Saturday, May 11, 2013

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Review

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): XBLA, PSN, PC

Every so often a game comes along that attempts to turn its genre on its head. Rarer still is a game that attempts to turn itself on its head. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, the new standalone expansion for last year’s Far Cry 3, does just that. Blood Dragon changes the setting from tropical island to the far flung 80’s action movie cyberfuture of 2007. You play as Cybercommando Rex Power-Cult, and must fight your way through a post-apocalyptic world of neon lights, electronic music, and scan lines as you aim to take down Colonel Sloan, who may or may not be working with “the Reds”.
Everything here has an 80's flare,
even the old-school cutscenes.

If this all sounds like a movie you might see on TV at 3 a.m. on FX, that is kind of the point. Everything from the weapon design to the dialogue screams corny action, and the team behind the game nailed it. The joke here is more than just on the surface, you feel like you are an old-school action hero. You can run incredibly fast and fall from great heights, having zero effect on your health. Even the more ambient lines seem like something Ahnold himself might utter. For example, pilfer a cyber-heart from an enemy and you might here Rex mention how he is a “real heartbreaker”. If you are a fan of things that are bad in a good way, this game’s style will be right in your wheelhouse.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon just oozes style.
Stylistic changes aside, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon plays a lot like Far Cry 3. You obviously have your main story missions to do, but there is a whole open world to explore. There are garrisons to liberate, side missions to complete, and collectibles galore to hunt down. There are only a couple side mission types, and they usually involve either hunting and killing a specific animal on the island or rescuing a scientist that the cybersoldiers are holding hostage. These missions reward you with upgrades for your weapons that you can apply as you see fit. Your options in mission types may be a bit limited, but you can tackle them however you see fit. Want to run around all stealth like and use takedowns on all the guards in a garrison? Want to take down the shields and have one of the world’s dangerous blood dragons take out all the enemies? Both of these are valid tactics and are rewarding in their own ways.

Unfortunately, while the open world leaves a bunch of gameplay options open, the story missions are much more linear. Sure, you can sneak around instead of going in guns blazing, but you will be eventually heading towards the same spot down the same hallways. It would have been nice to see some of the missions set in more open areas, allowing for a consistent gameplay experience throughout your time in the world. Regardless of how you decide to approach a combat situation, though, one thing has not changed from base Far Cry 3; the bow is still the way to go.

Much like in base Far Cry 3, the bow is still the best weapon in the game.
While the story missions themselves are maybe not as interesting as the rest of the open world, they are still worth the price of admission. The writing is mostly witty, although they run with their jokes for a bit too long at times. This is especially the case in the tutorial, but it does show up in other spots as well. In traditional cheesy action movie fashion, the story itself goes some pretty crazy places, so even if the side content is more your speed, they are still worth doing. Blood Dragon is a relatively short experience, with the main story clocking in at around 4 hours, but there is enough side content available to keep you playing for at least twice that, if not more. It is not nearly as much content as base Far Cry 3 contained when it came out last year, but for $15, one cannot really complain. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an experience worth having for fans of all things dumb yet amazing, and the fact that you do not even need to own Far Cry 3 proper to play it is a smart move and a nice bonus.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

BioShock Infinite Review

Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Steam)

BioShock Infinite, the third game in the franchise and second from Ken Levine and Irrational Games, is a game that truly understands what it means to set a scene and establish a world.  For someone such as myself who plays games to escape and to visit places that would otherwise be impossible to explore, the floating of city of Colombia could not be a more perfect setting for the story that Infinite aims to tell.  This is truly a game that grabs you immediately and refuses to let you go, even after completion.

As mentioned above, the game does a great job of letting you know what is going on in its world as soon as you step off the boat.  In the early stages of the game, Columbia seems like a giant World's Fair, with fireworks popping off to celebrate The Prophet, Zachary Comstock, the newest technologies being shown off, as well as lines upon lines of ambient dialogue that give players a glimpse into what is going on.  The pomp and circumstance of it all may seem overbearing to some players, but it is really done to drive home the points the game is trying to make about society in the city.  As the game goes on, the setting changes to reflect the mood of the level, each area different yet same enough to be recognizable as part of Columbia.

Columbia is truly a beautiful city in the sky

In addition to the setting changing as the story moves forward, Irrational has filled Colombia to the brim with little tidbits of information.  One of the reasons I took over 12 hours to complete the game while some people are taking 8 or 9 is because there are simply so many little nooks and crannies to explore.  Almost every room has something like a newspaper or a painting to really set the mood, and the voxophone audio logs really help to flesh out the world as well as the story set within it.

Oh boy, that story. In BioShock Infinite, you play as Booker DeWitt, a man who is sent to Columbia to “Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.”  The debt he has acquired from years of gambling, and the girl is Elizabeth, a young woman trapped in the top of a tower, guarded by the mysterious Songbird.  Where the story goes from there is really best discovered by the player.  Overall, the story is very good, and achieves its goal of making you want to carry on throughout the campaign.  However, it is the last chunk of the game, let’s say the last 30 minutes or so, that elevates the story from well above average to one of the smartest and one of the best stories ever seen in the medium.  Ken Levine is a masterful storyteller, and BioShock Infinite is his magnum opus.  It truly has to be witnessed to be believed.

Story aside, Infinite is still a video game, specifically a first person shooter.  The good thing is, it is a really fun one.  In addition to your standard mix of rifles, pistols, shotgun, and heavy weapons, you have access to an arsenal of special powers called vigors.  These act similarly to plasmids from the original BioShock, except this time around they are just activated with a separate button kind of like grenades in most shooters instead of being equipped like a gun.  The vigors range from a simple fire bomb to things like my personal favorite, “Bucking Bronco,” which lifts enemies up in the air, leaving them vulnerable.  Most of the vigors have a secondary function such as leaving a trap, but I didn’t find most of them to be useful in most situations. Elizabeth can also open tears in combat that do things like spawn a friendly turret or make health kits available.  You can only have one of these tears open at a time, but they definitely allow you to really change the flow of a battle.

The themes tackled in the world of BioShock Infinite make it a world completely worth getting lost in.

The combat overall is mostly fun, but seems to rely too heavily on the environment in which the battle is taking place.  Indoor and corridor shoot-outs are still satisfying, but it is in the open areas that feature multiple tears and skylines that things really get hectic and incredibly enjoyable.  I was playing on the Hard difficulty for most of the game, and having to run and jump to and from skylines while popping off shots and grabbing supplies in brief windows of opportunity is some of the most fun I have had in an FPS in quite some time.  The indoor and more restricted fights do make it somewhat easier to get into a boring rhythm of using the same weapons and vigors, but if the player makes a conscious choice to mix it up, the combat never gets stale.  It is a combat system where the more you put in, the more you will get out.  As a personal note, I really felt that playing on a harder difficulty made even the more mundane fights interesting, but that is obviously not something every player is willing to do.

There are good games, and then there are great games.  Similarly, there are great games, and then there are games that really remind you why you enjoy games in the first place.  BioShock Infinite is definitely one of the latter.  It is experiences like Infinite that remind me that the industry is not just nothing but predictable sequels and annualized franchises.  It may have taken 4 more years to make than your average Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, but the extra time and care that went into creating the world clearly shines through.  As someone who plays games to get lost in another world, I can think of few more interesting worlds to enter than the floating city of Columbia.  BioShock Infinite is a masterpiece in almost every way, as well as the most modern game I have played it years in terms of thematic impact and story. Since the original BioShock was released, there has been some discussion about where it stands among the best games of all time. Now, with Infinite added to the mix, there will be discussion about whether the original is even the best game in the franchise.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Great PAX East 2013 Image Dump

Pax East 2013 was in Boston last weekend (March 22-24), and I took a good amount of pictures.  Want to see them? Click here! I'll include a few of my favorites below.  Also, here is a short list of games that I played.  There will probably be a short write up on a couple of them, if not all of them since there are not that many, at some point next week.

Games I got to play at PAX:
  • Transistor
  • Divekick (also known as DIVE-A KICK-A)
  • Ms. Splosion Man for iPad
  • Wildstar
  • Metro: Last Light
  • Battleblock Theater
  • Soda Drinker Pro
  • Saints Row IV (saw the presentation)
Some select images from the PAX album:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Plug & Play at PAX East!

PAX East is this weekend, and PnP will (mostly, sorry Scott) be there in full force!  There are a handful of games that I cannot wait to try out, and a bunch of panels that I'm seriously looking forward to sitting in on. Expect a full report when we return, including tons of images and maybe some video.

Speaking of video, there will be a live Lincolncast Saturday evening at midnight.  The Linconcast/Scotchcast is a thing I do with some guys from the community.  You should check it out, if you feel so inclined.  To clarify, that is midnight eastern Saturday going into Sunday. You can catch the stream at my twitch channel here. Subscribe and you will get an email notification when we inevitably go live later.  Have any games you really want me to check out? Yell in the comments below. PAX, YO!

I cannot wait to play Transistor at PAX this weekend.