Archive for the ‘Video Game Review’ Category

Max Payne is a relic of the past, and he knows it. In the opening moments of Max Payne 3 players see a washed up, burned out shell of a man whose sole purpose in life is to drink and pop pills in an attempt to numb the pain of a life not so well lived. No one expected this joke of a man to ever be brought back from the metaphorical dead, least of all Max himself. While it seemed a bit unusual for Rockstar to resurrect a character who hasn’t been seen for merely a decade save for an awful movie that didn’t exactly help the franchise, I’m glad they did, as the end result is a well-crafted game that deftly mixes the old Max Payne storytelling and mechanics with modern sensibilities.

The clear standout of Max Payne 3 is the script, with some of the sharpest, most darkly humorous writing found in a game. Max narrates the adventure in his traditional noir style, providing a very clear picture of the mental state of a man who’s seen everything in life break the wrong way and who has lived most of his adult life at the end of his rope. The bulk of the story is set in Sao Paolo, a city where Max never thought to find himself, doing a job that he’d never expect. Throughout the course of the plot’s many twists and turns Max provides insightful monologues not only about how things to be going to shit around him, but also the continuous devolution of his own sanity. At several points the game flashes back to Max’s time in New Jersey and his desperate struggle to stay one step ahead of a mob boss who’s out for the former cop’s blood. Throughout it all Rockstar paints a portrait of Max as a fatalistic, cornered man, and someone who is infinitely more dangerous because he’s trapped. Max Payne may be self-sabotaging, but if he goes down you may not want to be in the area, as he’ll be taking a lot of people with him.

Complimenting the emotionally complex script are some humorous lines that are expertly placed to break up tense moments. When Max said that a local special forces unit in Brazil “made the NYPD look like the fucking Hari Krishna” I couldn’t help but grin. There are numerous occasions where otherwise bleak and helpless moments are lightened through a sarcastic quip or darkly funny aside, and all of them further establish Payne as a character who realizes the absurdity of his continued survival against perpetually impossible odds. Max Payne should have died hundreds of times, and no one is more aware of that than the title character himself.

When the talking stops and the bullets start flying Max Payne 3 falters a bit, though it remains impressive overall. Since the franchise basically invented bullet time in video games it’s only reasonable to expect it to come back once again, but at this point it’s more out of nostalgia than as a useful gameplay mechanic. The same goes for finding painkillers as health packs, it’s basically just a throwback to the old days before regenerating health became commonplace. Gunplay feels tight for the most part, and the variety of lock-on features Rockstar provides should make shooting comfortable for nearly all sill levels and player types. There are a few questions about weapon balancing and the amount of punishment enemies can absorb in relation to Max, but I almost never ended up feeling cheated in a shootout.

One aspect I could have done without entirely is the kill cam, which slows down the action whenever Max fells his final enemy in a room and showcases the baddie’s grisly end. Rockstar relishes showing players how impressively they can render entrance and exit wounds while also drawing attention to the spray of blood and bone. Thankfully it’s a feature that can be turned off, because there’s really no reason for it. It’s excessive gore for excessive gore’s sake and honestly nothing more.

I could continue to prattle on about how nice the game looks (which you’d expect from Rockstar) or how immersive the multiplayer is (it’s great, but if you’re not an online shooter type of person you don’t care), but I won’t. Instead I’ll just applaud Max Payne 3 for being a mature, well-crafted game that manages to successfully revive what we all thought to be a franchise that had pretty much run its course. I don’t know where Max goes from here, but if Rockstar is up for making yet another trip into this universe then I’ll definitely be along for the ride.

Broke Gamer Score: 92

Sadly I haven’t had a lot of time to do a proper Broke Gamer review this month, but fear not as Mass Effect 3 and Final Fantasy XIII-2 will get their treatment in the near future. In the meantime, how about a review excerpt for SSX?

“There are some gimmicks, like the wing suit, which do add a bit of extra excitement to the game. Other levels, such as those which require you to stay in the sun to avoid freezing to death or using a headlamp to see the path ahead, are irritating and not the least bit enjoyable. The very mountains that are meant to be the culmination of all your hard work are almost universal letdowns, and what should be the game’s crowning achievement is instead its weakest feature.

“The real meat of SSX can be found in Explore mode, which lets players pick a rider and some gear and drop into any of the game’s 150 events. This is the area where you’ll likely while away the hours, rerunning tracks and coming up with new lines in the hopes of grabbing the shiniest medal and posting the absolute best time or score. Also hidden along the mountains are Geotags placed by other riders, and each one snagged provides a nice chunk of bonus points for your characters. Even more fun, you can hide your own tags, which will continue to rack up points until someone else finds and claims them.”

Be a buddy and head over to WorthPlaying to check out the rest of the review. It’s easier than falling down a mountain.

Grrrarrr! Roar!!!!! Eyyyaaaaaaahhhh!!!!

(The translation of the preceding paragraph, as spoken in the native language of Asura, is as follows)

It’s time for another Review Excerpt! This time the game in question is Asura’s Wrath, which as you can guess is about having tea and discussing world issues in a calm and rational manner. No, that’s not true, it’s about smashing things and yelling at people. Still, it’s actually quite fun! If you want to check out the full review then head on over to WorthPlaying for all the rage-filled text and fury-driven score.

“Dismissing the game because of its abundance of QTEs would be a tragic mistake, though, as Asura’s Wrath introduces a great cast of very colorful characters and delightfully ludicrous moments. One boss fight culminates with your foe growing to a size greater than that of the Earth itself and attempting to crush you with a finger. Another showcases a sword so long and sharp that it can literally bisect the entire planet. Even the game’s few quiet moments are expertly milked for maximum effect, creating a perfectly paced experience that can easily sweep you up. The only real misstep is that Asura is incredibly unlikable, speaking almost exclusively in grunts and yells and refusing to dial it down for a moment. Yes, I know the name of the game isn’t Asura’s Diplomatic Resolution to Complex Issues, but it could still do with giving him a volume other than yelling at full blast.”

For the most part game-making is anonymous work, with large teams of unknown designers, developers and engineers toiling for years in relative obscurity to create something which will hopefully resonate with the gaming public. In spite of this, a few folks have begun to make a name for themselves, with the likes of Ken Levine,   Miyamoto and others managing to stand out above the crowd. Until now though we’ve never seen gaming’s equivalent of a “supergroup,” with some of these big names coming together to create something truly magnificent. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, tries exactly that, bringing together the storytelling ability of R.A. Salvatore, the quest-crafting knowledge of Ken Rolston and the artistic talents of Todd McFarlane to create a brand new action-RPG. The resultant game is impressive, but Reckoning borrows so much from other games in the genre that it has a bit of trouble carving out an identity of its own.

The plot of Reckoning is easily its crowning achievement, weaving a tale of fate, free will and what happens to a world when all the old rules suddenly come undone. In Amalur every single person is tied to a fate which was written for them long before they were born. The kingdom’s Fateweavers see all that has ever been and all that ever shall be, knowing full well that they are powerless to change any of it. However, your character has arrived to change all that, and in a most peculiar way. It’s not a spoiler to say that the main character dies (it happens before you even start the game), but what comes next is unprecedented. Tossed into a pile of corpses you somehow reanimate, though stripped of the memories of who you were before. Also, your character somehow exists outside the rules that bind others, and your appearance has begun to unwind the tapestry of fate. Suddenly free will has been thrust upon a fatalistic world, with all the trials and tribulations that follow.

The other star of Reckoning is the world the characters inhabit, as the ever-shifting landscape is an absolute treat. The forests and villages which make up the game’s opening areas are lush and verdant, and later travels to desert and wastelands reveal a beauty all their own. That’s to say nothing of some of the ruins and the more magical places of the realm, which are so breathtaking that you’ll no doubt want to spend some time panning the camera and taking it all in before even walking a single step. If this is Todd McFarlane’s contribution to the project then give the man a fat check and a pat on the back, because he knocked it out of the park.

 

The gameplay elements of Reckoning are also highly enjoyable, but the major drawback is that they lean far too heavily on the games that have come before. The real-time combat system is very reminiscent of a game like Fable, where varied timing and charged attacks dominate most encounters. The ability trees seem to have been stripped out of just about any fantasy MMO on the market, and the quest structures and exploration elements bear all the hallmark’s of Rolston’s time with The Elder Scrolls, both for good and ill. Nearly all of the quests fall into the rote pattern of talk to Person A who orders you to retrieve Important Item B from Dangerous Location C, and the system for managing loot could use a lot more streamlining considering the extreme number of drops. Sure, it’s nice to be able to group all my unwanted stuff into a junk pile and sell it all with a single button press at the nearest merchant, but having to dive into the menu every time I want to compare a couple swords or helmets can eventually grow annoying. One major point in Reckoning‘s favor though, at any time players can visit a Fateweaver, pay a few coins and completely reassign their skills and ability points. It’s a wonderful bit of flexibility in a genre which normally forces you to choose a path and then deal with the consequences of your actions from that point on.

There’s clearly something magical with this game when, considering all its unoriginality and other issues, it still manages to be a ton of fun and a title I look forward to playing for the foreseeable future. I find myself coming back to it over and over again, sinking hours into simply wandering the map and looking for new quests and spoils.  This is one of those games where I look at the vast expanses of empty map and get excited by the prospect of adventuring and filling in the gaps. It’s that sense of wonder, that constant drive to see what’s over the next hill or inside that crumbling castle  that makes Kingdoms of Amalur so hard to put down. Curt Schilling and the rest of the crew at 38 Studios have said they want Reckoning to stand as the start of a new series, and I’m very excited to see where they plan to go from here.

Score: 83 out of 100