Review: Sixty Second Shooter Prime

1405400The concept is simple. A twin-stick shooter (similar both in style and play to Geometry Wars), a sixty-second timer, and a race for the highest score. Along the way comes the battles for power-ups, quick reflexes, and the addictive drug-like nature of ‘one more game’. All of these factors combine to create a fun, fast and simple game that is easily worth the price of admission.

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Sixty Second Shooter Prime (SSSP) is a rapid fire twin-stick shooter played from the traditional top-down positioning. Each game lasts 60 seconds (if the player can survive that long) and while the Xbox title has an Infinity mode, the joy is really working within a constrained time limit to hit those high scores. Each game revolves around defeating enemies and entering little gates that move you up to the next level. This unlocks more power-ups, higher scores per enemy taken out, and even more visual effects as more and more enemies and explosions crowd the screen.

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The artwork is a simple grid-based concept, like a less-crisp version of Geometry Wars, and the overall aesthetic is simple and gets you into a game quickly. Along the way the player unlocks some varied skins to dress up the play space somewhat, and further options allow for a higher starting level and the ability to jump into the aforementioned Infinity style of gameplay. But sadly, that really is about all.

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For $5, SSSP is worth the money, 100%. But don’t be surprised if it ends up being something which is quickly played and then forgotten. Not due to some inherent flaw or lack of quality to the game, but because it is a simple, quick fix. On top of this, if your friends are not playing, it makes the drive for the high score feel a bit less fun overall. I recommend SSSP because it is a fun arcade game that is exactly what you pay for; however, that also means that the game is quick, not too deep, and may not hold your interest for very long.

 

 

Review: Outlast

thOutlast is a survival horror game with an emphasis on survival. Unlike Resident Evil or Dead Space, the player literally has no weapons, and is left to scurry and run away from nasty baddies, rather than standing and fighting. This element, along with some wonderful atmosphere, tense sound and video design, and a quick, well-paced story; make Outlast a very good, though brief, game.

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You are a reporter, investigating a mental asylum nestled in the Rocky Mountains that was recently purchased by a big, shady corporation…and well, something seems amiss pretty quickly. Dead bodies are everywhere, inmates are scattered throughout the grounds, and overall, things are a big ol’ mess. You as a player are thrown into this situation with very little ado, and pretty soon after climbing into a second-story window, things get weird.

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While venturing through the asylum, the player encounters gruesome sites and uncomfortable elements almost non-stop. This eventually goes from grotesque and disturbing early on, to kind of boring and repetitious midway through. But, it should be noted that the literal lens your surrounding are viewed through adds a creepy element to the game which proves very entertaining. Specifically, your trusty camcorder becomes your lifeline, and with its night-vision capability, it ends up being your green tinted guide through the pitch-black atmosphere you constantly venture through. It is a wonderful, and often very creepy, visual touch.

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While discovering the mystery of your surroundings, there are numerous collectibles to nab, and various items to record for posterity…but other than that, the story is a very linear one. And that is where the problem lies. The story arc is tightly crafted and well-done, rife with some dramatic moments and tense hiding under beds and in lockers to escape murderous villains, but once the play through is over, the game leaves little reason to re-up. At only four to five hours, the game is enjoyable, but quick. And with an Xbox One price tag of $20, it is a good investment, but one I simply wish had more overall.

A tense atmosphere, nice effects and creepy story help balance out the short playtime to make Outlast, in my book, a worthy way to spend your money and time. True survival horror is rare, and if you sit down and play this game in the dark, with a headset on…I can almost guarantee you will feel some of those goosebumps on your arm. I’m glad this title finally hit Xbox, and recommend gamers give it a go and enjoy the scares.

 

 

 

 

Playing Through A Lens: Early Impressions of Outlast

thI know Outlast, the creepy survival-horror game set in a Colorado mental asylum, has been available on PC for quite some time, and Playstation since around February…but for Xboxers the title only just dropped yesterday. I downloaded it, sat down, and got ready to be ‘scared’ by the game…the funny thing, it actually is a decently creepy title.

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I suppose the first real thing to do is define why this game is scary. First comes the standard tropes of survival horror, pop-out frights, scary noises and effects, moody lighting the regular stuff. But then there is the other aspect that genuinely makes the aforementioned items even creepier…you have no ability to fight it. You have no weapons nor an arsenal, and overall, the player is as helpless as most people would be locked up with a bunch of absolutely crazy people.

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The game is a sparsely decorated, creepy tinged action adventure game. Usually spent looking through the frame of your camcorder, which thankfully has a nightvision mode, your best friend in the dark. It also adds the lovely fright factor of just seeing someones eyes reflecting off of the night vision glare in the distance…making you begin to think strategically on how to avoid or possibly escape the enemy.

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Some of the game is not quite as adept at providing scares, the abundant gore and blood adds to the ‘hell-house’ perspective, but sometimes less is more with horror and blood. In addition, the lack of a consistent plot structure (unless the gamer is diligent about picking up collectibles along the way) means that one could potentially get turned around and confused.

But, my overall impression is a good one. Sometimes countering the frights and creepy moments can actually make one feel pretty good, and overall, the games seems quite solidly made and crafted with some care. I look forward to hopefully finishing it this weekend, and after the Saturday/Sunday break, come back next week with a review.

 

 

5 Ways To Improve: Watch Dogs

Watch dogs1I just finished playing Watch Dogs,  getting 1000/1000 Gamerscore which usually means I have seen everything the developer at least wants me to experience in the title. As such, I think I’m ready to make a new ‘5 Ways to Improve’ list, the first one in about two years:

1.) End the Story Better

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Watch Dogs ends fairly abruptly, with some resolution overall, but a distinct lack of completion which is desired after spending a solid amount of time in a game. Specifically, the next Watch Dogs should make sure that the characters you meet in your adventures are at least mentioned towards the end of the game, in order to bring things full circle; even if is just a throw away line of ” Oh, her? She’s safe now.”

2.) Get Rid of Multiplayer – Or Make It More Robust

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This is a pretty simple ask. Either make the multiplayer component worthwhile and deep (like GTA), or nix it. It was unnecessary, was annoying with random people entering your game, and really just felt like an addition to check the box on the pre-game ‘must-haves’. The idea of a living breathing world filled with active fixers (again, similar to GTAs stuff) could be very fun, but having simple one-off events that are really just advanced games of hide and seek is dull.

3.) Have a Greater Variety of Hacking Minigames

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Having to work through variations of the same puzzle concept over and over again was not very enjoyable. A key idea could be to add some variety to the minigames which occur when hacking certain items or materials. This way, hacking is always a bit more interesting (what kind of puzzle may you get?) and the overall gameplay mechanic shows more depth and a higher fun factor.

4.) More City Life

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Grand Theft Auto 5 really set the bar high for this request, so it might be impossible to hit, but we know it can be done. The city needs to feel more alive. Watch Dogs has plenty of pedestrians talking and going about their day, but the same old conversations you hear around every corner and the lack of seemingly life-like patterns of behavior diminish the realism. GTA manged to have people playing golf, working at the docks or starting gang wars, all without too much fuss or attention needed from the player. Plus everything felt natural, not just game-AI doing an established routine. I don’t know how Rockstar did it, but it should be the benchmark for all other open world games.

5.) Make Me Care

This is maybe the biggest improvement there could be. I didn’t really care too much about the storyline or assisting Aiden. It was merely a means to more car chases or gunfights. This only becomes an issue as the storyline is meant to be especially emotional, and while there are some moments that pop up to tug heartstrings (and the acting is rather solid) it just feels like fluff. This may be the open-world problem, as the gamer can avoid story missions for hours at a time, but it really needs to be addressed in the next game…I want a more interesting and deep story, not one of simple revenge.

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I actually did enjoy Watch Dogs, despite some of the harsh criticisms above, but the title could have been much, much better. Hopefully they may implement some of the suggestions I mentioned into #2, and the series can really become its own unique gaming mainstay.

Review: Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs core logo.
Watch Dogs core logo.

I try not to review or have my enjoyment of games affected by the hype train that inevitably rolls out for every major title. Much of the derision of Watch Dogs comes from the over-hyped lead up to launch, plus delays, etc. used ostensibly for the purpose to make the title play better, or maybe more robust or filled with a greater depth of information. Watch Dogs is not the game-changer it was made out to be, and the middling reviews lay this out fairly clearly. However, separating the game from the hype can lead players to seeing that the game is a very solid open-world Grand Theft Auto clone, with enough unique ideas behind it to make it worthwhile in its own right.

The moody protagonist, Aiden Pearce
The moody protagonist, Aiden Pearce

The Watch Dogs premise is a simple one. You are Aiden Pearce, a man nearing 40 who is lamenting the fact that he (through actions which placed his family at risk) got his six-year old niece killed in a botched ‘hit’ against him that ended up causing a car accident. The game’s primary motivation is finding out who ordered said hit, and making them pay for it. In addition, the entire story is riddled with technology and living in the public domain with their fictional city controlling apparatus (ctOS) and hacker-esque shenanigans running amok. Along with this is the setting of Chicago, its iconic buildings and looks, as well as a rotating cast of characters and interesting people (some who seemingly appear and disappear without reason) to keep the story moving right along.

A small look at the hacking in-game prompt.
A small look at the hacking in-game prompt.

While the story follows a pretty simple revenge plot (with a couple of twists and turns along the way) the game really focuses on the ability to hack into various parts of the city and the enemies that you face along your journey. Many of the side-missions focus on hacking items quickly and solving little minigames, as well as searching through the city-wide camera system to find the best angle to capture QR codes, or simply walk around the city hacking passers-by for money, items, etc. The system is quick and intuitive. Of note is its use in combat and driving, a car chase can be readily stopped by exploding a steam pipe beneath your pursuers, or causing static to blast through the microphone of a heavily armored enemy. But, much of this nifty hacking goes out the window when you get into an item that ends up being the majority of your game, fighting large groups of enemies.

Shooting in-game is never this exciting.
Shooting in-game is never this exciting.

The combat in this game moves away from strategically hacking people and simply devolves into popping up, getting off a headshot, and killing enemies that way with a cold efficiency. On one hand, this would seem to go against the nature of the protagonist, and the other side of it is that it becomes boring and uninspired. There is nothing inherently wrong with it for any reason…it just feels like a different game. Added into this are a few glitches, some wonky driving mechanics at times, and other little nit-picky things (like distinctly Canadian inflections on supposedly Chicago residents) and the title ends up going from great, to OK.

A look at the destruction one can cause in the city of Chicago.
A look at the destruction one can cause in the city of Chicago.

While the beautiful city of Chicago and the graphical flourishes of the  game impress until the very end, the overall title suffers from the all too common open-world fatigue. Eventually solving everyone’s crimes gets boring, gunning people down gets boring, hacking loses its unique appeal, etc. If the game was actually structured away from open world, and made to be more like a third-person linear action title, it may have been better off in the long run.

Watch Dogs is not a bad game, it is an OK game. It is fun, and the story can draw you in, but the overall feeling from playing it is really just a neutral, ‘passing the time’ sensation. I did end up enjoying the title though, and despite my reservations, I do recommend it for folks looking to pass the time and enjoy a well-made, though somewhat dry, game. Hopefully with Watch Dogs 2 (which is a for-sure thing now after the sales numbers for this one are in) Ubisoft will be able to construct a tighter and more enjoyable adventure for gamers.

Review: Wolfenstein

Wolfenstein-The-New-OrderA few years ago Wolfenstein was rebooted with more modern shooter mechanics and styles. The game was a solid release that featured nice production values and focused most heavily on the zany occult side of the Nazi forces. But, in this year’s title, the tone and overall pace of the game is much different. The game is more emotional, moodier and darker overall with a Nazi occupied globe circa 1960. And while progressing through the single-player campaign (there is no multiplayer), one develops an odd attachment for the characters, which in and of itself is rare with a first-person shooter.

A combat shot, featuring guns, Nazi's and evil robot dog things.
A combat shot, featuring guns, Nazi’s and evil robot dog things.

First the gameplay. Wolfesntein hits all of the tropes and does not really break the mold in regards to actual combat or progression through the game. Some of the weapons are pretty fun, and all of them do feel good to use in their respective avenues for destruction. But, besides some enjoyable stealth areas and fun laser weapons later on in the game, it is nothing to write home about. Combat is usually tense, and facing off against some of the larger, armored enemies can end up being quite the challenge. That being said, this combat is not as quick as Call of Duty, nor as deep and realistic as Battlefield, it lies in some slightly awkward in-between valley. Nothing here to really excite the player, but nor is there anything to ‘scare’ the gamer away.

A look at the primary emotional storyline in the game, Anya and the protagonist, BJ.
A look at the primary emotional storyline in the game, Anya and the protagonist, BJ.

The real meat of the game, and where it shines from other shooters, is in the story. It is an emotional, human story. One that, despite the typical bombastic nature of an over-the-top shooter, draws the player in and has them supporting the relationships they see on-screen, and enjoying the characters somewhat. Learning about folks’ backgrounds and ideas are worthwhile, and some of the philosophical tangents the player is taken on can cause one to sit back and wonder if a game ever hit on topics like that so directly. It is really the most enjoyable aspect of the title, and as such, kept me as a player connected until the very end.

While this is concept art, the game matches it in scope and stark beauty.
While this is concept art, the game matches it in scope and stark beauty.

Graphically the game is nice. Varied settings, really nice rain effects, and an overall varied color palate keeps things interesting. Character design is quite good, though during some cut scenes the games facial animation did not match the words coming out of the characters mouths.  In addition, I also had the game outright crash on me 4 or 5 times. It was not fun. Especially since I had a digital copy, meaning I could not assume that maybe I received a broken disk or something along those lines. It required a full re-set and skip through a cut scene, which means I did miss some story elements.

As a package, Wolfenstein is an enjoyable, though slightly flawed, game. The idea of a Nazi occupied world circa-1960 was a unique one, and with solid mechanics and an engaging story, the game can really keep one’s interest for some time. Of course, without multiplayer, the lifespan of the game is dependent upon how much the player puts into the storyline.

I do recommend this title to anyone looking for a solid shooter, or fans of alternate history and the Wolfenstein series overall.

 

 

Review: Powerstar Golf

The beautiful Powerstar Golf
The beautiful Powerstar Golf

Golf games are one of those genres that have existed since the beginning of home video game consoles, and almost every bar & grill has a ‘Golden Tee’ set-up located in some back room. But,  as of late, digital golf for home players has been left to EA’s golf series, and little else. Thankfully, the folks at Microsoft and Zoe Mode decided to take a swing at it (har, har) and produce a fun, and surprisingly deep, golf title.

The HUD in action.
The HUD in action.

Powerstar Golf is a nice mix of the arcade-style action of the Hot Shots franchise, along with some of the more statistical and detail oriented approach of a proper golf simulation. Specifically, the characters are wacky and have crazy clubs and powers, but at the core of the game, things really boil down to reading your shots and balancing your statistics to the proper play style. Something a bit unique to the game is the addition of caddies which can get their own bonuses (like a 75% chance to skip a ball off of water) and even have their own little powers to assist the player in getting the perfect shot. This adds an even further level of depth to strategy and attempting to nab great scores.

The Japanese inspired course is beautiful.
The Japanese inspired course is beautiful.

Of course, no golf game is complete without golf courses. Powerstar features a handful of courses, with some various geological themes. There is a city based course with rolling fairways and gentle greens, a course built around a volcano, a Japanese inspired course, etc. The course design in regards to goings on around the course are a bit subdued for a game that enjoys being silly, but the actual course designs are solid. A nice mix of easy and difficult courses provides some enjoyable gameplay moments, and learning shortcuts and ways to shave off a stroke or two is rewarding. Where much of this becomes un-enjoyable however is when fighting against the camera and controls.

A glance at the putting view.
A glance at the putting view.

9 times out of 10, the controls and mechanics behind Powerstar work great. The power and accuracy shooting is simple, reading the green is challenging but rewarding, and using superpowers is simple and effective. But, oftentimes the game will start your golf cursor way off the mark, and moving the tracker to position where your ball may land can cause the camera to go crazy and often can end up leading to the hole being unplayable or taking minutes to reorient oneself. This does not happen often enough to warrant an angry refusal to play the game further, but it can really leave a sour taste and throw off one’s golfing groove pretty strongly.

As an overall package Powerstar Golf is a solid title. It is now even free to try on the Xbox Games Store and you can add courses/golfers as add-ons as you desire (much like with Killer Instinct). As a golf game, it is easy to get into and enjoy, and as a golf sim, later courses and challenges provide ample opportunity for experimentation and solving the riddle of the courses you play on. Overall, I recommend the title for any golf fans, and for anyone looking to spend some time relaxing on Xbox One.

Visit here for more info and to download the title to your console!

 

 

 

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