paint brush to survive with. The boy must move through the painting’s worlds to find out the true story about his family.

This puzzle game arms players with a paint brush or garden hose depending on the chapter. At some points you must paint the scene to finish building it or make vines in the garden grow to find a new path. The outside of the box thinking is reminiscent of Portal. Players must manipulate their surroundings to get to their destination. More than just splattering paint, players must navigate dark areas and house building to reach the missing swan. These challenges flex the game play of a game that could potentially be boring.

The Playstation version is programmed for a regular control as well as the Move Controller. But the mechanics of the Move are sloppy, and it is hard for players to aim the camera in functional manner. Switching to the regular control makes the game easier and manageable. Unlike many downloadables, I didn’t run into constant bugs or issues with game play.

The game is rather short, and I blew through the five chapters easily. While there are balloon collectables, replay values is not high after a completion. Like Portal, a player has to give themselves enough time to forget the solution in order to get that puzzle solving high.

While not high on story, the unique game play and thought put into the game is a refreshing foray in a world of shooters and survivor horrors games. Giant Sparrow proves that the public loves a game that makes them think outside the box.

The Walking Dead Episode 4: Around Every Corner

PSN, Xbox Live, PC

The newest episode of Tell Tale Games The Walking Dead comes with less bugs and a tuned up frightening system. In the penultimate installment, Lee and company finally make it to Savannah but find neither Clem’s parents nor a boat. Instead they find streets full of zombies, an underground group of cancer survivors and a mysterious sub-division free from zombies.

The group arrives in Savannah and the first order of business is to find a boat. But their plans are quickly waylaid by the town’s bell ringing brining in hordes of zombies. In the mad dash for shelter, they separated from Chuck, and the remaining survivors find a vacant, but fortified house. At the house they learn that animals don’t turn into zombies, and find a child zombie that really shakes Kenny up. His only concern is finding a boat and getting out. They run into another survivor named Molly (who had been ringing the bells so she could travel the town unperturbed) but get separated when geeks attack. While Lee is looking for safety he runs into Vernon, a doctor, and his cancer survivors support group. Vernon and support member Brie decided to help Lee break in Crawford so they can get medical supplies for Omen and the support group. The sub-division Crawford is zombie free but the survivors have radical ideals about surving. Children, elderly, and the sick are killed or kicked out of the compound. The group finds even more atrocities than they imagined when they break in for supplies.

The fourth installment has improved technically over the last two episodes. While some players have made complaints about saves not carrying over, I have had no issues. Some loading time are lengthy but with no disappearing Ducks or conversation cut offs, this is nothing. I was also excited to see that they made changes to the fighting system. My long complaint that you have to use the same finger to aim and shoot makes for difficult game play has been changed. For PS3 users the fire button is now R1 making the infrequent battles scenario much easier and less frustrating.

I do have one issue with the writing. When Lee finds Crawford full of zombies, an answer does seem fourth coming. But when they find a video of a pregnant woman killing the doctor forcing abortion, the group easily accepts this idea as the cause of the zombie outbreak. This issue with continuity bothers me because since this game is set before the events of the comics, how do they know that when you die you turn into a zombie and therefore an out break occurs? Are the makers assuming that viewers know this information and take for granted that the characters don’t? Or was this simply overlooked by the writers? Or do they know something we shouldn’t?

Overall Around Every Corner plays well and delivers emotional impact. As the characters brace for the final showdown, the conclusion becomes clear. Now if only the voice on the radio was just as clear.

Airtight Games Puts Players in a Frustrating Conundrum

 

Quantum Conundrum available on PC, PSN & XBLA

 

I absolutely love the Portal Series. I love using my brain to figure out the puzzles and enjoyed the wit of the villains. Quantum Conundrum tries to mimic this in its set up. QC has the same first person views, rooms modeled like test chambers, and a disembodied voice guiding you through the process. But most similarities end there. Swapping sci-fi for a fun cartoon look, QC delivers a good atmosphere that is destroyed by the game play.

QC is about a young boy who has been dropped off at his uncle’s mansion. His uncle is an eccentric scientist who narrates you through his immense estate granting you use of some of his experiments. Your goal is to restore power to the house and find your uncle with the aid of a dimension altering glove. You can make things fluffy and light or heavy, slow down time or invert gravity. But certain areas only allow you to use certain dimensions. Your task is to use the various dimensions, figure out puzzles, and platform your way to the house’s generators.

Giving the game the moniker of a puzzle game is actually misleading. While there are some elements of puzzle gaming, QC is more a platform game than a puzzle one. Players use the four dimensions to finds ways to throw, jump, and dodge obstacles to complete their task. The plat forming is grueling taking a precise timing and angles. The game play mechanics are too clunky to achieve these requirements and even veteran platforms spend their time doing the same obstacle over and over and over again.

A prime example of how a puzzle quickly descending into a plat forming nightmare: furniture stacking. In one area, players must figure out how to reach a platform to get to one of the game’s collectables. The solution is actually simple but stacking the furniture and jumping up them is clunky and due to the controls aren’t very precise and you’re left rearranging and jumping for a frustrating amount of time.

The games offer some replay values with challenges and collectables, but the game play deters from retrying levels. There are plans for two more sets of downloadable content, and unless the game play is some how made more user friendly, the frustration wouldn’t be worth the money spent.

Get the San Romero High Spirit!

Lollipop Chainsaw

PS3, XBOX 360

 

The concept of cheerleaders and zombies may seem as foreign as a cheerleader did to vampires, but, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lollipop Chainsaw takes a blonde, perky cheerleader and turns her into a killing machine.

On Juliet Starling’s 18 birthday, her town is overrun by zombies. Decked out in her cheerleading outfit and pink embellished chainsaw, she rushes to her boyfriend’s side only for him to fall victim to a zombie. Through some of Juliet’s zombie hunter magic, she has animated his head so he can join her on her adventures. As Juliet travels through the town massacring zombies and evil zombie bosses, she is joined by her father and two sisters who are also zombie hunters.

Through the bizarre eyes of Suda51 and James Gunn, this charmingly twisted tale keeps the player engaged. The story travels over various places including San Romero (;-)) High School, a farm, and a video arcade. Each zone has a tailored mini-game that breaks up the game play. At the stadium, Juliet participates in zombie baseball, and the video arcade features mini games of old school video games. The combos are easy to master, and the combat level is manageable even on “Hard.” The camera angels are almost completely manual making game play easier and keeping shots on target.

It’s the charm of the characters and their zingy one-liners that truly makes this game stand out. Juliet has some ditzy blonde to her, but her zombie killing mastery gives her character more depth. Nick’s sarcastic musings are fun but as the game progresses he becomes whiney. But what more should one expect from a severed head? Juliet’s family rounds out the characters. Her father has an Elvis like drawl and manly charm, her sister Cordelia is s sharp shooter that looks like Payne from Final Fantasy 10-2, and her wacky sister Rosalind is too much fun with her destructive bus. If Alice from the Twilight books was Selphie as a vampire, Rosalind is the zombie hunter version of the same zany girl.

Each boss is unique and is themed after different kinds of music. Zed, the punk rock zombie, sports a red mo-hawk while the folk music hippy Mariska attacks with bubbles and butterflies. These battles are multi-staged each using different strategy. This keeps the boss battles from being monotonous, and the player feels like they are doing more than hacking and slashing.

Replay value is high. There are a variety of trophies as well as collections to complete. To complete the various accomplishments, players must play across the different level difficulties. Completing various tasks earns the player unique costumes including the costumes to Juliet’s other family members. The types and numbers of zombies increase as you go up the difficulty levels keeping the 7 stages from being monotonous as the player strives for each trophy or high score.

A must have for any zombie game fan, the characters and humor will also appeal to a wide variety of gamers. Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t take itself too seriously and delivers a pom-pom-tastic zombie slashing adventure.